Category Archives: Holidays

The Kiss of Death: 1887

skeleton lovers Posada.JPG
On this, the last day of Dia de Muertos, Mrs Daffodil has received permission to borrow a post appropriate to the holiday from that death-obsessed person over at Haunted Ohio. She writes: 
 

As we have all painted our faces like La Calavera Catrina and are munching sugar skulls to honor our Dear Departed on this Day of the Dead, let us settle down among the marigolds for a ghost story. On previous holidays, we have met a faithful dead nun and a skeletal bishop with his evil raven companion. Today we go to a churchyard in San Juan where a seductive entity sought its prey.

THE KISS OF DEATH

STRANGE SUPERSTITION OF MONTEREY MEXICANS

A Spectre That Appears in Beautiful Guise to Lure Men and Women to Death.

The Santa Cruz ghost, which is engrossing the attention of the citizens of that famous watering-place by its midnight revelries, recalls a legend of San Juan, in the adjoining county, told the writer many years ago by a narrator no less credible than a good old Spanish priest, with whom the writer happened to be staying on a few days’ visit.

One morning after breakfast he expressed a wish to stroll into the ancient graveyard attached to the old adobe church of that quaint little Mexican town. The old padre, with the kindness and courtesy characteristic of the simple missionary fathers, at once acceded and accompanied the writer, relating as we walked among the graves the brief history of some who lay quietly beneath. “Here,” he observed, with a quiet smile as he pointed to a grave in the middle of the cemetery, “here is a grave which the simple old Mexican families around here look upon with unusual interest, if not with actual awe.”

“A murder?”

“No, no! Something much stranger. I have tried to combat the idea, and while I would be addressing the people they would say, “Si Si, Padre.” They would assent to all I said, but the belief remained and does remain indelible.

“A spirit,” he began, “is said to have appeared to everyone buried in that grave, and to warn the family whenever any of them is about to pass away.

“Its appearance, which is generally made in the following manner, is believed to be uniformly fatal, being an omen of death to those who are so unhappy as to meet with it.

“When a funeral takes place the spirit is said to watch the person who remains last in the graveyard, over whom it possesses a fascinating influence.

“If the person be a young man the spirit takes the shape of a fascinating female, inspires him with a charmed passion, and exacts a promise that he will meet her at the graveyard a month from that day. This promise is sealed with a kiss, that communicates a deadly taint to him who complies.

“The spirit then disappears. No sooner does the person from whom it received the promise and the kiss pass the boundary of the churchyard than he remembers the history of the specter. He sinks into despair and insanity and dies. If, on the contrary, the specter appears to a female, it assumes the form of a young man of exceeding elegance and beauty.” The padre showed me the grave of a young person about 18 years of age, who was said four months before to have fallen a victim to it. “Ten months ago,” the father said, “a man gave the promise and the fatal kiss, and consequently looked upon himself as lost. He took a fever and died and was buried on the day appointed for the meeting, which was exactly a month after the fatal interview.

“Incredible as it may appear, the friends of these two persons solemnly declared to me that the particulars of the interview were repeatedly detailed by the two persons without the slightest variation.

“There are several cases of the same kind mentioned, but the two cases alluded to are the only ones that came within my personal knowledge.

“It appears, however, that the spectre does not confine its operations to the graveyard only. There have been instances mentioned of its appearance at weddings and social parties, where it never failed to secure its victims by dancing them into pleuritic fevers.”

On being questions as to what he might think of such possible occurrences, the good father simply smiled and shook his head.

San Francisco [CA] Chronicle 21 October 1887: p. 1

The Santa Cruz ghost mentioned was a Woman in White, like the classic Hispanic ghost, La Llorona, the Weeping Woman, said to weep for her children whom she killed when their father refused to marry her. Over time La Llorona has morphed into a kind of banshee, warning of imminent death, or a vampire spirit, luring young men to their doom. Here the churchyard specter is both incubus and succubus, an equal-opportunity, shape-shifting seducer. The victim’s oblivion until he or she steps out of the graveyard is an especially fiendish touch. There is an interesting echo of the Dance of  Death in that “dancing into pleuritic fevers” and a hint of the European belief that the last person buried in a graveyard is forced to be its guardian until the next corpse comes along.  Let this be a warning to all of us to never be the last one out of the graveyard….

 

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 Fairy Godmother Treasure Chest: 1920

 

 Fancy Costumes for Children

In one city of about 50,000, there are a great many social affairs for children during the winter, and again and again mothers have been put to much trouble, or have had to forego the happiness of being able to dress up as all children love to do.

One woman with a knack for making attractive garments at small expense undertook to fill this need. She calls her service the Fairy Godmother Treasure Chest.

Now it so happened that she had a large quantity of fancy and plain materials left over from the days when her husband had bought in a bankrupt stock of goods and did not succeed in selling all of it. This would give excellent foundation of materials. She also watched a number of bargain sales and picked up such things as she could use.

cobalt boy fancy dress

Boy’s 18th-century fancy dress http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/21727/lot/355/

 

Then in her spare time she fashioned fancy costumes for children out of these. There were clown suits, and little Minute Men rigs, and Martha Washington dresses, and the most wonderful fairies and Puritan maidens, and butterfly and flower suits in bewildering array. She became exceedingly interested in all of these.

martha washington fancy dress

Martha Washington fancy dress for a young girl. http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/87849.html?mulR=1013756972|6

The costumes were either sold outright to the owner, or rented. If rented, the charge was on a basis of 20% of the cost of the costume plus the expense of professional cleaning. Thus, if the costume cost $5.00 (work included), the rent of it for twenty-four hours would be $1.00 plus the cleaning charge, which would be from 50 cents to 75 cents.

In this way every mother was assured that the garment her child wore had been cleaned and thoroughly disinfected after its last use, and so there was no danger of contagion or infection.

Masquerade and costume parties became quite the rage after the Fairy Godmother lifted the cover of her Treasure Chest. Some of the costumes were very striking and beautiful, for it was not difficult to pick up ends and odds of materials and lace curtains for brides’ veils, and all that sort of thing.

About once a year the Fairy Godmother sells the most of her stock to a costumer in a different place, and this enables her to have a fresh supply of attractive goods.

Money for the Woman who Wants It, Emmett Leroy Shannon 1920: pp. 328-329

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It sounds a delightful business.  Mrs Daffodil has seen modern advertisements for ladies who will bring a “dress-up box” to children’s birthday parties and for establishments that specialise in dressing party guests like fairies in pretty pastels and spangled nylon wings.

Mrs Daffodil can remember when every country house worthy of the name had a cupboard where the costumes for amateur theatricals were kept. Often these were run up by the local dressmaker, but (and here Mrs Daffodil advises any dress historians among her readership to avert their eyes) they were also repositories for genuine historic garments which were often carelessly worn and altered. It is possible that the waistcoat worn with the boy’s blue fancy-dress suit pictured above is a genuine antique garment. Eighteenth-century gowns and gentleman’s coats were particularly popular in house-party productions, or, in the United States, for “Martha Washington Teas” or patriotic entertainments. Mrs Daffodil can hear the dress historians blanching in horror….   One hopes that the Fairy Godmother actually made all of the beautiful and striking contents of her treasure chest rather than plundering antique trousseaux preserved in the attic.

 

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 Charm on His Watch Chain: 1884

torquoise shell heart locket

Tortoise-shell locket with pique work. http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/15128/lot/205/

“COME HOME TO-MORROW, PAPA”

Half a dozen railroad conductors, running on different roads, all good friends, met in a cigar store one day last week, and smoked, and talked, and joked each other about owning the various roads they run on, “knocking down” fares, “whacking up” with the directors, etc. They are great men to “cod” each other, as the saying is, and one stylish conductor, who always dresses well had to take it pretty rough. One good natured fellow, who is a great talker, joked the stylish conductor about his diamond, and finally got sight of a little worn and dilapidated charm on his watch chain, a little tortoise shell locket with marks cut into it all over. The talking conductor said.

“O, boys, look at him? A diamond as big as a paper weight, a two hundred dollar watch and a hundred dollar chain, and a dirty, nicked, worn out, miserable locket not worth ten cents. The brotherhood of railroad conductors ought to bounce him out of the association.” The boys all joined in and said it was a shame to wear such a thing ; some proposed raising a purse to get him a new one, and one of the boys was going to take hold of the miserable little charm and pull it off. The stylish conductor stepped back with a forced smile, and took the charm in his hand tenderly and seemed to caress it, and he tried to change the subject, but the boys would not allow it, when he said.

“Boys, that is of more value to me than my diamond stud, my watch, or my position. I would not part with it for all of Alex. Mitchell’s wealth. I would not erase one of those little dents in the charm to save my right arm. I couldn’t do it, boys.”

“Oh I know what’s the matter,” said the talking conductor, as he punched the stylish conductor in the ribs with his thumb, “some girl gave it to him. I know how it is. A girl made me a present once of a grand bounce, and I carried the marks of it for years. Old softy, here, carries that cow-horn charm with the notches in, as a reminder of old love. Every notch represents a kiss eh, you old rascal?”

The stylish conductor turned away from the boys, ostensibly to light his cigar, but really to hide a tear that was trying to steal a ride on the truck of his eye-ball. He took his handkerchief and wiped his eye, and said something about a cinder in it, and then turned to the boys and said: “Fellows, I don’t want you to think I am too soft, and as the most of you have children, I guess you won’t think so if I tell you about this cheap-looking affair. I used to wear it on a silver watch chain when I was braking on a freight train fifteen years ago. We had a little flaxen-haired girl baby, a year and a-half old, and I was away so much, leaving at four o’clock in the morning and coming home late every second night, that I did not have much time to visit with the baby, except when she woke up nights with aching gums, and Sundays. Well, boys, the little baby almost cut a whole set of teeth on that miserable little watch charm. Nothing else would seem to hit the right spot on a tooth, and she would lay awake nights to wait for me to come, and pap’ was never too dirty for her to get in his lap, nestle up in the bosom covered with a greasy blouse, and be happy. Sundays her mother didn’t have to even look at her, because she was in my lap all day.

Well, one day I was up the road with a way freight, unloading some stuff at a station, the second day out, and thinking that at eight P. M. I would be home and the baby would gallop over me, when my conductor, as good a boy as ever lived, who is now a division superintendent, came along the platform as pale as a sheet, and said to me: “Boss you have got to go right home. Go get on the engine and the old man will pull her out and get you down to your house in forty minutes, and he can get back before we have this freight unloaded. Your baby is awful sick.”

Boys, I was so weak I couldn’t lift a pound. I couldn’t get on the engine without help, but we run to J. like the wind. The baby was dead when the conductor told me, and he knew it, but it was tough enough for him, poor old, pard to tell me she was sick. I found her dead, having died of convulsions in teething, and my wife frantic, while 1 felt as though a train of box cars had run over me, and I wished they had. Oh, what a blow that was. The prettiest baby that ever was, that I left two days before with a smile on her face that would soften the hardest heart, dead. She said: “Tum home morrow, papa, and baby have new toot.” As she lay on the bed, an angel, with her lips smilingly parted, enough to show some of the little teeth that had cut the holes you see in this charm, I took the charm up and kissed it, and I said I would wear it always, and I have, so far boys, and I always will.”

The stylish conductor turned his head one way to wipe his eyes, the talking conductor turned his head another way, and every blessed one of the largehearted boys had tears in their eyes as big as the stylish conductor’s diamond. They shook hands with the stylish conductor and went away. A few days later the stylish conductor missed his charm from his watch chain, when he was going away, and his wife told him she wanted to have the ring fixed that held it on the chain, and she would have it for him when he came back from his run. When he came back the boys met at his house, and after supper one of them handed him the charm beautifully mounted in gold, with only the part of tortoise shell showing where the tooth marks of the dead baby had been made, and on the back in pure gold, was engraved the word, “Darling.” The boys wanted to show that they appreciated the conductor’s feelings. How often a careless remark, in a joke, will bring out a story of heart ache that makes tears flow from eyes unaccustomed to weeping.—

The Conductor and Brakeman, Volume 1, 1 October 1884: pp 471-73

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil wishes all doting Papas a very Happy Father’s Day.

To celebrate, that ghostly person over at Haunted Ohio has posted this dire story of a dead father who returns for his little daughter.

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.

 

Making Her Father’s Grave: 1879

orphans decorating their fathers' graves

Decoration Day at Philadelphia: Orphans Decorating Their Fathers’ Graves in Glenwood Cemetery, 1870s

Making Her Father’s Grave

A Pathetic Scene Witnessed in an Ohio Cemetery

[From the Sandusky (O.) Register.]

A little girl with tangled locks, peeping from under a calico hood, clad in a dress of chintz, loitered behind us as the great dusty crowd moved out of the gates of Mount Adna the other day after they had scattered their flowers and done honor to the dead. Dreamily she gazed after them, her eyes filled with a far away look of tenderness, until the last one had disappeared and the rattle of the drums had died away. Then she turned and vaguely scanned the mounds that rose about her, clutching still tighter the fading bunch of dandelions and grass that her chubby hand held. An old man came by and gently patted her curly head as he spoke her name, but she only shrank back still further, and when he told a passing stranger that the little one’s father had died on shipboard and been buried at sea, there was only a tear drop in the child’s eye to tell that she heard or knew the story.

When they were gone she moved on further to a neglected, empty lot, and, kneeling down, she piled up a mound of earth, whispering as she patted it and smoothed it with her chubby hand: “This won’t be so awfully big as the others, I guess, but may be it will be big enough so that God will see it, and think that papa is buried here.” Carefully she trimmed the sides with the grass she plucked, murmuring on: “And may be it will grow so that it will be like the rest in two or three years, and then maybe papa will sometime come back and”–.

But she paused, as though it suddenly dawned upon her young mind that he rested beneath the waves, and the tear-drops that sprang to her eyes moistened the little bunch of dandelions that she planted among the grasses on the mound she had reared. When the sexton passed that way at night as he went to close the gates, he found the little one fast asleep, with her head pillowed on the mound.

Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA] 30 October 1879: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Victorian mourning was built around a fixed and ideal ritual: an edifying death-bed, preparing the loved one’s body for the grave, the funeral, and then the burial in a quiet, green cemetery beneath a headstone with a touching inscription, where the family could visit, plant flowers, weep, or picnic. Decoration Day was an important holiday for the bereaved. Graves were tidied and planted and the dead were remembered.

Those whose loved ones never returned: whose bodies were either not identified or were buried on a distant battlefield felt a sense of incompleteness beyond their personal loss: they had also been deprived of essential parts of the mourning ritual.

Mrs Daffodil knows of a person whose Great-Great-Great Grandfather was killed at the Battle of Chickamauga. Family lore says that his head was shot off so that his body was never identified and was buried as an “Unknown” at the Chattanooga National Cemetery.  The man’s daughter never turned away a tramp, believing it might be her father come back.

 

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 Patch-work May Day Entertainment: 1904

May Day 1903

At a May Day entertainment given last year a popular hostess noted the fact that there was repeated controversy among her guests concerning May Day traditions and ancient customs among various nations, which gave her an Idea for this year’s novel May party. She has chosen for her guests all the members of her literary club, and other friends who are fond of literary research and competition. To a certain number she has assigned the task of searching out and describing quaint May Day celebrations whose origins have been lost in the mists of remote antiquity. Others have been requested to describe the customs that have been handed down from our Gothic ancestors. Still others will describe quaint celebrations that have their origin in the Floralia of the Romans. The strange May festivals of the ancient Druids, and the May games which Christianity finally adopted from these, will also be brought up for consideration, with prizes awarded (of course) for the best papers on the various subjects. But the most interesting feature of the entertainment will be the acting out of many curious customs.

As the entertainment will be given on the eve of May Day, the festivities will be continued until the “Meeting of the Dew” may be celebrated in the early hours of May Day morning. When the people of ancient Edinburgh used to assemble at Arthur’s Seat to “meet the dew” May dew was thought to possess all kinds of virtues. Even the English girls went into the field to wash their faces in it at dawn, in order to procure a good complexion. Samuel Pepys records in his delightful diary that his wife has gone to Woolwich for a little change of air “and to gather the May dew.” This form of celebration would have to be omitted when the entertainment is given in a city home, but as our hostess has spacious grounds surrounding her suburban house, the “meeting of the dew” will be a novel feature of the celebration.

Another quaint festivity that can be carried out on the lawn if desired, but which might also be celebrated as a parlor dance for a city home, is the German Walpurglsnacht, and although the witches may not “ride up the Brocken on magpies’ tails,” their weird dance may be celebrated—the witches who dance on the Brocken until they have danced away the winter’s snow.

The “Parade of Sweeps” will be an interesting feature of the entertainment. It is said that the parade of sweeps in bowers of greenery lingered on rather longer in England than May poles. It is supposed to have originated in this way—and this story will be told by one of those to whom the searching for English festivities has been assigned. Edward Wortley Montagu (born about 1714) who later was destined to win celebrity by still stranger freaks, escaped when a boy from Westmont School, and borrowed the cloths of a chimney sweep, in whose trade he became an adept. A long search led to his discovery and restoration to his parents on May 1, in recollection of which event Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu is said to have instituted the May Day feast given by her for many years to the London chimney sweepers. A few of the guests who are humorously inclined will don costumes of the old-time chimney sweeps, and after their mirth-provoking “dance of the sweeps,” will retain the costume while acting the clown during the remainder of the entertainment.

The final celebration before the May Day breakfast—which will be served shortly after midnight, in the earliest hours of May Day morning—will be patterned after a quaint custom in Lorraine, in which jokes on individual guests will play an important part. In Lorraine, girls dressed in white go from village to village stringing off couplets in which the inhabitants are turned into somewhat unmerciful ridicule. The girls of this place enlighten the people of that as to their small failings, and vice versa. The village poets harvest the jokes made by one community at the expense of another, in order to shape them into a consecutive whole for recital on May Day. The girls are rewarded for their part in the business by small coin, cakes and fruit.

Although the idea of reward and of going from village to village for adaptable jokes will not be carried out, this can be made a charming feature of the festivity. To a number of practical jokers has been assigned the task of forming into laughable couplets all the faults and failings or peculiarities of the various guests, and while the unpleasant sting of personality will be avoided, by omitting mention of any particular guest in connection with the various accusations, there will be continual sport In choosing the guest to whom the joke seems most applicable.

Caldecott, Randolph, 1846-1886; May Day

Caldecott, Randolph; May Day; Manchester Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/may-day-204629

Several quaint old-time dances will be Introduced during the evening; but as no May Day party can be quite complete without the English dance around the May pole, a flower-decked pole will be a feature of the parlor decorations. And after the final May dance in good old English style about this pole, each guest will receive as a souvenir one of its gay silk streamers and a floral wreath or garland. Phebe Westcott Humphreys.

The Country Gentleman, Volume 69, 1904: p. 378

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil finds the whole thing a contrived, patch-work sort of entertainment. What sane hostess would try to cram academic papers, dew, dancing witches, and the May Pole into a single party?  One might even call it a “crazy quilt.” Witches and May Poles and Sweeps, oh my!

To be Relentlessly Informative, Mrs. Elizabeth Montague, who died in 1800, gave for many years a May-day entertainment to the chimney-sweeps of London at her house in Portman Square. These sooty guests were regaled with roast beef and plum-pudding, and a dance succeeded, while each of them received a shilling on his departure.

Mrs Daffodil has written before on the Ideal and the Real May Day, as well as some other over-elaborate May Day pageants and a parody of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s bumpity-thumpity poem, The May Queen, adapted for inclement weather, as is Britain’s wont on that day.

 

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.

 

Happy Easter from Mrs Daffodil

Mrs Daffodil wishes all of her readers the happiest of holidays accompanied by spring-tide flowers, chocolate eggs, a fetching head-dress, and fluffy animal companions.

 

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.

 

Making Easter Bonnet Flowers: 1903

summer flower hat

Flower garden hat, just right for an Easter bonnet, c. 1915 http://www.augusta-auction.com/list-of-upcoming-sales?view=lot&id=15341&auction_file_id=33

Making Flowers for Gorgeous Easter Bonnets

By John Mathews

The door flew back suddenly—and I stood in the midst of an artificial-flower garden. The air was filled with a song and the voices were those of women. About me on long tables were heaps of half-finished blossoms. Around the tables sat the flower-girls, singing, as their fingers flew rapidly over bits of colored cloth. Roses and daisies and violets were blooming by the hundreds; leaves were unfolding, green branches were growing before my very eyes. And the flowers which were being produced in this atmosphere of song were Easter blossoms, the most brilliant and the most conspicuous of all that are seen on that beautiful holiday, for they were the flowers of the wonderful Easter bonnet .

And this was the busiest season in the big New York flower factory, which produces every year hundreds of bushels of the artificial floral gems. I saw at once that the making of flowers has become an art, for by the cunning combination of muslins and silks, velvets and satins, with amazingly delicate tints, a picture is made of the real rose or the real violet or daisy—a picture that, while it is only an imitation, possesses beauty in itself, just as a landscape, while only a copy, has much of the charm of that from which its inspiration comes. Here was a most unusual situation in this flower garden. If the flowers had been real, and the place where they bloomed a garden, instead of a big, dingy room, it would have been only natural for the gardeners to be gayly singing. But for factory workers to be making music as they toil is a thing not often known.

I have heard of great cigar factories in Florida where an orchestra plays to lift the spirits of the men while their backs are bent in labor. And I have heard, too, of other factories where the women who are employed are cowed and suppressed and not permitted, on pain of fine, to speak to each other excepting in a low tone of voice. But here was a factory where the workers were allowed and even urged to sing. And it seemed a particularly appropriate combination — the song and the flowers for the Easter time. A dozen of the girls were singing in strong, clear voices a popular air, one of the sort that lend themselves to notes long-drawn-out. The chorus ran something like this:
There are eyes of blue,
There are brown eyes too,
There are eyes of every size and eyes of every hue.
But if you are wise,
You’ll take my advice,
And be careful of the maiden with the dre-a-my eyes.

There was no weariness, no doleful note, in the song, for it bore the joy which it, also gave. And while they sang the women worked the faster, their fingers performing the routine to which they were accustomed, while their spirits, no doubt, floated away very pleasantly on the wings of the music. Not only is there a humanitarian, but a practical business purpose, as well, in this musical accompaniment to the daily toil of the factory. Men and women both work best when they are most happy and contented. If the girls in this flower factory were not finding relief from the drudgery of their work in song they would be talking, and when they grew emphatic or their conversation became descriptive, these persons, being women, might frequently illustrate what they said with motions of their hands; and hands thus employed would not be making flowers. There would be more gestures than blossoms. But as they sing, their hands never stop. Thus these girls and women become happier and more efficient at the same time, for there is great power in music.

In the centre of this scene of industry and song stood a tall, graceful young woman who is of first importance in this story because it is she who makes the first designs of the blossoms, and also conducts the department which finishes them.

-

Artificial flowers packed in their original box, c. 1875-1900 http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1349734.1

The manufacture of artificial flowers is one of the great industries. Formerly the best flowers and the largest quantities came from abroad, the most beautiful and costly from Paris, the cheaper grades from Germany and Austria. Millions of artificial flowers are still brought from Europe for the American woman’s hat, but the American factories are growing fast, and are becoming rivals of those of France in the perfection of their product.

The smallest varieties of flowers, the forget-me-nots, for instance, are seldom made here. They can be bought more cheaply in Germany, for there they are manufactured at small cost by women in the prisons, girls in convents, and even by school children after school hours. This labor is cheaper than any that can be found in America. But they make the roses, daisies, geraniums, violets, pansies, and all of the others in the largest and best factories of the United States. And some of the copies of these bright gems of the floral world are so skillfully and artistically made that one hesitates before deciding that the artificial is not, after all, a real flower.

The tall young woman, designer of the blossoms and captain of the flower-girls, showed me exactly how a rose was made, a great pink French rose of delicate tint, growing deeper toward the centre.

“Beginning with the petals,” she said, separating a large rose into its parts, “you will see that each is a single bit of muslin—a sort of three-cornered piece, you will notice. The outer petals are the largest, and they decrease in size as they near the centre of the flower.”

She spread the pink pieces out on the table before her. There were forty-eight of them.

“I determine the size of the petals from the real rose,” she said, “pulling out its petals and then copying them on to a pattern. From this pattern a stamp is made. It is like a pinking iron, or a chisel. You hit it on the end with a heavy hammer and drive it through the cloth.”

On the top floor of the factory two strong men were carving out the flowers with these tools. The stamps were driven with each blow of the hammer through several thicknesses of cloth, cutting out the rose petals, or daisy blossoms, or poppy blooms. Before the flowers are stamped out the cloth is first starched in preparation. It is stretched on perpendicular frames and the starch is applied with a brush. When it has dried the cloth is placed before the two men who handle the blacksmith’s hammers.

Then the different parts are colored, and this, as well as the designing of the shape of the flowers, is all-important. In the coloring room are huge bowls and pots filled with coloring matter, for many hundreds of tints are mixed and used in a single factory. A rose petal is pink at the outer edges and light green around the part where it adheres to the flower head. The petals are dipped by hand, first into the green coloring fluid, which contains alcohol to “set” it, and then into the pink color when the green has dried. And there is a great steam-heated drying room where the parts of flowers are put on shelves in trays to dry. The rose petals are then sent to the flower room, which is presided over by Miss Essie Hoar, the designer of flowers in this factory of David Spero.

The petals are put between sheets of thick blotting paper which are moistened. They are taken out of this to be crimped and rounded, for you know there are many curves and swells in each little rose petal. The shaping of the petals is done while they are still damp. A pair of small hot pincers is used to make the convolutions in the surface of each petal. To give the flowers their proper curve and form, a large number of little machines are employed. They are operated by girls and supplied with heat by gas jets, so that while the flower is pressed it is dried and held in shape by the starch which it contains. The rose petals are now ready to be placed on the head of the stem.

Here, again, deftness and skill are required. A cluster of starched threads with tips of a yellow composition is imported from Germany. These threads become the stamens and pistil of the rose. Miss Hoar took the cluster of threads, fastened it to the end of a wire stem, and then began to place the petals around it, dipping the end of each of them in glue. And her fingers moved very rapidly and the rose grew fast, each petal assuming its proper place and position. In less than a minute it was a gorgeous, full-blown flower. Then its stem had to be put on.

Rose stems are made of small hollow tubes of stiffened muslin stained green and cut in the factory to the length desired. But the thorns of the artificial rose are of soft little rubber tips which are put on with glue at regular intervals along the stem. This hollow green tube is slipped over the wire about which the rose blossom grew, and is held there by glue. A tiny green, hollow cup is placed under the head of the flower, the stem being pulled through it. The leaves are fastened to the stem, and the rose is a rose indeed.

The flower factories in the United States buy most of their material from abroad. The stems of various sizes come in coils like rope and are called tubing. The leaves, already stained green, are brought to the United States in boxes, but in the flower factory they must be put on their stems and the veins put in them by a stamping machine. The petals of many flowers are two-colored, the top being of one shade and the under side of another. This fact presents another problem in flower-making. The cloth for such flowers must be painted before the petals are stamped out. The muslin is hung in frames and then one side is painted the tint desired. When that is dry the brush is used on the opposite side with another color, and then the cloth is laid before the stamping iron.

Some one from the flower factory goes every year to Paris. His eyes follow the hats of the women as he sees them on the fashionable boulevards, in the cafés, or at the theatres. And he writes home describing the flowers that he has seen on these hats. The factory at once begins making these flowers with might and main, for it is an absolute certainty that the flowers worn on hats in Paris will a little later be worn on hats in American cities. There are flowers, however, which are in steady demand for several years together. One of these, designed by Miss Hoar, was a velvet daisy of dark red, lustrous hue. Of these 150,000,000 were sold in two years.

with grapes and leaves dec 1917

1917 hat decorated with grapes and leaves

During some seasons cherries are worn on hats; sometimes grapes adorn the feminine bonnets. And the making of this artificial fruit becomes a part of the industry of the flower factory. When grapes are in vogue an entire glass-blowing establishment may be employed to supply the large flower-maker with the little, thin, glass balls which form the body of the grape or cherry. This glass fruit is then dipped in coloring matter and, if it is a grape, is sprinkled, also, with potato flour before the color is dry. This gives the velvet effect of the real fruit, so that the artificial grape is one of the most luscious-looking creations imaginable.

Frank Leslies Weekly 16 April 1903

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A fascinating look at a pretty trade and how delightful that the flower-makers are encouraged to lift their young voices in song!

It grieves Mrs Daffodil to undermine this charming picture of embowered maidens, but what the author does not mention is that the green of the leaves and stems was Scheele’s Green–an arsenical green also known as Paris Green–which, although known to make the complexion pale and interesting, was slowly poisoning these young women. Given the insouciant view of many factory owners, one shudders to think what other hell-brews were used in the making of these lovely objects.

 

 

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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