Silent, Secret Deeds
With their solemn, mournful gait, their melancholy litters, their bat-winged, black hats flapping, their black masks, their sunken eyelids like the visionless sockets of skeletons, their long, shroud-like draperies concealing alike figures and faces, their black stockings, ascetic rosaries, and leather purses at their girdles, in short their entire paraphernalia of death and disease as they go noiselessly through the busy streets, the spectators making way for them and standing aside with hat in hand as they pass.
James Jackson Jarves for The New York Times - February 8, 1880
As penance for their sins or to fulfill a vow, the mysteriously shrouded figures—who belonged to the Brethren of the Misericordia—carried the sick to hospitals, buried the dead. The society was so secret that members hid their identities even from each other.
Photograph by G. G. Hubbard, circa 1910