- Margaret Fuller's Burial at Coney Island
Her body was not recovered, and so no monument has ever been reared to her.—Lillie Devereux Blake (1901)1
Standard accounts of the death of Margaret Fuller have her washed out to sea by the breakers that claimed the ship Elizabeth at Fire Island on the morning of 19 July 1850. Her body and that of her husband, Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, were said never to have been recovered. And yet there is a dissenting version of events vouched for principally by Arthur Dominy (see Fig. 1), an eye-witness, who was at the time of the disaster the nine-year-old son of the proprietor of the Dominy House Hotel. As an adult, Dominy (1841–1918) served for many years with great distinction as the director of the U. S. Life-Saving Service for Long Island and Rhode Island, following in the footsteps of his father, Felix (1800–1868), who had kept the Fire Island Lighthouse from 1835 to 1844.2 According to Arthur's much-belated recollection, the bodies of a man and a woman were indeed found an indeterminate number of days after the wreck. Fuller was the only woman unaccounted for at that point, while the man was identified by the gold fillings in his teeth, not something the missing others, all impecunious common sailors, would likely have been able to afford. Dominy further claimed that the bodies were taken by boat to New York City with the understanding that Fuller's employer, Tribune Editor Horace Greeley, would take them, and, with the Fuller family, arrange a proper burial. Greeley reportedly objected that the condition of the corpses was such as to make them unidentifiable and so declined to take possession.
In alluding to this story, biographer Charles Capper cites an article in the Providence (Rhode Island) Sunday Journal of 12 January 1908.3 He mentions that the clipping he is working from bears an anonymous notation that "Miles Homan was the man who carried the body of Margaret Fuller to New York"—but "Miles Homan," as Capper notes, cannot himself be identified. The name Homan, however, is abundantly represented among the population of the Suffolk County coastal towns, including especially Bay Shore, Islip, Brookhaven, and Eastport, in the [End Page 103] last of which a certain Mills Homan was born in 1831. He appears in a Civil War draft registry of 1863 as a 32-year-old fisherman. He died 10 September 1898.4
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It seems not to have been noticed that a version of Dominy's story had in fact been published ten years earlier and, no doubt coincidentally, within two months of Mills Homan's death. In the Daily Standard Union (Brooklyn), 9 November 1898, is an item entitled "Tale of a Wreck. It Occurred on Fire Island Beach Many Years Ago. As Told by Arthur Dominy, Superintendent of the Third District, United States Life Saving Service, Who Narrates an Interesting Story—He believes that Margaret Fuller's body was buried on Coney Island." The salient portion is as follows:
Captain Wicks, of Bayshore, ran a sailing vessel regularly to New York. He took the bodies to the city with him, and informed Horace Greeley of the fact that he had the bodies on board his vessel, but the latter could not satisfy himself that the remains were those of the Count and his wife, so Capt. Wicks, fearing unpleasant complications if the bodies were found on board his craft, ran down the bay and buried them on the beach at Coney Island, and I believe that they have remained there undisturbed until the present time.5 [End Page 104]
If Homan actually was...