Beloved Harry’s Widow: 1857

FEMALE SHARP PRACTICE

Some years ago a young gentleman living in Crawford county “went west,” settled in a western city, and became rich. He married a lady residing in the city where he located. After he had been married about six months, he prepared to visit Crawford county in company with his bride. But a few days before he was to start, he was accidentally killed by a crate of crockery falling upon him from the second story of his warehouse. The event was duly communicated to his family in Ohio. This was about eighteen months ago.

About three months since, the father of the deceased was startled to see a carriage drive up to his door. A very interesting lady, dressed in mourning, stepped out and introduced herself as the widow of the dead son. Great was the joy of the household at the visit of their beloved son and brother’s relict. She said she was going to Rhode Island, and could not resist the opportunity of seeing the parents of her “beloved Harry.” This was accompanied by a flood of tears and “furnace sighs.” Three weeks passed by and she had worked her way deep into the affections of the family. She was regarded as a daughter—as a sister. The hour came for her departure—they had exchanged miniatures—the farewells were said—the blubbering was at its very height, when she called the old gentleman to one side, and with great embarrassment told him that she had lost her pocket-book on the cars, containing all but a trifle of her funds. She felt diffidence in making the request, but if she could not apply to her “beloved Harry’s” father, to whom could she go!

The old man’s heart melted, and in a moment his wallet was produced, and ten X’s of the Seneca County Bank were tendered and accepted. She departed—alas, that dear friends must part! Time flew, and a month passed, but noting was heard from “beloved Harry’s” relict. The old gentleman became alarmed and addressed a letter to the father of his son’s wife, detailing the circumstances of her visit. An answer came. It is stated that the widow of his late son was at home—had not been away—and that from the description given, the woman who personated her was a servant girl who had lived with them, and had gleaned enough of the history of Harry’s family in Ohio, to enable her to play his wife. Tiffin (Ohio) Ad. Feb. 13

Sheboygan [WI] Journal 12 March 1857: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: One can only admire the nerve of the servant girl who took a very great risk for what seems like little gain. A truly inspired imposter would have poisoned Harry’s mother and married his father. Or perhaps coaxed Harry’s father to change his will in her favor to benefit her and Harry’s putative unborn child–then arranged an accident. A cautionary tale of what can happen when servants listen at doors.

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.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the DeadThe Ghost Wore BlackThe Headless HorrorThe 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.

An Artistic Undertaker: 1901

Miniature porcelain tombstone for a 4-year-old child, 1859 http://auctions.freemansauction.com/auction-lot-detail/1410/1056

AN ARTISTIC UNDERTAKER

The Element of Uncanniness Eliminated in His Pretty Shop.

The most artistic undertaker’s shop in New York is on Eighth avenue. Most undertakers are content with one fine casket under a glass case for their show window display, with perhaps an impressive velvet curtain as a background. But this Eight avenue man has what might be called a “dressy” window. He has all the newest ideas for making undertaking and its trappings less uncanny in their aspects than formerly.

For this purpose he has filled his immense corner show windows with a quantity of palm trees—not the real, but the artificial sort—high and imposing, with drooping spiked leaves and all the melancholy of the willow, with a certain modern style of their own as well as a suggestion of tropical warmth. Beneath these palms he has carelessly scattered a number of caskets of different colors, sizes and finish.

For the frivolous, there are shades of violet velvet from faint lilac to deepest purple and the very latest things in  embossed cloths and fruity interior decorations. Then there are odd complicated arrangements opening with springs like folding beds and metal caskets with locks and keys of heavy and substantial make. Beneath the palms these are displayed with as much careful grace of arrangement as regards shade as though they were park benches.

But the daintiest touch is given by the tombstone models, miniature replicas of beautiful designs in monuments. Time was when one selected a tombstone from a book of cold black and white designs, but here you can see the styles, gay little arched effects and tiny angels showing the color and general effect of the tombstone when finished. They are small, for the tall, sky piercing shafts in the samples measure no more than two feet. Little girls wander in now and then to try and buy them for their dolls, but they are intended solely for undertaker’s bric-a-brac. New York Sun.

Irish American Weekly [New York, NY] 15 June 1901: p. 6

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 on Twitter @hauntedohiobook. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead. 

The Swans of Closeburn: 1700s

Whenever any member of the Kirkpatricks of Closeburn in Dumfries-shire was about to die, a swan that was never seen but on such occasions was sure to make its appearance upon the lake surrounding Closeburn Castle, coming no one knew whence and passing away mysteriously when the predicted death had taken place. In connection with this omen the following legend is told: In days gone by the lake was the favourite resort during the summer season of a pair of swans, their arrival always being welcome to the family at the castle, from a long-established belief that they were ominous of good fortune to the Kirkpatricks. No matter what mischance might have before impended, it was sure to cease at their coming, and so suddenly as well as constantly that it required no very ardent superstition to connect the two events as cause and effect.

But a century and a half had passed away, when it happened that the young heir of Closeburn, a lad about thirteen years of age, in one of his visits to Edinburgh, attended a performance of The Merchant of Venice at the theatre. In the course of the play he was surprised to hear Portia say of Bassanio that he would

Make a swanlike end.

Fading to music.

Wondering whether swans really sang before dying, he determined at the first opportunity to test the truth of the words for himself. On his return home he was one day walking by the lake, when the swans came rushing majestically towards him, and at once reminded him of Portia’s remark. Without a moment’s thought he lodged in the breast of the foremost one a bolt from his crossbow, killing it instantly. Frightened at what he had done he made up his mind that it should not be known, and as the dead body of the bird drifted towards the shore he lifted it and buried it deep in the ground.

No small surprise, however, was created in the neighbourhood when for several years no swans made their annual appearance. As time passed it was thought that they must have died, but one day, many years later, much excitement was caused by the appearance of a single swan with a deep blood-red stain upon its breast. As might be expected, this unlooked-for occurrence occasioned grave suspicions even among those who had no great faith in omens; and that such fears were not groundless was soon abundantly clear, for in less than a week the Lord of Closeburn Castle died suddenly. Thereupon the swan vanished and was seen no more for some years, when it again appeared to announce the loss of one of the house by shipwreck.

The last recorded appearance of the bird was at the third nuptials of Sir Thomas Kirkpatrick, the first baronet of that name. On the wedding day his son Roger was walking by the lake, when, on a sudden, as if it had emerged from the waters, the swan with the bleeding breast appeared. Roger had heard of the mysterious swan, and although his father’s wedding bells were ringing merrily, he himself returned to the castle a sorrowful man, for he felt convinced that some evil was hanging over him. On that very night the son died, and here ends the strange story of the swans of Closeburn.

The Occult Review March 1916: pp. 164-5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Some might take this as a warning about the evil influence of the play-house on Impressionable Youth.

The exact quote is

Let music sound while he doth make his choice;
Then, if he lose, he makes a swan-like end,
Fading in music.
(The Merchant of Venice, 3.2.46)

Of course, the term “swan-song” is proverbial; swans were believed to burst into beautiful song as they were dying.

Swans are also considered to be a death omen for the Marquises of Bath. When the Marquis is about to die, it is said that one of the swans flies away from the lake at Longleat and does not return.

“The present Lord Bath told author [Christina Hole] that during World War I, when his elder brother, then the Marquis, was fighting in France, his mother saw a swan fly away as she stood by a window. Five swans flew toward her, then circled the mansion. One swan then turned out of the formation and flew into the distance while the four returned to the lake. The following morning she received the official telegram informing her of her son’s death.” The Psychic Power of Animals, Bill Schul

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.

A Gettysburg Soldier Decorates His Own Grave: 1886

Headstone marker, originally thought to be for Private Stephen Kelly, but now for an unknown soldier, in Section A of the Pennsylvania Plot in the Gettysburg National Cemetery. The headstone is now marked “UNKNOWN.” Photo credit: Karl Stelly

This post was originally posted on the Mrs Daffodil Digresses blog on 3 July 2015.

Mrs Daffodil is rarely au courant with the details of military history; she often wonders why illustrations of combatants from the American Civil War do not depict armour, buff-coats or lobster-tail helmets. So Mrs Daffodil is pleased to welcome as a guest poster that thoroughly American person from the Haunted Ohio blog  Chris Woodyard, with a story from the Battle of Gettysburg, which ended on this day in 1863.

A Soldier Who Decorates His Own Grave.

“Do you see that man?” said a member of the Grand Army of the Republic on Decoration Day, pointing to a healthy looking person with a soldierly bearing entering the Grand Army headquarters at Twelfth and Chestnut streets. Several eyes turned in the direction of the man, who had on a G.A. R. uniform and looked every inch a veteran.

“Yes,” said one, “why is he specially worth notice?”

The speaker smiled. “Well,” said he, “that comrade is dead. He has no business walking around here like a real live survivor. He is buried in the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, and any day you should go up there I could show you his grave.”

Such a paradox naturally excited the curiosity of the bystanders. The dead-alive man seemed to be in very excellent health, but the fact that his grave was to be decorated on that very day was found to be a hard although strange fact.

“Yes,” said he,” with a twinkle in his eye, “my grave is in the national Cemetery at Gettysburg, and I am officially dead. At least it is so stated on the records of that burial place, and I have often had the melancholy pleasure of decorating my own grave.”

“That seems strange,” said a listener. The veteran was as solemn as his tomb itself. “I don’t look dead, I know,” said he, “and I don’t believe that I am, but when, a few years after the close of the war I visited the Gettysburg Cemetery and found a grave marked with my name I was shocked, but am used to it now. My name is Stephen Kelly; I live at No. 942 South Ninth street, and am reasonably well and happy, notwithstanding that my comrades insist occasionally that I shall visit the historical burial ground and spread flowers over my own grave. It’s a mistake, of course; I ain’t dead, but can’t get the cemetery people to acknowledge that fact. I was mustered in on Aug. 21, 1861, and was mustered out, as this certificate will show you, in 1864, honourably discharged at the end of my service.”

The papers were duly examined and found to be correct. “’Bates’ History,’ continued he, “and the records show that I was killed and buried at Gettysburg. The only trouble is that some other poor fellow killed in that bloody battle was buried for me. How the mistake occurred or who the unfortunate soldier was I could never find out; but I suppose some of my personal belongings, lost during the heat of the fight and bearing my name, were found on the dead soldier, and he was buried as Stephen Kelly. I go up every year to decorate my own grave.”

Mr. Kelly was a member of Company E, Ninety-first Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, and served out his term of three years. He is now a member of G.A.R. Post No. 8, of this city.

Philadelphia Record.

Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA] 18 June 1886: p. 2

Talk about looking Death in the face…. It is an extraordinary story and the “Find-a-Grave” entry offers an even more extraordinary detail: That Pvt. Kelly was wounded 2 July 1863 and died in 1889 of his wounds. This is not impossible–some veterans lingered for years with war wounds–but I wonder if 1889 is the date that the monument was erected?

Another newspaper squib reported a possible reason for the misidentification of “Kelly’s” corpse.

It is said that there is a man who goes to Gettysburg every Memorial day and decorates his own grave. The story runs thus: “During the battle he was thought to be killed and another soldier took his papers from his pockets. The second soldier was buried as the first and No. 1, who recovered, goes to the place every year to keep green the grave which is marked with his own name.” Patriot [Harrisburg, PA] 30 June 1891: p. 3

The dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery was the occasion of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It was also the site where Elizabeth Thorn, “The Angel of Gettysburg,” far gone in pregnancy, nearly single-handedly dug over one hundred graves to bury the battle’s dead. Her poignant story is one of Mrs Daffodil’s most-read posts.

Over at the Haunted Ohio blog you will also find a story telling of an extraordinary prophetic dream about a soldier’s death in that battle and his brother’s recovery of his corpse.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the DeadThe Ghost Wore BlackThe Headless HorrorThe 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.