Category Archives: Halloween

Bird-cages and Court Toadies: Some Triumphs of Fancy Dress: 1896

Depicting “The Scotch Mail” and “Covent Garden.”

Some Triumphs of Fancy Dress,

J. Malcom Fraser

With the exception of those held during the carnival at Nice, the balls which annually take place at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, are the most brilliant pageants of their kind in the world. The fact that Europe’s greatest masters in the art of designing vie with each other in their endeavour to obtain the highest pitch of originality and perfection, is a guarantee of the inventive genius that is brought to bear upon those lighthearted gatherings. In short, it is there that the typical ingenuity of Bohemianism is shown to its greatest advantage.

It is interesting to note that a large quantity of the best costumes that are worn either at the Veglione or the Redoute at Nice are supplied by English makers, and worn by the British and American visitors. As an instance in case I will take that of Miss Loie Fuller, who electrified the popular French watering-place on the Mediterranean in her guise of “Mother Goose.” So struck were the Nicois with the quaintness of the headdress—which, by the way, consisted of a beautifully modelled goose, nestling upon a bunch of crimson velvet—that they immediately conceived the idea of reproducing the coveted design as a gigantic centre-piece for their procession. Now, this costume—as, indeed, are all those which are here described—was designed and carried out by Mr. Clarkson, of theatrical fame.

That our balls are not totally devoid of wit and humour may be seen by the hundreds of living jokes which are invariably prominent when popular feeling is directed towards some political act. I have no doubt that there will be at least one dress at the coming gathering entitled the ‘ Maskrugeraiders,” one half of which will represent the celebrated Dr. Jameson dressed in a roughrider’s costume, while the other half will be the same man in convict’s clothes.

Then, again, the costume on which is pinned a placard informing the public that “Tis years since last we met,” and consisting of a gentleman dressed both as a prisoner and a judge, is not without some humour.

The subject of the illustration on the right of the title is distinctly appropriate. In fact, it is named “Covent Garden.” The costume is a veritable walking allegory, and is so designed as to give the onlooker an idea of the various fruits and vegetables that are sold in the well-known market. It was at first suggested that real fruit should be used to decorate the dress, but a little thought showed the inadvisability of this.

The groundwork of the gown consisted of green and yellow silk, covered and draped with papier mache produce of the most expensive description. A large basket filled to overflowing with grapes and strawberries, surmounted by an enticing pine, was symbolised in the young lady’s hat, while the flora of London was represented by a panier of lilies and wild flowers. The green stockings and shoes harmonised with the general colour of the fruits. Although this magnificent dress cost the wearer £30, she was amply repaid for her trouble and expense by carrying off the first prize of a grand piano.

An extraordinary mixture is the costume, which is embodied in the title, called “The Scotch Mail.” This dress gives us an example of the happy-go-lucky—with great emphasis on the lucky —way in which the members of the “profession” are wont to dress themselves for the fray.

About ten minutes to twelve on the night of one of the balls, a young actor rushed into Mr. Clarkson’s, saying that he particularly wished to be present at the Opera House that night, at the same time giving impossible hints as to how he should be dressed.

Nothing suited him, however, and he was about to retire in despair when he happened to catch sight of a bundle of mail-armour that had been returned from Osborne that afternoon. Donning this, he found to his surprise that it was a perfect fit, and when, in an off-hand manner, he picked up an old property postman’s hat, the idea suddenly occurred to the costumier to wrap a plaid and kilt round him with a card sewn on his dress saying that he was—the Scotch Mail.

No sooner thought of than done, and, as a sort of finishing touch, he was supplied with a worn-ou’ rag-bag and a sporran. Nobody was more surprised than himself when, after the ballot had been made, he found himself the happy possessor of the first Ralli car ever presented as a prize, valued at fifty guineas.

Worth but Worthless fancy dress

Some time ago a dress by Worth, costing eighty guineas, was offered for the best lady’s gown. With the habitual smartness of our English designers to seize every opportunity in the shape of a hint, a costume was soon forthcoming, entitled “Worth but Worthless.” This ingenious design was an exact counterpart of the original prize, but instead of being made of silk and cloth it was totally constructed of that crinkled paper which at the time was greatly in favour for the making of lampshades.

The conception of this idea led to some amusing difficulties on the evening of the ball. The gentleman for whom this dress was made was somewhat small and boyish in appearance, which fact lent itself to his better personification of a dame of high fashion. After some little struggle on the part of the attendants to make the wearer’s waist as small as possible, the dress was fitted on piecemeal, great care being exercised that no tear or rent should be made.

When all these difficulties had been overcome, the question resolved itself into how the would-be dancer could be safely taken to the hall. To be crushed into a hansom and there to sit down meant certain and irreparable destruction to the dress that had cost so much anxiety and forethought. There was only one thing to be done, and that was to throw a shawl lightly over the young man’s shoulders and allow him to walk to the hall, leaning on a friend’s arm, which he did.

That he arrived safely is shown by the fact that he obtained the first prize as recompense for the initial cost of two guineas for the making and designing of the dress and for the exceeding originality of the whole costume.

When at the commencement of last year a certain Earl was raised to the rank of Duke, the ill-favour with which his elevation was regarded was made known by the individual who took upon himself the dress of a “Court Toady.”

Clothed in a green material made of woven wool, with two incandescent lights in place of eyes, he resembled an enormous toad. As may be seen from original drawing, a the reproduction of the blue sash — the insignia of a duke — was passed over his right shoulder and partially covered the Royal Arms, which had been worked upon his back, while in his right hand he held a dispatch box and in his left a bulrush. On entering the ball – room the subtle sarcasm of the whole costume was at once perceived, and the judges thought fit to award a bicycle to the happy wearer.

 

To design a dress that is out of the common, to design one that can be worn with comfort, to combine drollery with beauty, and yet not charge an exorbitant price, is indeed a thing that is rarely done. Yet the example above will show that it has and can be accomplished.

Miss Marie Montrose certainly aided art in appearing beautiful when she wore the dress entitled “Skylights and Nightlights.” This costume was made entirely of blue satin, upon which were painted scenes of nocturnal revelry enacted by various members of the cat tribe in conjunction with mysterious night-birds. The new moon, which was slightly clouded, showed itself upon her bodice, while stars were shining in every position—possible and otherwise. A nightlight rested on her right shoulder, above which the sun seemed to be rising with great reluctance from a mass of loosened hair. A miniature lamp-post was held in the left hand, and was lighted with a small though brilliant electric light—thus completing the exceedingly striking costume that gained a silver coffee set. And yet I question whether the materials used in the construction of this dress cost more than a five-pound note.

Here is an illustration of how a really good idea may spring from an apparently trivial source. One day, during the hard winter of ’94, Mr. Clarkson was walking along the embankment looking at the frozen river. Noticing an indistinct object half buried in a floe of ice his curiosity was aroused, and upon closer inspection he was disgusted to find that the “object” proved to be nothing more than an empty whisky bottle. Picking it up, however, he carried it home with him.

Two days afterwards a decidedly humorous costume was ready for the ball. In point of fact it was the head-dress rather than the costume that was humorous. This consisted of a head impersonating Father Thames, on the crown of which was posed a large frog in the midst of weeds and rushes, holding in one of its fore-feet a reed.

The eyes of this gruesome reptile were illuminated by small lamps. When the wearer of the head-piece turned, the original whisky-bottle came into view, thus explaining the name of the costume, “The Spirit of the Thames.” An appropriate prize was award to this in the shape of a double-sculling boat.

The bird-cage is surely a quaint and ingenious costume, made of pale pink silk, the skirt of which was painted to resemble a cage in which parrots were perched in various positions. Round the upper part of the sleeves were two real cages, in which a couple of stuffed birds were placed; while another parrot, with wings outstretched, covered the front of the bodice. Upon the young lady’s head a live bullfinch was allowed to flutter in its golden house.

The All-Bet Fancy Dress

The raid that was made some time ago upon the Albert Club supplied costumiers with plenty of fresh ideas. One of the best— if not the best—was the one entitled “The All-bet,” which was typified by the individual whose front view was got up to represent a sporting man of the highest fashion, while judicious packages were hung here and there beneath a club notice-board, on which the device “Raid on the Albert Club” informed the uninitiated of the event which the costume was supposed to represent.

The ink-pot and pen on the left shoulder gave evidence of the judicial verdict in the same way as the Indian club showed the Albert’s athletic propensities. Expressive sentiments were scattered here and there, pinned loosely to the costume, such as ” Out on bail,” ” Police evidence,” ” Judge’s decision,” and “The All-bet.”

Very different is the subject of my next illustration. “Peace with Honour” is certainly an appropriate name for the still more appropriate dress that was worn at the Primrose Day ball. The head and shoulders of Lord Beaconsfield were painted upon a yellow skirt, which was tastefully trimmed with primroses. The hat consisted of one mass of the symbolic flowers, as also did the bodice. The primrose-trellised staff, which was grasped in the left hand, completed a costume that cost twenty-five pounds, and succeeded in carrying off a silver coffee set.

In passing, I may mention that the art of designing in England is by no means an unprofitable one; indeed, designers of theatrical and fancy costumes in this country are absolutely the best paid in the world. The sources from which they draw their ideas are practically inexhaustible, as it would certainly take some little time to drain the treasures of the British Museum—to say nothing of the great law cases and Parliamentary disputes that crop up from time to time. In short, nearly every subject lends itself to the cunning of the costumier.

Nor is this all. Sarah Bernhardt.who in herself is a host of ideas, often proves a regular gold mine to designers and perruquiers, though she is extremely hard to please, and will often require ten or a dozen different designs before she is satisfied. Once suited, however, she will think nothing of paying from eighty to one hundred guineas for the design alone.

 

The costume of a Watteau Shepherdess, that was worn by Mrs. Langtry, needs no explanation, for, although it was simple in the extreme, it was undoubtedly worth the first prize that was awarded it.

A noteworthy incident happened in connection with this dress, however. Mrs. Langtry went into the costumier’s some four or five hours before the ball, and, like the owner of the Scotch Mail, demanded a costume for the dance. A rose silk skirt was immediately obtained on which were sewn a number of golden flowers and leaves. The bodice was hastily put together, and, to successfully finish the effect, it was no difficult matter to obtain a straw hat and a walking stick.

There is interest, moreover, in the fact that the artist who designed the plate has sketched numerous asides for the special edification of the practical costumier. The one shown on the left hand bottom corner of the Watteau shepherdess is a hood that might have been made and worn as an alternative to the hat.

The latter is certainly the prettier of the two, and so Mrs. Langtry evidently thought, for she wore it on two out of the three occasions on which the dress was donned.

During the talk about international peace at the end of December, 1895, a peculiarly appropriate dress was worn by one of our most popular young actresses, called “United Europe.” The young lady’s hat consisted of black and white satin, trimmed with red, white, and yellow feathers, while the gown itself was of black satin embroidered with gold.

On an overskirt of various colours were worked the emblems of the different countries of the Continent. The red, yellow, and black puff sleeves were shaded by large revers of heavily embroidered satin; and, in order to heighten the effect of this most artistic costume, the British standard was borne in the left hand. The white Louis XVI. wig completed what was perhaps the prettiest fancy dress that has ever been worn since the first days of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Pearson’s Magazine, Vol. 2, 1896: p. 655

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: So many ephemeral, topical references that Mrs Daffodil scarcely knows where to start!  “Maskrugeraiders” refers to the disastrous Jameson’s raid in South Africa and Sir Leander Starr Jameson’s subsequent arrest. Mr Clarkson is William Clarkson, noted theatrical costumer, wig-maker, and rogue, of whom we shall hear more of in the days ahead. The Albert Club, a well-known betting centre in London was raided in 1894 by the police for offences under the Betting Act. 109 persons were arrested.

Primrose Day is the anniversary of the death of British statesman and prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, whose favourite flower was the primrose. “Peace with Honour,” was what Beaconsfield secured when war with Russia seemed a certainty in 1877. The phrase was later repeated by the Kaiser and we all know how well that ended.  Mrs Langtry was, of course, the Jersey Lily, actress and close personal friend of the Prince of Wales. Mrs Daffodil has not yet found out the identity of the “court toady.”

It is always amusing to hear about those busy and important people who rush into Mr Clarkson’s at the eleventh hour and expect not only accommodation, but custom work, when all that are left are Pierrot costumes. “Self-absorbed” is the kindest phrase that comes to mind.

For further, fancy-dress inspiration, Mrs Daffodil recommends a perusal of her “Fancy Dress” category, where readers may read of such unusual costumes as “the mutilated sportsman,” “the knitting bag,” and the “Princess Royal’s wedding fan.”

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.

 

Advertisements

Hallowe’en Supper Frocks: 1894

HALLOWEEN COSTUMES

PRETTY FANCIFUL GOWNS SUITABLE FOR THE FESTIVAL

The Picturesque Frocks a Brunette, Chatain and Blonde Will Wear to a Hallowmass Party.

Halloween, perhaps, more than any other fete, supplies possibilities for picturesque and effective gowns, and the end-of-the-century girl is not the one to let them slip by.

A very fashionable wardrobe now owns, along with other dainty evening toilets, a Halloween supper frock, which may be made in any mode, but which, to be just the thing, should suggest, in some way, night itself. Tints vague and intangible, hinting of darkness or the white cool moon, are preferred over glaring dark colors.

As to ornament, there may be some curious jeweled night fly fastened somewhere, perhaps spangled in the hair; and if flowers are used, they too, must propitiate the powers of night in wanes and thick perfume.

The dread witches, who on All Halloween have the threads of fate in their keeping, are said to be difficult ladies to please, but somehow one hopes they will smile on the wearers of the three charming gowns here shown, and provide them suitable husbands. The originals of these dainty costumes, which were suggested by three famous French pictures, were all made by a nimble-fingered New York girl for a Halloween supper. They are to be worn by herself and two sisters, three distinct types; and along with their exceeding effectiveness, they have the merit of having involved comparatively little expense, being all fashioned from materials at hand, some lengths of a marvelous Chinese drapery, a few yards of thick liberty satin bought in better days, and a thin, scant, old tambour muslin slip, relic of a long dead great-mamma and tea cup times.

FOR A BRUNETTE

The first dress shown was for the dark, handsome elder sister of the little Cinderella dressmaker—the type that goes with stiffness and stateliness and rustling textures. It was of the liberty satin in a dim luminous tint, too blue for gray and too gray for blue, and that will show off the wearer’s rich skin to perfection. The girdle drapery of graduating ribbon lengths and bows was of a faint dead sea rose color. This subtle and delightful tint, together with black, repeats itself in the simple but decorative embroidery at the bottom of the wide skirt. The tiny chemise gamp is of white muslin, and the short balloon sleeves are stiffened with tarlatan. To be worn with the dress, as well as the next one, both of which were entirely uncrinolined, were petticoats of hair cloth, with tucks of large round organ pipe plaits, to hold the skirt out in the present approved fashion.

FOR CHATAIN [Brown Hair] COLORING.

The second gown, though perhaps not quite so enchanting as the first, was more suggestive of the witcheries of Halloween. It was of the Chinese silk drapery, in the copper red, and with a fantastic patterning of black bats. The girdle and low neck decoration are of black velvet, and square jet buckles fasten the latter down at intervals.

The very daintiest feature of this paniered gown, however, which in style recalls somewhat little beflowered Dolly Varden, is the undersleeves, made to show off a rounded young arm and drive envy to the soul of womankind. For every woman who is a real woman has a weakness for lace, and these adorable undersleeves were made of the charming old net lace embroidery in back stitch of the long ago.

It came, like the tambour muslin, from grandmamma’s garret, where, when Halloween is over, it is to be hoped, it will be carefully put back.

A GOWN FOR A BLONDE.

The third and last dress, a tiny hint of the Directoire period, is the tambour muslin slip itself, sinfully modernized. Once white, it is now evenly mellowed to a soft caressing yellow, which is further accented by a puffing of pure white chiffon about the neck and skirt bottom. The sleeves are of a rich heavy brocade in black and white, and the belt and crescent ornaments are of silver.

This costume is to be worn to the supper by the little dressmaker herself, and its scant picture lines are sure to become her slim, shortwaisted young figure.

And may the ghost of sweet dead grandmamma not come back to reproach her for desecration.

Nina Fitch.

The Salt Lake [UT] Herald 28 October 1894: p. 13

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Desecration, indeed….  One frequently sees examples of ancient garments re-made into fancy dress or some “amusing” pastiche; a practice which makes Mrs Daffodil’s blood alternately boil and run cold (something that takes rather a bit of doing, given her line of work.) We can only fervently hope that the antique lace and tambour muslin were, indeed, “put back” or, if not, that Grandmamma haunted the offender mercilessly.

While questioning the appalling statement that only “real women” have a “weakness” for lace, Mrs Daffodil will also adjudge the addition of antique lace to an otherwise standard Bat Queen or Empress of the Night fancy-dress costume to be utterly unnecessary.

“Night” was a popular figure in fancy dress. We see an interpretation of that character at the head of this post. An illustration and description of another version follows. Whimsical though the idea is in principal, in real life, wearing a stuffed owl must be a trifle cumbersome:

By way of preparation for it we present for our readers’ inspection a costume representing Night.

It is satin, in two shades of purple. The lighter used for lower skirt has beaded surface. The plain falls over in a plaited back and draped front; wide panel ornamented with stars, butterflies [moths?] and a very demure owl; smoke-colored vail, dotted with stars, covers the crown of hat, held by a crescent and owl; this draping over the right arm and breast, is thrown over the left shoulder and arm. Willkes-Barre [PA] Evening News 6 January 1886: p. 3

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

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

 

Weird Ghost Girls: 1914

Weird Ghost Girls Bathe in Light That They May Be Truly Ghostly.

An Indian maiden has a song to sing. What does she sing of? Men long dead. What does she say of them? She invokes their spirits; she invites them to reappear on earth. A sweet, strange music fills the air—but it does not come from her throat. The light grows dim, and from out the gloom glide forms pale and shadowy, in long robes of light. Noiselessly, swiftly they flit up and down the long aisles. The music but emphasizes the eerie silence. Then, suddenly, it ends in a discordant shriek. Up blaze the lights. The ghosts have faded—vanished into thin air.

Of course it is only a trick, you say to your neighbor. You are not quite sure that you are back on solid earth again, for surely you must have been in Shadowland. Otherwise, how could figures clad in blinding light dart past you, so close that you could almost touch them? You could understand it if they were on the stage, or if huge reflectors were enveloping them in dazzling beams. But they were no on the stage, and no slanting cones of light were breaking the darkness overhead. How is it done? How can human beings—for they must be human beings to move so surely and swiftly—radiate light from their own persons?

Well, it used to be a secret, but it will be no longer. Pale, pretty girls bathed in light—white light, the cold dead gleam of a winter moon, which off times scares the midnight wayfarer by lurking shadows cast in churchyard corners.

You don’t see how a girl could be baked in light? Well, come into the dressing room half an hour before the performance starts. There you will see the chorus girls “make up” for their ghost act. Over their costumes they slip doublets and cloaks of a white leathery substance painted with phosphorus. Cowls of the same material shroud their heads and faces. Then electricians take the soon-to-be-spirits in hand. In a row of giant arc lights, armed with powerful reflectors, stand the girls, and for twenty minutes or more they bathe in the strongest rays that a dynamo can conjure up. There they turn and twist until every portion of their costumes has been exposed to the light over and over again. Big black goggles have to be worn the whole time, for no eye could stand the intense glare, even for a moment. The phosphorescent paint with which they are daubed drinks in the light and stores it up until the time comes for the ghosts to flit up and down the aisles, thrilling the audience by their nightly apparition. But this paint must be renewed regularly or the power of the phosphorus would die out, leaving the ghosts just ordinary mortals.

But how do they pop so suddenly out of the darkness of the auditorium and fade away again? Quite simple! Each ghost has a gown and hood of deepest black and an attendant to handle it. They steal softly to the head of the aisles in parquet and balcony and stand there behind the audience ready for the cue. It comes. Off slip the robes and hoods and down the aisles play the weird forms. So quickly do they dart in and out through the auditorium that the spectators are conscious of nothing but a moving streak of gleaming light. And all the time the orchestra plays strange fairy music and so softly that it seems to come from a great distance. Otherwise, not a sound is heard, and the vast theater is plunged in utter darkness save for the ghostly figures of the light-robed girls. The effect is weird. You sit half terrified, half fascinated, and absolutely silent. The apparitions gradually move toward the head of the aisles. Then the attendant slips on the hood and robe and darkness envelops them once more. Up go the lights, and the thrill is ended.

Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 11 January 1914: p. 37

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The thrill might be ended for the audience, but one wonders how long the horror went on for the “pale, pretty girls,” exposed to the poisonous phosphorus. Possibly the leather gave some protection, but one is not sanguine.

The dangers of phosphorus were well-known; the match-girls of London went on strike in 1888 to protest their exposure to the toxic substance, which caused a horrible disease called “phossy jaw,” (phosphorus necrosis of the jaw). Phosphorus was banned from matches in 1906, but was still available for other applications, including, apparently, theatrical special effects. We have met with an equally dire exposure before, in a novel Parisian “x-ray spook party.”

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.

 

Hallowe’en Superstitions: Ancient Times, reported in 1916

HALLOWE’EN SUPERSTITIONS

By R. B. SPAN

The thirty-first of October, the day preceding All Saints’ Day, is notable for the strange superstitions connected with it, and which are as old as the history of this country. In ancient Ireland All Hallows Eve was a great feast day, as it was amongst the Celts everywhere. On this day a new fire used to be kindled every year, and from this sacred flame all the fires of Ireland were re-kindled.

The ancient Celts took Samhain, or All Souls’ Day, as the first day of their year, and celebrated it much as we now celebrate New Year’s Day.

The other great feast day of the Celts was Beltane, or May Day, which ushered in summer. As a season of omens and auguries Hallowe’en seems to have far surpassed Beltane in the imagination of the Celts, and it was the custom of this genial, warm-hearted race to gather together on Hallowe’en for the purpose of ascertaining their destiny, especially their fortune in the coming year just begun. Not only among the Celts, but throughout Europe, the night which marks the transition from autumn to winter was regarded as the time when the spirits of the departed revisited their old homes and joined in the family gatherings around the fire, and partook of the good cheer provided in parlour and kitchen by their affectionate kinsfolk. But it is not only the souls of the departed who ” revisit the pale glimpses of the moon,” but witches speed by on errands of mischief, fairies make their presence manifest, and hobgoblins of all sorts roam freely about. In the Northern Tales of Scotland there is a saying, which, translated from the Gaelic, runs:

Hallowe’en will come, will come ;

Witchcraft will be set agoing ;

Fairies will be at full speed,

Running free in every pass.

Avoid the road, children, children!

On that night in Ireland all the fairy hills are thrown wide open and the fairies swarm forth, and to the man who is bold enough to approach them they will show the treasures of gold, etc., hidden in these green hills. The cavern of Cruachan in Connaught, known as the “Hell Gate of Ireland ” is then opened, and mischievous spirits come forth and roam the country-side, playing pranks on the farmers and peasantry.

The Scotch Highlanders have a special name, Samhanach (derived from Samhain), for the bogies and imps of mischief which go about then molesting all who come in their way.

In Wales, Hallowe’en was the weird night of the year, the chief of the Teir Nos Ysbrydion, or Three Spirit Nights, when the wind, “blowing over the feet of corpses,” brought omens of death in eerie sighs, to those doomed to “shuffle off this mortal coil” within the year.

It was not so long ago that the people of Wales in some districts used to congregate in churches on Hallowe’en and read their fate from the flame of the candle which each of them held; they also heard the names or saw the coffins of the parishioners who would die within the year. In the Highlands of Scotland it was believed that if any one took a three-legged stool and sat on it where three roads met whilst the clock was striking midnight, a voice from the Unseen would tell him the names of those in his neighbourhood who would die within twelve months. It used to be (and may be still) the custom in Scotland for the young people gathered together in one of the houses to resort to various games and forms of divination for the purpose of ascertaining their futures—principally as regards chances of matrimony—such as, would they marry or not, was the marriage to occur that year or never, who would marry first, and descriptions of the future spouse, and so on, when the answers to the numerous queries would furnish a vast amount of entertainment. These practices were not confined to the Highlands, but the Lowlanders of Saxon descent also believed in and followed them—having inherited them from the Celts, the original owners of the country.

Most of the forms of divination are very quaint: the following are a few of the best known instances. A girl desirous of divining her future husband takes an apple and stands with it in front of a looking glass. She slices the apple and sticks each slice on the point of a knife and holds it over her left shoulder while looking in the glass and combing her hair. The spectre of the future husband then appears in the mirror, and stretching out his hand, takes the slices of apple over her shoulder. Some say that the number of slices should be nine, and that the first eight should be eaten and the ninth thrown over the shoulder, and also that at each slice the diviner should say, ” In the name of the Father and the Son.”

Another curious practice is to take an egg, prick it with a pin, and let the white drop into a glass of water; take some of this in your mouth and go for a walk. The first name you hear will be that of your future husband or wife. One old woman in Perthshire stated she tried this when a girl, and she heard the name Archibald, and this proved to be the name of the man she married. In the Hebrides, a salt cake called Bonnach Salainn is eaten at Hallowe’en to induce dreams which will reveal the future. It is made of common meal with a good deal of salt. After eating it you must not drink water or utter a word, or you spoil the charm. It is equally efficacious to eat a salt herring, bones and all, in three bites, provided no water is drunk and no word spoken afterwards. Amongst the farmers and country people a favourite method of divination is to take a winnowing- basket, or wecht, as the Lowland Scotch term it, and go through the action of winnowing corn. After doing this three times the apparition of your future husband or wife will pass through the barn, coming in at one door and passing out at the other. Amongst the young people gathered at the fireside it is often the custom to burn nuts to divine marriage prospects, and much fun is obtained from the pastime. Two nuts representing a lad and a lass who are obviously “in love” are placed side by side in the fire. If they burn quietly together the pair will become man and wife, and from the length of time they bum and the brightness of the flame one may judge of the length and happiness of the married life, but if the nuts jump away from each other then there will be no marriage, and the blame rests with the person whose nut has started away.

In North Wales it was the custom for every family to make a great bonfire, called Cod Coeth, on the most conspicuous spot near the house, and when the fire had died down, for each person to throw into the embers a white stone (marked so as to be identified). They then said their prayers and retired. Early next morning they sought their stones amid the ashes, and if any were missing it was believed that the persons who threw them would die within the year.

In Scotland (as in Ireland and Wales) Hallowe’en was for centuries celebrated by great bonfires on every hill and peak, and the whole country was brilliantly illuminated, presenting a most picturesque scene, with the flames reflected in the dark Highland lochs, and penetrating the deep craggy ravines. These fires were especially numerous in the Perthshire Highlands, and the custom was continued to the first half of the nineteenth century. They were observed around Loch Tay as late as the year 1860, and for several hours both sides of the loch were illuminated as far as eye could see. In Ireland the Hallowe’en fires would seem to have died out earlier, but the divination still survives.

General Vallancey states that on Hallowe’en or the Vigil of Samain, the peasants assemble with sticks and clubs and go from house to house collecting money, bread, butter, eggs, etc., for the feast in the name of St. Colombkill. Every house abounds in the best victuals they can obtain, and apples and nuts are largely devoured. Nuts are burnt, and from the ashes strange things are foretold; hemp seed is sown by the maidens, who believe that if they look back they will see the wraith of their future spouse; they also hang a smock before the fire on the close of the feast and sit up all night concealed in a comer of the room, convinced that his apparition will come and turn the smock ; another method is to throw a ball of yam out of the window and wind it on the reel within, believing that if they repeat the Pater Noster backwards, and look at the ball of yam without, they will see his sith or wraith; they dip for apples in a tub of water and try to bring one up in the mouth; they suspend a cord with a cross-stick with apples at one point and lighted candles at the other, and endeavour to catch the apple, while in circular motion, in the mouth. These, and many other superstitions (the relicts of Druidism), will never be eradicated whilst the name of Samain exists. (Hibernian Folk Lore, Charles Vallancey.)

In County Roscommon, a cake is made in nearly every house, and a ring, a coin, a sloe, and a chip of wood put into it. The person who obtains the ring will be married first, the coin predicts riches for its finder, the sloe longevity, and the chip of wood an early death. It is considered that the fairies blight the sloes on the hedges at Hallowe’en so that the sloe in the cake will be the last of the year. The colleens take nine grains of oats in their mouths, and going out without speaking, walk about till they hear a man’s name pronounced, and that will be the name of their future husband.

In the Isle of Man, Hallowe’en used to be celebrated by the kindling of fires, and by various ceremonies for the prevention of the baneful influence of witches and the mischievous pranks of fairies and elves. Here, as in Scotland, forms of divination are practised. As an instance, the housewife fills a thimble full of salt for each member of the family and empties it out in little piles on a plate and left there during the night. Next morning the piles are examined, and if any of them have fallen down, he or she whom it represents will die before next Hallowe’en. The women also carefully sweep out the ashes from under the fireplace and flatten them down neatly on the open hearth. If, the next morning, a foot print is found turned towards the door it signifies a death, but if turned in the opposite direction a marriage is predicted. In Lancashire, also, the fires of Hallowe’en were lighted up to the middle of the nineteenth century, and similar forms of divination practised as in Scotland and Ireland; and even to-day the Lancashire maiden strews the ashes which are to take the shape of one or more letters of her future husband’s name and throws hemp seed over her shoulder and glances around fearfully to see who is following her. At one time the Lancashire witches used to assemble from all parts of the country at Malkin Tower, an ancient and ruined building in the Forest of Pendle, and there they planned evil and mischief, and woe betide those who were out on the fells at night and crossed their path. It was possible, however, to keep them at bay by carrying a light of some kind. The witches would try to extinguish the light, and if they succeeded, so much the worse for the person, but if the flame burned steadily till the clocks struck midnight they could do no harm. Some people performed the ceremony by deputy, and parties went from house to house in the evening collecting candles, one from each inmate, and offering their services to leet the witches. This custom was practised at Longridge Fell in the early part of the nineteenth century. Northumberland was the only other part of England where Hallowe’en was observed and its quaint customs adhered to to any extent, though in all parts of the Kingdom (and in France also) it has always been believed (and is still) that the Unseen World is closer to this mundane sphere on October 31 than at any other time.

The Occult Review October 1916: p. 213-17

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  It is always pleasant to look at “superstition” on a Friday the Thirteenth, a day so fraught with fear.  We have previously looked at charms to prevent bad luck and have been privy to the secrets of the contrarian “Thirteen Club.” We have also encountered some of these quaint (and sometimes terrifying) old beliefs before in the story of a young woman who wanted to host a completely “authentic” Hallowe’en party called “Nut Crack Night.” 

Mrs Daffodil is amused at how the superstitions above toggle between “sex” and “death,” two of the human race’s most pressing concerns.  The earlier ‘teens had seen a revival of folk-singing, Morris dancing, May Queens, and Corn Dollies. As the world hovered on the edge of War, the old ways evoked some mythical Golden Era of Peace and Plenty.

Yet pestilence, inter-tribal warfare, witches, and midnight horrors—like the poor—are with us always.  This collection of “ancient” rites was published during the Great War, when no end to the bloodshed seemed possible. That year there must have been many sad visions of coffins and many white stones missing from the bonfires.

 

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.

 

“‘Ow Did ‘E Get Out?”: 1927

“’Ow Did ‘E Get Out?”

Some months ago, when travelling between Charing Cross and Westminster on the “Underground,” I had an exceedingly weird experience.

At about 8:25 a.m., I got into a third-class carriage one late-summer day at Charing Cross station, and seated myself in one of the “cross-seats,” one of those seats which are not placed against the sides of the car. I had to sit near the edge of this seat as someone was already on it, next the window.

Opposite me was a man in labouring clothes, and, near the entrance to the car, an elderly man was standing.

A second or so after seating myself, I began to feel desperately cold, despite the fact that it was a warm summer morning. The cold, in some strange way, appeared to emanate from my next-door neighbour in the seat near the window. I noticed that the elderly man near the entrance to the car glanced strangely in my direction once or twice, and yet he did not seem to be looking directly at me, and, suddenly, a feeling of the most awful horror swept over me.

I shuddered violently and glanced sideways at one of the most terribly cadaverous faces I have ever seen.

A walking corpse would have best described my next-door neighbour. Gray, haggard, the figure simply defies description.

Half-way between Charing Cross and Westminster—he was no longer there!

He would have had to pass me in order to get out, the windows do not open except at the top.

I heard the labouring man opposite me exclaim: “Well, I’m blowed, where’s the __ blighter got to?”

Then I saw the elderly gentleman gazing with dropped jaw to where my “neighbour” had been sitting.

The labouring man leant over to me. “Excuse me, Miss, but there was a man there, wasn’t there?” he asked.

“There most certainly was,” I replied, chill with horror.

“Well ‘ow did ‘e get out,” asked the workman, “an’ where’s ‘e gorn?”

And that is exactly what I want to know.

Who and what was it? Evidently three of us saw “It”—and between Charing Cross and Westminster station on a bright summer morning.

Uncanny Stories, Weird Happenings to “Daily News” Readers, Edited by S. Louis Giraud, 1927: p. 11-12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A suitably chilling little tale for the run-up to Hallowe’en. The labouring man poses an existential question pondered for centuries by philosophers and theologians: “where’s ‘e gorn?”

 

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.

 

With the Devil in the Chair, All Goes Swimmingly: A Hallowe’en Party: 1908

gentleman-in-red-devil

A HALLOWE’EN PARTY.

With the Devil in the Chair, All Goes Swimmingly.

A Halloween celebration, at which the Prince of Darkness personally presides, can be made very effective. According to directions given by a writer in “What to Eat,” the invitations should be written in red on black paper, and the guests should be asked to wear masks.

The hostess should be dressed as a witch in black, with picket hat and broom, and Satan wears red, with a red mask. There are also various subsidiary fiends (small brothers and sisters) dressed in black, with rope tails, painted caps and toasting forks at the ends of sticks.

A room can be arranged as Hades, or the basement can be used for the purpose, in which case the furnace door can be thrown open at intervals with great effect. A throne of boxes draped in black is erected in the centre of Hades, and on it Satan sits, with a book of record in his lap. A dictionary serves the purpose excellently.

At the appointed time the hostess swings open the gates of Hades or conducts the guests by a circuitous route to the basement. Two friends rush forward seize a guest and begin to prod him with their forks. Chains clank, groans are heard and the victim is led to the foot of the throne.

Here is where most of the fun comes in, for Satan knows or has been primed with all the interesting facts in the history of each guest. In a hollow voice he reads long lists of sins from the dictionary, and all the time the fiends are “torturing” the victim. As soon as one is sentenced to tooth-ache, malaria, unrequited love or headache, another victim is brought before the throne until all have been disposed of.

At supper all unmask. Satan sits at one end of the table and the witch at the other, and there is a gypsy’s kettle in the centre, which later emits a ghostly light from burning alcohol sprinkled on salt.

Daily People [New York, NY] 17 October 1908: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: “Long lists of sins from the dictionary” begs the question: what are they? Atrocious misspellings, perhaps? Iniquitously poor grammar? Hardened and unrepentant use of split infinitives? Unless the Devil-host has a prodigious vocabulary of his own, one feels the scope of judgement is somewhat hampered; old-fashioned lexicons do not have all the up-to-date naughty words nor the modern sins.

What does one serve at such a satanic supper? The viands supplied at the Vampire’s Feast would certainly do. Mrs Daffodil also suggests devilled ham sandwiches, pasta a la fra diavolo, and, of course, devil’s-food cake. Angels on Horseback might bring the party to a premature end.

For another Hallowe’en tradition involving the Devil, see “The Jersey City Devil.”

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 Skeleton Costume: 1896

 x-ray-masquerade-skeleton-costume

A SKELETON COSTUME.

A Very Up-to-Date and Striking Fancy Carnival Ball Dress.

The designing of fancy dresses for carnival balls is an art in Munich and Paris and the political event of the hour, the social fad or the latest scientific discovery is promptly exploited by the costumers. The Roentgen discovery of the uses of the cathode ray was not two weeks old when one of the reigning beauties of the Bavarian capital appeared at a court ball in the unique and somewhat startling costume here reproduced.

Beneath a fluffy cloud of gauze drapery the fair masquerader wore a watered silk skirt and close-fitting basque, upon which had been deftly painted the principal bones of the human frame. The ribs, collar bones, arms, thigh bones and spine were outlined in black upon the white background. The idea was not carried above the neck, nor below the knees, and a pair of roguish eyes peeped through a satin mask. The whole thing was dainty in its conception and execution.

Owyhee Avalanche [Silver City, ID] 19 June 1896: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: We have seen how the Roentgen rays were used at an “x-ray spook party.” This seems a good deal safer, if still a bit macabre and unsavoury.  One feels there is a horrid and unspoken subtext: “Does this flesh-and-blood make me look fat?”

There was an equivalent costume for the gentlemen:

pierrette-and-skeleton-fancy-dress

Skeleton Close-fitting tunic and trousers of black velvet, painted down the front to represent a skeleton. This can be done with Judson’s luminous paint, or with Judson’s glitterine paint. Another way is to cut the shapes in white satin and shade them up with crayons. High boots, Large cavalier cloak and hat

Skeleton Close-fitting tunic and trousers of black velvet, painted down the front to represent a skeleton. This can be done with Judson’s luminous paint, or with Judson’s glitterine paint. Another way is to cut the shapes in white satin and shade them up with crayons. High boots, Large cavalier cloak and hat

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.