Autobiography of an Old Pair of Scissors: 1875

AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN OLD PAIR OF SCISSORS.

I was born in Sheffield, England, at the close of the last century, and was like all those who study Brown’s Shorter Catechism, made out of dust. My father was killed at Herculaneum at the time of the accident there, and buried with other scissors and knives and hooks and swords. On my mother’s side I am descended from a pair of shears that came to England during the Roman invasion. My cousin hung to the belt of a duchess. My uncle belonged to Hampton Court, and used to trim the king’s hair. I came to the United States while the grandfathers of the present generation of children were boys.

When I was young I was a gay fellow—indeed, what might have been called “a perfect blade.” I look old and rusty hanging here on the nail, but take me down, and though my voice is a little squeaky with old age, I can tell you a pretty tale. I am sharper than I look. Old scissors know more than you think. They say I am a little garrulous, and perhaps I may tell things I ought not.

I helped your grandmother prepare for her wedding. I cut out and fitted all the apparel of that happy day. I hear her scold the young folks now for being so dressy, but I can tell you she was once that way herself. Did not I, sixty years ago, lie on the shelf and laugh as I saw her stand by the half hour before the glass, giving an extra twist to her curl and an additional dash of white powder on her hair—now fretted because the powder was too thick, now fretted because it was too thin! She was as proud in cambric and calico and nankeen as Harriet is to-day in white tulle and organdy. I remember how careful she was when she ran me along the edges of the new dress. With me she clipped and notched and gored and trimmed, and day and night I went click! click! click! and it seemed as if she would never let me rest from cutting.

I split the rags for the first carpet on the old homestead, and what a merry time we had when the neighbours came to the “quilting!” I lay on the coverlet that was stretched across the quilting-frame, and heard all the gossip of 1799. Reputations were ripped and torn just as they are now. Fashions were chattered about, the coal-scuttle bonnet of some offensive neighbour (who was not invited to the quilting) was criticised, and the suspicion started that she laced too tight; and an old man who happened to have the best farm in the county was overhauled for the size of his knee-buckles, and the exorbitant ruffles on his shirt, and the costly silk lace to his hat. I lay so still that no one supposed I was listening. I trembled on the coverlet with rage, and wished that I could clip the end of their tattling tongues, but found no chance for revenge, till, in the hand, of a careless neighbour, I notched and nearly spoiled the patchwork.

Yes, I am a pair of old scissors. I cut out many a profile of old-time faces, and the white dimity bed-curtains. I lay on the stand when your grand-parents were courting—for that had to be done then as well as now—and it was the same story of chairs wide apart, and chairs coming nearer, and arm over the back of the chair, and late hours, and four or five gettings up to go with the determination to stay, protracted interviews on the front steps, blushes and kisses. Your great-grandmother, out of patience at the lateness of the hour, shouted over the banisters to your immediate grandmother, “Mary! come to bed!” Because the old people sit in the corner looking so very grave, do not suppose their eyes were never roguish, nor their lips ruby, nor their hair flaxen, nor their feet spry, nor that they always retired at half-past eight o’clock at night. After a while I, the scissors, was laid on the shelf, and finally thrown into a box among nails, and screws and files. Years of darkness and disgrace for a scissors so highly born as I. But one day I was hauled out. A bell tinkled in the street. An Italian scissors-grinder wanted a job. I was put upon the stone, and the grinder put his foot upon the treadle, and the bands pulled, and the wheel sped, and the fire flew, and it seemed as if, in the heat and pressure and agony, I should die. I was ground, and rubbed, and oiled, and polished, till I glittered in the sun and one day, when young Harriet was preparing for the season, I plunged into the fray. I almost lost my senses among the ribbons, and flew up and down among the flounces, and went mad amongst the basques. I move round as gay as when I was young; and modern scissors, with their stumpy ends, and loose pivots, and weak blades, and glaring bows, and coarse shanks, are stupid beside an old family piece like me. You will be surprised how spry I am flying around the sewing room, cutting corsages into heart-shape, and slitting a place for button-holes, and making double-breasted jackets, and hollowing scallops, and putting the last touches on velvet arabesques and Worth overskirts. I feel almost as well at eighty years of age as at ten, and I lie down to sleep at night amid all the fineries of the wardrobe, on olive-green cashmere, and beside pannier puffs, and pillowed on feathers of ostrich.

Oh, what a gay life the scissors live! I may lie on gayest lady’s lap, and little children like me better than almost anything else to play with. The trembling octogenarian takes me by the hand, and the rollicking four-year-old puts on me his dimpled fingers. Mine are the children’s curls and the bride’s veil. I am welcomed to the Christmas-tree, and the sewing-machine, and the editor’s table. I have cut my way through the ages. Beside pen, and sword, and needle, I dare to stand anywhere, indispensable to the race, the world-renowned scissors.

But I had a sad mission once. The bell tolled in the New. England village because a soul had passed. I sat up all the night cutting the pattern for a shroud. Oh, it was gloomy work. There was wailing in the house, but I could not stop to mourn. I had often made the swaddling-clothes for a child, but that was the only time I fashioned a robe for the grave. To fit it around the little neck, and make the sleeves just long enough for the quiet arms—it hurt me more than the tilt-hammers that smote me in Sheffield, than the files of the scissor’s-grinder at the door. I heard heart-strings snap as I went through the linen, and in the white pleats to be folded over the still heart I saw the snow banked on a grave. Give me, the old scissors, fifty bridal dresses to make rather than one shroud to prepare.

I never recovered from the chill of those dismal days, but at the end of life I can look back and feel that I have done my work well. Other scissors have frayed and unravelled the garments they touched, but I have always made a clean path through the linen or the damask I was called to divide. Others screeched complainingly at their toil; I smoothly worked my jaws. Many of the fingers that wrought with me have ceased to open and shut, and my own time will soon come to die, and I shall be buried in a grave of rust, amid cast-off tenpenny nails and horseshoes. But I have stayed long enough to testify, first, that these days are no worse than the old ones, the granddaughter now no more proud than the grandmother was; secondly, that we all need to be hammered and ground in order to take off the rust; and thirdly, that an old scissors, as well as an old man, may be scoured up and made practically useful.

Around the tea-table, Thomas De Witt Talmage, 1875: pp 50-52

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is a little strange to find a useful household article so sententious, boastful, and sentimental—all at the same time, but there was a 19th-century vogue for these whimsical first-person “autobiographies” of inanimate objects as we have seen previously in the life-stories of a corset and an old needle-book. In the current era, when nearly everything from fashion to spouses is disposable, one wonders what objects will be left to sell their stories to the tabloids?

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.

 

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How Mother Did It: 1872

“HOW MOTHER DID IT.”

By Anonymous.

If we were to suggest one thing which, above all other things combined, would most contribute to the happiness of the young housekeeper, it would be to learn how to cook as a husband’s mother cooked. Mother used to make coffee so and so! Mother used to have such waffles! and mother knew just how thick or how thin to make a squash-pie! And, O, if I could only taste of Mother’s biscuit! Such are the comments of the husband, and of too many meal-tables. It would be only a little more cruel for the husband to throw his fork across the table, or to dash the contents of his teacup in his wife’s face. The experience of a contrite husband is good reading for those men whose daily sauce is “How Mother did it.” He says:—

“I found fault, some time ago, with Maria Ann’s custard-pie, and tried to tell her how my mother made custard-pie. Maria made the pie after my recipe. It lasted longer than any other pie we ever had. Maria set it on the table every day for dinner; and you see I could not eat it, because I forgot to tell her to put in any eggs or shortening. It was economical; but in a fit of generosity I stole it from the pantry and gave it to a poor little boy in the neighborhood. The boy’s funeral was largely attended by his former playmates. I did not go myself.

“Then there were the buckwheat cakes. I told Maria Ann any fool could beat her making those cakes; and she said I had better try it. So I did. I emptied the batter all out of the pitcher one evening and set the cakes myself. I got the flour and the salt and water; and, warned by the past, put in a liberal quantity of eggs and shortening. I shortened with tallow from roast-beef, because I could not find any lard. The batter did not look right, and I lit my pipe and pondered. Yeast, yeast, to be sure. I had forgotten the yeast I went and woke up the baker, and got six cents’ worth of yeast. I set the pitcher behind the sitting room stove and went to bed.

“In the morning I got up early and prepared to enjoy my triumph; but I didn’t. That yeast was strong enough to raise the dead, and the batter was running all over the carpet. I scraped it up and put it into another dish. Then I got a fire in the kitchen and put on the griddle. The first lot of cakes stuck to the griddle. The second dittoed, only more. Maria came down and asked me what was burning. She advised me to grease the griddle. I did it. One end of the griddle got too hot, and I dropped the thing on my tenderest corn while trying to turn it around.

“Finally the cakes were ready for breakfast, and Maria got the other things ready. We sat down. My cakes did not have exactly the right flavor. I took one mouthful, and it satisfied me. I lost my appetite at once. Maria would not let me put one on her plate. I think those cakes may be reckoned a dead loss. The cat would not eat them. The dog ran off and stayed away three days after one was offered to him. The hens wouldn’t go within ten feet of them. I threw them into the back yard, and there has not been a pig on the premises since. I eat what is put before me now, and do not allude to my mother’s system of cooking.”

The Donaldsonville [LA] Chief 17 February 1872: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  For “Wife Appreciation Day,” a salutary lesson for the officious husband! Mrs Daffodil has posted before on how a clever wife chastened an impossible-to-please husband who found fault with any dish she set before him, no matter how dainty. In the same post is an amusing story  of a widow who expertly trained her new husband to be less exacting in his tastes. It is odd how gentlemen who would not know one end of a fowl from the other when plucked, scalded, and nicely larded in the roasting pan, somehow have all the finer points of cookery at their fingertips.

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.

Bonnets in Limbo: 1883

BONNETS IN LIMBO.

In a recent conversation with the Rev. George Hough, chaplain at the Westminster House of Correction, he took occasion to remark, in terms emphatic and forcible, on the growing evil arising out of the unwholesome craving after “finery ” indulged by the number of the ornamental sex. It would appear that the pernicious maxim, ” One may as well be out of the world as out of the fashion,” is taken so earnestly to heart by hundreds of maid-servants and workers in factories and City warehouses, that they act up to it literally, and stake honesty, honour, and liberty on the chance of winning and wearing a style of attire, as unfitted to their station as was the plumage of the peacock with which the vain and ambitious jay in the fable attempted to adorn itself.

The Rev. George Hough is a gentleman whose voice, on a matter of such importance, should command respectful attention, since there are few in England who, on account of experience, position, and shrewd sense, could be better entitled to speak. Mr. Hough is chaplain in one of our largest prisons—a prison that is occupied solely by women— and he has held that position for a number of years. It is part of his duty to see, and converse with, every prisoner on her admittance, with a view to gaining a knowledge of her antecedents, and so ascertain if her disposition may warrant his intercession to reclaim her from ways of sin, and to place her, on discharge, in some home or reformatory. At present there are shut up, in the twenty-one blocks of grim brickwork and iron grating that the walls of the Westminster House of Correction enclose, over eight hundred female prisoners ; and since the term for which they may be committed is as little as three days, it may be easily understood that the inflow and outflow must be tolerably constant.

On the day when I visited the prison there were forty “new” cases; and there they were, looking the very perfection of penitent thieves, in their sable serge gowns and their plain white calico caps tied under the chin, all in a row in a lobby outside the chaplain’s office, in the custody of two female warders with clanking chains at their waists. The majority of the new comers were young—twenty or twenty-five. It was not easy to realise that they were gaol-birds but newly trapped: that only yesterday, or the day before, many of them were gaily-bedizened creatures, with freedom to flutter about wherever they choose—light-hearted roysterers, on whose giddy heads was built a fashionable pyramid of horsehair and padding, on which to perch the modern monstrosity humorously called a bonnet. There are no chignons here— no crimping, waiving, and plaiting. I am not sure, but I was led to infer from the awfully plain manner in which the hair under every calico cap was worn, that not so much as a hair-pin is permitted. Straight and flat on the temples, with a crisp knot behind, is the stern fashion for female coiffure at Westminster. Truly it has always seemed to me one of the most faulty features of the criminal law, that only those who feel it can form any idea what is the weight of the law’s chastising hand, and what a terrible purge for pride and vanity awaits those that ride in the black coach through the prison gates. Bang goes the door, click goes the great bolt in the socket, and good-bye to the pleasant vanities of the world!

I had come, however, to see the feathers, rather than the birds of this great and gloomy aviary. That which happens to the still inmates of the Morgue at Paris befalls the unwilling tenants of the House of Correction; for they are deprived of all articles of apparel in which they arrive. Who does not know that grim sight of the French Mortuary —the suits of clothes hanging by scores above the silent dead upon the slabs? Blouse and victorine, pardessus and pelisse, sabot and slipper, swing in mid-air, and tell many an eloquent tale of those who wore them.

I wanted to see the cast-off raiment of those who, for the time, are civilly dead in the Westminster House of Correction, and to judge how far the chaplain was borne out by the general appearance of this plumage of crime and sin. Every new prisoner is stripped to the skin, and, when she has passed through the water of the jail, is clothed from crown to sole in an infamous garb—coarse clout shoes, prisonwove stockings of heavy worsted, under-clothing that is little better than canvas and is branded with a prison mark, and a gown of common serge, such as pauper’s cloaks are made of, and as plain as a winding-sheet. This, with the hideous cap, is the dress.

A female convict of a later period–1907

The occupation is working in the prison laundry, or scrubbing prison floors, or tearing to shreds, with the fingers, masses of old ship cable with a fibre close set with tar, and hard nearly as wood. The lodging is a little whitewashed vault, with a brick floor, lit by a grated window; the food is wholesome, but grimly “plain”—dry bread of unbolted meal gruel; that is, simply oatmeal boiled in water and flavoured with salt; and pudding of Indian meal, which, to the unused palate, resembles a preparation of fine sawdust. And in hundreds and thousands of cases this is the ending of a rash and reckless—not invariably a naturally vicious—girl’s craving after that flimsy and ridiculous finery which her honest means will not enable her to obtain. As I have already stated, forty women had just been admitted; next morning there were possibly as many more; and out of that number, according to the worthy chaplain’s correct reckoning, at least one-fourth find their way there through yielding to the insane weakness of dress. One cannot help thinking that if the hundreds of foolish ones who at the present time are resolving, “come what will” by hook or by crook, to become “fashionable” members of female society, could be favoured with a sight of this sad company of Westminster prisoners who have soared as they meditate soaring, and have fallen so miserably low, it might lead at least those who have not quite taken leave of their senses to reflect whether the delight of wearing for a brief space a headgear trimmed with ribbons and flowers, high-heeled boots, and a flashy dress with a “pannier” should be indulged in the face of a probable three or six months’ banishment from the world, the white-washed cell, the harsh fare, and the oakum-picking—to say nothing of the disgrace that sinks in so deep, and can be eradicated but with such miserable slowness.

But not for the sake of inspecting the prison arrangements had I visited the Westminster House of Correction: my curiosity was centred in one department. Said the reverend gentleman already mentioned in this report: “If any proof were needed as to the reasonableness of my statement regarding ‘dress,’ I could, if it were necessary, quote the names of some hundreds of girls who, according to their own statements, have commenced their downward career in consequence of their having yielded to the temptation I have just named. I would point out the wretched exhibition which may be seen in the rooms set apart in our prison for the reception of the private clothes of prisoners during their detention in custody.”

My purpose was to obtain a view of that exhibition, and I succeeded in doing so. It was a curious and, until one got used to it, a somewhat bewildering spectacle. The two rooms which I was favoured by being permitted to inspect were not the only ones pertaining to the establishment that are set apart for the purpose; for, as well may be imagined, it requires no inconsiderable space to stow away the wardrobes of eight hundred women. Under such circumstances it is necessary to economise space; and this is done at Westminster in a very methodical manner. I had expected to see the moulted plumage of every female prisoner hung up on its separate hook against the wall; but the authorities have a neater way. From floor to ceiling, on all sides, are what might be called ” pigeon holes,” if they were smaller. Each compartment is about eighteen inches square, and contains a prisoner’s clothes, including even her boots, tied up in a bundle, every bundle being surmounted by a hat or bonnet. This was the remarkable feature of the exhibition. The pigeon-holes were, as a rule, shady recesses; and as the bonnets were, 30 to speak, planted each on its bundle, it seemed at first glance as though so many women were lurking in the pigeon-holes, and thrusting their heads out.

But. one did not need the living face and form to tell you the story—the bonnet told it plainly enough. In common with all mankind, I had been accustomed to regard bonnets as meaningless and frivolous things; but that review of bonnets in prison converted me. There are articles of attire that are always more or less eloquent of the habits and conditions of their wearer. Old gloves are so, and so are old boots. I would in many cases sooner trust to a pair of ground-down-at-heel, time-mended, weather-tanned boots to tell me the story of their master’s travels, than I would trust the man himself. Similarly, I believe one might place the most perfect confidence in the dumb statements made by the bonnets and hats perched atop of the bundles.

As bearing out the worthy chaplain’s declaration, it is a fact that at least seven in every ten were headgears of a “dressy” type, and the crowning glory of the wearers. Here was a hat, a tiny coquettish article of the Alpine order, with a flowing feather, and ribbons that were scarcely creased. The process of compression which they had undergone betokened the ample skirts of silk and velvet, and possibly the expensive and fashionable mantle, confined within. No other than an expensive and fashionable mantle could be associated with such a hat as that; and, as plainly as though it were there substantial and visible, appeared, under the rakish little lace “fall,” the elaborate chignon on which it was mounted. The warder reaches down the humiliated “Alpine,” and there, pinned to its ears, as it were, is a paper ticket, on which is written the simple record: “Maria B , four months.” Four months, and of that weary time barely two weeks have elapsed. Here is Maria B ‘s Alpine hat. Maria B ‘s chignon is ruthlessly crushed in her bundle, thrust into one of her high military-heeled boots perhaps; and Maria herself, who, for a little while commonly drank champagne, and wore rings on her white fingers, is plunged elbow-deep in prison suds, washing dirty worsted stockings; while, if she works well and sticks to the tub without flinching for a matter of nine hours or so, her reward will be nearly half-a-pint of prison beer.

Who can doubt that “Maria B——,” in the loneliness of her whitewashed cell, does not often wonder what has become of her clothes and her hat? They will be hers one day again. At the expiration of four months the bundle and the hat will be rendered up to her, and she will have to give a written acknowledgment of their restoration. Will she ever find courage to wear that hat again? In four months it will have faded, and the depressing atmosphere of the prison will have taken the crispness out of its trimmings; but, even had it been kept in a bandbox—there is the ticket on it. She will unpin it, of course; but there are the pinholes in the ribbon, and she will hate it on that account, and her ears will tingle with guilty shame should she suspect that any human eyes are attracted to that particular spot—as if all the world knew that the hats of those consigned to prison were condemned to share their owners’ disgrace by having a convict ticket affixed.

Bonnets in limbo keep strange company. In the next nook to that where roosted the haughty Alpine, reposed, atop of a bundle no larger than a quartern loaf, a confused saucer-shaped mass of plaited straw and dirty ribbon, that looked as though it had long been used to the pressure of a basket, and smelt as though that basket had been accustomed to contain fish. It had the better of the Alpine, however, despite its ill condition and general appearance of blowsiness; for, as its ticket declared, it was only a drunken and abusive bonnet, and would be free to go about its business in a fortnight. In the next compartment was a hat with feathers, and in the next, and the next four—all as much alike in style as doubtless their owners were in character. Such, at least, might be inferred from their sentence of durance, which in each case was four months.

Then came a very remarkable bonnet—a gaunt, rawboned, iron grey straw, of parochial breed. It was such an enormous bonnet, and the bundle it accompanied was so diminutive in size that the former was not perched atop of the latter as in other cases; indeed, unless it had been proficient in the art of balancing itself on its front rim, it would have found the feat impossible. It straddled over its bundle, which was partly lost within its iron grey jaws, as though bent on swallowing it. How the workhouse bonnet came there I did not enquire, nor did I ask for how long its lodgings had been engaged, or of what crime it had been guilty. Perhaps it was for “making away ” with a portion of its clothing— the diminutive size of the bundle certainly favoured this supposition, and getting drunk with the money. This, however, must be said, that it looked much more abashed at its degrading position than many of its sisters there; and one could not help hoping that the wizened old face it had been accustomed to overshadow would soon be restored to it, and convey it out of that shameful place.

In some of the nests I observed that there were two bonnets, and when this was the case it happened pretty often that they were exactly alike. Here were a pair of the sort— of French grey velvet, trimmed luxuriantly with green grapes and the foliage of the vine. They were slightly the worse for wear, and battered in at the crowns, which had a pulpy look, as from constant battering. At a glance one might perceive the class to which they belonged—the night-prowling, tavern-frequenting class, so well known to the police that a tremendous amount of daring and dexterity on the part of its members is required to enable them to “pick up ” enough to procure gin and finery. They are thieves of course, and they hunt in couples. The two grey bonnets were a pair, the tickets pinned to them showing that they had been convicted on the same day for the same term. Knowing that both bonnets and bundles will be required on the same day three months hence, they are thus conveniently kept together by the prison authorities. So surely as the warder at the gate has let them out, so surely will he, a month or so afterwards, let them in again, and the bonnets will be once more stowed away, while the women, in a perfectly free and easy manner, will take to the serge gowns and calico caps, and make themselves at home. Indeed, creatures of this class—and at Westminster House of Correction alone they may be reckoned in scores—appear to regard the prison as their proper home, and their freedom as a mere ” going out for a spree,” which may be long or short, according to luck.

A remarkable feature of this prisoners’ wardrobe is, that the more magnificent the bonnet the smaller the accompanying bundle—a fact which tells most eloquently what a wretched trade these women follow, and how truly the majority of them are styled “unfortunate.” I am informed that nothing is more common than for these poor creatures to be found wearing a gaudy hat and feather and a fashionably made skirt and jacket of some cheap and flashy material, and nothing besides in the way of under-garments but a few tattered rags that a professional beggar would despise.

And these are the habiliments in which, on bitter cold winter nights, they saunter the pavements, and try to look like “gay women.” Gay! with their wretchedly thin shoes soaking in the mud, and their ill-clad limbs aching with cold, until they can get enough to drown sense and memory in gin. Gay, with their heart aching and utterly forlorn, and hopeless, and miserable, homeless, companionless, ragged and wretchedly clad, except for the outer finery without which they could no more pursue their deplorable calling than an angler could fish without bait—is it surprising that they drink until they are drunk, or that they steal when money to supply their desperate needs can be obtained in no other way?

It may be love of finery that in the first instance lures hundreds of girls from the path of virtue; but it is altogether a mistake to suppose that, despised and outcast, they are still content because they wear many flounces on their gowns, and flowers and feathers on their heads. They would reform if they could reform. They hate the life they lead, they hate themselves, and so they go from bad to worse; and the temporary deposit of these bonnets in the prison clothes-room finishes with their leaping a bridge in the delusive gay garb, or carrying it away with them to some distant convict station.

In Strange Company: Being the Experiences of a Roving Correspondent, James Greenwood 1883: pp 100-07

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  It is curious how gentlemen of all stripes: clerical, philanthropic, or journalistic, feel that it is somehow their duty to chastise females for their “insane weakness” or “unwholesome craving” for finery. It really is enough to drive one genuinely mad, or to murder. But, of course, these gentlemen, in their handsome broadcloth suits, their sleek silk hats, and ornamental vests draped with substantial watch chains, would have rejected the notion that their attire was a reflection of personal vanity.  They viewed it, rather, as the honourable badge of respectability, but to these gentlemen, a fashionable bonnet carried no such guarantee.

Mrs Daffodil has previously censured a German gentleman for calling an interest in fashion a kind of lunacy.

 

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.

 

“I’m Not Superstitious, But–“: 1926

“I’m Not Superstitious, But—“

Nina Wilcox Putnam

America’s Only Woman Humorist [!!?!?!]

As Sir Walter Raleigh said, when spreading his coat over the mud puddle for Queen Elizabeth, “Step on it, kid, this is your lucky day and mine, too. I only regret that I have but one coat to lay down for my country.”

And how true it is that some things bring you luck, providing you believe they do, certainly was proved to me not long ago when I luckily picked up the telephone receiver on a busy wire and heard that the cook was leaving over at Miss Demeanor’s. I was lucky and quick enough to beat all the other ladies in Dinglewood to luring her.

The cooks, if any, which we have had this part year have positively caused a draft going through our kitchen, that’s how fast they went. And now, quite by accident, I run across the fact that this cook was leaving, so naturally I ran across and asked would she come to us, and she said she would, and so I went right on back home and scrubbed the kitchen floor, washed the windows, tied red bows on the kitchen curtains, moved the best easy chair, radio and five-foot bookshelf out there, also a few little other odds and ends into her quarters such as my long mirror, my best red room slippers, and etc. to make her feel thoroughly comfortable.

The Conquering Cook Comes

Well, the next morning, which was when we was expecting her, I fixed myself up as attractive as possible and sat down to wait for her. Pretty soon the doorbell give a loud ring, and my heart give a ditto leap, and I though, oh heavens, there she is and hurried to answer. Well, it was, actually she had showed. I took her bags and carried them upstairs and showed her her room, asked was there anything I could do for her, found she would fancy a little cake and tea, and then I left her in privacy while I went down to fix things up like she wanted, and while I was doing so, the bell rang again, and this time who would it be only that Mabel Bush, the one that’s married to Joe Bush of the Hawthorne Club.

Well, at first I thought where Mabel must have been shopping, on account she had something with her from pretty near every department of the Emporium. But no, she was merely going away for a coupula weeks and had brought some stuff she wanted to park with me while she was gone.

Say dear, she says when she had got her breath. I wonder would you mind taking care of my goldfish while I and Joe is out in Kansas visiting mother. He’s a real sweet little feller, ain’t you, Otto? See how cute he is, Jennie? And he don’t bite or anything unless he’s crossed. With that she hauled out one of the meanest looking goldfish I ever saw in my life. It gives me an awful funny look right off, but naturally I merely says why hello, Otto, nice Otto, pretty feller, of course I’ll take care of him, Mabel, what does he eat? Oh, fishcakes, she says, or any old thing. Now go to your Aunt Jennie, Otto, that’s the boy!

Mabel Dodges the Jinx

Well, I took his glass globe and put I on the table, a little uneasy over how the new cook would feel about another mouth to feed after I had told her there was only three in the family. But before I got a chance to go do any heavy worrying, Mabel had pulled a wild-looking fern out from a handbag, and set the poor helpless thing at my feet. ‘There!’ she says “I’m sure you don’t mind looking after that; all you got to do is water it once a day with double-filtered water, brush its leaves, pick the spiders and seeds off it, and give it a little sunshine.

Then before I had a chance to kick she was after me with another coupla bundles. “This is just the canary,” she says, “and here, my dear, is my peacock fan and my opal pin. Of course I’m not a bit superstitious, but I always say there is no use taking silly chances, and there have been three wrecks around mother’s neighbourhood lately, and I hate to leave them in the house in case burglars was to break in, so you don’t mind if I leave them with you, do you?”

Why Mabel Bush, I says, do you mean to tell me you are superstitious about taking them things with you? I says, why you ought to be ashamed of such ideas. I wouldn’t be so childish, why what harm can a father fan and few opals do? Well, she says, of course they can’t do any harm, I know that, so you really won’t mind keeping them until I get back? I says of course not, dear, but honest, I think you ought to take them along, just to overcome such nonsensical ideas.

Jennie Takes no Chances.

Well, Mabel wouldn’t insult my intelligence by taking them things off the place once she had brought them, so she left them and went on her way. And after she had done so, why I put the livestock around the dining-room, and then I didn’t quite know where to put that opal pin and Mabel’s peacock fan for safe-keeping. Of course I didn’t have the faintest feeling about keeping them in the house, even with a new cook there, so I left ‘em lay where she put them.

Then I picked up a pin off the floor, walking around so’s to make sure the point was towards me, and went out in the kitchen to ask Mary, the new cook, did she know anybody owning a second-hand black cat they didn’t need? Not that I really thought it would do any good, but some people have the idea a black cat is lucky, and while I personally myself certainly don’t believe in any such nonsense, why as long as I had the idea in my head I thought I might as well get a black cat to kinda counteract the idea of that fan and opals. Well, it seems Mary had a cat meeting my specifications up to her house and she offered to go right up and get it, but I wasn’t taking any chances of letting her out. So  says, oh no, don’t bother, I will go, where is it? And she says no. 13 West 113th St.

Luck Looks Up.

That number, of course, didn’t sound awful good to me, but I says to myself, now don’t be silly, it is a pure coincidence, you go get that cat just the same. So I did, and there was a ladder standing over the front door when I got there. Not that I minded this any more than poison, and naturally I hadn’t come all that long way in order to be turned back by a mere childish superstition. So I went under the ladder and knocked on the door and after a while somebody put their head out the window and says what do you want? And I says, Mary, that’s my cook, at least she was when I left home, told me her daughter had a black cat. And the party in the window says Mary’s daughter ain’t ever here Fridays, but I’ll get you the cat. So she done so in a bag, and my good luck started right away.

Well, anyways, I was lucky enough to get home alive and without being arrested in spite of the bloody murder that animal was yelling. And I was lucky with it another way, on account no sooner was that cat established in our home than I no longer had to bother feeding my goldfish. I didn’t haf to bury it, the nice kitty attended to all that.

Naturally, however, I had to replace Otto, so I ordered another poor fish of exactly the same pattern, ordered it kept down in the fish department of the Emporium until Mabel got ready to come back. It was just as well, anyways, on account the new cook claimed she never could of stood the noise it didn’t make.

Welcoming the Horseshoe

Now of course I wasn’t one bit superstitious about them opals being in the house, but I have to admit I commenced dropping tea spoons right after Mabel parked stuff with me. Not that I believe it really is unlucky to drop a spoon, but once I got the idea why I felt there wouldn’t be any actual harm in doing everything I could to counteract the thought. And so it was certainly rather cheering when Junior brought in a nice horseshoe with three nails in it. I had a good time gilding it up, and panting a few forget me nots on it, so’s nobody would think anything peculiar when I hung it up over the parlor mantel.

Ad nobody did, not even when by accident in hanging it, I happened to brush Mabel’s peacock fan off the mantel and into the open fire. I felt awful bad about this and what to do certainly was the question. It was one thing to page a new gold fish, but not a soul I knew kept even one peacock, and so he only thing I could hope for was that Mabel had her stuff well insured.

I wouldn’t want to lay the blame on any of Mabel’s belongings. I am not that kind of a fool, but it’s the truth that the very day I bought a picture postal of a peacock in order to make things up to Mabel the best I could, why somebody, the cat, so the cook said, left the dining room window open, let Mabel’s fern freeze, and of course, the only one of the same style our florist had in stock was twice as big and four times as expensive. But that didn’t matter so bad, because all I would have to do when she come back would be to say look, dear, what wonderful care I have taken of your plant, just see how it has grown and etc.

Worse and More of It.

Hot Bozo! As if that wasn’t enough the darn canary bird she had left on my hands commenced moulting. We could hear him at it every morning earl, and never once got dressed and down in time to stop him. So I had to go spend a couple or three dollars on hair tonic and after he drank the first couple of bottles he begun to look better. Just the same he had a distinctly shingle bobbed appearance by the time I got a letter from Mabel telling where she would be home in two days and if it wasn’t too much bother, would I mind ordering milk and ice, and loaning them a little coal, and running over to air the house and tell the furnace man to build a fire and ask the newspaper man to commence leaving the Morning Yell again. And she hoped it wouldn’t be too much bother.

So I done like she asked, and I addition carted all her stuff over for her—all, that is to say, except them opals. Look as I could, I wasn’t able to locate that pin any place. I stubbed my toe looking and every one knows that meant you’re going some place where you’re not welcome without that jewel? The cook got sore when I asked if she had seen the darn thing, and says well, if she wasn’t trusted, there was no use in he r staying any longer. So she took her bag, wages and departure.

And still I couldn’t find no pin, so I decided, well, that cook never would of left me flat like that and walked out unless she really had stolen it, after all! Not that I’m the least superstitious, but I might of known I wouldn’t have a minute’s luck with opals in the house. I don’t believe in any superstition in the world, but there has certainly been nothing go right since Mable left them stones here, and what and the world am I gonner tell her when I see her tomorrow?

One Superstition Left

Well, naturally there wasn’t nothing to do except tell her the truth. And so when Mabel come home and I was over there to her house with everything ready for her like she had asked, and she says how lovely and neighborly of you, dear, I’m afraid it’s been a terrible lot of bother. Why, of course I says, not in the least, darling. It’s been no bother at all. It’s been a pleasure. But, I says, I got bad news for you. I lost your opal pin, dear, not that I’m one bit superstitious, but it certainly brought me bad luck all the while it was with me and now it’s gone.

And she says, why Jennie Jules, she says, it was never there at all. I didn’t leave it there. I took it along with me after all, on account of the way you kidded me about being superstitious! And I give her one look. No! I says, meaning yes. So you never left it! I says. Well, I do guess there is one superstition I do believe in, after all, which is that when a person’s nose itches it means they are going to kiss a fool, and so, if you’ve got a mirror handy, I believe I’ll get the job over with right now.

The Sunday news [Charleston SC 17 January 1926

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Just in time for the 13th of the month, this whimsical account touches on just about every common superstition of the early twentieth century, as well as the problem of Keeping a Cook. Peacock feathers, opals, and black cats were all considered unlucky, although sceptics tried to reason people out of their fears of jinxes and hoodoos and fashion tried to trump superstition, all to no avail; some individuals still believe these articles to be problematic even to-day.

That rankly superstitious person over at Haunted Ohio has a theory, writing:

“Judging by the persistence of ‘superstitions,’ one wonders if, in the same way humans need certain vital gut bacteria and an exposure to dirt in childhood to maintain a healthy immune system, humans need a salutary dose of the illogical from time to time to top up whatever part of the brain it feeds.”

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

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

A Civil Host: 1871

A Lesson in Civility.

A few days ago, says a correspondent, a laughable incident occurred to disturb the quiet of the hospitable Berkshire household where I am visiting. My genial host, who is a fine specimen of the old school gentleman, sat on the sunny piazza in his farming rig, smoking his favorite clay pipe, when a stylish team dashed up the drive with a great flourish, and one of the two male bipeds who occupied the carriage called out, as they drew up before the door, “Hallo, old fellow! Is this oaks?”

“Yes,” said Mr. Oaks, coolly, somewhat astonished at the salutation. “Well, then,” throwing the reins to the supposed menial, and jumping out, “this is the place, but what anybody ever built such a great ark of a house for, up here among the hills, beats me. Here, you, put up my horses and rub ‘em down and feed ‘em well, and see you don’t half do it, and then show us the fishing-pond or brook, or whatever it is, where them trout live, and the woods where we shall find them pigeons we’ve heard so much about.” And they strode through the open door into the sitting room. Both were dressed in real sporting costume, one equipped with rifle and game-bag, the other with fishing-rod, tackle and basket, looking, with all their fanciful accoutrements, much more appropriate to figure in a tableau than for actual service in the field. Mr. Oaks called some one to care for the team, and went himself to show them the way to the sporting grounds, coming back exceedingly amused to find us all rather indignant.

“They have ordered dinner to be ready at precisely 2,” he said, “with the proviso, that while you are about it, you shall get them something fit to eat.”

“And what shall I do about it?” asked Jennie, my host’s daughter.

“Oh! Have everything ready for them in good shape, and treat them as well as you can.”

The order was carried out to the letter. They came back, tired and hungry, with nothing of any consequence in the way of game; blustered round, swore at their guide for not showing them the right place; ordered brandy and water, and indulged in a little more profane language when told that there was nothing of the kind in the house; did ample justice to the dinner; called Miss Jennie “Betty” and “Bridget” when she went in with the desert, as her father insisted she should, and asked “if she had ever been to tunn, or seen the steam keers.” After dinner they lounged around, smoked cigars and expectorated on the carpet, and at last called out to their host, “Look here, old two hundred and seventy-five, get our team, and be quick about it. It is deuced mean for us to come away out here and not get any fish, and not see Oaks after we’ve heard so much about his droll stories; but I suppose you can tell us what our bill is, old avoirdupois.”

“You are quite welcome to what you have had,” was the reply, “as this is not a hotel, and I am William Oaks, as I could have told you some time ago had you inquired for the master of the house.”

You never saw two fellows so crestfallen. They stammered over no end of incoherent apologies of how they had often seen fish and game at the station, ten miles away, which the fortunate possessors said came from Oaks’, and had many times seen parties going to and from the same place, and had jumped at the conclusion that it was a public house. Mr. Oaks accepted their apologies in the peculiarly happy and graceful manner which renders him so popular, and told them a little story, very much to the point, upon the beauty of civility, and as Miss Jennie came down stairs just then, dressed in a heavy black silk visiting suit, he called to her, and as she came forward, introduced her with his old-fashioned courtly grace as, “My daughter, gentlemen! The mistress of her old father’s house, and the pride of his heart.” They awkwardly, sprang into the carriage which was waiting and drove rapidly down the mountain road. A friend coming in soon after had met and recognized them in the ravine, so that our curiosity in regard to their names and occupation was gratified.

The Eaton [OH] Democrat 8 June 1871: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  “Two male bipeds.”  No doubt of the “sula sula” or “Red-faced Boobies” species.

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.

 

Shrieks in the West Room: 1835

Shrieks in the West Room at Flesbury

A plain statement of the facts, as they occurred, without any attempt to embellish or magnify them, will be given.

Early in 1835, my brother John was taken seriously ill, and for many weeks his life hung in the balance. A crisis was reached and passed, followed by a fortnight of mingled hope and despair. At the end of that time his condition showed so great an improvement that the most sanguine hopes for his recovery were entertained by all the family, except his mother and aunt, who continued to be very anxious so long as the doctors were unwilling to give a decidedly favourable opinion.

It was between five and six o clock on a fine spring evening, towards the end of March. The sinking sun was cheerfully lighting up the West room, where three of John’s sisters and his brother William were sitting, having just left their father in the dining-room. Their mother and aunt had returned to John’s room. The West room adjoins the principal staircase, which leads up from the entrance hall through the centre of the house. There is a small landing at the door of the West room, the stain ascending a little further to the principal landing. A second flight leads to the upper landing, on which opened the room occupied by John. Owing to the centre of the house being open, any sound in the hall is distinctly audible on the upper floor. The offices are reached by a long passage behind the hall and the dining-room, so that ordinary sounds from the hall or the staircase cannot be heard there.

The children in the West room were all in the highest spirits. They were no longer feeling anxious about their brother and were even a little inclined to think that their elders had been unnecessarily alarmed. Poor dear Johnnie, they told each other, after all the fuss that had been made, was getting well.

To be sure, it was impossible to spoil him; he was such a dear good boy and never made a fuss about himself. But even now Mamma and Aunt would not believe that he was not going to die. In fact, that very day at dinner. Mamma had been actually crying again. The children went on to discuss the two doctors who were attending John. The younger of the two had particularly annoyed them that day m reporting on the state of the patient to their father. While admitting an increase in strength and appetite, he had added, ‘Still, I see no improvement.’ ‘Papa said he was ridiculously inconsistent,’ one of the children remarked; and someone went on to say something which raised a general laugh. The laughter had not ceased when a piercing shriek rang through the room. It was as if uttered by someone standing on the landing just outside the open door.

There was silence, and then a second shriek like the first; another silence, and then yet a third shriek, even louder and more prolonged than the others, and ending in a rattling, gurgling sound, as though someone were dying.

The children in the room were struck with horror. None of them is likely to forget that awful sound. As I write, it seems to ring in my ears.

In a moment the door of the drawing-room, on the further side of the hall, was thrown open, and Mr Carnsen, who had been sitting in the room alone, hurried across the hall to the foot of the staircase. He called in an agitated voice to his daughter, whom he knew to be in the West room ‘Gertrude, what is the matter! Who is screaming in that dreadful manner!’

‘Papa,’ we answered, ‘we don’t know. It wasn’t one of us, though it seemed quite close.’

‘It sounded as though someone were in great distress,’ our father said. ‘Go down to Grace and ask her if the people in the kitchen are all right, although the noise did not seem to come from there.

Gertrude went at once and found the housekeeper alone in the big front room. She was standing as if listening and declared she had distinctly heard three shrieks. She was wondering what could be the matter and though positive that the sound had come from further off than the kitchen, she went there to enquire if the servants knew anything.

When she returned her usually florid face was quite pale. ‘Oh, Miss Gertrude,’ she said, ‘there is no hope for Master John — that is what it means. What we heard was none of the servants, and no human voice. The servants heard the screams too but they seemed to come from far off.’

‘How can you talk such nonsense!’ Gertrude replied. ‘A person like you ought to know better. Papa says you must find out what it was and let him know.’

The girl then returned to the hall, where she found her father talking to the old doctor, who had just arrived. Mr. Carnsen was saying: ‘It was like a woman’s voice, screaming as though in the utmost distress. You would have supposed she was being murdered.’

The doctor replied that he had been crossing the lawn at the time, and that if the noise had come from outside the house, he must have heard it.

After Gertrude had reported the failure of her enquiries, her father asked her to tell her mother, who was in John’s room, of the doctor’s arrival. On her way upstairs, she looked into the West room, where she found that the others had been joined by Ellen, a faithful and attached servant, with the youngest child, then about two and a half, in her arms. Ellen said they had been in one of the rooms on the first landing when they had heard the shrieks, coming, as it were, from the West room or near it. The child asked, ‘Who is screaming, Ellen; I didn’t scream’; and picking her up the maid had run to the West room to find out what was the matter.

One of the children remarked: ‘Poor Johnnie! How frightened he must have been!’

Whereupon Ellen suggested: ‘Could it have been Master John seized with a fit?’

Struck with this idea, Gertrude ran upstairs. The door of her brother s room was partly open, and when she went in she saw him lying with a very placid look on his fact. As she passed the bed, he gave her a look and a smile, but did not speak. Her mother was resting on the sofa and her aunt was reading by the window. Nothing in short, could have been quieter or more composed than the room and its inmates.

After announcing the doctor s arrival, Gertrude went over to the bed to discover if possible, without alarming her brother, if he had heard the shrieks.

‘Johnnie, how quiet you look!’ she said. Have you been asleep?’

No, Gertrude,’ he replied, ‘I was not asleep and I knew the doctor had come. I heard Dash give his little bark’ — meaning a short single bark which the old dog, who lay on a mat in the hall always gave when the doctor arrived. So it seemed that John had heard the bark, but not the awful shrieks which had rung through the house and been heard by everyone in it except himself and those who were with him.

The doctor was now on his way up and Gertrude, as she left, beckoned to her aunt to follow her. In the West room she told her of their experience, the aunt replying that everything had been exceptionally quiet that afternoon in John’s room.

He had been lying awake, but without speaking for some tune and no unusual noise of any kind had been heard.

An immediate search was made, every possible and impossible cause being sought for and suggested; but all was in vain; no explanation was forthcoming.

Next morning, the doctor came to breakfast, accompanied by his brother, the old clergyman, who occasionally visited John; and while they were there, the housekeeper and the farm bailiff were called in and questioned as to the result of the enquiries which, by Mr. Carnsen’s orders, they had made. One point was clear: the sounds had been made in the house, since no one outside had heard them. The accounts of all those inside the house talked: there had been three shrieks at short intervals; it was as though a woman’s voice were being strained to the utmost; and the noise had ended in a dying rattle. What was most unaccountable was that the shrieks were loudest on the staircase, close to the West room, and therefore should have been distinctly audible in John’s room just above; yet everyone there was utterly unconscious of them.

Nothing more could be done. The servants were given strict orders not to allow any report of what had happened to leak out. Mr. Carnsen, who disliked the subject so much that no one ventured afterwards to allude to it in his presence, enjoined a similar silence on the children. The clergyman, after hearing all the evidence, pronounced the incident to be of a kind for which it was impossible to give a natural explanation. He told us that we could not pretend to deny the reality of what we had heard, but must not give way to superstitious fancies Some lesson or warning which time would make more clearly known, was intended.

From that day onwards, even those of us who had been most hopeful, found their confidence gone, though for another week John’s health continued to show signs of improvement.

After that he took a turn for the worse, and three weeks from the day when the shrieks were heard he died. It may be asked whether a similar warning was given on the occasion of the death of any other member of the family

Fifteen years later, John’s young sister, Emma, was on her deathbed. In the middle of the night, just before the end, those who were watching in her room heard sounds of hysterical wailing and lamentation passing through the house The noises ceased as she drew her last breath A few months later, when the daughters were watching by the deathbed of their mother they had so strong an expectation of hearing that unearthly voice once more, that they told each other they ought to doubt the evidence of their senses if it came but it did not come. Nor was any warning given of the deaths of two of the sons in distant lands, or when Mr Carnsen himself passed away in March 1860 as he knelt in prayer by his bedside.

Further Stories from Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book, 1937, pp. 3-9 (reported earlier in an abbreviated form in Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 16 November 1888).

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: As the Proceedings and the introduction to this story in The Ghost Book says, ” Lord Halifax copied the following story from a manuscript, written by the sister of John Carnsen, the child concerned, who died on April 22nd 1835, aged eleven. He added the information that ‘the house where the events of this narrative occurred is Flesbury, a lonely country house on the north coast of Cornwall. The family who reside there are the only descendants of the Carnsens of Carnsen, in Cornwall.’ The names are given as they appear in The Ghost Book, but Carnsen should probably be Carnsew, the name of an old Cornish family, and Flesbury, should probably be Flexbury, near Bude.”

Ah, that is so often the trouble with supernatural accounts: the narrator wishes to disguise the name of the family or the location so that the family is not embarrassed or the house does not get a bad name. One wonders if such subterfuges confused the wailing spirit, who did not appear at the death of the narrator’s brothers, mother, or father, but instead found itself in the Bude-Stratton Business Centre car park, puzzling over a Ordnance Survey map in search of a non-existent family and house.

 

 

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.

Girls Who Collect Gentlemen’s Hats: 1893-95

If the Saratoga girl has a fad, quite new with the season, it is the collection of straw hats which are plucked quite heartlessly from the devoted heads of her admirers.

The fad is managed this way: The summer young man goes to call upon the summer girl. He spends an evening pleasantly upon the piazza, or in the cosiest corner of the parlor, and when it comes time for him to go home, he finds his hat firmly clasped by a pair of adorable little white hands, while a pair of blue eyes beseech him to leave his hat, as a reminder of a pleasant evening.

“But,” murmurs the Saratoga unfortunate, “how am I to go home without my hat?”

“Oh, dear,” pouts the pretty miss, “can you not walk home without it? Are you afraid of catching cold? Here, take my handkerchief,” handing him a tiny lace-trimmed absurdity, “and run just as fast as you can.”’

And so it comes to pass that the Saratoga young man has, for a summer fad, a collection of dainty pocket handkerchiefs, bearing different and delicate flower perfumes. While the young woman has her boudoir trimmed with broad-brimmed straw hats.

In one of the big hotels, there is a darling little sitting-room which belongs to a dear little southern heiress. She is from Louisiana, I think, and looks not unlike her southern sister, Mrs. James Brown Potter. Well! Upon a spindle-legged Josephine table in that sitting room, there is a straw hat, with the blue ribbon of Yale around it, and inside the hat there are the sweetest bon-bons, of which a supply is sent daily by him from whom the hat was wrested. Upon the wall there hangs a hat, glorified by painted daisies, and another one, trimmed with natural flowers also sent daily. Upon the floor, daintily lined with blue satin, is hat which must have been worn by a youthful Daniel Webster. It is so very large! And in the hat there sleeps—the Louisiana girl’s pet poodle.

There have been fads and fads. But this summer the straw hat fad rages above and beyond them all…

Trenton [NJ] Evening Times 16 July 1893: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  When the Summer Girl tired of collecting hats, or perhaps ran out of hat-pegs in her darling little sitting-room, she turned to a new fad: collecting hat-bands.

The girl who can boast a number of beaux, owns hat-bands of all of the college colors, and also those pertaining to the various athletic clubs; when her best young man pro tern is a Princetonian, she sports the tiger black and yellow; when he hails from Harvard, red is her favorite for the nonce; then there is dark blue for Yale, and white and light blue for Columbia. There are any number of diverse colors for the minor colleges throughout the United States to which a girl professes devotion, if her best young man belongs to one of them.

The up-to-date girl is an authority on such matters, and is proud of her collection of hat-bands, most of which are trophies of conquest wrested from the unwary college man. Verily this rage for hat-bands is an expensive fad, as the fellows declare, for when a young lady raves over a hat-band, a gallant youth can do no less than present it to his fair companion.

Of course these bands are adjustable by means of silver or gold slides or buckles; these ornaments have become of considerable importance, the jewellers being kept busy in devising novel designs.

Almost as many girls are seen wearing college-pins as boys; some of them are acquired by purchase, while others are exacted as tribute from obsequious admirers. The girls, however, in the different colleges are adopting distinctive badges, and these societies bid fair to rival those of the male colleges in the beauty and diversity of their college emblems. Godey’s Lady’s Book August 1895

Such trophies of conquest could easily have been purchased, but where was the fun in that?

…I know a little miss—and legion is her name—who will most conspicuously sport the crimson when she goes boating with a Harvard man on Monday; who will wear blue for her Yale cavalier of Tuesday; appear on successive days in Boston University’s scarlet and white, McGill’s blue and white, Pennsylvania’s blue and red, Princeton’s scarlet and black; yes, who will wind up the week by going to church on Sunday in Brown’s brown and white. The minx!

Coquetry made easy was ever the motto of the shops, and it has for years been easy to get the colors of the best-known nearby colleges, but never before has it been so easy to fit a single sailor hat with five hundred different adjustable bands, each representing some college, tiny or the reverse, and to match each band in the sober or flaming tints of a yachting tie. Evening Star [Washington DC] 6 June 1896: p. 18

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.