Category Archives: Death

A Skull for a Bonnet: 1896

 

a brooklyn woman whose bonnet is a skull

It is once again “World Goth Day,” a time to celebrate the dark, the decadent, and the black-garbed—although, frankly, Mrs Daffodil tries to quietly exemplify those qualities year-round.  And what better way to celebrate than with a superlative example of morbid millinery?

A SKULL FOR A BONNET.

A BROOKLYN WOMAN HAS THE MOST SENSATIONAL HEAD COVERING IN THE WORLD.

A Brooklyn woman is the proud possessor of the most gruesome headgear ever seen atop of a feminine head. She is proud of her curious bonnet chiefly because it is unique, and the consciousness that it cannot easily be duplicated by her envious sisters adds not a little to her feminine joy.

About a month ago the lady’s husband, a well-known physician of the City of Churches, took home a human skull, which the woman laughingly placed on her head, saying: “How is this, John for a stunning effect?”
“By Jove!” replied the husband, “the effect certainly is stunning. But the authorities would arrest you if you appeared on the street in that sort of head-dress.”

There the matter dropped. But the wife, full of a new idea, had the skull carefully cleaned and polished and, with a deftness known only to the hands of woman, fashioned an affair of skull, feathers and ribbons which, when completed, was as original an arrangement as one could imagine.

“It will make a great sensation,” said the lady of the skull bonnet to a horrified woman friend. And she was right, for wherever the grinning death’s-head, in its downy bower of feathers and ribbons, is seen it causes people to gape in utter amazement. The woman’s audacity is admired by the men, but roundly condemned by the women.

Still, the lady of the skull bonnet is quite indifferent to the criticism of either sex. To be sure, it is only on very especial occasions that the hideously pretty headgear is worn abroad, and then it is generally at night.

You may imagine the surprise of the woman’s husband when he first saw the very practical use to which his wife had put the skull he so innocently brought home. He remonstrated with his wife but to no end, for she contended with true womanly logic, that if it considered proper to wear the dead bodies of birds as a means of decoration, why should not a mere skull be just as properly employed for an artistic effect?

Even so convincing an argument failed to alter the view of the do tor, and he has gone so far as to offer his wife a splendid new bicycle if she will cast aside her queer headgear and don something more conventional. But the bonnet is still in readiness for my lady’s first walk abroad, and will be until she accepts her husband’s munificent compromise.

The St. Louis [MO] Post-Dispatch 11 October 1896: p. 28

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil rarely wonders at the morbid vagaries of the human race, but she is pursing her lips dubiously about the strict veracity of the tale above. The lady and her well-known physician husband are not named and the image does not convince us it is anything more than a portrait drawn from the artist’s fancy. One wonders if it was merely a satire about the hyperbolic hat styles of the late nineteenth century?

On the other hand, medical students and physicians, quite aside from their proclivities for stealing corpses and treating dissection-room subjects with levity, were known for some very grisly fancies, such as turning human remains into articles such as shoes, tobacco pouches, jewellery, tobacco jars, and drinking vessels. So one cannot entirely rule out the possibility of a skull being casually brought home by a physician. And the late nineteenth century was known for some decadent entertainments, such as the Cabaret du Néant, where the waiters dressed as undertakers and patrons sat at coffin-shaped tables, drank from skull-shaped cups, and watched Death-themed floor shows.

Surprisingly, the term “skull bonnet” was a well-known millinery term. For example:

A fashion writer refers to  “the ugly old skull bonnet we used to see during the war.” in The Weekly Era [Raleigh NC] 8 October 1874: p. 2

A small skull bonnet of straw, the crown surrounded with flowers, is worn with this [spring morning] costume.” (spring morning costume)

The Huddersfield Chronicle and West Yorkshire Advertiser 5 May 1881: p. 4

Tiny skull-cap bonnets are mentioned in The Graphic [London, England] 29 April 1893: p. 20

And in other advertisements we see “French Skull Bonnets” [1897]; Silk Skull Bonnets [1906] and the phrase is used to describe the 1920’s cloche: “The modern skull-tight bonnet” [1924]. The term seems simply to mean a bonnet with a tight-fitting crown.

Mrs Daffodil would be delighted to see proof that this was a genuine lady with a taste for truly macabre millinery.  And she wishes those who celebrate it a happy World Goth 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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A Mother’s Ghost Visits Her Child: 1870s

1870s mother and child

A PLEASANT GHOST STORY

Supposed Visit of a Dead Mother to Her Child

A rather a queer story is told and can be vouched for by over a dozen persons in Springfield. It appears about three years ago a young man living in Summit got married, and in due time his wife gave birth to a child, which was a girl. When the child was about one year old the mother died. About five months later the young widower became lonely and took unto himself another wife. But before doing so he took all his first wife’s clothing, packed it in a trunk, locked it up, and allowed no one to have charge of the key but himself. Among the clothing put away was her wedding shawl and a pillow his wife had made for her first-born, and also some toys she had bought just before she died. Then he brought home wife No. 2, who, it is said, made as good a mother as the average step-mothers do. Things went on lively till one night last week, when there was a party at the next neighbor’s house. So, after putting the babe in its little bed, the father and mother No. 2 went over to spend the evening at the party. Shortly after they left, two men came along on their way to the party also. They saw a wonderful light in the house as though it might be on fire. They also heard the cries of the babe, as though in great pain. They went to the house, and as soon as they reached the door the light went out, and all was silent as the grave within. They hastened on to the house where the party was and told the man what they had seen and heard in his house as they came by. Five or six men, including the owner of the house, started to investigate the report. When they arrived they found every room and door fast as they were when the owner left. On going inside everything was found to be in its place except the child, which, after a long search, was found upstairs under the bed on which its mother died, covered up with its mother’s wedding shawl and its little head resting on the pillow its mother made for it, sound asleep. Alongside of it lay its playthings. On examining the trunk it was found to be locked and nothing missing except the above mentioned articles. Now, how the things got out of the trunk and the key in the owner’s pocket, and he half a mile from it, and how the child got upstairs, is a mystery. The above may sound a little dime-novelish, but, as, we said before, the facts of the case can be and are vouched for by over a dozen respectable citizens of Springfield.

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 16 September 1878: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is shuddering at the notion of “as good a mother as the average step-mother.” Although there are certainly many splendid step-mamas, it is often the “average” ones–or at least the classic “Wicked Stepmothers”–who end up in the papers and the dock for cruelty.  

That collector of ghostly horrors over at Haunted Ohio previously shared the story above and added an additional fillip:

A Dead Mother Visits Her Living Child—She Sits at Its Cradle and Caresses It.

Correspondence Cincinnati Commercial.

Richmond, VA., Jan. 23.

A strange story is current in certain circles here. About two years ago Mr. A. married. In due time he became a father, but the wife died when the child was a few months old. On her deathbed she exhibited intense anxiety as to the fate of the little one she was to leave behind her, and earnestly besought her husband to confide it, after her death, to the care of one of her relatives. He promised, and, I believe, did for a while let the child stay in charge of the person whom the mother had designated. Some weeks ago, however, Mr. A. again married, and at once reclaimed the child, who as yet had never learned to speak a word, and was unable to crawl. One day this child was left alone for a few moments in its stepmother’s bedroom, lying in a crib or cradle some distance from the bed. When Mrs. A. returned she was amazed to see the child smiling and crowing upon the middle of the bed—In her astonishment she involuntarily asked:

“Who put you here, baby?”

“Mamma!” responded quite distinctly the child that had never before spoken a word.

On a strict inquiry throughout the household it was found that none of the family had been in the room during Mrs. A’s brief absence from it. This, it is solemnly averred, was but the beginning of a series of spiritual visitations from the dead mother. Whenever the child was left alone it could be heard to laugh and crow as if delighted by the fondlings and endearments of someone, and on these occasions it was frequently found to have changed its dress, position, &c., in a manner quite beyond its own unaided capacity.

Finally, as the account is, the first Mrs. A. appeared one night at the bedside of Mr. A. and his second wife, and earnestly entreated that her darling should be restored to the relative whom she had indicated as the guardian of the child on her death bed. The apparition, which, it is declared, was distinctly seen and heard by both Mr. A. and his wife, promised to haunt them no more if her wish was complied with. Both Mr. A. and his wife were too much awe-stricken to reply; but the next day the child was carried back as directed by the ghostly visitant. Such is the story as seriously avouched by the principal parties concerned, who are most respectable and intelligent people, and no spiritualists.

New Philadelphia [OH] Democrat 10 February 1871: p. 2

It’s practically obligatory for the ghostly mother in this genre of story to assert her dominance over her successor or make sure that her children are being properly treated. Even with some advances in obstetrics, women knew that death was a possibility with every pregnancy and anxiety over what would become of their motherless children is a constant theme in death-bed narratives. But perhaps mother-love never really dies.

For a previous story of a ghostly mother who threatened a new stepmother, see this post. That story also appears in The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past

Mrs Daffodil has told the heart-warming story of a ghost-mother who comes to assist her dying boy to the Other Side. And a shiversome tale of a phantom mother’s revenge.

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

A Jockey’s Ghost: 1880s

death and the jockey 1825

With the event known as the “Run for the Roses” scheduled for to-morrow, Mrs Daffodil yields the floor to that perpetual ray of sunshine over at Haunted Ohio, who shares the thrilling story of

A JOCKEY’S GHOST.

He Re-visits the Stables at the Race Course Where the Man was Killed.

 “A dispatch from Rochester, N.Y., dated August 19th, to the Indianapolis News says;”

Some years ago, in a running race at Detroit, Danny Mackin, a jockey, was killed by the horse he was riding making a sudden and vicious bolt and hurling his rider to the ground. When the jockey was picked up a stream of blood was running from a hole in his temple down his cheek and neck, A story has been current among jockeys and stablemen ever since Mackin’s death that his ghost walks at night among race-track stables, the quest of the spectre being presumably the horse that killed the jockey. This story has always been believed by stablemen, and if any ever had any doubt of it they are dispelled now, for the ghost itself was seen by at least a dozen of them at the Washington Driving Park stables one night recently.

The midnight watch of stablemen had come on duty, and the men were lounging in front of the stables, when one of them saw a slim figure in white approaching the stables from a clump of trees on the grounds. The man called the attention of his companions to the object. They all saw it clearly as it glided noiselessly towards the stable. When the apparition came full in the light of the large hanging lamp in the front of the stable and revealed the figure, clad in jockey garb and a face as white as the clothes, with a red streak running from the right temple, down the cheek and neck, like a line of blood trickling down, the stablemen were paralysed with fear. The spectre jockey passed into the stable through the open door. The door leading to the stalls where the racers were was closed, but the ghost kept right on, passed through the door as if it had been opened, and disappeared. One of the stablemen recovered himself sufficiently to think that perhaps this might be a clever trick of some one to get at the horses to do them harm, and he hurried forward and opened the door leading to the stalls, with the intention of preventing any such purpose. Two or three of his companions followed him. The apparition was moving slowly along the stall, stopping an instant at each one and then passing on to the next. The horses seemed to be aware of the mysterious presence. They neighed and plunged and stamped in their stalls as the spectre passed along.

The stablemen were again paralysed by this second vision of the jockey ghost, and stood motionless and speechless at the door. The apparition glided to and paused at every stall in the stable, turned its face for a moment toward the three terror-stricken men in the door, and disappeared as suddenly and mysteriously as it had come. That they had seen the wandering ghost of poor Danny Mackin not one stableman of the midnight watch has the shadow of a doubt.

Oakland [CA] Tribune 17 September 1890: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil does not like to spoil a thrilling yarn, but despite the best efforts of some of the finest scholars of the historical paranormal, the strict veracity of this story has not been confirmed. There are many stories of jockeys dying during races, but to date no actual trace of poor Danny Mackin’s existence, let alone death, has come to light. The fact that the horse and the Detroit racing venue are not named and that various syndications of the tale name Rochester Driving Park rather than Washington Driving Park as the location of the ghost’s walk, suggests that this may be a Victorian “urban legend” rather than the exact truth. Alternately, a prankster may have been at work—ghost-impersonators were a perennial nineteenth-century problem. Still, if true, the story begs the question: What revenge was the phantom jockey prepared to take—indeed, what revenge could a disembodied spirit take—upon the horse that killed him?

 

Other supernatural tales of the race-track: The Jockey Wore Crape, and Hunches and Hearses at the Racetrack.

 

 

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.

Something Advantageous: 1840s

SOMETHING ADVANTAGEOUS;

OR, A FAMILY FRACAS.

I once attended a very poor old man of the name of Jordan, in his last illness. I call him poor, but yet he was not in want, and had about him the comforts of life. When he was near his end, he said to me—

‘Doctor, I want to know the truth from you. I am not in the habit of being flattered by the world. There was a time, indeed, when it ‘fooled me to the top of my bent;’ but that was long ago. Do you not flatter me, but tell me your real opinion. Shall I soon die, or shall I linger on a brief career, in a world I am quite willing to be done with?’

‘You desire me,’ replied I, ‘to be candid with you, and I will. You are on your death bed.’

‘How soon shall I be immortal?’

‘That I can not say. But your hours, so far as human experience can teach me to predict, are numbered.’

He was silent for a few moments, and a slight spasm passed across his face.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘it is the lot of all. I have lived long enough.’

‘Is there no friend or relation, Mr. Jordan,’ said I, ‘to whom you would wish to send? You are here, as you have often told me, quite alone in lodgings. Perhaps you would like to revive some old recollections before you leave the world.’

‘Not one,’ he said.

‘Are you so completely isolated?

‘Most completely. I have tried all relations, and found them wanting. But still I have remembered them, and made my will. It is now between the mattress and sacking of this bed, and Mr. Shaw, the only honest attorney I ever met with, and who resides in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, will carry my intentions into effect I was rich once in early life. How dark a day.’

‘What day?’

‘To-day. How dark and misty it has come over, doctor.’

His sight was going fast, and I felt certain that it would require but little patience, and a small sacrifice of time to see the last of Mr. Jordan.

‘Yes,’ he continued, speaking in an odd, spasmodic fashion. ‘Yes, I was rich, and had many a crawling sycophant about me, many smiling faces at my board; but there came a reverse, and like fair flowers at a sudden frost, my kind friends hid their heads. I was nearly destitute, and thinking and believing that the ties of blood would be strong enough to bind to me, in my distress, those with whom I claimed kindred, and who had been delighted to claim kindred with me, I went to them, a visitor.’

‘And failed.’

‘And failed, as you say. They dropped from me one by one. Some remembered slight offenses; some were never at home; some really thought I must have been dreadfully improvident, and, until they were convinced I had not, could not assist me. Doors were shut in my face—window blinds pulled down as I passed. I was shunned as a pestilence — my clothes were in rags — my step feeble from long want of common necessaries. And then an old school companion died in the West Indies, and left me £20,000, which I received through the hands of Mr. Shaw.’

‘A large fortune! And your relations?’

‘Heard of it, and were frantic. I disappeared from them all. From that day to this, they have not heard of me. Do you love wild flowers?’

‘Wild flowers?’

‘Yes. Here are heaps just from the teeming garden. Look, too, how yon cherub twines them in her hair. The stream flows deep to eternity!’

‘Mr. Jordan, sir,’ I cried. ‘Mr. Jordan, do you know me.’

‘Come hither, laughing, gentle spirit,’ he said, ‘bring with you your heap of floral gems. Yes, I know this is the sweet violet. Mary, my Mary; God knows I love you.’

It was a strange thing but, at the moment the blind of the window, which I had drawn up to the top, came suddenly rattling down, and the room was quite dark. I raised it again, and then turned to the bed,

Mr. Jordan was a corpse!

What a remarkable change had in these few moments come over the old man’s face. The sharp lines of age had all disappeared, and there was a calm, benign expression upon the still features, such as in life I never saw them wear.

‘A restless spirit is at peace,’ I said, as I felt for the will where he told me it was placed, and found it. It was merely tied up with a piece of red tape, and addressed to Mr. Shaw, 20, Lincoln’s-Inn Fields; so I resolved to trust no other messenger, but to take it in my hand myself. I told the landlady of the house that her lodger was no more; and that she would no doubt hear immediately from his solicitor, and then I left.

‘Well, Mr. Shaw,’ I said, after I had mentioned to him the manner of Mr. Jordan’s death, ‘here is the will, sir, and I presume I have nothing further to do than to thank you for your courtesy, and bid you good evening.’

‘Stay a moment,’ he said. ‘Let me look at the document. Humph! a strange will. He leaves the form of an advertisement here, which is to be inserted in the morning papers, calling his relations together, to here the will read.’

‘Indeed!’

‘Yes, Well, I shall, as I see I am named trustee, do as he wishes. He states that he is very poor.’

‘Why, he spoke to me of £20,000.’

‘Did he really? A delusion, sir, quite a delusion. £20,000! He had that amount twenty-five years ago. But, sir, as you have attended him, and as I happen to know he had a high opinion of you, I should like you, as his friend, to be with me, as it were, in future proceedings connected with his will!”

‘In which there is a mystery, eh! Mr. Shaw!’

‘A little—perhaps a little bit of post mortem revenge, that is all, which I am not now at liberty to descant upon. But I will take care to coincide with you, and I shall hope that you will follow the old fellow to the grave.’

I promised that much, and duly attended the funeral. It was a quiet, walking affair, and from the manner of it I felt quite convinced that there were not funds to make it otherwise. A mound of earth alone marked the spot in the little church-yard at Barnes, where Mr. Jordan slept the sleep that knows no waking. A drizzling rain came down. The air was cold and eager, and I returned home from the funeral of Mr. Jordan, about as uncomfortable as I could.

o o o o o o

The next day the following advertisement appeared in a morning paper, and caught my eye as I sat at breakfast:

‘If any of the relations of Mr. John James Jordan, deceased, will call at the office of Mr. Shaw, 20, Lincoln’s-Inn Fields, they will hear of something advantageous.’

I made up my mind to call upon Mr. Shaw during the day, and about three o’clock, I reached his chambers, or rather I reached the stair-case leading to them, and there I had to stop, for it was quite besieged by men and women, who were all conversing with great eagerness.

‘What can it mean?’ said an old woman; ‘I’m his aunt, and of course I speak for my Ned!’

‘Well, but bother your Ned,’ said a man, ‘he hardly really belongs to the family. I’m his brother. Think of that, Mrs. Dean.’

‘Think of what, you two-legged goose?’

‘Pho, pho,’ said another man, ‘I knew him very well. I’m his cousin. Hilloa! what’s this? Who are you?’

A woman in tattered garments, but who still looked like a beautiful one, stood hesitatingly at the foot of the stairs.

‘Is this Mr. Shaw’s?’ she said. ‘Hush, Mary, hush! don’t my dear.’ ‘But I am hungry, mamma,’ said the little girl, who was holding her by a handful of her dress.

‘Oh, Mary—do not dear; we—we shall soon go home. Hush, dear, hush, hush! Is this Mr. Shaw’s?’

‘Yes,’ said a fat woman, ‘and who is you, pray?’

‘I—I saw an advertisement. I am his aunt Grace’s only child. My name is Mary Grantham. This is my only child. She—she is fatherless and has been so for many a day,’

‘What,’ cried a man, ‘are you the Mary he broke his heart about?’

‘Broke his fiddlestick,’ said the fat woman.

‘Good God, do I live to hear that!’ exclaimed the woman with the child.

‘You had better go up to the solicitor at once,’ whispered I. ‘Come, I will show his door,’

I made a way for her through the throng of persons, and we soon reached the chamber.

‘Here is another of Mr. Jordan’s relations, Mr. Shaw,’ said I, ‘I find you have had quite a levee.’

‘I have indeed, doctor. You must come at twelve o’clock, next Monday, madam, when the will of Mr. Jordan will be read by me to all around.’

‘I thank you, sir.’ She was about to leave the chambers, when I interposed.

‘Pardon me, madam,’ I said. ‘But as I was the only person with Mr. Jordan, at the time of his decease, I wish to ask you a question. If I mistake not, your name was the last that passed his lips. ‘Mary, my Mary,’ he said, ‘God knows that I loved you!’

She sank into a chair, and burst into tears.

‘You, then,’ I added, ‘are the Mary whom he loved. Ah, why did you not, if you can weep for him now, reciprocate the passion?’

‘I did love him,’ she cried; ‘God knows, and he, who is now with his God, knows how I loved him. But evil tongues came between us, and we were separated. He was maligned to me, and I was wearied by entreaties and tears, until I married another. She, who has turned me from him, and severed two hearts that would and should have been all the world to each other, confessed the sin upon her death-bed.’

‘Who was it?’ said Mr. Shaw.

‘His mother! From no other source could I have believed the tales I was told. But I did not then know enough of the world to think that there were mothers who could malign their own children. We were

Separated–my husband died, leaving me that last little one, of many. We are very, very poor—no one will help us—an acquaintance showed me the advertisement, and urged me to come—it was a false hope. But I find that there are strong arms and brawling tongues below, that I can not contend against.’

‘Never mind that,’ said the solicitor; ‘it is my duty to read the will on Monday, and as a relation it is your duty to attend at the same time. I tell you to have no expectations.’

I saw Mr. Shaw try to slip some money into her hand, and I saw a crimson flush come over her face as she said, ‘We can still work:’ and then, fearing she had been harsh to one who wished to be kind, she shook his hand in both of hers, and said. ‘God bless you, sir, I thank you from my heart.’

Bang, bang! came to the door of the chamber, a minute after Mary had left, and upon its being opened, a man of about six and thirty made his appearance.

‘Something advantageous!’ he gasped, for he was out of breath; ‘what—what is it? Give it me, give it me! How much? Good God, don’t let any body else have it. I’m his youngest brother—give it to me.’

‘If you will attend here at 12 o’clock on Monday, the will will be read.’

Bang, bang, bang!

‘I’m thoroughly besieged,’ said Mr. Shaw; ‘now, madam, who are

you?’

‘Something advantageous,’ screamed a masculine looking woman;

‘I’m a relative—what is it? Come on, my dears. Here’s my five dear daughters, and my baby—come along.’

‘Be off with you,’ cried the younger brother.

‘Did you speak to me, you wretch,’ said the lady, and she planted a blow in his face that made him reel again. ‘Take that; I know you are a sneaking hound; you used to be called the chimpanzee in the family, you poor, scorched-up-looking bundle of cat’s-meat.’

Several more arrivals now took place, and poor Mr. Shaw was fairly bewildered. Sounds of contention arose on the staircase—shrieks from family combatants came upon our ears, and finally, I advised Mr. Shaw to paste a placard on the outer door of his office, on which was written,

‘The will of Mr. Jordan will be read here on Monday next, at twelve o’clock, precisely.’

The riot gradually subsided. The evening came on, and all the relations of the deceased had been and gone. Mr. Shaw and I supped together, and I promised to be with him punctually at twelve o’clock on Monday, for I was as curious as anybody could be to hear the will read, and at all events, anticipated a bustling scene upon the occasion. I was not doomed to be disappointed.

o o o o o

It is a habit of mine rather to be too soon than too late, and in the present instance I found it a most useful one, for I really almost doubt if I should have got into the chambers of Mr. Shaw at all, if I had been later than I was.

I had fairly to push Mrs. Mary Grantham in, despite a vigorous opposition; and a man stopped my own entrance, crying—

‘Who are you? What relation are you?’

‘His grandfather’s uncle,’ said I; ‘and if you don’t make way I’ll pull the nose off your face.’

It was well that Mr. Shaw occupied very spacious chambers, or otherwise he could not have accommodated one-half of the persons who came to the reading of the will; and never in all my life did 1 sec such malignant looks pass from one to another, as shot from the eyes of the relations. It was a most pitiful picture of human nature.

‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ said Mr. Shaw; ‘ahem! ahem!’

There was a death-like stillness.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, I am commissioned to read to you the—the —what shall I call it?—it is hardly a will—of the late Mr. Jordan. No, it certainly ought not to be called a will, for a will, properly speaking, is a testamentary—”

‘Read, read, read!’ cried a dozen voices.

‘Well, ladies and gentlemen, I am glad to see you are all in respectable mourning.’

‘Except one,’ said the younger brother; ‘there’s his Mary, that he was so fond of. Oh, dear me! she only comes for what she can get.’

Mrs. Grantham burst into tears. There was a little shabby piece of black crape upon her arm, and another upon the arm of her child.

‘I—I could not,’ she said; ‘ I could not do more. God help me! I had not the means!

‘Read, read, read!’ cried all the voices.

‘Ahem!’ said Mr. Shaw, reading; ‘I, John James Jordan, being very poor, and having in vain called upon every relation I have in the world, for assistance, and found none, have to state that my heart was filled with bitterness and uncharitableness toward them. But still I think that they are not dead to all feeling; and this being my last will and testament, I desire that my debts, amounting to the sum of one pound, three shillings, and eight pence, be paid forthwith of my estate; that my funeral be strictly private, in Barnes churchyard, where I last parted with one whom I loved, but who has gone abroad, I am told; and to that one of my relations who will erect a tombstone, I bequeath—

‘Hark! will you!’ cried one; ‘be quiet. Go on—yes, yes. Oh: you wretch, where’s your feelings! Go to the devil!’

‘Really, ladies and gentlemen,’ said I, ‘this is most indecorous.’

‘I bequeath,’ continued Mr. Shaw, ‘my dying blessing and forgiveness.’

Mr. Shaw then folded up the will and put it into his pocket, saying— ‘I wish you all good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I sold the few clothes and other matters he died possessed of, and paid for the funeral, and his debts; being myself minus one shilling and four pence, which I hope you will some of you pay.’

It is quite impossible by any words to fairly depict to the reader the appearance of Mr. Jordan’s relations at this moment. If the fabled Gorgon’s head had suddenly appeared, and transformed them all to stone, they could not have looked more completely paralyzed and panic-stricken.

‘A tomb-stone!’ shrieked twenty voices. ‘A tombstone!’

‘A tombstone!’ said Mr. Shaw. ‘A small one would not cost much. You could put on it a suitable inscription. Here lies—’

‘Lies here—never mind,’ said the brother. ‘Never mind. I—I—Oh, that’s all, is it.’

‘You are a humbug,’ said the masculine woman to Mr. Shaw, ‘and so was old stupid Jordan.’

‘Go to the deuce, all of you,’ shouted another; ‘a tombstone indeed.’

Mr. Shaw was wiping his spectacles.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to add,—’

‘Oh, stuff, stuff! Bother! A tombstone indeed; I shan’t stay another moment. An old thief. I wish a tombstone had been down his throat. Come on! Come on! It’s all a do.’

‘But, ladies and gentlemen.—’

They were quite deaf to the remonstrances of Mr. Shaw, and in a few moments the chambers were quite clear, with the exception of Mrs. Mary Grantham, who was sobbing bitterly. She then rose, and looked at me hesitatingly. Then she looked at Mr. Shaw, and she seemed to be struggling to say something. She placed her hand in her bosom, and drew forth a ring tied to a black ribbon, and then, with a convulsive effort she spoke.

‘This—this ring—it is my only valuable possession. It was given to me thirty years ago, by him who is now no more, my cousin John, who loved me. I have clung to it in pain and in sorrow, in difficulty and in distress; I have never parted with it. I seemed to be but only separated from him while I had it near my heart. But now, great distress forces me—to—to part with it. Will—will neither of you gentlemen buy it of me. I—I shrink from its going into the hands of utter strangers.’

‘Humph!’ said Mr. Shaw; ‘there are a couple of sovereigns for it.’

She took the money, and then, after one long, lingering look, and a fervent kiss at the ring. she laid it on the table. and tottered from the place. I was about to follow her, but Mr. Shaw held me back.

‘Hold! hold!’ he said.

‘You are a brute sir,’ said I. ‘Take your hands off me; I will buy the ring of you and give it back to her. It breaks her heart to part with it, I see,’

‘I shan’t part with it,’ he said; ‘you are a very hasty man, doctor.’

I was very angry, and bounced out of the office. I looked eagerly about for Mrs. Grantham, but could not see her. I walked hurriedly across the square, and as chance would have it. I went in the same direction she did. My first impulse was to speak to her, and my second thought was to follow her, and to see where she went. She crossed Holborn, and traversed some of the long streets that lead into the New Road, where she arrived at last, and finally paused at a stone-mason’s yard.

I could have shed tears at that moment, for now I felt why she had parted with her cherished ring. She stayed about a quarter of an hour at the stone-mason’s, and then she came out and walked slowly away. I did not follow her further, but I went into the mason’s yard, and said to him—

‘Did that lady give you an order?’

‘Why, yes, sir, such a one as it is. She has got me to do a stone for two pounds, and she’s paid me. I’m to meet her at the churchyard at Barnes to-morrow morning at nine o’clock with it. and put it up. It’s only to have on it the name of John James Jordan. and under that. ‘God bless him.’

I walked away with a sort of mist before my eyes, and it was an hour before I recovered my composure. ‘I will meet her,’ thought I, ‘at the grave of her last love, and I will be a friend to her, if she never have another in the world. She shall have her ring again, if I force it from the lawyer. She shall have it. I’ll go and get it now, at once.’

I suppose I looked in a very tolerable passion when I got back to Mr. Shaw’s chambers, for he got behind a table when he saw me, and said— ‘Come, come, no violence.’

‘Hark you, sir,’ said I; ‘you have got the ring. There’s your money. Give it me directly, sir. Mrs. Grantham, poor thing, is going tomorrow morning, at nine o’clock, to place a stone at the grave of Mr. Jordan, and I intend to be there and give her her ring.’

‘Oh! very well. Bother the ring. I don’t want it. It ain’t worth half the money I gave for it. There it is; don’t bother me.’

I took up the ring, then put down two sovereigns, and casting upon him a withering look, which, to tell the truth, he did not seem much to care about, I left the chambers.

o o o o o

A soft. damp, white mist covered up all objects, and made the air uncommonly raw and chilly, as on the following morning, just as the clock of the church at Barnes chimed the three-quarters past eight, I entered the churchyard.

The first thing I then did, was to fall over somebody’s grave, for I was looking for Mrs. Grantham, instead of minding where I was walking; and then a voice said—

‘There you go again, as violent as usual, doctor;’ and in the dim mist I saw Mr. Shaw, the solicitor, to my great surprise.

I was going to say something, but at the moment I was nearly knocked down again, by some one brushing past me. A gleam of sunshine came out, and the mist began to clear away, when a most singular scene presented itself. A few yards off was the grave of Mr. Jordan, and kneeling by it was Mary, his first love. with her child by her side. Mr. Shaw stood to my left, and at his feet there knelt a respectable looking young man—I recollected him as Mr. Shaw’s clerk.

“Good God! Richards,’ said Mr. Shaw, ‘is that you? What is the matter?’

‘Oh! sir,’ said Richards. ‘I have come to ask your forgiveness. The spirit of my poor old father stood by my bedside all night. Oh, God! oh, God! it was dreadful; and I knew what it was for. Oh! sir, forgive me. I—I peeped into the will, sir, while you went out to dinner—Mr. Jordan’s will—and—and I went round to all the relations, and sold the secret for two pounds a-piece, and—and—’

Mr. Shaw gave a jump that astonished me.

‘Doctor, doctor,’ he shouted; ‘for God’s sake run down the London road and bring the man with the gravestone. Oh! good gracious. Oh! d——n yon, Richards. Ha! ha! ha! Oh! here he is. Oh! bless you for a prudent stone-mason; you shall get well paid for this job. Hip! hip! Hip!—hurrah!’

I thought, to be sure, that Mr. Shaw must have gone mad. There was a man looking over the railing of the church-yard, with a spade on his shoulder; to him Mr. Shaw said—

‘Five guineas for that spade.’

The man thought he was mad, and tried to run away; but he dropped the spade; and in another moment Mr. Shaw’s coat was off, and he was digging away like fury.

‘Where’s the stone!’ he cried: ‘bring the stone. That’s right. Poke it in—prop it up. That’s the thing—all’s right. Here we are. Another knock. All’s right—all’s right.’

‘Lor!’ said the stone-mason, as he lifted up his hands; ‘look there!’

I looked in the direction he indicated, and there, to my astonishment, I saw arriving, carts, coaches, cabs, and wheel-barrows, and each containing a tombstone. A regular fight ensued at the entrance of the churchyard; and engaged in the fight I recognized the relations of Mr. Jordan. Heavens, how they cuffed each other!

‘Hold!’ cried Mr. Shaw; ‘you are all too late, although you had information you ought not to have had. There is already a stone on Mr. Jordan, and placed, too, by the only one who knew not what you all know. Listen to the conclusion of the will—‘And to that one of my relations who will erect a tombstone to my memory, I bequeath my blessing and forgiveness, and eighty thousand pounds in bank stock.’ ‘Madam,’ to Mrs. Grantham, ‘I congratulate you.’

‘And there’s your ring.’ said I; ‘Mr. Shaw, let us shake hands; I understand you now.’

‘Ha! ha!’ said Mr. Shaw, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, you had better all of you keep the tombstones for yourselves. You can get the name altered, for if you don’t, I’m very much afraid you will not find them

SOMETHING ADVANTAGEOUS.’

The Cincinnatus, Vol. 1, 1857: pp. 31-40

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil does so like a happy ending…. Except, possibly for Mr Shaw’s clerk, who will, it seems likely, lose his situation.  And possibly for the greedy relatives, although, to be fair, tombstones can be easily altered or even re-sold to recoup their losses. One predicts that some of the tombstones will be soon needed, as Mr Jordan’s volatile relations succumb to chagrin-induced apoplexies.

 

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.

Why is the Cat Uncanny?: 1912

fairies riding cat 1894 McDonald Phantasies

Fairies riding a cat, 1894

In various parts of Europe (some districts of England included) white cats were thought to attract benevolently disposed fairies, and a peasant would as soon have thought of cutting off his fingers, or otherwise maltreating himself, as being unkind to an animal of this species. In the fairy lore of half Europe we have instances of luck-bringing cats—each country producing its own version of Puss in Boots, Dame Mitchell and her cat. Dick Whittington and his cat. It is the same in Asia, too; for nowhere are such stories more prolific than in China and Persia.

To sum up then,—in all climes and in all periods of past history, the cat was credited with many properties that brought it into affinity and sympathy with the supernatural— or, if you will, superphysical—world. Let us review the cat to-day, and sec to what extent this past regard of it is justified.

Firstly, with respect to it as the harbinger of fortune. Has a cat insight into the future? Can it presage wealth or death?

I am inclined to believe that certain cats can, at all events, foresee the advent of the latter; and that they do this in the same manner as the shark, crow, owl, jackal, hyaena, etc., viz. by their abnormally developed sense of smell. My own and other people’s experience has led me to believe that when a person is about to die, some kind of phantom, maybe, the spirit of some one closely associated with the sick person, or, maybe, a spirit whose special function it is to be present on such occasions, is in close proximity to the sick or injured one, waiting to escort his or her soul into the world of shadows—and that certain cats scent its approach.

Therein then—in this wonderful property of smell—lies one of the secrets to the cat’s mysterious powers—it has the psychic faculty of scent—of scenting ghosts. Some people, too, have this faculty. In a recent murder case, in the North of England, a rustic witness gave it in her evidence that she was sure a tragedy was about to happen because she “smelt death in the house,’’ and it made her very uneasy. Cats possessing this peculiarity are affected in a similar manner—they are uneasy. Before a death in a house, I have watched a cat show gradually increasing signs of uneasiness. It has moved from place to place, unable to settle in any one spot for any length of time, had frequent fits of shivering, gone to the door, sniffed the atmosphere, thrown back its head and mewed in a low, plaintive key, and shown the greatest reluctance to being alone in the dark.

This faculty possessed by certain cats may in some measure explain certain of the superstitions respecting them. Take, for instance, that of cats crossing one’s path predicting death.

The cat is drawn to the spot because it scents the phantom of death, and cannot resist its magnetic attraction.

From this, it does not follow that the person who sees the cat is going to die, but that death is overtaking some one associated with that person; and it is in connexion with the latter that the spirit of the grave is present, employing, as a medium of prognostication, the cat, which has been given the psychic faculty of smell that it might be so used.

But although I regard this theory as feasible, I do not attribute to cats, with the same degree of certainty, the power to presage good fortune, simply because 1 have had no experience of it myself. Yet, adopting the same lines of argument, I see no reason why cats should not prognosticate good as well as evil.

There may be phantoms representative of prosperity, in just the same manner as there are those representative of death; they, too, may also have some distinguishing scent (flowers have various odours, so why not spirits ?); and certain cats, i.e. white cats in particular, may be attracted by it.

This becomes all the more probable when one considers how very impressionable the cat is—how very sensitive to kindness. There are some strangers with whom the cat will at once make friends, and others whom it will studiously avoid. Why? The explanation, I fancy, lies once more in the Occult—in the cat’s psychic faculty of smell. Kind people attract benevolently disposed phantoms, which bring with them an agreeably scented atmosphere, that, in turn, attracts cats.

The cat comes to one person because it knows by the smell of the atmosphere surrounding him, or her, that they have nothing to fear—that the person is essentially gentle and benignant. On the contrary, cruel people attract malevolent phantoms, distinguishable also to the cat by their smell, a smell typical of cruelty—often of homicidal lunacy (I have particularly noticed how cats have shrunk from people who have afterwards become dangerously insane). Is this sense of smell, then, the keynote to the halo of mystery that has for all times surrounded the cat—that has led to its bitter persecution—that has made it the hero of fairy lore, the pet of old maids? I believe it is— I believe, in this psychic faculty of smell, lies wholly, or in greater part, the solution to the riddle—Why is the cat uncanny!

“Cats and the Unknown,” Elliott O’Donnell The Occult Review December 1912

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil really must take issue with the Great Ghost-hunter O’Donnell. It is axiomatic that if there is one person in the room who is highly allergic or antipathetic to cats, it is into the lap of that person which a cat will leap. Mrs Daffodil has never seen it fail.

That said, the idea of a spirit having a particular odour, like a flower, is a diverting one. One elderly American gentleman was queried by a “psychic researcher” after he divulged that he had smelt a ghost. He retorted “You ask me how ghosts smell. They smell like ghosts—that’s all I can tell you. How you speck they smell?”

Mrs Daffodil is fond of cats and does not consider them uncanny in the least. However, Mrs Daffodil is reminded by Mr O’Donnell’s assertion that cats can scent the approach of death of the handsome and remarkably prescient Oscar, who has foretold fifty to one hundred deaths at a Rhode Island nursing home and even has his own “Facebook” page.

Some other stories of uncanny cats are What the Cat Saw, The Cats Came Back, The Black Cat Elemental, Murder by Cat, and The White Cat

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

A Lover’s Ghost: 1880s

A LOVER’S TRYST

By A.G.A.

The following may interest those who, like Hamlet, think “there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy!” I have set down a plain and simple statement of facts, for the absolute truth of which I can vouch, as I was one of the two persons who, through the medium of the table, obtained them at first hand.

Some years ago I was living in a central part of the S.W. district in London. The numbers of the houses were even on the one side and uneven on the other. I lived on the even-numbered side, and on the opposite side, only a little lower down, lived a friend whom I saw nearly every day. If I called about tea-time and found her out, I was sure to be told “Mrs. West would be back for tea, and that I was to wait.” I was then shown into the drawing-room, and would take up a book or paper to amuse myself with till her return, my companion being a pretty little pug belonging to Mrs. West. Very often, whilst reading, I would suddenly feel that there was a Presence in the room, and this feeling was so strong that I felt it impossible to shake it off, and would get up and examine every nook and corner to see if any one had come into the room and was hiding for a joke, but t never found any one, and would sit down again, still with the feeling of some one being near me. The little dog shared this feeling, for she would spring up on my knee whining and shaking from head to foot, her coat bristling, and exhibiting every sign of terror! I would pat her and say “We are a pair of geese to feel nervous when there is no one here!” On my friend’s return, I would laugh and say: “This is an uncanny room, for I feel sure some one comes into it, but I cannot see who it is!’’ One day I was dressing to go out when a note was brought up to me ; it was from Mrs. West, to say that she wished to see me particularly; if I had no other engagement, would I dine with her that evening? I sent an answer in the affirmative, and at 7.30 I walked across to her house. I found Mrs. West and her cousin, Mrs. Meade, who was visiting her, both in the drawing room. The former said: “I am so glad that you were able to come this evening, I expect you are wondering why I want to see you so particularly, but not a word till after dinner.”

When we had settled down again in the drawing-room and pulled our chairs nearer the fire, Mrs. West said: “Now for my story! Grace (her cousin) and I had been out shopping, and we came home at one for lunch. We both came upstairs together, and I was just turning into my bedroom, which, as you know, is behind this drawing-room, and Grace was going up to her room, when I saw my housekeeper, Mrs. Brown, as I thought, pass between us on the landing, and walk straight into the drawing-room. I wanted to see her particularly, so saying: ‘Oh, Mrs. Brown, you are the very person I want to see,’ I turned back from my bedroom door and followed her into the drawing room. The room was empty. I looked everywhere, but no, not a sign of any one. Then I wondered if I had made a mistake and if it was Grace who had gone into the room. I stepped out, and going to the foot of the staircase, I called out: ‘Grace, did you go into the drawing-room just now?’

“‘No.’ came the reply, ‘but Mrs. Brown did! Did you not see her pass between us, when we were outside the drawing room?’

“I did not answer, but when my cousin and I met at lunch, she said— ‘Was there anything wrong? Because I fancied from the tone of your voice that there was!’

“I then told her of my speaking to Mrs. Brown and following her into the drawing-room only to find the room empty. She was astonished and said: ‘But I saw her!

“‘So did I,’ I replied, ‘but no one was in the room!’ I then made up my mind to ask you to come to dinner this evening, for I knew you would be much interested.”

I told Mrs. West that I was indeed interested, and should much like to find out who had gone into the room, and I continued— “I have told you more than once that II have felt a Presence in this room!”

We then resolved to see if the table, which had often rapped out things, could throw any light on this subject. Mrs. West and I put our hands on the table, and Mrs. Meade sat by, paper and pencil in hand, ready to write every word down.

After waiting a little time, the table began its communications. It stated that the figure which had appeared was that of Louise D—–. At the time of the Indian Mutiny [c. 1857], she had come to this house to take leave of her lover, George S—–, who had been ordered off with his regiment to the seat of war. It was their last meeting, for he was killed; and every year she returned to revisit the scene of their last farewell.

We were immensely interested in this, and Mrs. West asked a military friend if he could find out anything about George S—–. He hunted through the records and found that an officer bearing this name had been in the regiment named by the table, and had actually been killed at the place mentioned.

Two years passed away, and we thought no more about this incident, when one day I got a message, asking me to go and see my friend. This was in the afternoon. So I went about five o’clock. She was brimming over with excitement, and exclaimed, “You will be so interested to hear what I have to tell you!” “You know that Mrs. Thompson has been staying with me, and has been taking lessons in wood-carving at South Kensington. This morning we went out and came in at one o’clock for lunch. She went upstairs first, and I was following. Presently I heard her say: ‘Oh! Mrs. Brown (the name of the housekeeper), you must not go down till you have seen my carving!’ I said, ‘Mrs. Brown is not there.’ ‘Oh!’ said Mrs. Thompson, ‘you did not see, but she went into the drawing-room?’ We both went into the drawing-room, but it was empty. I at once recollected what had occurred two years previously, and looking over my note-book I found that this was the same hour of the same day of the same month on which the figure had been seen by my cousin and myself.

“Louisa D—– had come back to keep her tryst.”

The Occult Review September 1905: p. 140-42

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil confesses herself somewhat puzzled by this story. By this time Louisa D__ should have pined herself to death and been ecstatically reunited in the Afterlife with George S__.   And if she was still alive, surely a kindly note could have been dispatched to the bereaved lady, suggesting that she cease her astral-projection–so distressing to the the lawful current tenants.

Mrs Daffodil wonders about the status of George S__ in this spectral drama: did he also return to the drawing-room—but at the wrong time because of the different time zones, thus missing the tryst? Or was he waiting somewhere else—tapping his foot impatiently on the platform at Paddington Station, when he should have been at King’s Cross?  Or—unromantic thought!—was he so absorbed in the attractions of the Afterlife—perhaps the excellent cigars and whisky Oliver Lodge‘s late soldier son Raymond mentioned—that he had entirely forgotten his erstwhile Beloved?

Mrs Daffodil has heard from the footmen who sometimes watch “ghost-hunting” shows on the television, that certain individuals simply do not know that they have died and need to have the news tactfully broken to them so that they can “go to the light” or something of the sort. One tactic is to tell the lingering spirit that the Beloved is waiting for them so that they will “move on.” Mrs Daffodil is surprised that the narrator did not try this approach, although one wonders what awkwardness would have ensued if George S__ ,  absorbed in a game of billiards with a whisky-and-soda at his elbow, refused to be summoned from the ranks of the Blessed to keep a tryst with his Louisa.

 

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.

Nero’s Ghost: 1885-1905

tomb of nero Piranesi c 1745

The Tomb of Nero, Giovanni Battista Piranesi c. 1745 https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/the-tomb-of-nero/GAE_RpRhWJ-twQ

For the Ides of March, a Roman ghost story about the notorious Emperor Nero.

The early history of [Santa Maria del Popolo] is a strange one. After the suicide of Nero in A.D. 68, the Senate expressed its loathing of his character by a decree of Memoriae damnatio, and by prohibiting his interment in the Mausoleum of Augustus, the burial-place of the Caesars. His body was therefore interred by his mistress Acte and two faithful servants in the Tomb of the Domitii on the Collis Hortulorum, or Pincian Hill. But even here the unquiet spirit of Nero found no rest. Many centuries after, the people of Rome were affrighted by shrieks as of tortured souls and ghostly apparitions, which were seen at nightfall in the woods and thickets of the Pincian slopes, so that, as the Monkish chronicler says, “No man dared pass that way for fear of what he might hap to see and hear.” In their trouble the people appealed at last to the Pope Paschal II., who was Pontiff at the time when these ghostly visitations reached their climax ; and he, advised in a dream by the Virgin herself, went in procession with all the Cardinals and Arch-priests of Rome to the haunted spot, and there, with his own hands, sawed down a certain walnut-tree, which had been the centre of the ghostly sights and sounds; this he did regardless of the demons, who with roarings like that of lions strove to terrify the holy Father. Under this tree the body of Nero was found– cause of all the hellish riot—and on this very spot Paschal II. laid the foundation of the high altar of a church dedicated to the Virgin, under the name of Santa Maria ad Portam Flaminiam.

This happened in the year 1099….

The name S. Maria del Popolo, by which this church is usually known, was given to it from the fact that it was founded to relieve the terrors of the people, and built, partly at least, by a public subscription. That the story about its origin is not a mere popular legend, but a solemnly accredited tradition of the church, is borne witness to by a large inscribed slab in the pavement of the retrochoir.

The Portfolio: An Artistic Periodical, Vol. 16, Philip Gilbert Hamerton, editor, 1885: pp. 118.

Those roaring “demons,” seem to have been an infestation of crows roosting in the walnut tree.

There, at the northern gate of the city, where the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo now stands, was once the tomb of Nero. Over it grew a great walnut-tree, and in its branches multitudes of crows were wont to caw and chatter, unmindful of the travellers who passed in and out through the gate below. In the closing days of the eleventh century, Pope Paschal the Second had a dream, which told him that these evil-omened birds were demons, waiting upon the detested spirit of the Roman emperor, who came out at night and wandered on the Pincian, attended by the unclean brood. To lay Nero’s uneasy ghost, the Pope tore down the remnants of the tomb, scattered his ashes, and built upon the spot a church to the Blessed Virgin, with money collected from the common people, hence ” del Popolo,” — of the people, — a name which has since been given to the piazza and the gate as well. But the demon crows, driven from Nero’s walnut-tree, moved higher up the Pincian, and it is supposed that Nero’s ghost still wanders here, for the crows are yet in evidence, and why should they remain if their master spirit has departed?

Rome, Vol. 1, Walter Taylor Field, 1905 : p. 27

Ms Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is, of course, the Ides of March, a day of several religious rituals for the ancient Romans and best-known for being the fateful day of Julius Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC. There is no record of Caesar haunting the site of his death or appearing to his assassins, but somehow the phrase “Great Caesar’s Ghost!” entered the lexicon as an expression of frustration.

“Great Nero’s Ghost!” might have been a more accurate catch-phrase.  The wicked Emperor Nero, whose name is a byword for the decadence and excess of the Roman Emperors, did not rest easily in his tomb. There were legends persisting for centuries that he did not, in fact commit suicide, but had fled to a far country and (like our King Arthur) return in the Empire’s time of need. He also seems to have been—and rightly so—concerned about his post-mortem reputation:

The spirits of the worst of the Roman Emperors were, as we should expect, especially restless. Pliny tells us how Fannius, who was engaged upon a Life of Nero, was warned by him of his approaching death. He was lying on his couch at dead of night with a writing-desk in front of him, when Nero came and sat down by his side, took up the first book he had written on his evil deeds, and read it through to the end; and so on with the second and the third. Then he vanished. Fannius was terrified, for he thought the vision implied that he would never get beyond the third book of his work, and this actually proved to be the case.

Greek and Roman Ghost Stories, Lacy Collison-Morley, 1912

Nero was known for his sensitivity to criticism. He had an army commander executed for imprudent remarks about the Emperor at a private party and exiled a politician who wrote a book critical of the government. And he thought highly of his own talents to the bitter end. It is said that Nero’s last words were “What an artist dies in me!”

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.