Folding Up the Mourning: 1891

1891 mourning fashions
1891 mourning fashions https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-02f0-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

MARY SPOTTSWOOD, OF ELMIRA.

 People are always interested in the breaking of a record, whether it be that of the steamer time across the Atlantic, or the number of days which a superfluous man can go without food and still continue his superfluity. So it is not strange that when it is announced that an Elmira young woman, twenty-four years old, has just been married for the fifth time, a demand for information concerning her should arise so loud that we cannot ignore it.

Before her marriage, two days ago, with the present incumbent, the lady’s name was Mary Mason. Space will not permit as to give her entire list of names, and thus run back to her maiden name–we can only say that her father was named Spottswood, and as Mary Spottswood she was known to her school-girl friends. She was bright and pretty, and later was well known in Elmira society.

Seven years ago, she contracted the marrying habit and has not yet been able to shake it off. A Tioga man named J. M. Coleman met Mary Spottswood and won her young heart So they were married in June, while the forward roses clambered up the veranda and peeped in the open windows at the redder roses of the cheeks of the bride. She was dressed in some sort of clinging white stuff, while the bridegroom wore the conventional black. Six months of wedded happiness rolled by, when the foolish Coleman stopped behind a vicious horse to look at the scenery. The horse knew the danger and switched his tail warningly, but still Coleman tarried and feasted his eye on the hill and dale. Then the horse kicked, and Mary Coleman put on her first mourning. But she did not wear it long, for mourning seems so out of place for a bride, especially when it is for a former husband.

Samuel Rucker, of Binghamton, came in seven months and claimed her for his own, and again the roses on the veranda envied those in her cheeks. Rucker was a butcher, and strong and healthy, and cautious as to horses, but the smallpox came, and he fell sick of it. His young wife nursed him faithfully, but one day she told the hired girl to go up stairs and to bring down the mourning. Mary Rucker was a widow after five short months of married life. But there was one slight consolation–how slight none may know–the mourning had not had time to go out of fashion.

And the same may be said of her wedding dress, for in a few more months Edwin Ailing, of Buffalo, threw himself at her feet, and hand in hand they went to the altar, while the girl packed away the mourning up stairs and the roses nudged one another in the ribs as they peeped in the window. Ailing lived a year, and it occasioned much quiet talk in the neighborhood. But one day he went into the bar to get a lemon, and a beer keg exploded and blew him through the ceiling. The faithful domestic had the mourning out before the Coroner arrived, for Mary Ailing was a widow. The dresses needed a little changing, owing to the lapse of time, but not much. And for that matter, the wedding dress had to be made over, too, because it was almost a year before Mary married again.

This time the bridegroom was named J. S. Mason, and he was from Brocton, and was a contractor. It is said that the roses did not take the trouble to peep this time, as it was becoming an old story to them, and the minister only looked in a moment and said, “Consider yourselves married,” and hurried away. The life insurance companies withdrew their policies on the life of J. S. Mason, and the honeymoon began. Fourteen months later he fell off scaffold. The fall was fatal He was five miles away from home, but in some mysterious way the hired girl felt that something was going to happen, and when the messenger came she was dusting off the mourning with a whisk broom. A dressmaker came that afternoon and fixed it over a little, putting in those high-top Gothic sleeves, and so forth, and again Mary Mason put it on.

She now announced that she should not marry again. She was still young, only twenty-two. She had always regretted leaving school so soon–she had left a year before her class had graduated–and now that she had seen her four poor, dear husbands in the only place where husbands can really be trusted, she determined to go back to school and finish the course. This she did, graduating with high honors. But after this was over the idea of marriage again occurred to her. Her schoolmates were marrying, why should not she do the same?

Joseph Armstrong, of Philadelphia, came and wooed her, and she consented. Two days ago, she became Mary Armstrong. The minister sent word that it was all right, and that he would call the next day with the certificate. The servant-girl folded up the mourning and put in some tar-camphor to keep away the moths for a few months. The bridegroom’s friends shook hands with him and sadly turned away. He is now busy arranging his business affairs. At the request of the bride he has made his will. She told him that this had been customary in the past, and he complied. New York Tribune.

The Kansas Chief [Troy KS] 2 April 1891: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  To paraphrase Mr Oscar Wilde, to lose one husband may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose four husbands looks like carelessness–or worse. Certainly one cannot blame Miss Spottswood. She seems far too young and inexperienced to engineer a skittish horse, smallpox, an exploding beer keg, and a fall from scaffolding. If the four husbands had all succumbed to gastric trouble, one might rightly look askance. One does wonder, however, about the hired girl’s prescient brushing of the mourning clothes and Mrs Armstrong’s request for the “customary” will. Perhaps the best we can say of her is that she is, to use the vernacular, a “hoodoo.”

A feature of interest in this story is the packing away of the lady’s mourning. It is widely believed to-day that Victorians thought that keeping mourning in the house after the expiration of the mourning period was unlucky. The author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, an assiduous researcher into mourning customs, has been looking into the matter and was pleased to find confirmation in this otherwise melancholy story of bereavement that mourning was not always immediately discarded.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdote

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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