What happens when you open a casket and find out it is not who it is supposed to be? It happens, regretfully, once in a while. Sometimes it was a goof up at the coroner’s office or the mortuary screwed up. In the case of Leonard Hickman, the Winnipeg Free Press reports, his remains were not in the coffin when arrived for burial but someone else.
Leonard Hickman had emigrated from England in 1908 to Eden, a small town in Western Canada north of Neepawa. He worked on a farm and was apparently well liked. He was engaged to Margaret, the daughter of the farm owners, in 1911. So he traveled back to England in late 1911 to tell his family and convince them to all move to Canada. And they all agreed. Alas the coal strike of 1912 meant they could not all travel together so Leonard, his brothers Lewis and Stanley, and four friends ended up on Titanic.
Leonard’s body was the only one found so it was decided to ship it to Neepawa for internment there. There is some dispute over whether White Star arranged shipment of the body or the Eden branch of Independent Order of Foresters which Hickman was a member of. The funeral was set for May 10, 1912 but the train was late in arriving, Harold Honeyman, who owned the farm and was Hickman’s boss, and James Smith who knew the Hickman family, opened the casket to find it was not Leonard Hickman. Instead it was a much older man with a moustache. Since the mourners had already assembled, a decision was made not to inform them. Whether or not the minister who presided over the ceremony knew is unclear and was announced that due to his being in the water for a while, it would be a closed-casket service.
Now the town had gone all out for the funeral with flags at half-staff with many businesses and offices closed, and a citizens band to lead the procession. So one can understand why they choose the deception. Sometime afterwards they discovered the body was Lewis Hickman, Leonard’s brother. Personal effects confirmed later by his widow that it was indeed Lewis. Apparently what happened was a card found in Lewis’s pocket from the Independent Order of Foresters with Leonard’s name on it was used to identify the body.
So what happened next, as word eventually spread about what happened, was to alter the gravestone to mark the names of all three Hickman brothers who perished on Titanic. The grave is located in the Riverside Cemetery in Neepawa, Canada.