Category Archives: Dance

A Patch-work May Day Entertainment: 1904

May Day 1903

At a May Day entertainment given last year a popular hostess noted the fact that there was repeated controversy among her guests concerning May Day traditions and ancient customs among various nations, which gave her an Idea for this year’s novel May party. She has chosen for her guests all the members of her literary club, and other friends who are fond of literary research and competition. To a certain number she has assigned the task of searching out and describing quaint May Day celebrations whose origins have been lost in the mists of remote antiquity. Others have been requested to describe the customs that have been handed down from our Gothic ancestors. Still others will describe quaint celebrations that have their origin in the Floralia of the Romans. The strange May festivals of the ancient Druids, and the May games which Christianity finally adopted from these, will also be brought up for consideration, with prizes awarded (of course) for the best papers on the various subjects. But the most interesting feature of the entertainment will be the acting out of many curious customs.

As the entertainment will be given on the eve of May Day, the festivities will be continued until the “Meeting of the Dew” may be celebrated in the early hours of May Day morning. When the people of ancient Edinburgh used to assemble at Arthur’s Seat to “meet the dew” May dew was thought to possess all kinds of virtues. Even the English girls went into the field to wash their faces in it at dawn, in order to procure a good complexion. Samuel Pepys records in his delightful diary that his wife has gone to Woolwich for a little change of air “and to gather the May dew.” This form of celebration would have to be omitted when the entertainment is given in a city home, but as our hostess has spacious grounds surrounding her suburban house, the “meeting of the dew” will be a novel feature of the celebration.

Another quaint festivity that can be carried out on the lawn if desired, but which might also be celebrated as a parlor dance for a city home, is the German Walpurglsnacht, and although the witches may not “ride up the Brocken on magpies’ tails,” their weird dance may be celebrated—the witches who dance on the Brocken until they have danced away the winter’s snow.

The “Parade of Sweeps” will be an interesting feature of the entertainment. It is said that the parade of sweeps in bowers of greenery lingered on rather longer in England than May poles. It is supposed to have originated in this way—and this story will be told by one of those to whom the searching for English festivities has been assigned. Edward Wortley Montagu (born about 1714) who later was destined to win celebrity by still stranger freaks, escaped when a boy from Westmont School, and borrowed the cloths of a chimney sweep, in whose trade he became an adept. A long search led to his discovery and restoration to his parents on May 1, in recollection of which event Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu is said to have instituted the May Day feast given by her for many years to the London chimney sweepers. A few of the guests who are humorously inclined will don costumes of the old-time chimney sweeps, and after their mirth-provoking “dance of the sweeps,” will retain the costume while acting the clown during the remainder of the entertainment.

The final celebration before the May Day breakfast—which will be served shortly after midnight, in the earliest hours of May Day morning—will be patterned after a quaint custom in Lorraine, in which jokes on individual guests will play an important part. In Lorraine, girls dressed in white go from village to village stringing off couplets in which the inhabitants are turned into somewhat unmerciful ridicule. The girls of this place enlighten the people of that as to their small failings, and vice versa. The village poets harvest the jokes made by one community at the expense of another, in order to shape them into a consecutive whole for recital on May Day. The girls are rewarded for their part in the business by small coin, cakes and fruit.

Although the idea of reward and of going from village to village for adaptable jokes will not be carried out, this can be made a charming feature of the festivity. To a number of practical jokers has been assigned the task of forming into laughable couplets all the faults and failings or peculiarities of the various guests, and while the unpleasant sting of personality will be avoided, by omitting mention of any particular guest in connection with the various accusations, there will be continual sport In choosing the guest to whom the joke seems most applicable.

Caldecott, Randolph, 1846-1886; May Day

Caldecott, Randolph; May Day; Manchester Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/may-day-204629

Several quaint old-time dances will be Introduced during the evening; but as no May Day party can be quite complete without the English dance around the May pole, a flower-decked pole will be a feature of the parlor decorations. And after the final May dance in good old English style about this pole, each guest will receive as a souvenir one of its gay silk streamers and a floral wreath or garland. Phebe Westcott Humphreys.

The Country Gentleman, Volume 69, 1904: p. 378

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil finds the whole thing a contrived, patch-work sort of entertainment. What sane hostess would try to cram academic papers, dew, dancing witches, and the May Pole into a single party?  One might even call it a “crazy quilt.” Witches and May Poles and Sweeps, oh my!

To be Relentlessly Informative, Mrs. Elizabeth Montague, who died in 1800, gave for many years a May-day entertainment to the chimney-sweeps of London at her house in Portman Square. These sooty guests were regaled with roast beef and plum-pudding, and a dance succeeded, while each of them received a shilling on his departure.

Mrs Daffodil has written before on the Ideal and the Real May Day, as well as some other over-elaborate May Day pageants and a parody of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s bumpity-thumpity poem, The May Queen, adapted for inclement weather, as is Britain’s wont on that day.

 

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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The Floral Fête: 1892

 

A Floral Phaeton Santa Barbara

THE SANTA BARBARA FLOWER CARNIVAL

In April 19 the city of Santa Barbara California, engaged in a magnificent Floral Festival, a “Battle of Flowers,” which lasted four days. The affair was a success from first to last, and reflects great credit upon the inhabitants of the city, for everybody from mayor to common citizen seemed to have a hand in the enterprise. The event was evidently based upon both sentiment and good sense; it was a grand holiday, adapted to the tastes of all, from gray-haired men and matrons down to little children. And much to the credit of the city be it said that those elements which during public holidays so frequently lead to excesses of various kinds were entirely wanting. This open-air flower-festival was as innocent and pure as it was gay and cheerful.

santa barbara floral fete tandem floral cart

In our churches and Sabbath schools a day known as Floral Day has for some year been quite generally observed. The Santa Barbara festival was an enlargement of this—a city instead of a mere congregation participating. Such consistent methods of engaging in public festivals are commendable, and it is with pleasure that we devote space in this issue to some notice of the event.

Before the visit of President Harrison to the Pacific Coast early in the current year, C. F. Eaton, of Monticello. suggested among ways of showing general appreciation of the presence of our chief magistrate a “Battle of Flowers,” such as may be seen every year in the city of Nice, France. The idea was adopted and the result was so satisfactory that later on a score of the leading citizens resolved to inaugurate an annual season of floral festivities. For this purpose the Santa Barbara Floral Festivities Association was formed. This year witnesses the first season of its usefulness. It is the intention of the association to incorporate, and thus to provide for such a festival yearly in Santa Barbara.

floral wheels of the bicycle club santa barbara

This season’s festivities began with a display of horticultural products in the pavilion at the fair grounds. Owing to the lateness of the season and the remarkable weather of the past month. it had been feared that this would not be a very brilliant success. So much is always expected of Santa Barbara because of her celebrity as the home of the rose and many subtropical flowers, that more than one true friend of the city shook his head over the prospects of the horticultural exhibit. But it was a decided and pronounced success, as all who visited the pavilion testified.

Santa barbara carriage in louis style

But the great event of the carnival was the street procession which signalized the triumphal entry of the goddess Flora to this fair city. At an early hour of the day on which it took place, the people on the main street had begun to decorate their several places of business so that all might be in readiness for the pageant of floral cars and other vehicles passing. Much taste was shown in adorning the buildings, and garlands, cornucopias, vines, pampas-plumes, evergreens, flags and hunting were everywhere used in abundance. Many windows were converted into flower-gardens, filled with lilies, roses and other flowers.

The day itself was all that could be desired for making a success of the procession. All the forenoon State street was one surging mass of pedestrians and carriages. Hundreds of strangers were everywhere present, every street-car was filled, and the busses and hacks did a thriving business. All the people were bent on having a thoroughly good time and on making the most of the day.

Santa Barbara decorations of Devoniensis roses

It was nearly two o’clock when the procession began to move. The first vehicle that followed the band of music and the marshal with his aids was a grand floral float twenty feet long and eight feet wide, drawn by four large gray horses ridden by boys and led by four men dressed in semi-oriental costumes. The float stood about five feet from the ground and from the top downward was draped with moss and calla-lilies. The top was painted and upholstered to resemble water upon which floated five shell-like boats. The four smaller boats were occupied by beautiful young girls. Each boat was supplied with golden oars and silken sails. In the larger and more beautiful boat sat the goddess Flora— Senorita Carmelita Dibblee. Behind the goddess and rising above her was a very handsome canopy of silk— outside yellow, inside pale azure-blue with delicate figures of small roses. This was draped with tassels and ropes of silk. The sails were of white satin. Ribbons of satin passed from each boat to the hands of the goddess.

Of the many other vehicles which entered into the pageant, there is not space to give a description here. Some of them are shown in the annexed engravings, made from photographs. Suffice it to say that they represented the application of much taste and skill, while it was plain to see that flowers without stint were available for the occasion. One native flower of which all Californians are proud — the eschscholtzia, was used with lavish profusion, and roses loading the air with fragrance, lilies, callas, marguerites, smilax and wild brodiaeas were among other kinds freely employed.

During the four days of the festival a brilliant reception, a grand tournament, and a ball were given; also a competitive display of flowers and fruits, for which numerous cash prizes were given. No sooner was the floral fête-day over, than the participants began to consider the good reasons apparent for an annual perpetuation of the day in Santa Barbara. It is to be hoped the example here set forth may be widely heeded, and that such fête-days may be multiplied throughout our land.

American Gardening 1892: pp. 395-396

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil is desolate at not having any illustrations of the shell-like boats of the Goddess Flora and her attendants, but hopes that the floral carriages will make up for the lack. Mrs Daffodil understands that there is a similar entertainment held every year in Pasadena, California called “The Rose Bowl Parade” where floats entirely made of various sorts of vegetation delight viewers. It has something to do with American foot-ball, which is not the proper sort, so details are scanty in the British papers.

Mrs Daffodil normally leaves matters floral to the gardeners, but Angus McKew, head gardener at the Hall, has been good enough to inform Mrs Daffodil that the Eschscholzia is also known as the California Poppy, while brodiaeas are commonly called “cluster-lilies.” Mrs Daffodil is greatly obliged to Mr McKew and will try to temper the Hall’s requests for cut flowers.

 

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.

Shoeing for a New Play – Theatrical Footwear: 1901

SHOEING FOR A NEW PLAY.

Footwear a Big Item in a Stage Production—Cost from $1000 to $1600

Some Trials of a Theatrical Bootmaker.

Through some oversight the manager of a theatrical company that is soon to “try” an elaborate costume play upon an Eastern city has neglected to make arrangements to have the company shod, and the anxiety into which the cast has been plunged by this carelessness gives some idea of the importance which attaches to the matter of shoeing for a modern stage production. The actors who have been engaged for this one took it for granted that the usual arrangements had been made with the usual bootmaker for providing them with the proper footgear, and all that they would have to do would be to drop in any day and leave their measurement. That is the way they have been accustomed to buying their stage shoes, and they have been dropping into a little shop in Union Square, which has practically a monopoly in theatrical bootmaking, every day for the last week. The woman who is in charge of the shop during the proprietor’s absence says: “It will teach them all a lesson.”

A man, who from dress and manners was obviously from stageland, entered the shop and with an air of easy assurance took a chair and announced that he had come to be measured.

“For what?” asked the woman.

“For what?” repeated the actor, “why, for the shoes I am to wear in -—,” mentioning the title of the play.

“We know nothing about the boots you are to wear in that piece,” said the woman; “but possibly if you will leave your order we can get them out for you in time—what style is it you want?”

The actor’s easy assurance gave way instantly to bewilderment, and from bewilderment to mental stampede. “Style,” he echoed, gazing helplessly around him, “why, classic, Spanish, Louis XIV.—I don’t know, how should I know? Something like that thing there in the show case,” and he pointed to a black satin Spanish slipper with high heels slashed with yellow and trimmed around the top with silver, “that’s what I want, isn’t it? something on that order, anyway.” The woman told him that it would be impossible to fill an order from so meagre a description, and advised him to go around to the costumers’ and obtain details. The actor humbly promised to do so.

When he had gone the woman turned to another customer. “That man,” she explained, “would have known all about the boots he is to wear, if he had seen them; that is, if we had made them for him he could have pointed out where they were historically and otherwise wrong. As it is, you can see for yourself how ignorant he is, and how helpless. It is customary for a manager, when a new play is to be put on, to leave the order with a bootmaker for all the footgear that are to be worn by the cast; the style and the designs are sent to us by the costumer, or in some cases, are left to our own judgment,”

“What does it cost to shoe a company for a first-class production?” inquired the customer.

“From $1000 to $1600 dollars,” the woman answered. production will cost about $900.

“And who pays for all that?”

“Why, the actors themselves. It costs each one from $80 to $100, according to the number of changes he or she has to make in the course of the play. The supers, of course, do not have to pay for the shoes they wear—they are included in the company’s property.”

The popularity of historical plays has made the high kid boot extending above the knee, and known to the trade as a “knickertaur,” in greater demand than any other style. They cost from $10 to $18 a pair. Other costume boots vary in price from $8 to $40 a pair.

“How many dancing shoes,” said the woman in the shop, “do you suppose that young woman there (pointing to a photograph of a woman balancing airily on one great toe) how many shoes do you suppose she ordered here yesterday? Two hundred pair. Almost as many as some people wear in a lifetime, isn’t it? She’s going to Australia, and she doesn’t want to run short of shoes.”

The shoes which the young woman had ordered and which are kept in stock were quite shapeless and heelless affairs. A pronounced box toe explained the ease with which ballet dancers pose for minutes at a time on them. “And all the glittering tinselled sham,” continued the shopkeeper “which you read about as ‘existing behind the footlights, does not apply to these wares. They are of the best material and best workmanship, and cost more than any shoes of any sort sold in this country.”—[N. Y. Evening Post.

Boot and Shoe Recorder: 4 September 1901: p. 29

pink boots

Bejewlled satin boots worn by music hall variety artiste Kitty Lord, 1894-1915 http://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/Online/object.aspx?objectID=object-91634&start=34&rows=1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has shared information about theatrical costuming and some unusual special effects such as stage thunder and lightning, sandstorms, and giant dragons. Theatrical footwear, despite the “sock and buskin” being shorthand for the profession, has received much less attention than its costumes and special effects. Yet where would our chorus be without ballet shoes? Where would high-kicking music hall artistes be without tall satin boots? Where would our leading men be without their discreet lifts to allow them to tower over their leading ladies? For example:

“There is the raising of the actor’s shoes. We can make a man two inches taller, without spoiling the shape of his foot; this enables many an artist to hold positions that he could not fill without these raised shoes. Some of our leading artists wear them. The giants in the museums wear them to make them still taller. I remember once a friend of mine, an actor, came to Chicago to join ‘The Burglar’ company. The manager noticed at rehearsal that he was shorter than the leading lady—that would never do. He came to me and told me his troubles. I told him to cheer up—sit down and let me take his measure, and explained to him the process of raising shoes. On the opening night he was one inch taller than the leading lady, and every one was happy. It may be remarked that many people resort to this device in their street shoes.”

The Saint Paul [MN] Globe 12 April 1897: p. 8

Smaller feet were also part of stage wizardry and this “Cherman” shoe-maker [Mrs Daffodil cannot do the dialect] also elevated actresses with what sound like chopines:

“I suppose,” said the reporter, “that it’s part of a theatrical shoemaker’s art to make women’s feet appear smaller?”

“Women?” he said. “Vy do you say only women? Let me dell you dat men are shust as vain as women. I make de feet look smaller for both. Don’t ask me how, for dat is a secret of de craft. Most beople dink de high heel does it. But it’s more dan dat. You must get de heel shoost so. I also make bedple taller. Dere’s Janauschek—I fill her up mit cork and sawdust.”

“Fill her up with cork and sawdust?”

‘‘Dat is, de shoes of her. I make her two or tree inches higher dan she is.”

Time 26 September 1885: p. 102

slap stick shoes

Music Hall “slap-stick” shoes worn for the “Big Boot Dance” by Sammy Curtis. https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1114606/theatre-costume/

Mrs Daffodil is reminded by the shoes above of the host of a vintage variety television show, a Mr Edward Sullivan, who used to announce that his viewers were about to witness “a really big shoe.”

 

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.

The Tot and the Wig: 1894

toupee before and after 1898 wig

A GRAVE MATTER

[Toronto Globe]

A couple of gentlemen were strolling through a cemetery, when one drew his companion’s attention to a stone on which was inscribed, “Little Johnnie, aged 3.”

“You may hardly credit it,” was the remark, “but Master Johnnie, before his demise, did me slap out of $800 a year, not to speak of a charming wife.”

“How on earth could a child of 3 manage that,” asked the other.

“In this fashion: As you are aware, I am quite bald and wear, for appearance sake, a wig. One hot day, being alone with the youngster, I took the thing off and gave it to him to play with for a few minutes. Well, I had proposed to and been accepted by the child’s mother’s sister, a splendid girl, possessed of property bringing about $800 a year. We were just on the eve of getting married. One day my affianced was carrying Johnnie, and the little chap suddenly began to howl for no apparent reason. He could not, of course, give utterance respecting the cause of his grief, but made signs that he wished me to hold him. When I took the child in my arms the imp instantly grabbed at my wig and pulled it off. Then my beloved perceived that the luxuriant chestnut curls which she had so often admired were not my own, and she nearly fainted. Net morning I received a note stating that she could never marry a man with a head as bare as a billiard ball. I heard subsequently of dear little Johnny’s decease. I didn’t require to use my handkerchief, I assure you.”

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 3 March 1894: p. 14

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Perhaps Mrs Daffodil has a nasty, suspicious mind, but she does wonder if the resentful narrator bore any responsibility for little Johnny’s demise. A mystery box of poisoned chocolates delivered to the tot? Luring the child with the promise of a puppy out into the garden where there was a forgotten well with a rotted cover? It seems a trifle suspicious that he would find himself strolling with a companion precisely where the boy was buried and, what is even more damning, call attention to the grave and the child’s perfidy…. Everyone says that murderers revisit the scene of their crimes, or perhaps their victim’s burial place.  Mrs Daffodil feels certain that a proper inquest would have revealed the hand behind little Johnnie’s untimely death.

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.

 

The Chorus Girls Make a Dragon: 1893

ali baba headline

GIRLS MAKE THE DRAGON

Startling Stage Realism Ingeniously Made of Harmless Material.

[Boston Herald]

There are, indeed, tricks in all trades, and, as theatrical business has become more or less of a trade, it follows that it has its tricks. “In “Ali Babi,” the big spectacle presented by the American Extravaganza Company at the Globe Theater, there appears at a given hour something which makes a man who has been drinking feel queer, while the prohibition contingent look at it with horror and then with delight. This is the snake, or as it is billed, the dragon, and it is forty feet long. It is a very ingenious affair, and was made in Paris by M. Ganet, the master of properties of the Chatelet Theater.

The body of the reptile is nothing more nor less than twenty young women who travel on all fours, and who, at the right moment and a given signal, jump up and reveal themselves as diabolical sprites. They are clad in gray tights and green bodices, and on their heads are little horned skull caps. The article of attire that gives to each the appearance of apportion of the serpent’s body, and which, when the twenty girls creep along in follow-the-leader fashion, makes a wriggling, creeping snake of monstrous size, is a satin-lined cloak of thin canvas, which is roughly painted and mottled in green, yellow and white to represent the scales of a reptile’s hide.

The awe-inspiring, bird-like head, with rolling, ghastly eyeballs and crocodile jaws, serrated with rows of cruel, sharp teeth, is said to be the most ingenious part of the affair. It is made of papier mache and wicker work, light enough for a boy to carry, and, with devices inside to move the jaws and eyes.

The eyes are swung on a pivot and worked by means of a spiral spring. The huge jaws are hinged, and a stout lever inside, with the aid of a little muscle, makes them snap and yawn ferociously. Each nostril is shaped like the crater of a volcano, and the aperture from which the molten lava would come is replaced by a little alcohol lamp, the faint, blue flame of which cannot be seen from beyond the footlights. Over each of these lamps the fan-shaped mouth of a long tube comes. About six inches from the lamp and connected with the tube is a receptacle for lycopodium. When the boy who manipulates the apparatus concludes that it is proper for the dragon to make an imposing display of its ferocity, he blows through the tube, the powdered club-moss seed is scattered over the alcohol flame and makes a ghastly bluish and altogether startling flash.

Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 11 March 1893: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The dragon was a high-light of the Ali Baba entertainment and was invariably mentioned in reviews and advertisements.

“The Dance Diabolique,” executed by twenty secundas, who are metamorphosed from a monster fire-breathing dragon…. The Salt Lake [UT] Herald 1 January 1893: p. 6

And

The ballets of “Ali Baba” are three in number, and are novel in both movement and costuming. They are a Nautch dance in the first act, a demon dance in the second act, in which a monstrous, fire-breathing dragon is instantaneously transformed into a score or more of dancing sprites… The Indianapolis [IN] Journal 23 April 1893: p. 10

 Victorian stage designers were most ingenious, creating on-stage sand-storms and thunderous tempests. Costume designers peopled the stage with fanciful animals and made fairies fly.  A forty-foot dragon would have been a mere bagatelle.

Mrs Daffodil regrets that she was unable to find a photo-gravure of the ensemble en dragon, but she was able to locate an illustration of one of the costumed young ladies.

ali baba dragon chorus girl costume

A thumbnail sketch of the costume of one of the chorus who made up the body of the dragon.

The dragon dance sounds like an uncomfortable occupation, even for the young and lithe. Mrs Daffodil suggests that a more appropriate name for the entertainment would have been “Creeping Beauty.”

 

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.

Weird Ghost Girls: 1914

Weird Ghost Girls Bathe in Light That They May Be Truly Ghostly.

An Indian maiden has a song to sing. What does she sing of? Men long dead. What does she say of them? She invokes their spirits; she invites them to reappear on earth. A sweet, strange music fills the air—but it does not come from her throat. The light grows dim, and from out the gloom glide forms pale and shadowy, in long robes of light. Noiselessly, swiftly they flit up and down the long aisles. The music but emphasizes the eerie silence. Then, suddenly, it ends in a discordant shriek. Up blaze the lights. The ghosts have faded—vanished into thin air.

Of course it is only a trick, you say to your neighbor. You are not quite sure that you are back on solid earth again, for surely you must have been in Shadowland. Otherwise, how could figures clad in blinding light dart past you, so close that you could almost touch them? You could understand it if they were on the stage, or if huge reflectors were enveloping them in dazzling beams. But they were no on the stage, and no slanting cones of light were breaking the darkness overhead. How is it done? How can human beings—for they must be human beings to move so surely and swiftly—radiate light from their own persons?

Well, it used to be a secret, but it will be no longer. Pale, pretty girls bathed in light—white light, the cold dead gleam of a winter moon, which off times scares the midnight wayfarer by lurking shadows cast in churchyard corners.

You don’t see how a girl could be baked in light? Well, come into the dressing room half an hour before the performance starts. There you will see the chorus girls “make up” for their ghost act. Over their costumes they slip doublets and cloaks of a white leathery substance painted with phosphorus. Cowls of the same material shroud their heads and faces. Then electricians take the soon-to-be-spirits in hand. In a row of giant arc lights, armed with powerful reflectors, stand the girls, and for twenty minutes or more they bathe in the strongest rays that a dynamo can conjure up. There they turn and twist until every portion of their costumes has been exposed to the light over and over again. Big black goggles have to be worn the whole time, for no eye could stand the intense glare, even for a moment. The phosphorescent paint with which they are daubed drinks in the light and stores it up until the time comes for the ghosts to flit up and down the aisles, thrilling the audience by their nightly apparition. But this paint must be renewed regularly or the power of the phosphorus would die out, leaving the ghosts just ordinary mortals.

But how do they pop so suddenly out of the darkness of the auditorium and fade away again? Quite simple! Each ghost has a gown and hood of deepest black and an attendant to handle it. They steal softly to the head of the aisles in parquet and balcony and stand there behind the audience ready for the cue. It comes. Off slip the robes and hoods and down the aisles play the weird forms. So quickly do they dart in and out through the auditorium that the spectators are conscious of nothing but a moving streak of gleaming light. And all the time the orchestra plays strange fairy music and so softly that it seems to come from a great distance. Otherwise, not a sound is heard, and the vast theater is plunged in utter darkness save for the ghostly figures of the light-robed girls. The effect is weird. You sit half terrified, half fascinated, and absolutely silent. The apparitions gradually move toward the head of the aisles. Then the attendant slips on the hood and robe and darkness envelops them once more. Up go the lights, and the thrill is ended.

Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 11 January 1914: p. 37

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The thrill might be ended for the audience, but one wonders how long the horror went on for the “pale, pretty girls,” exposed to the poisonous phosphorus. Possibly the leather gave some protection, but one is not sanguine.

The dangers of phosphorus were well-known; the match-girls of London went on strike in 1888 to protest their exposure to the toxic substance, which caused a horrible disease called “phossy jaw,” (phosphorus necrosis of the jaw). Phosphorus was banned from matches in 1906, but was still available for other applications, including, apparently, theatrical special effects. We have met with an equally dire exposure before, in a novel Parisian “x-ray spook party.”

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.

 

How to Celebrate May-Day: 1863, 1912, 1928

The May Queen, W.E. Tucker, 1843

The May Queen, W.E. Tucker, 1843

Mrs Daffodil asserts that the proper English May-Day consists of floral displays, dancing rustics, various contests of strength, agility, and alcohol consumption, a good deal of fumbling about in the shrubbery, and, of course, the crowning of the May Queen. (Mrs Daffodil prefers to ignore the co-opting of the holiday by the International Labour Movement.)

Our American cousins , too, took up the flowery garlands of the celebration, adding little touches of their own to the festival. One fears they did not fully appreciate the pagan undertones of characters like “Jack-in-the-Green” or “Robin Hood.”  However, perhaps subliminally, they acknowledged the propriety of using the imagery of a Spring Fertility Festival for a bridal shower. “Perky” May-Pole, indeed….

The Indians call the month of May the “Time of the Flower-Moon.” Just as April is filled with rain showers, May is the month for bride-showers, following the order of the flower-moon preceding the honeymoon for the June bride.

A luncheon shower is a pleasing way of entertaining the bride-to-be. The table can be decorated effectively with a pink and green May pole for a centerpiece, its flower streamers in corresponding colors draped down to different places on the table. At the end of each, folded in pink paper blossoms, are little notes, preferably in verse, directing the bride-to-be to different part of the house (on the mantel, behind the phonograph, and so on), each a hiding place for a dainty gift for the bride—flowered lingerie, smart china, or any gift that carries out the flower motif.

Miniature May poles made of striped candy sticks and ribbons, with the guest’s name written on a flat card to which the stick is fastened, will serve as place cards, and you may have pretty little “May baskets” filled with candy at each cover.

If you are serving your guests at small tables, there may be different centerpieces for each table. “Jack-in-the-green,” a clown, dressed in pink and green, and hidden in a bouquet of flowers, is charmingly reminiscent of old England. The “Lady of the May,” a child’s doll, decorated with flowers, signifies a popular old custom you might work into your scheme of decorating, or, if you are using a long table, you may have the May pole in the exact center. “Jack-in-the-green” at one end and the “Lady of the May” at the other.

Games apropos to the occasion may feature the Robin Hood idea—Robin Hood, you know, always figured prominently in the celebration of the first of May. Tiny bows and arrows and a flower-decorated target will furnish amusement—with a gay May basket, some tiny present hidden beneath its flowers, for a prize. And nothing would be more fun or more appropriate than to crown the bride-to-be “Queen of the May” during your party.

For your bridge game use score cards decorated with spring blossoms, and go to a little extra trouble with your pencil. Wrap it in pink and green strips of paper, hand colored ribbons from it, and stick it in a paper-covered spool for a base, so that it will stand up straight and perky like a May pole when not in use. Seattle [WA] Daily Times 24 April 1928: p. 19

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It really is rather extraordinary how long even bowdlerised and ill-understood versions of the May-Day Festivities survived. Even in the United States, May-Pole dances and parties were a staple of young ladies’ academies and, as we have seen, bridal showers. Rather earlier, there was advice on May-Day Tableaux for the young. Mrs Daffodil gives a single sample so as to not weary her readers.

TABLEAU  I— MAY

Let the furniture be removed from the stage, and the background draped with white, looped with garlands of flowers and leaves; the floor covered with white, and flowers scattered over it. One single figure represents May. A beautiful blonde should be selected. Let her wear pure white; the dress long, full, and floating; her hair should fall free, either in curls or waving ripples, and a wreath of delicate flowers rest on her head; flowers should appear to fall all about her; in her hair and on her dress (small pins, or a few stitches of thread will fasten them); her hands are raised, her eyes uplifted, as if she were just about to rise and soar away. The writer has seen a lovely child so dressed and standing, and the tableau was as beautiful as can be imagined. Godey’s Lady’s Book May 1863

Crowning the May Queen, c. 1910

Crowning the May Queen, c. 1905

Mrs Daffodil is not quite sure when the escalation of May-Day Pageants began, but in this account from 1912, the May Queen is accompanied, not only by the traditional English Robin-Hood and Hobby Horse, but a parade-of-all-nations including (inexplicably) Roman maidens and Japanese girls. Each of the national groups had its own suggested dance figure, song or May-Pole braiding pattern. If one was ambitious and had a stock of willing young ladies, one could reconstruct the entire tedious pageant by consulting this detailed book.

A SUCCESSFUL MAY-DAY PAGEANT.

At six o’clock in the evening, just about sundown, the processional pageant of all the players, two and two, carrying their ornamental accessories proceed in their march to the May-pole, heralded by the forester’s bugle horn. There are groups of various national dancers in the characteristic costume of their countries including the little milkmaids with cap, apron, and pail; the Scotch Highlanders with plaid cap and feather; the English shepherdesses with their crooks, looking like a band of veritable Bopeeps; the graceful Roman maidens, with their musical pipes and garlands; some Japanese girls with their parasols, waddling and tiptoeing. Rollicking and wild with glee come Robin Hood and his merry men, for the Morris dances, not forgetting the hobbyhorse with spirited “false trots, smooth ambles and Canterbury paces.” The inimitable jester with his pranks, and the little black-faced chimney-sweeps. The pageant procession approaching the May-pole, the centre of the scene, is led by the May Queen and her retinue, half of the attendants on each side of the queen, partners on opposite sides. Each attendant holds a garland of the canopy in her hands. The Festival Book: May-Day Pastime and The May-Pole Dances, Revels and Musical Games for the Playground, School and College, Jennette Emeline Carpenter Lincoln, 1912

Mrs Daffodil wishes her readers the Maddest Merriest Day Of All the Glad New Year.

See another May-Day post about a May-Queen controversy. And this, about the ideal vs. the actual May Day. And this parody of the all-too-easily-parodied Tennyson’s “The May Queen,” adapted for inclement weather.

 

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.