Category Archives: Death

Mrs Lincoln’s Bonnet String: 1865

mary todd lincoln bonnet worn to ford's theatre

The bonnet worn by Mrs. Lincoln to Ford’s Theatre on 14 April, 1865, the night President Lincoln was assassinated. http://digitalcollection.chicagohistory.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p16029coll3/id/2592/rec/1

MRS. LINCOLN’S BONNET STRING NOW A TREASURED RELIC IN A MISSOURI HOME

A Bit of Tulle From Headgear the Martyred President’s Wife Wore the Night He Was Assassinated Has Been Preserved and Handed Down in Family of Man in Whose Apartment the Great Emancipator Died.

Even in his lifetime mementoes of President Lincoln were carefully preserved to be passed on as heirlooms. With his tragic death these took on greatly increased significance and importance, and with the growing appreciation of the great emancipator’s place in history they have come to be among the most cherished of possessions.

One of these to which unusual interest attaches now reposes in a small pasteboard box in one of the finest ante-bellum homes in Central Missouri, the residence of Mrs. Charles Carroll Hemenway at Glasgow. It is a string from the bonnet Mrs. Lincoln wore to that fateful performance of “Our American Cousins” at Ford’s theater, April 14, 1865. A mere wisp of white tulle, it has lain all these years, folded several times and carefully protected from the light, together with a letter written by an eye-witness of the tragic scenes in which it figured. Although the bonnet string itself is of purely sentimental value, the letter throws vivid and authentic light on the closing hours in the life of the martyred President.

The bonnet string and the letter were sent in May, 1865, by George Francis of Washington, to his niece, Josephine Hemenway, who at her death, passed them on to her brother, the late Rev. Charles Carroll Hemenway, of Glasgow, Mo. It is from his widow, now wintering in New York City with her daughter, Josephine Hemenway Kenyon—widely known woman physician and editor of the Child Health page for Good Housekeeping magazine—that permission has been obtained to tell the story, perhaps for the first time in print.

Mr. Francis and his wife lived in an apartment house across the street from Ford’s theater, where Lincoln was assassinated. The President was carried to their apartment, but Mr. and Mrs. Francis had retired, so he was taken to a small bedroom at the end of the hall, occupied by a young man. Mrs. Lincoln, in her distraction, cast her bonnet aside and when she departed from the house several hours later, she neglected to take it with her. The young man, knowing that she would adopt the mourning bonnet as was the custom of the period, made no attempt to return her property. Keeping it for his own, he cut from it one of its strings which he gave to the Francis family across the hall.

WILD DAYS IN WASHINGTON.

Mr. Francis’s letter with its detailed account of the occurrences of that tragic night follows with the omission of some family news at its conclusion.

“Washington, D.C.

“May 5, 1865.

“Dear Josephine: Your letter of last week and the one in January reached me in due time. I have been on the point of writing to you for sometime back but we have had so much excitement here, so much to occupy my attention, that it has seemed as if I must be in a dream and I have hardly known what I was about.

“The fall of Richmond, the surrender of Lee’s army and the assassination of the President is all that has been thought of here. The President died in our house and we witnessed that heart-rending scene. I shall never forget that awful night, following as it did one of such general rejoicing. For a week before the whole city had been crazy over the fall of Richmond, and the surrender of Lee’s army. Only the night before, the city was illuminated, and though it has been illuminated several times just before this time it was more general and was the grandest affair of its kind that ever took place in Washington.

“THE PRESIDENT IS SHOT!”

“At the time of the murder we were about getting in bed. I had changed my clothes and shut off the gas when we heard such a terrible scream that we ran to the front window to see what it could mean. We saw a great commotion in the theater, some running in, others hurrying out, and we could hear hundreds of voices mingling in the greatest confusion. Presently we heard some one say ‘the President is shot,’ when I hurried on my clothes and ran across the street as they brought him out of the theater.

“Poor man! I could see as the gas light fell upon his face that it was deathly pale and that his eyes were clouded. They carried him out into the street and toward our steps. The door was open and a young man belonging to the house, standing on the steps, told them to bring him in there, expecting to have him laid upon our bed. But the door of our room being fastened, they passed on to a little room in the back building at the end of the hall. Huldah (Mrs. Francis) remained looing out of the window until she saw them bringing him up our steps, when she ran to get on her clothes.

“Mrs. Lincoln came in soon after, accompanied by major Rathbone and Miss Harris. She was perfectly frantic. ‘Where is my husband? Where is my husband?’ she cried, wringing her hands in the greatest anguish. As she approached his bedside, she bent over him kissing him again and again, exclaiming, ‘How can it be so! Do speak to me.’

NO HOPE FROM THE FIRST.

“Secretary Stanton, Secretary Wells and all of the members of the cabinet except Secretary Seward came in and remained all night. Also Charles Lumm, George Carter, General Augur, General Meigs, two or three surgeons and a good many others. Our front parlor was given up to Mrs. Lincoln and her friends. The back parlor (our bedroom) was occupied by Secretary Stanton. He wrote his dispatches there during the night. Judge Carter held an informal court there, and it was full of people.

“Mrs. Lincoln went in to see her husband occasionally. Robert Lincoln was with her. Reverend Dr. Gurly was there and made a prayer by the bedside of the President, and then in the parlor with Mrs. Lincoln.

Mr. Lincoln was insensible from the first and there was no hope from the moment he was shot. As he lay on the bed, the only sign of life he exhibited was his breathing. About 2 o’clock he began to breathe harder and he breathed with more and more difficulty until he died. After he died, Dr. Gurly made a short prayer over him and then prayed again with Mrs. Lincoln in the parlor.

A CABINET MEETING THERE.

“A cabinet meeting was then held in our back parlor, and soon after the most of the people left. Mrs. Lincoln went soon and in about two hours after he died he was carried away to the President’s room. We saw him the last time up in the capitol the day before he was carried away.

“Things are now resuming their natural appearance, but business seems to keep very quiet….

“Your Uncle

“George Francis.

Kansas City [MO] Star 12 February 1934: p. 18

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  At the head of the article, we find an image of the bonnet worn to Ford’s Theatre by Mrs Lincoln on that tragic night in 1865. The ribbons do not appear to have been removed or altered, but perhaps there was tulle over the present strings or the “tulle” was actually a bit of lace.

One is slightly uncertain of the bonnet’s provenance–it appears to have been purchased by the Chicago Historical Society in 1920, which is when the Society bought the eccentric and eclectic collection of Charles Frederick Gunther, a wealthy confectioner who amassed a wealth of historical artifacts for his own museum, including many relics of the Lincoln assassination, such as the furniture of the President’s death-chamber, as well as the purported skin of the serpent from the Garden of Eden.

 

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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An Awfully Handsome Thing: 1889

SENT HER A SHROUD

A Young Fellow Made His Girl a Present and Nearly Lost a Bride.

The number of packages left carelessly lying around in different places in the city and lost must run up into the thousands in the course of a year. According to Billy Meech, a railway ticket office in a prominent hotel is the great receiving basin of such truck. Many of the articles left are found to be trifles of no account whatever, but occasionally it happens that something of value is found. Billy Meech tells the following incident in this connection. Said he: “One day I found on my counter a package some one had left, and, as usual in such cases, laid it back, thinking the owner would call again and claim it, as is usually the case, but in this instance no one came. After it had been in our hands about two months my clerk one day suggested that we open it, and agreeing, the string was cut and enough of the contents exposed to satisfy us two fellows that it was an exceedingly handsome nightgown for a lady. The fabric was very fine and the lace upon the front would have made any woman’s mouth water with envy. Our curiosity satiated, the paper was readjusted and the package laid back on the shelf. My clerk was engaged to be married, his fiancée living down in Indianapolis.

“The wedding was to come off in a short time, and about two weeks before the time he said, referring to that package: ‘I wonder if it would do an harm if I sent that garment to my girl. It’s an awfully handsome thing and I can write a letter explaining why I send such a present; I don’t think she would care, do you, Billy?’ I told him no; to send it, and he did, with a long letter of explanation. The girl got the package all right, for about the right time the clerk received a letter. It was a stunner, I can tell you. By one of those mishaps that always occur when they should not, she failed to get the letter with the bundle. Her letter was short but sharp. It read: ‘What do you mean by sending me a shroud?’ Just think of it. The young fellow, with the best intentions in the world of sending his girl a beautiful present, had sent a garment for a dead body. I did not wonder she was angry about it. I shouldn’t like it myself. Well, she wrote a few lines about it not being much of a joke, and about bad luck and all that, and wound up by saying the match was off. But the young man wouldn’t have it that way. He got leave and down to Indianapolis he went flying. He squared things all right, for I got a dispatch from him saying, ‘All right; we are married.’ So it rather hurried the matter after all. It was a queer accident, though, and might have proved serious, but it did not, for the couple are living together now as happy as turtle doves, but I cannot help thinking what a chump a man is who can’t tell a woman’s night gown from a shroud.”

Daily Journal and Journal and Tribune [Knoxville TN] 19 April 1889: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has written before of a verdant young man purchasing a widow’s cap for his sweetheart and of an elegant shroud being mistaken for a fashionable night-dress.  “Chump” is perhaps too strong a word. It was a natural mistake and certainly one easily made by an innocent unfamiliar with the niceties of  ladies’ nocturnal garb.

Still, Mrs Daffodil is troubled by a singular point of etiquette. A gentleman would never send so familiar a gift, even to a fiancee. Was the young groom-to-be truly that ignorant of the rules of decent society? Chocolates, a volume of poetry bound in limp mauve morocco, flowers, or (one blushes to relate it) a pair of gloves, were the only gifts permitted by etiquette. So, even if one grants that the Benedict was a chump, his eagerness to send a robe de nuit to an unmarried girl renders him a cad and Mrs Daffodil is sending censorious glances in his direction. One is dubious about how long such a union would last.

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 Cry of the Banshee: 1887

the tempest rodin banshee

The Cry of the Banshee

There is now living in Bristol a Mrs. Linahan, an old Irish woman, who has not seen her own country for forty years. She is old, poor, bed ridden and suffering, but patient and cheerful beyond belief. Her strongest feeling is love for Ireland ,and she likes talking to me because I am Irish. Many a time, sitting in her little, close room, above the noisy street, she has told me about banshees and phookas and fairies, especially the first. She declares solemnly she once heard the cry, or caoin of a banshee.

“It was when I was a little young child,” she told me, “And knew nothing at all of banshees or of death. One day mother sent me to see after my grandmother, the length of three miles from our house. All  the road was deep in snow, and I went my lone – and didn’t know the grandmother was dead, and my aunt gone to the village for help. So I got to the house, and I see her lying so still and quiet I thought she was sleepin’. When I called her and she wouldn’t stir or speak, I thought I’d put snow on her face to wake her. I just stepped outside to get a handful, and came in, leaving the door open, and then I heard a far away cry, so faint and yet so fearsome that I shook like a leaf in the wind. It got nearer and nearer, and then I heard a sound like clapping or wringing of hands, as they do in keening at a funeral. Twice it came and then I slid down to the ground and crept under the bed where my grandmother lay, and there I heard it for the third time crying, “Ochone, Ochone,” at the very door. Then it suddenly stopped; I couldn’t tell where it went, and I dared not lift up my head till the woman came in the house. One of them took me up and said: “It was the banshee the child heard, for the woman that lies there was one of the real old Irish families – she was an O’Grady and that was the raison of it.’” English Magazine

Aberdeen [SD] Daily News 18 May 1887: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Clapping and keening were a feature of Irish funerals; professional keeners called bean chaointe would cry of the merits of the deceased and the broken hearts of those left behind.

The “raison of it” was that banshees were said to be attached only to the oldest, noblest Irish families, usually meaning those prefaced by “O'” or “Mac.”

In some cases, families have been apprised of an approaching death by some strange spectre, either male or female, a remarkable instance of which occurs in the MS. memoirs of Lady Fanshaw, and is to this effect: “Her husband, Sir Richard, and she, chanced, during their abode in Ireland, to visit a friend, who resided in his ancient baronial castle surrounded with a moat. At midnight she was awakened by a ghastly and supernatural scream, and, looking out of bed, beheld by the moonlight a female face and part of the form hovering at the window. The face was that of a young and rather handsome woman, but pale; and the hair, which was reddish, was loose and dishevelled. This apparition continued to exhibit itself for some time, and then vanished with two shrieks, similar to that which had at first excited Lady Fanshaw’s attention. In the morning, with infinite terror, she communicated to her host what had happened, and found him prepared not only to credit, but to account for, what had happened.

“A near relation of mine,” said he, “expired last night in the castle. Before such an event happens in this family and castle, the female spectre whom you have seen is always visible. She is believed to be the spirit of a woman of inferior rank, whom one of my ancestors degraded himself by marrying, and whom afterwards, to expiate the dishonour done his family, he caused to be drowned in the castle moat.”

This, of course, was no other than the Banshee, which in times past has been the source of so much terror in Ireland.

However, sometimes  embarrassing errors occurred.

Amongst the innumerable stories told of its appearance may be mentioned one related by Mrs. Lefanu, the niece of Sheridan, in the memoirs of her grandmother, Mrs. Frances Sheridan. From this account we gather that Miss Elizabeth Sheridan was a firm believer in the Banshee, and firmly maintained that the one attached to the Sheridan family was distinctly heard lamenting beneath the windows of the family residence before the news arrived from France of Mrs. Frances Sheridan’s death at Blois. She adds that a niece of Miss Sheridan’s made her very angry by observing that as Mrs. Frances Sheridan was by birth a Chamberlaine, a family of English extraction, she had no right to the guardianship of an Irish fairy, and that therefore the Banshee must have made a mistake.

Strange Pages from Family Papers, T.F. Thistelton-Dyer, 1895

Mrs Daffodil and that person over at Haunted Ohio are both fascinated by tales of banshees. It is always useful to know one’s death omens. For other stories of banshees, both knocking and shrieking, please see A Banshee in IndianaThe Banshee of the O’Dowds, The Banshee Sang of Death, and A Banshee at Sea 

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

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

 

The Ghost of Princess Borghese: 1840

Gwendoline Talbot Princess Borghese by Giovanni Piancastelli

Lady Gwendoline Talbot, Princess Borghese, Giovanni Piancastelli

GHOST OF PRINCESS BORGHESE

Leaves Its Coffin and Gives a Valuable Ring to a Poor Woman.

The approaching marriage of Don Marco Borghese with Mll. Ysabel Porges [Isabel Fanny Louise Porges], says the London Daily Chronicle, has revived interest in the famous Borghese ghost story. The lady who succeeded to the honors of the beautiful but notorious Pauline Bonaparte [married to Camillo Borghese] was Lady Gwendoline Talbot, daughter of the earl of Shrewsbury. She was a very lovely woman and adored in Rome on account of her charity. She died a victim to duty during the cholera visitation of 1840, when she devoted herself in the most heroic manner to nursing the very poorest. Her funeral was made the occasion of an extraordinary demonstration, the students of the university insisting upon dragging the hearse to Santa Maria Maggiore, where the body was buried in the gorgeous family chapel built by Paul V. The Prince [Marcantonio] Borghese had himself placed a sapphire ring of great value upon his wife’s finger on her wedding day and insisted that it should be buried with her, and himself watched the soldering of the leaden coffin.

A few days after the funeral a poor woman was arrested, charged with the theft of a sapphire ring, which had evidently belonged to the Princess Borghese, since it bore on the reverse her name and the date of her marriage, 1835. The woman asserted that while she was praying in the Borghese chapel the saintly princess had appeared to her and had given her the ring.

On recognizing the ring Prince Borghese ordered the coffin to be opened in his own presence and in that of several other well-known persons who had watched its sealing up. None of the seals were broken, but the hand was slightly moved, and the ring was gone. Much struck by this strange coincidence, the prince withdrew the charge and educated the children of the accused, one of whom is still living and is well known in the Italian literary world.

Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 14 April 1901: p. 20

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The Princess Borghese was born Lady Gwendoline Talbot, daughter of the 16th Earl of Shrewsbury. She married Don Marcantonio, Prince Borghese in 1835, and died in 1840, aged 22 or 23 of scarlet fever contracted just after the family returned to Rome from a family visit to England and France. Shortly after that, her three sons died of the measles.

The Princess was called “la Madre dei Poveri” by the Romans. Her reputation and saintly nature made such a story all too plausible. Mrs Daffodil wonders about sleight-of-hand by the solderers, or a paste ring substituted for the real one. But perhaps it is easier to simply believe that the generous Princess arose from the grave for one last act of charity.

 

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.

Dinnerware of the Dead: 1900

skull mug

Mrs Daffodil has been persuaded (well, “badgered” might be the mot juste) to offer a guest post by that Relentlessly Informative person over at Haunted Ohio, who has found what she feels is an interesting tit-bit about an unusual mourning custom from the United States. Without further ado, Mrs Daffodil introduces Chris Woodyard, author of The Victorian Book of the Dead. 

While working on a monograph on shrouds, I ran across this piece on memorializing the dead at the dinner table. It comes from Pennsylvania, a state particularly rich in interesting folklore and funereal practices. The resourceful Mrs Daffodil uncovered articles about that state’s “death drawer” custom, which also was reported in 1900.

What can we say about a custom that cherishes the tableware of the deceased as domestic relics and a family’s belief in an ongoing presence of the beloved dead?  Is it an expression of “complicated grief,” where the bereaved cannot let go of their sorrow, or a literal way to continue a connection with those lost?

IN MEMORY OF THEIR DEAD

“Oh, yes, I always keep our dead mother’s plate at her place at the table,” said the daughter of a rich eastern Pennsylvania farmer. “We will also keep her knife, fork, spoon, cup and saucer, and her napkin. I don’t know why we do it, only that it is the custom hereabouts among the large landowners. Whenever any grown person dies in the family, especially an unmarried daughter or the mother, her plate at the table is never taken away, save once a month, when it is washed. No one ever sits at that place no matter what the crowd is, no one uses anything belonging to mother. We hold the place sacred.

“Down at the farm of one of our neighbors they never remove the plate of their eldest daughter, who died 20 yrs. Ago. All the table article she used to use, are still there. An no one has ever occupied her narrow bed in her room. Her things are just as she left them, even to the chinaware on her bureau. Her dresses are faded and moth-eaten, and considerable had to be taken away, but a good many of her things are still as she left them.

“There is not so much regard shown for the boys. But when the head of the house dies his vacant chair at the table is never occupied. No one would dare to take that seat. At one large farm they kept his picture in a frame on his chair until one day the glass cracked and the frame split from some unknown cause. To this day they have an idea that the old farmer’s spirit came back and gave that picture a crack, because he didn’t like to see it there. Next they looked for the plate to be knocked off the table, but as that didn’t happen they take it for granted that the farmer thinks that’s all right. Over on another farm, where their oldest son died ten years ago, his room is closed forever, and kept just as he left it, with his gun, boots, clothes, and fishing rods in the corner. They still call it John’s room, and it will so continue until the farm passes into new hands. Not long ago the sale of a farm was nearly blocked when the owner wanted to stipulate in the deed that a certain room was not to be occupied until after the death of the seller.

“We know an aged lady who still pays for two seats in their church. Her husband died 11 years ago. She pays for his seat, and she occupies hers, never his, and no one else ever sits in that seat. Where a child over seven years of age dies, the plate is kept at the table a short time only. Where the child is 15, the plate is kept longer. Where the son or daughter dies, aged 21 or more, then the plate is never removed. I know one place where three grown daughters died within a year of diphtheria. Their plates in a row, are never removed, but fresh flowers are frequently placed near them. Their parents and brothers and sisters have long since ceased their weeping, and the table is no more sad, but everything is merry and happy, and they frequently chat with the dead people just as if they were present. It does no harm, even if it is foolish, as some people say.

“Three years ago an old farmer died five miles from here. He left seven grown children, two sons, and five daughters, all unmarried, and living at home. There is a rule in the family, and it has been so ever since the old gentleman died, that once a week each child shall spend a half hour in the old man’s big rocking chair, and think of him, commune with him, pray for him, ask his advice as to the farm management. They believe that he wants it to be thoroughly understood that he is still the master of that big farm. I guess he is, too, for the children are running the place on the co-operative plan, and they are getting along all right, apparently.

“People have to be very careful of the plates, cups and saucers of the dead. It is considered very bad luck if any piece is broken.”

Boston [MA] Daily Advertiser 13 July 1900: p. 5

This is very reminiscent of the ancient custom of equipping the dead with grave goods, brought to such perfection by the Egyptians, the Vikings, and the nomads of the Siberian steppes.  It also reminds me of the French family who stipulated that the bedroom of their son, killed in the Great War, should be kept as a shrine by the house’s owners “for 500 years” or the stories that Queen Victoria kept Prince Albert’s room as a shrine, commanding that hot water for shaving be brought daily and that the dead man’s clothes should be laid out for him. I haven’t been able to find any contemporary reports that the Queen really did issue orders to this effect, but she was acutely aware of the power of domestic relics, collecting locks of hair, casts of beloved relatives’ hands, and jewellery made from baby teeth. She also directed that a large number of sentimental objects be placed in her own coffin such as a dressing gown of Prince Albert’s and John Brown’s mother’s wedding ring.

In the article on “death drawers,” found by Mrs Daffodil, we find the following passage about a lady who also wanted to take it with her, although on a much more modest scale:

One most unusual request was that a plate, cup and saucer, knife, fork and spoon should be placed in an old woman’s coffin. She had used them for 70 years, and did not wish anyone else to use them when she was gone.

The Sun [New York, NY] 18 February 1900: p. 27

It appears that the custom of setting a place for the dead was not uncommon even outside Pennsylvania.

There is a woman in Atchison who sets a place at the table every day for her husband, who died over a year ago. In his plate she never fails to place a little bouquet of flowers. She believes the dead know what is going on on earth.

The St. Joseph [MO] Herald 19 January 1891: p. 4

At this historical distance, it is hard to know if some diners with the dead were merely trying to cope with their grief or had been driven mad by misfortune.

Sets Table for Dead Wife;

Police Take Him Away

Frank J. Nagle, forty-seven years old, a plate printer, of 457 I street southwest, is in Washington Asylum Hospital today for observation as to his mental condition. The police say he had his table spread for his wife, several months dead, and his two little children, who are in St. Joseph’s Orphan Asylum. Nagle recently lost his job at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and this, with his other misfortunes, is believed by his friends to have resulted in temporary mental derangement.

The Washington [DC] Times 16 February 1914: p. 12

This gentleman seemed to have a more balanced attitude, perhaps as a result of his Spiritualist faith. Or perhaps his wealth kept him from being sent to the asylum “for observation.”

SET TABLE FOR THE DEAD.

Menasha Man Had Places for Deceased Members of Family.

Menasha, Wis., Dec. 28. After a final consultation with the spirits death closed the life of Joseph A. Sanford, a wealthy retired lumber dealer of this city. Mr. Sanford was 84 years of age, and had been a resident of Menasha for more than sixty years. He was connected with the Menasha Wooden Ware Company, now the largest plant of its kind in the world, during its infancy; and later attained extensive lumber interests. During the last ten years Mr. Sanford had not partaken of a meal or retired at night without first having the table set for the deceased members of his family. At the retiring hour a fresh baked cake was placed on the table for the spirit members and these were consulted in all matters of importance concerning Mr. Sanford’s life before any action was decided upon.

The Indianapolis [IN] Star 29 December 1907: p. 11

I wish I knew the ending of this story of an unfortunate mother trying to cling to hope.

SHE AWAITS MISSING SON.

Winsted, Conn, December 12. Mrs. Martin Doyle, Sr., of Harwinton, has set a place at the table each meal time for her absent son, Michael, ever since he disappeared on April 3, 1904. After having partaken of supper that evening he walked out and has not since been heard of, although everything possible has been done by his relatives to find him.

In the interval Mrs. Doyle has lost her husband, her home has been destroyed by fire, and her other son, Martin, has become insane and is now in an asylum, leaving her alone.

The Montgomery [AL] Times 12 December 1907: p. 6

In 1883 Engineer John M. Miller, of Ohio, died in a train wreck. Articles commemorating his life mentioned that he believed that the ghosts of a fellow trainman and of his little daughter came aboard his engine to keep him company. Poignantly, he had a place set at his table for the child.

A few years ago Miller lost by death a bright little girl, to whom he was greatly attached, and ever afterward she, too, would nightly and daily get on his engine at a certain place on the road, and ride and talk with him until his train neared Dayton, and then disappear. As in the former case, her seat was kept for her in the cab, and no one allowed to occupy it.

At his home a chair was always set up to the table, the crib in which the child had been rocked drawn near, and a plate and food placed on the table, just as when the little girl lived and prattled. It is even said that the father would look at the chair and talk to its supposed occupant just as he used to do during its lifetime, and what seems strange now is that the wife and mother, an intelligent and highly respected lady, entertained and does now, the same superstitious views in regard to the child, and had the utmost faith in all that her husband ever told her about the ghostly visitations on the road.

Cincinnati [OH] Commercial Tribune 12 February 1883: p. 3

In The Ghost Wore Black, I wrote about the young woman who “married” the ghost of her dead fiancé. She, too, would set the table and chat over dinner with the shade of the dear departed. Is such a thing morbid or “foolish;” does it do harm to the grieving?

There is something both sad and yet convivial about dining with the dead. Many cultures practice it; the Hungry Ghost festival, and Dia de los Muertos, for example, bring the living and the dead together once more through food. And we eat together after funerals, reminding ourselves over the funeral baked casseroles that life goes on, that we still live and hunger, until we too can join the Buffet Invisible.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil can only imagine what Cook would say to such a proceeding…  The custom gives an entirely new meaning to the phrase “coffin plate.”

 

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.

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.

London Mourns for Queen Victoria: 1901

in memoriam queen victoria mourning handkerchief

Mourning handkerchief for the late Queen Victoria 1901 https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18730001/

MISS COLONIA IN LONDON

CONFIDENCES TO HER COUSINS ACROSS THE SEA.

February 1. My Dear Cousins,—Many, many years ago the Great White Queen on one of her first public appearances was shown to her subjects by candle light. During a Royal visit to Leamington, when she was still a child, a great crowd gathered at night outside the Regent Hotel, where the Duchess of Kent and her daughter were staying, and to satisfy the people the Duchess of Kent held the little Princess at the window while Sir John Conroy stood behind with two wax candles.

THE CHAPELLE ARDENTE.

Once again the soft glow of tapers falls on the faces of her subjects, but oh! how changed the scene. The little Princess, having wielded England’s sceptre longer and better than any predecessor, lies at rest in her island home, while her subjects, sorrowful and silent, file slowly by the coffin. From the peaceful death-chamber six stalwart bluejackets bore the Mistress of the Seas to the dining room where Princess Alice was married, now transformed into a Chapelle Ardente with some of the pomp that befits a mighty monarch. The room in which the now closed coffin rests overlooks the terrace, with Whippingham Church half a mile away, set in a charming picture of woods, and meadows, and hills. It is no grisly, gloomy chamber that the late Queen’s tenants and servants, her Osborne visitors, the. officers of her army and navy, the mayors of the island, and the Press representatives have been privileged to enter. On the scarlet dais in the centre of the chamber is the Royal Standard in silk. The coffin rests on the banner, but it cannot be seen, being covered by a- great pall of white satin, on which lie the dead Sovereign’s robes of the Order of the Garter, crimson velvet outside and ermine within. Her crown stands on the head of the coffin, its diamonds flashing in the flood of illumination. Small electric lights line the walls, and in each of the four corners are two candelabras, the tapers in which are artificial, with electric lights. The coffin is flanked by three tall silver candlesticks; at its foot is an altar in front of the French window, which is concealed by rich tapestry. The sacred table is covered with cloth of crimson and gold, on which appears the letters I.H.S. A large Greek cross stands on the table, flanked by candlesticks in which arc lighted tapers, while two other candlesticks rise from the altar steps. Above hangs a sacred picture, and over the mantelpiece opposite is another of Christ and His mother. All round the room arc palms and wreaths of flowers, tokens of love and sorrow. In one corner a silken Union Jack hangs from floor to ceiling, caught with an immense wreath of arums and laurels from the Royal gardens at Frogmore and but with this exception and that of the tapestry the chamber is entirely draped with crimson. But for the black spots on the ermine lining of the Royal cloak there would not be a sombre note in the picture. At each comer of the coffin stand Grenadier Guardsmen, with heads bowed and rifles reversed, while the Queen’s faithful Scotch and Indian personal, attendants and her equerry still continue with her in the hour of death.

THE ROYAL COFFIN.

The body rests in a beautiful shell of cedar wood made at Osborne. Outside this there will be placed a leaden case, hermetically sealed, and the whole will be covered by a panelled oak coffin highly polished. The coffin is being made by a firm in London who have made the coffins of the Kings and Queens and Royal Princes since George I.’s reign. It will exactly follow the lines of the coffin made for the late Duchess of Teck. The furniture is of plain brass, with square handles. There will be eleven panels, three on either side, three above, and one at each end. In the upper of the three panels above will lie an Imperial crown in brass, and under this a recital of Her Majesty’s titles, her age, length of reign, and general escutcheon. The coffin is made to fit the sarcophagus in Frogmore. There, is, I think, a general feeling of relief at the announcement that there is to be no formal lying in state. The funeral is to be simple and stately, and the Queen is to be borne through the Empire’s capital, so that her subjects, through whom she has so often passed amidst acclamation, may do her reverence on her last journey. What a contrast it will be to that magnificent, jubilee pageant, three years ago! Then national rejoicings, now

NATIONAL MOURNING.

That legend one reads in all the drapers’ shops. How superfluous the announcement seems, as superfluous as the Lord Chamberlain’s order that, “all persons do put themselves into the deepest mourning. This said mourning to begin upon Monday, the 28th day of this instant January.” All people had already done so as soon as ever they heard the sad news with a. unanimous spontaneity that proved the genuineness of their grief. I saw the mourning for the Duke of Clarence, but that was but a passing slight shadow of black compared to the present aspect of our streets. Everyone, be he lord or laborer, has garbed himself in black. The navvy wraps a black cloth round his neck, the barrister wears a deep band on his hat and a black tie. Even the laundry girl, who loves to garb herself in hues that stagger humanity, has managed to don a black hat and a black bow. We women are attired in black from head to foot, unbroken save perhaps by a touch of white. Look up a crowded street and you will see one long line of unrelieved black on each pavement. I was in a picture gallery to-day, and all the women present were as much in mourning as if each had lost a member of her own family. The very few people who still retain bright color in their hats or consider violent violet or proud purple suitable hues for complimentary mourning are so rare that their bright tints in the midst of the array of black strikes the eye with a shock of incongruity. And yet the effect does not seem so dismal as you would imagine, my dears. Black has a wonderfully refining influence and becomes us all, as you must have often noted in the case of maids and shopgirls. The crowd seems chastened, the vulgarity subdued, the bad taste blotted out, plain women look pretty, pretty women beautiful. A period of national mourning will prove, too, a useful corrective to our growing tendency towards show and garishness. An Englishwoman used to be noted for the simplicity of her costume; last summer you saw her shopping or strolling in lace and lingerie more suitable for the theatre or the ball room than for a simple walking dress. But I mustn’t begin to moralise. That is the sole function of the editor of your ‘Women’s World.’

bank of toronto in mourning for Queen Victoria 1901

The Bank of Toronto, Montreal, draped in mourning for the late Queen, 1901 http://collections.musee-mccord.qc.ca/scripts/large.php?Lang=1&accessnumber=MP-1977.76.108&idImage=153855

So far, and remember that I am writing at the beginning of the week, the mourning on our buildings has not yet assumed what I call a grisly shape, in which loyal grief is supposed to be in direct proportion to the extent of gloom that hangs over the shop front. At Windsor, at all events, there is to be no gruesomeness, no sombreness. The way to the altar in St. George’s Chapel will be carpeted with grey drugget, and there will be no sable drapery in the Chapel, hangings of royal purple taking its place. The Queen’s pew is even now draped with purple. It is to be hoped that the Royal example will be followed by the loyal Londoners. There are signs, however, that dismal draperies will be much more in evidence as the week draws to its close. In Fleet street one large furniture shop has already overshadowed itself by two huge sable curtains, caught up with white. Other establishments have hung from their balconies dark black cloth, fringed with white cord. Opposite our house an artistic potter has hung out a black banner bearing a silver crown and “V.” and violet letters” “R.I.P.” In one window the Queen’s portrait bordered by white heathery sprays is lit by two candles, while from the top of the building depends a black canopy, in the centre of which appears a shield with inscription: “We mourn our Queen and Mother.” Most shops content themselves with mourning shutters, a black plank placed perpendicularly in the centre of each window, and with flying the Royal Standard and Union Jack half-mast high, thus introducing a touch of color into the scene. With violets, purple and white, as well as black; available for the decoration of shop windows, you would have expected some simple and yet harmonious effective arrangement of the mourning goods displayed. I made a little tour of the fashionable dressmakers and drapers yesterday, but was disappointed in the lack of system—the absence of any dominant idea scheme in the windows. Black hats and toques and bonnets succeeded each other in unorganised monotony, black gowns and blouses were mixed with white in aimless array: and rolls of black cloth lay side by side with the uniformity of soldiers on parade. Occasionally someone, more enterprising than the rest, festooned the windows with black and white and violet muslin. In this respect the men’s shops made a more effective show than ours. With white shirts, white handkerchiefs, and black ties and scarves they contrived some striking combinations. One man hung alternately long full black scarves and white cambric handkerchiefs, over the top of which fell narrow black ties, such as men tie in bows. Another had arrayed his shirts in rows, with a wide black band diagonally across each shirt.

Prince of Wales feathers at Queen Victoria's funeral flowers

The florists made little difference in their usual display, giving perhaps more prominence to violets and white flowers than to brighter-colored ones. One Regent street shop displayed a Royal Crown in gold mimosa on a cushion of purple violets. Others showed wreaths of laurels or palms tied with white ribbon. Fuller’s confectionery windows were filled with puffed violet nun’s veiling, in which nestled dark chocolates. A stationer’s was full of black-edged and grey writing paper, and menu cards and ice case’s ornamented with sprays of violets. The hairdressers’ models were robed in black bodices. Everywhere are displayed portraits of the Queen draped in black, and these the people throng to buy. In the way of mourning jewellery there is little to be seen. No one has yet produced a cheap medallion or other memorial of the Queen that can be universally worn as were the buttons of the various generals at the war. The people would eagerly wear a simple, artistic memorial and treasure it in remembrance of their good Queen. One industry has received a strong impetus —that of Whitby jet, the demand for which had much declined. Jet is a fossil substance found in beds of lignite or brown coal, and there are large veins of it near Whitby, which port, in anticipation of a revival of the trade, had stored a large quantity of the best local jet, Many hundred pounds’ worth have already been despatched to London and the big provincial towns. In the jewellers’ windows here you see jet muff chains and hair combs. Whitby jet brooches and French jet waist buckles, jet aigrettes, jet and beaded bags, purses, safety pins and hat pins, jet necklaces and cut jet collarettes, initial safety pin mourning ‘brooches, jet necklets with pendant hearts of jet. Gun metal, too. is being utilised for mourning card cases, studs and sleeve links, and purses. Oxydised brooches of heart’s-ease or four-leaved clover, set with two or three diamonds or pearls, are also fashionable. Diamonds and .pearls, of course, are mourning wear, and the trade in these jewels will not suffer substantially. Those who like those bead necklaces and chains so fashionable now will no doubt be able to get them in amethysts and crystals, such as Miss Cockerell sent Princess Henry of Battenberg. The late Queen herself ordered some of jet and onyx for her own wear, so I daresay a good many people will be seen with similar necklaces in remembrance of her.

It. is at present hard to estimate the effect of the nation’s mourning upon trade in general. For the moment, there has, of course, been widespread loss in many directions, making the blow all the harder after the period of depression caused by the war. Entertainments, banquets, and other public functions have been abandoned. The value of thousands of pounds’ worth of flowers for table decorations has been lost, singers and society entertainers find their vocation for the present gone, and the decision of the managers of the principal theatres to close until after the funeral will cause distress to thousands who at this time of year depend on the pantomimes for their livelihood. Home managers, to prevent their employes being suddenly reduced to starvation, are keeping open their theatres every night save on that of the funeral. It is one thing to keep open a theatre and another to get the people just now to come to be amused, so that in all probability the opening of the theatres will simply mean that the employes, who only get paid for the nights they perform, will benefit at the cost of their managers.

While the drapery establishments for the time being will be largely drawn upon for mourning materials, it is evident that their general business will largely decrease. In the first place, black lasts so much longer than lighter colors, and many little fancy fal-lals that we should purchase for our adornment, at other times will be dispensed with. Again, a large proportion of the middle class still make their old things do for the occasion, and content themselves with cheap black blouses and scarves, and retrim the black hats that have been so fashionable of late.

Although the Court is directed to go into mourning for a whole year it is unlikely that the people will go garbed in solemn suits of black for so long, nor will crape be at all generally worn except by those in close connection with the Court.  In all probability, after a couple of months, as the winter draws to a close, (and, en passant, it is evident, that at no other season could the loss caused by the sudden transformation have been less), the black will be relieved by touches of white, and as the summer approaches subdued shades will gradually come, into wear—greys, lavenders, violets, purples. mauves–brightening steadily until Edward VII. and Queen Alexandra establish their Court definitely in the metropolis. The re-establishment of Court gaieties and functions in London in 1902 should lead to a, great revival of trade, that will more than compensate for the present year’s gloom. The King and Queen will appear more often among their subjects, Drawing Rooms will be held at night instead of in the afternoons—in fact, there will be some Court life and brilliancy such as has been practically lacking ever since the Prince, Consort’s death.

Tales of her sympathy and reminiscences of her kindly acts are legion….Prince Albert had just died, and when the bereaved Queen reached Balmoral, a few weeks after his death, she found the blinds of one of her cottages drawn. The master of the home had gone where prince and peasant are equal, and in his cottage the Queen sat with his widow. Together they wept, all earthly distinctions lost in their common sorrow. “I cried and the Queen cried,” said the cottager; “and when I begged her to pardon me for crying so bitterly, she said to me: ‘I am so glad to have someone to cry with who knows just how I feel.'”

And how are we to keep her memory green in our hearts? Someone suggests that we should retain her portrait on some of her stamps, another that we should ever improve the morality of the nation, and follow the example set us by her own virtuous We; a third— that we should have an annual holiday, a “Victoria Day,” in her memory. May 24 here is not celebrated as a public holiday, and, it is said, is too close to the Whitsun festival. In the colonies, however. “Queen’s Birthday” has become an institution, and will surely remain so in remembrance of one who at all events to all of us out of our teens, will always be referred to as the Queen.

Evening Star 11 March 1901: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: To-day is the anniversary of the State Funeral for Queen Victoria, held in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. The letter above was written by a New Zealand correspondent resident in London and gives an evocative look at mourning in the Capital for the beloved Queen.  The descriptions of shop windows and florist displays are particularly interesting, describing as they do, the long-lost ephemera of national mourning.  While no doubt the window-dresser at Fuller’s confectionery had the best of intentions,  Mrs Daffodil must challenge the assumption that dark chocolates are suitable for mourning.

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

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

How Mrs Stum Arranged a Funeral: 1875

mourning ladies Quad's Odds 1875

ONE IN A THOUSAND

How Mrs. Stum Arranged the Details of the Funeral.

If all women were as cool and matter-of-fact as Mrs. Stum! But she is one in a thousand. She was over at Mrs. Moody’s, on Macombe street, the other day, her iron-gray hair combed down flat and her spectacles adjusted to gossip range, when she suddenly arose and said:

“Mrs. Moody, be calm. Where do you keep the camphor bottle?”

“Why?” asked the surprised Mrs. Moody.

“Because they are bringing your husband through the gate on a board! I think he’s smashed dead, but be calm about it! I’ll stay right here and see to things!”

Mrs. Moody threw up her arms and fell down in a dead faint, and Mrs. Stum opened the door as the men laid the body on the porch.

“Is he dead?” she asked in an even tone.

“I think so,” answered one of the men; “the doctor’ll be here in a minute.”

The doctor came up, looked at the victim and said life had fled, adding:

“His back and four or five of his ribs are broken.”

“That’s sensible, that is,” said Mrs. Stum, gazing at the doctor in admiration. “Some physicians would have said that his vertebrae was mortally wounded, and would have gone on to talk about the ‘larynx,’ the ‘arteries,’ the ‘optic nerves,’ and the ‘diagnosis.’ If he’s dead it’ll be some satisfaction to know what he died of. Well, lug in the body and send a boy after an undertaker.”

The men carried the body through to a bed-room, and Mrs. Stum went back to Mrs. Moody, who was revived and was wailing and lamenting.

“Don’t, Julia—don’t take on so,” continued Mrs. Stum. “Of course you feel badly, and this interferes with taking up carpets and cleaning the house, but it’s pleasant weather for a funeral, and I think the corpse will look as natural as life.”

“Oh! My poor, poor husband,” wailed Mrs. Moody.

“He was a good husband, I’ll swear to that,” continued Mrs. Stum; “but he was dreadfully careless to let a house fall on him. Be calm, Mrs. Moody! I’ve sent for one of the best undertakers in Detroit, and you’ll be surprised at the way he’ll fix up the deceased.”

When the undertaker came in Mrs. Stum shook hands and said that death was sure to overtake every living thing sooner or later. She mentioned the kind of coffin she wanted, stated the number of hacks, the hour for the funeral, and held the end of the tape-line while he measured the body.

Several other neighbors came in, and she ordered them around and soon had everything working smoothly. The widow was sent to her room to weep out her grief, doors and windows were opened, and as Mrs. Stum built up a good baking fire, she said:

“Now, then, we want pie and cake and sauce and raised biscuit and floating islands. He’ll have watchers, and the watchers must have plenty to eat.”

When the baking had been finished the coffin and undertaker arrived, and the body was placed in its receptacle. Mrs. Stum agreed with the undertaker that the face wore a natural expression, and when he was going away she said:

“Be around on time. Don’t put in any second-class hacks, and don’t have any hitch in the proceedings at the grave!”

From that hour until two o’clock of the second day thereafter she had full charge. The widow was provided with a black bonnet, a crape shawl, etc., the watchers found plenty to eat, a minister was sent for, eighteen chairs were brought from the neighbors and everything moved along like clock-work.

“You must bear up,” she kept saying to the widow. “House cleaning must be done, that back yard must be raked off, and the pen stock must be drawed out, and you haven’t time to sit down and grieve. His life was insured, and we’ll go down next week and select some lovely mourning goods.”

Everybody who attended said they never saw a funeral pass off so smoothly, and when the hack had landed the widow and Mrs. Stum at her door again, Mrs. Stum asked:

“Now, didn’t you really enjoy the ride, after all?”

And the widow said she wouldn’t have believed that she could have stood it so well.

Detroit Free Press.

Macon [GA] Weekly Telegraph 4 May 1875: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil hopes that, should she ever find herself in a similarly worrying situation, she would be as resourceful as Mrs Stum, (the name means “silent,” in the Germanic tongue) if not quite so painfully candid.

There were, in point of fact, a thousand-and-one little duties to consider when organising a funeral; Mrs Stum’s quiet efficiency touches on several of them: providing the widow with black clothing without her having to leave the house; opening doors and windows, presumably under the “superstitious” belief that it would aid the the dear departed in departing; baking plenty of food for the “watchers,” who would sit up all night to ensure that the dead were not left alone—such vigils were thirsty (and hungry) work. The “hacks” ordered were the carriages to carry the family and friends to the grave and a successful funeral was often judged by the number of carriages following the hearse to the grave.

Mrs Daffodil has previously written of “fiends for a funeral,” who relished the rare treat of a carriage ride to the cemetery, while that funereal person over at Haunted Ohio has appropriated the same title for a post about individuals with a peculiar taste for attending the funerals of total strangers.  Undertakers ultimately had to resort to special cards and tickets of invitation to keep away the interlopers. One feels instinctively that Mrs Stum would have instantly spotted these funeral fanciers and turned them out of the cemetery.

For more on Victorian mourning customs in a (mostly) more sombre vein, see The Victorian Book of the Dead by Chris Woodyard.

 

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.