Grandmere Jeanneton: 1884

“GRANDMERE JEANNETON.”

I was smoking my after-dinner cigar and reading Figaro on the esplanade in Strasbourg, when I was accosted by an old woman who inquired in French for the nearest photographer. She wore the common dress of the Alsatian peasant, and her dusty shoes indicated a long foot journey, but under her linen head-dress fell her white hair round a face that, sunburnt and wrinkled and wearing traces of recent tears, yet was so beautiful in its expression of tender goodness and touching resignation not unmixed with a certain pride, that I involuntarily addressed her as “Grandmere,” and forgetting that I had promised a friend to await his arrival, offered to guide her to her destination.

On the road she told me her simple story. She was a widow, and lived prior to the French-German war with her married son in a village, fifty miles from Strasbourg. They were well-to-do peasants before the enemy invaded their little village; but one morning they woke to find the Prussians encamped in their fields and making themselves perfectly at home. More troops arrived the next day and the following, until the quiet village was a big camp, where the enemy heaped up the stores needed for the siege of Strasbourg.

One dark night the camp was alarmed and a magazine containing among other stores a considerable quantity of powder was found on fire, and there was no doubt that it was the work of the inhabitants. Accordingly the next morning six of the most prominent or most patriotic of the inhabitants were brought before the Prussian commander, and after a short examination that proved nothing, without further trial, were shot in the square in front of the village church. The widow’s son was one of the six victims, and his wife, who became frantic with grief over his death, was the next morning found lifeless on his grave, thus leaving her infant son to the sole care of his grandmother.

The old woman now centered all her hope and all her affection in the little boy, and as he grew up she was fully repaid, for he loved his grandmother with an intensity often found in children who die young a love that was alone equaled by his veneration of his dead parents, his adoration of “la belle France” and his hate of the Prussians, for the old woman, who loved her country dearly, and never forgot that her husband fell fighting for it at “Solferino,” and that her son was killed by its enemies, instilled, perhaps unconsciously, both feelings in his young breast.

One day, when the boy was 10 years old, a Prussian official who inspected the village school was struck with his beauty and serious air, and addressed a question to him in German respecting his parents. “The Prussians killed them,” answered the boy in French. The official colored, and in a rebuking tone asked the boy why he didn’t speak German. “Because it is the language of my country’s enemies,” answered the boy fearlessly.

The official ordered him in arrest, and he was shut up in a chamber above the school-room, where he remained until night, when he boldly leaped from the window to the ground and, as he fell in a thick copse, escaped unhurt. The boy now fairly flew to his grandmother’s house, but as he was afraid of being seen and brought back to the school if he followed the road, he crossed in through the fields behind the village.

It was in the harvest and the grapes were ripe, so old Martin, the owner of the choicest grapes in the village, kept watch with a loaded shot-gun over his precious treasures. Softly he walks over the field behind the wine-press, when he hears something force its way through the grapevines. He stops and cocks his piece. He will now catch the thief who robs him of his biggest grapes. The moon is behind the clouds, out he sees the outline of a person running fast through the vines. “Halt!” he commands but the person never heeds him. He raises his gun–a flash–a scream–a fall of a body among the grapes, and when the old man arrives on the spot, he finds instead of the supposed grape thief a little curly-haired boy whose life is fast ebbing away with the blood that flows out and mixes with the crushed grapes; his black eyes are already fixed and glassy and it is with a faltering voice he whispers: “Give my love to grandmother and tell her– father! mother! I am coming”–his hands grasp the vines tighter, he raises himself to a sitting posture, the moon coming from behind the clouds shines on the wine leaves in his curly hair, a cry rises in his throat: “Vive la belle France!”–he sinks back, his eyes closed, and the orphan boy is gone.

“And it was me–me alone–who murdered him,” complained the grandmother when she concluded her tale. Her eyes were dry, but the muscles round the corner of her mouth worked convulsively and there was a great sob in her throat. “It was all my fault, the result of my unforgiveness; holy Mary have mercy–” and the old woman ran the black beads of her rosary through her fingers, murmuring her prayers.

We arrived shortly after at our destination, the atelier of a French photographer, with whom I was slightly acquainted. I introduced my companion to him, and he, after offering her a seat, addressed some questions to her about her picture. She looked at him with wonder, and finally replied that she only wanted a picture of her boy. “Ah!” said the photographer, “a little boy, very good, where is he!” A tear dimmed the old woman’s black eye, and for answer she pointed up to heaven. “Oh!” exclaimed my friend, “dead! I do not like to photograph dead bodies, but still as monsieur brought you here I will make an exception; when did your little boy die?”

“When the grapes ripen he will have been gone a year,” replied the grandmother.

“But, my dear,” began the photographer, perplexed, when I interrupted him, and taking him aside told him the old woman’s story and how she had walked fifty miles on her old legs to procure a likeness of her dead grandchild.

“But, my dear fellow, what can I do? I am grieved, upon my word I am; but what would you have me do? I can’t photograph angels!”

A noise of romping children was now heard and two boys, about 8 and 10 years old, came running into the atelier, crying at the top of their voices: “Oh, papa, voici!”

“Hush, children!” said the parent, “go away; I am busy,” and the happy boys disappeared laughing in the next room. A sudden idea struck me and turning to the old woman, who looked wistfully at the door through which the boys escaped, I asked her if she had kept any of her little boy’s clothes. “Indeed I have, monsieur!” she answered. “I have kept everything belonging to the little dear,” and opening a bundle she carried with her she continued: “Here is the best dress and (her voice sunk to a whisper) the last I ever saw him wear.”

I now took the photographer aside and made him acquainted with my plan for “photographing angels,” and after obtaining his promise of carrying out my instructions I persuaded the grandmother to leave her grandson’s clothing in the atelier and follow me to an inn, where I left her to the care of the buxom hostess.

Two days after the photographer sent for her and on her arrival handed her a picture at sight of which the old woman began crying freely. “My boy! my own darling boy! It is the clothes I spun every thread of myself and his pretty curly hair but why does he cover his face so? Won’t he look at me?” she asked suddenly, looking up from the picture that represented a little boy kneeling in a chair with his folded hands before his face.

“Oh!” remarked the photographer, “he is saying his prayers.”

“Yes, yes, I know! he is praying for his poor old grandmere. Oh, my darling boy!” and the great tears rolled down her wrinkled cheeks. “God and our lady bless you, messieurs!” said she when she grew calmer. “I am now going to pray by my boy’s grave until I follow him;” and refusing all aid for her trip home, but pressing her newly found treasure fast to her brave old heart, “Grandmere Jeanneton” left us.

As to the picture, our readers have of course all guessed that the photographer dressed his oldest boy in the poor peasant boy’s clothes; and who would not practice such a deception to see the tears that rolled down Grandmere Jeanneton’s aged cheeks?

The Argos [IN] Reflector 25 December 1884: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil was formerly in service in the household of Mrs Marrowfat, the society medium and shudders at the impostures by which that clever lady enriched herself at the expense of the desolate and sorrowing. And yet, somehow, Mrs Daffodil cannot bring herself to condemn the photographer who gave such consolation to the aged Grandmere who had lost everything.

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.

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.

The Corpse Was Loose: 1875

After “A Respectable Funeral,” cartoon by John Leech

Shuckers Wouldn’t Take The Coffin

Over in Wilmington, the other day, a man named William D. Shuckers died. It seems that there was another man in the city bearing precisely the same name, and when the death was announced, a good many of his friends thought he was dead, and they resolved to go to the funeral.

On the day of the funeral the living Shukers also thought he would go, partly for the purpose of ascertaining how it felt to participate in the obsequies of a man named Wm. D. Shuckers. He took up a position in the vestibule, and just as the mourners were about to come out, a friend of his, named Jones, saw him. The first impulse of Jones was to rush through the kitchen, and climb suddenly over the back fence, but he controlled himself, and after poking Shuckers in the ribs with his umbrella to determine positively that he was not a ghost he remarked:

“Shuckers, what on earth are you doing here? Why ain’t you in your coffin?”

“Coffin!” exclaimed Shuckers; “whad’d you mean? What do I want with a coffin?”

“Mr. Shuckers, you know you are dead. Why they got up this gorgeous funeral for you, all these carriages and pall-bearers and things, and the clergy-man’s just been paying you splendid compliments that any dead man might be proud of.”
“But I tell you I am not dead. I’m as much alive as you are.”

“There is no use your arguing the point, Shuckers; the occasion is too solemn for controversy. But if you have any consideration for the feelings of your bereaved family, who are weeping like mad up stairs, and for the undertaker who is waiting inside there with the screw-driver, you will go and get into your coffin and behave. It’s indecent to carry on so at your own funeral.”

“Jones, my boy,” said Shuckers, “you have mistaken—“

“No, I’m not mistaken. You’re dead—technically dead—anyhow. It has been announced in all the papers, your relations have gone into mourning, the Board of Trade has passed resolutions of regret, the sepulcher has been dug up there in the cemetery, and the undertaker has gone to considerable expense to inter you comfortably. Now, go and lie down, won’t you?”
“Hang the undertaker!” said Shuckers. “No, I’ll not go and lie down. I’ll see you in Kansas first.”

“Now, see here, Shuckers, I came here to attend your funeral, and I’m not going to be baffled by any unseemly conduct on the part of the corpse. Oh! You needn’t look at me. Either you get back into that coffin, so’s the lid can be screwed on, and the procession can move on, or I’ll put you in there by force. If inanimate remains like you can go scooting ‘round in this incendiary manner, we’d soon have the cemeteries unloading, and the unnumbered dead crowding out and wanting to vote.”

Then Jones called the undertaker, who knocked Shuckers down with a cane, and held him until he explained, and until the scared undertaker recovered his equanimity, which left him at the bare suggestion that the corpse was loose. Then the funeral moved on to the cemetery, and Jones went home, while Shuckers proceeded to an alderman’s office to swear out a warrant against the undertaker for assault and battery. He intends to change his name to Duykinch.

North Star [Danville VT] 9 April 1875: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Unseemly conduct on the part of a corpse, indeed! The newspapers were full of stories of persons reviving on the very brink of their own graves as well as dire mistakes being made over the identification of corpses and the startling return of people thought dead. Such reports were a kind of precursor to to-day’s popular “Zombie” and “Walking Dead” entertainments. It is no wonder the undertaker was shaken: a loose corpse would have cast aspersions on his professional abilities as an embalmer.

There is a barbed pleasantry about the American political process in that remark about “unnumbered dead crowding out and wanting to vote.” Voters’ rolls were often compiled by taking a stroll through a cemetery with paper and pencil and the votes of the dead were enlisted to put a favoured candidate in office. Naturally, such things never happen in England….

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.

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.

Funeral Drill: 1912

FUNERAL DRILL.

Two stories are told quite seriously by a contributor to London ‘Truth, which it is difficult to accept at face value. The first relates a system of funeral drill to which a wife in the shires declares she has been subjected. She writes:

“Sir,—Some months ago I married ___, who is a well-known but eccentric man. After the honeymoon we retired to his estate, when began the annoyance of which I complain.

Every Wednesday a hearse and several mourning coaches are driven up to the front door, and mutes carry down from my husband’s bedroom a coffin which is supposed to contain his remains!

Draped in widow’s weeds, and accompanied by several of the servants, I have to follow this, my husband marshalling the procession, and directing the proceedings generally!

‘Be careful; do not ram the rails,’

‘Bend your head more reverently, dear,’

‘Slower, please,’

‘Keep your distances; it looks so slip-shod.’

The coffin is raised into the hearse, and I and several of the householders occupy the coaches, whilst the gardeners and others follow on foot, my husband drilling us until the funeral service is completed, even to the lowering of the coffin into the grave!

I can scarcely hope that this letter will not be intercepted, but should it reach you, will you publish it, that your readers may know to what length a man will go in indulging his peculiarities?”

Mataura [NZ] Ensign, 26 February 1912: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: That gentleman’s eccentricities were not as singular as one might think. The Divine Sarah was celebrated for allegedly sleeping in her coffin, or, at the very least, posing for photographs in it:

Sarah Bernhardt posing in her coffin.

A certain lady who is not over-religious, in the usual acceptation of the term—Madame Sarah Bernhardt—has her whole life toned and seasoned and solemnised by the presence of the grim, even if dainty, case in which her mortal remains are to be interred. She has got a new coffin to replace the old one, which some time ago, along with her other personal effects, was seized by her relentless creditors. The present coffin is daintily lined with blue silk, and at the head has a soft little pillow trimmed with Valenciennes lace. It is Sarah’s grim humour to sleep in her coffin sometimes; and, to be quite consistent, she dresses herself in something not unlike a shroud. But usance dulls the edge of appetite, and this funeral fad of the Divine Sarah has a tendency to make the coffin a joke and the grave a jest.

Roses and Rue: Being Random Notes and Sketches, William Stewart Ross, London: W. Stewart & Company, 1890: p. 168

Returning to Mr Funeral Drill’s eccentricities, “peculiarities” is perhaps the kindest euphemism for such tastes. The lady’s statement about the note being intercepted suggests alarming and sinister possibilities. If this were a Gothic Novel written by a lady with three names, our heroine would be a great heiress, wooed in a whirlwind courtship and married before she could discover her husband’s morbid fancies. Then, one day, the funeral drill would go on without her and the coffin would be buried, the lady’s absence explained by an indisposition which would shortly lead to a permanent residence in the South of France for her health, despite no one seeing her en route. Her tragically early death in France would be announced and shortly thereafter Mr Funeral Drill would remarry….

Mrs Daffodil suggests that after the first few repetitions of this macabre ritual, the lady should have taken steps to ensure that the next funeral was no drill, but the genuine article.

For more on Victorian funerals and mourning, please consult The Victorian Book of the Dead by Chris Woodyard, also available in a Kindle edition.

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.

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.

Love on a Hearse: 1891

LOVE ON A HEARSE

A Breezy Idyll of the West Side of the Big Windy.

From the Chicago Herald.

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.

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.

London Mourns for Queen Victoria: 1901

in memoriam queen victoria mourning handkerchief
Mourning handkerchief for the late Queen Victoria 1901 https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18730001/

MISS COLONIA IN LONDON

CONFIDENCES TO HER COUSINS ACROSS THE SEA.

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.

Royal Collection
The royal coffin in the Albert Memorial Chapel, Windsor, 1901 https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/search#/10/collection/2105792/queen-victorias-coffin-in-the-albert-memorial-chapel-windsor-castle-1901

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

NATIONAL MOURNING.

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.’

bank of toronto in mourning for Queen Victoria 1901
The Bank of Toronto, Montreal, draped in mourning for the late Queen, 1901 http://collections.musee-mccord.qc.ca/scripts/large.php?Lang=1&accessnumber=MP-1977.76.108&idImage=153855

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.

Prince of Wales feathers at Queen Victoria's funeral flowers

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.

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.

Saved by the Clock: 1901

floral clock with swags 1914
1901 funeral flowers in the form of a clock. The hands point to the time of death.

CLOCK PREVENTED A BURIAL ALIVE

Girl Was Apparently Dead, but Timepiece Aroused Doubt.

IT WOULD NOT STOP

Sister Refused to Permit Burial While the Clock Ticked.

Supposed Corpse Was in a Trance and Awoke on the Fifth Day of Her Sleep.

“I am not superstitious,” said the landlady, “but there was something happened at my house about two years ago that made my flesh creep for a while, in spit of my skepticism.

“Among my boarders at that time were a widow named Mrs. Dodson, her sister, Miss Ashby, and a young man whose name was Mr. Duby. Mr. Duby was a dealer in curios. He had in his collection a number of clocks and watches, and on Miss Ashby’s birthday he made her a present of a eight-day clock. This time piece was very fine. It was about two feet high, was made of scented woods inlaid with gold, and the face, with the exception of the slits for the pendulum and the keyholes, appeared to be hermetically sealed.

“Shortly after presenting this gift to Miss Ashby Mr. Dunby left for a trip in Mexico. About 11 o’clock on the Monday after his departure I was getting ready for bed, when Mrs. Dodson tapped on the door and called to me softly through the keyhole.

“’O, Mrs. Clark,’ she said, ‘won’t you come upstairs a moment, please? Alice has been taken ill very suddenly, and I don’t know what to do for her.’

“I threw on my clothes and hurried up to Miss Ashby’s room, but, quick as I had been, it was plain that she was breathing her last. I dispatched my husband posthaste for the doctor around the corner, but before he returned the girl was gone. Mrs. Dodson and another boarder and myself were alone with her when the end came, and the minute we were assured that all was over Mrs. Dodson looked up at the clock on the mantel and said:

“’Ten minutes past eleven. I must stop the clock.’

Could Not Stop the Clock.

“She walked over and opened the painted glass door and put her hand on the pendulum, but the minute she let go it commenced ticking as loudly and regularly as before. Mrs. Dodson looked round at us in surprise.

“’Why, how strange!’ she cried. ‘It won’t stop.’

“She caught the pendulum again. Even as she held it a faint whirring noise was heard inside the clock, as if it rebelled against this restriction of movement, and no sooner was the pendulum released than it went on with its monotonous vibrations. By the time my husband came with the doctor, Mrs. Dodson had worked herself up into a fever of grief and superstitious fear.

“’It won’t stop,’ she said over and over again.

“My husband tried to comfort her. ‘If you want a clock stopped at the hour of death,’ he said, ‘we will have to get another.

“But Mrs. Dodson would not listen to that suggestion. “I must stop this one,’ she said, ‘or none at all. It has been the custom in our family for generations to stop the clock in the death chamber the minute one of us dies, and Alice would never forgive me if I should fail to do the same thing for her.’

“Seeing that her distress was genuine, my husband took the clock downstairs, and began to tinker with it himself. He turned it sideways and upside down—did everything to it, in fact, except to break it into smithereens—but, no matter how he treated it, it kept on running.

“Mrs. Dodson wept unrestrainedly. ‘It is very strange,’ she said. ‘This is the first clock I ever saw that wouldn’t stop when you wanted it to. Most of them take spells and refuse to run, but this one won’t stop running. The phenomenon is something more than mere chance. It is meant as a warning, and I am going to heed it. I am not going to bury Alice till the clock stops.’

Averted a Premature Burial.

“In vain did we argue with her. Doctors and undertakers pronounced Miss Ashby dead, but, although her body was robed for burial, Mrs. Dodson would not consent to embalming or sepulture. For four days the girl lay in her room upstairs, watched constantly by Mrs. Dodson or a trained nurse, and for four days that clock kept up its everlasting tick-tock. On the morning of the fifth day after Miss Ashby’s death Mrs. Dodson looked out as I was passing through the second floor hall and called to me excitedly.

“’I think Alice is coming to,’ she said. ‘Send for the doctor.’

“I was ready to drop with nervousness, but I managed to gather strength enough to summon the doctor, and then we set to work on the girl. It sounds impossible, but she really did revive, and, although very weak and naturally slow of recovery, she finally regained perfect health. For a long time that clock was an object of superstitious veneration, even to the strongest-minded person about the house, and not till Mr. Duby came home from Mexico did our faith in the supernatural give way to practical common sense.

“’That clock,’ said Mr. Duby, ‘Is the product of my own inventiveness. I tinkered away on it for months and finally got the works in such condition that nothing short of absolute destruction could prevent its going for eight days after it was once wound. I used to think I was fooling way my time when I pottered around with those old springs for hours at a stretch, but it proved to be the best work of my life. If it hadn’t been for that clock—’

“And we all shuddered at the thought of what would have happened if it hadn’t been for the clock. Oh, no; there was really nothing unearthly about the affair, but since then I have been a good deal more charitable with persons who are naturally superstitious than I was before.”

The Inter Ocean [Chicago IL] 5 May 1901: p. 33

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It was a wide-spread custom to stop the clocks in a house at the time of death, perhaps symbolising that time was over for the deceased. One stopped the clock to avert bad luck or perhaps to ward off another death in the house. A 1909 compendium of “popular superstitions” recorded: “When anyone has died in a home, the clock must be stopped at once, and all the pictures turned toward the wall, or more of the family will die soon.”

There were various, and sometimes conflicting, beliefs about clocks and death. A sampling:

If a clock, long motionless, suddenly begins to tick or strike, it is a sign of approaching death or misfortune.

Van Smith died Saturday night of pneumonia and typhoid fever. He was a noble youth, just budding into manhood. In the room in which he was sick is an old family clock that has not run for a great many years. Several years ago while old uncle Johnnie Smith, the grandfather of the deceased, was lying sick in the same room, a few hours before his death the clock struck several times. A few years afterward Mr. Wm. Smith, father of the deceased, died in the room, and a short while before his death the clock again struck. On Friday night it struck again and Van died on Saturday night following. It was not running, had not been wound up, and was not touched by any one. This is indeed wonderful, but it is true, and can be verified by a score of witnesses.  The Pulaski [TN] Citizen 12 February 1880: p. 3

And

A DEATH CLOCK.

We have recently been informed of a truly wonderful clock, which is said to belong to a family in Newport. The clock is of simple construction, and belongs to the family of Mr. L—y; but all the efforts of clockmakers have not been able to make it keep time—consequently, it has been permitted to rest in silence. A few hours before the death of Mr. L—y’s sister, some short time since, the clock suddenly struck one, after a silence of many months. It thus continued to maintain its silence until another member of the family was prostrated with a fatal malady, when it again struck one, and on the following day the child was buried. A year elapsed, when a second child sickened and died. The clock was punctual in sounding one a few hours previous to its death. A third child, a little boy fifteen months old, was afflicted with scrofula, which baffled the skill of his physician, and died. The clock gave the usual warning, and struck one. It has never failed in sounding a death knell when any of the family in whose possession it now is were about to die. “There are stranger things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy.”—Cincinnati paper. Ballou Dollar Monthly Magazine Vol. 16, 1862: p. 414

Clocks were also said to stop or “die” at the same moment as their owner, in the manner of the old song “My Grandfather’s Clock,”  which contains the refrain: “But it stopped short, never to go again/ When the old man died”] Perhaps this is why Miss Ashby’s clock stubbornly refused to be stopped.

They have a genuine grandfather’s clock in Maryland, at the residence of the late Thos. M. Clavert, in Cecil county. The clock had been running for twenty-one years without repairs. When Mr. Calvert died, the folks looked at the clock to note the moment of his death. The clock had stopped, and they can’t make it run again. The Atchison [KS] Daily Champion 31 January 1880:p. 2

REMARKABLE CLOCK OWNED IN OMAHA

Stopped Short at Moment of Death of Two Members of the Family.

Omaha, Apri. 2. Doctor John F. Hertzman, a physician who has lived in this city for twenty-five years and has held several minor public offices, died this morning at 5:20 o’clock after an extended illness.

Watchers beside his bedside declare that, at the moment he was declared dead by the attending physician, the clock in the bed chamber ceased to tick. The fact has become known and many curious neighbors have called to see the phenomenon. The clock has been permitted to stand at 5:20.

The curious incident is further emphasized by the fact that three years  ago the same clock also stopped at the exact moment of the daughter’s death.

Another curious fact in connection with Doctor Hertzman’s death is told. His age, according to Omaha time, was 48 years, 6 hours and five minutes.

As Doctor Hertzman was born in France, it is figured by the relatives that he died almost at the moment, if not at the exact moment, of the close of his forty-seventh year, when the difference in time between the two points is considered. Tucson [AZ] Daily Citizen 2 April 1902: p. 8

To be Relentlessly Informative, there has been a lot of loose talk about the term “saved by the bell,” as a reference to bells rigged to ring when a prematurely buried person revived. While such devices did exist, they did not inspire the idiom. The phrase had its origins in the boxing ring.

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.

The Inconsolable Grief Department – Shopping for Mourning Goods

 

mourning for families Jay's warehouse 1880s
1888 advertisement for Jay’s General Mourning Warehouse, London

FASHIONABLE MOURNING. THE HABILIMENTS OF GRIEF,

FROM A COMMERCIAL POINT OF VIEW.

On the occasion of a recent visit to London, whilst I was debating with myself over the breakfast things as to how I should spend the day, I received by the post a letter deeply bordered with black, evidently a messenger of affliction. I tore the white weeping willow upon a black background which formed the device upon the seal, and read the contents. It proved to be an intimation from a relative of the sudden death of her brother-in-law, and a request that, under the circumstances of the sudden bereavement of the widow, I should undertake certain sad commissions relative to the articles of mourning required by the family. I at once set out upon my sad errand.

I had no difficulty in finding the maison de deuil to which I had been referred. It met me in the sad habiliments of woe; no vulgar colors glared from the shop windows, no gildings amazed with its festive brightness. The name of the firm scarce presumed to make itself seen in letters of the saddest gray upon a black ground. Here and there heads of white set off the general gloom of the house-front, like the crape piping of a widow’s cap. The very metal window frames and plates had gone into a decorous morning–zinc having taken the place of what we feel, under the circumstances, would have been quite out of the character: brass.

On pushing the plate glass door, it gave way with a hushed and muffled sound, and I was met by a gentlemen of sad expression, who, in the most sympathetic voice, inquired the nature of my want, and, on my explaining myself, directed me to the Inconsolable Grief Department. The interior of the establishment answered exactly to the appearance without. The long passage I had to traverse was paneled in white and black borderings, like so many mourning cards placed on end; and I was rapidly becoming impressed with the deep solemnity of the place, when I caught sight of a neat little figure rolling up some ribbon, who on my inquiring if I had arrived at the Inconsolable Grief Department, replied almost in a tone of gaiety, that that was the half-mourning counter, and that I must proceed further on until I had passed the repository for widowsilk.

Following her directions, I at last reached my destination–a large room draped in black with a hushed atmosphere about it as though somebody was lying invisible there in state. An attendant in sable habiliments, picked out with the inevitable white tie, and with an undertakerish eye and manner, awaited my commands, I produced my written directions. Scanning it critically, he said: “Permit me to inquire, sir, if it is a deceased partner?” I nodded assent. “We take the liberty of asking this distressing question,” he continued, “as we are extremely anxious to keep up the character of our establishment by matching, as it were, the exact shade of affliction. Our paramatta and crapes give satisfaction to the deepest woe. Permit me to show you a new texture of surprising beauty and elegance manufactured specially for this house, and which we call the inconsolable. Quite a novelty in the trade, I do assure you, sir.”

With this he placed a pasteboard box before me full of mourning fabrics.

“Is this it?” I inquired, lifting a lugubrious piece of draping.

“Oh, no!” he replied, “the one you have in your hand was manufactured for last year’s affliction, and was termed, ‘The Stunning Blow Shade.’ It makes up well, however, with our sudden bereavement silk- a leading article–and our distraction trimmings.”

“I fear,” said I, “my commission says nothing about these novelties.”

“Ladies in the country,” he blandly replied, “don’t know of the perfection to which the art of mourning genteelly has been brought! But I will see that your commission is attended to to the letter.”

Giving another glance over the list, he observed; “Oh! I perceive a widow’s cap is mentioned here, I must trouble you, sir, to proceed to the Weeds Department for that article–the first turning to the left.”

Proceeding, as directed, I came to a recess fitted up with a solid phalanx of widow’s caps. I perceived at a glance that they exhausted the whole gamut of grief, from the deepest shade to that tone which is expressive of a pleasing melancholy. The foremost row confronted me with the sad liveries of crapen folds, whilst those behind gradually faded off into light, ethereal tarleton, and one or two of the outsiders were even breaking out into worldly features and flaunting weepers. Forgetting the proprieties of the moment, I inquired of the grave attendant if one of the latter would be suitable.

“Oh! no, sir,” she replied with a slight shade of severity in the tone of her voice; “You may gradually work up to that in a year or two. But any of these,” pointing to the first row of widows’ weeds- -are suitable for the first burst of grief.”

Acquiescing in the propriety of this sliding scale of sorrow, I selected some weeds expressive of the deepest dejections I could find, and having completed my commission, inquired where I could procure for myself some lavender gloves.

“Oh! for those things, sir,” she said, in the voice of Tragedy speaking to Comedy, “you must turn to your right, and you will come to the Complimentary Mourning counter.”

Turning to the right, accordingly, I was surprised, and not a little shocked, to find myself amongst worldly colors. Tender lavender, I had expected; but violet, mauve, and even absolute red, stared me in the face. Thinking I had made a mistake, I was about to retire, when a young lady, in a cheerful tone of voice, inquired if I wanted anything in her department.

“I was looking for the Complimentary Mourning counter,” I replied, “for some gloves; but I fear I am wrong.”

“You are quite right, sir,” she observed. “This is it.”

She saw my eye glance at the cheerful colored silks, and with the instinctive tact of a woman guessed my thoughts in a moment. “Mauve, sir, is very appropriate for the lighter sorrows.”

“But absolute red!” I retorted, pointing to some velvet of that color.

“Is quite admissible when you mourn the departure of a distant relative. But allow me to show you some gloves?” and, suiting the action to the word, she lifted the cover from a tasteful glove box, and displayed a perfect picture of delicate half-tones, indicative of a struggle between the cheerful and the sad. “There is a pleasing melancholy in this shade of gray,” she remarked, indenting slightly each outer knuckle with the soft elastic kid as she measured my hand.

“Can you find lavender?”

“Oh, yes! but the sorrow tint is very slight in that; however, it wears admirably.”

Thus, by degrees, the grief of the establishment died out in tenderest lavender, and I took my departure deeply impressed with the charming improvements which Parisian taste has effected in the plain, old-fashioned style of English mourning.

The Christian Recorder 19 September 1863

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: For more about the Byzantine conventions of Victorian mourning see Mourning Becomes Elective. For a look at a strange garden party at the London home of the Duke of Sutherland, promoting funeral reform and wicker-work coffins, see Wicker Man. The story “Crape” in the neo-Edwardian collection A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales , tells of the revenge exacted from beyond the grave by an aunt determined to be “mourned relentlessly.” For further reading, see Mourning Dress: A Costume and Social History, by Lou Taylor.

The piece above appears in The Victorian Book of the Dead, also available in a Kindle edition.

See this link for an introduction to The Victorian Book of the Dead, a collection about the popular culture of Victorian mourning, featuring primary-source materials about corpses, crypts, and crape.

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.

The Imperial Russian Children See the Angel of Death: 1903

Princess Elisabeth’s tomb, watched over by an angel. She died 16 November, 1903.

SAW DEATH ANGEL

Apparition That Appeared to Royal Children.

Story Related by Governess of Russian Princesses

Czar and Czarina Believe Supernatural Figure Really Was Visible.

Grand Duke Ernest of Hesse had a very pretty little daughter by his first wife, Princess Victoria Melita of Great Britain and Coburg, now married to Grand Duke Cyril of Russia. This little girl’s name was Elizabeth, and on account of her beauty and sprightly cleverness she was a universal favorite and the only tie between her parents after the estrangement, F. Cunliffe Owen writes in the New York World.

While staying with her uncle and aunt, the present czar and czarina, at their picturesque country seat in Poland, she succumbed when seven years old to poison—ptomaine poison, according to some, but according to others drugs conveyed into food or drink by the Nihilists for the purpose of taking the life of Emperor Nicholas.

A remarkable account of the affair is given by an English woman of the name of Miss Eager [Eagar], who, after spending a number of years in the service of the emperor and empress of Russia as the nursery governess of their young children, published on her return to England, with the full authority and approval of their majesties, a volume entitled, “Six Years at the Court of Russia.” [Six Years at the Russian Court, M. Eagar, 1906]

According to her, little Princess Elizabeth, or “Ella,” of Hesse was taken ill one afternoon or night and died before the following morning. Between nine o’clock and ten o’clock two of the little girls of czarina, who were sleeping together in a room adjoining that of their seven-year-old cousin of Hesse, suddenly alarmed everyone within hearing by the most frantic screams.

When the empress, Miss Eagar and the doctors rushed in they found the two little grand duchesses standing up on their beds, shrieking and shaking with terror. It was some time before they could be soothed, and then they related that they had seen a man with flowing robes and huge wings in their room. While they were still talking the eyes of both children suddenly dilated with terror, and both pointing in the same direction, they cried: “Look! Look! There he is again. He has gone into Ella’s room. Oh! Poor Ella! Poor Ella!”

Neither Miss Eager nor the czarina, nor yet the physicians, could see anything. But a few moments later Princess Ella suddenly sat up in her bed, crying: “I am choking. I am choking! Send for mamma!” Three hours afterward the child, who had immediately after the cry for her mother fallen into a state of coma, passed away, in the absence, of course, of her parents.

Miss Eagar expressed her firm conviction that the little grand duchesses had seen a supernatural apparition and that the apparition in question was the angel of death. That the czar and czarina shared her impression is shown by the fact that they had authorized her to publish the story in her book, as well as by the circumstance that she retains their favor and good will and is in receipt of an annuity from them for the remainder of her days. Truth [Erie, PA] 29 July 1916: p. 5 

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine [1895-1903] was regarded by all who knew her as too angelic for this world. Her parents, Grand Duke Ernst of Hesse and Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, were divorced in 1901. She was a particular favourite of Queen Victoria and was very close to her father, especially after the divorce. Her father never got over her death.

There were rumours at the time that Princess Elisabeth had been poisoned by food meant for Czar Nicholas–one story suggested bad oysters; another claimed the child was poisoned by soup which the Czar gallantly passed to the Princess saying, “Ladies first.” Typhoid was the official explanation. The Imperial children’s nurse, Miss Margaretta Eager left her post with the family, perhaps for political reasons, during the Russo-Japanese War and received a pension from the Russian government until the Revolution put an end to it. She was haunted by the deaths of the Imperial family for the rest of her life.

Frederick Cunliffe-Owen was a former English diplomat and writer. He and his wife, Marguerite, were well-connected with many of the royal houses of Europe and it is possible that he heard this story from Miss Eagar with more detail than she gives in her memoir.

Grand Duchess Marie was four years old and Grand Duchess Anastasia was only two when Princess Elisabeth died. They were known as “The Little Pair” (in contrast to “The Big Pair:” Olga and Tatiana) and slept in the same room.  While it seems certain that the young Grand Duchesses saw something unusual, this is what Miss Eagar published about the incident: 

Presently the two little Grand Duchesses, Marie and Anastasie, began to scream, and I ran into their room ; I found them both standing in their beds looking terribly alarmed. They told me there was a strange man in their room who had frightened them. Now the rooms were in a suite, and they could be entered only from the dining-room, or from the second bedroom, and this bedroom in its turn could only be entered from the room in which the little Princess lay ill. It will therefore be seen that no one could have entered their room without our knowledge. The doctor and the little Princess’s own faithful servant-man had been in the dining-room all night.

I thought the night-light might have thrown a shadow which frightened the children into thinking there was someone in the room. I therefore changed its position, but still the children were afraid, and said he was hiding over by the curtain. I lit a candle, and taking little Anastasie in my arms, carried her round the room to prove to her that there was absolutely nothing to frighten her. The doctor came in and tried to soothe Marie, but it was useless; she would not be soothed and Anastasie refused to return to bed, so I took her in my arms and sat down to try to comfort her. She buried her face in my neck and clung to me trembling and shaking. It was dreadful to me to see her in such a fright. The doctor being obliged to go I lighted a candle and left it on a little table close to Marie’s bed, and sat down near it, that I might be beside both children.

Marie kept talking about the dreadful person, and starting up in wild horror every now and then. The doctor came in and out, and told me the strange doctor had come and had given the little sufferer an injection of caffeine; her heart seemed stronger and he began to have hope.

When next Marie began to talk about the mysterious stranger I said, “A strange doctor had come to help Dr. H. to make cousin Ella quite well, and perhaps he might have come to the door in mistake, or you might have heard him speak, but there is no one in the room now.”

She assured me that the stranger was not a doctor and had not come through that door at all, and did not speak. Suddenly she stood up and looked at something which I could not see. “Oh!” she said, “he is gone into cousin Ella’s room.” Anastasie sat up on my knee and said, “Oh! poor cousin Ella; poor Princess Elizabeth!” [The child died very shortly after this, as Miss Eagar describes.] Six Years at the Russian Court, M. Eagar, 1906

Miss Eagar does not mention robes or wings (although these may be noted in an edition of Miss Eagar’s memoirs of which Mrs Daffodil is unaware), but she was an Irishwoman even though trained as a nurse, and it is possible she may have confided those extraordinary details to someone verbally, while being more reticent in print. Certainly the Czar and Czarina were firm believers in supernatural manifestations and apparitions.

Marguerite Cunliffe-Owens was a writer of aristocratic tittle-tattle for the papers and “historical novels” about the crowned heads of Europe, with titles like The Martyrdom of an Empress and Snow-Fire: A Story of the Russian Court.   She used the pseudonym La Marquise de Fontenoy for these intimate and incendiary revelations. Anything was possible in the mystic atmosphere of the Russian court, but one suspects that the suggestion of an angel came from her purple-inked pen.

For another story of a shrouded personification of Death, see this post.

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 Bold Crape Buyer: 1817

Oil painting on canvas, The Apotheosis of Princess Charlotte Augusta, Princess of Wales (1796-1817) by Henry Howard RA (London 1769 ¿ Oxford 1847), 1818.The princess, holding her still-born baby, rises to the sky attended by two angels. Below is a lady with upraised hands and another is prostrate. Princess Charlotte (1796-1817), only child of George IV (1762-1830) and Caroline of Brunswick (1768-1821), married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld in 1816. She died in childbirth the following year and the national grief caused by her death may have encouraged Howard to paint this subject. National Trust Collections

Among linen-drapers’ assistants who have risen from the ranks and become eminently successful the following is a remarkable instance:—

A lout of a lad came up from Norfolk, and somehow contrived to obtain employment about an establishment in the city, at that time of little note. He began humbly, as a kind of porter, his work at the outset being to carry parcels, and assist in taking down and putting up the heavy shutters on the windows mornings and evenings. He was a raw, uncouth fellow—tall, thin, and ungainly from rapid growth—his drab corduroys scarcely reaching to his ankles. But he had a clear head on his shoulders, and he had willing hands; and the coarse ill-cultured hobbledehoy wrought his way on perseveringly till he was placed by his observant master among the salesmen. This vantage ground once gained, his greatest difficulty was surmounted, and he took his place among his fellows and maintained it; and, having acquitted himself to the satisfaction of his employer, he was, after a time, occasionally trusted to make a run down to the manufacturing districts to buy. This had been the height of his ambition. To be a buyer! To attain this lofty eminence was the culminating point of his earthly desires; and, when he attained it, his satisfaction was without bounds—it was supreme.

He started by coach from the Swan with Two Necks, Lad Lane, one morning in the beginning of November in the year 1817 to make some purchases. On arriving at the place of his destination late in the evening, he found some other buyers from the city in the hotel; but being little known to them, he kept as much as possible apart. He had his reasons for wishing to avoid coming in contact with them. From information which he had received previous to starting on his journey, and which he had thought carefully over on his way down, he had a game to play, and he meant to play it well, thoroughly, out and out. It is said that he was secretly, but busily engaged all the following day, among the manufacturers, buying up right and left, but keeping down all suspicion of his motives as much as possible, the entire stock in the market of one article. News did not then travel so rapidly as they do now by rail and telegraph, and it was not till the coaches arrived that night or next morning, that the astounding intelligence was brought of the unexpected death of the Princess Charlotte. The London buyers of goods were instantly agog for the interest of their respective employers; but, to their extreme mortification, they found that, except trifling morsels, every packet of mourning crape in the town and neighbourhood had been bought up. Our Norfolk youth, now metamorphosed into a buyer, had secured it all.

Having done his work, he set off home, and communicated to his master what he had done. The master was a plain-sailing man; he had saved his money rather than made it, and he was uneasy. It was a speculation beyond the range of his ideas to buy up the whole of any commodity whatever, and, most of all, of the whole manufactured black crape in the country. He did not like it. The longer he thought over the transaction, the more the temerity of his buyer alarmed him. And, when van after van began to arrive at the warehouse, setting down absolute mountains of the rather bulky commodity, the poor man wrung his hands—he was in despair. Every corner of the warehouse was filled with crape; every hole and cranny was stuffed with it; pile upon pile rose in vast pyramids before the eyes of the bewildered man, shutting out of sight the other portions of the stock, and making a passage through the premises nearly impracticable. Crape, crape, nothing but crape was visible on floor, and shelf, and counter; the horrid article was everywhere, to the exclusion of everything else, above or below.

The unfortunate linen-draper in the anguish of his heart cursed the Norfolk lad, bitterly lamenting the hour in which he had unluckily permitted his imprudent assistant to go out unrestricted as to the extent of his purchases. Ruin was manifestly staring him in the face, and he insensibly began to calculate how much might be saved from the wreck wherewith to compound with his creditors. Not so the worker of all the mischief. He had faith in himself. He did his best to console and soothe his employer by assuring him of what he felt confident would turn out to be the fact—that the whole retail trade of the United Kingdom would require to come to them for their supplies, and that they would obtain any prices they pleased.

The lamentation for the death of the Princess Charlotte was so sincere and so universal, that the mourning worn at her decease, out of sympathy for her untimely end, was much more general than is usual on the demise of members of the royal family, and, consequently, the demand for black crape for mourning was in proportion unprecedented. The vast stock rapidly disappeared, and the general trade of the concern was thereby greatly improved; the foundation of a princely fortune was laid, and in due time a partnership, and after that, the hand of his master’s daughter, rewarded the services of the bold crape buyer.

MacMillan’s Magazine, Vol. 7, David Masson, editor, 1863, p. 35-36

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The mourning for the death of Princess Charlotte was quite unprecedented. The British public had hoped to put the madness of King George III and the mad extravagances and follies of the Regent behind them with this romping girl. But, alas, it was not to be: she died giving birth to a still-born son 6 November, 1817, setting off the Great Marriage Stakes among the sons of George III, all of whom had large families with their mistresses.

Much as we may applaud the winning form of the Norfolk lad, mourning for the late Princess went far beyond crape. Many mourning artifacts survive, such as this pendant.

And this ring.

And images of her tomb in wax, prints of her funeral, and an image of her apotheosis, complete with royal infant ascending to the Heavens.

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.

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.

The Undertaker’s Revenge

The Lowry Mausoleum, Ironton, Ohio

Today’s guest-narrator tells the bizarre and gruesome story of an undertaker’s revenge.

The story began innocently enough in Ironton, Ohio in 1933, when Dr. Joseph Lowry was found dead in his bed. He was thought to have had a stroke and was laid to rest next to his late wife in his $40,000 mausoleum in Woodland Cemetery. His estate amounted to around $300,000.

Official suspicions were first aroused when a key to a safe deposit box was found in the Lowry house, but the box could not be located. It was whispered that several of Lowry’s strong boxes had been emptied by his sister Alice Barger and nephew Clark, who were said to have borrowed money from Lowry in the past. An autopsy was ordered, but on the exhumation morning when the authorities needed a key to the mausoleum, the Bargers were nowhere to be found. Eventually the authorities burned a hole through the heavy metal doors with a welding torch.

Dr. Lowry’s body was autopsied at a local funeral home. There was no sign of a stroke. In addition to previously unnoticed marks of asphyxiation, a surprise awaited. …

But Mrs Daffodil will let the author tell the story in her own discursive way:

Many years ago I ran across a story called “The Coffin with the Plate Glass Front or The Undertaker’s Revenge” by Jean Dolan, which was part of the Ohio Valley Folk Research Project, a collection of locally-collected folk-tales. Part of the story concerned a doctor disemboweled by an undertaker, which, as I am a lover of the grim and gruesome, I filed away for future reference, assuming it was just a folktale.

Then, as I was writing Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Haunted Ohio, I spoke with a genealogy librarian from Briggs-Lawrence County Public Library in Ironton, Ohio. She told me about some of the hauntings at the library and mentioned something about a disemboweled doctor who had formerly lived on the site.

Alarm bells went off. I had assumed the story was just a story, but the librarian graciously sent me newspaper clippings about the sensational story to prove that it wasn’t a fake.

Was he murdered? Why were his insides removed? Here we enter into the realm of conjecture. What follows is entirely speculative, based on local hearsay, gossip, and innuendo, sometimes a more reliable source of truth than the most carefully sworn testimony:

The story goes that when Dr. Lowry’s wife Sarah died in 1931, he ordered a very expensive, custom-made polished wood coffin. When it arrived, it had a slight scratch. Dr. Lowry noticed it at once. The undertaker murmured that it could easily be repaired. The French polisher could be on the job within the hour….

Dr. Lowry cut him short. It wouldn’t do. He wouldn’t be imposed upon with shoddy, second-rate goods. He insisted on being shown the coffins in stock and selected one, a top-of-the-line model, to be sure, with the genuine imitation mahogany veneer but a good deal less costly than the custom-made coffin. Dr. Lowry knew perfectly well that the custom coffin could be fixed but perhaps he was having second thoughts about the Dear Departed, or it may have been one of those minor economies that keep the rich richer than you and me.

The undertaker had not insisted on payment when the order was placed. He went home with a splitting headache and his wife put cool cloths on his forehead while he railed against the miserly doctor. He was his usual unctuous professional self by the time he next saw the doctor at the funeral. But he had the coffin taken up into the loft of the carriage house and covered with a horse blanket. On sleepless nights he brooded over the unpaid coffin invoice.

So when the news came that Dr. Lowry was dead, the undertaker danced a little jig of delight. He had sworn that Lowry would go to go his eternal rest in that expensive casket but it had been made for the Doctor’s wispy little wife and the dead man’s bulging midsection made it impossible to close the lid. Piece of cake, said the undertaker, preening himself on his ingenuity.  He simply scooped out the internal organs, shoveled in a few handfuls of excelsior, stitched up the now much‑diminished belly, and voila! Not only was the coffin a perfect fit but the old man looked trimmer than he had ever looked in life. The heirs congratulated him on how well the old man looked. Only a few people seemed puzzled by the corpse’s diminished height. Oh well, they went away thinking, the dead always look smaller… It had been a simple matter to take up the old man’s legs a bit so the undertaker could cram him into the coffin crafted for the five-foot Sarah.

Soon, however, rumors began to fly around the town that the old man’s death wasn’t altogether a natural one. There was some suspicion that someone had helped the old boy along—either by poison or a pillow over the face.

Dr. Lowry was removed from his $40,000 mausoleum in his plate-glass-fronted coffin. The autopsy revealed a startling secret, but not the one expected. When questioned, the undertaker admitted that he’d taken a few liberties with the old man’s innards. Motivated entirely by spite, he said cheerfully. The undertaker led the authorities to the place he’d buried the remains of the Doc, but the parts in question were too far gone to be analyzed for poison.  Any possible case against the heirs was dismissed for lack of evidence.

It is said that Dr Lowry haunts the Briggs-Lawrence County Public Library in Ironton—the site of Dr Lowry’s former home where he was found dead….He has also been seen roaming the cemetery in search of his missing insides.

Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Haunted Ohio, Chris Woodyard

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is grateful for her guest’s ghost story contribution. Another story involving a doctor, poison, a ghost, and entrails, may be found at the Haunted Ohio blog. One wonders if the disemboweled Dr Lowry’s ghost could have been placated by the substitution of ersatz entrails: trimmings from a local slaughterhouse perhaps or bits of an opossum run over by a motor-car?

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. 

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.