Category Archives: Grim and Grewsome

Excited His Curiosity: 1876

the cowboy Frederic Remington 1902

The Cowboy, Frederic Remington, 1902

Excited His Curiosity.

“Deadwood,” said the stranger, putting down his half-eaten slice of lemon pie and taking a long pull at the milk. “I went there when the first rush was made for the Hills. Rather a rough crowd the first lot, you bet; more wholesome now. When I got there I was dead-broke—didn’t have a dollar, didn’t have a revolver, which a man’ll often need out there worse’n a meal’s vittles. I was prob’ly the only man in the Hills who didn’t carry a firearm, an’ I was some lonesome, I tell you. The only weapon I hed—I’m a blacksmith—was a rasp, a heavy file, you know, ‘bout eighteen inches long, which I carried down my back, the handle in easy reach just below my coat collar. Understand? Like the Arkansaw man carries his bowie knife. I am not exactly a temperance man. I just don’t drink an’ don’t meddle with any other man’s drinkin’ – that’s all. One day—I hadn’t been in Deadwood more’n a week—I was sittin’ in a s’loon—only place a man kin set to see any society—when a fellow come in, a regular hustler, with his can full and a quarter over. Had a revolver on each side of his belt an’ looked vicious. Nothin’ mean about him, though. Askt me to drink. ‘Not any, thank you,’ sez I. ‘Not drink with me! Me! Bill Feathergill! When I ask a tenderfoot to drink I expect him to prance right up an’ no monkeyin’! You h-e-a-r me!’

“Well, when his hand went down for his revolver, I whipped out my old file quicker’n fire ‘ud scorch a feather an’ swiped him one right acrost the face. When he fell I thought I’d killed him, an’ the s’loon fillin’ up with bummers I sorter skinned out, not knowin’ what might happen. Purty soon a chap in a red shirt came up to me. Sez he, ‘You the man as ke-arved Bill Feathergill? ‘Cos, ef so be as you are, ef you don’t want every man in the Hills to climb you, don’t you try to hide yourself—the boys is askin’ fur you now.’

“It struck me that my friend had the idee, so I waltzed back and went up and down before that s’loon for nigh three hours. I’d found out Bill wasn’t dead an’ was bad medicine, but it wouldn’t do to let down. Purty soon I see my man a-headin’ for me. His face had been patched up till it looked like the closing out display of a retail dry-goods store. There was so little countenance exposed that I couldn’t guess what he was a-aimin’ at, so I brought my hand back of my collar an’ grabbed my file.

“’Hold on there; there, hold on,’ sez he; ‘gimme y’r hand, I’m friendly; I’ve got nothin’ agin you, not a thing, but—you’ll pardon my curiosity—what sort of a ___ weepon was that, stranger?’”

Daily Globe [St Paul MN] 16 May 1880: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: “The Hills,” to be Relentlessly Informative, are the Black Hills of South Dakota. A red shirt was the uniform of the miner and prospector.

To be charitable, Mrs Daffodil suggests that any man called “Bill Feathergill” would feel a trifle inferior, knowing that there were more assertive gun-slinger names like “Rattlesnake Dick,” “Black Bart,” “Wild Bill,” or “Calamity Jane” adorning the covers of Wild West Penny-dreadfuls. No doubt this made Mr Feathergill more sensitive to perceived slights.

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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Rosette Smiled in the Glass: 1889

all is vanity charles allen gilbert 1892 mirror

All is Vanity, Charles Allen Gilbert, 1892

THE HAUNTED MIRROR.

It was early morning, and Thomas, Lord Rosendale’s valet, has waited on his master’s American guest to see what he desired him to do for him.

Thomas was too well-bred to appear to notice anything remarkable, but there certainly was something odd in the gentleman’s manner, and he had not the look of one who had enjoyed refreshing slumbers. Twice he seemed on the point of propounding a question–twice he checked himself. At last just as the man turned to leave the room, he spoke;

“Thomas!”

“Yes, sir,” said Thomas; turning towards him again.

“No matter, Thomas.”

“Very well, sir.”

Thomas had his hand on the lock of the door this time, but again the gentleman spoke:

“Thomas, I have been awake all night.”

“My lord will regret to hear it,” said Thomas, too respectful to appropriate the information.

“Something very odd disturbed me,” continued the gentleman. “Have you any reason to believe that any of the woman servants have lost their senses?”

“Any of the maids, sir?” said Thomas. “Oh, no, sir. My lady’s own maid is a most sensible person. So is the young lady’s, extremely respectable and settled, indeed. As for the cook and–oh, no, sir. I am sure none of the maids are out of their senses, sir.”

“One of the maids kept me awake all last night.” said the American.

“One of the maids, sir?” cried Thomas.

“Yes. Thomas,” said the gentleman. “She kept running into my room at least every half hour to look in the glass and admire herself.”

“She came out of that door,” and he pointed to one in a corner, “and walked straight up to the mirror; the light from the night lamp fell upon her face; she seemed to catch my eye in the glass each time and smiled at me as she did so. I only saw her once in the mirror, but it was very pretty, though very pale. She wore a short quilted skirt, a little black bodice and full white sleeves. She had a gold cross tied around her neck by a black ribbon and wore a little cap on her black braids a very young girl with a perfectly French face, Thomas. Do you know her?”

“If I have the honor of understanding you, sir, the young person came through this door?” he asked.

“Yes,” said the American.”

“More than once, sir?”

“About once an hour from midnight until dawn.”

“She was young, pretty and French-looking and wore a quilted skirt, a bodice and a cap, sir?”

“Exactly, Thomas.”

“And smiled at you in the glass where you saw her face? I understand she did not look toward you as she passed, sir?”

“Right, Thomas.”

“May I beg you to do me the favor of looking into this room, sir?”

The gentleman followed Thomas to the door through which he asserted that the young person had passed and saw nothing but a square closet about twelve feet square, with no door save the one that opened into a large room, and high in the ceiling a little window through which a bird could scarcely have flown. It contained no furniture whatever.

“You will acknowledge, sir, said Thomas, very gravely, “that an ordinary person must have remained here if she had entered, as you think she did, sir, and that we should now find her here, sir?”

“There must be a secret door—or–or something!” cried the American. “I am not mad, and I was wide awake. I–”

“Yes, sir,” said Thomas, still more solemnly. “As I remarked, an ordinary young person could not have contrived to disappear; but I am well aware that the young person you have seen is not an ordinary person, sir. She has been an apparition, for more than 200 years.”

“An apparition!” cried the American gentleman.

“Yes, sir,” replied Thomas; “an apparition, sir. I think you have seen Lady Rosendale’s gentlewoman, Rosette, sir. It is ten years since she was seen before, to my knowledge, but she has been seen very often. Yes, sir, it must have been Rosette.”

“I should like to hear more about Rosette.” said the gentleman.

“Yes, sir,” said the valet. “This is a very old family, and they have lived on this estate for a long while since the time of Queen Elizabeth. I believe, sir–and about 200 years ago there was a Lord Herbert–my present master is Lord Herbert, as you know; it is a favorite name in the family who was a very gay, wild young nobleman, and was a great admirer of the ladies, sir, as gay young noblemen  generally are. However, by the time he was thirty he married and settled down, as one might say; and having travelled with his wife on the continent, he came home, and began to be very much thought of and respected. So was his lady, too, sir, though she was not handsome, and was very haughty.

One thing, however, the English servants did not like; she brought a foreign maid with her from France–a girl named Rosette, and as pretty as a picture.

My lady thought all the world of her, and would never let any other woman be about her in her room, and of course, the people were jealous and talked against Rosette, and the women began to say something about the way my lord looked at her. Though, to be sure, women will be suspicious. However, that may be, my lady loved  her, and I think she thought too much of herself to be jealous of her maid, until one day, sitting before her glass, Rosette combing her hair for her, she heard her husband coming into the room. Her back was towards him, and they forgot the mirror; and so, sir, she saw in it without stirring both their faces; and she saw the girl smile at her husband and she saw him smile back her, and she did not need to see any more. Ladies are very quick, sir, as we all know. She understood everything, but she never stirred, and she never said anything to him—no, nor to the maid, sir.

This was her room, sir. In that little closet Rosette had her bed, to be ready if she called. But one morning my lady’s bell rang furiously, and the maid who answered it was told to do my lady’s hair, for Rosette had gone back to her native country. All the time she was doing it the girl thought she heard a faint moaning sound and was frightened and went back to the rest, pale and trembling; and before night it was very well known in the house that the little closet there was not only locked, but nailed up.

There was a coldness between my lord and my lady and they kept very much apart; but she had told him, also that Rosette had returned to France and no one ever saw the girl again.

After that my lord seemed to take up his wild ways again, in a measure, and drank a good deal and my lady lived very much alone. She never had a regular maid and she was harsh to those who waited on her. There never were any children, but they both lived to be very old indeed, and at last my lady died in this very room and was buried in the church yonder. You may see her tomb there–Lady Maud Rosendale, aged eighty.

My lord was as old as she by that time; but as soon as the funeral was over he went into my lady’s room and stood a long while before the locked and nailed closet door.

Then he said to himself, ‘I cannot die until I know,’ and ordered it to be opened. They sent for the blacksmith to do it, and all the while my lord sat in his great arm-chair, staring before him. There were hundreds of nails in it. People said afterwards that all my Lady Maud’s life there used now and then to be a little sound of hammering in her room when she was alone, but they were all out at last and the lock was forced, and my lord arose and tottered into the closet.

A bed stood there still and some gowns hung on the wall, and over the bed one was lying with cords twisted about it. Then they looked closer and the maids began to scream, and one old woman who remembered Rosette had called out her name, and my lord turned his pale old eyes upon them like a ghost and said, ‘God forgive me and have mercy upon both their souls!’ and held out his hand to be helped back to his own room which he never left again.

It wasn’t much they found–only a few bones and an ornament or two, but it was plain that the girl had been tied hand and foot and bound to the bed and left there to die—if she were not murdered outright by the jealous lady. As for the smile, my lady, he talked of that in a wandering kind of way on his death-bed. So it came to be known. But ever since, sir, whenever there is going to be misfortune in the family, whoever sleeps here in this room sees Rosette come out of her closet and smile in the glass. No one ever sees her face, only its reflection.

She was seen before one young lady—it is two generations ago, sir—eloped with a very inferior person.

She was seen before my master’s father died and before my master’s brother was killed at the Crimea. I hope no trouble will follow now, sir.”

“I trust not,” said the American. “Perhaps it would be best not to mention this to any one.”

“Very well, sir, said Thomas, and left the room.

As for the American, he slept elsewhere the next night. He had no admiration for ghosts, even the family ghosts of noblemen, and he had no desire to see Rosette smile at him in the glass again. The smiles of a phantom of 200 years standing are more awesome than bewitching.

The Nebraska State Journal [Lincoln NE] 22 December 1889: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Well, really… After the sad story of the gruesome end of young Rosette, and Thomas’s observation that tragedy invariably followed in the wake of Rosette’s apparition, we are fobbed off with a mere “he slept elsewhere the next night.”

A shocking decline in journalistic standards….

The least we might expect was the death of an old factor, believed to be the illegitimate son of a previous Lord Rosendale, in a remote cottage on the estate, if not the demise of Lord Rosendale himself, found dead in his bed with a look of stark, staring horror on his face. Mrs Daffodil considers the whole thing a travesty of missed opportunities.

 

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 Deadly Valentine: 1896

jealous woman's revenge illustrated police news

A Deadly Valentine

W.J. Lampton

The colonel had received a valentine, and as he looked it over and read its pretty verses he handed it to the writer.

“From a lady?” smiled the writer.

“Yes, from my wife. She never forgets,” and the colonel’s face wore the look of a sweetheart’s.

“Surely,” said the writer, “no better valentine could be than that.”

The colonel took it again and held it in his hand tenderly

“When she and I were married,” he began, in a reminiscent way, “we went to a post in the far west, where as a lieutenant, that was thirty years ago, I was stationed. Not far away was a town of the class not uncommon at that time, and chief among its well-known characters and prominent citizens was a man known as ‘Bug’ Thornton. He was a bad man and the barkeeper in the leading hotel of the town. The landlord of the hotel had a daughter of twenty-five or thereabouts, who was by odds the best-looking woman in town and a very nice girl, barring the fact that she was in love with Thornton.

“At first he was flattered by the favor in which he stood with the young woman, but her attentions in a few months wearied him, and he made her wildly jealous by devoting himself to the cashier of the Golden Lion restaurant, a young woman who owned a half interest in the business and was considered a good catch. This occurred about valentine season, and when the day came around the landlord’s daughter received a comic valentine, setting forth those things do, the delightful attractiveness of a jealous woman. The accompanying verse was more galling than the picture, and the girl was frenzied by it.

“It was no unusual matter for Bug Thornton to have a scrap once or twice a day with the rough characters who frequented his saloon, and every now and then he added a feature to the bill by shooting somebody or getting a shot himself, though, up to that time, escaping with slight wounds. Late in the afternoon of St. Valentine’s day he tried to put a gang of miners out of his place, and the whole crowd surged out into the street in front of the hotel. There the shooting began. And it lasted long enough for those not interested to get into what shelter first presented itself.

“I ran into the hotel, and as I did so, I noticed, Mollie, the landlord’s daughter, sitting by a window, with the shutters half-closed, looking at the fight. When it was over three men were dead on the ground and the others had disappeared. One of the men was Thornton, and, as I knew him, I ran to him first and lifted him up to see how badly he was hurt. As I raised him up with my arm under his back a bullet fell from his coat into my hand. I thrust it into my pocket without thinking, and helped carrying him into the house. Of course, the town was considerably excited over three killings at one time, and as all sorts of rumors were flying about I hurried to the post to let my wife know I was all right. Young husbands, you know, think first of their wives. When I found her and told her the story she became very nervous and asked about Mollie. I told her I had seen the girl at the window during the fight, and that made her worse.

“Then I became provoked and said Mollie hadn’t anything to do with it. Then my wife told me that she had seen Mollie at noon, and she had told her she was going to send Bug Thornton a valentine he would not forget, and that very day, too. That night I went back to the hotel and found that Thornton had received a bullet in the arm and one in the thigh, but the one which had done for him had gone square through his heart. I also found Mollie in a raving delirium. With all this going on around me, there wasn’t any wonder that I should forget the bullet I had put in my pocket, and there’s no telling when I would have remember it if it had not dropped on the floor that night when I took off my coat to go to bed.

“My wife picked it up and asked me what it was. Then I remembered, and quietly took it from her without saying. She insisted, and as she showed signs of hysteria about it, I told her it was the bullet that had killed Bug Thornton. She grabbed it from me, held it close to the light and then collapsed in a dead faint. She became conscious in half an hour or so, but I had to sit up all night with her, and the post surgeon was also in attendance until nearly daylight. By daylight things were quieter, and I took a look at the bullet. It was a .44 long and was not much roughened by the deadly work it had done. As I turned it over in my  hand, thinking what a fatal effect so small a bit of lead could have, I notice da mark on it, and taking it out where I could see better I found on it, scratched deep with a large needle, evidently, one word and part of another: ‘My Valen–.’ That told a dreadful story and explained my wife’s hysteria.

“What to do now I scarcely knew. Mollie had shot Bug Thornton, that was circumstantially proved by my wife’s testimony and the words on the bullet, but no one knew it save myself and wife. No one knew so much as that I had the bullet, except my wife. We had both known Mollie and respected her, and it seemed to be something awful to give her over to the law when it was so easy to let it all go to the credit of the miners in the night. After an hour’s thinking I was so near hysteria myself that I went to the doctor for something to quiet my nerves.

“At 9 o’clock I started into the town, leaving my wife asleep under the influence of opiates, and half way there I met a messenger coming for my wife to come to the hotel, as Mollie had shot herself and was dying. I turned the messenger back and hurried on to the hotel. When I reached her room she was dead, and near her on a table lay a .44-caliber revolver. It was the same one that had sent Bug Thornton his fatal valentine, but I didn’t go around looking for any more bullets. I had already found one too many.

“It was a positive relief to my wife when I told her as carefully as I could that Mollie was dead, and we talked it all over, coming to the conclusion that the girl had seated herself at the window, half concealed, with the object of killing Thornton when he came out to go to his supper, and had marked the bullet in the strange freak of a crazy woman. That her shot had been so true was a piece of chance or luck, or retribution; whatever you may call it, although she was not unskilled in the use of firearms. None the less was it chance that the fight in the street should have taken place at the time it did?”

“What did you do with the bullet?” inquired the writer.

“Dropped it into Mollie’s coffin when my wife and I went to see her for the last time. And,” concluded the colonel, “neither of us ever told our story of the tragedy until five years ago, when the last member of Mollie’s family died and was buried in the same graveyard where the bodies of Mollie and Bug Thornton lie moldering in the clay.”

Evening Star [Washington DC] 15 February 1896: p. 14

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: “Comic” or “vinegar” valentines were the bane of the holiday. Although we may be baffled as to why a caricature and an insult should deserve any notice whatsoever, despairing lovers often took these vile missives entirely too much to heart.  That Schadenfreude-ish person over at Haunted Ohio has written of some of the tragedies that ensued in “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacres,” and “My Fatal Valentine.” Mrs Daffodil urges any of her readers who suffer unrequited love to have a trusted friend open your Valentine’s Day post and burn any unpleasant communications.

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 Wrecked Major: 1882

knole long gallery 1902

 

THE WRECKED MAJOR.

“Our nearest neighbour in ___shire was a Major S., a man of good family, and possessed of ample means, yet one whose society was not courted in the county in which he had recently become a resident. Curious things were said of him, worse were hinted at, so that the surrounding gentry fought rather shy of him with the exception of a few who both visited him and received his visits. For this man my mother entertained the utmost aversion. She detested alike his appearance and manners; the former she considered diabolical, and the latter repulsive, as indeed they were. My father had frequent arguments with her on the subject of the major, and always took his part. But his defence of him in no ways softened my mother’s feelings towards him. She persisted in loathing the man, and said she was sure something dreadful would come out about him. Her dislike extended itself to his surroundings; and she would not even pass his house when out walking or driving. My father simply smiled at this feminine absurdity, as he termed it, and continued to think not so badly of the major.

It chanced that my mother passed him one day. He was riding; and she told us on her return that the expression of his face, as he looked down at her, was absolutely appalling in its wickedness; indeed, she could think or speak of nothing else. That very same night she awoke from sleep with a cry of terror. On my father asking her what the matter was, she said—‘Oh, William! I have had such a fearful dream, and I am sure it has to do with Major S.’

“‘Nonsense, nonsense;’ was the sleepy reply.

“‘But I tell you I am convinced of it,’ and she told him her dream. She described herself as going into a large gloomy looking room, full of quaintly carved furniture, arranged after a peculiar fashion, the ceiling of which was traversed by an oaken beam, and from this there dangled a rope having a noose at the end.

“‘What is going on here?’ I asked, although I cannot remember being conscious of seeing any one.

“‘Hush!’ exclaimed an awful voice. ‘A dreadful crime is being committed, part of which will be known now, and part at the day of judgment!’

“‘Aye, indeed; curious, very; but go to sleep, my dear, and forget all about the major.’ With this advice given in a drowsy tone, my father once more sought oblivion in sleep. But my mother did not allow him to remain in peace. Again she woke him up with an exclamation of horror at the repetition of her dream. No sooner had she fallen asleep than she found herself transported to the sombre room, with its beam traversed ceiling, and ghastly dangling rope. At sight of which, as on the former occasion, she cried, ‘What is going on here?’ and the same impressive voice responded with ‘Hush! a dreadful crime is being committed; part of which will be known now, and part at the day of judgment!’

‘I know we shall hear something about that horrid man,’ she kept repeating in spite of my father’s assurances to the contrary.

Their feelings, under these circumstances, may well be imagined when the next day the country was ringing with the news that Major S. had hanged himself during the night.

Hastening to the scene of the tragedy, my father, on being shown into the room, at once recognised it as the one my mother had seen in her dream.”

Psychological Review Vol. 4 May 1882: p. 311-12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is curious how many of these sorts of premonitory dreams were recorded in the annals of the past, and how one can still find similar stories on the “Internet” to-day. If the affair had gone according to the proper patterns of folk-lore, the lady would have seen the Major being carried off to his Doom by the Wild Hunt mounted on fire-breathing demon-horses. The story is a trifle ambiguous as to whether the Major she saw on her ride was a living man or the phantom of one already hanging in his chamber.

Mrs Daffodil is reminded of the chilling scene near the end of Mr Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby, where Ralph Nickleby comes to a bad end.

“He had torn a rope from one of the old trunks, and hanged himself on an iron hook immediately below the trap-door in the ceiling—in the very place to which the eyes of his son, a lonely desolate little creature, had so often been directed in childish terror, fourteen years before.”

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 Inspector Smelled a Rat: 1902

rat trap 1915.JPG

The Inspector Smelled a Rat.

The sight of vast quantities of coin has a stimulating influence on human wits, to such an extent that Uncle Sam is kept busy “coppering” efforts of geniuses to “do” the various mints. Some of the schemes devised are so smooth that the government officials are unwilling for their nature to be divulged at least until the law has been twisted into shape to fit the new form of theft. Time and again methods have been evolved for which no legal antidote is discoverable and which can only be punished by dismissal, not by criminal prosecution. One of the latter types was recently worked on a western mint, according to the report of a late arrival via the Southern Pacific. It was this way. The gold is rolled into strips from ingots in the rolling room and carefully weighed out again. The “in” and “out” figures should tally so they did until recently when a suddenly daily deficit appeared. Each evening there was a loss of $10 or $20 and the director of the mint grew hot in the collar. A personal search was made of every one leaving the room, but the shortage continued.

Finally, one day the inspector in the coinage department smelled, a rat, a real rat, which had fallen a victim to the jaws of a deadfall during the night. Although it was still early in the day, the rat asserted itself until it dawned upon the inspector that decomposition had progressed with remarkable rapidity for a one-day corpse. The trap, he knew had been emptied of another rodent the evening before, for he remembered seeing an employee pick up the thing by the tail and toss it through the small slot above the window.

A flash of intelligence came to the official, and he waited. Later a “stamper” approached the trap, remarking jocularly ‘’Nother rat,’ bent over, fooled with the trap and then tossed the creature out of the window. The inspector was out in a flash and reached the ground just in time to see a gent pick up a defunct rodent, slip it into a leather grip and decamp.

The commotion made by the inspector put the employee on his guard, and he threw no more rats.

He was soon dismissed for cause and went away damning his own laziness, for instead of getting busy and keeping a supply of fresh rats on ice, he used and reused the same fellow until he became faisandé [overripe] and put the authorities next to his game. However, he justified himself by saying that was the only rat he had found with a mouth large enough to hold $35 worth of gold. Exchange.

The Leavenworth [KS] Times 2 September 1902: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil will note that, even to-day, those persons in charge of securing clients’ intimate financial details have the same difficulty in apprehending and convicting miscreants who would steal those golden “user-names” and “pass-words.”  The only thing that can be said in the favour of these criminals is that they have moved beyond rats, into “phish.”

 

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.

Lady Embalmers: 1892-1921

 

EMBALMING BODIES.

STRANGE OCCUPATION FOLLOWED BY MANY AMERICAN WOMEN.

They Are Adepts at Ministering In the House of Mourning—Modern Developments of the Ancient Egyptian Art of Embalming the Dead.

Very few Americans know that the ancient art of embalming has been completely restored and improved, though not in the ancient way. Not only are bodies now preserved far more perfectly than at any time by the Egyptians, but all the unpleasant, not to say revolting, incidents of their practice are avoided.

At the outbreak of our civil war it was taken for granted that speedy decay was the fate of all the dead, and it was only by such rude appliances as ice and salt or the most pungent drugs that any of the bodies of those slain in battle could be taken home for burial. The demand suddenly created set hundreds of physicians and undertakers to investigating, but such is the natural reverence for all that is old that people generally spoke of embalming as a lost art, and even the scientific declared that in this climate it would be impossible to preserve a corpse as in ancient Egypt.

At the very beginning of the war one Confederate and several Federal surgeons began to study methods of corpse preservation, and the net result of all their labors and those of many other gentlemen may be summed up in one sentence; All the old, barbarous methods are discarded, and in their stead arterial injection and other processes which do not mutilate the corpse in the slightest degree are employed.

The business of embalming seems like a queer occupation for the gentler sex, but it is an interesting fact that there are now nearly 300 ladies in the United States engaged in undertaking, and several of these are very skillful embalmers. Mrs. J. L. Young of Vinton, Ia., began as her husband’s assistant, but soon developed such a mastery of it that he gave her entire control. She is a native of New York, born Miss Fellows.

Mrs. James T. Brett of Milwaukee, a native of Boston, developed early in life a peculiar aptitude for ministering in the house of mourning and is now truly scientific ladies’ embalmer. She is also a writer of ability, a lady of refinement and high social position. Mrs. Fred H. Russ of Chicago, of the firm of “Mr. & Mrs.. Fred H. Russ,” as it is now established, is also a skillful embalmer and very graceful writer. Mrs. John Greenslade of Bellevue, O., studied embalming under the instruction of Professor Renouard and has been in the practice two years. Mrs. Heaton Dart was the first lady embalmer in New York city and state, took a thorough course of study and has been in the business over 10 years.

Miss Fannie Gardner of Vincennes has the honor of being the first lady undertaker in Indiana. She has also taken a course in the study of embalming and is entering on the work. Mrs. Ellen Moore of Reading, Pa., began to serve as an undertaker in 1831, and at date of her last report had laid out 5,438 bodies. Another very old practitioner is Mrs. George F. Wildman of Bridgeport, Conn., who began in 1845 at the age of 16.

It goes without saying that every city and considerable town should have at least one lady well informed on the subject, for so long as present ideas prevail the corpses of both sexes will be embalmed.

The Owensboro [KY] Messenger 23 July 1893: p. 7

NO LITTLE UNDERTAKING

Is Implied in Mrs. Heaton Dart’s Strange Choice of Occupation.

Mrs. Heaton Dart enjoy the distinction–and a rare one it is nowadays–of being almost the only woman in her particular field of labor. And yet, withal, Mrs. Dart is an unassuming person. She gives herself no airs. She does not act the Pharisee toward the women who do not possess her knowledge. No, she doesn’t look down on them at all.

It may be that one reason for this modest attitude is that not one of the millions of women who don’t know how to do what Mrs. Heaton Dart does envies her her knowledge. For the fact is Mrs. Dart is an embalmer. She and her niece are the only women in New York State who are professional embalmers, and there seems to be no disposition to rob them of their laurels.

Mrs. Dart lives in a pretty flat near Central Park. She has an attractive face distinguished by a peculiarly strong mouth. An observer would at once put her down as a woman of intelligence and refinement, a womanly woman, and a plucky woman, but without the almost brutal indifference which often asserts itself in men who become familiar with trying experiences. Mrs. Dart looks as If she could make a success of almost anything. That does not lessen one’s curiosity as to why she chose to make a success of embalming. But she is quite ready to give the reason.

“Seven years ago,” says this woman of the gruesome profession, “1 was living in Scranton. Pa., when a sister-in-law of mine died. I needn’t tell you the whole story, but will say that the experience we then had with an embalmer, so called, was so terrible that my brother asked me to learn the business myself, simply to be able to take care of our own family. I was a widow and needed some occupation, so I took a course at the College of Embalming, and became so enthusiastic over the work that I came to New York, and have practised the profession for five years.

“I met with the most violent opposition from the undertakers. There were ten thousand of them in their association, and they put every possible obstruction in my way. Why? Oh, they said that they had men whom they paid regularly, and that if I came in to attend to special cases these men had to sit around idle. You see, anyone would rather have a woman or child embalmed by a woman than by a man. I have often been asked by families for whom I have worked to embalm the body or a man. I always refused, because if I say that only women embalmers should care for the bodies of women I must be consistent, and see that the rule works both ways.

“The undertakers make it hard for me in another way, too. They give me the very worst cases: suicides and people who have been burned to death or have died of contagious diseases. I have had many a strange experience, but for all that, I love my work.”

Mrs. Dart got out her instruments, which she carries in a harmless-looking music roll, and gave details of her professional work. She talks of the forty funerals a month, following the forty embalmings, of which she has charge. There, again, her feminine tact and taste are highly appreciated. There are fashions even in funeral robes, and it takes a woman properly to adjust a big sleeve or to loop the draperies with violets, this latter being quite a fashionable funeral fad. The demands for Mrs. Dart’s services have become so numerous that she has trained her niece to be her assistant and the two women are very proud of the profession they have so strangely chosen.

The Sun [New York NY] 10 September 1893: p. 17

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil applauds these pioneers of the mortuary profession, particularly Mrs Dart with her “harmless-looking music roll.” There was, indeed, quite a bit of resistance from the gentlemen embalmers, but as embalming became an essential part of funeral service, some took the view that the delicacy brought to the (embalming) table by a lady practitioner, was a selling-point.

VIRGINIA UP WITH THE TIMES

We notice by one of the Twin City papers a boast of having lady embalmers, which is a modern idea, for the care of ladies and children. Virginia is up with the time on this point, as we have a lady embalmer in our city who is a graduate of the Barnes School of Anatomy, Sanitary Science and Embalming of Chicago, the largest and most advanced educational institution of its kind in the world. After graduating this lady has successfully passed both Wisconsin and Minnesota Board of Health examinations and been granted a license to practice. The lady of whom we speak is Mrs. Selma Ala, of the firm of Edward Ala & Co. of this city. She is a lady of rare ability in the profession, a kind and pleasant disposition with whom we can all leave the care of our beloved dead ones and know that honor, respect and tenderness will ever be shown. We can appreciate the privilege of having such a lady to perform these necessary duties that it is not right and proper for a man to do. The secrecy maintained by mother, sister, wife or daughter should be kept sacred to their memory, and how can we better regard their feelings than by employing a lady embalmer. The Virginia [MN] Enterprise 1 March 1912: p. 7

Mrs Harry Mason White directly addressed the question of

Women as Embalmers

  1. Should lady embalmers and lady assistants be encouraged by the profession?
  2. Having been asked to answer the above question, I herewith reply, speaking from my seven years’ experience as a lady embalmer.

When death enters the home, and robs it of mother, daughter or prattling babe, the bereaved family naturally turn to a sympathetic friend for advice and assistance.

At that time a lady embalmer may not only perform her necessary duties for the departed one, but by her tender and solicitous care for the comfort and assistance of those who mourn, she will prove a blessing and surely a friend never to be forgotten.

Are our loved ones not as sacred in death as in life, and should we allow the opposite sex to perform work at that time, which we would not allow in life?

The question, “If a nurse washes and prepares a body for the undertaker, why is a lady embalmer required?” is often asked. Every member of the profession certainly knows, or should know, that a gentleman called upon to do the embalming may just as well do all the work as part of it; there is no dividing line; a lady embalmer should perform the entire work from the time she is called in until the body is placed in the casket.

When an experienced woman is in charge, the family, having full confidence in her ability, give the care of their dear ones to her, knowing she will arrange the clothes, dress the hair and attend to the minor details as she would for her own.

Should the lady embalmer be encouraged by the profession? Yes, a lady who not only understands the art and science of embalming, but who is expert in all the other details of the work, by her kind and sympathetic manner to the bereaved can comfort them in their sorrow and is by all means a necessity and a growing need.

Has the business reached the high goal entitling it to be called a profession? At the present day, decidedly no; had it attained that elevated standard, lady embalmers would be constantly sought for, but at the present time, the undertakers are jealously guarding every entrance by which a woman may enter this path of duty.

When the lady embalmer is recognized by the undertaker it will be an evidence that it is worthy to be called a profession; for the gentle and refining influence of successful ladies in the business, will raise the public estimate and tend to elevate the business to a profession in its true sense, and make it an art which any true participant should be proud to practice, and a profession in which any lady would certainly not be ashamed to be engaged.

MRS. HARRY MASON WHITE.

The Essentials of Anatomy, Sanitary Science and Embalming, Asa Johnson Dodge, 1906:  pp. 227-228

Despite the inroads made by these early lady embalmers, the profession was still, alas, subject to foolish jokes:

Why Wait?

As a special inducement to kick the bucket we find Yonkers undertakers advertising “Lady Embalmer.”

Baxter Daily Citizen [Baxter Springs KS] 10 October 1921: p. 4

 

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.

If you have an interest in Victorian mourning customs and curiosities, you will want to visit The Victorian Book of the Dead Facebook page and the blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.

The Province Man’s Story of a Blizzard: 1840s

blizzard story in Winter Frolics Matildy and Bob

THE PROVINCE MAN’S STORY

“Yes, I’ve no doubt that blizzards are fearful to encounter, but I do not think they can be much worse than a downright north-easter of the Province,” said a gray-bearded New Brunswicker to a Western man, who had been relating to the few passengers of the steamer plying on the river between Tobique and St. John his experience of one of those terrible winter storms which so frequently sweep down upon the exposed people of the Northwest.

“I remember one in particular,” he said, “for it gave me a lameness that’s going to stay by me as long as I live.”

After listening to the Western man’s adventure, we were all anxious to hear that of the Province man’s, and urged him to favor us. He at last assented.

“I was eighteen,” he said, “that winter, and tough as a young buffalo. I had never been sick, and scarcely knew what it was to be tired. My father was a lumberman. He went into the logging-swamp that winter, towards the head of the Miramichi River, and left me to take care of the family, –a pretty large one, counting in all the children. I was the oldest.

“The winters are long in that part of New Brunswick, and a good deal of snow falls. At that time there were but few settlements, the one nearest to where we lived being about forty miles away; so you may know there wasn’t much going back and forth for the women-folks.

“But for that matter, there were five or six families living in our settlement, and I will say we used to have some pretty good times together. We seemed almost like one family, and when one was in need of help the others were sure to give it.

“One of our neighbors was a Mr. Moore. He married a girl who lived in the settlement next to ours, and all her folks lived there. In the winter he worked in the woods with the rest of the men, and as his children were small, he used to hire me to look after the chores that were necessary about his house.

“Well, about the middle of that winter, it was in February, I think, Matildy, that was Mrs. Moore, got word that her mother was sick, and that, if she wanted to see her alive, she must go to her at once.

“The poor woman was nearly frantic with anxiety. Her husband was in the woods, and she had no way of getting to her father’s house. I think she had not seen her mother for two years.

“‘William,’ said my mother, coming home from the Moore cabin, where she had been to spin flax and comfort the sorrowing woman, ‘I think you’ll have to go.” “‘I’m going at once, mother,’ I said, for I thought she meant that I must go to Mrs. Moore’s and attend to the chores.

“‘Not that,” she replied, surmising what I was thinking about. ‘You must go to the settlement with Matildy. How should I feel if my mother was dying, and I could not see her? Now, get your chores all done up to-night, so you can start in the morning by daylight. I’ll see to things while you’re gone.”

“But what’s to be done with the children?’ I asked.

“’They’re coming to stay with me until Matildy gets back.”

“So it was settled that I should go with Mrs. Moore, and if she did not stay more than a day or two, I was to bring her home. The sky had threatened a storm for a number of days, and I expected to get up the next morning and see a snow-storm. But it was a bitter cold morning—too cold to snow then, though the sky was still gray and heavy, showing plainly enough that there’d be a heavy fall of snow as soon as the weather was warmer.

“It didn’t take long to get the horse and sled ready, and putting on father’s moose-skin coat, we started, Matildy carrying her baby, that was not more than six months old, in her arms, swathed in a blanket of lynx-skins.

“It was scarcely light when we set off, and it was very slow travelling through the narrow, rough road. We had not got more than three miles from the settlement when it begun to sprinkle snow, and in an hour more the flakes were coming down thick and fast. A cutting wind swept through the woods, driving the snow into our faces, and it looked doubtful to me whether we should ever get to the next settlement in such a storm.

“I wanted to turn back, but Matildy would not consent to this. So I had nothing to do but whip up old Bob and get on as fast as we could.

“But the storm grew worse and worse. The wind kept rising, and the air was so thick, with the driving snow that I could scarcely see a rod beyond the horse’s head. Noon came, and we were not over ten or twelve miles from the settlement. The snow was now so deep that the horse could make but little headway through it and against the heavy wind.

“We had food with us, but we could not stop for luncheon with the storm piling the big drifts all about us. Part of the time I walked behind the sled to lighten the load, and when it got so deep that Bob–the horse—couldn’t pull through, I tramped a path; and so, tramping and wallowing, we managed to get on a few miles further.

“But towards night the horse showed signs of giving out, and we had not gone over two-thirds of the way. I can assure you, it made me feel about sick to think of being out in that storm all night. Not that I feared so much for myself, for, as I said, I was tough as a buffalo and could have found some snug corner to stow myself away in, and in the big moose-skin coat could have been quite comfortable; but there was Matildy, and the baby, poor thing, was beginning to cry. I feared they both would perish before morning.

“By jerking and encouraging, Bob was made to start again. But his strength and courage did not last, and after another half-mile of plunging and tramping he lurched over the thills into the snow and gave out entirely. All my urging couldn’t get him on his legs again.

“Suddenly I got an idea, and untackling Bob from the sled, I tied his legs together with the straps of the harness, so that he could neither get up nor thrash about. Then, drawing the sled alongside of him, I canted it up sideways, setting the stakes to keep it from turning over fully, and thus made a sort of shelter to break off the wind.

“Going into the edge of the woods, I cut a lot of fir-boughs with my big knife and made a sort of bed for Matildy and the child, snug up against Bob’s back, covering them over with the quilts and skin, tucked in warm about them; and then I covered all with another thick coat of boughs.

“Then I went on towards the settlement, fifteen miles distant, for help. It soon became dark, and I never can tell you half what I suffered stumbling along through the drifts, half blinded by the whirling snow and nearly breathless; sometimes laying down and feeling that I never could go another rod; but the thought of Matildy and the baby in the snow drove me on—and I’ve no doubt saved my life.

“When within two miles of the settlement the road came out near the river, and for the rest of the way it was mostly cleared land. But it troubled me to keep the road. I was afraid I should wander off and never find the settlement.

“But there was a Hand leading me through that night and storm that I had never known before— and it led me safe; for, after wandering around till I was so exhausted that I was about to lay down in despair, I caught the glimmer of a light ahead.

“Ah, never was a half-drowned sailor more thankful for the sight of a life-boat than I was for that little spark of light! I crawled towards it shouting with all my strength.

“It came from a little log-hut on the outskirts of the settlement, where a logger’s wife was nursing a sick child. Hearing my cries she roused her husband, who came out to my assistance.

“As soon as it began to grow light the man got one of his neighbors—for I was too badly frozen to go back with him—and taking a horse and sled, started after Matildy and the baby.”

“And did they find them alive?” asked a listener, furtively brushing away the tears. “Yes, ma’am, they did. The snow had drifted over them, and so kept out a good deal of the cold, though Matildy was considerably frost-bitten. The baby was asleep, as comfortable as though it had been at home. But old Bob was dead. The journey and the cold had been too much for him.

“That spring the people at the settlements contributed money and bought my father another horse, so we wa’n’t much the worse off,” concluded the old man, seeming to be quite unconscious of his own heroism. Youth’s Companion.

Junean County Argus [New Lisbon WI] 23 August 1883: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A breathless moment there at the end. But poor, poor Bob….

 

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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