One of the most singular stories that may be told about the Washington Monument is hardly credible, yet it can be vouched for as perfectly true. There are hundreds of ladies in Washington who wear upon their hats the plumage or the entire skin of a bird which has lost its life flying against the tall mass of marble in the dimness of twilight or daybreak. Every morning one of the watchmen who spends the night in the monument find about its base quite a number of birds who have lost their lives in this way. This mortality is not limited to any one species, but includes nearly all the birds known in this region. Strange to say, few English sparrows lose their lives by flying against the monument, but the beautiful golden finches, cedar birds [waxwings], starlings, tanagers, grosbeaks, and many others of bright plumage and great rarity have been found. The watchman takes these birds up town to a taxidermist, who stuffs and mounts the rarer specimens, which are sold for a good round price to collectors, and the skins of those less rare are prepared for the milliner. Hardly a morning comes that there are less than a score of dead birds about the base of the shaft.
Daily Inter Ocean [Chicago, IL] 29 October 1896: p. 10
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: This was, of course, the era of the overstuffed hat, laden with plumes and entire stuffed birds, making ladies look rather like those sable-clad feather men at funerals, bearing trays of black-dyed ostrich feathers above their heads. Movements to ban the slaughter of birds for adornment were well underway by 1896. One wonders if the reformers would have objected to this singular, but cruelty-free method of collecting specimens for the milliner?
You will find this an absorbing article on the saga of the Boston ladies who stood against the rising tide of feather fashions and possibly saved the egret and the heron from extinction. The classic book on the subject is Feather fashions and bird preservation: a study in nature protection, Robin W. Doughty.
On the subject of other queer doings at the Washington Monument, including a widower anxious to do his best for his wife’s remains and several persons who believed that they could defy gravity, see this post over at the Haunted Ohio blog.
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.