A Strange Nervous Malady Which Sometimes Attacks Grave-Diggers.
(New York World.)
A strange sort of mental affection, known as “corpse-quake,” has often been found to exist among grave-diggers. It is no uncommon occurrence that a person employed in cemeteries for many ears is suddenly afflicted with a shaking similar to that experienced by persons suffering from ague.
A grave-digger who has been employed at the Cypress Hills Cemetery for fifteen years was seen yesterday by a reporter of the World.
“I know of a number of such cases,” said he. “Ten years ago we had three diggers here who had worked together for quite a while. One of the three who used to be a very lively chap and always willing and ready to tell a good yarn, became very quiet all at once. His companions noticed this, and thinking that Joe was not feeling well, let him alone. There was to be a funeral in the afternoon and we went over to dig the grave. As soon as Joe stuck his spade in the ground he began to shake. His companions told him to stop working if he didn’t feel well, but Joe paid no attention and continued with his work until the job had been finished. Three or four more graves were made that day, and every time Joe put down his spade he shook. The other two tried to make fun of him by imitating his shaking while at work. A few days later Joe’s companions had the corpse quake too and a week later had to stop work entirely.
“I thought that the three men had contracted malaria, but, strange to say, they never would have that peculiar shake while away from the cemetery. Joe came back to us, but every time he would pick up a spade and try to work, that old trouble would come back. We insisted upon his giving up the job, as he was falling away. He remained at home for about a week, and his wife told us that Joe was getting better again, when one day his boy mentioned the word “spade” in his father’s presence. It was the strangest thing in the world—no sooner had the boy said ‘spade’ than Joe took the corpse-quake again. He didn’t last long after that. He would be thinking about digging graves all the time, and this made him so sick that he died shortly after. I don’t remember what became of the other two men. They had to give up the job, and, I think, moved away from here altogether.”
The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 11 February 1889: p. 4
President’s Day is Monday, so today let’s look at some dead presidents—particularly stories of a few strange incidents at presidential tombs. Some 19th-century newspapers wrote about presidential graves suffering from neglect or disrepair like the overgrown grave of Thomas Jefferson in 1873, where student vandals had chiselled and chipped all the letters off of the granite monument or the once-popular tomb of William Henry Harrison, which was described as looking like a shabby bread oven in the 1890s. The tomb had been built on a hill overlooked the Ohio River. Steamboat captains would sound a reverential whistle and notify their passengers so that they could bare their heads at the simple brick vault, but the bricks were crumbling into dust by the time Harrison’s grandson came to the Presidency.
There have also been cases of genuine desecration of presidential graves: the infamous attempt to steal the body of President Lincoln from his Springfield tomb, vandals uprooting a cross at the head of John F. Kennedy’s grave in January,1970 and more vandalism there in December of 1997. And this strange disturbance at President Reagan’s grave by a person whose hobby is apparently desecrating as many presidential graves as possible. Such things happened more often in the past than one might expect, starting with George Washington.
Relics of the Father of His Country were avidly collected. One disgruntled gardener tried to collect the skull of George Washington, but was foiled. Below, a Washington biographer describes the old Washington tomb, which may still be seen today at Mount Vernon and also the condition of the General’s body. Prior to this description, the author fumes at a sacrilegious daguerreotypist offering to take pictures of tourists with Washington’s original tomb, aggressively peddling his services to people getting off the excursion boats.
This vault and inclosure were erected many years ago, in pursuance of instructions given in the following clause of Washington’s will: “The family vault at Mount Vernon requiring repairs, and being improperly situated besides, I desire that a new one, of brick, and upon a larger scale, may be built at the foot of what is called the Vineyard Inclosure, on the ground which is marked out, in which my remains, and those of my deceased relatives (now in the old vault,) and such others of my family as may choose to be entombed there, may be deposited.”
The old vault referred to was upon the brow of a declivity, in full view of the river, about three hundred yards south of the mansion, on the left of the present pathway from the tomb to the summer-house on the edge of the lawn. It is now an utter ruin. The door-way is gone, and the cavity is partly filled with rubbish. Therein the remains of Washington lay undisturbed for thirty years, when an attempt was made by some Vandal to carry them away. The insecure old vault was entered, and a skull and some bones were taken; but these comprised no part of the remains of the illustrious dead. The robber was detected, and the bones were recovered. The new vault was then immediately built, and all the family remains were placed in it. Mr. William Strickland, of Philadelphia, who designed the composition on the lid of Washington’s coffin, and accompanied Mr. Struthers when the remains of the patriot were placed in it, in 1837, has left a most interesting account of that event. On entering the vault they found everything in confusion. Decayed fragments of coffins were scattered about, and bones of various parts of the human body were seen promiscuously thrown together. The decayed wood was dripping with moisture. “The slimy snail glistened in the light of the door-opening. The brown centipede was disturbed by the admission of fresh air, and the mouldy case of the dead gave a pungent and unwholesome odor.” The coffins of Washington and his lady were in the deepest recess of the vault. They were of lead, inclosed in wooden cases. When the sarcophagus arrived, the coffin of the chief was brought forth. The vault was first entered by Mr. Strickland, accompanied by Major Lewis (the last survivor of the first executors of the will of Washington) and his son. When the decayed wooden case was removed, the leaden lid was perceived to be sunken and fractured. In the bottom of the wooden case was found the silver coffin-plate, in the form of a shield, which was placed upon the leaden coffin when Washington was first entombed. “At the request of Major Lewis,” says Mr. S., “the fractured part of the lid was turned over on the lower part, exposing to view a head and breast of large dimensions, which appeared, by the dim light of the candles, to have suffered but little from the effects of time. The eye-sockets were large and deep, and the breadth across the temples, together with the forehead, appeared of unusual size. There was no appearance of grave-clothes; the chest was broad, the color was dark, and had the appearance of dried flesh and skin adhering closely to the bones. We saw no hair, nor was there any offensive odor from the body; but we observed, when the coffin had been removed to the outside of the vault, the dripping down of a yellow liquid, which stained the marble of the sarcophagus. A hand was laid upon the head and instantly removed; the leaden lid was restored to its place ; the body, raised by six men, was carried and laid in the marble coffin, and the ponderous cover being put on and set in cement, it was sealed from our sight on Saturday the 7th day of October, 1837. . . . The relatives who were present, consisting of Major Lewis, Lorenzo Lewis, John Augustine Washington, George Washington, the Rev. Mr. Johnson and lady, and Mrs. Jane Washington, then retired to the mansion.” The Illustrated Life of Washington, Hon. J[oel] T[yler] Headley, 1860
This narrator claimed to have been present at the removal of the Washington bodies to their new tomb.
William H. Burgess, who lives in Alexandria, Va., assisted, in 1836, in building Washington’s new tomb at Mount Vernon. He says: “I was a lad then, but I remember that in removing the bodies of George and Martha to their present tomb we decided to open the coffin. I looked in and saw General Washington’s face. The body was well preserved, and the features were intact. There was nothing to indicate the time he had been dead. A minute after exposure to the air there was a collapse, and nothing was recognizable. The face looked like his pictures.” Repository [Canton, OH] 8 June 1889: p. 2
Several decades after the gardener’s attempt to get a head, there was another dire rumor about Washington’s skull.
WASHINGTON’S HEAD SAFE
No Truth in the Tale of the Tomb Desecration
[From our Regular Correspondent]
Corner Fifteenth and G Streets, N.W.,
Washington, Sept. 29, 1887.
The story that the head of Washington was stolen from Mount Vernon and carried to Paris by curiosity hunters is pronounced by Dr. G.M. Toner as an unqualified falsehood.
The remains of Washington were removed from the old and original coffin about fifty years ago and placed in the marble sarcophagus made for that purpose, which was not only to keep out the air but so constructed and fastened that it would be next to impossible for anybody to violate the sanctity of the seals without having uninterrupted access to them for many hours.
THE SKELETON INTACT IN THE TOMB.
When the remains were transferred from the old coffin to the marble receptacle many members of the Washington family were present, with persons of prominence, and they all certified to the fact that the skeleton was all intact. After the sarcophagus was put in its place the iron grated door was locked and the key thrown into the Potomac. The old lock is still in good preservation and has never been tampered with.
During the Rebellion the grounds at Mount Vernon were held sacred and the hand of the vandal was never known to have desecrated any part of the tomb or its surroundings.
WATCHING NIGHT AND DAY.
The last resting place of Washington has been vigilantly watched ever since the present tomb was erected. Though some distance from the mansion, every device known has been used for many years to alarm the superintendent of the grounds. Now electric wires communicate with the house, making it impossible for any one to even attempt to open the iron doors.
The story, therefore, that the skull of Washington was ever removed or even profaned by the touch of vandals, Dr. Toner says, is utterly without foundation. In 1849 the Washington heirs loaned to Mr. Clark Mills the original cast of Washington’s face, made during life by the celebrated sculptor Houdon. It was never returned, but in its place, a copy which Mr. Mills claimed was in better condition than the original, was sent to the Mount Vernon mansion. It subsequently passed into the possession of Mr. McDonald, the sculptor, and is supposed to be in his possession still. Speculation was rife for a time as to who had the original. It was not, however, stolen, and is probably still in New York. New York Herald 30 September 1887: p. 6
Those pesky, overwrought headline composers were at it again in this article about an incident at the McKinley vault. There was an actual event, but no attempt to blow up the tomb.
VANDALS AT CANTON
Guards at McKinley’s Tomb Attacked
WANTED TO BLOW IT UP
That is What is Generally Believed. Great Excitement.
Dastardly Plot at Canton
Attempt Was Made Last Night to Blow Up McKinley’s Tomb.
Canton, O., Sept. 30 A strange story comes from Westlawn cemetery, where a company of regulars from Fort Wayne, Mich., is guarding the vault in which the body of the late President McKinley lies. It is to the effect that the guard on duty on top of the vault last night fired a shot at one man who refused to heed his challenge; that the shot was diverted by another man, who appeared from another direction, and that an effort was made to stab the guard.
Private Deprend was on guard duty on top of the vault at a point commanding the entrance below and the approach from the rear. Shortly before 7:30 o’clock he saw what he took to be the face of a man peering from behind a tree about forty feet from his post. He watched it for twenty minutes, he says, and at 7:45 o’clock saw the man hurry to a tree ten feet nearer. He challenged the man to halt, but this was not heeded, and the fellow approached nearer. Deprend levelled his gun and aimed to shoot for effect, but just at that instant, another man, who came toward him from the opposite side, caught the gun, threw it up, and the bullet spent in the air.
This same man struck Deprend on the right side of the abdomen with a knife or other sharp weapon, cutting an L-shaped gash in his overcoat an inch and a half long each way, and a smaller one in his blouse. The flesh was not broken, but was bruised under the cuts in the clothing. Deprend, in the struggle, fell and rolled down the side of the vault.
Lieut. Ashbridge, officer of the day, was in front of the vault and rushed to the top on hearing the shot, but the men made their escape. All members of the company, on hearing the shot, hurried to the vault, and, besides searching the cemetery, the guard was increased.
Deprend is said to be an excellent soldier, and to have a fine record with his officers. He says the man who attacked him was masked, but that the first one he saw was not masked. He saw the latter carried a white package in his right hand and something that glittered in his left.
Since the incident stories have been told in camp of some incendiary conversations overheard in the crowds that have visited the cemetery, including one today, alleging that some stranger said: “Lots of people would like to see this whole thing blown up.”
Canton, O., Sept. 30. Eight prisoners broke from the county jail here Sunday by sawing out the bars of a window opening from a court between the jail and court house. They had five minutes start when discovered. Bloodhounds were immediately put on the trail.
Canton, Sept. 30. The city is astir today over the assault on Guard Deprend at the vault in which McKinley’s body rests. Some advance the theory that one man who broke jail here last night made the attack in an effort to secure a rifle, with which to protect himself against pursuing officers. The belief is general, however, that the attack was part of a plot to blow up the tomb. Riverside [CA] Daily Press 30 September 1901: p. 1
A later article quoted a sentinel who described three men who had spoken to him as he was guarding the tomb. “One asked how long sentinels in front of the vault gates were kept on duty. I told him half an hour at a time. He asked me if there were other guards. I told him several on the hill, over the vault and at other places. The second man said he did not see the use of all this fuss: that no one would try to do any harm now.
“The third man said he was mistaken; that there were lots of people who would like to see the whole thing blown up.
“No, I had no suspicion that any of these men would have any interest in or would sympathize with any act of violence. I think they were speaking of the disposition of other classes who might be prompted to such acts.” Morning Herald Lexington KY] 1 October 1901: p. 1, 8.
One can see how this might have been twisted by an overzealous journalist into an actual attack on the monument, but the men’s remarks might equally seem suspicious: like reconnaissance for some dastardly mission.
Other papers sneered at the event as the product of a nervous guard’s brain.
The marauder scare at Canton, as nearly as we can make out, was not caused by beings in the flesh, but by spirits which are supposed to haunt cemeteries. It is not likely that there will be any further difficulty with such uncanny presences, if the officer in command of the detail will carefully exclude spirits from the camp. The Evening Times [Washington, DC] 1 October 1901: p. 4
In fact, “Particular inquiry was made as to Deprend’s sobriety. The time, it is said, established beyond all reasonable doubt that he had not been drinking….The most common belief is that the sentinel was over-wrought by the loneliness of his position; that his nerves were taxed, and that imagination contributed to some of the details related in good faith. The post is regarded as particularly isolated and depressing to a man guarding it at night.” Morning Herald [Lexington, KY] 1 October 1901: p. 1, 8.
There was definitely something to the notion of the job being particularly depressing. [See this post on Tombstone Madness.] Here is the story of a soldier who apparently had a breakdown while guarding the Cleveland grave of President Garfield. This was before the immense tomb we see today was finished. I have not found others, so the journalist may have exaggerated.
A Soldier Becomes insane While Guarding Garfield’s Tomb.
Cleveland Dispatch to Philadelphia Press.
Joseph Kashinsky, a private in Company H, Tenth U.S. Infantry, on duty at Garfield’s grave, in Lake View Cemetery, has become insane, and has been taken to Detroit for cure. The peculiar form of insanity is melancholia, and a peculiar state of affairs came to light when the case was looked up. The men on the guard dread their duty, and several cases are reported of men committing offenses for the purpose of getting punished.
Anything or any device is used to get away from the ghostly array of mounds and tombs. This is said to have driven Kashinsky insane and his incoherent language and actions carry out the impression. One man, a veteran, said: “I dread the duty, although I am not afraid of it and do not complain, but on the younger the strain is intense. Many tricks are resorted to to escape the night watches.” Kashinsky is a young Pole, but ten months a soldier, twenty-one years of age, and until this trouble came a light-hearted, healthy young man. Cincinnati [OH] Commercial Tribune, 2 April 1883: p. 2
Some newspapers attributed the young man’s insanity to the “Curse of Guiteau” (another post, another time), a malign hoodoo widely reported to have killed and driven dozens of people insane.
There had been an attempt to snatch Garfield’s body before it was placed in the temporary tomb in Lake View Cemetery so guards were felt to be necessary. “The guards are almost essential to protect the tomb from the relic fiends as from the ghouls. The guards assert that were it not for their presence, and the wire screen or fence, which completely surround te tomb, that the crowds that visit it would chip off, break up and carry away vault, casket and all as relics. As it is they break twigs from adjacent trees, reach through the wires and pluck blades of grass, pick up pebbles or anything else they can seize upon.” New Ulm [MN] Weekly Review 14 February 1883: p. 1
The Garfield tomb was a popular tourist attraction. In 1882 there were complaints of littering, theft, vandalism, and harassment of bereaved visitors by the “picnic masher element.” Lake View Cemetery decided to close its doors to the public on Sundays, except for “proper persons” who could apply for a ticket of admission. [Source: Cleveland [OH] Leader 22 August 1882.]
There was much resentment expressed in some newspapers about the expense and the “farce” of keeping up a guard of soldiers at Garfield’s grave and eventually the guard was withdrawn July 1, 1886. With this event, as well as the finishing of Garfield’s permanent tomb, a story emerged about some genuine bodysnatching:
When Secretary Endicott ordered the guard removed from Garfield’s tomb the family and friends of the dead President were alarmed. Detectives informed them that an organized band of body snatchers had plotted to desecrate the sepulchre. It was finally decided to remove the remains to an obscure vault in another corner of the cemetery. This was accomplished in darkness by a party of four chosen friends. Pittsburg [PA] Dispatch 19 February 1890: p. 1
The article goes on to describe how four prominent Cleveland business men, friends of the Garfield family, got a key to the holding vault, got Garfield’s immensely heavy coffin out of its sarcophagus, and carried it in complete darkness to an obscure vault in a little-visited section of the cemetery. Then they resealed the sarcophagus, locked the door, and went home, sworn to secrecy. Apparently one of the men hurt himself so badly in carrying the heavy coffin that he never really recovered. The article goes on to describe how people paid their respects at an empty sarcophagus, little knowing of the “necessary deception.”
Today Garfield’s massive monument at Lake View Cemetery is said to be haunted by mysterious lights and perhaps the apparition of the man himself.
Our last case concerns some truly odd events at the holding vault where the body of President Warren G. Harding and his wife were kept until the Harding Monument could be built.
Harding’s Tomb Guards Are Annoyed
Marion, O. Jan. 3. Lieutenant R.H. Harriman, commander of the guard detachment stationed in Marion cemetery to guard the vault in which reposes the body of the late President Harding, supplement a previous order, today issued instructions to the twenty-six men in his command to make every effort to capture a marauder, who, since the formation of the guard detachment, has continually annoyed the perpetual guard of six men. Gruesome disturbances including bugle blowing at midnight, ghostly noises by prowlers and throwing of stones in the direction of the vault make up the offense with which the individual or individuals will be charged if captured.
Several time soldiers have caught glimpses of a man and on several occasions have shot at him. Early one morning a guardsman chased a man for over half a mile.
It is believed by Lieutenant Harriman that the continual disturbances represent an attempt to frighten the men and to break the morale of the detachment. It is also thought that possibly people came to the cemetery to rob the graves of flowers. Elyria [OH] Chronicle Telegraph 3 January 1924: p. 8
An Associated Press story added that “at first it was thought it was small boys, but when the disturbances kept up, the guard took it more seriously.” So seriously, that Lieut. R.H. Harriman, the commander of the tomb guards, ordered his men to shoot directly at anyone causing a disturbance. The article said also “Riot guns have been sent from Fort Hayes, at Columbus headquarters for the guard detachment here, and these loaded with buckshot will be used if the disturbances continue.”
It seems unlikely that flower thieves or pranksters would be flitting about the cemetery, risking being shot. The stone throwing and ghostly noises almost suggest poltergeist manifestations.
It’s a curious thing that the stories about Garfield, McKinley and Harding all refer to events at holding vaults, rather than their finished tombs. Is there something about corpses in transit or bodies not yet laid to rest that encourages graveyard intruders?
Any other stories of presidential tomb disturbances? Signal by dark lantern to Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Everybody on the West Side knows Barney Sullivan. He drives a hearse for a Madison street undertaker. He wears a fuzzy old plug hat and a monkey-fur cape. Barney also takes great pride in his whiskers. They are of a pleasing though rather tyrannical red, and exude only from his chin.
Not long ago Barney met the Widow McGraw, whose husband was killed last summer in the Burlington yards. It was at a wake that Barney became acquainted with the Widow McGraw. Barney was invited to call, which he did, and on leaving it was arranged that they should go buggy-riding Sunday afternoon if the day was fine.
Barney forgot all about engaging a rig until 10 o’clock yesterday morning. He went to several stables on the west side, but could not hire a horse for love or money. There wasn’t a horse or buggy to be had in all Chicago. As a last resort he hitched up a team of cream-colored horses to a white hearse and started for Prairie avenue. In front of where the widow is employed he turned in so close that the wheels of the hearse scraped against the curbstone.
People in the neighborhood went out on the front steps to inquire who was dead. Presently Barney and the widow came out of the house and mounted the driver’s box. They drove in impressive dignity down Drexel boulevard, and then turned the heads of the cream-colored horses toward Jackson Park. Thousands of persons saw the strange vehicle circling around the park, but they didn’t know what to make of it. Barney and the widow paid no attention to the caustic comments made upon them from time to time. They enjoyed the drive as well as they would have done in a landau.
For on the way home it was all planned that the Widow McGraw will soon change her name to Sullivan.
Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 22 March 1891: p. 9
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil wishes the couple joy, but to be punctilious about a point of etiquette, a white hearse, while no doubt a lovely spectacle, is meant only for the youthful and the previously unmarried, which the Widow McGraw emphatically was not.
There was also a popular superstition that to see a hearse or mourning-coach on one’s wedding day was an ill-omen for the marriage. Mr Sullivan is fortunate that the lady of his choice not only did not recoil in horror at his choice of vehicle, but took pleasure in the ride and the company, despite the circumstances, hinting at a character of rare flexibility and amiability, and suggesting that their home life will be a happy one.
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.
February 1. My Dear Cousins,—Many, many years ago the Great White Queen on one of her first public appearances was shown to her subjects by candle light. During a Royal visit to Leamington, when she was still a child, a great crowd gathered at night outside the Regent Hotel, where the Duchess of Kent and her daughter were staying, and to satisfy the people the Duchess of Kent held the little Princess at the window while Sir John Conroy stood behind with two wax candles.
THE CHAPELLE ARDENTE.
Once again the soft glow of tapers falls on the faces of her subjects, but oh! how changed the scene. The little Princess, having wielded England’s sceptre longer and better than any predecessor, lies at rest in her island home, while her subjects, sorrowful and silent, file slowly by the coffin. From the peaceful death-chamber six stalwart bluejackets bore the Mistress of the Seas to the dining room where Princess Alice was married, now transformed into a Chapelle Ardente with some of the pomp that befits a mighty monarch. The room in which the now closed coffin rests overlooks the terrace, with Whippingham Church half a mile away, set in a charming picture of woods, and meadows, and hills. It is no grisly, gloomy chamber that the late Queen’s tenants and servants, her Osborne visitors, the. officers of her army and navy, the mayors of the island, and the Press representatives have been privileged to enter. On the scarlet dais in the centre of the chamber is the Royal Standard in silk. The coffin rests on the banner, but it cannot be seen, being covered by a- great pall of white satin, on which lie the dead Sovereign’s robes of the Order of the Garter, crimson velvet outside and ermine within. Her crown stands on the head of the coffin, its diamonds flashing in the flood of illumination. Small electric lights line the walls, and in each of the four corners are two candelabras, the tapers in which are artificial, with electric lights. The coffin is flanked by three tall silver candlesticks; at its foot is an altar in front of the French window, which is concealed by rich tapestry. The sacred table is covered with cloth of crimson and gold, on which appears the letters I.H.S. A large Greek cross stands on the table, flanked by candlesticks in which arc lighted tapers, while two other candlesticks rise from the altar steps. Above hangs a sacred picture, and over the mantelpiece opposite is another of Christ and His mother. All round the room arc palms and wreaths of flowers, tokens of love and sorrow. In one corner a silken Union Jack hangs from floor to ceiling, caught with an immense wreath of arums and laurels from the Royal gardens at Frogmore and but with this exception and that of the tapestry the chamber is entirely draped with crimson. But for the black spots on the ermine lining of the Royal cloak there would not be a sombre note in the picture. At each comer of the coffin stand Grenadier Guardsmen, with heads bowed and rifles reversed, while the Queen’s faithful Scotch and Indian personal, attendants and her equerry still continue with her in the hour of death.
THE ROYAL COFFIN.
The body rests in a beautiful shell of cedar wood made at Osborne. Outside this there will be placed a leaden case, hermetically sealed, and the whole will be covered by a panelled oak coffin highly polished. The coffin is being made by a firm in London who have made the coffins of the Kings and Queens and Royal Princes since George I.’s reign. It will exactly follow the lines of the coffin made for the late Duchess of Teck. The furniture is of plain brass, with square handles. There will be eleven panels, three on either side, three above, and one at each end. In the upper of the three panels above will lie an Imperial crown in brass, and under this a recital of Her Majesty’s titles, her age, length of reign, and general escutcheon. The coffin is made to fit the sarcophagus in Frogmore. There, is, I think, a general feeling of relief at the announcement that there is to be no formal lying in state. The funeral is to be simple and stately, and the Queen is to be borne through the Empire’s capital, so that her subjects, through whom she has so often passed amidst acclamation, may do her reverence on her last journey. What a contrast it will be to that magnificent, jubilee pageant, three years ago! Then national rejoicings, now
That legend one reads in all the drapers’ shops. How superfluous the announcement seems, as superfluous as the Lord Chamberlain’s order that, “all persons do put themselves into the deepest mourning. This said mourning to begin upon Monday, the 28th day of this instant January.” All people had already done so as soon as ever they heard the sad news with a. unanimous spontaneity that proved the genuineness of their grief. I saw the mourning for the Duke of Clarence, but that was but a passing slight shadow of black compared to the present aspect of our streets. Everyone, be he lord or laborer, has garbed himself in black. The navvy wraps a black cloth round his neck, the barrister wears a deep band on his hat and a black tie. Even the laundry girl, who loves to garb herself in hues that stagger humanity, has managed to don a black hat and a black bow. We women are attired in black from head to foot, unbroken save perhaps by a touch of white. Look up a crowded street and you will see one long line of unrelieved black on each pavement. I was in a picture gallery to-day, and all the women present were as much in mourning as if each had lost a member of her own family. The very few people who still retain bright color in their hats or consider violent violet or proud purple suitable hues for complimentary mourning are so rare that their bright tints in the midst of the array of black strikes the eye with a shock of incongruity. And yet the effect does not seem so dismal as you would imagine, my dears. Black has a wonderfully refining influence and becomes us all, as you must have often noted in the case of maids and shopgirls. The crowd seems chastened, the vulgarity subdued, the bad taste blotted out, plain women look pretty, pretty women beautiful. A period of national mourning will prove, too, a useful corrective to our growing tendency towards show and garishness. An Englishwoman used to be noted for the simplicity of her costume; last summer you saw her shopping or strolling in lace and lingerie more suitable for the theatre or the ball room than for a simple walking dress. But I mustn’t begin to moralise. That is the sole function of the editor of your ‘Women’s World.’
So far, and remember that I am writing at the beginning of the week, the mourning on our buildings has not yet assumed what I call a grisly shape, in which loyal grief is supposed to be in direct proportion to the extent of gloom that hangs over the shop front. At Windsor, at all events, there is to be no gruesomeness, no sombreness. The way to the altar in St. George’s Chapel will be carpeted with grey drugget, and there will be no sable drapery in the Chapel, hangings of royal purple taking its place. The Queen’s pew is even now draped with purple. It is to be hoped that the Royal example will be followed by the loyal Londoners. There are signs, however, that dismal draperies will be much more in evidence as the week draws to its close. In Fleet street one large furniture shop has already overshadowed itself by two huge sable curtains, caught up with white. Other establishments have hung from their balconies dark black cloth, fringed with white cord. Opposite our house an artistic potter has hung out a black banner bearing a silver crown and “V.” and violet letters” “R.I.P.” In one window the Queen’s portrait bordered by white heathery sprays is lit by two candles, while from the top of the building depends a black canopy, in the centre of which appears a shield with inscription: “We mourn our Queen and Mother.” Most shops content themselves with mourning shutters, a black plank placed perpendicularly in the centre of each window, and with flying the Royal Standard and Union Jack half-mast high, thus introducing a touch of color into the scene. With violets, purple and white, as well as black; available for the decoration of shop windows, you would have expected some simple and yet harmonious effective arrangement of the mourning goods displayed. I made a little tour of the fashionable dressmakers and drapers yesterday, but was disappointed in the lack of system—the absence of any dominant idea scheme in the windows. Black hats and toques and bonnets succeeded each other in unorganised monotony, black gowns and blouses were mixed with white in aimless array: and rolls of black cloth lay side by side with the uniformity of soldiers on parade. Occasionally someone, more enterprising than the rest, festooned the windows with black and white and violet muslin. In this respect the men’s shops made a more effective show than ours. With white shirts, white handkerchiefs, and black ties and scarves they contrived some striking combinations. One man hung alternately long full black scarves and white cambric handkerchiefs, over the top of which fell narrow black ties, such as men tie in bows. Another had arrayed his shirts in rows, with a wide black band diagonally across each shirt.
The florists made little difference in their usual display, giving perhaps more prominence to violets and white flowers than to brighter-colored ones. One Regent street shop displayed a Royal Crown in gold mimosa on a cushion of purple violets. Others showed wreaths of laurels or palms tied with white ribbon. Fuller’s confectionery windows were filled with puffed violet nun’s veiling, in which nestled dark chocolates. A stationer’s was full of black-edged and grey writing paper, and menu cards and ice case’s ornamented with sprays of violets. The hairdressers’ models were robed in black bodices. Everywhere are displayed portraits of the Queen draped in black, and these the people throng to buy. In the way of mourning jewellery there is little to be seen. No one has yet produced a cheap medallion or other memorial of the Queen that can be universally worn as were the buttons of the various generals at the war. The people would eagerly wear a simple, artistic memorial and treasure it in remembrance of their good Queen. One industry has received a strong impetus —that of Whitby jet, the demand for which had much declined. Jet is a fossil substance found in beds of lignite or brown coal, and there are large veins of it near Whitby, which port, in anticipation of a revival of the trade, had stored a large quantity of the best local jet, Many hundred pounds’ worth have already been despatched to London and the big provincial towns. In the jewellers’ windows here you see jet muff chains and hair combs. Whitby jet brooches and French jet waist buckles, jet aigrettes, jet and beaded bags, purses, safety pins and hat pins, jet necklaces and cut jet collarettes, initial safety pin mourning ‘brooches, jet necklets with pendant hearts of jet. Gun metal, too. is being utilised for mourning card cases, studs and sleeve links, and purses. Oxydised brooches of heart’s-ease or four-leaved clover, set with two or three diamonds or pearls, are also fashionable. Diamonds and .pearls, of course, are mourning wear, and the trade in these jewels will not suffer substantially. Those who like those bead necklaces and chains so fashionable now will no doubt be able to get them in amethysts and crystals, such as Miss Cockerell sent Princess Henry of Battenberg. The late Queen herself ordered some of jet and onyx for her own wear, so I daresay a good many people will be seen with similar necklaces in remembrance of her.
It. is at present hard to estimate the effect of the nation’s mourning upon trade in general. For the moment, there has, of course, been widespread loss in many directions, making the blow all the harder after the period of depression caused by the war. Entertainments, banquets, and other public functions have been abandoned. The value of thousands of pounds’ worth of flowers for table decorations has been lost, singers and society entertainers find their vocation for the present gone, and the decision of the managers of the principal theatres to close until after the funeral will cause distress to thousands who at this time of year depend on the pantomimes for their livelihood. Home managers, to prevent their employes being suddenly reduced to starvation, are keeping open their theatres every night save on that of the funeral. It is one thing to keep open a theatre and another to get the people just now to come to be amused, so that in all probability the opening of the theatres will simply mean that the employes, who only get paid for the nights they perform, will benefit at the cost of their managers.
While the drapery establishments for the time being will be largely drawn upon for mourning materials, it is evident that their general business will largely decrease. In the first place, black lasts so much longer than lighter colors, and many little fancy fal-lals that we should purchase for our adornment, at other times will be dispensed with. Again, a large proportion of the middle class still make their old things do for the occasion, and content themselves with cheap black blouses and scarves, and retrim the black hats that have been so fashionable of late.
Although the Court is directed to go into mourning for a whole year it is unlikely that the people will go garbed in solemn suits of black for so long, nor will crape be at all generally worn except by those in close connection with the Court. In all probability, after a couple of months, as the winter draws to a close, (and, en passant, it is evident, that at no other season could the loss caused by the sudden transformation have been less), the black will be relieved by touches of white, and as the summer approaches subdued shades will gradually come, into wear—greys, lavenders, violets, purples. mauves–brightening steadily until Edward VII. and Queen Alexandra establish their Court definitely in the metropolis. The re-establishment of Court gaieties and functions in London in 1902 should lead to a, great revival of trade, that will more than compensate for the present year’s gloom. The King and Queen will appear more often among their subjects, Drawing Rooms will be held at night instead of in the afternoons—in fact, there will be some Court life and brilliancy such as has been practically lacking ever since the Prince, Consort’s death.
Tales of her sympathy and reminiscences of her kindly acts are legion….Prince Albert had just died, and when the bereaved Queen reached Balmoral, a few weeks after his death, she found the blinds of one of her cottages drawn. The master of the home had gone where prince and peasant are equal, and in his cottage the Queen sat with his widow. Together they wept, all earthly distinctions lost in their common sorrow. “I cried and the Queen cried,” said the cottager; “and when I begged her to pardon me for crying so bitterly, she said to me: ‘I am so glad to have someone to cry with who knows just how I feel.'”
And how are we to keep her memory green in our hearts? Someone suggests that we should retain her portrait on some of her stamps, another that we should ever improve the morality of the nation, and follow the example set us by her own virtuous We; a third— that we should have an annual holiday, a “Victoria Day,” in her memory. May 24 here is not celebrated as a public holiday, and, it is said, is too close to the Whitsun festival. In the colonies, however. “Queen’s Birthday” has become an institution, and will surely remain so in remembrance of one who at all events to all of us out of our teens, will always be referred to as the Queen.
Evening Star 11 March 1901: p. 2
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: To-day [2 February 1901] is the anniversary of the State Funeral for Queen Victoria, held in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. The letter above was written by a New Zealand correspondent resident in London and gives an evocative look at mourning in the Capital for the beloved Queen. The descriptions of shop windows and florist displays are particularly interesting, describing as they do, the long-lost ephemera of national mourning. While no doubt the window-dresser at Fuller’s confectionery had the best of intentions, Mrs Daffodil must challenge the assumption that dark chocolates are suitable for mourning.
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 anecdotes
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.