RELICS OF MURDER USED AS MASCOTS
English Society Women Demand Gruesome Mementoes for Good Luck
London, Nov. 26. Mrs. William Northrop McMillan is in a great measure responsible for the craze which now prevails for gruesome objects as mascots. She vows she would rather part with her jewel case, her tiger skins or her priceless bric-a-brac than with her ghastly mementoes from the shambles of Benin. These include daggers, instruments of torture, and, most weird of all, the skull of a Benin chief, which has a prominent position over the writing table in her boudoir. “I take it everywhere with me,” she says.
Another strange mascot of hers is the blood-stained tusk of an elephant. When Colonel Roosevelt visited London this year he brought the McMillans several trophies of the chase obtained during his expedition in Africa. One they especially prize is the skin of a puff adder which they have mounted into a writing table lamp. Mrs. McMillan laughingly says that her husband has signed beneath the rays of this lamp some most important documents which have resulted in big financial successes for him, “though,” she adds, “of course, he won’t acknowledge that the lamp has anything to say in it, which is just like a man.”
The late Consuelo Duchess of Manchester had some strange mementoes which she believed were talismans of good fortune. The governor of the jail which the notorious Mrs. Dyer was imprisoned and eventually executed gave her a prayer book which the murdereress used while under sentence of death. This the duchess treasured possibly as an emblem of the repentance of the criminal. At any rate, her grace considered that it brought her happiness. For years the book rested on a table in her bedroom. King Edward was told by some mutual friend of this weird object and was annoyed with the duchess for keeping such a memento. Her grace, in a polite way, however, as was her wont, gave his majesty to understand that she was not to be interfered with in regard to her tastes, and up to the time of her death the book stood in its accustomed position. Afterward it and a few similar objects were promptly destroyed by her daughter-in-law, the duchess, who has a wholesome horror of anything of the gruesome order.
Among the most valued possessions of Mrs. Brown Potter is a richly ornamented silver amulet, which was worn by an Indian chief, who committed suicide because he had given offense to his deity. Since it came into her possession, Mrs. Brown Potter vows her fortunes have been steadily improving. On various occasions she has been offered considerable prices for this ghastly object, but she declines emphatically to part with it.
Some years ago Louise, Duchess of Devonshire and the late duke were walking on the seashore at Eastbourne when there was washed in at their feet the hand of a negro which apparently had been cut off at the wrist. On one of the fingers was a ring of Oriental workmanship. The duchess had this ring removed and has kept it as a talisman ever since. She has worn it at Monte Carlo when she has had on “a little bit” at the tables and also when she played bridge.
Hangmen from time to time receive letters from women of position offering them sums of money for locks of hair or buttons from the garments of their victims. They make the stipulation that these must not be removed until after the culprit is dead. It seems that in the lore of the superstitious the ghastly object has no significance if taken in life. Even more intensely appreciated is a coin which has been rubbed on the dead body of an executed. This, it is said, will bring almost fabulous wealth to the possessor. Those who gamble are ready with any price for such a memento. In England, at any rate, there are overwhelming difficulties in getting possession of such, indeed it is only the personal friends of the governors of the prisons where executions take place or the hangmen who can secure them.
It is not only the American tourists who have been going to see the home of Dr. Crippen in Hilldrop Crescent. Numerous society people have been going there with the object of securing a cutting from a plant or a bit of the wall paper from the room in which the murder is supposed to have taken place. The majority have had to content themselves with bits of mortar taken from the outer walls, as those in charge have emphatically declined to be bribed into giving even the merest trifles. It is said, however, that Mrs. Asquith, wife of the prime minister, has obtained the pen with which Mrs. Crippen used to write her accounts for the Ladies’ Theatrical Guild. It has a well-used nib, which no doubt makes it all the more valuable to its present possessor.
Georgina, Lady Dudley, a little while ago suggested to an important official at Scotland Yard the advisability of admitting visitors to see the house at Hilldrop Crescent at 40 cents a head and passing the money on to her for one of her charities. He, however, did not see the matter from her ladyship’s point of view.
“You prove yourself a lady of resource by your suggestion,” he said “I believe emphatically were I to do so it would result in more profits than the horse show.”
Columbus [GA] Daily Enquirer 27 November 1910: p. 7
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:
Lord William Northrop Macmillan was born in 1872 in the USA. He was a decorated soldier knighted by the King of England even though he was not British, for his role in helping to keep the British protectorate intact. He built the Macmillan Castle in Kenya where he entertained royalty and celebrities such as Col. Roosevelt. The troops of Admiral Sir Harry Rawson captured and looted Benin City during the Benin Expedition of 1897 in retaliation for the defeat of a previous British attempt to invade the West African Kingdom of Benin. Benin was overthrown and much of the country’s art, including the famous Benin Bronzes, was destroyed or dispersed. Mrs Macmillan seems to have been the recipient of some souvenirs of the conflict.
Mrs. Dyer was Amelia Dyer, the notorious baby-farmer murderess, responsible for perhaps 400 infant deaths over a 20-year period.
Cora Urquhart Brown-Potter was an American society woman who took to the stage in spite of her husband’s objections and became a popular actress in Britain.
Dr Crippen was Hawley Harvey Crippen, hanged for the murder of his wife Cora. He fled with his lover, Ethel Le Neve, after being questioned by the police, whereupon the authorities dug up a headless, armless, and legless torso buried in the basement of Hilldrop Crescent. Recent scientific tests have suggested that the torso found buried in the basement was not that of Cora and was, in fact, that of a male. Dr Crippen was the first criminal to be captured with the aid of wireless technology.
An interest in gruesome mementoes is scarcely confined to the higher ranks of society. Here is an article about macabre relics of war, love, and death. And essays on the post-mortem career of the head of President Garfield’s assassin Guiteau and on the interest the public took in hangmen’s ropes.