The Mystery of the Italian Flowers: c. 1900

Italian flowers illustration San Francisco Sunday Call

 

To the Editor of The Sunday Call.

Sir: The accompanying recital of fact is fully vouched for. The part I myself took in the incident—being in Italy at the time, as this story states—is truly described in every particular; the part taken in it by my relative, as mentioned in the story, is presented exactly as she told it to me after my return to America and confirmed by a record made at the time by Mrs. ___, who is also mentioned in the narrative.

The late Wilkie Collins, the English novelist, with whom I was well acquainted and to whom I first related the story (a man, as is well known, who gave much attention during his life to occult subjects), told me at his home in London that he had investigated at least 1,500 alleged instances of supernatural visitations and that this one was the best authenticated of any that had come under his notice. I inclose the names of the persons who had part in this experience. Yours truly,

*____

*Name of writer and names in narrative in possession of The Sunday Call.

Some years ago, in the course of travels which ultimately took me twice around the world, I found myself fin Naples, having arrived there from a leisurely trip that began at Gibraltar and had brought me by

easy stages and by many stops en route through the Mediterranean. The time of year was late February and the season, even for southern Italy, was much advanced; so in visiting the island of Capri (the exact date, I recollect, was February 22) I found this most charming spot in the Vesuvian bay smiling and verdant and was tempted by the brilliant sunlight and warm breezes to explore the hilly country which rose above the port at which I had landed.

The fields upon these heights were green with grass and spangled with a delicate white flower bearing a yellow center, which, while smaller than our American daisies and held upon more slender stalks, reminded me of them. Having in mind certain friends then in bleak New England, from where I had strayed to this land of summer, I plucked a number of these blossoms arid placed them between the leaves of my guide book—Baedeker’s “Southern Italy”—intending to inclose them in letters which I then planned to write to these friends, contrasting the conditions attending their Washington’s birthday with those in which I fortunately found myself.

Returning to Naples, the many interests of that city put out of my head for the time the thought of letter writing and three days later I took a train for Rome, with my correspondence still in arrears. The first day of my stay in Rome was devoted to a carriage excursion into the Campagna, and on returning to the city I stopped to see that most interesting and touching of Roman monuments, the tomb of Cecilia Matella. Every tourist knows and has visited that beautiful memorial, and so I do not need to describe its massive walls, its roof, now fallen and leaving the sepulcher open to the sky, and the heavy turf which covers the earth of its interior. This green carpet of nature, when I visited the tomb, was thickly strewn with fragrant violets, and of these, as of the daisylike flowers I had found In Capri, I collected several and placed them In my guide book, this time Baedeker’s “Central Italy.” I mention these two books, the “Southern” and the “Central Italy,” because they have an important bearing on my story.

The next day, calling at my banker’s, I saw an announcement that letters posted before 4 o’clock that afternoon would be forwarded to catch the mall for New York by a specially fast steamer from Liverpool, and I hastened back to my hotel with the purpose of preparing, and thus expediting, my much delayed correspondence. The most important duty of the moment seemed to be the writing of a letter to a very near and dear relative of mine in a certain city of New England, and to this I particularly addressed myself. I described my trip through the Mediterranean and my experiences in Naples and Rome, and concluded my letter as follows:

“In Naples I found February to be like our New England May, and in Capri, which I visited on Washington’s birthday, I found the heights of the island spangled over with delicate flowers, some of which I plucked and inclose in this letter. And speaking of flowers, I send you also some violets which I gathered yesterday at the tomb of Cecilia Matella, outside of Rome —you know about this monument, or, if not, you can look up its history and save me from transcribing a paragraph from the guidebook. I send you these flowers from Naples and Rome, respectively, in order that you may understand in what agreeable surroundings I find myself, as compared with the ice and snow and bitter cold which is probably your experience at this season.”

Having finished this letter, I took from the guidebook on “Central Italy,” which lay on the table before me, the violets from the tomb of Cecilia Matella, inclosed them, with the sheets I had written, in an envelope, sealed and addressed it, when it suddenly occurred to me that I had left out the flowers I had plucked in Capri. These I recalled, were still in the guidebook for “Southern Italy,” which I had laid away in my portmanteau as of no further use to me—accordingly I unstrapped and unlocked the portmanteau, found the guidebook, took out the flowers from Capri, which were still between its leaves, opened and destroyed the envelope already addressed, added the daisies to the violets and put the whole into a new inclosure, which I again directed, stamped and duly dropped Into the mailbox at the banker’s.

I am insistent upon these details because they particularly impressed upon my mind the certainty that both varieties of flowers were inclosed in the letter to my relative.

Subsequent events would have been strange enough if I had not placed the flowers in the letter at all—but the facts above described assure me that there is no question that I did so, and make these after events more than ever inexplicable.

So much for my own part in the affair—now for its conclusion in New England.

My relative mentioned above was living at this time in a hotel In a New England city where she had a suite of rooms comprising parlor, bedroom and bath. With her was a child of some eight years of age, daughter of a very dear friend, for whom she cared after the death of the mother, some years before. On the same floor of the hotel were apartments occupied by Mrs.__, a woman whose name is well known in American literature and with whom my relative sustained a very intimate friendship. I am indebted for the facts I am now setting down not only to my relative, who gave me an oral account of them on my return from abroad, but also to Mrs.__ , who made and preserved a written record, of them at the time.

About 10 days after I had posted my letter inclosing the flowers from Capri and Rome my relative suddenly awoke in the middle of the night and saw standing at the foot of her bed the form of the child’s mother. The aspect of the apparition was so serene and gracious that, although greatly startled, she felt no alarm. Then she heard, as if from a voice at a great distance, the words. “I have brought you some flowers from W__.” At the next Instant the figure vanished. The visitation had been so brief that my relative, although she at once arose and lighted the gas, argued to herself that she had been dreaming, and after a few minutes extinguished the light and returned to bed, where she slept soundly until 6 o’clock the next morning.

Always an early riser, she dressed at once and went from her bedroom, where the child was still sleeping, to her parlor. In the center of the room was a table, covered with a green cloth, and as she entered and chanced to glance at it she saw to her surprise a number of dried flowers scattered over A part of these she recognized as violets, but the rest were unfamiliar to her, although they resembled very small daisies.

The vision of the night was at once forcibly recalled to her, and the words of the apparition. “I have brought you some flowers.”” seemed to have a meaning, though what it was she could not understand. After examining these strange blossoms for a time she returned to her chamber and awakened the child, whom she then took to see the flowers and asked If she knew anything about them. “Why, no.” the little girl replied; “I have never seen them before. I was reading my new book at the table last night until I went to bed. and if they were there then I should have seen them.” So the flowers were gathered up and placed on the shelf above the fireplace, and during the morning were exhibited to Mrs.__, who came in for a chat, and who, like my relative, could make nothing of the matter.

At about 4 o’clock In the afternoon of that day the postman called at the hotel, hearing, among his mall, several letters for my relative, which were at once sent up to her. Among them was postmarked “Rome” and was addressed in my handwriting, and with this she sat down as the first one to be read. It contained an account, among many other things, of my experience in Naples and Rome, and in due course mentioned the inclosure of flowers from Capri and from the tomb of Cecilia Matella. There were, however, no flowers whatever in the letter, although each sheet and the envelope were carefully examined; my relative even shook her skirts and made a search upon the carpet, thinking that the stated inclosure might have fallen out as the letter was opened. Nothing could be found, however, yet 10 hours before the arrival of the letter flowers exactly such aa it described had been found on the center table!

Mrs. __  was summoned, and the two ladles marveled greatly. There was a large educational institution in the city and Mrs.__ suggested that the flowers be offered to the inspection of its professor of botany, a man whose reputation for learning in his department, was international. They lost no time in calling upon him, and the flowers were shown (without, however, the curious facts about them being mentioned), with the request that he state, if it were possible, whence they came. The professor examined them carefully, and then said:

“As to the violets, it is difficult to say where they grew, since these flowers, wherever they are found in the world, may be very much alike. Certain peculiarities of these specimens, however, coupled with the scent that they still faintly retain and which is characteristic, incline me to the opinion that they come from some part of Southern Europe—perhaps Southern France, but more likely Italy. As to the others, which, as you say, resemble small daisies, they came from some point about the bay of Naples, as I am unaware of their occurrence elsewhere.”

The San Francisco [CA] Sunday Call 5 July 1908: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  That enigmatic person over at Haunted Ohio has written before of such mysterious floral deliveries in connection with the seance room, where they are called “apports.” Given the regularity with which exotic flowers showered those in attendance, flowers must been a heavy item in a society medium’s budget. The  narrative above, if it is reliable, is much less explicable.

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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