A Lady Typist’s Ghost: 1901


Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division


“It is a mistaken notion that ghosts only appear at night and in the darkness,” remarked a solemn looking young man to his neighbor at dinner. “I have seen one in broad daylight in Wall Street.”

“How absurd,” laughed the pretty girl to whom he was talking.

“Fact, I assure you,” continued the serious youth. “I have seen her several times and I am sure she is a ghost. How do I know? Oh, by her general appearance. Once I saw through her—and, besides that she seems to sort of float instead of walk. But the thing that really convinced me she is a spirit is that I am sure I am the only person that sees her. The last time she appeared to me was a month ago. Did I tell you she was a typewriter? That is, I imagined she must have been one when living. She carries a roll of papers and is almost as pretty as you are. Well, as I was saying, no one seems to notice her. A newsboy ran right up against her, or rather, as it seemed to me, through her, and he never swerved, and a horrid old stock broker I know, who always stares at a pretty woman, passed her by without a glance. She is evidently haunting me alone, but why I cannot imagine. I feel cold shivers run down my back whenever I meet her and am sure I am singled out for some purpose. What would you do about it?”

“Are you really serious?” queried his companion.

“I really am,” returned the man with apparent conviction. “I am haunted by the daylight ghost of a pretty typewriter and I feel that I have a mission to give peace to her troubled soul.”

“Is Mr. X. a little queer?” asked the girl of her hostess after the women had returned to the drawing room. And she related the foregoing conversation. “Was he trying to quiz me, or did he, like the Ancient Mariner, feel impelled to tell his tale to some particular person and therefore single me out?’

A week or two later, says the writer, who tells the tale, she again met Mr. X. This time it was at a ball. “How about your ghost,” she asked him flippantly.

“I have found out all about her!” he explained solemnly. “Come with me into supper and I will tell you all her history. “You know,” he began, after he had supplied her and himself with chicken croquettes and salad, and taken his seat at the little table, “that I told you that I thought I was haunted by that girl for a purpose, and so I was. The day after I talked with you about her I saw her again, and I thought I would follow her. Try as I might I could not overtake her; she was always about ten feet in front of me. Sometimes the crowd would separate us, but I would soon see her again flitting ahead, always at the same distance. She continued for a couple of blocks in Wall Street and then turned into Pearl Street, stopped before an open stairway next to a small cigar shop, and, turning toward me, beckoned slightly but unmistakably, then glided up the stairs, I following.

“At the top was an open door leading into an empty office, where near an open window was a desk upon which stood a typewriter. Once more the girl turned toward me, pointed to the desk, and then, to my horror, sprang out on the narrow window ledges and apparently plunged into space. I rushed to the window and looked down. In the street below the people were walking to and fro as usual, and, to my great relief, there was no evidence of the tragedy I had feared, for although I told you I thought she was a ghost I did not actually believe it until that moment. Going downstairs I entered the cigar shop, and buying some cigarettes, I engaged the proprietor in conversation, in the course of which he told me that five years before a tragic event occurred in the building. A young girl committed suicide by jumping from the window of the room above. There had been some money lost in the office where she had been employed as typewriter, she had been suspected and her self-inflicted death confirmed her employers in the belief of her dishonesty. As he talked I began to discover the reason why I had been haunted. I am of what is generally known as a receptive nature—that is, I have been told so by my friends that experiment with magnetism and the so-called spiritual manifestations. My theory is that I was chosen on that account to prove her innocence to the world for I went to her employers, told them the whole story and insisted, despite the skepticism, upon a thorough examination of the dead girl’s desk. Back of one of the drawers was an empty enclosed space formed by the construction of the desk; the back board of the drawer had been slightly shoved down, and through this aperture the missing money had undoubtedly fallen, for it was found at the bottom of the empty boxlike space. Of course, she in her spiritualized condition became aware of this fact, and, as was but natural sought a medium to whom she could discover it.”

“Did Mr. X. make that all up, do you think,” said the society girl afterward, “or does he believe it himself?”

The San Francisco [CA] Call 10 March 1901: p. 11

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: In this case, apparently Heaven did not protect the Working Girl. Mrs Daffodil thinks it a great pity that the young woman did not run off with the money and become a demi-mondaine instead of hurling herself out the window in a fit of chagrin over obtuse and evil-minded employers who probably could not be bothered to suck a peppermint before they tried to kiss her. Type-writers (they were not called typists until about 1880; the word originally meant a typesetter) occupied a somewhat ambiguous position in the mostly masculine workplace. As working women they were exposed to the rough-and-tumble business world and might be subject to harassment, exploitation, and the coarse-minded assumption that they were no better than they should be. The pretty typist caught in a clinch with the boss was a cliché of stage, screen, and comic stereopticon.

Mrs Daffodil cannot help thinking that the solemn Mr X missed his vocation as a writer of fiction. One wonders if he ever clicked with the sceptical society girl. And, if, on the eve of this Labour Day Weekend, if you would like to join in a chorus or two of the burlesque song, “Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl,” Mrs Daffodil will not stand in your way. She will be busy supervising the packing of the picnic hampers.

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.


2 thoughts on “A Lady Typist’s Ghost: 1901

  1. Pingback: Lady Stenographers in Wire Cages: 1915 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

  2. Pingback: The Conversation Crammer and other Odd Occupations for Ladies: 1890-1936 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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