Category Archives: Animals

Ladies at the Race Tracks: 1890

IN SKIRTS AT WINTER RACES.

Women Gamblers Seen at Clifton and Guttenburg Tracks.

Female Sports With Lots of Nerve and Fat Purses.

Winning and Losing as Coolly as Old Rounders.

Do women follow and bet on the Winter as well as the Summer races? To satisfy curiosity on this point an Evening World reporter has made observations at the leading tracks near this city. He has kept his eyes and ears open. One blustering day recently he was startled as a sharp-toned, emphatic sentence fell on his ear.

“— the luck.”

Not from the mouth of a bearded man, but through the cherry red lips of a pretty young woman the three words were hissed. The third race at Clifton had just been run off and a rank outsider had won it. The girl who swore evidently did not have her money on the winner.

The reporter, who sat beside her, inquired sympathetically, “Lose?” to which she sweetly responded:

“Well, I should say so. Every race to-day, and I had a dead straight tip on the winner of this last race. My tout brought it to the house before I was out of bed this morning, but I couldn’t see how he could win and I played the favorite.”

She was interrupted by several women, who clustered around her cackling like a lot of geese. This one had fifty each way, on the winner. That one had backed the winner for a place and was “sorry she didn’t play him straight; she had the tip.” Another wagered two hundred on the day, but hoped to “pull out” (get her money back) on the next race, and so they gabbled on.

The women who play the Winter races at Clifton are a peculiar class. They are Bohemian by nature and natural-born gamblers. No day is cold enough nor stormy enough to keep them away from the races. They have a mania for betting on horses and will go to any extreme to get money with which to gamble. Many of them are respectable married women who are infatuated with the game of chance.

During the Summer the class of women are not so noticeable in the throngs which attend the big meetings at Sheepshead, Monmouth and the Westchester track, but when these meetings are over, and the women who got too the races purely for pleasure stay at home, the chronic female gamblers are left at the Winter races in their glory.

From constant association, they get to know one another quite well, and exchange greetings, when they meet at the track every day, like dear friends, although one of them scarcely knows who or what the other one is, nor where she lives. They don’t care, either. Their sole ambition is to beat the bookmakers, but alas, poor creatures, they generally fail. The old saw that all men are equal on and under the turf, applies to women as well, and any day at Clifton or Guttenburg you may see the housewife sitting beside and talking to the woman who is no stranger in the dives of New York.

The men with whom they mix despise them. They refer to them sneeringly as Amazons, and the appellation is not inappropriate. Many of the women are old, stout, gray-haired and seedy looking. There are “characters” among them who would “bring down the house” in any theatre. One especially is a woman, nearly seventy years old. She dresses in rusty black, and always occupies her own particular seat at both Clifton and Guttenburg. She carries a huge bundle of sporting papers and several “guides to the turf.” She gets to the track as early as possible and settles herself comfortably in her chair. Her face is the color of old parchment and seamed with wrinkles. She wears glasses, an old poke bonnet, a cloak of many colors and big goloshes. Once seated she poses over the day’s programme and selects her winner. By means of her horse books and papers she can follow their record back since the first day they ran, and so judge of their chance to win or lose.

Five minutes before the first race is run off she beckons a messenger-boy and gives him $10 to bet, $5 each way, on her selection. She loses invariably. She is known among the other Amazons as “The Mystery.” She always travels alone, and never speaks to the other women about her. She carries a small black reticule, and this she always has full of money. She has followed the races for years.

A different specimen Is Mrs. __, the relict of a man who made a fabulous fortune in the city by taming birds. He died five years ago. Since then she has played the races persistently.  “It’s the only way I can forget dear George.” she tells her friends.

Her ill luck on the turf is phenomenal. Once, she had $90 placed on four horses out of six in a race, and the two on which she had not a cent came in first and second. She has already squandered a goodly portion of the money which her husband left her. She is a gold mine for the tipsters. She pays them royally for giving her “sure things,” although they seldom or never win.

She scrapes acquaintance with the jockeys, and follows them to the paddock in quest of tips. She travels with two or three women whose husbands are well known gamblers in New York. The gamblers’ wives have true sporting blood. One of them took the jewelled garters off her limbs at Clifton one day, and sold them for $10 with which to make a bet in the last race of the day.

She had lost half a thousand before and put her $10 on a horse at 40 to 1 and won, going home nearly even in the day, but she did not get her garters back. They adorn the walls of a young bachelor’s bedroom.

Some of the women are very lucky and wager hundreds of dollars on a face: but most of them are very unlucky. A pathetic incident was witnessed by The Evening World reporter at Clifton recently. An old dame sat in the front row and saw the horse on which she had her money drop down and break his neck in the track. She sat there as if carved in stone. Her thin, bony hands were tightly clasped: her poke bonnet was tipped awry, and a few stray locks of gray hair streamed out behind. Soon a tear trickled down her wrinkled old cheeks, quickly followed by another and another. They scurried down to her chin, hung there for a moment and then dripped unheeded in her lap. A few of the Amazons about inquired what the trouble was.

“Oh. I have got to stop playing the races until I earn more money,” she said.

“I saved $300 and thought I had a sure system of winning, but my last five dollar note went on that horse, and now I guess I’ll go home.”

There were many expressions of pity as the angular old Amazon gathered up her sporting papers and slowly moved away. She bade the others good-by all around, and like a ghost of misfortune stole out of the grounds.

A hump-backed man…creates unbounded joy in the breast of the Amazon. They think they cannot lose If they can only rub their fingers on the hump. Some of them boldly approach the crippled individual and rub their fingers on his back. Others manoeuvre cunningly to do the same unobserved, To the uninitiated the crowd of women who will follow in the wake of a hunchback seem to be crazy.

They have many other superstitions by which they govern their bets. Some play the jockey’s colors. Other have lucky numbers and play whatever horse is marked with that number.

“Gypsy Extract,” painted on a fence, seen by a woman on her way to Clifton, was taken as a tip from Providence. She played Gypsy, and won. too.

A familiar figure at Clifton and Guttenburg is a big coarse-looking woman, who must weigh at least 300 pounds. She is a winner, and runs several race-horses herself.

One curious feature about the Amazons is their utter indifference to men. They never pay any attention to them unless spoken to or when they ask for tips or a “bet.”

The nerve of these women is sublime. When they go broke before the last race they will not hesitate to “brace” a man for a loan, whether they know him or not.

If a man is pointed out to them as being a big winner, they boldly introduce themselves, and ask for money or tips or both, There is nothing feminine about these women gamblers, except their clothes.

They call the horses “hosses,” and know the jargon peculiar to the racetrack by heart. They cannot control their emotions as well as men, though. When the horses are at the post the Amazons stand up and watch the racers until “they are off,” Then they become excited. The color changes in their faces. They breathe in short, quick gasps. They stand first on one foot, then on the other, continually asking: “Who is ahead?” “Will so-and-so win?” “Oh, dear, my horse is last,” and then, as the horses come down the homestretch, they jump up on their chairs, yelling and screaming at the jockeys,

“Come on there Bergen! Whip the devil! Make him win!” “See Brait coming up!” “Look at Prodigal!” “Heavens! Prodigal has won it, and I have won!” or lost.

Down they sit again then, and make their choice for the next race. Messenger boys, wide-awake looking lads, take their money and place it with the bookmakers, and cash their tickets for them when they win. The boys are generally honest, but once in a while some one of them beats the Amazons. At Brighton, another resort for the Amazons, last summer a boy collected nearly $300 from the women to bet on a race, and thinking he had a sure thing, he bet it all for himself and lost. Then he ran away and the lady gamblers had no redress.

At Clifton and Guttenburg there are as many women as men every day. An old sporting man said to the writer: “A cold day will generally keep 50 per cent. of the men who usually attend the races away, but it will not deter the women from appearing. ”

The World 11 March 1890: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Previously Mrs Daffodil shared a peep into the lives of  Women Gamblers of New York. This is an equally censorious and misogynistic article, the author recoiling in figurative horror because, as all the world knows, gambling—consigned to the same moral abyss as profanity, alcohol, and tobacco—is somehow vastly worse when women do it. There is also a sneer and a nod to the widespread notion that women are rubbish gamblers.

John W. Gates says that not all women, but some of them, are very poor speculators , very poor gamblers, and recalled this incident:

“A young friend of mine has a pretty cousin. He was going to the races the other day, and she called him up on the telephone, and asked him to put $10 on Forest King for her.

‘Very well,’ he said. “I’ll do it if you’ll pay me back,’

‘Of course I’ll pay you back, you horrid thing.’

‘All right,’ said he. ‘You didn’t last time.’

‘Oh. well,’ said she, ‘last time the horse didn’t win. you know.’ ”

The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 20 July 1907

Guttenburg (also spelt Guttenberg) Horse Race Track specialised in winter horse racing, according to this very informative article.

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.

Notes in the Turkeys: 1899

King Turkey 1873

NOTES IN THE TURKEYS.

“This Thanksgiving has been a lucrative one so far as my collection is concerned,” said the boss faddist.

“Which of your collections do you mean?” asked the amateur.

“Why my collection of notes and messages that are found in the turkeys sent down here from the New England states. Did you ever heard of  a Thanksgiving turkey coming to town from Vermont for instance, that didn’t contain tucked away inside against the white meat, either a pair of red mittens or blue yarn socks or a message directed to some ‘little waif?’ A bird without that sort of stuffing would be very rare. As I have just mentioned, most of the things are addressed to little waifs. You see up there in the some of those faraway farms where the best turkeys come from they seem to have an idea that all the grown-ups in New York are crooks; that all the children are waifs, and that Potter’s Field is the only cemetery. I discovered that when I began to make my collection of turkey notes four years ago, and tried to learn the cause. I think I have discovered it.

“About 25 or 30 years ago, when book agents were in their prime and chromos were accepted as works of art someone wrote a book and called it ‘Sunshine and Shadow of New York.’ The book agents did the rest, so far as the New England farmers were concerned. There wasn’t much sunshine in that book, but the shadows were lad on thick and black. There were pictures in it of Harry Hill’s dance hall and a lot of similar institutions, not to mention wood cuts of thieves’ dens, and several hundred pages of reading matter to the effect that there wasn’t anything else in the town except, of course, Potter’s Field. The book was strong on that particular graveyard. Well, the book agents had a gold mine it, and if you go through the New England farm districts today, especially far away from the big towns, you will find that ‘Sunshine and Shadow of New York’ still shares the honors of the centre table in nearly every Sunday room, with the family Bible, the history of the country and its leading men and ‘Pilgrims’ Progress.’ The children look at those pictures Sunday, and that’s where they get their impressions that the kids here are waifs.

“But to return to this year’s addition to my collection. Just as I had expected, most of the notes in the turkeys from Vermont had something to say about Dewey. Here’s a sample.

“To the poor little waif who has her Thanksgiving dinner off of this nice turkey: When Admiral Dewey came home he walked by our house one day and just then this very turkey got out of the barnyard and ran across the road in front of him and the admiral must have seen it. I didn’t want to have this one killed this year, but pa says a turkey’s a turkey even if times are good, so I’ll send this note.

“’Your Loving Little Friend’

“Most all of the Vermont notes said that the birds in which they were concealed had been named Dewey. In a bird from eastern Connecticut I found a pair of blue yarn knit stockings wrapped up in a paper, on which was the message, “Whoever gets them, may they keep her warm through the long winter.’ That bird was in a big lot that was just going to be sent off to a Broadway restaurant where the patrons never wear anything but open-work hosiery winter or summer. You see I got all my specimens at the markets before the turkeys are delivered to the consumers. I have explained the situation to half a dozen butchers, and they all let me search for the notes through every fresh batch of birds that comes in.

“From southwestern Rhode Island I got a good note in a turkey that had evidently been reared and killed on the outskirts of the prohibition town of Westerly. It said: ‘It is the earnest wish of the maiden lady who raised this turkey and now sends it on the way that the great city to which it is going may sometime stamp out the awful curse of rum, as we have here in our own peaceful little town.’  New York Sun.

Boston [MA] Daily Advertiser 6 December 1899: p. 8

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The placing of notes by piece-workers in garments or with food-stuffs was, apparently a common practice. Mrs Daffodil has previously noted it in Cora’s Christmas Doll, and in this story with a happy ending:

Novel Marriage in Minnesota.

Miss Estella May Duncan, of Mazeppa, Minn., was married in splendid style at Bellchester, Minn., a few days ago to Mr. John F. O’Connell of Woonsocket, R.I. About a year ago Mr. O’Connell purchased a dozen eggs in a Woonsocket grocery store. One of them appeared quite light and out of curiosity he opened it, only to find a dainty little note penned in rhyme suggesting a correspondence with the writer providing the finder would enjoy a little literary discussion. Mr. O’Connell promptly responded in rhyme, and a correspondence ensued that led to a courtship and a happy marriage. At the wedding dinner given at the home of George Duncan, a brother of the bride, after the ceremony, there was a handsome wedding cake, surmounted by an immense hen’s egg, bronzed. During the banquet the groom told the story of the romance and repeated the poetry addressed to Miss Duncan when he found the egg in a grocery store and also the verses which he found in the egg containing a request that the finder correspond with the writer.
Denver [CO] Rocky Mountain News 24 November 1895: p. 21

Rather than “Sunshine and Shadow of New York,” possibly the note-collecting narrator meant this book, with its “spoiler-alert” title: Lights and Shadows of New York Life or The Sights and Sensations of The Great City. A Work Descriptive of the City of New York in All its Various Phases: With Full and Graphic Accounts of Its Splendors, and Wretchedness; its High and Low Life; Its Marble Palaces and Dark Dens; Its Attractions and Dangers; Its Rings and Frauds; Its Leading Men and Politicians; Its Adventurers; Its Charities; Its Mysteries, and Its Crimes, By James D. McCabe, author of “Paris By Sunlight and Gaslight,” History of the War Between Germany and France,” “Great Fortunes,” “The Great Republic,” Etc. Etc. Illustrated with Numerous Fine Engravings of Noted Places, Life, and Scenes in New York. By subscription only and not for sale in the book stores. Residents of any State desiring a copy should address the Publishers, and an Agent will call upon them. See page 863.

You may read the book and judge its impressions of New York for yourself at this link.

 

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.

Dead Man Riding: 1854

death on a horse.jpg

This story was written by General Barter on the 28th of April, 1888, for the S. P. R. It was corroborated by Mrs. Barter and Mr. Stewart, to whom General Barter told his adventure at the time. The facts that the dead man had changed considerably since Mr. Barter saw him in life, and that the pony also had never before been seen by him, add greatly to its interest and value.

From General Barter, C.B., of Careystown, Whitegate, Co. Cork.

April 28th, 1888.

In the year 1854, I, then a subaltern in the 75th Regiment, was doing duty at the hill station of Murree in the Punjab. The sanatorium had not been long in being, and our men were in temporary huts perched on the crest of a hill some 7,000 feet above sea level, and the officers were living in tents pitched in sheltered spots on the hillside, except three or four who had been fortunate enough to rent houses, such as they were, which had been built by their predecessors. I rented a house built a year or two before by a Lieutenant B., who had died the previous year at Peshawur. [We learn from the War Office that Lieutenant B. died at Peshawur, January 2nd, 1854.] This house was built on a spur jutting out from the side of the mountain, and about 200 or 300 yards under the Mall, as the only road then made which ran around the hill was called. A bridle-path led to my house from the Mall, and this was scooped out of the hillside, the earth, &c., being shovelled over the side next my house. The bridle-path ended at a precipice, but a few yards from there a footpath led to my hut.

Shortly after I had occupied my hut an officer named D. came down one evening with his wife and stayed with us until near 11 p.m. It was a lovely night, with the moon at the full, and I walked with them to where my path joined the bridle-road, and remained standing there while they toiled up the zig-zag footpath to the Mall, from which they called down to me good-night. I had two dogs with me, and remained on the spot while I finished the cigar which I was smoking, the dogs meanwhile hunting about in the brushwood jungle which covered the hill. I had just turned to return home when I heard the ring of a horse’s hoof as the shoe struck the stones coming along the bridle-path before it takes the sharp bend [marked in a plan which General Barter encloses], and presently I could see a tall hat appear, evidently worn by the rider of the animal. The steps came nearer, and in a few seconds round the corner appeared a man mounted on a pony with two syces or grooms. At this time the two dogs came, and, crouching at my side, gave low, frightened whimpers. The moon was at the full, a tropical moon, so bright that you could see to read a newspaper by its light, and I saw the party before me advance as plainly as it were noon-day; they were above me some eight or ten feet on the bridle road, the earth thrown down from which sloped to within a pace or two of my feet. On the party came, until almost in front of me, and now I had better describe them. The rider was in full dinner dress, with white waistcoat, and wearing a tall chimney-pot hat, and he sat a powerful hill pony (dark brown, with mane and tail) in a listless sort of way, the reins hanging loosely from both hands. A syce led the pony on each side, but their faces I could not see, the one next to me having his back to me and the one farthest off being hidden by the pony’s head. Each held the bridle close by the bit, the man next me with his right and the other with his left  hand and the other hands were on the thighs of the rider, as if to steady him in his seat. As they approached, I, knowing they could not get to any place other than my own, called out in Hindustani “Quon hai ?”(who is it?) There was no answer, and on they came until right in front of me, when I said, in English, “Hallo, what the d—1 do you want here?” Instantly the group came to a halt, the rider gathering the bridle reins up in both hands, turned his face, which had hitherto been looking away from me, towards me, and looked down upon me. The group was still as in a tableau, with the bright moon shining upon it, and I at once recognised the rider as Lieutenant B., whom I had formerly known. The face, however, was different from what it used to be; in the place of being clean shaven, as when I used to know it, it was now surrounded by a fringe (what used to be known as a Newgate fringe), and it was the face of a dead man, the ghastly waxen pallor of it brought out more distinctly in the moonlight by the dark fringe of hair by which it was encircled; the body, too, was much stouter than when I had known it in life.

I marked this in a moment, and then resolved to lay hold of the thing, whatever it might be. I dashed up the bank, and the earth which had been thrown on the side giving under my feet, I fell forward up the bank on my hands; recovering myself instantly, I gained the road, and stood in the exact spot where the group had been, but which was now vacant, there was not a trace of anything; it was impossible for them to go on, the road stopped at a precipice about twenty yards further on, and it was impossible to turn and go back in a second. All this flashed through my mind, and I then ran along the road for about 100 yards, along which they had come, until I had to stop for want of breath, but there was no trace of anything, and not a sound to be heard. I then returned home, where I found my dogs, who on all other occasions my most faithful companions, had not come with me along the road.

Next morning I went up to D. who belonged to the same regiment as B., and gradually induced him to talk of him. I said, “How very stout he had become lately, and what possessed him to allow his beard to grow into that horrid fringe?” D. replied, “Yes, he became very bloated before his death. You know he led a very fast life, and while on the sick list he allowed the fringe to grow in spite of all that we could say to him, and I believe he was buried with it:” I asked him where he got the pony I had seen, describing it minutely. “Why,” said D., “how do you know anything about all this? You hadn’t seen B. for two or three years, and the pony you never saw. He bought him at Peshawur, and killed him one day riding in his reckless fashion down the hill to Trete.”

I then told him what I had seen the night before.

R. Barter, Major-General, C.B.

[General Barter then relates how he and his wife repeatedly heard the sound of a man riding rapidly down the path to the house.]

Once, when the galloping sound was very distinct, I rushed to the door of my house. There I found my Hindoo bearer, standing with a tattie [rattan cane] in his hand. I asked him what he was there for. He said that there came a sound of riding down the hill, and “passed him like a typhoon,” and went round the corner of the house, and he was determined to waylay it, whatever it was. He added: “Thitan ka ghur hai,” (It is a devil’s house).

Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. V., 18 March, 1889: pp. 469-473.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The ghastly image of the dead man halting abruptly to look down at Barter is enough to give anyone a frisson of horror. But horrors were not proof enough for the Society for Psychical Research. In their usual methodical way, the SPR, printed correspondence from General Barter, General Barter’s wife, and Mr Adam Steuart (whom Barter had told of the ghost the next morning) clarifying details and offering corroborative testimony.

The SPR editor adds:

The group and the action which General Barter saw was like a scene reproduced or prolonged from the fevered fancies of the man who had now been some months in the grave… the dogs’ behaviour is noticeable. In every case which I can recall where a dog or other animal is stated to have been in a position to see or hear phantasmal sights or sounds, it has been alarmed thereby.

It has been suggested that some “ghosts” are merely a sort of “recording” on the aether; that repetition creates a ghostly pattern that can sometimes be glimpsed by mortals.  Perhaps the ride of the dissipated Lieutenant in his odious fringe, so intoxicated that he had to be held in his seat by attendants, had been repeated so often that it had impressed itself on the bridle-path.

One wonders why the late Lieutenant B. was in such a hurry to return to his old home. As the leader of a “fast” life, surely a less rural, domestic setting would have been more to his liking in the Afterlife.

To be Relentlessly Informative, the “Newgate Fringe,” also called the “Newgate Frill,” was named for its resemblance to a hangman’s noose around the neck. This horror can be seen here as worn by the American writer Henry David Thoreau.

henry david thoreau.jpg

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Blackmail by Carrier Pigeon: 1903, 1910

pigeon blackmail

BLACKMAIL BY CARRIER PIGEON

Blackmail by carrier pigeon is the very latest novelty in Paris.

On Sunday night during the past summer a tradesman received an anonymous letter, the writer of which desired that he would disclose certain secrets of the tradesman unless he received 4000 francs to be sent by carrier pigeon.

“On Tuesday morning,” he was told, “four carrier pigeons will be sent to you. Each bird carries under its wing a little case, in which you will place a 1000-franc note. You will then set the pigeons free, and if they do not return to me by midday I shall know what to do.”
The pigeons arrived from four different railway stations in Paris on Tuesday morning, as stated. The tradesman handed them over to the police, who set them free, weighting them lightly enough to allow them to fly, but heavily enough to make them fly slowly. They followed on bicycles in the hope that they thus might betray the blackmailer into the hands of justice, but he had also flown when the police arrived.

Los Angeles [CA] Herald 2 January 1910: p. 31

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: One wonders what kind of secrets the blackmailer had to report about the tradesman, but perhaps even the most upright tradesman has a skeleton or two in the cupboard. Mrs Daffodil is reminded of the joke about a man who sent twelve of his most respectable friends an anonymous telegram reading: “Fly at once! All is discovered!” All twelve disappeared and were never seen again.

One young Frenchwoman found herself the victim of pigeon-blackmail with some very high stakes:

Blackmail by Aid of Homing Pigeon.

Latest French Style in Crime Beggared an Heiress and Didn’t Help the Blackmailer.

Paris, Feb. 6. The latest thing in crime is blackmail by carrier pigeon. The police do not know how many rich persons have fallen victims to it and are completely puzzled by the case of the one victim who has reported her loss. She is, or was. Mlle. Lucile de Beaupre of Rouen. The attempt at blackmail has cost her her whole fortune of 500,000 francs ($100,000) and has not enriched the blackmailers.

Mlle, de Beaupre was to inherit the amount from her grandfather when she became 25 years of age. Under the will, the money was to go to another branch of the family should the girl marry before that age. During a visit to Paris she fell in love with a lieutenant named I.ebrun. Being ordered to Algiers, he persuaded her into a secret marriage.

Two days after she returned home, believing her secret save in the keeping of only her husband and herself, she received a large package. Supposing it was from Lebrun, she opened it in her room. It contained a live pigeon. Having heard from I.ebrun something of the use of these birds and still believing he had sent it, she searched the pigeon and was horrified to find, neatly rolled in a quill under one wing, the following message: “To Mme. Lebrun, formerly Mile. Lucile de Beaupre; I am aware of  your recent marriage and I happen also to know the sum of money you will forfeit if the matter becomes generally known. If you value my secrecy and have confidence in my discretion, the fact shall go no further. As a testimony from you that you have such confidence, I suggest that you place within the quill which contained this letter, two 1000-franc notes. Having done that, I shall expect you to liberate the bird within the next 12 hours.”

The note bore no signature and was not even in handwriting, being composed of letters cut from some printed matter and carefully pasted on. Unable to get 2000 francs ($400) without her parents’ knowledge, the girl consulted the priest who had been her confessor from childhood. He persuaded her to confess the whole affair to her parents. They were highly enraged and Papa de Beaupre declared the money must be raised and remitted per pigeon at all hazards. The priest with difficulty induced the irate parent to call in the police and give up all hope of getting the 500,000 franc legacy in the family.

The Spokane [WA] Press 6 February 1903: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil has a nasty, suspicious mind.  She would suggest that the blackmailer was Lieutenant Lebrun himself–young Lucile would have recognised his hand-writing, hence the pasted letters–who found himself in financial embarrassment and knew that his new wife had a lucrative secret that her family would pay to keep hidden.

Strangely, the pigeon-blackmail method was not a short-lived fad.  As late as the 1930s and 1940s, blackmailers were still trying to collect via pigeon, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase “flying squad.”

AIRPLANE TRAPS BLACKMAILER BY TRAILING PIGEON

German police have successfully employed an airplane to foil a blackmail plot, although the criminal was ingenious enough to use a carrier pigeon in his operations. A Hamburg resident received a package containing the pigeon and a letter, instructing him to attach notes amounting to 5,000 marks to its neck and release it. Two pilots in an airplane trailed the pigeon and photographed from the air the dove cote in a suburb on which it alighted. Confronted with this evidence, the criminal confessed.

Popular Mechanics December, 1929  

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.

 

 

A New Use for Cats: 1882

crazy cat

A New Use for Cats.

From the New York Tribune, March 11.

An experiment tried recently by a woman in Hoboken to detect the presence of sewer gas in her rooms was the topic of conversation among the sanitary inspectors at the rooms of the board of health yesterday. The woman had noticed an offensive odor in her parlor, and she went to the agent of the house to request that a plumber be sent to examine the drainage pipes. The agent told her the plumbing in the house was perfect. She went home and called in some neighbors, who thought sewer gas was escaping from the waste pipes. Acting on the suggestion of a friend, she sent out for some oil of peppermint and poured it into a stationary washbasin on the third floor. From the basin the oil poured down a waste pipe through a closet off the parlor. Very soon the odor of the peppermint pervaded the parlor. The woman then went to the agent again and told him she was convinced that there was a break in the waste pipe on the first floor of the house, at the same time telling him of the experiment with oil of peppermint. The agent refused to send a plumber, declaring that the odor of peppermint was so penetrating that it would soon fill a building. After studying over the situation for a time, the woman purchased some oil of valerian and poured it into the wash-basin upstairs. She then borrowed from her neighbors two able-bodied cats and placed them in the parlor. The cats sniffed the air in the room as if it were agreeable to them and they both went toward the door in the closet. When the door was opened for them they went in immediately and sprung upon the shelf, where they remained, purring and manifesting unmistakable delight. The woman then went to the agent’s office and related what she had done. Although incredulous still, the agent sent a plumber with directions to tear away the lath and plaster in the closet at the point where the cats had rested in their hunt for the valerian. The plumber found behind the shelf the waste pipe completely disjointed. The break in the pipe was large enough to allow an unwelcome amount of sewer gas to escape into the house. Some of the sanitary inspectors said yesterday that the experiment was new and decidedly ingenious. They thought that cats might be used in a similar manner in this city to more advantage than in Hoboken. By employing their household pets as pointers, it was said, residents of the city might save themselves from illness from poisonous gases and also save the cost of employing sanitary engineers to examine the drainage in their houses.

St. Louis [MO] Post-Dispatch 18 March 1882: p. 9

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil at first feared the inquisitive ladies were going to try to employ the cats to clear blockages in the pipes. House agents are notoriously dilatory in calling plumbers, but using pervasive peppermint as an excuse suggests indifference of an unusually high order. Do house agents not understand that if sewer gas comes, can noxious effluvia be far behind?

The herb in question is the Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis).  Cats go mad for it.

 

 

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.

A Ghost at Table: 1890s?

bones in landscape 1870

Phantasms in East Africa

[Die Uebersinnliche Welt; Berlin, June, 1905.]

Die Uebersinnliche Welt gives an account, by Colonel Langheld, of his experiences while in charge of a station in the interior of German East Africa. The only non-native civilian there was the son of a large colonial merchant in Hamburg, who was travelling to gain experience and promote the interests of his firm. He was of a strong and earnest nature, and had made a firm friendship with the Colonel, who, on the occasion of the young man’s departure for the Victoria Nyanza [Lake Victoria], felt an uneasy sense of danger, and recommended him to be prudent. His friend replied: “If anything befalls me you shall know of it at once; I will give you a sign, wherever you may be.”

About two months later, the pigeons, in their cote in the middle of the yard, appeared to be disturbed by some animal. Having set a watch, the Colonel was aroused in the night, and saw two round points, more like glowing coals than the eyes of a wild beast, gleaming from the dovecote. He fired, and saw an animal like a chimpanzee, having long reddish-brown hair, fall to the ground and immediately rise and disappear round the comer of the house with lightning rapidity, uttering a terrible shriek. An old Soudanese Sergeant declared that it was a “devil,” and that European weapons were powerless against it. He said that it came as a warning when a European had died an unnatural death, and that this was the third time he had seen it.

A strict search revealed no traces of blood, although the shot had been fired at only four yards’ range, The Colonel’s dog was found to have hidden himself in great terror, and could not be induced to pass the comer of the house where the creature had been last seen.

Later in the same night the Colonel, still awake, heard light footsteps on the verandah, where he was accustomed to take his meals, and soon he heard sounds as though glasses and other articles were being moved on a table. Rising to see who was there, he was surprised to find a man sitting at the table, which was fully set out for a meal. As the stranger raised his head in the full moonlight, he saw that it was his friend, the young Hamburg merchant, but hollow-eyed, with sunken cheeks, and a suffering mien. The Colonel, with a feeling of icy chill, managed to utter a question, when suddenly the apparition vanished, and the table appeared clear of all dishes, etc., as was usually the case after the last meal. On getting a light, nothing was to be seen of the visitor.

Six weeks later, word came to the station that, on the same day on which these remarkable events had happened, or seemed to happen, the young merchant had lost his way during a hunting expedition, and had been partly devoured by wild beasts. His body, when found, was recognised by a portrait which the Colonel had given him.

[Light, June 24th, 1905.]

The Annals of Psychical Science, Vol. 2, No. 2, 1905: pp. 137-8

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  What a cracking ghost story—with both a monstrous beast and the gaunt “forerunner” of the young merchant! Psychic researchers of the day would have described the vision as a “crisis apparition,” while they might have characterised the devil at the dove-cote as an “elemental” or malign, earth-bound spirit. Mrs Daffodil would have said it was an “ourang-outan,” but, alas, those long-haired great apes are found only in East Asia. And chimpanzees do not have long coats. So perhaps the Sudanese Sergeant was correct after all. It was a devilish bad end to the young man, in any event, poor fellow.

Apropos of nothing, Mrs Daffodil is reminded of the film The African Queen, set in German East Africa, and its climactic scene on Lake Victoria.

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.

 

Snake Skin Neckties: 1894

snakeskin tie

SNAKE SKINS AS NECKTIES.

The Cuticle of a Thirty-Year-Old Now a Part of Correct Neckwear.

Just several shades removed from the chameleon fad is the idea of wearing snake skins for neckties, but the fashion is growing in Baltimore. It promises to become quite the proper caper to be seen in immaculate morning suit of the latest London cut, with the tanned cuticle of a three-foot reptile neatly tied around the snowy “choker” collar, whatever other style of linen neckwear happens to be the rage. The fad will never become generally violent, says the New York Recorder, for fine snake skins come high, and the crop may thin out so as to let the West Virginians, who make a business of catching the possessors of variegated outer coverings, create a corner in the market and coin a fortune. To be in the swim nowadays, and have the swagger thing in neckties, a Baltimore man must not only wear a snakeskin, but the cuticle of a “rattler” of about thirty years of age. The peculiar color of the rattler, when he has passed in his checks and gone to snake celestial spheres, is what makes the skin more valuable than when his fangs are still doing the poison business at the old stand.

The necktie must be that of a snake of age, standing and family, for a young scion of the house of rattler doesn’t seem to possess all the qualifications as to color and durability of hide the head of the house can lay claim to. Presumably it’s because a snake of three decades or so has been through about all the different kinds of dissipation known to the reptile world, and his physical hide is cognizant of no more compunction than his moral nature. Then an old rattler is generally larger than a young chap, and a tie about a yard in length is bound to bring more in the market than a whipper-snapper snake could show before he reaches his majority. No other kind of a snake indigenous to this section of the country would answer the purpose half as well as a rattler, because but few varieties attain his length and Falstaffian girth, except the copperhead and black snake, and their colors, while brilliant enough during life, are not of the right shade after the tanner has had his innings. A copperhead skin assumes too much of a dull brown to harmonize with odd ideas in neckwear, and the black fellow–well, his hide might answer for a seedy individual’s mourning tie, but nothing else. The rattler’s color, when all the fight has been taken out of him and his remains have been subjected to the process that prepares them for men’s furnishing use, is something on the very dull gold or ecru order. The black rings show distinctly and they lend the odd effects that have so captivated the swells. Then when a back and lining have been put on the skin the tie is ready for use, but they are worth an even three dollars any day, counting two dollars and a half for the skin, which is the average price of a rattler of thirty years’ standing, including all the trouble the catcher and tanner combined have had to take.

The Times and Democrat [Orangeburg SC] 19 September 1894: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  While rattlesnakes were a staple villain of  Western moving pictures and newspaper articles about seething nests of the poisonous creatures, their menace only added a certain cachet for those devil-may-care Swells who ordered up the Crotalinae cravats. There were also well-known urban legends about persons poisoned by a rattlesnake’s fang embedded in a boot.  Mrs Daffodil imagines an underpaid snakeskin tanner leaving a fang or two in the lining…

The fashionable world never seems to tire of finding ways to torment living creatures. The chameleon fad mentioned at the beginning of the article had a brief vogue in the 1890s, and was sister to the fad for wearing live beetles.

The fad of wearing chameleons, which came from Florida, upon collar or scarf, has assumed quite large proportions among the set that is always seeking something new. It is not only confined to the male sex, for many ladies have adopted the fad and several of the fair sex have been seen wearing these little reptiles.

The Jewellers’ Circular and Horological Review, Vol. 27, 1898

The genuine snake-skin necktie seen at the head of this post dates from the 1970s. If one judges by the listings on auction sites, it appears that the fashionable snake-skin cravat is now an Italian silk print.

Mrs Daffodil has previously written about Snake-skins in Fashion and The Lizard: Fashion’s Favorite Pet.

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.