Saturday Snippets: 3 August 2013: Spiritualist contretemps, ghostly chignon, a widow’s propriety, Bishops and bloomers

Victorian fake hair chignon

A chignon of “grave hair?”

The feminine sense of propriety is keen, but erratic. There is in town a delicious young widow, rich and independent enough to indulge herself in whims. She is an amateur artists, and two forenoons in the week she spends with a brush and palette. Her easel is set up in a room of her residence, and there she receives some of her intimates while painting. She costumes herself very picturesquely for these occasions and delights to have her visitors put on easy, Bohemian airs of artistic life. The gentlemen smoke and the ladies lounge, writes Clara Belle, in the Cincinnati Enquirer. Well, the other day she was found in a black jacket of mourning widowhood and her slipper feet were in jet stockings, but her skirt was light.

“How is it that your dress is not black?” a fellow asked. “I thought you adhered very strictly to mourning yet.” “So I do, gosling,” the pretty widow replied.

“But your dress skirt—“ “I haven’t any on. This is only a petticoat. Do you suppose I would commit such an impropriety as to wear any other dress than black?” She could appear in a petticoat nonchalantly enough, but in any violation of mourning—horror! St. Paul [MN] Daily Globe 22 January 1888: p. 12


Weird Form Terrifies Audience Until the Hoax is Discovered, Then Laughter of One of the Spectators is Taken for Mad Fit.

Berlin. Feb. 7. The invocation of the spirit of Napoleon at a séance held at the Spiritist club, known as the “Green Phantom,” had a ludicrous termination. A large audience was assembled in the darkened, purple-draped room when in deep bass tones a voice asked one of the guests, mentioning him by name, whom he desired to see.

The man, a lawyer’s clerk named Schwalbheim, replied with much trepidation, “Napoleon.”

Fifteen minutes’ tense silence followed. Then a weird form approached the platform with measured tread and in a sepulchral voice thus addressed Schwalbheim:

“Behold! I am Napoleon! Draw nigh, O mortal, and tell me what is thy desire!”

At these words the women in the audience shrieked with terror, clinging to their male escorts who themselves were trembling in every limb.

Schwalbheim, however, approached the platform with shaking knees and was just stammering “Illustrious spirit of the great Napoleon,” when he made a remarkable discovery.

On the neck of the uncanny apparition he observed a small shield on which were distinctly visible the words, “B. Schulze, laundry loan institute.”

Schwalbheim burst into loud laughter and leaped at the ghost, who, however, escaped him, disappearing amid horrible imprecations, beneath the flooring.

The terrified guests, who mistook Schwalbheim’s laughter for an outburst of madness, made a wild rush for the door and were only calmed by the man’s explanations. Denver [CO] Post 8 February 1920: p. 60


“Mamma, what is the “difference between a divided skirt and bloomers?”

The tender, thoughtful face of the proud mother lighted up with intense pride as she gazed lovingly into the eyes of the precocious little daughter who had displayed such interest in a great subject, as she replied:

“There is really no great difference, darling, but among the really select the bloomer is generally considered to be more manly.” The Clothier and Furnisher, Volume 24, 1897 


RATIONAL costume seems to have gotten a set-back in Paris; it is rumored that the Cardinal Archbishop has declared that he will not administer the sacrament to any woman who dons bloomers while riding a bicycle. When a woman once becomes emancipated, neither the fulminations of the church nor the ridicule of the public has any effect upon her.

While bloomers cannot be considered as immoral or indecent, they are so monstrously ugly that any woman who has a regard for her good looks will refuse to wear them. Rational dress does not necessarily mean a costume which is ungraceful and unbecoming; and while the tight corset and the long skirt is hampering to those who engage in bicycling, or any exercise where freedom of movement is desirable, it would seem that some style of costume might be invented which was comfortable and at the same time womanly and becoming. Godey’s Lady’s Book January 1896

Revolving Heels to Boots. —We yesterday examined a beautiful boot, made by Robt. T. Harman, to which he has attached what is called the Revolving Heel, an invention of his own, for which he is about to take out a patent. The heel is put on by means of a screw, and can be taken off or put on by a single turn of the hand. A great many persons usually wear one side of the heels off in a few days, and thus, although ‘as good as new,’ make them set uneven and assume an ugly shape. By this invention, it is only necessary to give the screw a slight turn with the hand, and one side of the heel not worn off is made to take place of the one which is gone, so that the boot soon again sets evenly, as well as easily, on the foot. It appears to us to be an excellent invention. —[Balt. Clipper.] The Merchants’ Magazine and Commercial Review, Freeman Hunt, et al, 1848

An Irish gentleman was visited by a friend, who found him a little ruffled, and being asked the reason of it, said he had lost a new pair of black silk stockings out of his room, that had cost him eighteen shillings; but that he hoped he should get them again, for that he had ordered them to be cried, and had offered half a crown reward. The other observed that the reward was too little for such valuable stockings. “Pho,” said the Irish gentleman, “I ordered the crier to say they were worsted. The New London Jest Book, edited by William Carew Hazlitt 1871

Pert miss (in bloomers): “You stare at me, sir, as though you expected to see me wearing horns!”

Innocent young man: “Yes, I thought you might be the gnu woman!” Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 2 October 1895: p. 4


A SPIRITUALIST came to our house some time ago and claimed to be able to locate our lost friends if we desired. We had an old horse which we had sold years ago, and my mother wanted to know where he was.

Mother began, “We had a very good friend who always did all our work. He passed from us several years ago and the last we ‘heard of him was that he was in Los Angeles. I would like to know if he is still living.”

The spiritualist made certain motions and knocked on the table, and then said, “Your friend is in Los Angeles and is married to a rich young woman.”  Judge’s Library: A Monthly Magazine of Fun, Volumes 202-213, 1906


The fashion of wearing more hair than nature ever permitted to grow on the head of woman, has provoked some exceedingly unpleasant revelations. At the time we are told stories of horrid creatures fattening and luxuriating on the scalps of the lovely creatures, on whose heads are piled jute enough to cover a cotton bale. At others, the mind is shocked with stories of grave-yard hair, for which there is but one expressive word in all the dictionary—nasty. Now we have a story more horrid than all. A Boston lady, bent on cutting a shine, purchased a form of hair which is technically called a “switch” whatever that is. On wearing it, she experienced a peculiarly choking sensation that was terrible. Every time the hair was on her head her windpipe was squeezed, and that when no coat sleeve was within sight. A medium was consulted. The fearful story was soon told. The switch was cut from the head of a hanged woman. It had got the gallows kink, and would always choke.

Nor did the revelation end here. Switches always partake of the personality of the one on whose head they grew. If in these days we find a lady with any peculiarities specially strange, all that we have to do is to look after the switch for an explanation. A switch from off a prim old maid may transform a gay coquette into a very staid and proper person. What a pity it is that the fashion of masculine switches is not in vogue. How we might improve our councilmen, aldermen and officials generally by merely changing chignons? Suppose, for instance, that the flowing curls of the beautiful blonde, made into a switch, should grace the head of the chairman of the city finance committee, how would the snail-like progress of the latter be accelerated into a happy medium between speed and safety? How valuable would be a chignon from the head of Aristides surmounting the cranium of Alderman Patton? What would not the reporters give for a switch from the head of Seabrook, or some other glibly-talking auctioneer, to place on the pate of the late acting secretary of the council?

Query—Would not a switch of birch applied a little lower down be equally effective in accelerating speech? We might continue the suggestions ad infinitum, and we have a fancy that much good would result from budding one man’s switch on another man’s pate. Galveston [TX] Tri-Weekly News 10 March 1871: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  “Grave-yard hair” was that taken from corpses, perhaps procured by the Resurrection Men. “Live hair” was much more desirable, but also much more expensive. It was often procured by agents scouring the villages of Germany for fair-haired maidens and it was also gotten from Roman Catholic convents where novices’ hair was cut off when they took the veil. A popular, cheaper option than genuine hair was jute–yes, the rope material–but it was subject to insect infestation.

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