Category Archives: Edwardian

The Professional Ghost:1904

the ghost of greystone grange 1878

The Ghost of Greystone Grange, a shilling-shocker from 1878. British Library

In this season of Hallowe’en and its attendant Horrors, Mrs Daffodil is practically compelled to invite that shuddersome person from Haunted Ohio to share one of her posts. Mrs Daffodil is sure that her readers will find this piece to be less fraught than some of the ghastly stories which that weird writer normally shares about mourning practices.

***

Let us lighten the mood with an amusing little tale about a man with an unusual job–told in the vernacular–by Robert Ernest Vernede, author and poet, who died in the Great War.

TALE OF A GHOST

By R.E. Vernede

He was a thin, weak-legged old man, with a chronic cold and a grievance. I had met him in a country lane, shuffling along with a piece of rope in one hand and a stable lantern and some bits of old iron in the other. He told me his profession with a child-like vanity that was not without its charm, and, warmed by a pint of bitter I stood him at a wayside inn, he enlarged upon his grievance.

“It ain’t wurf it,” he said, “not by a long chalk it ain’t. I’ll give it up, that’s what I’ll do. It’s them blue lights and signtific contrapshions as does me. Nobody never asked for blue lights when I fust started. They ‘and’t thought of ‘em neither.”

“How long ago was that?” I asked.

“Thirty-seven years come Michelmas,” said the old man, proudly. “I was the fust profeshnal ghost, as you might say, in the country, and there ain’t many now as ha’ done what I done. How I know it was 37 years come Michelmas, I was a-working on the pump at Buntford, an’ they putt the figgers on it. I ain’t a scholar mesalf, but I’ve heard me niece read ‘em—“

“What used you to be, then?”
“Bricklayer. That’s how I come to be a ghost—along of Mr. Frank Burrers, which I dessay you’ve known the name of. “’E come up to me one night—we was repairin’ an old ‘ouse, ‘Grimbles’ they call it, which Mr. Richard Price, as owned the ‘ouse, and ‘is father before ‘im was wishin’ to sell. Seems Mr. Frank Burrers liked the ‘ouse, an’ they do say as he’d bid for it; but Mr. Price, he wanted more money than what ‘ad been bid. That was how it was when Mr. Frank Burrers he comes up to me, and sez he, ‘John,’ he sez, ‘that’s a old ‘ouse you’re workin’ on.’ ‘That’s what it looks to be,’ sez I. ‘They do tell me,’ sez he, ‘as it’s ‘aunted. Did ever you ‘ear any queer noises while you was about—clankin’ o’ chains at night an’ strange footsteps?’ I never hadn’t, an’ I told Mr. Burrers so, saying that what was more, I didn’t believe there was such things as ghosts. ‘Well, well,’ sez he, soothing like, ‘some folks do and some folks don’t. As it ‘appens, it ‘ud pay me if that there Grimbles was ‘aunted.’ ‘You don’t say it?’ sez I. ‘Yes, I do,’ sez he. ‘It ‘ud pay me and it ‘ud pay you.’ ‘What do you mean?’ sez I, wiv me ears up. For we just finishing wiv the ‘ouse, an’ I ‘and’t no job fixed arter that, and the winter comin’. ‘I mean that if you was to ‘aunt that ‘ouse it ‘ud be money in your pocket, John,’ sez he. ‘I dessay it’ ud come nigh to 16 shillin’s a week. You’d have to ‘aunt it fair an’ square, mind—no shirkin’—hours 9-7 reg’lar; and if there was anyone comin’ to look over the house wiv a view to purchase, you’d have to put in a bit of extra ‘auntin’. It wouldn’t be wot you’d call ‘ard work, but it ‘ud have to be steady, so that folks get to know there’s a shoes up to Grimbles as walks reg’lar.’

“Well, the end of it was that I took the job. I didn’t like it at fust, thin’ as how it was a come down from being a bricklayer to be a ghost. Once or twiced I felt lonely-like an’ thought o’ giving it up, but arter a while it began to grown on me, an’ in four weeks Mr. Frank Burrers he bought the ‘ouse for £200 less than what he’d offered for it fust. He giv’ me my 16 shillin’s a week an’ two pound extry, an’ sez he, ‘I’m goin’ in for a bit o’ properthy-buyin’ in different parts o’ the country, an’ if you like to sign on wiv me reg’lar, why, you can come down wiv’ me an’ ‘aunt such ‘ouses, as they’ve got too big a price up on. ‘Auntin’ seems to suit you,’ sez he, lookin’ at me. ‘You won’t never be stout; but you ain’t so thin as I’ve seen you.’”

“An’ did you sign on with Mr. Burrers?” I asked.

“I did,” said the old man. “Seven year I worked for him—Essex—Yorkshire—Souf Wales—Worrickshire—I bin in all them places durin’ that time ‘auntin.’ Sometimes I was a lame ghost; sometimes I ‘ad one arm, or I jingled me spurs or me chains. Once I kerried me head under me arm, an’ Mr. Burrers he paid me 18 shillin’s that week. I used to be able to groan nine different ways an’ all of ‘em ‘orrible. Sometimes it was the gall’ry I ‘aunted, and then again it was a garret or a shrubbery. It all depended on the fambly history. Mr. Burrers used to read it up an’ tell me what to do.”
“Did you ever frighten anyone?” I asked.

The old man looked at me with ineffable scorn.

“’Underds,” he said. “Care-takers, pleecmen, poachers, intendin’ tenants, girls wot had arranged to meet their young men thereabouts, curits, ‘ouse agents’ clerks—I’ve frightened ‘em all, an’ not bin nabbed once. I eud frighten ‘em still, if times was wot they used to be.”

“They’ve changed, have they?”
“Mr. Burrers died, an’ arter that I never had the same prospects. There aren’t any re’glar employers o’ ghosts. Gen’ally it’s bin a company as has giv’ me a job—wantin’ either to redooce the price of a ‘ouse, same as Mr. Burrers; or to advytize a seaside place. There’s a good deal o’ advytizing done that way o’ late. Them trippers get tired o’ the pier an’ the [minstrel shows] an’ drivin’ to see a monument. Then we starts a ‘aunted ‘ouse a few miles. P’r’aps it’s by arrangements wiv a job-master an’ he drives folks out to see; p’r’aps it’s a hotel proprietor that takes up the notion.”

“But it’s not as good a profession as it was.”

“Not by a long way. They wants it signtific—blue lights and such contrapshions. ‘ad to spend two shillin’s on blue lights on’y yesterday out o’ 14 shillin’s a week. I’ll ‘ave to give it up; that’s what I’ll ‘ave to do.”

I paid the price of another half-pint, and left this interesting old man still lamenting the downfall of his profession. It really seems that even ghosts should have to move with the times. Black and White.

The Evening Star [Independence, KS] 9 November 1904: p. 6

Ghost-‘unters still wants it signtific…. to judge by all the electronic gadgetry that pervades paranormal TV. It was ever thus. See this post on “The Psychic Howler” and other early ghost-hunting equipment. Any non-fictional tales of genuine “professional ghosts?” ‘aunt me at chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com

 

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.

 

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The Monkey at the Masquerade: 1908

Worked Out All Right.

One of the clerks of a well-known City merchant recently received an invitation to a masked ball at his employer’s, and was the envy of his comrades. Resolved to do all he could to make the occasion a success, he spent a good deal of time in devising and making his masquerade costume, which, after long deliberation, he resolved should be that of a monkey. Then he spent a week learning a number of tricks —grinning, clambering on the chimney-piece, springing on to the table, and balancing himself on the back of a chair.

The evening came. He rang the bell, gave his overcoat into the servant’s arms, and, with a grin and chatter, turned a somersault under the chandelier. The gentlemen stood stupefied, the ladies screamed. His mask prevented him from seeing much, but the noise encouraged him to bound over a sofa and throw down a cabinet of old china. At this moment a hand seized him, tore off his mask, and the voice of his employer asked him what he meant by his idiotic conduct. Before he could explain he was hustled out of the house, learning by one glimpse that the rest of the company were in evening dress.

The next day he was sent for, and entered the office with trembling knees.

“I had the pleasure of a visit from you last evening,” said the gentleman.

“Yes. sir; that is—I—”

“No excuses,” said the other; “no excuses. I have doubled your salary. I noticed that you were overlooked for promotion last year. Good morning. Shut the door after you.”

“Well, I’ll be blessed!” said the clerk, going out. His employer had made an early investigation into the matter, and found that the other clerks had “put up a job” on the young man by sending him a bogus invitation. The employer made things even by promoting him over their heads.

Otago Witness 7 October 1908: p. 88

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: In the newspapers and women’s magazines, invitations to masked balls issued to young clerks by their employers almost always end happily, as we have seen previously in the story of The Four Red Devils.

Mrs Daffodil does not think that this is a common occurrence in Real Life. She is puzzled by the extraordinary forbearance of the employer in not summoning the police or a lunacy commission, but perhaps the gentleman knew that the cabinet of old china was insured for far more than he had paid for his aesthetic-minded wife’s tiresome collection.

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.

384,000 Squeezes: The Evidence in the Breach-of-Promise Case: 1901

 

They were in to see a divorce lawyer yesterday — Mary Ann and her mother. Mary Ann was a little embarrassed, but the old woman was calm. When they spoke about a breach-of-promise case the lawyer asked:

“What evidence have you got?”

“Mary Ann, produce the letters,” commanded the mother, and the girl took the cover off a willow basket and remarked that she thought 927 letters would do to begin on. The other 651 would be produced as soon as the case was fairly before the court

“And outside of these letters?” queried the lawyer.

“Mary Ann, produce your diary,” said the mother. “Now turn to the heading of ‘Promises,’ and tell how many times this marriage business was talked over.”

“The footing is 214 times,” answered the girl

“Now turn to the heading of ‘Darling,’ and give us the number of times he has applied the term to you.”

“If I have figured right, the total is 9,254 times.”

“I guess you counted pretty straight, for you are good in arithmetic. Now turn to the heading of ‘Woodbine Cottage,’ and tell as how many times he has talked of such a home for you after marriage.”

“The footing is 1,395 times.”

“Very well. This lawyer wants to be sure that we’ve got a case. How many times has Charles Henry said he would die for you?”

‘Three hundred and fifty,” answered the girl as she turned over a leaf.

“How many times has he called you an angel?”

“Over 11,000, mamma.”

“How about squeezing hands?”

“Over 384,000 squeezes.”

“And kisses?”

“Nearly 417,000.”

“There’s our case,” said the mother, as she deposited basket and diary on the lawyer’s table. “Look over the documents, and if you want anything further I can bring in a dozen neighbors to swear to facts. We sue for $10,000 damages, and we don’t settle for less than an eighty-acre farm, with buildings in good repair. We’ll call again next week. Good day, sir!”

Hot Stuff by Funny Men, 1901: p. 237

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: And to think that some persons believe that girls have no business studying mathematics!  A persuasive argument to the contrary…

 

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 Girl in the Car: 1903

woman in coffin 1876 American Enterprise. Burley's United States centennial gasetteer and guide

Ghost Editor, Fort Worth Telegram

Dear Sir: I had never been a believer in the supernatural prior to the occurrence of the incident which gives rise to my story, but the facts which I am about to relate had the effect of purging the skepticism that had hitherto prevailed in my mind regarding such matters.

During the year of 1903 I was employed as an express messenger on the Fort Worth-Texarkana run.

One night there was transferred to my car from the western division a coffin containing a corpse consigned from El Paso to Schenectady, N.Y., and while this is no unusual traveling companion for an express messenger, the night in question was one which prompted thoughts of the supernatural, gloomy with a stillness in the air that foretold the approach of a heavy storm.

Being absorbed with routine matters which demanded my attention, little time was given to thought of the contents of the pine box lying in a far corner of the car. Vivid flashes of lightning and the ominous aspect of the sky made it plain that the elements would soon be warring. Being forty-five minutes late out of the last station passed and due in Longview at midnight, we were traveling at a rapid rate with an endeavor to make up the time lost. The air of the car being somewhat close, I stepped to the door and threw it half open. Simultaneously a blinding flash of lightning, accompanied by a crash of thunder, made me start back involuntarily from the open door. Before I could recover my composure, a gust of wind swept thru the car, extinguishing every light. I sprang to the open door and slammed it together, avoiding a deluge of rain that fell as the sluice gates of heaven had been opened. Turning quickly with a view to relighting my lamps, a flash of lightning revealed to me the form of a girl about twenty years of age standing in the center of the car. In my astonishment, thinking that my imagination had served me with an illusion, I waited for a second flash that again revealed the form of the girl, and while my gaze was limited to the momentary glare, I took in every detail of her figure and dress. She was attired in a brown street dress with long gloves to match, and her dark hair fell loose in a mass around her shoulders, contrasting strongly with the paleness of her face. For a moment I could scarcely move. My first thought was of how this girl could have gained entrance to my car while the train was moving at the rate of forty miles an hour. Another lightning flash showed the girl advancing toward me with her arms outstretched in a imploring attitude. My glance in this brief second also reverted to the farther par of the car, and to my horror observed the lid of the coffin thrown to one side and now standing open. This was the first time that I had associated the form of the girl with the supernatural, and my senses seemed to leave me as I dashed to the door and slammed it violently ajar. As I did, something seemed to pass me, and vanish out into the storm, followed by a wailing cry that even now at times rings thru my ears. I staggered back from the door from which I had sought to plunge and fell heavily to the floor of my car.

When the train reached Longview the baggage man climbed into my car and discovered my condition. A stiff drink of whisky brought me back to my normal senses and I recited my story.

After the lamps had been re-lit, a promptly investigation was made of the box in my car, which was found intact and strongly nailed.

Various opinions were presented by my train associates, and I caught  some of them winking knowingly.

I carefully noted down the address and destination of the coffin and the name of the consignor. A few days later I wrote to Schenectady requesting of the consignor a description of the corpse, and a week later received an answer describing in both feature and figure the girl whom I so fully described to my fellow workers the night of the visitation. I answered this letter, confiding my interest in the matter, with the request to be advised if the lady had formerly worn a brown dress, receiving a reply in the affirmative and to the effect that it was in this she had died from heart failure thru climbing a flight of stairs at a hotel in El Paso.

Do I believe in ghosts/ Well, I have another occupation than that of express messenger. Yours truly,

W.K.T. SCOTT

Fort Worth [TX] Star-Telegram 13 December 1907: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A nice, shuddersome story!  One can readily understand the narrator’s resignation from his occupation after such an uncanny encounter.

After the American Civil War, when embalming became more widespread, it was commonplace to ship corpses via the rails. The Wells Fargo company was one of the first in this field; they found an ingenious and heartless way to exploit the deaths of consumption patients.

AN INDUSTRY IN CORPSES
How an Express Company and an Undertaker Whack Up on Consumptives.

The Wells-Fargo Company does some queer things in the way of business, but the strangest perhaps is a new line, worked up by one of the shrewdest agents of the country at Denver. Colorado is a sort of last chance of consumptives, and pretty generally they die there. Most of them are supplied with money from home in regular installments, so when they die not enough coin is found among their effects to pay an undertaker. Undoubtedly many of them would be buried by the county, but right here’s where the company gets in.

It has a contract with an undertaker who takes charge of the body, embalms it, and gets it all ready for shipment. Then the Fargo agent wires to the agents in the towns from which the deceased received letters. If any relatives can be found it is a sure thing, and nine times out of ten enough friends can be found to put up a check for the undertaker’s charges and transportation. When this has been done the body is shipped to the friends or relatives by fast train, and turned over by the agent. The company makes a fat annual profit out of this melancholy business–“the corpse industry,” they call it—it is a good snap for the undertaker, and this county is saved just so many dollars. Many a time there have been three to four corpses at once in the company’s “cooling room” at Denver awaiting notice from friends in just this way. It is a cold day when W.F. & Co., can’t discover a new way to turn an honest penny.

The Pittsburg [PA] Dispatch 19 July 1891: p. 18

Mrs Daffodil thanks Chris Woodyard for that diverting Wells Fargo anecdote, which appears in her book, The Victorian Book of the Dead, also available in a Kindle edition.

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 Practical Heiress: 1911

teens couple

A Practical Heiress.

“Darling,” he asked as he drew his fiancée closer to him, “am I the only man you ever kissed?”

“Charles,” she replied somewhat testily, “I would like to ask you a few questions before we go any further. You are no doubt aware of the fact that papa is worth several million dollars, aren’t you?”

“Y-yes.”

“You understand, no doubt, that when he dies all of that vast fortune will be left to me?”

“Y-yes.”

“You know that I have $500,000 in cash in the banks?”

“Y-yes.”

“And own half a million dollars’ worth of property?”

“Y-yes.”

“And many share of stocks and bonds?”

“Y-yes.”

“And that my diamonds are valued at $100,000?”

“Y-yes.”

“And my horses and automobiles at $75,000?”

“Y-yes.”

“And my yachts at $50,000?”

“Y-yes.”

“And my dogs at $25,000?”

“Y-yes.”

“Then, for goodness sake! Why don’t you talk sense? What difference would it make to you if I had kissed a thousand men before I met you?”

“He hemmed and hawed and stammered and blushed, and tried to think of a suitable reply, but finally had to give it up; and when the great heiress began to talk of something else he heaved a deep sigh of relief, and swore to himself that he would be more careful in the future.

Caricature, wit and humor of a nation in picture, song and story 1911

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: No doubt the great heiress believes that she can Mould the stammering and blushing Charles into something more serviceable—possible even into a man who talks sense. Mrs Daffodil would like to remind the heiress, who seems to have chilled champagne in her veins instead of blood, that it is vulgar to talk of money, that hobby-husbands eventually become tiresome, and that worms do turn.

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 Telephone Tapper: 1903

candlestick telephone 1902

A TELEPHONE EAVESDROPPER

“Of all the strange occupations the strangest is that of telephone tapper,” said an old employe of the telephone company the other day. “There aren’t ten men in Chicago who know what a telephone tapper is, but there are hundreds of persons who have come to grief through his work.

“The tapper is a man who is hired by the telephone company. His business is to tap the wires on party lines, at hotels, and such places, to see if the telephone is being used by persons who are not careful of what they say. Often the company receives complaints that telephone users say unprintable things that are unavoidably overheard. The company tries to do away with this sort of patronage. Hence the tapper.

“The tapper must be a man of infinite patience. I have known them to sit for 20 hours at a stretch waiting for a signal. When a complaint is made that the wrong kind of talk is circulating on a party line the tapper goes to one of the houses, generally the home of the complainant, and taps the wire. This is done with a specially constructed instrument, just as does any telephone. It is fastened to the regular phone and then the tapper sits back with the receiver clamped to his ear to await a call.

Takes Notes on What He Hears.

“He takes notes on every conversation he hears, and sometimes he must repeat his vigil day after day. As a rule he does not have to wait many hours, because the persons who use the telephones recklessly are at the instrument about as often as they can find time. “Not long ago a complaint was made by a man on a party line. He said that a very disgusting courtship was being carried on over the wire, and that his wife and daughter could not take down the receiver without hearing something they should not hear.

“The tapper was sent out to investigate. He rigged up his instrument and sat down to wait. All the afternoon he stuck to his post, hearing only the orders given to the butcher, the grocer, or the cola man. Finally in the evening shortly before dinner, the bell rang three times. The tapper looked at his notebook and learned the call was for the home of a well-known family. Soon the click was heard as a receiver came from the hook, and a young woman’s voice called out ‘Hello!’

“’Is this Miss___?’ asked a masculine voice.

“’Yes,’ went to the answer over the party line; ‘is this you?’ asked the young woman, calling the man by name. You see, the tapper had learned there in a minute who were the guilty parties. He remained at the receiver and heard a conversation that I would not repeat. He let the couple finish their conversation and then returned to the complaint office. Next day notice was served on the people who live in the house on the party line that the telephone must not be used as it had been in the past. The young woman protested that she had not talked over the telephone in a week, but when notes on the conversation were shown to her, she arose and indignantly swept from the room.

Some Laughable Experiences.

“The tapper often meets with laughable experiences. One of them was sent out to investigate the case where a man was in the habit of swearing a great deal when using the telephone. After a long wait without hearing him one day he left. Going back the next day he was more successful. He had hardly taken up his watch when the bell rang. The man he was after was calling another person.

“The men were at outs, it seemed, and began quarreling and swearing at each other. The talk soon became furious.

“’I’ll not stand for your way of doing, and I’ll take a punch at you the first time I see you,’ said one of the men, with a liberal supply of oaths.

“’If you do, your wife won’t know you when you go home,’ the other retorted, sandwiching a few smoking epithets between the other words.

“The verbal duel grew hotter. The tapper had the name of one of the men, but the other he did not know. But he finally got it. The conversation kept on until one called the other some kind of a liar.

“’I’ll whip you for that, or my name isn’t ___’ yelled the unknown, and the tapper had completed his chain. No complaints have since been made by persons on that line. The tapper’s work put an end to the disagreeable conversations.

“Of course, it very often happens that the tapper waits vainly for his parties, but he hears enough of the private affairs of people to fill a dozen such notebooks as he carries. One of the men was on a line not long ago when the bell rang and a young woman answered the ‘phone.

Talked of Champagne.

“’How’s your head today, dearie?’ asked a young man who had the other end of the line.

“‘Big as a balloon. I could hear champagne corks popping all night long. No more of the bubbles for me,’ came the answer.

“’I’ve been feeling badly all day, too. I can taste that chop suey yet. What did your mother say?’

“‘Oh, not much of anything. I kept out of sight. I’ve got to go to an old club meeting tonight and I’d rather take a whipping.’

“At this point in the conversation the click of a receiver was heard on the line.

“‘Watch out,’ said the young man, warningly; ‘somebody is cutting in. Good-bye.’

“A tapper was sent down to one of the big hotels on Michigan avenue not long ago. The hotel management said that guests had complained of overhearing distasteful talk over the wires. The tapper rigged up his instrument at the switchboard and waited. I don’t know that he got the right parties, but he heard one very lively little conversation.

“A drop at the switchboard fell, indicating that a guest in a certain room was calling. In a refined voice an elderly man asked for a number which I have since learned is that of a ‘phone in a Drexel boulevard home.

“‘Is this Mrs. So-and-so?’ asked the man.

“‘Yes,’ came the answer.

“‘How about a nice little dinner tonight down town?’ was the next question.

“‘All right,’ answered the woman; ‘but, say, this is the last one. My son is coming home from Yale for his vacation in a few days, and my husband is coming on from New York with him. You must not call me up under any circumstances after this. I’ll be down at 5:30 this evening, but we’ll have to abandon our little dinners. It’s too bad, but you know when the cat comes home the mouse must keep hidden.’

“The tapper knows pretty well what is going on about town and could tell many stories. He is a close-mouthed fellow, however, and knows it is best to keep still. If the people who use telephones knew that they are telling their stories to a tapper as well as to the person at the other end of the line, they would be more careful.

“Tappers themselves say that dead men and telephone tappers tell no stories, but the latter keeps a record of what he learns, and in the record are the names of some people who are supposed by their friends to be of the goody-goody sort.

“It’s a peculiar kind of work at any rate, and one of which the public knows nothing.”

Tacoma [WA] Evening News 21 March 1903: p. 18

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  To judge from remarks in the early-twentieth-century press, the work of the tapper was considered rather sordid and unethical.  All the peeping and prying was entirely too suggestive of the unpleasantries of what lawyers called “divorce work.” One is reminded of the statement of U.S. Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson who closed the intelligence-gathering Cipher Bureau with the remark, “Gentlemen do not read each others’ mail.”

Of course, the profession still exists on to-day with, of course, rather different machinery and objectives. One doubts that any of to-day’s  tappers are interested in improper language or courtships, unless they have been specially hired by a suspicious spouse.

Mrs Daffodils wonders that there was ever a necessity to enlist trained operatives to “listen in” on illicit telephone communications. There were many talented amateurs who routinely and “inadvertently” overheard party-line conversations and who would happily report their findings to a rapt audience.

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 Unblushing Peek-a-Boo Waist: 1906

peekaboo waist

Midsummer Follies in Dress

How the Unblushing Peek-a-Boo Shirt Waist Has Grown Worse and Worse Until It Has Gotten Into the Courts.

From the New York American.

The well-recognized innate tendency of woman to carry fashions to outrageous extremes receives a startling illustration this year in the garment popularly known as “the peek-a-boo waist.” It has now reached a phase of disclosure entirely beyond anything dreamed of in civilized countries; since the pagan fashions of drapery yielded to the advance of modesty.

The peek-a-boo waist heads the list of all the follies which woman is committing this summer in the name of fashion. Philosophers, be it noted, have observed that woman is especially prone to commit follies in summer. Associated with the peek-a-boo waist in prevalence and in provocative character is the open-work or peek-a-boo stocking.

The question of the peek-a-boo waist is a serious one for the American people. Leading clergymen have thundered denunciations of it from the pulpit. It has given rise to cases in police courts. In the opinion of clergymen, magistrates and other high authorities, it is the cause of wickedness, strife and widespread demoralization in social and business life.

The New York Telephone company has been forced to issue orders that its women employees shall not wear peek-a-boo waists.

It was found that the men employees were so distracted by the new developments and vagaries of the peek-a-boo, as exhibited by their near neighbors in the Office, that they were practically unable to attend to business, thereby causing great annoyance to the public. A leading bank president called to have his house telephone disconnected for the summer, and addressed his instructions in vain to an assistant manager, whose eyes were busy exploring the mysteries of a peek-a-boo waist.

Even a Parisian leader of fashion has declared that the peek-a-boo waist is immodest. The Countess de Noailles has declared that any woman who wears a shirt waist exposing her bare shoulders is deficient in good breeding. The decollete gown may be excused on the ground that it is worn in the company of friends and intimates, but the peek-a-boo unveils the wearer to the populace. The denunciation from a Parisienne is as significant in its way as that of religious leaders.

In one case the waist led to a violent altercation between persons of good social position and a subsequent appearance in the police court. Upon a recent evening Mrs. Mary Linck and her husband, of No. 835 Cherry street, Philadelphia, were returning home from the theater. They were in a crowded street car and were both standing up. Behind them stood Mr. Joseph Bruce, of No. 4541 North Twentieth street. Mrs. Linck was wearing a peek-a-boo waist of unusually provocative design. The demon of perversity was aroused in Mr. Bruce by the sight of this garment just under his nose. He happened to have an instrument of mischief at hand in the shape of a straw. This he passed through the interstices of Mrs. Linck’s waist and proceeded to tickle her. Thinking it was a mosquito Mrs. Linck slapped at the place on her back, and Mr. Bruce quickly withdrew the straw. He chuckled deeply at the joke, and began it again as soon as she took away her hand. There were actually a great many mosquitos in the air. She slapped and slapped and told her husband how maddening the mosquitos were. Suddenly she turned round and caught Mr. Bruce in the act of tickling. She angrily denounced the offender and grappled with him. Mr. Linck then had the car stopped and gave Mr. Bruce into the custody of a policeman.

Bruce was arraigned at the Central police court before Magistrate Kochersperger, who decided that the act of tickling constituted a technical assault and battery, and held Bruce in $600 bail for trial. It is considered by many that the peek-a-boo waist should be regarded as a justification of this offense, or at least, a greatly extenuating circumstance.

Dr. Jacques Schnier, a dentist, of No. 604 Lexington avenue, New York, appeared before Magistrate Whitman in the Yorkville police court and made a complaint against Miss Adelina Weissman, who lives in the same house. Miss Weissman is pretty and plump, with flashing black eyes and abundant hair. The doctor complained that she wore “an awfully tantalizing peek-a-boo waist,” and that wearing this she came and looked at him while he was engaged in the delicate art of filling teeth and distracted his attention. The magistrate did not find a cause for criminal proceedings, but warned Miss Weissman not to disturb Dr. Schnier unnecessarily.

By the church the peek-a-boo waist is generally condemned. Mgr. McNamee, of St. Theresa’s church, Brooklyn, looked over his congregation and was shocked that most of the young and attractive women in it were wearing peek-a-boo waists, and in many cases very short sleeves.

“It is disgraceful the way some of the women come to the altar to receive communion,” said Mgr. McNamee. “I have been pained to see them coming to the sacrament with these transparent waists, and, worse yet, with sleeveless waists, with hideous looking gloves as substitutes for sleeves. I hope I will not be obliged to say any more on this question.”

The Rev. Dr. MacFarland, on behalf of the Ministerial association, of Iowa, denounced the peek-a-boo. “Our mothers would have thrown up their hands in holy horror if they had been asked to wear the kind of waists the girls now wear,” he said….

A few Sundays ago the pastor of St. Cecelia’s church, in Rochester, Pa., Rev. Father Schoerner, on rising to preach saw before him in the congregation two young women wearing especially flagrant examples of the up-to-date, open-work, sleeveless shirtwaist.

“Go home!” he thundered at them. “Take off those bathing suits; this is a church of God, not a bathing resort.”

Father Schoener’s only mistake was the injustice he did to the bathing suit. At no known resort would bathing suits modeled on such a design be permitted…

Women are showing a fondness this summer for several garments which seem fitting accompaniments of the peek-a-boo waist. One of these is the thin white bathing suit. At Lake Hopatcong. N. J., a young woman gave a fine imitation of Venus rising from the sea. She wore a costume that seemed too beautiful to wet. It was of white brilliantine, trimmed with blue polka dot silk. The blouse was sleeveless, the neck was low, the skirt was short. A white silk cap was perched on Venus’s head. Long, very long, extremely long pink silk stockings encased her limbs.

When this bather emerged from the water and took a sun bath on the pavilion 600 persons surrounded her, but their stares did not disconcert her. When finally she went to the bathhouse a crowd followed her. The manager of the bathhouse ordered her to leave by the rear door and warned her to wear a different bathing suit the next time she bathes there.

The Rev. Mr. Johnson has been preaching against young women, and young men, too, “who go about the bathing grounds with their chests bared and their arms exposed.”

It is interesting to recall briefly the evolution of the peek-a-boo waist. Like other outrageous fashions, such as the crinoline and the eel-tight skirt, it had a comparatively innocent beginning. That was in the year 1900. It was at first confined to a simple little yoke, outlining a pretty girl’s neck and giving fleeting glimpses of the interior decorations. It was graceful, coquettish, piquant. It was a tantalizing hint, not a bare-faced revelation.

By 1902 the peek-a-boo shirt waist had reached another stage in its evolution. The open-work yoke had extended its limits and began to frankly disclose features which garments were supposed to veil.

In 1904 the extent of open-work territory claimed by the shirt waist was increased by spacious Vs descending in front and in the rear to points beyond the limits that mere men had expected fair woman to fix.

In 1905 “panels” of various shapes came to the aid of the V’s in adding space, variety, interest and intricacy to the area of exposure. In the present season the shirt waist, it is believed, has got as near to the Trilbyan “altogether” as it may dare to go.

And fitting companions in disclosure and exposure of the peek-a-boo, apt aiders and abettors in allurement of the casual eye are the open-work stockings. Like the peek-a-boo, they, too, began their career in most modest guise.

Mere pinpricks traced in varied designs that flashed faint, fleeting visions of pink-white points of flesh. But today they also have advanced to a point where the word “open-work” possesses hardly strength sufficient to be adequately descriptive.

The Topeka [KS] Daily Capital 19 August 1906: p. 20

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil, who is always annoyed by the gentlemen who have so much to say about the modesty of women’s dress, wonders if these depraved peek-a-boo wearers were also sans corsets, chemises, or corset-covers? Even in summer underthings, the amount of flesh exposed in the sheerest tulle or lawn waist would be negligible, stimulating only to those of powerful imaginations who focused their attentions (or a straw) on fleeting visions of pink-white points of flesh. In short, Peeping Toms.

There is an antiquated argument that goes like this: ladies who leave their homes in a state of immodest dress somehow deserve to be tickled by straws or worse. To which Mrs Daffodil crisply replies, Rubbish. A gentleman may enjoy the view, if he is able to do so discreetly and without giving offence,  but he is not then allowed to denounce it from the pulpit.

 

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.