Category Archives: Death

The Ghost in Yellow Calico: c. 1903

17th c memento mori rosary bead

THE GHOST IN YELLOW CALICO

The Rev. Elwyn Thomas, 35, Park Village East, N. W., London, has published a very remarkable experience of his own. It is as follows:

“Twelve years ago,” says the doctor, “I was the second minister of the Bryn Mawr Welsh Wesleyan Circuit, in the South Wales District. It was a beautiful evening in June when, after conducting the service at Llanyndir, I told the gentlemen with whom I generally stayed when preaching there, that three young friends had come to meet me from Crickhowell, and that I meant to accompany them back for about half a mile on their return journey, so would not be home before nine o’clock.

“When I wished good-night to my friends it was about twenty minutes to nine but still light enough to see a good distance. The subject of our conversation all the way from the chapel until we parted was of a certain eccentric old character who then belonged to the Crickhowell church. I walked a little further down the road than I intended in order to hear the end of a very amusing story about him. Our conversation had no reference whatever to ghosts. Personally I was a strong disbeliever in ghosts and invariably ridiculed anyone whom I thought superstitious enough to believe in them.

“When I had walked about a hundred yards away from my friends, after parting from them, I saw on the bank of the canal, what I thought at the moment was an old beggar. I couldn’t help asking myself where this old man had come from. I had not seen him in going down the road. I turned round quite unconcernedly to have another look at him, and had no sooner done so than I saw, within half a yard of me one of the most remarkable and startling sights I hope it will ever be my lot to see. Almost on a level with my own face, I saw that of an old man, over every feature of which the putty colored skin was drawn tightly, except the forehead which was lined with deep wrinkles. The lips were extremely thin and appeared perfectly bloodless. The toothless mouth stood half open. The cheeks were hollow and sunken like those of a corpse, and the eyes which seemed far back in the middle of the head, were unnaturally luminous and piercing. The terrible object was wrapped in two bands of old yellow calico, one of which was drawn under the chin, and over the cheeks and tied at the top of the head, the other was drawn round the top of the wrinkled forehead and fastened at the back of the head.

So deep and indelible an impression it made on my mind, that, were I an artist, I could paint that face to-day.

“What I have thus tried to describe in many words, I saw at a glance. Acting on the impulse of the moment, I turned my face toward the village and ran away from the horrible vision with all my might for about sixty yards. I then stopped and turned around to see how far I had distanced it, and to my unspeakable horror, there it was still face to face with me as if I had not moved an inch. I grasped my umbrella and raised it to strike him, and you can imagine my feelings when I could see nothing between the face and the ground, except an irregular column of intense darkness, through which my umbrella passed as a stick goes through water!

“I am sorry to say that I took to my heels with increasing speed. A little further than the space of this second encounter, the road which led to my host’s house branched off the main road. Having gone two or three yards down this branch road, I turned around again. He had not followed me after I left the main road, but I could see the horribly fascinating face quite as plainly as when it was close by. It stood for a few minutes looking intently at me from the center of the main road. I then realized fully that it was not a human being in flesh and blood; and, with every vestige of fear gone, I quickly walked toward it to put my questions. But I was disappointed, for, no sooner had I made toward it, than it began to move slowly down the road keeping the same distance above it until it reached the churchyard wall; it then crossed the road and disappeared near where the yew tree stood inside. The moment it disappeared, I became unconscious. Two hours later I came to myself and I made my way slowly to my home. I could not say a word to explain what had happened, though I tried several times. It was five o’clock in the morning when I regained my power of speech. The whole of the following week I was laid up with a nervous prostration.

“My host, after questioning me closely, told me that fifteen years before that time an old recluse of eccentric character, answering in every detail to my description (yellow calicoes, bands, and all) lived in a house whose ruins still stand close by where I saw the face disappear.”

True Ghost Stories, Hereward Carrington, 1915: pp 116-119

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Recently that funereal person over at Haunted Ohio has been assiduously studying shrouds for some presentation or other and Mrs Daffodil has been hearing a great deal too much about the subject….

However, it occurs to Mrs Daffodil that the calico bands around the disembodied head bear all the hallmarks of burial attire, much like the cloth tied around the ghostly Jacob Marley’s jaws. So unless the living recluse was known to stalk around the neighbourhood wearing a shroud and bands, one expects that this was just another example of ghosts who appear in their grave-clothes.  A reprehensible habit, to be sure, and most unhygienic—we have seen the warnings from the medical establishment about the unwholesome trade in used shrouds and grave goods.

One wonders if the Rev. Thomas was prostrated merely by the horror of the thing or by some obscure contagion from the grave.  Mrs Daffodil suggests that the local authorities should have responded to the disruptive revenant swiftly and decisively, either by compelling the creature to remain in its tomb via iron or exorcism, or by supplying it with a change of shroud in the newest and neatest pattern.

 

 

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 Maid with Red Hair: 1899

 

In the spring of 1899, being then a member of a certain Psychical Research Society, and hearing that a ghost had been seen at No — Southgate Street, Bristol, I set off to interview the ladies who were reported to have seen it. I found them (the Misses Rudd) at home, and on their very graciously consenting to relate to me their psychical experiences, I sat and listened to the following story (told as nearly as possible in the eldest lady’s own words) : ” It is now,” she began, ” some ten years since we were the tenants of the house you mention, but I recollect what I saw there as vividly as if it were yesterday.

“The house, I must tell you, is very small (only eight or so rooms), dingy, and in a chronic state of dilapidation ; it stands in the middle of a terrace with no front garden to speak of, save a few yards of moss-covered tiles, slate-coloured and broken, whilst its back windows overlooked a dreary expanse of deep and silent water. Nothing more dismal could be imagined.

“Still, when we took it, the idea of it being haunted never for one instant entered our minds, and our first intimation that such was the case came upon us like a thunderbolt.

“We only kept one maid, Jane (a girl with dark hair and pleasant manners), my sisters and I doing all the cooking and helping with the light work. The morning on which incident No. 1 happened, knowing Jane to be upstairs occupied in dusting the rooms, and my sisters being out, my mother asked me to go into the kitchen and see if the stove was all right as ‘there was a smell of burning.’

“Doing as she bid, I hastened to the kitchen, where a strange spectacle met my sight.

“Kneeling in front of the stove, engaged apparently in polishing the fender, was a servant-girl with RED hair; I started back in astonishment. ‘Who could she be?’

Too intent at first to notice my advent, she kept on at her work, giving me time to observe that she was wearing a very dirty dress, and that her rag of a cap was quite askew. Satisfied she was not ‘Jane,’ and wondering whether some one else’s maid had mistaken our kitchen for her own — the houses in the terrace being all alike — I called out, ‘Who are you? what do you want?’ — whereupon, dropping the fire-irons with a clatter, she quickly turned round, displaying an ashen-pale face, the expression on which literally froze me with horror.

“Never! never had I seen such an awful look of hopeless, of desperate, of diabolical abandonment in any one’s eyes as in those of hers when their glance met mine.

“For some seconds we glared at one another without moving, and then, still regarding me with a furtive look from out of the corner of her horrible eyes, she slowly rose from the hearth, and gliding stealthily forward, disappeared in the diminutive scullery opposite.

“Curiosity now overcoming fear, I at once followed. She was nowhere to be seen; nor was there any other mode of exit by which she could have made her departure than a tiny window, some four feet or so from the floor and directly overlooking the deep waters of the pond to which I have already alluded.

“Here, then, was a mystery ! What had I seen? Had I actually encountered a phantasm, or was I but the victim of an exceedingly unpleasant and falsidical hallucination? I preferred to think the former.

“Not wishing to frighten my mother, I intended keeping the incident to myself, writing, however, a complete account of it in my diary for the current year, but, a further incident occurring to my youngest sister within the next few days, I determined to reveal what I had seen and compare notes.”

The eldest Miss Rudd now concluded, and on my expressing a desire to hear more, her youngest sister very obligingly commenced:

“I had been out shopping in the Triangle one morning,” she said, “and having omitted to take the latchkey, I was obliged to ring. Jane answered the summons. There was nothing, of course, unusual in this, as it was her duty to do so, but there was something extremely singular in what appeared at her elbow.

“Standing close beside — I might almost say leaning against her (though Jane was apparently unaware of it) — was a strange, a very strange, servant-girl, with red hair and the most uncanny eyes; she had on a bedraggled print dress and a cap all askew ; but it was her expression that most attracted my attention — it was horrid.

“’Oh Jane!’ I cried, ‘whoever is it with you?’

“Following the direction of my gaze, Jane immediately turned round, and, without a word, FAINTED.

“That is all. The apparition, or whatever you may please to call it, vanished, and the next time I saw it was under different circumstances.”

“Will you be so kind as to relate them?” I inquired.

Miss Rudd proceeded: “Oh! it is nothing very much!” she exclaimed, “only it was very unpleasant at the time — especially as I was all alone.

“You see, mother, being delicate, went to bed early, my sisters were at a concert, and it was Jane’s ‘night out.’

“I never, somehow, fancied the basement of the house; it was so cold and damp, reminding me not a little of a MORGUE or charnel-house; consequently I never stayed there a moment longer than was absolutely necessary, and on this night in question I was in the act of scurrying back to the drawing- room when a gentle tap! tap! at the scullery-window made me defer my departure. Entering the back kitchen, somewhat timidly I admit, I saw a face peering in at me through the tiny window.

“Though the night was dark and there was no artificial lighting at this side of the house, every feature of that face was revealed to me as clearly as if it had been day. The little, untidy cap, all awry, surmounting the shock-head of red hair now half- down and dripping with water, the ghastly white cheeks, the widely open mouth, and the eyes, their pupils abnormally dilated and full of lurid light, were more appallingly horrible than ever.

“I stood and gazed at it, my heart sick with terror, nor do I know what would have happened to me had not the loud rap of the postman acted like magic; the thing vanished, and ‘turning tail,’ I fled upstairs into the presence of my mother. That is all.”

I was profuse in my thanks, and the third Miss Rudd then spoke:

“My bedroom,” she began, “was on the top landing — the window over-looking the water. I slept alone some months after the anecdotes just related, and was awakened one night by feeling some disgusting, wet object lying on my forehead.

“With an ejaculation of alarm I attempted to brush it aside, and opening my eyes, encountered a ghastly white face bending right over me.

“I instantly recognised it, by the description my sisters had given, as the phantasm of the red-headed girl.

“The eyes were terrible! Shifting its slimy hand from my forehead, and brandishing it aloft like some murderous weapon, it was about to clutch my throat, when human nature would stand it no longer — and — I fainted. On recovering, I found both my sisters in the room, and after that I never slept by myself.”

“Did your mother ever see it?” I asked.

“Frequently,” the eldest Miss Rudd replied, “and it was chiefly on her account we relinquished our tenancy — her nervous system was completely prostrated.”

“Other people saw the ghost besides us,” the youngest Miss Rudd interrupted, “for not only did the long succession of maids after Jane all see it, but many of the subsequent tenants ; the house was never let for any length of time.”

“Then, perhaps, it is empty now?” I soliloquised, “in which case I shall most certainly experiment there.”

This proved to be the case; the house was tenantless, and I easily prevailed upon the agent to loan me the key.

But the venture was fruitless. Three of us and a dog undertook it. We sat at the foot of the gloomy staircase; twelve o’clock struck, no ghost appeared, the dog became a nuisance — and — we came away disgusted.

A one-night’s test, however, is no test at all; there is no reason to suppose apparitions are always to be seen by man ; as yet we know absolutely nothing of the powers or conditions regulating their appearances, and it is surely feasible that the unknown controlling elements of one night may have been completely altered, may even have ceased to exist by the next. At all events, that was my opinion. I was by no means daunted at a single failure. But it was impossible to get any one to accompany me.

The sceptic is so boastfully eager by day. “Ghosts,” he sneers, “what are ghosts? Indigestion and imagination! I’ll challenge you to show me the house I wouldn’t sleep in alone! Ghosts indeed! Give me a poker or a shovel and I will scare away the lot of them.” And when you do show him the house he always has a prior engagement, or else the weather is too cold, or he has too much work to do next day, or it isn’t really worth the trouble, or — well! he is sure to have some very plausible excuse; at least, that has been my invariable experience.

There is no greater coward than the sceptic, and so, unable to procure a friend for the occasion, I did without one; neither did I have the key of the house, but — taking French leave — gained admittance through a window.

It was horribly dark and lonely, and although on the former occasion I did not feel the presence of the superphysical, I did so now, the very moment I crossed the threshold. Striking a light, I looked around me: I was in the damp and mouldy den that served as a kitchen; outside I saw the moon reflected on the black and silent water.

A long and sleek cockroach disappeared leisurely in a hole in the skirting as I flashed my light in its direction, and I thought I detected the movement of a rat or some large animal in the cupboard at the foot of the stairs. I forthwith commenced a search — the cupboard was empty. I must have been mistaken. For some minutes I stood in no little perplexity as to my next move. Where should I go? Where ought I to go if my adventure were to prove successful?

I glanced at the narrow, tortuous staircase winding upwards into the grim possibilities of the deserted hall and landings — and — my courage failed.

Here, at least, I was safe! Should the Unknown approach me, I could escape by the same window through which I had entered. I felt I dare not! I really could not go any further. Seized with a sudden panic at nothing more substantial than my own thoughts, I was groping my way backwards to the window when a revulsion of feeling made me pause. If all men were poltroons, how much would humanity ever know of the Occult? We should leave off where we began, and it had ever been my ambition to go — further.

My self-respect returning, I felt in my pocket for pencil, notebook and revolver, and trimming my lamp I mounted the stairs.

A house of such minute dimensions did not take long to explore; what rooms there were, were Lilliputian — mere boxes; the walls from which hung the tattered remnants of the most offensively inartistic papers were too obviously Jerry built; the wainscoting was scarred, the beading broken, not a door fitted, not a window that was not either loose or sashless — the entire house was rotten, paltry, mean; I would not have had it as a gift. But where could I wait to see the ghost? Disgust at my surroundings had, for a time, made me forget my fears ; these now returned reinforced: I thought of Miss Rudd’s comparison with a morgue— and shuddered. The rooms looked ghastly! Selecting the landing at the foot of the upper storey, I sat down, my back against the wall — and — waited.

Confronting me was the staircase leading up and down, equally dark, equally ghostly; on my right was what might once have been the drawing-room, but was now a grim conglomeration of bare boards and moonlight, and on my left was an open window directly overtopping the broad expanse of colourless, motionless water. Twelve o’clock struck, the friendly footsteps of a pedestrian died away in the distance; I was now beyond the pale of assistance, alone and deserted — deserted by all save the slimy, creeping insects below — and the shadows. Yes! the shadows; and as I watched them sporting phantastically at my feet, I glanced into the darkness beyond — and shivered.

All was now intensely suggestive and still, the road alone attractive; and despite my spartonic resolutions I would have given much to be out in the open. The landing was so cramped, so hopeless.

A fresh shadow, the shadow of a leaf that had hitherto escaped my notice, now attracted and appalled me; the scratching of an insect made my heart stand still ; my sight and hearing were painfully acute; a familiar and sickly sensation gradually crept over me, the throbbing of my heart increased, the most inconceivable and desperate terror laid hold of me: the house was no longer empty — the supernatural had come! Something, I knew not, I dare not think what, was below, and I knew it would ascend.

All the ideas I had previously entertained of addressing the ghost and taking notes were entirely annihilated by my fear — fear mingled with a horrible wonder as to what form the apparition would take, and I found myself praying Heaven it might not be that of an elemental.

The THING had now crossed the hall (I knew this somehow instinctively) and was beginning to mount the stairs.

I could not cry out, I could not stir, I could not close my eyes: I could only sit there staring at the staircase in the most awful of dumb, apprehensive agonies. The thing drew nearer, nearer; up, up, UP it came until I could see it at last — see the shock-head of red hair, the white cheeks, the pale, staring eyes, all rendered hideously ghastly by the halo of luminous light that played around it. This was a ghost — an apparition — a bona fide phantasm of the dead ! And without any display of physical power —it overcame me.

Happily for me, the duration of its passage was brief.

It came within a yard of me, the water dripping from its clinging clothes, yet leaving no marks on the flooring. It thrust its face forward; I thought it was going to touch me, and tried to shrink away from it, but could not. Yet it did nothing but stare at me, and its eyes were all the more horrible because they were blank; not diabolical, as Miss Rudd had described them, but simply Blank! — Blank with the glassiness of the Dead.

Gliding past with a slightly swaying motion, it climbed upstairs, the night air blowing through the bedraggled dress in a horribly natural manner; I watched it till it was out of sight with bated breath — for a second or so it stopped irresolutely beside an open window; there was a slight movement as of some one mounting the sill: a mad, hilarious chuckle, a loud splash — and then — silence, after which I went home.

I subsequently discovered that early in the seventies a servant-girl, who was in service at that house, had committed suicide in the manner I have just described, but whether or not she had RED hair I have never been able to ascertain.

P.S. — The Ghost I am informed on very reliable authority, is still (August 1908) to be seen.

Some Haunted Houses of England & Wales, Elliott O’Donnell, 1908

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Red hair was considered to be either the mark of the Devil or a sign of a coarse or depraved person. While one might consider engaging a red-headed scullery maid, a red-headed parlour maid could not have been countenanced.

We have heard supernatural tales from Mr O’Donnell before: The Ghost with One Shoe; The Banshee Sang of Death; The Spectral Hound.  He, Mrs Daffodil has observed, had a wide streak of misogyny, was obsessed with “Elementals” and decay, and—Mrs Daffodil knows that you will be grieved to hear it—often paltered with the truth. Still, we are obliged to him for providing us with the grues on snowy afternoons.

 

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 Slop Shop Trade: 1887

1841 skeleton tailors in sweatshop

CHEAP CLOTHING

LIVES OF WOMEN WORN OUT ON READY MADE SUITS.

What It Costs to Put “Bargain” Price Marks on Wearing Apparel

Dangers of the “Slop Shop” Trade

Business Needing Ventilation

The slop shop is the biggest thing in the cheap clothing trade, and the slop shop keepers are the hardest taskmasters of the poor slaves of the metropolis. Competition in the retail clothing business has brought this condition of things about. Besides, the whole system on which the manufacture of cheap clothing is carried on is as bad as it can be, and its continuance is a menace to public health and a danger to the general welfare of the community beside which the much talked-of tenement house manufacture of cigars is nothing.

There are comparatively few clothing factories in New York. Most of what are called such are simply shops where the cloth is cut. It then goes, each sort of garment separately, to the “tailors,” so-called, who have their shops all over the city, but chiefly in the most densely populated tenement house districts and in the very slums. One tailor will take out hundreds or thousands of pairs of pantaloons in a week, another carries off the coats, and the vests go somewhere else. If these men or women have any shops at all they are simply their living rooms in the tenements where they hire girls to come for from nothing to a few dollars a week and work at sewing machines making up the garments. In many instances men instead of girls are hired, especially on heavy work, but in either case the people are crowded as closely as the machine can be put together, often four or five in one small room where all the household lives and all the domestic work is carried on. In these places, reeking with all the vile odors of the tenements, with dirty children crawling over the filthy floors, playing among them by day and sleeping upon them at night, in an atmosphere, in short, of dirt, disease and death, the garments are finally made up.

They may be “finished” —that is, have the buttons put on and the other hand sewing done—in the same place, or this work may be farmed out to still more abject slaves than those who toil over the machines—to women who are prevented by invalid husbands, young children, or other reasons from leaving their homes, and who are therefore obliged to take up for their work whatever pittance the slop shop barons will dole out to them, and trust to charity for enough more to stave off starvation.

In the barren rooms of these lowest of slaves the garments have a change to get a new variety of odors and disease germs. Then they go, most likely, to the button hole factory, where they touch shoulders with similar lots from dozens of other tenement house shops, and when their own odors and germs have thus been amalgamated with the odors and germs of all the tenements for half a mile around, they go back to the original slop shop, and thence in the course of time to the alleged manufacturer, who sells them to a wholesaler, maybe, from whom they go to the retailer, and after all these different hands have taken their toll the general public is invited to come in and look at the wonderful bargains in clothing.

Often they are wonderful bargains, indeed, in spite of the numerous profits that have been made off of them; but if they are cheap it is because women have turned their sinews into thread and their blood into sewing machine oil in the making of them. They are aired and fumigated, and cleansed, maybe, before they are sold, but a man in the business says; “If people knew where those clothes have been they would never buy them.”

Philip Leidesdorff has been in business for eighteen years. His brother is with him now, and they have a buttonhole factory. They take the work after those who get it from the manufactures have made it up and put in the buttonholes for so much a hundred.

“This tenement house work,’” he says, “is the ruin of the clothing business, and worse yet, it’s the ruin of those that work at it. Someday people will wake up to what this cheap clothing business means. Go into some of these tenements and you’ll find in some of the little rooms a whole family living, and three or four girls working at machines all day. They take the goods from the tailor’s and make them up in the rooms where they cook and sleep. Why they use the clothes for bedding, even. If people could see once the vile holes in which the clothing is made up they’d never buy any of it. I wish they could see some of it when it comes here to have the buttonholes put in. It gets aired and cleaned before it is put up for sale.

“The way these people do is to get young girls to come and learn the business. They make them work six weeks for nothing, or, maybe $2 a week for their work, and they pack just as many of them as they can get into one room, along with the children and the cooking and all the rest. That way they make a little money for themselves at the expense of the girls, but it don’t do them much good, for pretty quick the manufacturer grinds down the price another peg, and the more they grind the girls the more the manufacturer grinds them, until nobody is making more than a bare living. The people that take the work out in the country to do are pretty near as bad as the tenement house people for prices, but, of course, they’re cleaner. If it wasn’t for them prices would be a good deal higher in the city. New York is the worst city in the country for sewing women. In Philadelphia, even, they pay them a good deal better. It’s all on account of this tenement house work, and it’ll never be any better till they pass laws making it illegal for more than one machine to be put in an ordinary living room.”

“There’s another thing,” said David Leidesdorff, a brother, “and if cholera or any such disease ever gets a start in this city people will find it out mighty quick. These tenement house factories would spread the disease through the whole country. I’ve always said that if cholera ever got a start in New York I’d drop this business and get out right away, and I’d do it, too. They have a board of health and laws enough here, but I’ve never been in a city yet, and I’ve been all over the world, where they allowed such things as they do here. Only last winter, at a place in a street right near here, the children in a family were sick of small pox in the same room where the clothing was being made up and sent out every day. These people don’t have any more regard for the laws or for other people’s health than they do for their own health, and if you have ever been in any of the holes where they live and work you know how little that is. This whole business of the manufacturer of cheap clothing needs a showing up.” New York Sun

Canton [OH] Repository 28 December 1887: p. 8

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is fascinated by how the buttonhole factory brothers are well aware of the dire conditions in sweatshops and condemn sweated labour—while benefiting from it. Of course, to-day New York is one of the leading fashion capitals of the world, yet cheap clothes are more prevalent than ever, manufactured  under conditions their purchasers can only guess at.  Enslaved persons toiling in “sweat-shops” may be found, even in many of the world’s most affluent countries. Tragically, plus ça change…

Contagion from textiles has been a consistent theme in world history: Mrs Daffodil cites the plague begun in Eyam by flea-infested fabric from London; a fatal shawl, said to be behind a Russian plague outbreak in 1878, remonstrances about disease in hired mourning clothes, and the ghastly traffic in clothing stolen from corpses. A good deal of the pressure to unionise garment workers arose from fashionable ladies’ fears of contagion in sweated clothing.

To be Relentlessly Informative, “slop shop” comes from “slops,” the full breeches worn by sailors. They could be purchased ready-made and the term came to be attached to establishments selling any  cheap article of clothing.

 

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.

 

Encore: Alternatives for Mourning During the Great War: 1914-1918

mourning hat and veil 1914

On this Remembrance Day week-end we remember some of the alternative methods of mourning suggested during the Great War.

In 1917 Reformer Dorothy Dix strongly urged an end to traditional deep mourning. She pointed out that “What the psychological effect, not only upon the minds of women, but upon men of the sight of thousands of women dressed in mourning is appalling to consider…[a woman who puts on a colored dress] saddens no one else with her sorrow. She stabs no other woman to the heart with a remembrance of her own loss…Her colored dress, worn when her very soul is black with mourning, is the red badge of courage.”

Further, mourning is costly: “the cost of a complete mourning equipment for a well to do family would buy many liberty bonds…It is said that this war is going to be won by money…Therefore, the women of the country cannot only do a big patriotic duty, but avenge their dead by putting their money into bullets instead of crepe.”

And, finally, wearing mourning is literally sickening: “That women are depressed by wearing mourning and are made sick and nervous is a well-established fact…it wrecks her own health and makes her sacrifice the living to the dead…I hope that the women of America will rise above the heathenish custom of decking themselves out in black to show that they grieve. There will be no need of flaunting personal grief, for at the bier of every soldier who dies for his county the whole nation will bow in sorrow…” Augusta [GA] Chronicle 5 December 1917: p. 5

In 1914 Mrs Edward Lyttleton, wife of a clergyman soon to be criticised for his German sympathies, suggested that mourning for the dead of the War should consist of a “simple narrow band of purple cloth to be worn on the left arm by every man, woman or child who had lost a relation in the war.” She pointed out the economical advantages and that the badge “would be the same for all classes.”  In addition, “If the well-to-do women of the empire would lead the way in this matter they would make things easier for their poorer sisters, who surely must often stint themselves of necessities in order to get the “bit of black” so dear to their hearts.” The Denver [CO] Post 16 October 1914: p. 10

The mourning armband with a star. The patent application was filed in 1918, but it was not patented until 1920.

The mourning armband with a star. The patent application was filed in 1918, but it was not patented until 1920.

Another arm-band scheme was suggested much later in the conflict and endorsed by the President of the United States.

“No mourning costumes during war time, but rather the substitution of a mourning badge or an arm-band of black with a gray star,” was the recommendation of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs at a session at Hot Springs, Ark. Mrs. L. Brackett Bishop, of Chicago, suggested that the conventional period of mourning be abolished during the war. Mrs. Bishop has made an extensive study of colors and concludes that the wearing of black causes many mental disturbances. “Certain colors are avoided by women because their nature resents them,” she said. “But the general effect is happiness. If happiness is to be won in the world, color will do it. Another reason for this strong need of color is the fact that the earth revolves each twenty-four hours a day, and each day we are in the same plane as was the fighting of yesterday. We must be bright and cheery to overcome the cloudy days. Color will win the war for us, and it is going to be won by the colors we wear and by the brightness we can thus add to the world and to the people about us through the mental attitude expressed in our costumes.” A standard arm-band furnishes an excellent substitute for the wearing of black. It has all the objectionable features of black removed and still serves the purpose of indicating that a death has occurred.

Arm-Bands Are Advocated

Patents for a standard arm-band have been applied for. This arm-band consists of a black background symbolizing the black war-cloud with the blue sky beyond. A torch indicates the blazing path of national attainment and a lyre symbolizes the rejoicing at valor and sacrifice, while the dove of peace hovers over all. These bands are to be made in the colors of the Allies. [This design does not appear in the patent records.]

The Women’s Committee of the Council of National Defense has suggested an arm-band with a gold star for the death of each member of the family in service. President Wilson has given his approval of the suggestion in the following letter made public by Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, chairman of the committee:

“My Dear Dr. Shaw: Thank you for your letter of yesterday. I do entirely approve of the action taken by the Women’s Committee in executive session, namely, that a 3-inch black band should be worn, upon which a gilt star may be placed for each member of the family whose life is lost in the service, and that the band shall be worn on the left arm. I hope and believe that thoughtful people everywhere will approve of this action, and I hope that you will be kind enough to make the suggestion of the committee public, with the statement that it has my cordial indorsement. Cordially and sincerely yours, WOODROW WILSON.”

In an explanatory statement on the subject the Women’s Committee says:

For a long time the Women’s Committee has been receiving letters from women urging some such action on their part. The determined avoidance of mourning by English women has been much commented on and praised. One woman. who advocates this step has four sons in the service one of whom has already been killed. She wrote recently: “I know the costliness of such supreme glory and sacrifice, and have felt both the selfish temptation to hide my pain behind a mourning that would hold off intrusion and the inspiration and stimulus of keeping up to my gallant son’s expectation that I should regard his death as a happy promotion into higher service. Patriotism means such exalted living that dying is not the harder part.”

The insignia which has been chosen by the Women’s Committee is of a kind that can readily be made at home out of whatever material can be procured. The band is to be black and 3 inches wide—the stars gilt, and one for each member of the family who has lost his life in service. These stars may be gold, of gilded metal, or satin, or of cloth. The design will not be patented, and the insignia will never become a commercial article. Dry Goods, Volume 19, July 1918, p. 5

A Jet mourning brooch, c. 1880s

A Jet mourning brooch, c. 1880s

A return to a Victorian insignia of mourning was also suggested.

Old-Fashioned Jet Brooch Replaces Crepe.

American Women Join in Move to Discard Mourning Garments.

Now that almost all American women are joining it the movement to help win the war by banishing from the streets the depressing sight of crepe and deep mourning garments, the need is felt for some expressive symbol that shall be the privilege of those bereft by death, whether through the war or through other causes….every woman who feels it a sacrifice to give up her mourning apparel would appreciate some distinguishing symbol the wearing of which would satisfy her own heart.

When the question was being discussed the other day in a room full of women, knitting for the Red Cross, one sweet-faced little woman pointed to a beautiful old-fashioned jet brooch at her throat. “This,” said she, “is my mourning. It is a treasured family heirloom full of dear associations. The members of our family do not believe in mourning apparel, but this brooch represents to me, mourning. It is never worn except at such periods, and is then worn constantly—with all costumes. When I wear this brooch, I am in mourning as truly as though clothed in deepest black.” The idea seems a very beautiful one which may well be passed on. In every family there is some piece of jewelry of this sort beloved because of association with those who have gone before and worthy of being the special symbol of remembrance and a time set apart from worldly pursuits. Oregonian [Portland, OR] 23 June 1918: p. 73

For more information on mourning in the Victorian era, with some notes on the Great War, see The Victorian Book of the Dead.

Mrs Daffodil’s previous Remembrance Day post on the Peerage in mourning is here.

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.

Tommy Atkins is a Fatalist: 1918

Good Luck Charms used by Soldiers in the Great War. The Wellcome Collection.

Good Luck Charms used by Soldiers in the Great War. The Wellcome Collection.

TOMMY ATKINS IS A FATALIST

Many British Soldiers Carry Charms and Keep Mascots; Black Cats Favored.

Behind British Lines in France. The feeling of fatalism is strong among soldiers. Many hold the opinion that “if the bullet is not made for you you won’t be hit.” One soldier boasts that he knows he will come through the war all right, because during his latest battle, a large piece of shrapnel on which he found his own initial fell at his feet.

“It was made for me, all right,” he said, “but it missed the mark, so nothing else can kill me.”

Mascots and luck-bringers of various sorts are numerous in all the armies today. They are of great variety, although perhaps tiny rabbits and black cats made of “lucky” metal are encountered more frequently than anything else. Probably in most cases the lucky charm which a soldier carries is something sent him by his womenfolk in the homeland—a thimble, a ring, or a child’s trinket of some kind that has been passed down in the family as a luck-bringer.

Fear Number Three.

Among soldier’s superstitions, of which the British soldier has his full share, one of the most characteristic is connected with the number three.

“The third time is never the same,” is a proverb among the Irish troops. “The third anything is fatal,” is a common expression among the English country battalions. Soldiers have been known to refuse to take their third leave, feeling certain that it will be their last. A soldier’s third wound is said to be the one which must be most carefully attended to. A development of this same superstition prohibits the lighting of three cigarettes with one match.

Odd numbers, according to the British Tommy, are more likely to be unlucky than even ones, and thirteen is no worse than nine. Friday as an unlucky day has been dethroned, and there is no particular bad luck connected with any day of the week in Tommy’s estimation. Sunday, however, is preeminently a lucky day for battles.

White Heather is Lucky.

The lucky flower, by common consent, is white heather, and a piece properly tucked away inside the hatband is supposed to save the wearer from a fatal wound.

Some regiments regard certain decorations and medals as unlucky, not to the wearer, but to the regiment in general. One very well-known battalion objects strongly every time one of its number is awarded the Military Cross.

As regimental pets, black cats are regarded as the luckiest possession a detachment can have, and the arrival of a stray animal of this color at a gun-pit or dugout is an event of great importance. Everyone is bound to be lucky for some hours at least. To meet a black cat while marching up to the trenches puts every member of the company in the happiest humor. On the other hand, a black magpie flying across the line of march is a bad omen. To hear the cuckoo calling before breakfast is another bad omen.

Idaho Statesman [Boise ID] 20 February 1918: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The Imperial War Museums shared five “lucky objects” from the Great War.

On the subject of regimental pets:

SOLDIERS’ MASCOTS.

Some regiments possess curions mascots. The Royal Fusiliers for the last hundred years have kept a goat as the regimental pet, and the mascot of one of the Lancer regiments is also a goat, which they acquired some years ago in South Africa. This animal went through the Matabele war with the regiment, and though several times under fire escaped without a scratch. The 17th Lancers—the “Death or Glory” boys used to possess a large black bear with white markings, but she became bad-tempered, and so was presented not long ago to the Dublin Zoo. Star 11 September 1919: p. 6

To-morrow is Armistice Day, the 99th anniversary of the end of the Great War, reminding us that many “Tommies,” despite their charms and mascots, were not lucky enough to return.

 

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 Ghost with One Shoe: 1910s

Shoes with cut-steel buckles, c. 1914-17 http://collections.lacma.org/node/228104

When one reflects upon the number of people one meets who lead almost entirely animal lives, can one wonder that so many cemeteries and churchyards are haunted! It was once popularly supposed that only the spirits of suicides and murderers were earthbound, but that idea has long been exploded, and it is now recognized by all who have given the subject any earnest reflection at all that the bulk of hauntings when not due to elementals are caused by the earthbound phantoms of the extremely sensual or even the merely intensely material. The spirits of such people would appear to be attached to the material world they loved through the medium of their bodies, articles of clothing, or any personal effects which act as magnets, and to be either loosened from it and transferred to some other sphere. or maybe annihilated altogether–no one knows–the moment such remains and effects are cremated or otherwise equally obliterated.

This being so, these phantoms would divide their visits between the places containing the objects of attraction, haunting most frequently that spot to which they were most strongly magnetized, in the majority of cases the spot containing their bodies or skeletons, usually a churchyard or cemetery. And as it is so often but a step from the grave to the chancel, a reason may thus be supplied for some, at least, of the occult happenings that are commonly reported as taking place in churches. The cessation of hauntings do not, however, always depend on the destruction of articles; on the contrary, they are not infrequently dependent on their careful preservation and return to the rightful owners, when those owners are either alive or, as it more often, perhaps, happens, dead. Here is a case in point: Rathaby Church until quite recently was haunted by an old lady with a poke bonnet and violet petticoat. The Vicar, The Rev. C. Bodkin, was inveigled one day into confessing that he had seen the apparition on at least three occasions. The first occurrence was as follows: Entering alone into the Vestry one August evening, hot and weary, he sat down, and taking off his boots, which, being new, had blistered him badly, he was preparing to put on a pair of somewhat antiquated “elastic sides” which he kept there, when, to his surprise, he saw standing in front of him a little old lady with a big poke bonnet and a violet silk petticoat. As the bonnet covered the upper part of her face, which she kept rather bent down, and the sunlight was fast fading, the Vicar could not distinguish any of her features saving the chin, which was very prominent, but from her clothes he saw that she did not belong to the parish and accordingly concluded she was a stranger. He felt annoyed that she should have entered without knocking, more especially as he was not in the mood to be disturbed. However, trying to appear as courteous as possible, he hurriedly slipped on his old pair of boots, and rising to his feet exclaimed, “What can I do for you, madam?” There was no reply-only a silence which at once impressed him as being singularly emphatic, if not awe-inspiring. He repeated his question, this time, he admits, not quite so politely: whereupon the old lady slightly lifted her gown, and with a naive gesture, pointed at her feet.

The Vicar, who, no doubt, despite his vocation, was human enough to admire a pretty ankle, following with his eyes the direction indicated, perceived with astonishment she only had on one shoe–a remarkably small patent leather one with a large, highly polished silver buckle. On her other foot was a violet stocking, nothing more.

“Good gracious, madam,” he ejaculated, “you will catch your death of cold. Pray be seated here whilst I go and find your shoe. Where do you think you dropped it?”

He took a step towards her as he spoke, with the idea of helping her into a chair, and his hand was actually within reach of her arm, when she suddenly vanished, and there was nothing in front of him but a bare wall. He was then frightened, for he could not persuade himself that what he had seen was merely an hallucination, and without waiting to complete his toilet, he went into the and waited there till the arrival of the sexton.

Ten days later he saw the same phantasm again. The encounter took place this time during the evening service. The congregation were kneeling down and the Vicar was about to begin the collect when some one laughed, a very malicious and highly disrespectful he-he-he! The Vicar, shocked beyond his senses, instantly stopped, and glancing furiously in the direction of the noise, was on the verge of ordering the offender to quit the Church, when his jaw fell. Looking up at him from almost beneath his very nose were a pair of pale, wide open, luminous eyes, full of an expression of malevolent quizzical coyness, that at once sent his thoughts back to certain queens of the demi-mondaines he used to see, surreptitiously parading the streets, in Cambridge, thirty years ago. They made him so hot and cold all over, he was horribly ashamed–ashamed that his, or as a matter of fact any other church, could hold such things. They must be removed with the utmost precipitation–immediately.

He tried to speak–to tell her to go, but found himself spellbound, hopelessly fascinated. His throat was parched, his mouth all tongue, he could not articulate a syllable, and all the while he was striving his utmost to overcome this condition of helplessness, the eyes kept continually leering at him. As for the rest of the face, it was that of an old, a very old, woman with obviously dyed hair arranged coquettishly in tiny yellow curls on either side of a low, straight forehead. She had neat, regular features, a trifle aquiline perhaps; with a chin that although rather too pronounced now–the inevitable effects of old age–might well have been once full of soft dimples, and beautifully rounded. The teeth even, pearly and glittering, struck the Vicar as far too perfect to be anything but false, though on that score he had no grounds for complaint, as he was in the same plight himself, having long since parted with his own molars, a fact which, however much he tried to persuade himself to the contrary, was the common knowledge of every one in the parish. The figure wore a rich cream-coloured cashmere shawl, from between the folds of which he could catch the gleam of silver buttons and mauve silk; and although the rest of her was hidden by the pew, he knew her at once to be the unknown stranger who had vanished so inexplicably. As he -stared she got up, and, leaving the pew, commenced gliding towards him, holding her violet skirt high above her ankles, and pointing significantly at her tiny feet, one of which was encased in a glittering buckle shoe and the other merely in a stocking.

The Vicar’s heart almost ceased to beat, his eyes swam, his knees shook. God help him, in another second she would be in the pulpit!

In the frenzy of despair he burst the paralytic bonds that had so effectually held him, and stooping down picked up a box of matches and threw it at the old lady. She instantly vanished.

Then the reaction set in. Relief brought hysterics, and in a state of utter collapse the worthy Vicar lolled against the ledge of the pulpit and began to laugh and cry alternately. He was promptly escorted home by a half dozen sympathetic, if somewhat—at least so his wife thought–over-zealous ladies, and the congregation, who, it transpired, had seen nothing of the phantom, attributed his behaviour to an unlimited variety of popular ailments.

The third encounter with the ghost occurred about a year after this incident. It was on St. Martin’s Eve, and the Vicar was preparing to leave the church for the cheerier precincts of the vicarage, where a substantial supper was awaiting him, when a current of icy air suddenly blew into his face, and he found himself confronted by the dreaded figure of the old lady. The enveloping gloom, for there was no other light in the church save that proceeding from the candle the Vicar carried, intensified the lurid glow emanating from the phantom and made it stand out with horrible distinctness. Each line, each feature, were magnified with a vividness that is indescribable, the ultima thule of horrordom being attained in the eyes, which, paler and larger even than before, scowled at the Vicar in the most diabolical fashion.

Paralysed with the suddenness of the vision, the Vicar felt all the strength die out of his limbs; his blood congealed, his hair rose on end. Nor were his feelings in any way mollified when the figure stretched out a long and bony forefinger, and shook it angrily at the floor. The Vicar looked down, and be it to his everlasting credit, blushed-he admitted as much to me afterwards–for whilst there was the same gaudy, shameless buckled shoe on the one foot–on the other there was simply nothing, not even half a stocking. And the abandoned phantom laughed a laugh that set every stone and rafter in the great, gaunt building resonating. When the Vicar looked up again the figure had disappeared. This was the climax. Sooner than, run the risk of incurring another such indignity, the Vicar declared his intention of leaving. One of his most ardent devotees heard of the matter, and in mad desperation wrote to me. Candidly, I never refuse ladies. I am an advocate not merely of woman’s suffrage, but of woman’s participation in everything. I daily visit a lady barber’s, and think there ought to be lady soldiers, sailors, Members of Parliament, dentists, coal-heavers, gutter-rakers and sanitary inspectors.

I went to Rathaby, and although my vigils in the church for three consecutive nights were productive of no ghostly result, the atmosphere of the place struck me as so conducive to occult phenomena that I was quite ready to believe that what the Vicar had seen was subjective and not hallucinatory. Consequently I made vigorous inquiries in the neighbourhood, and at length elicited the information that some forty years before an old lady corresponding to the phantom in the violet petticoat had stayed for the summer in a farmhouse about three miles from Rathaby. Rambling about one morning on the lonely hillsides, she had fallen into a disused quarry and broken her neck.

“I remember quite well,” my informant went on to say, “that when I helped raise her body she had on only one shoe–a shining leather thing with a bright buckle. We could not find the other anywhere and concluded it had got wedged into some crevice.

Her relatives–a nephew and niece–were at once sent for, and at their directions, the old lady was buried in the Rathaby Churchyard in the exact clothes she wore at the time of her death.”

This is all the information I was able to extract from this individual. Another person–a septuagenarian ex-blacksmith–afforded me a great sensation. Leading me upstairs into a tiny bedroom not much bigger than a bathing machine, he approached a worm-eaten chest of drawers, opened it cautiously, and beckoning to me in a very mysterious manner, pointed to an object that lay in one comer. It was a small patent leather shoe with a large silver buckle and Louis heels. A more rakish-looking affair I had never set eyes on.

“I found that,” he said in a hoarse whisper, “in the quarry where the old lady broke her neck. It had got wedged into a hole. You may have it for a trifle.”

I gave him five shillings and brought away the giddy article.

My next step was to find the grave of the old lady, in order that the missing shoe, which I suspected was the origin of the haunting, might be returned to the rightful owner. But here an unexpected obstacle presented itself. The Vicar foolishly declared he could not sanction the opening of the coffin without permission of the old lady’s relatives. As this permission could not be for the simple reason that the relatives were not traceable, all further investigations ceased, and I came away highly incensed.

The third night after my return home, between 2 and 3 a.m. there was a violent knocking at my bedroom door and on opening it–very reluctantly, I admit–to see who was there, I perceived a shadow on the moonlit wall opposite-the shadow of an old lady with a poke bonnet. For some seconds I stood and watched it anxiously. Then I fetched the shoe and gently threw it at the spectre. It vanished, but from along the passage, down the narrow winding staircase, and from the hall beyond there came the clearly unmistakable tappings–the sharp resounding tap-tap-tap of a fast, a joyfully fast, receding PAIR of Louis heels.

The front door slammed–a neighbour’s dog howled–a church clock sonorously thundered two—and all was still. From that night, neither in my house nor in Rathaby, has the ghost been seen again.

The Occult Review June 1913: pp 310-314

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Even in death, ladies understand the importance of fine foot-wear. There is an ancient Greek ghost story about a husband haunted by the ghost of his dead wife, who appeared wearing only one sandal. She angrily told him one of her sandals had fallen off and not been burnt on the funeral pyre–hence her barefoot condition. He immediately ordered a lavish new wardrobe, including several pairs of expensive sandals and had the garments burned, which placated his ghostly wife.

This narrative, by the way, comes from Mr Elliott O’Donnell, a popular “ghost-hunter” of the early 20th century. Despite his assurances that he never refuses the ladies, he exhibits a strong misogyny in his work, manifesting here in his unpleasant insinuations about the character of the Louis-heeled ghost. If dyed hair and violet stockings were a crime, Mrs Daffodil knows a number of ladies who would find themselves in the dock.

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.

 

Black Cat Tales: 19th century

It is, Mrs Daffodil is reliably informed, “Black Cat Day.” In examining her scrap-books of past posts, she realises that it is a theme she has returned to again and again.

So, in celebration of subfusc felines, Mrs Daffodil presents

The Black Cat Horror

Guts, The Ghostly Sailor Cat

The Black Cat Elemental

A Funeral for a Theatrical Cat

Murder by Cat

And, from that feline-friendly person over at Haunted Ohio: Le Chat Noir: Vengeful Cat Tales.

If you are fortunate enough to have a black cat in possession of your home, do set out an extra bowl of cream and some fresh catnip for the honoured guest to-night.

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.