Category Archives: Mourning

The Cry of the Banshee: 1887

the tempest rodin banshee

The Cry of the Banshee

There is now living in Bristol a Mrs. Linahan, an old Irish woman, who has not seen her own country for forty years. She is old, poor, bed ridden and suffering, but patient and cheerful beyond belief. Her strongest feeling is love for Ireland ,and she likes talking to me because I am Irish. Many a time, sitting in her little, close room, above the noisy street, she has told me about banshees and phookas and fairies, especially the first. She declares solemnly she once heard the cry, or caoin of a banshee.

“It was when I was a little young child,” she told me, “And knew nothing at all of banshees or of death. One day mother sent me to see after my grandmother, the length of three miles from our house. All  the road was deep in snow, and I went my lone – and didn’t know the grandmother was dead, and my aunt gone to the village for help. So I got to the house, and I see her lying so still and quiet I thought she was sleepin’. When I called her and she wouldn’t stir or speak, I thought I’d put snow on her face to wake her. I just stepped outside to get a handful, and came in, leaving the door open, and then I heard a far away cry, so faint and yet so fearsome that I shook like a leaf in the wind. It got nearer and nearer, and then I heard a sound like clapping or wringing of hands, as they do in keening at a funeral. Twice it came and then I slid down to the ground and crept under the bed where my grandmother lay, and there I heard it for the third time crying, “Ochone, Ochone,” at the very door. Then it suddenly stopped; I couldn’t tell where it went, and I dared not lift up my head till the woman came in the house. One of them took me up and said: “It was the banshee the child heard, for the woman that lies there was one of the real old Irish families – she was an O’Grady and that was the raison of it.’” English Magazine

Aberdeen [SD] Daily News 18 May 1887: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Clapping and keening were a feature of Irish funerals; professional keeners called bean chaointe would cry of the merits of the deceased and the broken hearts of those left behind.

The “raison of it” was that banshees were said to be attached only to the oldest, noblest Irish families, usually meaning those prefaced by “O'” or “Mac.”

In some cases, families have been apprised of an approaching death by some strange spectre, either male or female, a remarkable instance of which occurs in the MS. memoirs of Lady Fanshaw, and is to this effect: “Her husband, Sir Richard, and she, chanced, during their abode in Ireland, to visit a friend, who resided in his ancient baronial castle surrounded with a moat. At midnight she was awakened by a ghastly and supernatural scream, and, looking out of bed, beheld by the moonlight a female face and part of the form hovering at the window. The face was that of a young and rather handsome woman, but pale; and the hair, which was reddish, was loose and dishevelled. This apparition continued to exhibit itself for some time, and then vanished with two shrieks, similar to that which had at first excited Lady Fanshaw’s attention. In the morning, with infinite terror, she communicated to her host what had happened, and found him prepared not only to credit, but to account for, what had happened.

“A near relation of mine,” said he, “expired last night in the castle. Before such an event happens in this family and castle, the female spectre whom you have seen is always visible. She is believed to be the spirit of a woman of inferior rank, whom one of my ancestors degraded himself by marrying, and whom afterwards, to expiate the dishonour done his family, he caused to be drowned in the castle moat.”

This, of course, was no other than the Banshee, which in times past has been the source of so much terror in Ireland.

However, sometimes  embarrassing errors occurred.

Amongst the innumerable stories told of its appearance may be mentioned one related by Mrs. Lefanu, the niece of Sheridan, in the memoirs of her grandmother, Mrs. Frances Sheridan. From this account we gather that Miss Elizabeth Sheridan was a firm believer in the Banshee, and firmly maintained that the one attached to the Sheridan family was distinctly heard lamenting beneath the windows of the family residence before the news arrived from France of Mrs. Frances Sheridan’s death at Blois. She adds that a niece of Miss Sheridan’s made her very angry by observing that as Mrs. Frances Sheridan was by birth a Chamberlaine, a family of English extraction, she had no right to the guardianship of an Irish fairy, and that therefore the Banshee must have made a mistake.

Strange Pages from Family Papers, T.F. Thistelton-Dyer, 1895

Mrs Daffodil and that person over at Haunted Ohio are both fascinated by tales of banshees. It is always useful to know one’s death omens. For other stories of banshees, both knocking and shrieking, please see A Banshee in IndianaThe Banshee of the O’Dowds, The Banshee Sang of Death, and A Banshee at Sea 

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.



Dinnerware of the Dead: 1900

skull mug

Mrs Daffodil has been persuaded (well, “badgered” might be the mot juste) to offer a guest post by that Relentlessly Informative person over at Haunted Ohio, who has found what she feels is an interesting tit-bit about an unusual mourning custom from the United States. Without further ado, Mrs Daffodil introduces Chris Woodyard, author of The Victorian Book of the Dead. 

While working on a monograph on shrouds, I ran across this piece on memorializing the dead at the dinner table. It comes from Pennsylvania, a state particularly rich in interesting folklore and funereal practices. The resourceful Mrs Daffodil uncovered articles about that state’s “death drawer” custom, which also was reported in 1900.

What can we say about a custom that cherishes the tableware of the deceased as domestic relics and a family’s belief in an ongoing presence of the beloved dead?  Is it an expression of “complicated grief,” where the bereaved cannot let go of their sorrow, or a literal way to continue a connection with those lost?


“Oh, yes, I always keep our dead mother’s plate at her place at the table,” said the daughter of a rich eastern Pennsylvania farmer. “We will also keep her knife, fork, spoon, cup and saucer, and her napkin. I don’t know why we do it, only that it is the custom hereabouts among the large landowners. Whenever any grown person dies in the family, especially an unmarried daughter or the mother, her plate at the table is never taken away, save once a month, when it is washed. No one ever sits at that place no matter what the crowd is, no one uses anything belonging to mother. We hold the place sacred.

“Down at the farm of one of our neighbors they never remove the plate of their eldest daughter, who died 20 yrs. Ago. All the table article she used to use, are still there. An no one has ever occupied her narrow bed in her room. Her things are just as she left them, even to the chinaware on her bureau. Her dresses are faded and moth-eaten, and considerable had to be taken away, but a good many of her things are still as she left them.

“There is not so much regard shown for the boys. But when the head of the house dies his vacant chair at the table is never occupied. No one would dare to take that seat. At one large farm they kept his picture in a frame on his chair until one day the glass cracked and the frame split from some unknown cause. To this day they have an idea that the old farmer’s spirit came back and gave that picture a crack, because he didn’t like to see it there. Next they looked for the plate to be knocked off the table, but as that didn’t happen they take it for granted that the farmer thinks that’s all right. Over on another farm, where their oldest son died ten years ago, his room is closed forever, and kept just as he left it, with his gun, boots, clothes, and fishing rods in the corner. They still call it John’s room, and it will so continue until the farm passes into new hands. Not long ago the sale of a farm was nearly blocked when the owner wanted to stipulate in the deed that a certain room was not to be occupied until after the death of the seller.

“We know an aged lady who still pays for two seats in their church. Her husband died 11 years ago. She pays for his seat, and she occupies hers, never his, and no one else ever sits in that seat. Where a child over seven years of age dies, the plate is kept at the table a short time only. Where the child is 15, the plate is kept longer. Where the son or daughter dies, aged 21 or more, then the plate is never removed. I know one place where three grown daughters died within a year of diphtheria. Their plates in a row, are never removed, but fresh flowers are frequently placed near them. Their parents and brothers and sisters have long since ceased their weeping, and the table is no more sad, but everything is merry and happy, and they frequently chat with the dead people just as if they were present. It does no harm, even if it is foolish, as some people say.

“Three years ago an old farmer died five miles from here. He left seven grown children, two sons, and five daughters, all unmarried, and living at home. There is a rule in the family, and it has been so ever since the old gentleman died, that once a week each child shall spend a half hour in the old man’s big rocking chair, and think of him, commune with him, pray for him, ask his advice as to the farm management. They believe that he wants it to be thoroughly understood that he is still the master of that big farm. I guess he is, too, for the children are running the place on the co-operative plan, and they are getting along all right, apparently.

“People have to be very careful of the plates, cups and saucers of the dead. It is considered very bad luck if any piece is broken.”

Boston [MA] Daily Advertiser 13 July 1900: p. 5

This is very reminiscent of the ancient custom of equipping the dead with grave goods, brought to such perfection by the Egyptians, the Vikings, and the nomads of the Siberian steppes.  It also reminds me of the French family who stipulated that the bedroom of their son, killed in the Great War, should be kept as a shrine by the house’s owners “for 500 years” or the stories that Queen Victoria kept Prince Albert’s room as a shrine, commanding that hot water for shaving be brought daily and that the dead man’s clothes should be laid out for him. I haven’t been able to find any contemporary reports that the Queen really did issue orders to this effect, but she was acutely aware of the power of domestic relics, collecting locks of hair, casts of beloved relatives’ hands, and jewellery made from baby teeth. She also directed that a large number of sentimental objects be placed in her own coffin such as a dressing gown of Prince Albert’s and John Brown’s mother’s wedding ring.

In the article on “death drawers,” found by Mrs Daffodil, we find the following passage about a lady who also wanted to take it with her, although on a much more modest scale:

One most unusual request was that a plate, cup and saucer, knife, fork and spoon should be placed in an old woman’s coffin. She had used them for 70 years, and did not wish anyone else to use them when she was gone.

The Sun [New York, NY] 18 February 1900: p. 27

It appears that the custom of setting a place for the dead was not uncommon even outside Pennsylvania.

There is a woman in Atchison who sets a place at the table every day for her husband, who died over a year ago. In his plate she never fails to place a little bouquet of flowers. She believes the dead know what is going on on earth.

The St. Joseph [MO] Herald 19 January 1891: p. 4

At this historical distance, it is hard to know if some diners with the dead were merely trying to cope with their grief or had been driven mad by misfortune.

Sets Table for Dead Wife;

Police Take Him Away

Frank J. Nagle, forty-seven years old, a plate printer, of 457 I street southwest, is in Washington Asylum Hospital today for observation as to his mental condition. The police say he had his table spread for his wife, several months dead, and his two little children, who are in St. Joseph’s Orphan Asylum. Nagle recently lost his job at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and this, with his other misfortunes, is believed by his friends to have resulted in temporary mental derangement.

The Washington [DC] Times 16 February 1914: p. 12

This gentleman seemed to have a more balanced attitude, perhaps as a result of his Spiritualist faith. Or perhaps his wealth kept him from being sent to the asylum “for observation.”


Menasha Man Had Places for Deceased Members of Family.

Menasha, Wis., Dec. 28. After a final consultation with the spirits death closed the life of Joseph A. Sanford, a wealthy retired lumber dealer of this city. Mr. Sanford was 84 years of age, and had been a resident of Menasha for more than sixty years. He was connected with the Menasha Wooden Ware Company, now the largest plant of its kind in the world, during its infancy; and later attained extensive lumber interests. During the last ten years Mr. Sanford had not partaken of a meal or retired at night without first having the table set for the deceased members of his family. At the retiring hour a fresh baked cake was placed on the table for the spirit members and these were consulted in all matters of importance concerning Mr. Sanford’s life before any action was decided upon.

The Indianapolis [IN] Star 29 December 1907: p. 11

I wish I knew the ending of this story of an unfortunate mother trying to cling to hope.


Winsted, Conn, December 12. Mrs. Martin Doyle, Sr., of Harwinton, has set a place at the table each meal time for her absent son, Michael, ever since he disappeared on April 3, 1904. After having partaken of supper that evening he walked out and has not since been heard of, although everything possible has been done by his relatives to find him.

In the interval Mrs. Doyle has lost her husband, her home has been destroyed by fire, and her other son, Martin, has become insane and is now in an asylum, leaving her alone.

The Montgomery [AL] Times 12 December 1907: p. 6

In 1883 Engineer John M. Miller, of Ohio, died in a train wreck. Articles commemorating his life mentioned that he believed that the ghosts of a fellow trainman and of his little daughter came aboard his engine to keep him company. Poignantly, he had a place set at his table for the child.

A few years ago Miller lost by death a bright little girl, to whom he was greatly attached, and ever afterward she, too, would nightly and daily get on his engine at a certain place on the road, and ride and talk with him until his train neared Dayton, and then disappear. As in the former case, her seat was kept for her in the cab, and no one allowed to occupy it.

At his home a chair was always set up to the table, the crib in which the child had been rocked drawn near, and a plate and food placed on the table, just as when the little girl lived and prattled. It is even said that the father would look at the chair and talk to its supposed occupant just as he used to do during its lifetime, and what seems strange now is that the wife and mother, an intelligent and highly respected lady, entertained and does now, the same superstitious views in regard to the child, and had the utmost faith in all that her husband ever told her about the ghostly visitations on the road.

Cincinnati [OH] Commercial Tribune 12 February 1883: p. 3

In The Ghost Wore Black, I wrote about the young woman who “married” the ghost of her dead fiancé. She, too, would set the table and chat over dinner with the shade of the dear departed. Is such a thing morbid or “foolish;” does it do harm to the grieving?

There is something both sad and yet convivial about dining with the dead. Many cultures practice it; the Hungry Ghost festival, and Dia de los Muertos, for example, bring the living and the dead together once more through food. And we eat together after funerals, reminding ourselves over the funeral baked casseroles that life goes on, that we still live and hunger, until we too can join the Buffet Invisible.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil can only imagine what Cook would say to such a proceeding…  The custom gives an entirely new meaning to the phrase “coffin plate.”


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 Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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.

London Mourns for Queen Victoria: 1901

in memoriam queen victoria mourning handkerchief

Mourning handkerchief for the late Queen Victoria 1901



February 1. My Dear Cousins,—Many, many years ago the Great White Queen on one of her first public appearances was shown to her subjects by candle light. During a Royal visit to Leamington, when she was still a child, a great crowd gathered at night outside the Regent Hotel, where the Duchess of Kent and her daughter were staying, and to satisfy the people the Duchess of Kent held the little Princess at the window while Sir John Conroy stood behind with two wax candles.


Once again the soft glow of tapers falls on the faces of her subjects, but oh! how changed the scene. The little Princess, having wielded England’s sceptre longer and better than any predecessor, lies at rest in her island home, while her subjects, sorrowful and silent, file slowly by the coffin. From the peaceful death-chamber six stalwart bluejackets bore the Mistress of the Seas to the dining room where Princess Alice was married, now transformed into a Chapelle Ardente with some of the pomp that befits a mighty monarch. The room in which the now closed coffin rests overlooks the terrace, with Whippingham Church half a mile away, set in a charming picture of woods, and meadows, and hills. It is no grisly, gloomy chamber that the late Queen’s tenants and servants, her Osborne visitors, the. officers of her army and navy, the mayors of the island, and the Press representatives have been privileged to enter. On the scarlet dais in the centre of the chamber is the Royal Standard in silk. The coffin rests on the banner, but it cannot be seen, being covered by a- great pall of white satin, on which lie the dead Sovereign’s robes of the Order of the Garter, crimson velvet outside and ermine within. Her crown stands on the head of the coffin, its diamonds flashing in the flood of illumination. Small electric lights line the walls, and in each of the four corners are two candelabras, the tapers in which are artificial, with electric lights. The coffin is flanked by three tall silver candlesticks; at its foot is an altar in front of the French window, which is concealed by rich tapestry. The sacred table is covered with cloth of crimson and gold, on which appears the letters I.H.S. A large Greek cross stands on the table, flanked by candlesticks in which arc lighted tapers, while two other candlesticks rise from the altar steps. Above hangs a sacred picture, and over the mantelpiece opposite is another of Christ and His mother. All round the room arc palms and wreaths of flowers, tokens of love and sorrow. In one corner a silken Union Jack hangs from floor to ceiling, caught with an immense wreath of arums and laurels from the Royal gardens at Frogmore and but with this exception and that of the tapestry the chamber is entirely draped with crimson. But for the black spots on the ermine lining of the Royal cloak there would not be a sombre note in the picture. At each comer of the coffin stand Grenadier Guardsmen, with heads bowed and rifles reversed, while the Queen’s faithful Scotch and Indian personal, attendants and her equerry still continue with her in the hour of death.


The body rests in a beautiful shell of cedar wood made at Osborne. Outside this there will be placed a leaden case, hermetically sealed, and the whole will be covered by a panelled oak coffin highly polished. The coffin is being made by a firm in London who have made the coffins of the Kings and Queens and Royal Princes since George I.’s reign. It will exactly follow the lines of the coffin made for the late Duchess of Teck. The furniture is of plain brass, with square handles. There will be eleven panels, three on either side, three above, and one at each end. In the upper of the three panels above will lie an Imperial crown in brass, and under this a recital of Her Majesty’s titles, her age, length of reign, and general escutcheon. The coffin is made to fit the sarcophagus in Frogmore. There, is, I think, a general feeling of relief at the announcement that there is to be no formal lying in state. The funeral is to be simple and stately, and the Queen is to be borne through the Empire’s capital, so that her subjects, through whom she has so often passed amidst acclamation, may do her reverence on her last journey. What a contrast it will be to that magnificent, jubilee pageant, three years ago! Then national rejoicings, now


That legend one reads in all the drapers’ shops. How superfluous the announcement seems, as superfluous as the Lord Chamberlain’s order that, “all persons do put themselves into the deepest mourning. This said mourning to begin upon Monday, the 28th day of this instant January.” All people had already done so as soon as ever they heard the sad news with a. unanimous spontaneity that proved the genuineness of their grief. I saw the mourning for the Duke of Clarence, but that was but a passing slight shadow of black compared to the present aspect of our streets. Everyone, be he lord or laborer, has garbed himself in black. The navvy wraps a black cloth round his neck, the barrister wears a deep band on his hat and a black tie. Even the laundry girl, who loves to garb herself in hues that stagger humanity, has managed to don a black hat and a black bow. We women are attired in black from head to foot, unbroken save perhaps by a touch of white. Look up a crowded street and you will see one long line of unrelieved black on each pavement. I was in a picture gallery to-day, and all the women present were as much in mourning as if each had lost a member of her own family. The very few people who still retain bright color in their hats or consider violent violet or proud purple suitable hues for complimentary mourning are so rare that their bright tints in the midst of the array of black strikes the eye with a shock of incongruity. And yet the effect does not seem so dismal as you would imagine, my dears. Black has a wonderfully refining influence and becomes us all, as you must have often noted in the case of maids and shopgirls. The crowd seems chastened, the vulgarity subdued, the bad taste blotted out, plain women look pretty, pretty women beautiful. A period of national mourning will prove, too, a useful corrective to our growing tendency towards show and garishness. An Englishwoman used to be noted for the simplicity of her costume; last summer you saw her shopping or strolling in lace and lingerie more suitable for the theatre or the ball room than for a simple walking dress. But I mustn’t begin to moralise. That is the sole function of the editor of your ‘Women’s World.’

bank of toronto in mourning for Queen Victoria 1901

The Bank of Toronto, Montreal, draped in mourning for the late Queen, 1901

So far, and remember that I am writing at the beginning of the week, the mourning on our buildings has not yet assumed what I call a grisly shape, in which loyal grief is supposed to be in direct proportion to the extent of gloom that hangs over the shop front. At Windsor, at all events, there is to be no gruesomeness, no sombreness. The way to the altar in St. George’s Chapel will be carpeted with grey drugget, and there will be no sable drapery in the Chapel, hangings of royal purple taking its place. The Queen’s pew is even now draped with purple. It is to be hoped that the Royal example will be followed by the loyal Londoners. There are signs, however, that dismal draperies will be much more in evidence as the week draws to its close. In Fleet street one large furniture shop has already overshadowed itself by two huge sable curtains, caught up with white. Other establishments have hung from their balconies dark black cloth, fringed with white cord. Opposite our house an artistic potter has hung out a black banner bearing a silver crown and “V.” and violet letters” “R.I.P.” In one window the Queen’s portrait bordered by white heathery sprays is lit by two candles, while from the top of the building depends a black canopy, in the centre of which appears a shield with inscription: “We mourn our Queen and Mother.” Most shops content themselves with mourning shutters, a black plank placed perpendicularly in the centre of each window, and with flying the Royal Standard and Union Jack half-mast high, thus introducing a touch of color into the scene. With violets, purple and white, as well as black; available for the decoration of shop windows, you would have expected some simple and yet harmonious effective arrangement of the mourning goods displayed. I made a little tour of the fashionable dressmakers and drapers yesterday, but was disappointed in the lack of system—the absence of any dominant idea scheme in the windows. Black hats and toques and bonnets succeeded each other in unorganised monotony, black gowns and blouses were mixed with white in aimless array: and rolls of black cloth lay side by side with the uniformity of soldiers on parade. Occasionally someone, more enterprising than the rest, festooned the windows with black and white and violet muslin. In this respect the men’s shops made a more effective show than ours. With white shirts, white handkerchiefs, and black ties and scarves they contrived some striking combinations. One man hung alternately long full black scarves and white cambric handkerchiefs, over the top of which fell narrow black ties, such as men tie in bows. Another had arrayed his shirts in rows, with a wide black band diagonally across each shirt.

Prince of Wales feathers at Queen Victoria's funeral flowers

The florists made little difference in their usual display, giving perhaps more prominence to violets and white flowers than to brighter-colored ones. One Regent street shop displayed a Royal Crown in gold mimosa on a cushion of purple violets. Others showed wreaths of laurels or palms tied with white ribbon. Fuller’s confectionery windows were filled with puffed violet nun’s veiling, in which nestled dark chocolates. A stationer’s was full of black-edged and grey writing paper, and menu cards and ice case’s ornamented with sprays of violets. The hairdressers’ models were robed in black bodices. Everywhere are displayed portraits of the Queen draped in black, and these the people throng to buy. In the way of mourning jewellery there is little to be seen. No one has yet produced a cheap medallion or other memorial of the Queen that can be universally worn as were the buttons of the various generals at the war. The people would eagerly wear a simple, artistic memorial and treasure it in remembrance of their good Queen. One industry has received a strong impetus —that of Whitby jet, the demand for which had much declined. Jet is a fossil substance found in beds of lignite or brown coal, and there are large veins of it near Whitby, which port, in anticipation of a revival of the trade, had stored a large quantity of the best local jet, Many hundred pounds’ worth have already been despatched to London and the big provincial towns. In the jewellers’ windows here you see jet muff chains and hair combs. Whitby jet brooches and French jet waist buckles, jet aigrettes, jet and beaded bags, purses, safety pins and hat pins, jet necklaces and cut jet collarettes, initial safety pin mourning ‘brooches, jet necklets with pendant hearts of jet. Gun metal, too. is being utilised for mourning card cases, studs and sleeve links, and purses. Oxydised brooches of heart’s-ease or four-leaved clover, set with two or three diamonds or pearls, are also fashionable. Diamonds and .pearls, of course, are mourning wear, and the trade in these jewels will not suffer substantially. Those who like those bead necklaces and chains so fashionable now will no doubt be able to get them in amethysts and crystals, such as Miss Cockerell sent Princess Henry of Battenberg. The late Queen herself ordered some of jet and onyx for her own wear, so I daresay a good many people will be seen with similar necklaces in remembrance of her.

It. is at present hard to estimate the effect of the nation’s mourning upon trade in general. For the moment, there has, of course, been widespread loss in many directions, making the blow all the harder after the period of depression caused by the war. Entertainments, banquets, and other public functions have been abandoned. The value of thousands of pounds’ worth of flowers for table decorations has been lost, singers and society entertainers find their vocation for the present gone, and the decision of the managers of the principal theatres to close until after the funeral will cause distress to thousands who at this time of year depend on the pantomimes for their livelihood. Home managers, to prevent their employes being suddenly reduced to starvation, are keeping open their theatres every night save on that of the funeral. It is one thing to keep open a theatre and another to get the people just now to come to be amused, so that in all probability the opening of the theatres will simply mean that the employes, who only get paid for the nights they perform, will benefit at the cost of their managers.

While the drapery establishments for the time being will be largely drawn upon for mourning materials, it is evident that their general business will largely decrease. In the first place, black lasts so much longer than lighter colors, and many little fancy fal-lals that we should purchase for our adornment, at other times will be dispensed with. Again, a large proportion of the middle class still make their old things do for the occasion, and content themselves with cheap black blouses and scarves, and retrim the black hats that have been so fashionable of late.

Although the Court is directed to go into mourning for a whole year it is unlikely that the people will go garbed in solemn suits of black for so long, nor will crape be at all generally worn except by those in close connection with the Court.  In all probability, after a couple of months, as the winter draws to a close, (and, en passant, it is evident, that at no other season could the loss caused by the sudden transformation have been less), the black will be relieved by touches of white, and as the summer approaches subdued shades will gradually come, into wear—greys, lavenders, violets, purples. mauves–brightening steadily until Edward VII. and Queen Alexandra establish their Court definitely in the metropolis. The re-establishment of Court gaieties and functions in London in 1902 should lead to a, great revival of trade, that will more than compensate for the present year’s gloom. The King and Queen will appear more often among their subjects, Drawing Rooms will be held at night instead of in the afternoons—in fact, there will be some Court life and brilliancy such as has been practically lacking ever since the Prince, Consort’s death.

Tales of her sympathy and reminiscences of her kindly acts are legion….Prince Albert had just died, and when the bereaved Queen reached Balmoral, a few weeks after his death, she found the blinds of one of her cottages drawn. The master of the home had gone where prince and peasant are equal, and in his cottage the Queen sat with his widow. Together they wept, all earthly distinctions lost in their common sorrow. “I cried and the Queen cried,” said the cottager; “and when I begged her to pardon me for crying so bitterly, she said to me: ‘I am so glad to have someone to cry with who knows just how I feel.'”

And how are we to keep her memory green in our hearts? Someone suggests that we should retain her portrait on some of her stamps, another that we should ever improve the morality of the nation, and follow the example set us by her own virtuous We; a third— that we should have an annual holiday, a “Victoria Day,” in her memory. May 24 here is not celebrated as a public holiday, and, it is said, is too close to the Whitsun festival. In the colonies, however. “Queen’s Birthday” has become an institution, and will surely remain so in remembrance of one who at all events to all of us out of our teens, will always be referred to as the Queen.

Evening Star 11 March 1901: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: To-day is the anniversary of the State Funeral for Queen Victoria, held in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. The letter above was written by a New Zealand correspondent resident in London and gives an evocative look at mourning in the Capital for the beloved Queen.  The descriptions of shop windows and florist displays are particularly interesting, describing as they do, the long-lost ephemera of national mourning.  While no doubt the window-dresser at Fuller’s confectionery had the best of intentions,  Mrs Daffodil must challenge the assumption that dark chocolates are suitable for mourning.

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.

How Mrs Stum Arranged a Funeral: 1875

mourning ladies Quad's Odds 1875


How Mrs. Stum Arranged the Details of the Funeral.

If all women were as cool and matter-of-fact as Mrs. Stum! But she is one in a thousand. She was over at Mrs. Moody’s, on Macombe street, the other day, her iron-gray hair combed down flat and her spectacles adjusted to gossip range, when she suddenly arose and said:

“Mrs. Moody, be calm. Where do you keep the camphor bottle?”

“Why?” asked the surprised Mrs. Moody.

“Because they are bringing your husband through the gate on a board! I think he’s smashed dead, but be calm about it! I’ll stay right here and see to things!”

Mrs. Moody threw up her arms and fell down in a dead faint, and Mrs. Stum opened the door as the men laid the body on the porch.

“Is he dead?” she asked in an even tone.

“I think so,” answered one of the men; “the doctor’ll be here in a minute.”

The doctor came up, looked at the victim and said life had fled, adding:

“His back and four or five of his ribs are broken.”

“That’s sensible, that is,” said Mrs. Stum, gazing at the doctor in admiration. “Some physicians would have said that his vertebrae was mortally wounded, and would have gone on to talk about the ‘larynx,’ the ‘arteries,’ the ‘optic nerves,’ and the ‘diagnosis.’ If he’s dead it’ll be some satisfaction to know what he died of. Well, lug in the body and send a boy after an undertaker.”

The men carried the body through to a bed-room, and Mrs. Stum went back to Mrs. Moody, who was revived and was wailing and lamenting.

“Don’t, Julia—don’t take on so,” continued Mrs. Stum. “Of course you feel badly, and this interferes with taking up carpets and cleaning the house, but it’s pleasant weather for a funeral, and I think the corpse will look as natural as life.”

“Oh! My poor, poor husband,” wailed Mrs. Moody.

“He was a good husband, I’ll swear to that,” continued Mrs. Stum; “but he was dreadfully careless to let a house fall on him. Be calm, Mrs. Moody! I’ve sent for one of the best undertakers in Detroit, and you’ll be surprised at the way he’ll fix up the deceased.”

When the undertaker came in Mrs. Stum shook hands and said that death was sure to overtake every living thing sooner or later. She mentioned the kind of coffin she wanted, stated the number of hacks, the hour for the funeral, and held the end of the tape-line while he measured the body.

Several other neighbors came in, and she ordered them around and soon had everything working smoothly. The widow was sent to her room to weep out her grief, doors and windows were opened, and as Mrs. Stum built up a good baking fire, she said:

“Now, then, we want pie and cake and sauce and raised biscuit and floating islands. He’ll have watchers, and the watchers must have plenty to eat.”

When the baking had been finished the coffin and undertaker arrived, and the body was placed in its receptacle. Mrs. Stum agreed with the undertaker that the face wore a natural expression, and when he was going away she said:

“Be around on time. Don’t put in any second-class hacks, and don’t have any hitch in the proceedings at the grave!”

From that hour until two o’clock of the second day thereafter she had full charge. The widow was provided with a black bonnet, a crape shawl, etc., the watchers found plenty to eat, a minister was sent for, eighteen chairs were brought from the neighbors and everything moved along like clock-work.

“You must bear up,” she kept saying to the widow. “House cleaning must be done, that back yard must be raked off, and the pen stock must be drawed out, and you haven’t time to sit down and grieve. His life was insured, and we’ll go down next week and select some lovely mourning goods.”

Everybody who attended said they never saw a funeral pass off so smoothly, and when the hack had landed the widow and Mrs. Stum at her door again, Mrs. Stum asked:

“Now, didn’t you really enjoy the ride, after all?”

And the widow said she wouldn’t have believed that she could have stood it so well.

Detroit Free Press.

Macon [GA] Weekly Telegraph 4 May 1875: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil hopes that, should she ever find herself in a similarly worrying situation, she would be as resourceful as Mrs Stum, (the name means “silent,” in the Germanic tongue) if not quite so painfully candid.

There were, in point of fact, a thousand-and-one little duties to consider when organising a funeral; Mrs Stum’s quiet efficiency touches on several of them: providing the widow with black clothing without her having to leave the house; opening doors and windows, presumably under the “superstitious” belief that it would aid the the dear departed in departing; baking plenty of food for the “watchers,” who would sit up all night to ensure that the dead were not left alone—such vigils were thirsty (and hungry) work. The “hacks” ordered were the carriages to carry the family and friends to the grave and a successful funeral was often judged by the number of carriages following the hearse to the grave.

Mrs Daffodil has previously written of “fiends for a funeral,” who relished the rare treat of a carriage ride to the cemetery, while that funereal person over at Haunted Ohio has appropriated the same title for a post about individuals with a peculiar taste for attending the funerals of total strangers.  Undertakers ultimately had to resort to special cards and tickets of invitation to keep away the interlopers. One feels instinctively that Mrs Stum would have instantly spotted these funeral fanciers and turned them out of the cemetery.

For more on Victorian mourning customs in a (mostly) more sombre vein, see The Victorian Book of the Dead by Chris Woodyard.


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 Ghost in Yellow Calico: c. 1903

17th c memento mori rosary bead


The Rev. Elwyn Thomas, 35, Park Village East, N. W., London, has published a very remarkable experience of his own. It is as follows:

“Twelve years ago,” says the doctor, “I was the second minister of the Bryn Mawr Welsh Wesleyan Circuit, in the South Wales District. It was a beautiful evening in June when, after conducting the service at Llanyndir, I told the gentlemen with whom I generally stayed when preaching there, that three young friends had come to meet me from Crickhowell, and that I meant to accompany them back for about half a mile on their return journey, so would not be home before nine o’clock.

“When I wished good-night to my friends it was about twenty minutes to nine but still light enough to see a good distance. The subject of our conversation all the way from the chapel until we parted was of a certain eccentric old character who then belonged to the Crickhowell church. I walked a little further down the road than I intended in order to hear the end of a very amusing story about him. Our conversation had no reference whatever to ghosts. Personally I was a strong disbeliever in ghosts and invariably ridiculed anyone whom I thought superstitious enough to believe in them.

“When I had walked about a hundred yards away from my friends, after parting from them, I saw on the bank of the canal, what I thought at the moment was an old beggar. I couldn’t help asking myself where this old man had come from. I had not seen him in going down the road. I turned round quite unconcernedly to have another look at him, and had no sooner done so than I saw, within half a yard of me one of the most remarkable and startling sights I hope it will ever be my lot to see. Almost on a level with my own face, I saw that of an old man, over every feature of which the putty colored skin was drawn tightly, except the forehead which was lined with deep wrinkles. The lips were extremely thin and appeared perfectly bloodless. The toothless mouth stood half open. The cheeks were hollow and sunken like those of a corpse, and the eyes which seemed far back in the middle of the head, were unnaturally luminous and piercing. The terrible object was wrapped in two bands of old yellow calico, one of which was drawn under the chin, and over the cheeks and tied at the top of the head, the other was drawn round the top of the wrinkled forehead and fastened at the back of the head.

So deep and indelible an impression it made on my mind, that, were I an artist, I could paint that face to-day.

“What I have thus tried to describe in many words, I saw at a glance. Acting on the impulse of the moment, I turned my face toward the village and ran away from the horrible vision with all my might for about sixty yards. I then stopped and turned around to see how far I had distanced it, and to my unspeakable horror, there it was still face to face with me as if I had not moved an inch. I grasped my umbrella and raised it to strike him, and you can imagine my feelings when I could see nothing between the face and the ground, except an irregular column of intense darkness, through which my umbrella passed as a stick goes through water!

“I am sorry to say that I took to my heels with increasing speed. A little further than the space of this second encounter, the road which led to my host’s house branched off the main road. Having gone two or three yards down this branch road, I turned around again. He had not followed me after I left the main road, but I could see the horribly fascinating face quite as plainly as when it was close by. It stood for a few minutes looking intently at me from the center of the main road. I then realized fully that it was not a human being in flesh and blood; and, with every vestige of fear gone, I quickly walked toward it to put my questions. But I was disappointed, for, no sooner had I made toward it, than it began to move slowly down the road keeping the same distance above it until it reached the churchyard wall; it then crossed the road and disappeared near where the yew tree stood inside. The moment it disappeared, I became unconscious. Two hours later I came to myself and I made my way slowly to my home. I could not say a word to explain what had happened, though I tried several times. It was five o’clock in the morning when I regained my power of speech. The whole of the following week I was laid up with a nervous prostration.

“My host, after questioning me closely, told me that fifteen years before that time an old recluse of eccentric character, answering in every detail to my description (yellow calicoes, bands, and all) lived in a house whose ruins still stand close by where I saw the face disappear.”

True Ghost Stories, Hereward Carrington, 1915: pp 116-119

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Recently that funereal person over at Haunted Ohio has been assiduously studying shrouds for some presentation or other and Mrs Daffodil has been hearing a great deal too much about the subject….

However, it occurs to Mrs Daffodil that the calico bands around the disembodied head bear all the hallmarks of burial attire, much like the cloth tied around the ghostly Jacob Marley’s jaws. So unless the living recluse was known to stalk around the neighbourhood wearing a shroud and bands, one expects that this was just another example of ghosts who appear in their grave-clothes.  A reprehensible habit, to be sure, and most unhygienic—we have seen the warnings from the medical establishment about the unwholesome trade in used shrouds and grave goods.

One wonders if the Rev. Thomas was prostrated merely by the horror of the thing or by some obscure contagion from the grave.  Mrs Daffodil suggests that the local authorities should have responded to the disruptive revenant swiftly and decisively, either by compelling the creature to remain in its tomb via iron or exorcism, or by supplying it with a change of shroud in the newest and neatest pattern.



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.

Encore: Alternatives for Mourning During the Great War: 1914-1918

mourning hat and veil 1914

On this Remembrance Day week-end we remember some of the alternative methods of mourning suggested during the Great War.

In 1917 Reformer Dorothy Dix strongly urged an end to traditional deep mourning. She pointed out that “What the psychological effect, not only upon the minds of women, but upon men of the sight of thousands of women dressed in mourning is appalling to consider…[a woman who puts on a colored dress] saddens no one else with her sorrow. She stabs no other woman to the heart with a remembrance of her own loss…Her colored dress, worn when her very soul is black with mourning, is the red badge of courage.”

Further, mourning is costly: “the cost of a complete mourning equipment for a well to do family would buy many liberty bonds…It is said that this war is going to be won by money…Therefore, the women of the country cannot only do a big patriotic duty, but avenge their dead by putting their money into bullets instead of crepe.”

And, finally, wearing mourning is literally sickening: “That women are depressed by wearing mourning and are made sick and nervous is a well-established fact…it wrecks her own health and makes her sacrifice the living to the dead…I hope that the women of America will rise above the heathenish custom of decking themselves out in black to show that they grieve. There will be no need of flaunting personal grief, for at the bier of every soldier who dies for his county the whole nation will bow in sorrow…” Augusta [GA] Chronicle 5 December 1917: p. 5

In 1914 Mrs Edward Lyttleton, wife of a clergyman soon to be criticised for his German sympathies, suggested that mourning for the dead of the War should consist of a “simple narrow band of purple cloth to be worn on the left arm by every man, woman or child who had lost a relation in the war.” She pointed out the economical advantages and that the badge “would be the same for all classes.”  In addition, “If the well-to-do women of the empire would lead the way in this matter they would make things easier for their poorer sisters, who surely must often stint themselves of necessities in order to get the “bit of black” so dear to their hearts.” The Denver [CO] Post 16 October 1914: p. 10

The mourning armband with a star. The patent application was filed in 1918, but it was not patented until 1920.

The mourning armband with a star. The patent application was filed in 1918, but it was not patented until 1920.

Another arm-band scheme was suggested much later in the conflict and endorsed by the President of the United States.

“No mourning costumes during war time, but rather the substitution of a mourning badge or an arm-band of black with a gray star,” was the recommendation of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs at a session at Hot Springs, Ark. Mrs. L. Brackett Bishop, of Chicago, suggested that the conventional period of mourning be abolished during the war. Mrs. Bishop has made an extensive study of colors and concludes that the wearing of black causes many mental disturbances. “Certain colors are avoided by women because their nature resents them,” she said. “But the general effect is happiness. If happiness is to be won in the world, color will do it. Another reason for this strong need of color is the fact that the earth revolves each twenty-four hours a day, and each day we are in the same plane as was the fighting of yesterday. We must be bright and cheery to overcome the cloudy days. Color will win the war for us, and it is going to be won by the colors we wear and by the brightness we can thus add to the world and to the people about us through the mental attitude expressed in our costumes.” A standard arm-band furnishes an excellent substitute for the wearing of black. It has all the objectionable features of black removed and still serves the purpose of indicating that a death has occurred.

Arm-Bands Are Advocated

Patents for a standard arm-band have been applied for. This arm-band consists of a black background symbolizing the black war-cloud with the blue sky beyond. A torch indicates the blazing path of national attainment and a lyre symbolizes the rejoicing at valor and sacrifice, while the dove of peace hovers over all. These bands are to be made in the colors of the Allies. [This design does not appear in the patent records.]

The Women’s Committee of the Council of National Defense has suggested an arm-band with a gold star for the death of each member of the family in service. President Wilson has given his approval of the suggestion in the following letter made public by Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, chairman of the committee:

“My Dear Dr. Shaw: Thank you for your letter of yesterday. I do entirely approve of the action taken by the Women’s Committee in executive session, namely, that a 3-inch black band should be worn, upon which a gilt star may be placed for each member of the family whose life is lost in the service, and that the band shall be worn on the left arm. I hope and believe that thoughtful people everywhere will approve of this action, and I hope that you will be kind enough to make the suggestion of the committee public, with the statement that it has my cordial indorsement. Cordially and sincerely yours, WOODROW WILSON.”

In an explanatory statement on the subject the Women’s Committee says:

For a long time the Women’s Committee has been receiving letters from women urging some such action on their part. The determined avoidance of mourning by English women has been much commented on and praised. One woman. who advocates this step has four sons in the service one of whom has already been killed. She wrote recently: “I know the costliness of such supreme glory and sacrifice, and have felt both the selfish temptation to hide my pain behind a mourning that would hold off intrusion and the inspiration and stimulus of keeping up to my gallant son’s expectation that I should regard his death as a happy promotion into higher service. Patriotism means such exalted living that dying is not the harder part.”

The insignia which has been chosen by the Women’s Committee is of a kind that can readily be made at home out of whatever material can be procured. The band is to be black and 3 inches wide—the stars gilt, and one for each member of the family who has lost his life in service. These stars may be gold, of gilded metal, or satin, or of cloth. The design will not be patented, and the insignia will never become a commercial article. Dry Goods, Volume 19, July 1918, p. 5

A Jet mourning brooch, c. 1880s

A Jet mourning brooch, c. 1880s

A return to a Victorian insignia of mourning was also suggested.

Old-Fashioned Jet Brooch Replaces Crepe.

American Women Join in Move to Discard Mourning Garments.

Now that almost all American women are joining it the movement to help win the war by banishing from the streets the depressing sight of crepe and deep mourning garments, the need is felt for some expressive symbol that shall be the privilege of those bereft by death, whether through the war or through other causes….every woman who feels it a sacrifice to give up her mourning apparel would appreciate some distinguishing symbol the wearing of which would satisfy her own heart.

When the question was being discussed the other day in a room full of women, knitting for the Red Cross, one sweet-faced little woman pointed to a beautiful old-fashioned jet brooch at her throat. “This,” said she, “is my mourning. It is a treasured family heirloom full of dear associations. The members of our family do not believe in mourning apparel, but this brooch represents to me, mourning. It is never worn except at such periods, and is then worn constantly—with all costumes. When I wear this brooch, I am in mourning as truly as though clothed in deepest black.” The idea seems a very beautiful one which may well be passed on. In every family there is some piece of jewelry of this sort beloved because of association with those who have gone before and worthy of being the special symbol of remembrance and a time set apart from worldly pursuits. Oregonian [Portland, OR] 23 June 1918: p. 73

For more information on mourning in the Victorian era, with some notes on the Great War, see The Victorian Book of the Dead.

Mrs Daffodil’s previous Remembrance Day post on the Peerage in mourning is here.

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.

Black Cat Tales: 19th century

It is, Mrs Daffodil is reliably informed, “Black Cat Day.” In examining her scrap-books of past posts, she realises that it is a theme she has returned to again and again.

So, in celebration of subfusc felines, Mrs Daffodil presents

The Black Cat Horror

Guts, The Ghostly Sailor Cat

The Black Cat Elemental

A Funeral for a Theatrical Cat

Murder by Cat

And, from that feline-friendly person over at Haunted Ohio: Le Chat Noir: Vengeful Cat Tales.

If you are fortunate enough to have a black cat in possession of your home, do set out an extra bowl of cream and some fresh catnip for the honoured guest to-night.

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.