Electric Lights and Squirrels in Fancy Dress: 1909

 

Alice Vanderbilt as the Electric Light. See more images of the surviving dress at http://thedreamstress.com/2010/10/1880s-fancy-dress-its-electric/

Alice Vanderbilt as the Spirit of Electricity. See more images at http://thedreamstress.com/2010/10/1880s-fancy-dress-its-electric/

ELECTRIC LIGHTS IN BALL GOWNS

Unique and Weird Effects in Fancy Dress Costumes in London.

London, January 23. Pageantry has seized the popular imagination, and in consequence there are to be an unprecedented number of fancy-dress balls and head-dress dinner and tea parties.

Already the head-dress parties are in full swing, and quaint head-gear descriptive of various advertisements and the titles of notable books are adding to the gayety of country house parties. The “Merry Widow” hat and other footlight favorites are also in demand.

The fancy-dress ball this season is taking precedence over all other forms of private entertaining, and it is already rumored that a royal fancy-dress ball is to be a fixture of the future. Every day brings increasing orders to costumers for fancy dresses of original design; for those of Shakespearean and Wagner’s heroes and heroines, for historic modes, for popular stage frocks, for the numberless old-time favorites representing the seasons, and for “Salome” dresses.

Strange as it may seem, there has been a great demand for “Salome” robes, modeled after Maude Allan’s own, for wear at private balls and parties. These robes are made of sterner stuff than that used by the famous dancer and the garish bosses and jewels, reflecting a myriad lights, are strikingly effective among the black swirling draperies.

The modern costumer must be up to date, and each passing event, therefore, has some suggestion for him: hence the robe “Penny Post to U.S.A.” Again, pink satin is used, and the panels of the Princess robe are painted with pictures of the different post offices of England and America. The head-dress is composed of photographs of the Postmasters-General of England and America. In the hand will be carried a tiny barrow full of parcels and on one shoulder will be a perfect model of the Lusitania, gleaming with electric lights, and on the other piles of letters.

Of exquisite beauty is a design called “On the moors.” It is in mauve satin, with a jaunty little tight-fitting coat, and the skirt is covered with purple and white heather. A squirrel sits perkily on one shoulder and a pheasant graces the other. The head-dress is also of heather, but it is lit up with a myriad lights.

A new dress for men is the “Flip-flap,” which is most ingeniously devised. The knickers and coat are made of white satin and light arms are attached which can be revolved at will. The end of the arms are filled with tiny figures representing people, and are lit with electricity.

San Francisco [CA] Chronicle 24 January 1909: p. 35

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Maud Allen was a dancer, notorious for her sensational “Dance of the Seven Veils,” in her production of “Vision of Salomé.” This photo-postcard will suggest why. In 1918 she was accused of obscenity, espionage, and various other crimes as popularised by Mr Oscar Wilde.

MaudeAllanSalomeHead

The up-to-date Penny Post fancy dress celebrates the new Transatlantic Penny Post–a penny an ounce for letters sent to or from England. The Lusitania was mentioned as carrying the first mailbags in October of 1908. One cannot imagine the Postmasters-General of England and America being a picturesque feature of those headdresses. The Lusitania was of course, torpedoed by a German U-Boat in 1915 with a loss of 1,198 souls. This was one factor that brought the Americans into the War in 1917.

The “Flip-flap” was an early roller-coaster amusement park ride. Mrs Daffodil hopes that the squirrels and pheasants used to accessorise “On the moor” were specimens of the taxidermist’s art.

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.

 

The Spook Syndicate: 1905

A bill for the play "The Castle Spectre," c. 1800. Naturally there is a ghostly nun.

A bill for the play “Castle Spectre,” by “Monk” Lewis, c. 1800

A TRUST CONTROLS THE GHOST MARKET

There is a fresh reason for weeping and gnashing of teeth among the trust hunters. That is, if we are to credit a prospectus just issued by Mr Symington Spiffkins, latterly a London materializing medium and now the head and front of what is known as the Spook Syndicate, Limited.

“It occurred to me,” says the distinguished gentleman, “That every year more and more Americans are either purchasing or renting estates in the Old World. A very few of these properties are properly equipped with select and guaranteed spectral attractions, and with a view of filling the want I established the Spook Syndicate, Limited, which may be said to virtually control the ghost market.

“It is not too much to say that we have a corner on white ladies, wood demons, banshees, wraiths, bogeys, black knights and headless horsemen, lately carrying on business at old stands in various ruins, mouldering castles, manor houses and chateaux.

“All our phantom folk are engaged under a guarantee to perform their duties and keep regular hours, so that there may be no disappointment to the lessees. Some especially startling novelties are ready for the coming season. Terms invariably in advance.”

There is much more of this preface in the prospectus, and then follows some specimen attractions which should certainly bring business. Here are a few taken at random:

“No. 96—Black knight, in fine state of preservation. Carries his head under his arm (very desirable). Rattles a chain with horrible emphasis. Good family ghost, warranted kind and does not appear to children. Hours 12 A.M. to 2 A.M. May be engaged by the season or for a term of years.

“No. 62—Green goblin, with forked pink tail. Emits sparks. More economical than fireworks. Shrieks like the dinner horn of a deaf-mute asylum. Can be relied on to frighten an inebriate away from his cups. Very old. Five hundred years at his last place, where he gave great satisfaction.

“Lot A—White ladies. Very select assortment. Prices according to age and historic details. Suitable for sentimental couples and readers of Marie Corelli. Warranted a cure for dope fiends. Can be engaged with or without blood-curdling groans. Note—Heads will be popular this season. Phosphorescent eyes and veils are no longer considered fashionable.

No. 16—Upper part of a king (unique speciality.) For some centuries the feature of a ruined tower by the North Sea. May be highly recommended. Appears promptly at 1 A.M. and engages in looking for his lost legs. A consolation prize for those who have failed to get presented at court. ‘Half a king is better than none.’ Recommended for engagement to wives who wish to break their husbands of late hours.”

Mrs. Spiffkins further announces “a great drive” in “sheeted specters, midnight hags, phantom huntsmen and black dogs.” In sort, the American who intends to rent or buy an estate abroad should examine the stock of the Spook Syndicate, Limited.

Baltimore [MD] American 30 July 1905: p. 48

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil is always amused at the rich Americans who wish to lease a haunted stately home so they can boast to their friends about the headless cavalier in the Blue Room or the ghost of Mary, Queen of Scots going bump in the Long Gallery.  The same people would demand a reduction in their rent if they believed they had a ghost in their residence in New York, Chicago, or St. Louis.

But the brashness of Americans is a familiar comic theme, as Mr Oscar Wilde demonstrated in “The Canterville Ghost.” Britain also witnessed the unedifying spectacle of that climber, Baron Astor of Hever (née William Waldorf Astor), bribing his way to a peerage and thinking that by buying Hever Castle, once Anne Boleyn’s home, he and his guests would be able to hob-nob with her ghost. With a strength of character unusual in the ectoplasmic, she refused to appear. Or perhaps it was merely that she was not on the books of the Spook Syndicate and was thus under no obligation.

White Mourning as a Symbol of Sorrow: 1903, 1912, 1917

white mourning 1912

WHITE MOURNING GAINING FAVOR AS SYMBOL OF SORROW

Whether it be the weeds of woe dictated by the heart’s agony over the loss of a beloved one, or the conventional mourning imposed by state or custom, the sartorial symbols of grief vary with times, places and people. Only in deepest, most lusterless black have we Americans of the nineteenth century been able to show to the world how great was the loss imposed upon us by the death of those dear to us.

Since the twentieth century came in there has been a noticeable tendency toward the lightening of the outward gloom, the sign of our inward grief. An increasing number of persons have protested against donning prescribed mourning, and a still larger number, while adhering in the main to the old order, have modified it so as to make their mourning less oppressive to the wearer and to all beholders.

That black clothes are not the only means of expressing sorrow of the dead is evident if we take into consideration the mourning colors prevailing in other lands and in other times. White is the official mourning of China, as impressive and less depressing than our black. Violet, which we recognize as a minor degree of mourning, is deep mourning in Turkey. Shades of yellow, merging into brown, have expressed the sorrow for loss of life in several eastern countries, including Egypt and Persia. Blue and scarlet have also had sanction as mourning colors in the past.

So, intrinsically, the hue of the garb has no significance other than convention gives. If one has courage one may refuse to accept the dictum of convention. When it was announced recently that Mrs. Madeline Force Astor, the youthful widow of John Jacob Astor, would wear white instead of black, a sigh of relief went up from many who shrink from the somber robes and suffer from their discomforts in warm weather. If one of such social standing could so break with conventions others would surely follow her example. The announcement did not mean that Mrs. Astor would not wear any black during her period of mourning. On ceremonial occasions she will doubtless conform to the prevailing custom and wear black to escape being conspicuous, but she will have a supply of white gowns, hats and accessories which will be easily distinguishable form white wear which is not mourning. All of the white garments worn by her will be guiltless of sheen or luster. Flowers and lace are taboo; white crepe and all kinds of dull, soft white materials ware employed….

This summer more white appears in mourning outfits than has been seen for a long time. Most of it is intended, of course, for young girls and for persons who have completed the regulation period of “deep mourning.” What that period is depends upon adherence to the rules made by the combined opinions of milliners, modistes and public, especially that part of it that we call “society.” It is only slowly that the two years formerly religiously required of a widow for the wearing of crepe veil and all black outfit is being modified. Sticklers for etiquette still adhere to this rule. Greater elasticity in mourning apparel is allowed to other bereaved persons. A mother, a duaghter, a sister may shorten the period of her mourning and modify its lugubrious character with less reproach. Relatives of more remote degree are no longer compelled by censorious opinion to wear black unless their inclinations or interests dictate it….

Nothing is considered by the milliners real mourning except the heavy English crepe, although the dull silk nun’s veiling is preferred by many persons, not only because it is less expensive, but because they shrink from the feeling of crape. When the widow’s deep mourning is laid aside, Brussels or other net with a crepe border is substituted. This is also worn as first mourning by those of a lesser degree of kinship to the deceased.

White in mourning millinery makes its appearance in the becoming “widow’s cap.” Next it is found as the facing of the all black hat, which, by the way, is very popular this season. Then there are the lighter combinations of black and white; the white hat (dead white, it must be) with dull black roses or other flowers which may be worn with black or white gown; the dull black straw with trimming of white crepe or tulle and perhaps some such feather as the marabout, and the all-white hat to be worn with white frocks, especially by the young girl. These white hats are trimmed sometimes with a band and bow of white crepe or with French crepe, which, of course, expresses a less degree of mourning than the regular English crepe. Sometimes French crepe and lusterless white wings are used on a young girl’s hat.

White mourning veils are usually made of net with a white crepe order, the length of the veil and the width of the border indicating the period of mourning. Bands of white crepe on dull finished white gowns are correspondingly graduated….

White mourning gowns may be of any material that does not have a sheen, and they should always be guiltless of lace, embroidery or any sort of decorative garniture. Tucks, pleats and folds are the proper trimming. Inserts of net are also permissible. A handsome mourning costume of dull silk had the yoke made of a small figured net having almost the effect of crepe, but not so heavy. Bands of this net were also inserted in the skirt. The long coat to be worn with this gown was made of the same kind of silk, with folds, binding and buttons of the same.

Another gown was of the new dull finish Alaska satin trimmed with broad bands of white crape.

The various nets make very pretty summer gowns alone or in combination with thin silks or muslins. The tucks are varied in width and grouping to relieve the plain effect caused by lack of other trimming.

The white mourning accessories are shown in an attractive variety. For the deeper mourning white crape is used with good effect for neck and sleeve bands or for deep flat collars. In combination with tulle, French crepe, lawn and other thin white fabrics, it has a wider range of usefulness. These are used, too, without the crepe for mourning that is past its deepest stages, and are accounted proper mourning as long as they are made with a deep hem as a finish and with no more decoration than pleats or tucks afford.

White mourning parasols are made of lusterless silk, plain or with tucks, and have dull finished white handles.

The San Francisco [CA] Call 7 July 1912: p. 32

vogue vol 59 widow white mourning

White mourning from 1922.

The fad for wearing white mourning received a decided impetus when Mrs. John Jacob Astor, whose husband was lost on the Titanic, donned it as an expression of her widowhood. Many women who already had a positive dislike to black mourning, followed her example, but the fact remains that black is more in consonance with the feelings of those in grief, while white mourning is passe at the present time and can be procured only with difficulty on special order.

Nevertheless, for certain climates and seasons, white mourning, when worn with white hats and costumes, is not only beautiful and suitable, but eminently smart. In California, or Florida, it may be worn appropriately by a young widow or young girl throughout the year.

White English crape is now made in the same perfection by Courtauld as the black, a secret process which that firm has not divulged for more than 100 years.

Very few white veils are made entirely of this white crape, but it is used as a border—one and one-half inch wide—on veils of white shadow mesh or craquele or filet, or hexagonal mesh, or Georgette crepe, or white Brussels net, and makes charming borders on white costumes, and on collars of white chiffon or Georgette crepe. Face-veils made of any sort of quiet-patterned mesh veiling, without figures, and bordered on one side and the two ends, is stylish and proper, when applied to an all-white hat and worn with an all-white costume. No flowers, not even white ones, are permissible, and no jewelry except a strand of pearls. White shoes or spats, stockings, handbag, gloves, handkerchief are absolutely de rigueur, if white mourning be attempted at all.

Millinery Trade Review, Volume 42, 1917

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  “White mourning,” only truly came into favour in the early 1910s.  As noted, the young Mrs John Jacob Astor, who was only 19 when widowed in the Titanic disaster, set the trend. However, only about a decade earlier, the style was regarded with suspicion.

“White” Mourning

All-white crepe is now advocated by a New York fashion writers for widows during the summer. She says: “For a summer outfit for a young widow gowns trimmed with white crape, made of white crape, hat with a long white crape veil, a white crape parasol and everything to match, is immensely smart, and, be it added, very becoming.” Imagine such a thing! The uninitiated would surely wonder what a woman so attired was trying to impersonate. She would seem a cross between a bride, wandering about without her bridegroom, and a tragic actress doing Lady Macbeth off the stage.

The aforementioned New York writer of fashions must be possessed of a sense of humor which is, in vulgar parlance, “a dandy.”

There are widows to-day who do not wear mourning as is mourning at all, but at least they do not make themselves conspicuous in a bizarre costume like that described.

The white mourning costume is never likely to be popular until women lose their ideas of appropriateness altogether.

Charlotte [NC] Observer 1 July 1903: p. 7

“White mourning,” was known as the prerogative of royalty: the so-called deuil blanc, which we note in some portraits of Mary, Queen of Scots. A more recent manifestation of white mourning was the spectacular “White Wardrobe” created by Norman Hartnell in 1938 for her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth, whose mother died just before a state visit to France. And at the 2004 funeral of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, her daughters all wore white mourning.

Portions of this post appear in 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.

 

 

 

Reminiscence of an Old Needlebook: 1872

Here you will find the story of the pictured needle-case. http://npobjects.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/victorian-needle-case/

Here you will find the story of the pictured needle-case. http://npobjects.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/victorian-needle-case/

REMINISCENCE OF AN OLD NEEDLEBOOK.

I “’spect I grow’d,” in the city of Chicago, in 1849, under the deft fingers of Mrs. Pierce, a very estimable lady of the Presbyterian Church, though she usually attended the Sewing Society of the Canal-Street Methodist Episcopal Church. If I could, I should love to tell how the little old Canal-Street Church graduated into the Jefferson, and from that to the present splendid, commanding Centenary; but I leave that for some one better posted in Church history.

In those days sewing society and prayer-meeting expressed what we meant, just as well as the “circle,” which is now so much in vogue; and for my part I think it sounded quite as religious. There are so many circles—”circles around the moon,” “select circles,” “spiritualist circles,” and “political circles,” that I feel like discarding the word entirely, only when speaking of those things. But pardon this digression.

I was composed of the best material—light-blue enamel cloth and deep-blue satin, neatly bound with blue silk, though I do not know as I need to mention my color, as this is not as essential to respectability now as it used to be. My center was a roll about two inches in diameter, covered with the enamel and satin, and a band around each end, to hold the scissors. My leaves were white flannel, edged with a neat stitch; in one end a porte-monnaie, and the other a satin pocket, shirred with a blue silk cord. I was very nicely stitched by hand, not with one of those painfully accurate machines which leaves no room for complacency at your own handiwork.

I remember well when I was finished off and passed round to the ladies for inspection. I was greatly admired, and pronounced as pretty as I could be, until some one suggested that if there had been a thimble-sink in the roll I should have been perfect. Alas! thus early I learned we are not to look for perfection either in feature or form.

I can even recall the names of many of the ladies who were present, and whom I often met during my stay in the city. After a whispered consultation, they decided to make a present of me to the wife of their pastor. I need not say that our admiration was mutual, and neither of us has ever regretted our intimate relation as mistress and servant. I shall not attempt a pen-portrait of her. She would not allow it; she would shake her finger at me deprecatingly

if I were even to tell you her name was, for she is naturally retiring, and does not like her name to appear in print too often. She feels it is presuming too much on the magnanimity of her friends. For many years I was favored with a place by her side or in her reticule, wherever she went, whether for an afternoon visit or a month, and I never failed to attract attention and excite admiration. Indeed, I do not know but my vanity was a little stirred by such expressions, “Perfectly beautiful!” “How convenient!” and the like. But after a while “a change seemed to come over the spirit of my dreams.” I could scarcely define what it was, only I felt there was something wanting, until accidentally I observed a change in the tense of the ladies’ remarks, who noticed me particularly. Instead of as formerly, it was “What a pretty needle-book this has been— to which my mistress would reply, sometimes with a sigh—for I think she sort of analyzed my feelings—”Yes, it has been a beauty, and I cherish it still for the sake of the dear friends who gave it me.”

Ah, my friends, there are none but old folks and old needle-books who know the sorrowful grief that comes to our hearts when, conscious of our own failing energies, we hear such remarks as “she has been a splendid woman,” or “he has been a giant in intellect.” Happy is it for us if we may take to ourselves the “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I think I may take this much to myself, without arrogance—if I have not always carried the best needles for my mistress, it has not been my fault, but she seldom used any others. My needles were always ready for every good work, either at home or abroad, from making the ”dainty dresses” to garments for grandpa and grandma, and the snowy shroud in which the little loved ones were tenderly infolded as they were laid to their last sleep, as well as the wedding trousseau of my young mistress; and, too, many of my needles, like Dorcas, have gladdened the hearts of the poor. My young lady was a baby when I came to live in the family, and she was such a darling, just as all babies are. Her little blue eyes would dance at sight of me, especially while I was a forbidden object for her inexperienced fingers, and it was really amusing, as she grew older, to see with what womanly dignity she would select a needle, for she “must go to sewing.” It was not uncommon, after this, to find needles on my leaves as crooked and pointless as an infidel’s argument.

At length my last great trial came and passed, as they will with all old folks and old needlebooks. It happened on this wise. Last Christmas my young mistress made a beautiful new needle-book and sent it to her mother, with this message: “Now, mother, I do hope you will not use that old thing any longer!” She did not mean to be ungrateful to an old family servant, but only had a thoughtless way of speaking, as young ladies often have. Accordingly, to indulge her, as mothers love to do, my mistress removed my needles to the new needle-book, but I noticed her eyes grew humid as she carefully brushed and rolled me up, to lay me away with other cherished mementos of the past. Doubtless the power of association brought familiar forms and faces vividly before her, many of whom still live…while others have crossed the flood and found their promised reward. I comfort myself with the thought that not one of my companions in this “old folks’ retreat” will awaken more sacred, loving memories than myself.

The Ladies’ Repository, Volume 32, 1872

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: In the days when needles were dear and needlework was an important domestic skill for clothing one’s household as well as the deserving poor, a needle-case was an essential part of a lady’s equipage. Some were shaped like books or pocket-books, while others, like this one, had pincushions or compartments, were rolled up, and were often called “huswifes.” Although this particularly garrulous specimen did not have a “thimble sink,” it had a porte-monnaie, which is a coin-purse or wallet. Dorcas was a New Testament disciple “full of good works and almsdeeds,” known particularly for her skill with the needle. When she died, women showed Peter (who then raised her from the dead) the many garments she had made. (Acts 9:36-38)

Here is another pretty specimen:

 

How to Make A Real-Life Halloween Witch: 1908

 

Vintage witch postcard courtesy of Missmary.com

Vintage witch postcard courtesy of Missmary.com

HALLOWEEN WITCH MAY ADD MUCH JOY

Must Carry Proverbial Broom and It May Be Covered With Paper

For children nothing adds so much to the thrilling joy of Halloween as to have a “real, live witch” direct the different tests and games

Her costume is so simple to make that even an impromptu sorceress is possible in most families. The high, peaked cap should be cut from stiff cardboard covered with black paper muslin and pasted over with green snakes, little red devils and yellow cats.

The gown can be several rough breadths of black paper muslin, draped on the person who is to wear it, and roughly sewed together so as to have a short-waisted effect and wide, flowing sleeves.

Around the neck should be brought a narrow, pointed kerchief of red muslin. On one sleeve should be sewed a great yellow cat, cut from paper and on the other a curling green snake as big and as curved as the sleeve permits.

The witch must carry the proverbial broom, the handle of which can be covered with orange paper. On her shoulder should be sewed, as if perching there, a stuffed toy cat, such as is to be found in nurseries.

To make the face more gruesome the mouth should be supplied with a set of teeth cut from orange peel. These are simply a strip of the peel about half an inch deep and wide enough to fit around the top jaw. The teeth are cut into regular slits, with enough space left at the top not to have the set break through. When adjusted, the orange teeth not only transform the looks but the voice of the witch. It is well for her, however, to have several sets made for emergencies.

The hair should be allowed to hang and the face have white streaks of paint put on, while phosphorus should be rubbed on forehead, nose and ends of fingers so that it has a gruesome shine in a dark room.

The Washington [DC] Times 29 October 1908: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  One imagines the gruesome shine of the phosphorus continued for longer than the duration of the Hallowe’en party.  Phosphorus in cream form was a highly effective rat poison. Persons making phosphorus matches were often killed or mutilated by a bone disease known as “phossy jaw.”  The substance was also used by the military in incendiary bombs. One supposes that this is just another manifestation of Hallowe’en’s  dangerous pranks and poisoned candies, so often reported in the papers of the past as innocent frolics.

The Divine Sarah at a Séance: 1892

sarah bernhardt in coffin

BERNHARDT RAGES AT A SPOOK SÉANCE

Not Being Able to Understand How Spirits Are Materialized She Denounces Members of Her Company as Confederates

DRAMATIC DISPLAY OF TEMPER

Darmont, Her Leading Man, Locked the Medium in the Cabinet, but the Actress Said He Had Been Duped.

VERY QUEER MANIFESTATIONS

Scientific Frenchmen Engineered the “Circle,” Which Broke up in Something Very Much Resembling a Row.

Mme. Sarah Bernhardt began by being an ordinary spectator at a spiritualistic séance on Thursday night, but before the close she was the “star performer,” and every one else, including the medium, the members of her company, the French scientific men present and perhaps the spirits, sank into insignificance when she stalked up and down the room in tragic rage.

Those who had the pleasure of witnessing her outbursts declare that they excelled anything she had done the previous evening in “Leah the Forsaken.” She was not acting at the séance. Even magnificent Sarah can’t beat nature, and her natural fury is a trifle more interesting than her stage rage.

Madame was taken sick at the soiree mendier at the Manhattan Athletic Club on Thursday evening. It was given as a benefit by members of her company, and her indisposition brought it to an abrupt close. The disappointed spectators imagined that Sarah went at once to her hotel and took to her bed. She didn’t. She had made a tryst with the ghosts of the departed and she meant to keep it.

Two carriages drove up to the house of Mrs. Carrie M. Sawyer, a materializing medium at No. 232 West Twenty-first Street at half-past eleven o’clock. Mme. Bernhardt jumped out of one; two imminent French scientists resident in New York followed her, and out of the other carriage emerged M. Albert Darmont, her leading man; a young lady of the company with big blue, frightened eyes and straw colored hair, and a stout gentleman who takes old men’s parts in the show.

In the second story front parlor a little group of people were awaiting the advent of Mme. Bernhardt. There was a tall, thin Frenchman of high position, with his good-looking French-American bride; an attractive young lady of “The Great Metropolis” company, a little fat man with a red face and pink mustache and a young lady from Australia. When Mme. Bernhardt went in she shook hands with all these people and then took a seat in a low and luxurious armchair.

THE STRONG CABINET

In one corner of the parlor stood a cabinet built of strong framework and wire netting. It is what is known as a “test” cabinet, having been built at great expense by Henry J. Newton, president of the First Society of Spiritualists. Mr. Newton considers this cabinet the crowning glory of a lifetime devoted to psychical research, and he offers $1000 to any one who can get out of it without aid from the other world.

Mme. Bernhardt was attired richly, being in the tight fitting sort of dress which she uses so much on the stage. Her thick hair of burnished gold was thrown to the breezes like the flowing locks of Paderewski and she wore no hat or bonnet when she entered. Her pose was that of Cleopatra on her throne.

There were no formalities after the introductions and the Professor, at whose invitation the séance was given, explained to the company that spiritualism was undoubtedly a wonderful force. He thought it was well worth investigating from a scientific standpoint and he was devoting a great deal of his time and some of his money to the study of it.

“I have made a thorough examination of this cabinet,” he said, “and that there may be no mistake I have brought a padlock of my own.” The medium was then seated in a chair in the cabinet, and the Professor and M. Darmont proceeded to lock her in. There was a quiet smile upon the face of Mrs. Sawyer as the two enthusiasts applied the tests to her. They padlocked the door, and then M. Darmont got a two cent postage stamp, wrote his name upon it and pasted it over the keyhole of the padlock.

“If anyone gets out of that cabinet,” M. Darmont remarked, “I’ll get some sauce tartare, pour it over my hat and eat it.

Then they turned out the gas and the audience began singing religious songs. The only light was from a candle covered with tissue paper. Then it transpired that the eminent professor, at whose request the séance was held, was provided with a lantern which lighted itself when the holder pressed a button. The man who takes the senile parts in Mme. Bernhardt’s company, and who was sitting on a lounge behind the tragedienne, had in his overcoat pocket a revolver, a box of matches, a pair of handcuffs and a false bear. M. Darmont was armed with matches, a lasso with which to catch ghosts and a small wax candle. It looked as if the Bernhardt contingent were investigators in earnest.

SPIRITS OF THE DEPARTED

After a lapse of twenty minutes spirits of the departed began to emerge from the cabinet in large numbers. The “spirit control” of Mrs. Sawyer is a child named “Maudie,” who speaks in a babyish voice, and this spirit took charge of the proceedings and explained to the audience what was coming.

Mme. Bernhardt was very much impressed with the conversation of the baby spirit “Maudie.” When the spirit first announced its presence she said in English.

“Is that you, Maudie? I would like to go up to de cabine and kees you .May I kees you, Maudie?”

The spirit replied: “You promised my medium to give her your photograph. If you will do so you can get a picture of Maudie. Presently you will be able to go into the cabinet when the forces become strong enough to materialize.

“Tank you, Maudie; you vera good,” said Mme. Bernhardt.

Then the audience sang: “Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching,” a favorite of a spirit named Elan, the uncle of “Maudie,” who is one of the medium’s “controls.” The spirits seemed to like this and a banjo which heretofore had taken no part in the proceedings began to sail through the air playing the tune.

“I do not know how zat is done,” said Bernhardt. “Zat is vare funny.”

After a dozen spirits had come from the cabinet, careened through the atmosphere and then vanished into space, a particularly depressing scene took place. A cold air seemed to rush into the room and a presence appeared twenty feet from the cabinet. Everyone felt “spookish.” “That is the woman who was drowned in the steamer Ville de Havre,” whispered the Professor with bated breath.

“Help, help! Save me, save me!” screamed the form, and then it vanished through the floor.

It reappeared in a moment. It asked to speak to Mme. Bernhardt, and the actress advanced to the cabinet and took its hands. The form looked like a corpse and its hands were wet, madame said. It gave a gasp and disappeared. Sarah dropped back into her seat.

“I take her hand,” she said. “I scratch. I try to make the spirit cry. I tear de flesh with my nails. She no scream at all.”

DEPARTED FRENCHMEN.

The French Professor and all the others recognized forms as departed relatives. They went up to the cabinet and talked with them. Mme. Bernhardt asked questions about the phenomena. While she was talking a pair of handcuffs that had been sitting on the piano suddenly jumped in the air and threw themselves at the feet of M. Darmont. If they had fallen on his toes he would have uttered an agonizing yell, of they weighed about six pounds. There was a feeling of consternation all around.

“The medium no do that,” exclaimed the Professor. “I lock her in the de cabinet myself. It is a thing quite remarkable.”

Oui,” joined in M. Darmont, ”et moi j’ai la clef.” Or in English, “Yes, and I’ve got the key, see?”

“Let us sing ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee,’” suggested the Professor. “It requires the music for to make the spirits come some more.”

Oui, chantons,” said madame, “pour faire venir les apparitions.’”

Every one joined in the chorus. By this time the room was close and suffocating, all the doors and windows being hermetically sealed. Mme. Bernhardt was reeking with perfumes and they filled the room and possessed the senses of the audience. It was a spice-like odor, very captivating.

More spirits emerged from the retreat of the captive medium and every one made exclamations of surprise. The Professor was very explicit in his definitions of the limit of the power of spiritualism. The members of Mme. Bernhardt’s company asked questions frequently and accepted the explanations gratefully and with much politeness.

“I would like to know if it is necessaire for de young lady at de piano to sit before me in front so I no can see,” said the actress with the straw-colored hair humbly when the Professor inquired if there was anything any one wanted to know.

The mistake was corrected and the actress was given a better view of the apparitions.

The last phenomenon was the passage of the medium through the locked door of the cabinet. A young lady and the fat man with the pink mustache were called up to join hands so that the spirits might draw from them sufficient “forces” to perform the wonderful act. There was a rattling as if of chains and the medium suddenly appeared. The gas was lighted and the séance was over.

SLIGHTED THE ACTRESS.

It had been apparent for some little time before the finale that Mme. Bernhardt didn’t like the way the spirits were treating her. They distinctly slighted the great actress, making revelations to everyone in the room but her. Instead of being the centre of attraction, she seemed to hold a second rate position spiritually, and it made her mad.

Immediately after the close she made a demonstration. “You didn’t do this thing properly,” she screamed, addressing M. Darmont and the professor. “You didn’t have the medium locked up. It was an optical illusion. You thought she was in the cabinet, but she was not. If she was locked up these manifestations could not have occurred.”

She stalked up and down in tragic rage, growing more furious every moment. “No, it cannot be!” she screamed. “You must be in league with the medium. It is impossible.” She perambulated from north to south, followed by M. Darmont, who was greatly agitated.

“Madame,” he exclaimed, “I swear to you that I locked the medium in the cabinet. Believe me, madame, I am not mistaken. She was there, and I closed the door.”

“No,” screamed the actress, “it cannot be! It is impossible! It must be the work of the devil. You are all fools or confederates.”

“But, madame,” put in M. Darmont, “I beg of you. I am not a fool or a confederate. I am a member of your company. The professor is engaged in a great scientific work and he would not deceive you.”

Mme. Bernhardt was livid with rage. She made a rush at the cabinet and tried to find out if it was ghost proof. She ran all round it and banged at it with her firsts.

“AH, SARAH! C’EST TOI!”

“There must be a confederate,” she howled. “It is a trick. You say that the medium cannot speak French. Bah! One of the spirits said to me, ‘Ah, Sarah, c’est toi!”How can that be? You must all be confederates. I cannot believe it.”

One of the French scientists drew himself up. “Mon Dieu!” he exclaimed. “I wish it was a man who said I was a confederate. He would not live; no, not one day. Madame, you insult me. I have never been before here, and I am a gentleman.” “Madame,” screamed the professor, keeping pace with her in her frantic march up and down the rom, “you are unkind. I have acted in good faith. What do you want? You saw the medium locked in the cabinet. You think it is a trick. You are angry because you cannot find out how it is done. You will be sorry for having accursed your friends.”

Ou a fait la nuit!” shouted madame, throwing up her left arm and letting it fall upon her hip with a thud. I have not seen anything You assist the medium. You think you locked her up, but you didn’t. Ah, you think you are smart, but you are not.”

“Do not insult us, I beg of you, madame,” exclaimed M. Darmont. “I assure you that what I say is correct. I do not try to explain it, but I know that the medium was in the cabinet when I locked the door. I am not a madman, and I can rely on what I see. The postage stamp is intact and the lock is just as the professor left it.”

“It seemed as if she was in the cabinet,” screamed the actress, “but there must be some deception.

Madame. Bernhardt left the house in a towering rage. The members of her company followed her, greatly chagrined at her conduct and humiliated at the suggestion she had made that they were in a conspiracy to deceive her.

The most miserable man in New York was the French professor, who has been her intimate friend for years and who was heartbroken at the suggestion that he had been hoodwinked or was a confederate.

New York Herald 23 April 1892: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is difficult to say how much Sarah Bernhardt truly believed in the occult. Like many artists of her time, she over-dramatised her enthusiasm for death and its trappings. The photograph above of her “sleeping” in her coffin caused a scandal. She was known to have attended séances at Alphonse Mucha’s studio and elsewhere, but it is difficult to escape the suspicion that she sought drama and sensation more than spiritual enlightenment.

Some of the background: Mrs Carrie Sawyer was a well-known materialization medium, although one investigator said of her “Mrs. Sawyer is a gentlewoman and a strong medium, but she is surrounded by a coarse magnetism, the baleful influence of which she seems powerless to resist. [Source: Materialized Apparitions: If Not Beings from Another life, What Are They?, Edward Augustus Brackett, Boston: Colby and Rich, Publishers, 1886]

Mr Newton, the provider of the test cabinet, was well-known in Spiritualist circles. When the Fox sisters confessed that the raps had been caused by the girls cracking their toe joints, he refused to believe and announced that the manifestations he had seen could not have been caused by fraud.

“Leah the Forsaken,” was a popular tear-jerker play about a Jewish maiden in love with a Christian youth in a small Austrian village. The heroine rages and pronounces a curse on the man who betrays her. It was the perfect “meaty” role for a scenery-chewer like Madame.

“Maudie” is typical of the child “spirit guides,” so popular during this time. The child’s prattle could disguise the medium’s voice and we have previously seen how mediums might purchase child-sized figures to be used in the séance room or go down on their knees in the dark to impersonate a toddler.

SS Ville du Havre was a steamship running between France and New York. 22 November 1873, Ville du Havre hit a Scottish clipper and sank in only 12 minutes. 226 people died.

The Mutilated Sportsman and the Phrenological Bust: Gentlemen’s Fancy Dress: 1882

male fancy dress

Last week we advised the ladies on how to create inexpensive historical fancy dress. To-day we offer some inspiration to the gentlemen.

In selecting a costume a little forethought is necessary; some suit particular features and build of body better than others. A very short man as Coeur de Lion, or a tall one as Richard III., would be anomalies; but more than this, people at Fancy Balls often render themselves absolutely ridiculous because they assume characters in every way opposed to their own personality. I have seen a man with fine presence, and a face which would have added dignity to the garb of a Venetian senator, arrayed as a clown, and an inveterate practical joker, he who was “wont to set the table on a roar,” “a fellow of infinite jest,” as Rizzio. In our day, when taste and culture are considered worthy of a thought, historical costumes should not be chosen by people of education without some little study. England is rich in old portraits that might be copied with advantage rather than the theatrical ideas of periods which originate, not in history, but in the fertile brains of modern days. Our Royal Family afford an example worthy of imitation. The greatest pains were bestowed on the costumes worn at Her Majesty’s Fancy Ball in 1842, when the reign of Edward III. was specially selected; and the Fancy Ball at Marlborough House was notable for a Venetian and a Vandyke Quadrille, so truthfully carried out it seemed as if the originals of the Old Masters had come to life again. A long experience of Fancy Balls makes me advise those who desire to dance to avoid heavy wigs, hats, cloaks, swords, wands, and the several etceteras which have to be carried in the hand. They are laid down anywhere early in the evening, and seldom found except with difficulty.

For Calico Balls the costume, though made of cotton,, chintz, cretonne, &c, is generally allowed to be trimmed with gold or silver, and neither cotton shoes nor gloves are deemed necessary. Among suitable costumes for Calico Balls are Postboy, Incroyable, Yankee, Perfect Cure, Porter, Cook, Christy Minstrel…

Many are deterred from accepting invitations to Fancy Balls, by the difficulties which surround appearing in appropriate guise. My object has been to meet and facilitate these as much as possible.

Thence follows several hundred suggestions for fancy dress, most of which do not stray beyond the standard Pierrot, Sicilian Brigand, Cavalier, and historical figures like The Earl of Essex or Alfred the Great.  Still, occasionally one finds a flash of whimsey, such as the following:

AQUARIUM (Suitable for a boy) Stockings; short trousers; close-fitting bodice high to the throat, with tight sleeves to wrist, make in light green sateen or cotton, covered with lobsters, crabs, and other fish, in bright red embroidery, or in red paper stuck on; green seaweed fringe goes round the knees, waist, and the close-fitting green cap; red shoes; a belt of shells

ATLANTIC CABLE Sailor’s dress; a thick cable wound four or five times round wist, encircles the limbs below the knees, and falls in thick coils over left arm; an anchor is attached to it. The brim of the hat is turned up in front and bears the words, “Telegraphic Despatches”; the long blue streamers are marked “Transatlantic Cable.”

CLOCK: Classic robe of white cashmere, with cape and hood; VIII on the hood, shoulders, and back; dials, with hands poiting to the hour, on back and on knees, the latter having weights attached. High pointed cap with the hours round. Wand in hand with 24 upon it.

EVENING DRESS OF THE FUTURE: viz., white where it is now black and vice vera; white evening dress coat and trousers; black shirt; tie and collar, &c.

JAPANESE: Loose robe of yellow and gold satin worked with birds; loose orange trousers embroidered with gold. It is better, if possible, to obtain a dress from the country; any attempt to produce the embroidery in England would result in failure.

LUCIFER: Velvet tight-fitting doublet and trunks; black silk stockings; black velvet shoes with pointed toes; large black tarlatan wings made on frames; and a silver star on the forehead.

MUTILATED SPORTSMAN: Wears an old shooting-shirt, and has a wooden leg, and an arm tied up, as though broken.

PHRENOLOGICAL BUST: Draped in white, with skull wig, drawn out as a map according to bumpts, &c.

PICNIC: Grass green stockings and shoes; white tablecloth, worn as Mexican poncho, on it drawings of pigeon-pies, lobster salads, orange jelly, &c., looped up where necessary with knife and fork in tin.

Gentlemen’s Fancy Dress: How to Choose It, Ardern Holt, 1882

The variety in costumes really was quite staggering. Here is a list of the characters seen at a fancy-dress charity ball in 1823 Liverpool.

“Here,” says the Mercury, “mingling in the dance, promenading, or conversing, were seen abbots, Algerines, antiquaries, and angels; barons, bravoes, barristers, and beauties; clowns, courtiers, and caliphs; dukes, danes and dowagers; ensigns, esquires, & egotists; farmers, fairies, & flower-girls; Grecians, gossips, Germans, and gardners; hussars, highlands, and Hindoos; Indians, infants, and Icelanders; Jews, Japanese, and jokers; kings and Kamschatdales; lawyers, lords, lovers, ladies, and Laplanders; mayors, magistrates, and mandarins; nabobs, nobles, and Neapolitans; officers, Oxonians, outlaws, and oddities; princes, peasants, priests, and pirates; queens, quakers, and quidnuncs, robbers, Romans, and racers; Spaniards, sailors, and shepherdesses; Tartars, Turks, tyrants, and Tyrolese; userers and Utopians; Venetians, villagers, and villains; warriors, woodmen, and warders; youths and yeomen; zealots and Zealanders.” New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette [Concord, NH] 8 December 1823: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A “calico ball” was a fancy-dress entertainment in which creations in lowly printed cotton were substituted for velvets, silks, and brocades. They were quite popular as ways to raise money for charities, the logic being that if one had an inexpensive costume, one could spare more money for the charity.

The ladies of the Royal School of Needlework would, no doubt, be incensed at the aspersions cast on English embroidery in the Japanese costume section.

It is most curious that there are no suggestions for a fancy-dress ghost, nor for a vampire, zombie, or werewolf. One supposes it is because tights are practically a requirement for the well-bred Englishman donning fancy dress.

Here are some ingenious costumes worn by gentleman unafraid to eschew tights.side of bacon fancy dress 1894

rooster fancy dressStork costume

skeleton costume masque of red death