Category Archives: Death

The Banshee of the Fitzgeralds: 1760s

An Irish Ghost Story

By Kate Bell

The tale I am about to relate is strictly true. It was told to me by a young lady whose grandmother, or grandaunt, or great-grandmother, had been the heroine. I am not quite certain which of the three, but it was some ancestress or relative. I wish to be particular on this point, because I know how much more interesting it must make the story.

About 60 years ago then—more or less (I know it must have been a long time ago because there were rebels in Ireland then) armed bands of men, most absurdly called ‘Whiteboys,’ though they were full-grown villains of the blackest die, roamed over certain districts of Ireland, doing all the mischief they could, burning houses, shooting men, ill-treating women and children, rousing Catholics against Protestants, tenants against landlords, and, in fact, everybody, who had nothing, against everybody who had anything. The special objects of the Whiteboys’ hatred were the landed proprietors. These persons were not at that time greatly to be envied. Inheriting, for the most part, heavily mortgaged estates, they inherited also a talent for spending money, far beyond any capacity for gathering it. When, at last, their tenants refused to pay any rent at all, and the excited state of the country made it dangerous to attempt to force them, why, the result was that the majority of the ‘landed gintry’ of Ireland found themselves finally ‘landed’ in the ‘Encumbered Estates Court.’

Mr Fitzgerald was a landed proprietor, who lived at Kilbally-something House, near the small country-town of Ballykillsomething else; (the final syllable does not matter much in these Irish names). Although a Protestant, Mr Fitzgerald had hitherto lived on amicable terms with his tenantry. He was known to be a just and kind-hearted man, and besides, (which was of much more importance in the eyes of the Irish poor) he came of a ‘rale ould family,’ a family of sufficient dignity to possess a ‘Banshee’ of its own. Therefore although the majority of the tenants had ceased to pay any rent, they were forbearing and generous enough not to shoot their landlord, and, as long as he ‘kept quiet,’ did not mean to do him any harm. So the wives of the poorer tenants still went up to the kitchen of the big house for a chat, and still resorted to ‘the misthress’ when they needed help, or medicine, or a word of good advice, the latter two, however, being much oftener asked for than taken.

A few years before the (unknown) date of my story, Mr. Fitzgerald had married Annie O’Byrne, the daughter of a neighbouring country gentleman. Many men envied him the prize, for Annie was one of the belles of the county and as good as she was pretty. Picture her to yourselves, my readers if you can! for she is the heroine of this tale, generous, bravo, and witty, impulsive, loving, and loveable; in fact, a perfect specimen of that most charming of all feminine creatures, the true Irish lady. Annie had been brought up almost entirely in her own native county, the only exception being two seasons spent at a fashionable boarding school in Dublin. There was one branch of her education not attended to at that boarding school. This neglect, afterwards turned out to be of the greatest use to her, as we shall see. In her early childhood, Annie had learnt from the nurses aid servants who surrounded her, many of the wild legends and superstitions of her native country and many also of its touching ballads. Possessing a vivid imagination and retentive memory, she could, in later years relate some wild story of the district in such a manner as to thrill her auditors with pleasing horror, or sing some touching Irish ditty till tears came to their eyes but her special talent lay in imitating the mournful ‘keen’—that heart-breaking wail of the Irish mourner.

Mrs. Fitzgerald was of course a great favourite amongst the tenants, both on her father’s and husband’s estates. Her intimate acquaintance with their habits and modes of thought, and her knowledge of their native language gave her great influence. Her ready sympathy in their troubles quite won their hearts, those warm and loving Irish hearts, which yet often so cruelly belie themselves under the evil influences of ignorance–and superstition!

Ballykil——-House was situated on a terrace commanding a lovely view of the surrounding country. The lawn studded with clusters of Arbutus and Hydrangea, and bordered by two fine avenues of Elm and Ilex, sloped gradually down till it reached the high road, beyond which, stretched an undulating plain, where the fields and hedges glistened with that vivid green, so peculiar to the Emerald Isle.

Ballykil__ House was a large and comfortable mansion though, (like many of the Irish country houses of that time) standing much in need of repair. The sitting-rooms were all on the ground floor, and so also ware the kitchens and servants offices, The latter lay at the back of the house, and were reached by a long passage, having been built out from the main edifice. The old-fashioned vaulted stone floored kitchen had three large windows on each side, looking out on the one hand, into the glen before mentioned, and on the other into the shrubbery. The windows had no shutters, but were crossed by two or three iron bars, an unusual precaution in those days, for burglary was not a vice of the Irish peasantry, nor even petty theft. Upstairs there were the sleeping rooms of the family and servants. Mr. Fitzgerald’s domestic establishment had been greatly reduced since the real troubles had begun, and consisted at present of only three female servants and one man, the latter acted as groom, gardener and general messenger.

One summer evening, Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald were sitting on the terrace in front of their house, admiring the glories of the sunset rays gilding the fair scenes before them, and discussing the state of affairs in general and the state of their own district in particular.

‘ How happy we are,’ said Mrs. Fitzgerald ‘to be so quiet and peaceful here.’

‘Long may it last!’ replied her husband, ‘but there are floating rumours, that the Whiteboys have been seen in the neighbourhood, and if so; farewell, to peace!’

‘I do not think they would do us any harm at any rate,’ observed Annie, ‘for none of our people would join them, we are not rich enough to tempt an attack for the sake of plunder, and I do not think there is one man in the district, who harbours ill-feeling or revenge against us.’

‘You forget Con Bourke,’ answered Mr. Fitzgerald; ‘I was obliged to turn him out as he had not paid rent for three years; he was thoroughly bad, or I might have left him alone, but I found he was spreading mischief and persuading the tenants not to pay any rent, vowing vengeance. I have never ventured to eject another tenant since.’

‘But you know dear, Con came from another part of the country,’ remarked Mrs. Fitzgerald eagerly ‘he was not one of our own people and besides that, he is gone to America.’

‘I hope so, but I doubt the fact,’ replied her husband, ‘and if the Whiteboys should ever attack us I fancy we shall have to thank Con Bourke. But who is this coming up the avenue?’

As he spoke, a man appeared, riding in haste. On reaching the house, he dismounted and handed Mr Fitzgerald a letter. Annie, watching her husband while he read saw his face grow suddenly grave and anxious. He turned quietly, however, to the messenger saying, ‘Take your horse round to the stable for a feed, O’Hara, and send Jerry here to me.’ Only when the man had disappeared did Mr Fitzgerald relieve his wife’s curiosity. ‘This is a letter from the High Sheriff, my dear Annie, calling on me to repair at once to the town, both as a magistrate and as an officer of militia, to assist in keeping order and to protect the inhabitants against an expected attack by the Whiteboys. The militia has been called out in the immediate neighbourhood already, Sir George says.’

Annie turned pale, for danger threatened her husband. ‘And how does Sir George know of this attack?’ she asked. ‘He has received an anonymous communication, informing him that a large band of rebels intend entering the town to-night, where they expect to be joined by a number of malcontents. Their object is to seize the gaol, and burn it down after having set free the prisoners, especially that last batch of rebels. However, I must go at once, but I cannot bear to leave you here alone, Annie I don’t know what to do.’

‘I am not in the least afraid,’ replied Annie, bravely. ‘You know I am quite safe amongst our own people, and as the Whiteboys will be occupied with the attack on the town there is no fear of them. I am far more anxious about you, my dear husband, who are going into danger. However it is your duty to go at once, and I will not keep you back by my foolish fears.’

‘You should have been the wife of a soldier, my dear,’ said her husband, kissing her, and while Mrs Fitzgerald went into the house to make some preparations for his departure, Mr Fitzgerald gave his orders to Jerry, who now appeared breathless with excitement.

‘Bring round the car at once, Jerry, put on your uniform and load your gun, there may be fighting in store for us. The Whiteboys are expected in the town to-night.’ Jerry grinned with delight at the prospect of a shindy, for he was a soldier in his master’s regiment of militia.

In less than a quarter of an hour the car was at the door, and master and servant, both, armed, but with large top boots concealing their uniforms, mounted one on each side, and away rattled the old jaunting car down the avenue. ‘God bring you back safe to me again, darling,’ had been Annie’s last words as she had been bravely struggling to  keep back the tears that would glisten in her eyes as she bade good-bye. As Mr Fitzgerald looked back up the avenue to wave a last farewell, he saw his wife still standing on the terrace. The last rays of the setting sun were falling on her sweet face and crimsoning the long curls of her hair tossed back from her brow, as she held one child high in air to kiss its hand to papa, and the other child clung timidly to her dress. Mr. Fitzgerald never forgot that scene, for his wife’s hair was grey ere she stood on that terrace again.

When the car had disappeared Mrs Fitzgerald went into the house and occupied herself busily till night came on; determined not to give way to her sorrow and anxiety. The elder of the two children, little Aileen, had. been feverish and restless during the day and her mother determined to keep the child with herself for the night. Before retiring to rest, Annie drew back the curtains of her window, and looked out. The wind had risen, and heavy masses of cloud swept across the sky, obscuring at intervals the light of the newly risen moon. All seemed quiet in the direction of the distant town, and breathing one more prayer for her husband’s safety, Annie lay down to sleep. An hour or two later Aileen awoke, and became more and more restless in spite of the medicine and cooling drink administered by her mother, till finding sleep impossible, Mrs Fitzgerald rose and throwing on a long white dressing-gown, sat down in aa armchair by the bed-side, prepared for a night watch. After a time little Aileen cried for more ‘nice drink,’ but there were no more lemons in the room so Annie, giving the little girl the last drop left in the tumbler, told her to be quiet and be a good child while mama went to fetch some for her. Then, drawing back the curtains that the child might see the moonlight, Mrs Fitzgerald took the candle and left the room.

Having descended to the dining-room, and finding no lemons on the sideboard, Annie suddenly remembered that there were some in a pantry which opened off the kitchen, and at once she hurried there to get them. As she left the dining-room a draught, by the shutting of the door, blew out her candle.

‘This is unfortunate!’ said Annie to herself ‘especially as I have no matches. However, it is moonlight so I can grope my way to the kitchen where I shall find both matches and candles on the chimney piece.’ So leaving her own candle on the Hall table, she hurried down the long dark passage leading to the kitchen. Mrs. Fitzgerald had told her husband truly that she was not afraid, for personal fear had really never crossed her mind, and her only personal anxiety was lest the child should become frightened at her long absence.

On opening the door, Annie found the kitchen almost in total darkness. Only a few streaks of light only, lay across the floor, the moon being half obscured at the moment. The rest of the floor was darkened by heavy shadows from the shrubbery. As she groped her way to the chimneypiece Mrs. Fitzgerald for the first time, experienced a sensation of awe and loneliness, aptly turned eerie and this feeling increased when, after searching on the chimneypiece (where, she knew the cook always kept her matches, she could find none. She was still standing in the deep black shade thrown by some shrubs across the upper end of the kitchen, when the moon suddenly emerged, bright and clear, from behind the clouds and all the floor before her lay in one broad expanse of soft and silvery light, crossed by bars of shadow.

Delighted at the sudden change Annie looked up, and out of the barred windows, looked up—and saw at every window human faces—faces, that looked white and ghastly in the moonlight, pressed against the bars, fierce eyes that seemed to be piercing that corner of black shadow where one white speck appeared—faces that were cruel, coarse and brutal! eyes that haunted Annie to her dying day.

The shock was so great, that for one instant her heart and brain seemed turned to stone, she could not breathe or stir. Then, like a lightening flash, the whole truth burst upon. her. ‘The Whiteboys the cruel Whiteboys they will kill us all! they will burn down the house,’ but then the first thought of the woman’s heart was ‘my children ! Oh god! save my children,’ and in that brief moment an agonized though silent prayer went up to Him. who, heareth in the time of trouble.’ But she must act as well as pray, and what can she do? Poor Annie! surely terror must have driven her mad! Loosening the knot of her black hair till it fell in waving masses to her waist, throwing her arms above her head,  and there clasping and wringing her hands and uttering one long low wail of agony she suddenly emerged into the light. Those hardy men were terror stricken at the sight; some with a cry of horror turned and fled, others hid their eyes and whispered to their companions behind them; for fast as those faces disappeared from the windows others took their place, at first incredulous, but soon on all there came the same blank look of awe and dread. Truly they saw a weird sight!

What was that ghostly, awful figure wandering up and down, and round and round that gloomy vaulted room, keeping her lonely watch at dead of night. White feet gleaming on the cold stone floor, white garments floating to the ground! Pale hands, now folded patiently upon her breast, now wrung as if in bitter agony! A white and ghastly face! whose fixed blue eyes gazed at them, with such a wild and mournful, but yet stony gaze, that the bravest amongst that murderous band, shuddered as they looked: and ever and anon, there rang out upon the breathless silence, that shrill and mournful keen, that wailing deathsong which thrills the Irish heart.

What could this be but the Banshee?—the ‘Banshee of the Fitzgeralds!’ that sad spirit who appears only to announce the approaching death of one of that family which she loves and guards; and who mourns bitterly over the fate which she alone foresees, but has not power to avert. Woe to the man, who disturbs that spirit in her night watch or who interrupts her ‘keen’ of sorrow

There were amongst those men however, some more determined and less superstitious than the rest, and although even they, dared not enter the house which that spirit walked, yet they said ‘Let us wait a while perhaps she will disappear soon, and then we must make haste, seize what we can, and burn the house down.’ And Annie heard them!

The band retreated to the glen, from whence two or three of the boldest returned at intervals to look in; but the spirit walked still! still wept and wailed, and wrung her hands only each time they came, the wail was lower and feebler, the step slower and more solemn. At last the boldest gave way, and came no more. For the Irish peasant will face danger in any earthly form, but let the terror take a ghostly shape and he is the veriest coward! With gloomy fears and lowered voices, the baffled Whiteboys slowly slunk away and disappeared down the glen.

Annie Fitzgerald unfortunately, did not know that the men she feared had gone at last, and she still dreaded their return. It was past midnight when she had left her room that night, and now the clock was striking three. The moon sank down below the verge of the horizon, but a faint light still lingered on the sky, and so the Banshee walked still! near to the windows, where the glimmer of her white garments might be seen; only the wail had ceased at last. The voice was gone indeed she walked mechanically now. The faint red gleam of early dawn appeared. The chirping of the awakening birds sounded from the shrubberies. Slowly, oh, how slowly, the blessed light of day crept up the eastern horizon, bringing release to a brave weary creature whose strength was well-nigh exhausted. Then, only, did Annie feel that she was saved. She knew that the Whiteboys dare not wait for daylight, and so, casting one last shuddering look at those barred windows, she left the kitchen, and walked steadily down the long passage. When she reached the foot of the staircase, strength failed her, brave Annie gave way at last and fell senseless on the floor. There the servants found her a short time afterwards. Roused by the crying of little Aileen, the nurse had run down to her mistress’ room, where she found the child alone, crying out for her mama who she said had left her ‘such a long long time ago.’

Fortunately little Aileen must have fallen asleep immediately after her mother had left the room, and had not awakened till daylight appeared. Nurse calling down the other servants, immediately went in search of her mistress, and was horrified to see the white heap lying at the foot of the staircase. They carried Annie to her bed, and tended her lovingly till her husband’s return a little later, when he found his wife, whom he had left so bright and well, senseless and speechless Immediately Jerry was despatched for the doctor and also to bring the parents of Mrs. Fitzgerald, who lived a few miles away. The servants could give no reason for the condition in which they had found their mistress, and all seemed most mysterious. Presently, however, the cook ran up to say that there were numerous footsteps outside the kitchen, as if a number of men had come up from the glen and returned thither. Mr Fitzgerald at once suspected that the Whiteboys, instead of attacking the town made their way to his house, and that the letter to the sheriff had been only part of a plot to mislead him and others; for no alarm or attack had occurred in the town during the past night. Before the doctor arrived Mrs Fitzgerald recovered consciousness sufficiently to relate with tolerable clearness what had happened. This enabled her husband to send messages to the town giving information as to the direction the band had taken their steps having been traced after leaving the glen.

Very brief was poor Annie’s gleam of intelligence; she soon relapsed into unconsciousness again, and a severe illness followed. For weeks she lay in brain fever, struggling with dreadful phantasies, haunted incessantly by those faces and eyes, and wailing on monotonously that dolorous ‘keen’ she had often practised in her merry childhood, but which now wrung the hearts of the loving watchers by her bedside learning, as they did, from her ravings, all the concentrated agony which she had endured on that dreadful night. But if the wife had prayed earnestly for her husband in his hour of danger, so now his prayers for her were answered; and Annie recovered to be more than ever the beloved wife, mother, and daughter, and in addition to become henceforward the heroine of the county.

The long hair which had played its part was shaved off during her illness, and when Annie’s locks grew again, they were grey. But some thought this only added to the beauty of the sweet face, which, had grown more thoughtful and grave then of yore. Many years passed ere Mrs Fitzgerald could be persuaded to relate her story to any but her husband. As the terror and suffering of that night passed away in the past, she would occasionally, however, tell the tale to some of her children and dear friends at their very earnest request.

It seemed to her, she said, as if in immediate answer to her prayer for help, that thought had come into her mind. By a sudden inspiration, knowing as she did the superstition of the Irish poor, and knowing how mysterious and ghostly she must appear in that lonely room at dead of night, she had acted—for the very last time in her life—the part of Banshee and strength had been mercifully given her to bear a mental strain for three long hours, which might well have driven her mad.

Soon after Mrs Fitzgerald’s recovery, the band of Whiteboys, which had threatened Kilbally—— House, was captured by two and threes, having dispersed about the country. It appeared that Con Burke, inspired by revenge, had induced them to attack his late landlord’s house, informing them that there were plate and jewels of great value in the house (an invention of his own) and rousing their indignation against Mr. Fitzgerald as a ‘tyrant’ Landlord and, a ‘heritic.’ As those Whiteboys were all from a different part of Ireland, they believed him, their only aim indeed, being plunder and destruction. All the men acknowledged the terror they had felt at sight of the ghost!

Most of the prisoners wore transported. Only a few of the greatest criminals amongst them suffered death, but from that time, the district remained quiet and Mr. Fitzgerald enjoyed many happy years in peace with the noble woman whose courage had saved to him his wife, his children, and his home.

Auckland Star, 27 May 1876: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  While this story was published in the 1870s, the “Whiteboys” protested the injustices of landlords in the 1760s. The authoress, with a romanticised view of the Irish countryside, voices some unfortunate common prejudices about the “superstitions” of the “peasants,” as well as a bit of dismissiveness for the lower orders.

The “keen” or caoine was the Irish funeral lamentation uttered at wakes and funerals. It was, indeed, heart-breaking. Here is an early 20th-century description:

The cries of lamentation usually take the form of questions which are asked in a half-singing, half-reciting and sobbing voice. “Mo cushla machree (pulse of my heart), why did you die from me ? Wasn’t it you that was the best of husbands and fathers, giving joy to all that knew you, and wouldn’t those that love you go through fire and water to save a hair of your head from being hurt ? ” The piercing wail of a mother for a favourite son is most heartrending to hear. “Ah, Michael, mo ville astore (my ten thousand treasures), sure your like was not to be found on all the broad acres of Ireland, and your death has cast a shadow on the country that no sun will ever disperse.”

The Banshee or Bean Sidhe is the Irish death messenger. She may appear as an old woman washing the bloody clothes of the soon-to-be-dead or as a younger woman with long red hair. She keens or wails in the manner of Irish mourners, announcing an imminent death.  The Fitzgeralds as well as the O’Neills, the O’Donnells, and the O’Briens, were among the ancient families of Ireland said to have their own personal banshees. It was said that the banshee might even cross the water to wail for members of those families who had sailed to America.

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 Touching Tribute to a Wife: 1872

A Touching Obituary

A disconsolate husband [who also happens to be the editor of a local newspaper] thus bewails the loss of his wife, and apostrophizes her memory:

Thus my wife died. No more will those loving hands pull of my boots and part my back hair, as only a true wife can. No more will those willing feet replenish the coal hod and water pail. No more will she arise amidst the tempestuous storms of winter, and gladly hie herself away to build the fire without disturbing the slumbers of the man who doted on her so artlessly. Her memory is embalmed in my heart of hearts. I wanted to embalm her body, but I found I could embalm her memory much cheaper.

I procured of Eli Mudget, a neighbor of mine, a very pretty gravestone. His wife was consumptive, and he had kept it on hand several years, in anticipation of her death. But she rallied that Spring and his hopes were blasted. Never shall I forget the poor man’s grief when I asked him to part with it. “Take it, Skinner,” said he, “and may you never know what it is to have your soul racked with disappointment, as mine has been!” and he burst into a flood of tears. His spirit was indeed utterly broken.

I had the following epistle engraved upon her gravestone: “To the memory of Tabitha, wife of Moses Skinner, Esq. gentlemanly editor of the Trombone. Terms three dollars a year invariably in advance. A kind mother and exemplary wife. Office over Coleman’s grocery, up two flights of stairs. Knock hard. ‘We shall miss thee, mother, we shall miss thee.’ Job printing solicited.”

Thus did my lacerated spirit cry out in agony, even as Rachel weeping for her children. But one ray of light penetrated the despair of my soul. The undertaker took his pay in job printing, and the sexton owed me a little account I should not have gotten any other way. Why should we pine at the mysterious ways of Providence and vicinity? (Not a conundrum.) I here pause to drop a silent tear to the memory of Tabitha Ripley, that was. She was an eminently pious woman, and could fry the best piece of tripe I ever flung under my vest. Her pick-up dinners were a perfect success, and she always doted on foreign missions.

Camden [NJ] Democrat 27 April 1872: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A touching tribute, indeed. It is not just any woman who can fry tripe to perfection, although Mr Skinner is ambiguous about whether the tripe was within his person or tucked under the vest until he could feed it to the dog.

Widowers were a pathetic lot. Sometimes they would go to any length to procure a monument for their lost loved one.

A Sorrowing Widower

A fellow living on the Indiana shore of the Ohio river, near Vevay, Indiana, having recently lost his wife, crossed in a boat to the Kentucky side, visited a grave yard there and stole a tombstone, which he placed over the remains of his lamented better half. Public Ledger [Philadelphia, PA] 19 June 1860: p. 1

This widower was late to the party, but better late than never…

THE TOMBSTONE

Meant a Good Deal and He Wanted It Right Away.

[New York Journal]

A countryman entered the office of a dealer in monuments.

“I want a stone to put at the grave of my wife,” he said.

“About what size and price?”

“I don’t know. Susan was a good woman. A trifle sharp, mebbe, at times, but she was a good woman and never got tired of working. Just seemed to sort of faded away. She brought me a tidy sum when I married her, and now I want to put up a stone that her children and me kin be proud of.”

“Did she die recently?” asked the dealer, sympathetically.

“Not so very. It will be five years next month. I thought to put up a stone sooner, but I’ve been too busy. Now I’ve got around to it, and want one right away.”

“Well, here’s a book of designs. Select what you think will suit you.”

“I don’t know much about such things, and you are in the business. I’d rather you would take $50 and do the best you can. I want sumthin’ showy. I’ll tell you how it is, and then you’ll know the kind. I want to marry the Widder Scroggs, and I heerd she said that I was too mean to even put a stone at the grave of my first wife, when she brought me all of my property. Put a stone that will catch the eye of a wider and write a nice verse on it. If $50 ain’t enough and you are sure a little more will help me with the wider put it on, and I’ll make it right soon as I marry her. She’s got a heap of property, and while it seems a lot of money to put in a stone, I reckon the chances are with it.” And the sorrow-stricken widower paid $50 and inquired where he could get a present cheap that would suit a widow. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 21 November, 1896: p. 12

Such little attentions to a late wife’s grave did not go unnoticed:

A Kansas woman fell in love and married a widower for no other reason, so she said, than that he took such excellent care of his first wife’s grave. Kansas City [MO] Star 2 April 1924: p. 26

One might do worse than to use a widower’s care-taking qualities as a benchmark when choosing a mate, although bedding plants and granite or slate slabs require a good less attention than a wife.

You may read more about widowers, tombstones, and mourning in The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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 Astor Library Ghost: 1860

ghost-book-popups

A Haunted Library.

The New York Post gives the story of an apparition as seen in the Astor Library, by the Librarian, Dr. Cogswell, and as related and believed by the Doctor. The Post says:

To understand the circumstances of this remarkable apparition the more fully, the reader should remember that Dr. Cogswell, the efficient librarian, has been for some time engaged in the compilation of a complete catalogue of the library. Dr. Cogswell is an unmarried man, and occupies a sleeping apartment in the upper part of the library, the janitor residing in the basement. It is the rule of the library to dismiss visitors at sunset, and during the evening and night no individual besides Dr. Cogswell and the janitor and his family remain in the building. Dr. Cogswell devotes hour of night that should be given to repose, to the pursuance of his work on the catalogue.

Some two weeks ago Doctor Cogswell was at work as usual on the catalogue. It was about eleven o’clock at night, and having occasion to refer to some books in a distant part of the library, he left his desk, took his candle, and, as he had often done before, pursued his course among the winding passages towards the desired spot–But before reaching it, while in an alcove in the southwest part of the older portion of the building, he was startled by seeing a man, respectably dressed in citizen’s clothes, surveying a shelf of books. doctor supposed it to be a robber who had secreted himself for the purpose of abstracting some of the valuable works in the library; after stepping back behind a partition for a moment, he again moved cautiously forward, to catch a glimpse of the individual’s face, when to his surprise he recognised in the supposed robber the features of a physician (whose name we forbear giving) who had lived in the immediate vicinity of the library, and who had died some six weeks ago! It should be borne in mind that this deceased person was a mere casual acquaintance of Dr Cogswell, not an intimate friend, and since his death .Dr. Cogswell had not thought of him.

But the apparition was in the presence of a man not easily scared. The librarian, so far from fainting or shrieking, as might reasonably be expected, calmly addressed the ghost:

“Dr. __,” said he “you seldom, if ever, visited this Library while living. Why do you trouble us now when dead?”

Perhaps the ghost did not like the sound of the human voice; any way, it gave no answer, but disappeared.

The next day Mr. Cogswell thought over the matter, attributed it to some optical delusion, and in the evening proceeded with his work as usual. Again he wished to refer to some books, and again visited the southwestern alcove. There again as large as life, was the ghost, very calmly and placidly surveying the shelves, Mr. Cogswell again spoke to it:

“Dr. __, said he, “again I ask you why you who never visited the Library while living, trouble it when dead?”

Again the ghost vanished: and the undaunted librarian pursued his task without interruption. The next day he examined the shelves before which the apparition had been standing, and by a singular coincidence found that they were filled with books devoted to demonology, witchcraft, magic, spiritualism, &c. Some of these books are rare tomes, several centuries old, written in Latin, illustrated with quaint diagrams, and redolent of misticism; while the next shelves are their younger brethren, the neat spruce works of modern spiritualists, of Brittan, Davis, Edmonds and others. The very titles on these books are suggestive. These are the Prophecies or Prognostications of Michael Nostradamus, a folio published in London in 1672; de Conjectionibus; Kerner’s Majikon; Godwin’s Lives of the Necromancers; Glanvil on Witches and Apparitions; Cornelius Agrippa; Bodin’s Demonomania; Lilly’s Astrology and others, a perusal of any which would effectually murder the sleep of a person of ordinary nerve for at least half a dozen nights. It was these volumes that appeared to attract the apparition.

The third night Mr. Cogswell, still determined that the shade, spirit delusion or effect of indigestion–whatever it might be–should not interfere with his duties, again visited the various books to which he wished to refer to, and when occasion demanded, did not fail to approach the mystic alcove. There again was the apparition, dressed precisely as before, in a gentleman’s usual costume, as natural as life, and with a hand raised, as if about to take down a book. Mr. Cogswell again spoke–“Dr. __.,” he said boldly. “This is the third time I have met you. Tell me if any of this class of books now disturb you? If they do I will have them removed.”

But the ungrateful ghost, without acknowledging this accommodating spirit on the part of its interrogator, disappeared. Nor was it seen since, and the librarian has continued his nightly researches since without interruption.

A few days ago, at a dinner party at the house of a well-known wealthy gentleman, Mr. Cogswell related the circumstances as above recorded, as nearly as we can learn. As above eighteen or twenty persons were present, the remarkable story of course soon spread about. A number of literary men, including an eminent historian and others, heard the recital, and though they attributed Mr. Cogswell’s ghost-seeing to strain and tension of his nerves during the too protracted labors at the catalogue, they yet confess that the story has its remarkable phases. Both Mr. Cogswell and the deceased physician were persons of a practical turn of mind, and always treated the marvelous ghost stories sometimes set afloat with deserved contempt. And, as they were not at all intimate, it will be at least a curious question for the psychologist to determine, why the idea of this deceased gentleman should come to Mr. Cogswell’s brain and resolved itself into an apparition, when engaged in dry, statistical labors, which should effectually banish all thoughts of the marvelous.

Acting on the advice of several friends, Mr. Cogswell is now absent on a short trip to Charleston, to recuperate his energies.

Holmes County Republican 12 April 1860: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The Astor Library ghost caused quite the stir: sensation-seekers flocked to the library to see, if not the ghost, the place where it had appeared, and Dr Cogswell.

Burleigh, the New York correspondent of the Boston Journal, in his last letter to that paper, writes:

Dr. Johnson said: “Say that a house in London has the plague, and all London will go and see it.” I have spent a few days at the Astor Library. It is quite amusing o see the crowds drift in to see the place where Dr. Cogswell saw the ghost of Dr. Post. Ladies, especially, come in in couples, in fours, alone and with male attendants; with a soft tread and an awe in their looks, with a trembling voice, they step from alcove to alcove, as if they thought the form of the spirit would start out and greet them. And when the Doctor is seen behind the counter (for he has come back,) the small talk runs—“There, that is he,” “There he is” –showing how deeply the public mind is interested in the story of the haunted library, and proving that, after all that has been said and written on the matter, men as readily believe in the existence of ghosts today as they did eighteen hundred years ago, when the disciples thought their Lord was “only a spirit.” Weekly Advocate [Baton Rouge LA] 22 April 1860

During his tenure as the Astor Library librarian, Dr Cogswell collected and arranged nearly a hundred thousand books.  He also began to prepare a catalogue. He had hoped to create indices of authors, titles, and subjects, estimating that it would run to eight volumes. The first part was completed and published in four volumes, 1857-61; and then Dr. Cogswell resigned the office of superintendent. If he had kept the same long hours of toil during his entire term of employment, one can imagine that it was time for a rest.

As for the ghost, Mrs Daffodil wonders if the spirit was seeking in those books of magic, a mystic reanimation formula whereby it might be able to return to earth? Perhaps, like Dr Benjamin Franklin he hoped that

the work shall not be lost, for it will (as he believed) appear once more in a new and more elegant edition, revised and corrected by the author. Epitaph on Himself, Benjamin Franklin. Written in 1728.

World Book Day was celebrated this week, hence the posts on library ghosts and bookcases.That macabre book person over at Haunted Ohio wrote about a ghastly spectre that also appearing to a librarian in A Haunted Library in Leeds, and a possible link with an M.R. James ghost story.

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.

Interior of the Astor Library

Interior of the Astor Library

Bad Taste in Funeral Flowers: 1895-1914

1906 Floral Tribute for a member of the Elks.

1906 Floral Tribute for a member of the Elks.

To-day, Mrs Daffodil (since she cannot exactly say that she is “pleased to welcome”) once again yields the floor to that funereal person over at Haunted Ohio, Chris Woodyard.  One supposes it is useless to suggest a change of climate, subject, or temperament to a writer so entrenched in the subfusc world of Victorian mourning, but Mrs Daffodil will gently note that a holiday in some sunny Mediterranean country might be cheering.  Mrs Woodyard will address the history of grave concerns over grotesqueries in funeral flowers.

********

Flowers are an appropriate symbol for the excesses of the Victorian funeral. Newspapers documenting large funerals would note the details of these sometimes bizarre floral arrangements and their donors as if keeping score and setting a societal standard for the next bereaved family. The florists claimed that floral excess was a result of customer demand; the public, in turn, said that the pressure arose from over-zealous florists. There were also dark whispers about innocent flowers being tortured into strange and unnatural shapes.

Some trade journals made an effort to stem the tide of truly hideous design by publishing the damning details of floral tributes that they felt were beyond the pale. A Chicago correspondent to The Garden minced no words about current trends:

Floral Gargoyles.

 Here, in America, is the home of the grotesque as well as of the picturesque. Aristocracy and democracy jostle each other, and aristocracy gets the worst of it. We had a bad boiler explosion here lately, and among the emblems sent to a victim’s funeral was a floral clock set for the hour of the explosion! A theatrical treasurers’club sent a floral pass, ‘Admit one.’ Let us hope it was recognised. Gates ajar, open windows with plaster doves thereon, and tawdry wire frames showing through pillows of red and yellow flowers, all tend to vulgarise funerals, and to inspire the words ‘no flowers.’ When the city council is inaugurated, then are the florists busy. Gigantic keys, Indian clubs, desks, chairs, all are on hand, all of natural flowers distorted to suit perverted tastes. We need a renaissance in art to strike the florists here, and strike them hard. The Garden 1 June 1901: p. 385

********

Funeral “set pieces” generally fell into several categories: wreaths, pillows, and sprays—and, said the critics, monstrosities. Some of the latter had evocative titles and florist supply catalogues carried wire frames to create the more elaborate arrangements such as “Faith, Hope, and Charity,” (an anchor, cross, and heart) “The Sad Hour” (a floral clock); “The Broken Wheel,” “The Harp,” (or lyre) and “Gates Ajar,” an exceptionally popular design. Stuffed doves, often used to accessorize the “Gates Ajar” arrangements, could be purchased or leased.

"Gates Ajar" arrangement topped with a star.

“Gates Ajar” arrangement topped with a star.

For this next story of a client who desired a floral horse’s head with real glass eyes, I’m afraid I do not have an illustration. Perhaps these rather ghastly arrangements for deceased members of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks will give an idea of what the ultimate effect might have been.

A floral arrangement given by the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks for a deceased member. 1906

A floral arrangement given by the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks for a deceased member. 1914

elks-head-funeral-flowers

1906 Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks floral tribute.

 

A short time ago a certain prominent and popular business man of Cleveland died after a short illness. A day or two prior to his demise one of his business associates went into a florist’s establishment and made some inquiries concerning funeral flowers, and finally placed an order that to his mind embodied all the desirable attributes of such a piece of work. It was to be emblematic of the business in which the deceased had been engaged, and it had occurred to the would-be purchaser that nothing could better represent that idea, than a floral horse’s head! But being a far-seeing business man, accustomed to keeping his eagle eye on the dim and uncertain future, and knowing that such a novel and original design might present some difficulties to a florist when it came to working out the idea, he had thought it best to take time by the forelock and get things moving in good season! The unhappy florist dodged the issue as long as possible by suggesting that the man might get well, but without success. The businessman knew what he wanted and pretty nearly when he wanted it and so the florist had to go ahead with the monstrosity. It seems to me that for downright grim, ghastly, provident, cold-blooded unsentimentality this party is entitled to the pie foundry. But about the time that a sufficient quantity of black cloth had been laid in, and whilst the florist was racking his brain to obtain a life-like wire frame and fiery and spirited glass eyes to go with the same, the order was changed for something not quite so startling. Possibly the man of unique ideas was sat upon by his colleagues. The American Florist 8 June 1895: p. 1148

The employees of the Postum Cereal Company did not have far to look to find inspiration for a floral tribute for the company founder:

Floral tribute for Charles W. Post, founder of the Postum Cereal Company.

Floral tribute for Charles W. Post, founder of the Postum Cereal Company.

Among the set pieces [at the funeral of Charles W. Post] none attracted more attention or expressed more sincere love than the floral piece given by the employes of the Postum Cereal Company. This is the piece we mentioned first, and which is shown here. The design was made to represent the little barn in which he first began making his food products in 1895. This little white building was carefully cherished by its late owner, and still stands in the beautiful grounds surrounding the Postum Cereal Company’s administration building and general offices at Battle Creek, and is always pointed out to visitors as the place where the business began. Doubtless many of our readers have visited the Postum plant and have seen this little building. The floral design was an especially difficult one to bring out because of the demands of perspective. The piece was made by S.W. Coggan, florist, Battle Creek. It measured 6x5x2 feet, and in its construction 2,285 flowers were used. The background was dark pink carnations; the barn proper white carnations. The outlines and roof were of forget-me-nots; the frame effect of American Beauties, adiantum and asparagus green. Corners of frame over roof, Easter lilies, lilies of the valley and pink Killarney roses. The piece bore the inscription, “From his Employes”

The American Florist, Vol. 42 23 May 1914: p. 936

This “bag-man’s” traveling valise was railed against in 1903, yet was still being included in the pages of funeral flower albums in 1914.

freak-traveling-bag-funeral-flowers

Freak Floral Designs

As an example of how not to do it, the accompanying illustration of a floral traveling bag may be worth a place. The design from which the photograph was taken was made by the Iowa Floral Co., Des Moines, for some local traveling men and gave great satisfaction. The body was of Enchantress carnations, the ribs on top and ends of Lawson, while the handle was of violets.

When an order of this kind comes along it has to be filled, but such freak things are in every way to be deprecated. They are a good deal of trouble to make and use a lot of stock lessening the retailers’ profit unless a very big price is paid. But as to anything pretty or artistic there is absolutely nothing in them. It is not even possible to see a good flower in the whole thing for the carnations are cut short and stemmed and packed just as thickly as possible together. It is devoid of all beauty and no retailers with a sense of the artistic or the uplifting of the trade at heart will encourage the making of such flat, ugly and unprofitable things. As hinted above retailers have not always the last word on such points but the making of this class of goods should be discouraged as far as possible. How much more satisfactory in every way would a pretty wreath or other design be than this, supposing the same amount of money was spent. This kind of “art” is best left to the candy makers and confectioners. It is unworthy the attention of florists.

The American Florist: A weekly journal for the trade, 23 January 1909: p. 1290

The demand for special funeral emblems applicable to the vocation of the deceased oftimes taxes the inventive genius of the florist, and some of the pieces suggested by the surviving friends frequently seem very ridiculous. A butcher in our vicinity, being in condition for a funeral, one of his intimate friends came to order a floral offering and insisted on its being in the form of a cleaver. It occurred to me that such an implement was hardly the proper thing. But no one could tell the road he went or the conditions he would encounter at the end of his route. Perhaps it was the very thing he would need.

A commercial traveler having been assigned a new territory, in the unknown world, I was asked to make a floral grip for his funeral ornamentation, by some of his friends. Did he die of the grip, I asked. Oh, no! but as his satchel was his constant companion, one said, we thought it would be a very appropriate emblem for this sad occasion. Alright, I replied, it shall be made, but will I fill it with light underwear, or do you think something heavier would be needed? Not knowing his destination, they failed to advise, so as a precaution, the man being an acquaintance of mine, I filled the grip with wet moss, which you know has a very cooling effect.

American Florist, Volume 21 1903

And how I wish I had a photograph of this postmaster’s novel floral tribute. Truly something for the dead-letter office!

A Novel Floral Design.

P.R. Quinlan & Co., Syracuse, N.Y., made a novel floral piece, the gift of the employes of the Syracuse post office in memory of Edwin H. Maynard, assistant postmaster. It was a 4-foot panel 24×42 inches containing a canceled envelope. The stamp was in pale colored Lawsons and the cancellation which bore the date of his death was in small blue chenille lettering. Upon the floral letter where the address is usually placed was the inscription, “To our beloved assistant postmaster.” The outline of the envelope was maroon carnations representing the envelope in mourning. The groundwork of the panel was Enchantress carnations trimmed with roses, lilies and swainsona. A.J.B.

The American Florist 30 June 1905: p. 1044

1914 seems to have been a particularly fertile year for bad taste in funeral flowers. Here are a few unusually elaborate specimens:

sad-hours-clock-and-doves-funeral-flowers

This “Sad Hours” arrangement is fully seven feet high.

immense-lyre-funeral-flowersa

To judge by the cupboards on the right, this lyre arrangement is at least five feet high.

Fraternal orders, trade unions, and vocational groups often clubbed together to provide floral tributes with the appropriate theme.

his-last-alarm-fireman-funeral-flowersa design-for-master-house-painters-funeral-flowersa 174a-floral-chair-funeral-flowersa

I cannot read the lettering on the floral chair above–it looks as though someone draped foliage and moss over an actual swiveling office chair and wired on a stuffed dove. Possibly the writing says “Our Mayor?” or “Our Mary?”  Another in the “floral chair” genre was labeled “The Vacant Seat.”

Garish as these arrangements are, they pale by comparison with this last example, a floral tribute to a man whose life was cut short in a terrible accident.

Derrick funeral flowers.

Derrick funeral flowers.

THE PENULTIMATE DESIGN.

In the collection of unique designs, the one shown in the illustration on page 11 is entitled to a place at the front. It represents a derrick in flowers made by Lester F. Benson, an Indianapolis florist, on the order of a committee representing the Structural Iron Workers of America, for one of their members who was killed as a result of his gauntlet catching on the hook as the engine started. The man was lifted thirty feet from the ground before his cry, “Slack down,” was heard, and before the order could be obeyed the glove slipped from his hand, resulting in a fall which broke his neck. The design was made sectionally, to work the same as a real derrick, and the committee insisted on the florist placing a glove on the hook!

Of course no florist maintains that such a design is in anything but the most execrable taste; such gruesomeness is an utter perversion of the idea which prompts the sending of flowers to a funeral. The flowers should carry a message of sympathy, and by their purity and beauty should speak of the life beyond, should contain no suggestion of mundane things, least of all a reference to the route of departure of “the late lamented.” The derrick design appears to be just one step removed from the limit. The man who wishes to accomplish the ultimate no doubt will make for a murder victim some such design as the following: Take two clothing-store wire dummies; fit them out with suits of flowers, instead of cloth; raise the arms of each, one figure leaning forward in the act of firing a flower pistol; bring the left hand of the other toward where a man’s heart is supposed to be, and the right hand to his uplifted head; lean this figure backward. Mount the two figures, in the relationship that will suggest itself, on a base of boxwood or galax and there will be nothing further that can be demanded of the florist, unless with such a design the widow fails to survive the shock.

For the florist who makes monstrosities in flowers it is to be said: Hardly any florist has so poor a conception of the uses of flowers that he suggests any such designs; the florist nearly always simply is carrying out the instructions he receives from his customers, and must either do this or see an order involving a goodly sum go to a competitor. Florists are like others—they are likely to do that which they are best paid for doing, but it is in line for every florist to do something toward turning customers to better things in flowers.

The Weekly Florists’ Review 20 April 1911: p. 10

So much for the customer always being right…

Still, one suspects that, despite the florists’ repeated and bitter condemnation of bad taste, there was money to be made by catering to the vulgar whims of the customer.

These set-piece shaped floral arrangements began falling out of favor around the time of the First World War when Victorian mourning conventions were thought to be less relevant in the face of so many deaths. Immense and garish floral tributes still had their place—at the funerals of gangsters and film stars, but by the mid-1920s they were considered thoroughly old-fashioned.  The only pieces I’ve seen recently which seem to carry on the tradition of shaped floral tributes are U.S. flag panels and floral rosaries designed to hang inside the casket lid.  I have not had the opportunity to ask any modern florists if they ever get requests for flower lyres or for  “Gates Ajar,” but in this Age of Individualism, I suspect that there are still orders for the unorthodox and highly personalized funeral arrangement, sans the stuffed doves.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is sure that we are all very grateful to Mrs Woodyard for revealing these examples of vulgarity in funeral flowers, thus enabling us to avoid embarrassing faux pas at our own obsequies.

For more on funeral flowers, see these posts: “No Flowers” and Corsets and Beer Wagons: Floral Vulgarities, which also appear in The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

 

The Ladies in Black; The Lady in White: 1854-1871

A mourning ensemble and veil from the Metropolitan Museum's "Death Becomes Her" exhibition.

A mourning ensemble and veil from the Metropolitan Museum’s “Death Becomes Her” exhibition.

The Lady in Black.

Owing to the connections which I had, during my youth, with the Court of Bavaria, I was personally acquainted with the actors in the following story and am enabled to give the following details:

King Ludwig I, having abdicated his throne owing to the revolution of 1848, retired to Aschaffenburg with his spouse, the Queen Thérèse, to seek protection from the ravages of cholera, which at that time prevailed at Munich. There he received visits frequently from his son-in-law, the Grand Duke Ludwig II of Hessen, residing in Darmstadt. They used to have tea together, subsequently playing cards, and the General Du Jarrys de la Roche took part in the game.

It was once a stormy night when they met in this manner. The rain was pouring down, rattling at the windows, the thunder was rolling, and lightning illuminated the room. All at once one of the large doors of the apartment opened, a lady dressed in black entered and posted herself behind the chair of the Queen. King Ludwig and both of his guests saw that lady and exchanged looks of surprise; the Grand Duke arose and went to the anteroom, where he asked the officer in charge:

“How could you permit an unknown lady to enter the apartment of their majesties, without having her properly announced?”

“Your Highness will excuse me,” was the answer; “I have been in attendance here for three hours, and no one has passed through the ante-room except their majesties and the General de la Roche.”

The Grand Duke returned to his chair, but the lady in black had disappeared. The Queen Thérèse noticed by his looks that something was taking place, and as she begged to have the matter explained, the Grand Duke told her about the apparition and the answer of the officer. The Queen turned pale and with a trembling voice exclaimed: “This concerns me.”

The cholera at Munich subsided and having been assured that there was no danger, the Court returned to the “Wittelsbach Palace.” In a couple of weeks the Queen Thérèse was dead.

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King Maximilian of Bavaria returned one evening from one of his daily horse-back rides through the royal park and was about to dress for dinner, when a slight indisposition induced him to retire to his rooms.

At about eleven o’clock that night the officer of the bodyguards in charge made his usual round of inspection at the quarters where the princes and princesses resided. As he came near the rooms of the ladies of the Court, where the Countess Fugger and the Baroness Redwitz slept, he saw a lady dressed in black, and with a black veil covering her head, issuing from one of these rooms and walking slowly along the corridor. Thinking that she was returning from a visit to one of these ladies, the Captain called to her, as she was passing by the only staircase which led to the street door, and told her that the way out was there.

The lady in black paid no attention to him, but continued her way through several apartments. She finally descended the stairs slowly, passed by one of the sentinels and disappeared at the entrance of the chapel. The officer, feeling some suspicion, ran quickly down stairs, calling to the sentinel to stop the stranger. The guard swore that he had seen no one. Next morning the King was dead.

*****************

The White Lady, British Library

The White Lady, British Library

A similar case is the one of The Lady in White, who is said to appear in the royal castle of Stockholm whenever a death at the Court is about to take place. The following is an account of such an occurrence given by the Princess Eugénie, a sister of King Oscar:

“During one of the last days of the month of March 1871, and a short time before the death of Queen Louisa, I had been spending the evening with my mother the Queen-widow Josefina. We both were glad that the illness of the Queen had taken a favourable turn, and that the physicians expected a speedy recovery. It was late at night and I was about to retire, when the servant entered, informing us that a big fire had broken out in the vicinity of the castle. My mother desired to look at it, so we went to the great hall, where it could be seen from the windows.

“After a while we returned, and as we passed through a room that was connected with the rooms of the Queen by means of a staircase, I saw a tall lady standing in the middle of the apartment right below the lighted chandelier. She was dressed in white silk, and wore a large collar of lace reaching down upon the shoulders. I felt quite certain that she was one of the ladies of the Court ordered to wait for the return of my mother and to inform her about the condition of the Queen. However, the lady in white looked at both of us without stirring and without showing us any attention. I had never seen that lady before, and I thought at first to ask my mother whether she was acquainted with her; but I did not, because I expected my mother would speak to her and tell me her name. Great was my surprise when my mother did not seem to see the lady while we passed her. Still I never suspected anything uncanny about it; I merely thought that my mother did not wish to notice her because she had not yet been presented. Nevertheless the fact that none of us had seen that lady before seemed strange to me; but as my mother said nothing, I kept silent about it.

“Before we stepped out of the room, I turned around once more and saw the lady still standing at the same place, like a statue of marble. After a few moments she made a few steps in advance, as if she wanted to come nearer. We entered into the next room and I immediately asked my mother ‘Who was she?’

“’She?—What she?’ asked my mother in surprise.

“’She, the lady in a white dress, who stood there without saluting us.’

“My mother stopped and asked in a voice trembling with fear: ‘Did you see a white-dressed lady in the room that leads to the apartments of the Queen?’

“’Most certainly I did,’ was my answer. ‘She stood just below the chandelier. Did you not notice her? I will open the door again to see whether she is still there.’

“My mother caught my hand. ‘Don’t tell anybody at present of what you have seen,’ she said. ‘You have perhaps seen the “Lady in White,” and that means the Queen’s death.’

“I went to bed, but I could not sleep for a long time. I prayed for Queen Louisa and for the King, who was perhaps soon to experience such a loss. Next morning the physicians sent word that the Queen was worse, and in three days she died.”

This account was given by the Princess to Pastor Wadstrom and was published in his “Memoirs.” The explanation in regard to such cases is that an “elemental” or thought image had been formed for the purpose of giving warnings of approaching death. Further particulars about the nature of such appearances may be found in my book on The Life and Writings of Theophrastus Paracelsus. (Kegan Paul and Co.).

Frantz Hartmann, M.D.

The Occult Review July 1907: pp 14-17

The Women in Black are well-known as omens of death around the world. (That sub-fusc person over at Haunted Ohio has devoted entire chapters to them in The Face in the Window and The Ghost Wore Black.)

The Woman in White was also a harbinger of doom to the Hohenzollerns. She was believed to be a wronged ancestress who would appear to announce an impending royal death. Since so many of the royal houses of Europe intermarried in inexplicably intricate ways, perhaps the White Lady travelled from kingdom to kingdom as needed.

Dr Hartmann was a medical doctor as well as occultist, Theosophist, and “geomancer.” One wonders how much we can trust the reminiscences of a man who was an associate of Madame Blavatsky and who wrote such titles as In The Pronaos Of The Temple Of Wisdom Containing The History Of The True And The False Rosicrucians and The Principles of Astrological Geomancy, The Art of Divining by Punctuation According to Cornelius Agrippa and Others.

Mrs Daffodil is not aware that Cornelius Agrippa ever wrote a style manual or a grammar, but no doubt occultists know a great many things which are as a sealed book to the uninitiated.

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 Confidential Secretary: 1880s

lady-bess-male-impersonator

The following story is narrated by the son of an Irish politician whom we will call by the name of O’Brien. The events narrated followed on his return from abroad consequent on his father’s death. In recounting the circumstances of his return to his native land he put on record the following striking occurrences:

My father’s death recalled me from abroad. His letters and MSS. were sealed up, and it was my duty upon my arrival in Ireland to wade through the enormous pile of correspondence. He was a man with literary tastes, he was a strong Home Ruler, a Parnellite, and although he had never made the public a participant in his labours, he left a testamentary instruction for the publication of his essays, etc., on this great political problem.

Now I myself, as one of Her Majesty’s civil servants, was strongly for the Union, and was afraid that I could not do justice to the intentions of the testator.

I had been away from home more than ten years, and I found that my father had been assisted in his work by a young fellow, Louis Sullivan, who seemed to be his only companion, my mother having died when I was quite young. Of course, I was only too glad to retain the services of the young man. I requested him to call, and we soon came to an arrangement satisfactory to both of us. Louis Sullivan. who was about twenty years of age, was slim and fragile, his face was very handsome, of true Irish type, with dark hair and blue eyes. He was well versed in my father’s literary work, and absolved me entirely from any responsibility. I left him fully in charge of all matters referring to Home Rule, and took the sifting and investigating of letters and other papers upon myself.

During some months we were daily together, and I often observed that my young companion looked at me with an expression of fondness which touched me in an inexplicable manner. I came across some letters which showed me that Louis was more than a mere acquaintance to me. My father had years ago formed an intimacy with a woman residing on his estate, who had nursed him through a severe illness, and a child was born as the result of this attachment. The name of the woman was Sullivan, and she was dead. I thought it more than coincidence that Louis Sullivan should have been with my father ever since then, and I could understand why my father should have provided for his young companion by a substantial annuity. He was his own child, though I soon became convinced that Louis was not acquainted with this fact. Nevertheless, I felt that blood spoke loudly, for I saw that Louis loved me, and such a state of things can only be due to a strong sympathy, which, no doubt, is based upon blood relationship.

In a conversation with him one day, I gathered that he was under the impression that his father had died before he was born. I could not undeceive him and let him know that he was an illegitimate child. At last our tasks were finished, and as I was leaving Ireland, a separation became necessary. The night before my departure I asked Louis to dine with me.

It was a sad occasion; little was said, and it was evident we both felt keenly the approaching parting from each other. At last Louis broke the silence, and taking my hand in his, he asked my forgiveness for making a confession. I saw now that I was mistaken, and that he knew our relationship, and I told him that his confession was not needed, that I knew all, and embracing him, kissed him, and called him brother. The result of my action was a great surprise. Louis burst into a fit of the most violent weeping. I told him how I had found out the secret, and entreated him to come with me, and be my brother before the world. I could not understand his subsequent behavior, but he refused point-blank. This was the last I saw of him…

  • • • • •

I was in ___, where I intended to spend some weeks. It was just eight days since I had left Ireland. I was ascending the staircase of the Hotel___in ___. It was the evening twilight. Suddenly I saw standing before me the shape of a woman dressed in white. I stared at her; she bore the face of Louis Sullivan. Too astonished to speak, I stood looking at her in amazement, when she vanished.

  • • • • •

Subsequently I learned the truth. The being who recently had been my companion, and whom I had discovered to be so near a relation, was indeed no brother, but a sister. Why my father had made her wear men’s clothes I never exactly understood, unless it was the fear that the presence of a young girl at his house would have given occasion to gossip. She is now dead. She died the very evening she appeared to me at the hotel in ___. With her own hands she made an end to her life. The letter she left behind her told all: she loved me, and was just on the point on that evening before my departure of confessing her feelings when, misunderstanding her purpose, I told her she was my brother. Her relationship to me had not been known to her, but she found now that she was my sister—she could not bear the situation and she died.

That I should have seen her in the shape of a woman, when her sex was entirely unsuspected, seemed to me the most inexplicable feature of the occurrence.”

The Occult Review November 1912, p. 270-1

 Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Females disguising themselves as males is a well-worn plot device—Shakespeare was particularly fond of it—but rarely has it been deployed to such tragic effect.  

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.

 

 

Queen Victoria and the Governess: 1883

On the date when Her Majesty Queen Victoria joined her beloved Albert in the Other World, Mrs Daffodil presents a story of Her Majesty’s kindness to a mourning governess.

QUEEN VICTORIA’S TENDERNESS.

There is so much cruel forgetfulness of the rights of inferiors and servants on the part of the ” privileged classes ” generally, that we are always pleased and refreshed to read the stories which are told of Victoria’s good heart and kind consideration. Grace Greenwood relates the following:

When I was in England I heard several pleasant anecdotes of the queen and her family from a lady who had received them from a friend, the governess of the royal children. This governess, a very interesting young lady, was the orphan daughter of a Scottish clergyman. During the first year of her residence at Windsor her mother died. When she first received the news of her mother’s serious illness, she applied to the Queen to be allowed to resign her situation, feeling that to her mother she owed even a more sacred duty than to her sovereign.

The Queen, who had been much pleased with her, would not hear of her making this sacrifice, but said, in a tone of most gentle sympathy:

“Go at once to your mother, child; stay as long as she needs you, and then come back to us. Prince Albert and I will hear the children’s lessons; so, in any event, let your mind be at rest in regard to your pupils.”

The governess went, and had several weeks of sweet mournful communion with her dying mother. Then when she had seen that dear form laid to sleep under the daisies in the old kirkyard, she returned to the palace, where the loneliness of the royal grandeur would have oppressed her sorrowing heart beyond endurance had it not been for the gracious, womanly sympathy of the Queen, who came every day to her school room, and the considerate kindness of her young pupils. A year went by, the first anniversary of her great loss dawned upon her and she was overwhelmed as never before by the utter loneliness of her grief. She felt that no one in all the great household knew how much goodness and sweetness passed out of mortal life that day a year ago, or could give one tear, one thought, to that grave under the Scottish daisies.

Every morning before breakfast, which the elder children took with their father and mother in the pleasant crimson parlor looking out on the terrace at Windsor, her pupils came to the school-room for a brief religious exercise. This morning the voice of the governess trembled in reading the Scriptures of the day. Some words of Divine tenderness were too much for her poor, lonely, grieving heart— her strength gave way, and, laying her head on the desk before her, she burst into tears, murmuring, “O, mother, mother!”

One after another the children stole out of the room, and went to their mother to tell how sadly their governess was feeling, and that kind hearted monarch, exclaiming, “Oh, poor girl, it is the anniversary of her mother’s death!” hurried to the school-room, where she found Miss __ struggling to regain her composure.

“My poor child,” she said, “I am sorry the children disturbed you this morning. I meant to have given orders that you should have this day entirely to yourself. Take it as a sad and sacred holiday—I will hear the lessons of the children.” And then she added: “To show you that I have not forgotten this mournful anniversary, I bring you this gift,” clasping on her arm a beautiful mourning bracelet, with a locket of her mother’s hair, marked with the date of her mother’s death. What wonder that the orphan kissed, with tears, this gift, and the more than royal hand that bestowed it?  

Friends’ Review: A Religious, Literary and Miscellaneous Journal, Volume 36, Samuel Rhoads, Enoch Lewis, eds., 1883

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It was, indeed, a very kind gesture from Her Majesty, in keeping with this anecdote from the first moments of her reign:

The first act of her life as queen was to write a letter, breathing the purest and tenderest feelings of affection and condolence to Queen Adelaide. . . . Her majesty wrote the letter spontaneously and having finished it folded it and addressed it to “Her Majesty the Queen.” Some one in her presence, who had a right to make a remark, noticing this, mentioned that the superscription was not correct and that the letter ought to be addressed to “Her Majesty, the Queen Dowager.”

“I am quite aware,” said Queen Victoria, “of her majesty’s altered character, but I will not be the first person to remind her of it.” Wit, Wisdom and Foibles of the Great, Charles Anthony Shriner

Her Majesty’s rigidity over the forms of mourning caused acid comment in the papers at the death of her son, Leopold, the Duke of Albany:

CONVENTIONAL MOURNING.

Dear Mr Editor, I hope I shall not shock you very much if I let your readers know in confidence that some of us are getting just a wee bit tired of the fuss people still persist in making over the death of the poor dear Duke of Albany. Fancy having to go into mourning at the very commencement of summer for six weeks. It seems too dreadful. A friend of mine, a charming woman, but sadly independent, declares nothing shall induce her to make herself uncomfortable for so long, and that she means to dress as usual next week. Of course nothing can come of her resolve unless some ill-natured friend tells the Court officials, but it is certainly running a risk. Ladies in society who disregarded the Queen’s injunctions about wearing mourning for the Prince Consort, were struck off the Lord Chamberlain’s list and debarred from attending all Court balls, State concerts and drawing-rooms for three seasons afterwards. This, I can assure you, is a very serious punishment. It means social annihilation for the time being, as people do not care to be seen in your company lest they too should incur Royal displeasure. The Queen does not insist upon crape, even her ladies-in-waiting are relieved from this infliction, but she requires that the period of mourning shall be strictly observed. As John Brown used to say, “When Her Majesty mourns, she mourns.” Truth remarks, perhaps a little ill-naturedly, that the Queen seems to take a morbid pleasure in ceremonies of a mournful nature, and to almost revel in all the undertaker’s details as to coffins, services, graves and monuments. Certainly she seldom seems as active and vigorous as when superintending something of the kind. Star 9 June 1884: p. 3

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.

For more on the customs of Victorian mourning, see The Victorian Book of the Dead.