Category Archives: Edwardian

Blackmail by Carrier Pigeon: 1903, 1910

pigeon blackmail

BLACKMAIL BY CARRIER PIGEON

Blackmail by carrier pigeon is the very latest novelty in Paris.

On Sunday night during the past summer a tradesman received an anonymous letter, the writer of which desired that he would disclose certain secrets of the tradesman unless he received 4000 francs to be sent by carrier pigeon.

“On Tuesday morning,” he was told, “four carrier pigeons will be sent to you. Each bird carries under its wing a little case, in which you will place a 1000-franc note. You will then set the pigeons free, and if they do not return to me by midday I shall know what to do.”
The pigeons arrived from four different railway stations in Paris on Tuesday morning, as stated. The tradesman handed them over to the police, who set them free, weighting them lightly enough to allow them to fly, but heavily enough to make them fly slowly. They followed on bicycles in the hope that they thus might betray the blackmailer into the hands of justice, but he had also flown when the police arrived.

Los Angeles [CA] Herald 2 January 1910: p. 31

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: One wonders what kind of secrets the blackmailer had to report about the tradesman, but perhaps even the most upright tradesman has a skeleton or two in the cupboard. Mrs Daffodil is reminded of the joke about a man who sent twelve of his most respectable friends an anonymous telegram reading: “Fly at once! All is discovered!” All twelve disappeared and were never seen again.

One young Frenchwoman found herself the victim of pigeon-blackmail with some very high stakes:

Blackmail by Aid of Homing Pigeon.

Latest French Style in Crime Beggared an Heiress and Didn’t Help the Blackmailer.

Paris, Feb. 6. The latest thing in crime is blackmail by carrier pigeon. The police do not know how many rich persons have fallen victims to it and are completely puzzled by the case of the one victim who has reported her loss. She is, or was. Mlle. Lucile de Beaupre of Rouen. The attempt at blackmail has cost her her whole fortune of 500,000 francs ($100,000) and has not enriched the blackmailers.

Mlle, de Beaupre was to inherit the amount from her grandfather when she became 25 years of age. Under the will, the money was to go to another branch of the family should the girl marry before that age. During a visit to Paris she fell in love with a lieutenant named I.ebrun. Being ordered to Algiers, he persuaded her into a secret marriage.

Two days after she returned home, believing her secret save in the keeping of only her husband and herself, she received a large package. Supposing it was from Lebrun, she opened it in her room. It contained a live pigeon. Having heard from I.ebrun something of the use of these birds and still believing he had sent it, she searched the pigeon and was horrified to find, neatly rolled in a quill under one wing, the following message: “To Mme. Lebrun, formerly Mile. Lucile de Beaupre; I am aware of  your recent marriage and I happen also to know the sum of money you will forfeit if the matter becomes generally known. If you value my secrecy and have confidence in my discretion, the fact shall go no further. As a testimony from you that you have such confidence, I suggest that you place within the quill which contained this letter, two 1000-franc notes. Having done that, I shall expect you to liberate the bird within the next 12 hours.”

The note bore no signature and was not even in handwriting, being composed of letters cut from some printed matter and carefully pasted on. Unable to get 2000 francs ($400) without her parents’ knowledge, the girl consulted the priest who had been her confessor from childhood. He persuaded her to confess the whole affair to her parents. They were highly enraged and Papa de Beaupre declared the money must be raised and remitted per pigeon at all hazards. The priest with difficulty induced the irate parent to call in the police and give up all hope of getting the 500,000 franc legacy in the family.

The Spokane [WA] Press 6 February 1903: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil has a nasty, suspicious mind.  She would suggest that the blackmailer was Lieutenant Lebrun himself–young Lucile would have recognised his hand-writing, hence the pasted letters–who found himself in financial embarrassment and knew that his new wife had a lucrative secret that her family would pay to keep hidden.

Strangely, the pigeon-blackmail method was not a short-lived fad.  As late as the 1930s and 1940s, blackmailers were still trying to collect via pigeon, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase “flying squad.”

AIRPLANE TRAPS BLACKMAILER BY TRAILING PIGEON

German police have successfully employed an airplane to foil a blackmail plot, although the criminal was ingenious enough to use a carrier pigeon in his operations. A Hamburg resident received a package containing the pigeon and a letter, instructing him to attach notes amounting to 5,000 marks to its neck and release it. Two pilots in an airplane trailed the pigeon and photographed from the air the dove cote in a suburb on which it alighted. Confronted with this evidence, the criminal confessed.

Popular Mechanics December, 1929  

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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Cecilia’s Novel Occupation: 1904

The End of Dinner, Jules Alexandre Grun, 1913

Cecilia’s Novel Occupation

By Lola Terry Shannon

Cecilia is a very bright young western woman with artistic tastes and an unusual facility for putting them to practical use, and is the only American woman who has ever made a reputation on both sides of the Atlantic as a designer and decorator in connection with fashionable catering. Since she is a living entity at this writing, and very much alive at that, it may be well to state, in passing, that Cecilia is not her real name but only a fictitious substitute for present purposes.

She gave some points on her experience to a little group of summer sojourners at an old-fashioned farmhouse one summer evening, which seemed interesting enough to “pass along.”

“I can’t understand,” she said, in laughing response to the clamorous invitation to tell something about her “novel” occupation, “why there need be anything novel about it. Any woman with average brain power, good health, and a knack for bringing out color effects ought to be able to make a success at my calling. Many a young woman of artistic temperament in our large cities, who is trying to make a living as an artist, musician or writer, would find here a fair, open field for her energies and ideas, with plenty of hard work, it is true, but with good money compensation to offset the late and early hours.

“I started in as an employee in a confectionery store in Chicago and soon discovered that my love of fresh, crisp ribbons and pretty bows stood me in good stead. All of my spare moments were used in thinking up new ideas for candy boxes and baskets, and in inventing new color schemes for our large window. Once I designed some favors which my employer was pleased to consider quite original, and when one of the city’s big caterers applied to him for an assistant, I was selected as an emergency substitute, and finally decided to remain in the business.

“No one on the outside can have any idea of the amount of ingenuity for which the business of a fashionable caterer calls. The detail work is enormous. Each person, of course, wants something entirely fresh and original, and the poor man is often driven to despair in his efforts to obtain ideas that are both novel and attractive.

“I went abroad once to help an American confectioner open up a place in London. It was then that I had my first experience in planning for an English hunt dinner. It was to be given at an old manor, the country home of a certain wealthy lord, and my employer considered it, of course, an opportunity from a business standpoint.

“How we did slave getting ready! We had been given carte blanche as to expense, and it was only a question of design and detail; but it brought on a genuine attack of brain fag for everybody engaged in its preparation. The affair was, however, a great success and launched my chief on the top wave of popular favor.

“It was all in gold and scarlet. The table service was far handsomer than anything I had ever seen or even dreamed of, though I had decorated for some of the wealthiest families in our own country. Such wonderful gold and silver plate, which had been handed down, not for generations, but for centuries, all in rich, specially wrought designs without duplicates! And the rare translucent china and exquisite cut glass, together with the plate, made splendid effects possible.

“Well! As I said, this hunt dinner was all in gold and scarlet. We even invented scarlet candies and bonbons with prince of Wales feathers on them in raised gold effect. These were heaped in gold dishes, solid gold epergnes, with tiny electric lights inside, shining through the transparent candies. The souvenirs were water colors of the famous horses and dogs belonging to the family, on imitation gold-tipped oak leaves, in autumnal scarlet tints. The menus were in the form of maple leaves with gold stems. All the flowers were scarlet. The miniature fence which enclosed the centerpiece was an exact copy of those the hunters were to take in the field and had vines and scarlet blossoms climbing over it. The ices were in the form of stags’ heads and we had hunting horns made of puff paste and filled with pate. The whole thing seemed to be a revelation to the titled diners. and, as I said, brought one American caterer many fresh favors.

“Then there was another affair which came soon after which did much “to help us ‘arrive.’ The order for this dinner was ‘everything in green and white.’ and we decided upon lilies of the valley as the principal floral decoration, and we used them almost by the load. An electric fountain in the center of the table sprayed lily of the valley perfume over floating water lilies. The souvenirs were in green and white. The ices were water lilies and the exquisite table service was in green, white and gold. Green grapes and lilies heaped high in gold epergnes were partially hidden by trailing vines. The electric fountain was the feature that made a hit at this dinner, for nobody there had ever seen anything like it.

“We worked day and night trying to make our Regent street store attractive. We changed the whole color scheme once a week and there was always a crowd in front of our windows after a fresh design had been arranged.

“One week we would have everything in autumn tints. Candy boxes and candies, decorations and trimmings, were gorgeous with reds and yellows and rich russets. In the early spring the place blossomed in pink, with real apple blossoms renewed every day, as the leading decoration. When Sweet Lavender was making a great hit at the Lyceum we decorated the place in lavender. Our candy boxes during that time were all lined with lavender satin and adorned with scenes from the play. There were great masses of violets everywhere. and each lady who made a purchase was presented with sprigs of old-fashioned lavender tied with satin ribbon of the prevailing tint.

“But I think we got the most fun from our fishmonger’s window. We had models of almost every edible variety of fish made out of papier-mâché, from huge salmon which held fifteen pounds of candy to tiny, silvery sardines with their hidden store of pink creams. They were made by an expert and were wonderfully lifelike. The blocks of ice under the big fish were thick squares of washing soda, which has, at a distance, the exact appearance of ice. We broke the soda up into small pieces and mixed it with seaweed on handsome trays for the smaller fish, which even included shrimps and oysters as well as lobsters. These were all filled with candy carefully selected with thought to artistic contrast in color. We made an unexpected sensation which kept our force in jolly spirits for the rest of the season, for the policeman who had our particular block under his watchful eye was deceived by the lifelikeness of our display into thinking that the place had changed hands, and, as no fishmongers are allowed on Regent street, he walked in very pompously, to arrest the head of the firm for violation of municipal law. We knew then that our last effort was ‘a howling success,’ and had the satisfaction besides of getting off a rich joke on one of those top-lofty London police.

“It was well that things happened occasionally, for long hours and incessant work were certainly trying to health and spirits. But we had our compensations. At the end of six months we had made such a decided hit that servants in livery were sent to inquire what our next week’s color scheme would be, so that entertainments could be planned in the same color, and our things obtained without special orders, which always required more time to fill.

“Everybody who is engaged in the catering business must find that entertaining in this prosperous country of ours grows more elaborate every year, and, during the season, a fashionable caterer’s only consolation seems to be that the martyrs are the pick of humanity. Such a constant, well-bred clamor as there is for something fresh and striking!

“If novel designs were necessary for the menus only, the pressure would be wearing enough. but that is the simplest part. The table decorations, forms and garnitures must always be in the nature of a surprise, and to accomplish this in such a way as to pleasantly astonish jaded senses is not an easy task. and it is right here that any number of women of artistic tastes and originality can find quick appreciation.

“As for my method: After an order came in for a particularly elaborate affair, I would go off by myself to cudgel my brain for a new dinner scheme. Then I would talk it over with my employer, who would change a little here and elaborate a little there, offer a few suggestions and then put the whole thing into my hands. When I had made the sketches and designs in the privacy of my own little den. I would go out and give instructions to the bakers, confectioners, florists and candle makers, leaving with them molds and instructions after my designs, after which there were always a hundred other things which I must attend to personally regarding the souvenirs and menus and details of service.

“I had some experience in getting up dinners for uppertendom in New York city last season, and you’ve no idea of the labor that goes into one of those big functions. It’s a city of nerves and notions, and it is one of the most difficult things in the world to cater for its rich leisure class. Chicago millionaires do not seem to be so sated with the good things of life. There is a freshness and spontaneity about their enjoyment of creature comforts which belongs naturally, I think, to the breezy west. Last season while I was in New York we had an order from Chicago for everything, even to the waiters. Every smallest detail of that dinner was finished up as completely as possible before it was sent; forward. Even the sorbet cups of ice were frozen and tied with ribbons before being packed. I tied fifteen hundred bows of white ribbon for that dinner. which was entirely in white and green.

“One naturally would think that functions for special days like Valentine or Christmas would suggest themes in themselves, but so many appropriate ideas have been used up already on these celebrations that it has become exceedingly difficult to think up anything distinctly original.

“Designing ribbons and decorating boxes for high-class caterers is a business in itself. One of the most beautiful boxes which I ever designed was ordered by a well-known California woman as a gift to the president and his wife. It was in rich pearl gray and pink satin, hand embroidered and painted, and cost two hundred and fifty dollars, unfilled.

“Yes, there is certainly a fascination about the work, and a wide field for women of artistic originality, and I wonder that more do not take the work up,” Cecilia concluded, as she arose. And, as the little company of interested listeners followed her into the farmhouse parlor, some of them marveled, too, that the wide-awake, aggressive American girl has so completely overlooked this remunerative and, as Cecilia said, fascinating occupation.

Good Housekeeping Vol. 39 1904: pp. 207-209

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Personally Mrs Daffodil would not care to dine while the scent of lilies-of-the-valley was wafted across the soup and fish courses, no matter how novel the electric fountain.

The “uppertendom” of New York was insatiable for novelty in its lavish floral arrangements and cotillion favours.  One of the oddest set of favours were the live pets given at a “swell” New York function in 1897:

Novel Cotillion Favors.

That there is nothing new under the sun is a trite saying which seems truthful; nevertheless, unheard-of ideas are constantly appearing. The latest of these has resulted in a novel cotillion favor. At a recent swell function, live pets were given as favors. Canaries in gilded cages, Maltese and Angora kittens in silk-lined baskets, and tiny toy terriers in dog houses of Japanese niches, were some especially noted.

For the gentlemen there were jointed fishing rods tied with white satin ribbon, skeletons, celluloid skulls, small cameras and silver shaving mirrors.

Dinner favors heard of recently were stuffed birds which could be used in hats, jeweled hat pins, gem decorated belt clasps and neck scarfs.

The Brooklyn [NY] Citizen 7 November 1897: p. 20

Mrs Daffodil expects that the RSPCA would have been waiting outside had any London society hostess attempted such a thing.

“[New York is] a city of nerves and notions, and it is one of the most difficult things in the world to cater for its rich leisure class.”

Mrs Daffodil is thankful that the English have no nerves. It makes the caterer’s life much simpler, when clients are so easily pleased with stags’-head ices and hunting horns made of puff paste.

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 Tell-Tale Sealing Wax: 1908

SEALING-WAX CLUE.

FOOTMAN-THIEF TRACKED.

A remarkable story of tell-tale sealing wax was told at Leeds Assizes in the case of George Percy Finn, aged eighteen, footman, indicted for the theft of a diamond tiara, value £1300, the property of Louisa Montagu, at High Melton, Yorkshire, between January 1 and 4. The prisoner pleaded guilty.

Counsel stated that the tiara was a wedding present to Mrs. Montagu. The prisoner had been in the service of Mr. and Mrs. Montagu for about three months, and was third footman. The tiara was kept in a safe in the pantry, and was in charge of the first footman, in whose custody was the key of the safe. At twelve o’clock on January 2 the tiara was in the safe, and was there seen, by the first footman, who, however, missed it at two o’clock the following day. He at once informed Mr. Montagu. Superintendent Hicks, of Doncaster, went to Melton Park, and interviewed the servants, including the prisoner. They all denied knowledge of the tiara.

On January 8 Mr. Montagu received an anonymous letter to the effect that a tiara had been taken from his house, but was quite safe and would be returned whole for £500. If the jewellery were wanted, Mr. Montagu was to put a “personal” advertisement in a paper. The postmark on the envelope was London.

The letter was sealed with magenta-coloured sealing wax, similar to a stick in Mrs. Montagu’s boudoir. Suspicion fell upon the prisoner, who had access to the boudoir. On January 11 a red stick of sealing wax was substituted for the magenta one, and on the 18th Superintendent Hicks wrote in answer to the advertisement, and sent it to the agony column of the paper specified. In the meantime, a detective had taken up his abode in Melton Park, and by him the prisoner was seen to pick up the newspaper in question and begin to read the agony column.

On January 15 a second anonymous letter came to Mr. Montagu to the same effect, only in stronger terms. This was sealed with vermilion sealing wax, and bore the postmark of Kentish Town. Superintendent Hicks went to the prisoner’s home in London. The prisoner’s mother handed him a letter from her son requesting her to post the letter sent to Melton Park. The superintendent immediately left again for Melton Park, and arrested the prisoner.

The stolen property was afterwards found hidden in a field.

Mr. Justice Sutton sentenced the prisoner to twelve months’ imprisonment with hard labour on the Borstal system, when he would have the opportunity of learning some trade and earning an honest livelihood.

Auckland [NZ] Star 2 May 1908: p. 15

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The agony columns of the newspapers were full of cryptic advertisements, like this one–obviously written in cypher.

NY Herald 22 August 1879 agony column in cypher

And this one, which suggests that a deceived husband is no longer in the dark.

owl agony column NY Herald 4 October 1879

[Many thanks to Undine of Strange Company for these choice specimens.]

The agony columns of the Times were particularly renowned for their blend of comedy, heart-break, and mystery.

It is a matter of considerable surprise that the “intelligent foreigner ” has made so little, in his criticisms on English eccentricities, of that astonishing product of the present generation, the second column of the Times. To the thorough Englishman it is difficult to understand how other European nations contrive to get on without the help of that daily outlet for the anxieties of the bewildered and the bereaved. Here, taking up the Times of a day or two ago, are nearly a score of these petitions for information on all sorts of subjects. Some half-dozen invocations begin the list in which “Toots,” “Sea,” ” Claudine,” “Duffer,” and “K–ff” are piteously implored to communicate with the heart-broken advertisers, either directly, or through the medium of one of those strange secret agencies, whose existence and doings are so bewildering to steady-going families. Next comes an appeal to a lady, mentioned by name, to apply at an hotel in the classic district of the Minories on urgent private affairs. Then follows a list of all sorts of possessions, lost by their careless owners, from certificates of a great Indian railway down to bracelets, dogs, and bunches of keys, for which rewards varying in amount are specially promised, but most surprising in the way of promised reward is the price set upon “a young married lady” by her disconsolate husband or friends. For the lady herself, including her apparel, besides earrings and brooch, only the sum of  £2 is offered. The Pall Mall Gazette [London England] 5 December 1868: p. 5

It is a pity that young George got ideas above his station. Sealing wax, indeed!  Ideally, he would have enclosed the anonymous letter–written with his non-dominant hand–on the cheapest possible stationary, enclosed in an envelope filched from a hotel lounge, sealed with mucilage from the common glue pot, and smudged with his grubby fingermarks, although the latter might have proved his undoing. The Fingerprint Branch at New Scotland Yard was created in July 1901.  The Devil is in the details….

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.

Saved by the Clock: 1901

floral clock with swags 1914

1901 funeral flowers in the form of a clock. The hands point to the time of death.

CLOCK PREVENTED A BURIAL ALIVE

Girl Was Apparently Dead, but Timepiece Aroused Doubt.

IT WOULD NOT STOP

Sister Refused to Permit Burial While the Clock Ticked.

Supposed Corpse Was in a Trance and Awoke on the Fifth Day of Her Sleep.

“I am not superstitious,” said the landlady, “but there was something happened at my house about two years ago that made my flesh creep for a while, in spit of my skepticism.

“Among my boarders at that time were a widow named Mrs. Dodson, her sister, Miss Ashby, and a young man whose name was Mr. Duby. Mr. Duby was a dealer in curios. He had in his collection a number of clocks and watches, and on Miss Ashby’s birthday he made her a present of a eight-day clock. This time piece was very fine. It was about two feet high, was made of scented woods inlaid with gold, and the face, with the exception of the slits for the pendulum and the keyholes, appeared to be hermetically sealed.

“Shortly after presenting this gift to Miss Ashby Mr. Dunby left for a trip in Mexico. About 11 o’clock on the Monday after his departure I was getting ready for bed, when Mrs. Dodson tapped on the door and called to me softly through the keyhole.

“’O, Mrs. Clark,’ she said, ‘won’t you come upstairs a moment, please? Alice has been taken ill very suddenly, and I don’t know what to do for her.’

“I threw on my clothes and hurried up to Miss Ashby’s room, but, quick as I had been, it was plain that she was breathing her last. I dispatched my husband posthaste for the doctor around the corner, but before he returned the girl was gone. Mrs. Dodson and another boarder and myself were alone with her when the end came, and the minute we were assured that all was over Mrs. Dodson looked up at the clock on the mantel and said:

“’Ten minutes past eleven. I must stop the clock.’

Could Not Stop the Clock.

“She walked over and opened the painted glass door and put her hand on the pendulum, but the minute she let go it commenced ticking as loudly and regularly as before. Mrs. Dodson looked round at us in surprise.

“’Why, how strange!’ she cried. ‘It won’t stop.’

“She caught the pendulum again. Even as she held it a faint whirring noise was heard inside the clock, as if it rebelled against this restriction of movement, and no sooner was the pendulum released than it went on with its monotonous vibrations. By the time my husband came with the doctor, Mrs. Dodson had worked herself up into a fever of grief and superstitious fear.

“’It won’t stop,’ she said over and over again.

“My husband tried to comfort her. ‘If you want a clock stopped at the hour of death,’ he said, ‘we will have to get another.

“But Mrs. Dodson would not listen to that suggestion. “I must stop this one,’ she said, ‘or none at all. It has been the custom in our family for generations to stop the clock in the death chamber the minute one of us dies, and Alice would never forgive me if I should fail to do the same thing for her.’

“Seeing that her distress was genuine, my husband took the clock downstairs, and began to tinker with it himself. He turned it sideways and upside down—did everything to it, in fact, except to break it into smithereens—but, no matter how he treated it, it kept on running.

“Mrs. Dodson wept unrestrainedly. ‘It is very strange,’ she said. ‘This is the first clock I ever saw that wouldn’t stop when you wanted it to. Most of them take spells and refuse to run, but this one won’t stop running. The phenomenon is something more than mere chance. It is meant as a warning, and I am going to heed it. I am not going to bury Alice till the clock stops.’

Averted a Premature Burial.

“In vain did we argue with her. Doctors and undertakers pronounced Miss Ashby dead, but, although her body was robed for burial, Mrs. Dodson would not consent to embalming or sepulture. For four days the girl lay in her room upstairs, watched constantly by Mrs. Dodson or a trained nurse, and for four days that clock kept up its everlasting tick-tock. On the morning of the fifth day after Miss Ashby’s death Mrs. Dodson looked out as I was passing through the second floor hall and called to me excitedly.

“’I think Alice is coming to,’ she said. ‘Send for the doctor.’

“I was ready to drop with nervousness, but I managed to gather strength enough to summon the doctor, and then we set to work on the girl. It sounds impossible, but she really did revive, and, although very weak and naturally slow of recovery, she finally regained perfect health. For a long time that clock was an object of superstitious veneration, even to the strongest-minded person about the house, and not till Mr. Duby came home from Mexico did our faith in the supernatural give way to practical common sense.

“’That clock,’ said Mr. Duby, ‘Is the product of my own inventiveness. I tinkered away on it for months and finally got the works in such condition that nothing short of absolute destruction could prevent its going for eight days after it was once wound. I used to think I was fooling way my time when I pottered around with those old springs for hours at a stretch, but it proved to be the best work of my life. If it hadn’t been for that clock—’

“And we all shuddered at the thought of what would have happened if it hadn’t been for the clock. Oh, no; there was really nothing unearthly about the affair, but since then I have been a good deal more charitable with persons who are naturally superstitious than I was before.”

The Inter Ocean [Chicago IL] 5 May 1901: p. 33

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It was a wide-spread custom to stop the clocks in a house at the time of death, perhaps symbolising that time was over for the deceased. One stopped the clock to avert bad luck or perhaps to ward off another death in the house. A 1909 compendium of “popular superstitions” recorded: “When anyone has died in a home, the clock must be stopped at once, and all the pictures turned toward the wall, or more of the family will die soon.”

There were various, and sometimes conflicting, beliefs about clocks and death. A sampling:

If a clock, long motionless, suddenly begins to tick or strike, it is a sign of approaching death or misfortune.

Van Smith died Saturday night of pneumonia and typhoid fever. He was a noble youth, just budding into manhood. In the room in which he was sick is an old family clock that has not run for a great many years. Several years ago while old uncle Johnnie Smith, the grandfather of the deceased, was lying sick in the same room, a few hours before his death the clock struck several times. A few years afterward Mr. Wm. Smith, father of the deceased, died in the room, and a short while before his death the clock again struck. On Friday night it struck again and Van died on Saturday night following. It was not running, had not been wound up, and was not touched by any one. This is indeed wonderful, but it is true, and can be verified by a score of witnesses.  The Pulaski [TN] Citizen 12 February 1880: p. 3

And

A DEATH CLOCK.

We have recently been informed of a truly wonderful clock, which is said to belong to a family in Newport. The clock is of simple construction, and belongs to the family of Mr. L—y; but all the efforts of clockmakers have not been able to make it keep time—consequently, it has been permitted to rest in silence. A few hours before the death of Mr. L—y’s sister, some short time since, the clock suddenly struck one, after a silence of many months. It thus continued to maintain its silence until another member of the family was prostrated with a fatal malady, when it again struck one, and on the following day the child was buried. A year elapsed, when a second child sickened and died. The clock was punctual in sounding one a few hours previous to its death. A third child, a little boy fifteen months old, was afflicted with scrofula, which baffled the skill of his physician, and died. The clock gave the usual warning, and struck one. It has never failed in sounding a death knell when any of the family in whose possession it now is were about to die. “There are stranger things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy.”—Cincinnati paper. Ballou Dollar Monthly Magazine Vol. 16, 1862: p. 414

Clocks were also said to stop or “die” at the same moment as their owner, in the manner of the old song “My Grandfather’s Clock,”  which contains the refrain: “But it stopped short, never to go again/ When the old man died”] Perhaps this is why Miss Ashby’s clock stubbornly refused to be stopped.

They have a genuine grandfather’s clock in Maryland, at the residence of the late Thos. M. Clavert, in Cecil county. The clock had been running for twenty-one years without repairs. When Mr. Calvert died, the folks looked at the clock to note the moment of his death. The clock had stopped, and they can’t make it run again. The Atchison [KS] Daily Champion 31 January 1880:p. 2

REMARKABLE CLOCK OWNED IN OMAHA

Stopped Short at Moment of Death of Two Members of the Family.

Omaha, Apri. 2. Doctor John F. Hertzman, a physician who has lived in this city for twenty-five years and has held several minor public offices, died this morning at 5:20 o’clock after an extended illness.

Watchers beside his bedside declare that, at the moment he was declared dead by the attending physician, the clock in the bed chamber ceased to tick. The fact has become known and many curious neighbors have called to see the phenomenon. The clock has been permitted to stand at 5:20.

The curious incident is further emphasized by the fact that three years  ago the same clock also stopped at the exact moment of the daughter’s death.

Another curious fact in connection with Doctor Hertzman’s death is told. His age, according to Omaha time, was 48 years, 6 hours and five minutes.

As Doctor Hertzman was born in France, it is figured by the relatives that he died almost at the moment, if not at the exact moment, of the close of his forty-seventh year, when the difference in time between the two points is considered. Tucson [AZ] Daily Citizen 2 April 1902: p. 8

 

To be Relentlessly Informative, there has been a lot of loose talk about the term “saved by the bell,” as a reference to bells rigged to ring when a prematurely buried person revived. While such devices did exist, they did not inspire the idiom. The phrase had its origins in the boxing ring.

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.

 

She Wore the Key: 1902

wardrobe lock keySHE WORE THE KEY.

Sad Eyes, Pathetic Droop Made It a Mystery Until Explained.

It was the usual crowd of well-gowned femininity that filled the car, wending its way matineeward. Every woman at all young or at all aiming to be fashionable, wore a chain of some sort from which dangled charms of every kind and descriptions, lockets, heart-shaped and round, small gold or silver purses, lorgnettes and watches.

The girl in the smart black costume, with exquisite sables, appeared to be exempt from the prevailing mania, and therefore became the mark for the attention of the observer of details. As the atmosphere of the car grew warmer she slipped the long fur scarf from her neck, revealing the fact that so far from being immune she had eclipsed all the others in the originality of her “dangle.”

A small gold chain was worn around her neck and fell half way to the waist. On it was a key set with diamonds. It was no caprice of the jeweler, but the real article, an ordinary every-day affair such as one wrestles with at the front door.

Now, what was the romance connected with that very prosaic key making it worthy to be set with diamonds and displayed so prominently as a treasured possession? The sad eyes of the owner had that misty, faraway look of unshed tears. The Parisian hat failed to hide the pathetic droop of the graceful head.

Here was a story, surely. Imagination conjured up a picture of a betrothal rudely broken by the death of the fiancé, the key treasured as a memento of the many happy evenings they had spent together, and the stolen kisses in the vestibule as he hesitated before opening the door for her. The somber gown hinted at a loss. The wistful eyes and sweet lips accentuated the idea.

Or could the key be that of the vault the young man had been entombed? Could it be? Fancy waxed more and more grewsome with each new contemplation of the unusual charm worn by this fair heroine of modern romance.

At Sixty-fourth street another very smart young woman boarded the car, and with a friendly greeting to the girl with the key at once opened up a conversion.

“I see you are wearing your key,” she began.

“How shockingly unfeeling,” thought the observer.

“Yes,” replied she of the pathetic eyes. “I can go out now with a peaceful mind, knowing that Marie will not be wearing my frocks. I never could hide it where she couldn’t find it”

Somehow the unshed tears and the droop weren’t so noticeable now. — New York Herald.

Delphos [OH] Daily Herald 16 August 1902: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The sharp-eyed denizens of the car would have noted that “smart black costume,” also that sables were the only appropriate mourning fur and made their calculations accordingly.

The theme of the maid wearing the mistress’s clothing was a pervasive and long-standing one, as we see by these jokes:

Employment Agent: “Those are fine recommendations that gurl has, mum. Shall I send for her to come and talk with you?”

Mrs. Bronston. “Is she tall or short?’

“Rather tall, mum; but—”

“Is she fat or thin?”

“Rather stout, mum, a good strong—”

“Is she stouter than I am?”

“Oh, yes, mum, a good deal.”

“She won’t do. She’d split the seams of every dress I have.

The Times [Philadelphia PA] 9 August 1891: p. 9

And

“Going to leave, Mary?”

“Yes, mum; I find I am very discontented.”

“If there is anything I can do to make you comfortable, let me know.”

“No, mum, it’s impossible. You can’t alter your figger to my figger, no mor’n I can. Your dresses won’t fit me, and I can’t appear on Sundays as I used at my last place where missus’s clothes fitted ‘xactly.”

Juniata [PA] Sentinel and Republican 3 March 1880: p. 4

And this, on the cost of keeping servants:

There might have been a time when servant girls had a penchant for wearing their mistresses’ clothes, but that was in the days of low wages. Nowadays the average girl would not be seen in such shabby dresses as the mistress is obliged to appear in.

Chicago [IL ] Daily Tribune 18 February 1882: p. 11

 

Mrs Daffodil will note that she never, ever pilfered any of her mistress’s wardrobes, even when she served as lady’s maid to Duchesses. Their tastes were far too impractical for Mrs Daffodil’s line of work. One cannot tip-toe after malefactors in high heeled shoes with eye-catching paste buckles, weapons cannot easily be concealed in Rococo-revival lace engageantes, and chiffon demi-trains, no matter how well dust-ruffled, will pick up incriminating bits of dirt and debris.

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 Ghost With a Broomstick: 1901

beaded funeral wreath

Beaded French funeral wreath or immortelle.

A GHOST WITH A BROOMSTICK.

After Burying His Wife Schernel Went Home and Felt Her Wrath Physically.

Some days ago a joiner named Louis Schernel, living in the rue d’ Alsace in Levallois-Perret (Seine) took his wife to the Beaujon hospital for treatment. Then he went on a spree, which he kept up for two weeks.

At the end of that period he thought it was about time for him to visit his wife and find out how she was progressing. He went to the hospital and asked to see Mme. Schernel.

The clerk, not catching the name precisely, fancied that he asked for “Mme. Cermel,” a woman who had died just two days before and whose body was about to be taken to the cemetery.

“There is her funeral starting now,” said the official, pointing to a hearse.

There were no mourners to follow the hearse. The dead woman was poor and friendless. Schernel, convinced that his wife’s body was in the hearse, followed It to Saint-Ouen. The last prayers were recited, and while the gravedigger was filling up the grave Schernel knelt and prayed, after which he left the cemetery and purchased a wooden cross and a wreath in a store adjoining the place. He placed them carefully on the grave, knelt again in prayer, and then proceeded to the nearest saloon to mend his broken heart. He continued his spree for five days more. Meanwhile his wife returned from the hospital sound in body and mind. She heard of her husband’s prolonged spree, but knew nothing of her supposed funeral.

While she was shopping he returned in a glorious condition, and, without undressing, threw himself on the bed. She returned to find him snoring like a foghorn. She allowed him to sleep for some hours, and at last proceeded to wake him up with a broomstick. She succeeded marvellously.

With a yell Schernel jumped up and ran out of the house. At full speed he fled through the streets until he came to the police station. There he told the officer in charge that the ghost of his wife was in his house raising Cain.

The officer thought he was crazy. But to investigate the affair he went to the Schernel home, and sure enough, there he found Mme. Schernel putting the place in order and very much astonished at the precipitate flight of her husband.

A little inquiry developed the truth in the case, but Schernel insists that he is a widower and that the ghost of his wife haunts his house. Now nothing can induce him to go home. But later on the ghost will have something to say in the matter. Paris correspondence of the New York Courrier des Etats Unis.

The Clayton [AL] Record 7 March 1901: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  M. Schernel seems to be in denial, while Mme. Schernel, a lady of considerable sang froid, in Mrs Daffodil’s opinion, seems to have taken her husband’s sprees in stride. One shudders to think how vigorously that broomstick would have been deployed if Mme. Schernel had returned to find that her “widower” had decided during one of those sprees that it was not good for man to be alone and had brought home a new bride.

Some gentlemen were remarkably premature in making such arrangements:

A dying woman in Leavenworth overheard her husband make proposals of marriage to a servant girl. She didn’t die.

The Daily Phoenix [Columbia SC] 10 November 1870: 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.

A Crying Need for the Old-Maid Aunt: 1910

universal aunt banner

Universal Aunt duties http://www.universalaunts.co.uk/

CRYING NEED OF TIME IS FOR OLD MAID AUNT.

Here Is New Profession Open to Old Fashioned Women

By HELEN DARE

So many helpless puzzled bewildered women who are thrown upon their own resources, only to discover that they have none, write to me asking me, “What shall I do? What would you do if you were in my place?” that I am tempted to make a suggestion, or rather to put to them a question.

I would not venture to advise. That is too thankless a task, too oracular for a modest experimenter at life and as full of pointed dangers as a porcupine is of quills. And anyway, why stand at Market and Kearny with a basket of new persimmons when a hungry world is reaching for marshmallows?

However–

To the long and ever-increasing line of women forced out into the world to make their own way without any preparation for the tussle to the women who have been sheltered wives, dependent sisters, petted daughters occupied in meeting the varied demands of a home, I would like to put the question:

Why not be old maid aunts?

The crying need of the world today is for old maid aunts. Not the modem spinster relative who, what with physical culture, beauty culture, an independent income and a latch key, has become a modern species; but the genuine, old-fashioned old maid aunt who gave her usefulness and her faithful affection for a home and clothes, who made the desserts and did the mending, who remembered to bring the plants in and put the cat out, who stayed at home with the children when the rest of the family went to the theatre, and got them off to school on time with clean faces while mother caught up on her beauty sleep; who was always ready to see the inopportune caller and tactful enough to steer her away without offense; who sat up with the measles and remembered the overshoes and umbrellas; who helped with the lessons and the preserves, and never asked anything for herself except what was left over and of no use to anybody else anyhow.

That sort of old maid aunt is as extinct as the pterodactyl and as precious as a wishing stone.

Urgent Need for Her

And there is now a more urgent pressing need for her than there has ever been in the history of mankind.

Progress is accompanied by its own train of woes. A transition period like moving day is filled with discomforts and awaits readjustment. And womenfolk making the transit from pleasant leisurely dependence to busy independence are feeling the crumpled rose leaf in the bed they make for themselves.

In short, they are finding out that in pursuing fame fortune and a career they are strangely hampered by having to do for their own comfort the things that are done for men by women–by their dependent wives, mothers or sisters.

The professional man or the business man can marry a wife who will keep his house for him, take care of his money, consider his tastes in ordering dinner, send his clothes to the laundry, darn his socks, do his shopping, save his important papers from the ash can, pack his bag when he goes on a hurried journey, watch his colds, get his clothes back from the cleaner, and listen to his grievances sympathetically.

But who is there to do this for the professional or business woman?

She can hire a cook; she can hire a maid and even a housekeeper; but she can’t buy affectionate self-sacrificing attention and interest and forethought.

If she has dependent relatives, they are either too old or too young to give her this sort of comforting service, or they are too selfishly busy getting ready to make their own way at her expense. Sometimes she has a mother, but mothers, alas, don’t last forever. Sometimes she has a sister, a niece or a daughter, but these have a way of marrying or making careers for themselves–being modern.

So what can she do?

Professional Women Need Her

The woman doctor who must read up on her cases, attend her clinics, call on her patients, keep her office hours and get her meals and her rest, has no time to mend the rips in her gloves or the lace in her lingerie; she can’t watch for the seasonable things in market nor the latest mode in hats and skirts; she sees the silver turn black on her dressing table, her handkerchief and jabots go to the laundry and never come back; her silk petticoats go to ruin for want of a stitch, and the fruit season passes without getting her jams and jellies made.

So does the lawyer woman, the writer woman and artist, and the business woman: and what’s the joy of being a woman when things like that happen to you?

Think what a priceless treasure a kind, gentle, cultivated, accomplished, industrious, thoughtful, economical, professional old maid aunt, fat or slender, would be to a woman who has to put in sixteen hours a day, and all her thought on her work; who wants a home, and regular meals, occasional social contact with her kind, and clothes that won’t look as though they’d been grabbed from a bargain counter in passing. Think what she’d be to the business or professional woman who has little children–as some of them are weak enough to have! What a blessing– and how welcome to a share of the income–she’d be when she was getting them up for school in the morning and getting them safely to bed, sound in wind and limb at night!

You see, don’t you, the crying need for the old maid aunt–the pleasant, lucrative, lasting profession that’s open to her?

It’s an opportunity that the helpful, home-making woman with all the domestic virtues and none of the modern vices, can make the most of.

Consider it, my anxious inquiring sisters; consider it practically.

The San Francisco [CA] Chronicle 28 July 1910: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil, who has experience as a paid “companion” and has witnessed first-hand the treatment of governesses, maids, confidential secretaries, and companions, would object to the “pleasant and lucrative” appellation the author gives the profession of–Mrs Daffodil shudders at the offensive term–“old maid aunt.”  The author paints a rosy picture of a “genuine, old-fashioned old maid aunt who gave her usefulness and her faithful affection for a home and clothes, etc. etc. etc.,” but Mrs Daffodil can assure her readers that such selfless ladies are responsible for a good many undetected domestic poisonings.

Mrs Daffodil is tempted to write a sharp letter to the Times over the assumptions in this article: career women being “strangely hampered by having to do for their own comfort the things that are done for men by women–by their dependent wives, mothers or sisters.”  The assumption that those providing these services must be women and “old-fashioned” women at that.  Are there no agencies supplying appropriate gentlemen to ease the burden of the woman doctor, lawyer, or accountant?  Has no one heard of the gigolo? Surely a platonic version of that profession would prove much in demand.  One might even negotiate a semi-platonic arrangement, otherwise known as a Mariage de convenance. 

Mrs Daffodil’s blood also boiled at “the business or professional woman who has little children–as some of them are weak enough to have!”  Surely the little children’s father’s weakness is equally to be censured?

This article, written in 1910, anticipates not only the “Surplus Woman” problem of the Great War’s aftermath, but the foundation of Universal Aunts in 1921, whose motto was “Anything for Anyone at Any Time.” It is curious that there is no corresponding “Universal Uncles” franchise, although Mrs Daffodil is aware of a company in the States, which calls itself “Rent-a-Husband,” and provides strictly platonic home maintenance services.

 

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.