Encore: The Ghost of a Doll: 1862

Mrs Daffodil is hard at work preparing for the upcoming charity fête to be held on the Hall grounds this week-end. Fending off rhythmic dance performers and well-meant jumble-sale donations from aged Colonels (an assortment of edged weaponry and books of French erotica)  has taken its toll, hence this encore post of a macabre story of body-snatching:

 

Has anyone ever yet heard of the ghost of a doll? Such an alleged phenomenon was the cause of much excitement and uneasiness in a fashionable German watering-place, only a few months since; and these were the singular circumstances.

A pretty little girl (daughter of one of the residents) well known in the neighbourhood from being constantly seen playing in the public gardens at W__, died last year, after a few weeks’ illness, having been much soothed and solaced during that painful interval by the companionship of a favourite doll. The latter, who had received the name of ‘Flore’ was scarcely less familiar to the juvenile community than her poor little mistress. It seemed painful to separate the two. At all events, it is a feeling perfectly intelligible that induced the friends of the deceased child to place the doll in the coffin, in the position it had been used to occupy on the bosom of the little sleeper, and thus they were interred in the neighbouring cemetery of B___.

Some weeks elapsed, and then a strange mysterious whisper went abroad that Eulalie (the little girl) and Flore had reappeared in the public walks and gardens. The rumour quickly narrowed down to the apparition of Flore alone; but here it made so determined a stand, as to awaken the attention of the older and wiser members of the community. Not a day passed without one or other of the juvenile playmates bringing home an eager story of Flore’s having been distinctly seen, sometimes sitting under a rosebush, sometimes reclining at full length on a garden seat, sometimes carried in the arms of a certain dark-looking child, whose demeanour had discouraged any close advances, who disdained skipping-rope, and had proved impervious to the seductive influence of hoop.

With some difficulty, the story was traced back to this circumstance, that, about three weeks after the funeral, an intimate playfellow of Eulalie was walking in the gardens, when her attention was attracted by two other children quarrelling. With the curiosity of her years, the little girl hurried up to ascertain the cause of the dispute. It was a doll. No sooner had her eyes lit upon it, than she uttered a scream, flew back to her nurse, and, pulling her towards the spot, bade her look at the ghost of  ‘Flore’ who had been buried with Eulalie.

The nurse complied, but, less familiar with Flore’s specialities than her charge, declined to offer any decided opinion on the subject, excepting that it was certainly no ghost, and had a different cap and bonnet from that in which Flore made her last terrestrial appearance.

The little girl, however, positively maintained that it was Flore, and no other; or, if not Flore, then her ghost, and this opinion she repeated to every acquaintance they encountered during the remainder of the walk. It became, in fact, the child’s fixed idea, and as the alleged frequent sight of the mysterious doll began seriously to affect her health and spirits, the parents, as the readiest means of tranquillizing her, resolved to make a complete inquiry into the matter.

As they knew something of the family (that of a gentleman from the Cape of Good Hope), with whom the doll was associated, there was not much difficulty in getting the toy in question handed over to their scrutiny. It appeared that the little girl was able to mention some certain peculiarities either in the dress or structure of the doll, which were not visible without close examination. These were found to correspond minutely with her description. There was no longer room for question. It was Flore herself.

The ghost was thus laid. But it became necessary to ascertain the cause of the singular resuscitation of Flore’s body, and it presently appeared that the doll had been purchased at a toy shop frequently supplied by a travelling dealer whose habitat was unknown. The authorities at B___ were next applied to, and an order obtained to examine the coffin of the deceased child. It was found empty!

The investigation that followed resulted in the detection of a miscreant who had more than once used his means of access at all hours to the cemetery for the purpose of stripping the bodies of the recently dead, and even, it was darkly hinted, sometimes devoting them to the nutriment of the tenants of his sty. The wretch was condemned to the light penalty of a year’s imprisonment.

 Strange Things Among Us, Henry Spicer, 1863 

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Children were not the usual prey of those human hyenas known as body-snatchers or Resurrectionists, although, as we saw previously, dead foundlings were the perquisite of the dissecting physician in France. The fiend who stole little Eulalie and her doll took a great risk if he was “stripping the bodies of the recently dead,” but seems to have gotten off remarkably lightly. Perhaps he bribed the Judge with some succulent production of his sty.  

Mrs Daffodil is unfamiliar with the legal status of corpses in Germany at the time of this story. However, in England, a corpse was not property and thus could not be stolen. Resurrectionists were careful to strip the bodies they turned over to the physicians. Removing a shroud, a coffin plate–or a doll–would leave the miscreants open to charges of theft with penalties of transportation or even execution. In France, a stiff fine was levied for those who violated graves.

Henry Spicer, who died in 1891, was a writer of novels, short stories, and plays. He was frequently published in Mr.Dickens’s weekly literary magazine All the Year Round. He was also a student of the occult and wrote several books on Spiritualism and like phenomena.

The Kindle edition of The Headless Horror: Strange and Ghostly Ohio Tales contains a bonus chapter about body-snatching in Ohio, including the saga of “Old Man Dead,” and a horrific story of a family murdered so their bodies could be sold to the Medical College of Ohio.

The Victorian Book of the Dead, also available in a Kindle edition. contains much material about post-mortem hi-jinks.

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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7 thoughts on “Encore: The Ghost of a Doll: 1862

  1. janemorley2014

    My Goodness Mrs Daffodil! You have most certainly induced a palpitatious state in this reader with this macabre tale! I have never been overly fond of dolls I must admit, finding their ursine counterparts distinctly more loveable and to be sure, far less likely to ghostly peregrinations! I wish you a peaceful day and a successful fête, most sincerely Miss M

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    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      Dear Miss M.,
      Now you have set Mrs Daffodil to wondering about ghostly teds, a subject she will have to investigate in greater depth. Chamomile tea with a little milk and sugar will set those palpitations to rights. Mrs Daffodil would be most distressed were she to lose a faithful reader to a macabre tale!
      Best wishes,
      Mrs Daffodil

      Liked by 1 person

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      1. janemorley2014

        With most heartfelt thanks for the remedy, Miss M replies with anxious consternation at the notion that Mrs Daffodil may indeed seek and possibly find otherworldly tales of our teddy bear friends; she is quite devoted to the little fellows and would be sorely distressed to find such tales existed ! 😦 (This strange symbol has been brought to my attention of late and I can but think it is intended as a manner of shorthand for concern and worry?)

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      2. chriswoodyard Post author

        Dear Miss M.,
        Mrs Daffodil would not like to keep you on tenterhooks: there do not seem to be any stories of haunted teddy bears anywhere in the paranormal literature. Fortunately it is only in modern horror moving pictures that one finds soft toys that attack and snarling zombie dolls.
        With heartfelt relief,
        Mrs Daffodil

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      3. janemorley2014

        Dear Mrs Daffodil, I truly cannot thank you enough for this welcome reassurance! I know my collection of ursine friends will also be most mightily relieved, I do not think they are acquainted with the world of zombie dolls and I shall certainly not be the one to introduce the subject. I wish you a most pleasant and zombie free weekend. Yours gratefully Miss M

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    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      Mrs Daffodil is charmed to have been a source of surrealism. There is much too much realism in this lax, post-Freud world. Many thanks for your kind words and for sharing this post to your many fans!
      Best wishes,
      Mrs Daffodil

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