The Awful Horseless-Carriage Face: 1897

The dreaded "motor-car" or "horseless-carriage" face.

The dreaded “motor-car” or “horseless-carriage” face.

A HORSELESS-CARRIAGE FACE

Awful Visage That Will Surpass the Bicycle Face.

The “bicycle face” will now yield the palm to that awful visage known as the “horseless-carriage face.” That expression known as the “bicycle face’ is caused by anxiety, apprehension and actual dread lest the owner run over somebody.

It is brought about by anxiety lest some bad accident occur, apprehension that the rider may be the victim, and positive, downright dread that some one else may be injured. These varying and powerful emotions constantly playing upon a sympathetic soul are reflected through ocular and nervous lines in the countenance technically known as “bicycle face.” This cast of countenance, brought about by the most humane emotions of a sympathetic soul and reflected through the mirror of eyes and expression, is the opposite of that glare, soon to become known as the “horseless-carriage face.” It is as the dimpled smile of the puling infant is to the maniac’s stare.

When the modern moloch is in full operation the face of the rider undergoes an awful change. The lines of the mouth become set, rigid, immovable, and stonily grim—just the opposite of the sympathetic bicycle face, in that it reflects a determination that if anybody is killed it won’t be the owner of the ‘horseless-carriage face.” There is also a look of fear—not fear that he may run down somebody, but fear that he won’t. The eyes have a fixed and steely glare, while over the whole saturnine face is the impress of horror, a faint but ever-present shadow that shows the modern moloch is impelled to pursue his work of devastation by some potent hellish power. Once seated on this powerful engine of destruction, with a firm grip on the lever, even the fairest countenance takes on some attributes of this “horseless-carriage face.” And all else in Gotham flee for their lives. Pittsburgh Dispatch

The Saint Paul [MN] Globe 14 April 1897: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: That memorable phrase, “bicycle-face,” was coined by a Dr Shadwell of London, who wrote alarmingly about the perils for lady cyclists including appendicitis, internal inflammation, heart-trouble, and—not least—the expression of anxiety and nervous tension he calls “bicycle-face.”

The condition was also termed “motor-car face” and “automobile face,” and is described vividly by French racing driver, Henri Fournier.

HOW THE AUTOMOBILE FACE IS ACQUIRED

Henri Fournier

The most careful chauffeur cannot avoid being shocked every time he takes a spin. I do not think that any other sport known to man affords so much excitement. One needs a stout heart and a strong nervous system as well as keen eyes to indulge in this most modern pastime, for I do not believe that navigating a flying machine brings a man into contact with more perils.

The automobile face is no joke. It is the startling presentation in the human physiognomy of the record of thousands of dangers passed, or, rather, close escapes from danger. I have never been in but one accident that was really serious, and in that case we were wrecked and bruised almost before my mind had time to form a picture of what threatened us. I refer, of course, to the time when my machine was run down by a locomotive on the Long Island Railroad. \Ve were caught like animals in a trap by reason of the lack of protection at a blind grade crossing. I had barely time to whirl the steering wheel in an effort to get off the track when the engine was upon us and tossed us and the heavy machine into the adjoining field like so much chaff.

Serious as this accident was—for three of my companions were so badly mangled that they narrowly escaped death-—I still think that it did not leave so much impress on my mind and nervous system as the thousands of hairbreadth escapes through which I have been. It is the constant flirting with death that gives the automobilist his characteristic face. Strangely enough, it is not the fear of death for himself that shocks him, but the dread lest he may be the cause of death or injury to others.

When a man begins to run an automobile he is timid—that is, assuming that he is a man of sound and normal mind. Only fools do not know the meaning of the word fear. But every ride the chauffeur takes adds to his confidence in his machine as a good yachtsman is of his yacht or a cavalryman of his horse. He goes flying along the road, exhilarated with the sense of swift motion, feeling like a greyhound or a swallow in full flight. The idea that he may be hurt never occurs to him any more than it does to the greyhound or to the swallow.

Only one fear haunts him—that he may possibly run down some other vehicle or run over a pedestrian. The greatest source of danger lies in small boys at play, especially in suburban cities and the outlying districts of this city, where boys play at will about the streets with no thought of being run down.

I know of no other shock in automobiling that is equal to this. One’s heart becomes constricted by fear until it feels no bigger than a marble. Every nerve in the body seems tied in a knot. The eyes protrude and the chauffeur in his mind contemplates the awful spectacle of the mangled and bleeding little body on the dusty roadside. The chauffeur’s hand flies to cut off power, to apply the brake, to swing the reverse lever. As if by a miracle the boy escapes. The rush of air with the machine perhaps blows off his hat. He has been within one-fiftieth of a second of a horrible death.

This is the sort of experience that produces the automobile face, which the doctors are beginning to write learnedly about. Of course the constant attention one has to pay while automobiling to the road, to the machine, and all its parts, and to the distances which separate the machine from dangers of collision, must tend to produce a tension of the muscles about the eyes, the mouth and even the ears, which, upon becoming fixed, produces the characteristic automobile face. But it is the horror one feels that he may be the innocent cause of destruction to others that is the most potent factor in evolving the automobile face.

The Automotive Manufacturer Review, Vol. 43, 1901

 

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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6 thoughts on “The Awful Horseless-Carriage Face: 1897

  1. Undine

    “Horseless-carriage face” has yet to become extinct. The illustration at the top of this post looks remarkably like my driver’s license photo.

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    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      Mrs Daffodil offers her sympathies. Perhaps a return to an actual horse-drawn carriage would prove more soothing? Or a canter in Rotten Row to raise the spirits? Mrs Daffodil also recommends the electric runabout. It is so quiet that knocking down pedestrians is child’s-play.

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