Category Archives: Mourning

The Black Rose: 1910

THE BLACK ROSE

Triumph of Botanical Chemistry, but Who Would Want One

(from the New York Times)

The inventor of a process for growing black roses naturally takes pride in his achievement. The black rose is new in agriculture. Nature, within the knowledge of man, has produced no rose of that color, and the black rose, if it is a shapely, full-grown flower, will be cordially received. If it have the perfume of the garden rose, its value will be greater. Some of the most esteemed roses of the florist’s shops are almost odorless. The inventor of the black rose is to be congratulated. Black diamonds and brown ones are esteemed far above their intrinsic value. Mr Burbank’s horticultural hybrids are highly prized. It will not do, in this scientific era, to condemn the gardener or agriculturist for using his wit and art to produce freaks in defiance of nature. The freakish tendencies of nature are now too well understood. The cunning of man cannot outdo them. Only nature has not yet produced a black rose, and the first of its kind will surely command a high place in the market for curiosities.

The utility of a black rose is questionable. It will never satisfy the eye like the red, yellow or white rose: a new poetry of roses must be made to fit it; no lover will come to use it as a symbol of his passion. At its best it will seem a thing of mystery. A bunch of black roses carelessly laid on the rail of a parterre box at the opera will not necessarily charm the vision of the unfortunate lookers-on in the stalls. The near-sighted ones may fancy that the principal occupant of the box is displaying her overshoes. A black rose in a lovely woman’s hair will resemble a rosette of silk or velvet. As a gift the black rose, after its first novelty has worn away, will fit only funeral occasions. Even then its oddity and the extravagance its presence implies, will serve to make it seem unsuitable.

The advent of the black rose will be an event, a triumph of botanical chemistry, a subject for learned discussion, and some more or less tedious frivol. But, after that—what? Who really wants a black rose?

Charleston [SC] News and Courier 17 February 1910: p. 10

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  To-morrow is, Mrs Daffodil is given to understand, World Goth Day. While previously Mrs Daffodil thought that the day was to celebrate European barbarians who opposed Imperial Roman rule, this year she knows better and was ready with this post about the Goth’s favourite posy: the black rose.

It is curious that the alleged inventor is not named in the piece above; Mr Luther Burbank, the distinguished American horiculturalist was always cited as the ne plus ultra of plant breeders, but even he did not breed a black rose.

Two gentleman, both Russian, were named in the British and United States press as the inventor of the black rose.

The honor of making the black rose belongs to an amateur horticulturist—Mr. Fetisoff, of Voronezh, Russia. Mr. Fetisoff has accomplished what professional horticulturists for fifty years have been striving for. They have tried again and again and the wisdom of years has been combined in their efforts and yet they have never succeeded in producing a rose whose petals were absolutely black.

Mr. Fetisoff is guarding the secret of the existence of his black rose with religious care. The Evening Times [Washington DC] 2 July 1898: p. 6

and

A Russian nurseryman, named Seraphimoff, has actually produced a black rose….One would suppose that the admixture of manganese in the soil in which roses or tulips are grown would produce a purple shade in the flowers, but how black, which isn’t recognized as a color, can be developed, one utterly fails to understand.

The name Seraphimoff, is suspiciously religious. One fears that a sacrilegious nature faker is abroad. The word “seraphim” is one not to be used in jokes. The Brooklyn [NY] Daily Eagle 19 May 1908: p. 20

Experts who commented on these stories suggested that a black rose might be produced by intensive cross-breeding, or “culture in highly medicated soils.” The cultivar is said to exist in nature in Tibet and in Turkey; outside of nature, they may be purchased at Cartier, in onyx.  If Mrs Daffodil had to guess its meaning in the “language of flowers,” the black rose might signify, “I adore your skull jewellery and your jet lip-stick.” or “You are dead to me.”

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.

 

Hearse Horses: 1860-1911

 

Miniature model of a hearse and horses, c. 1865-75 http://www.musee-mccord.qc.ca/en/collection/artifacts/M990.674.1

It is the week-end of the Royal Windsor Horse-show and Mrs Daffodil has been persuaded by a box of really excellent chocolate cremes to allow Chris Woodyard, the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, to post a guest article on the theme of “hearse horses,” a class which Mrs Daffodil can confidently assert will not be on the programme at Windsor. In view of Prince Phillip’s impending retirement, a Hearse Four-in-Hand event might be seen as lacking in tact.

But enough persiflage. Chris Woodyard is champing at the bit….

Hearse and plumed hearse horses, 1870

In the United States, until the advent of the automobile hearse, hearse horses were a cherished commodity, well-known and sometimes beloved by the communities they served. The acquisition of a new pair of hearse horses was, like the purchase of a new hearse, an important event—something to be puffed in the papers. A smart team of plumed hearse horses was a selling point for any undertaker.

As late as 1911, E.F. Parks, an undertaker in Bryan, Texas, announced the arrival of “our fine team of hearse horses” rhapsodizing: “They are simply beautiful. White with a touch of red about the ears, back and hip. They are full brothers 5 and 6 years old.” Undertaker Parks even ran a contest for several weeks in the local newspaper to name the horses, selecting “Prince” and “Pilot” as the winning names. The Bryan [TX] Eagle 16 March 1911: p. 1

Mexican hearse with six netted horses. 1884

Articles about the acquisition of hearse horses often stressed the animals’ training (which seems to have been primarily about gait and speed), yet there were hundreds of accounts in contemporary newspapers of hearse horses running away or colliding with trees, trains, or telegraph poles, often with grave consequences.

FUNERAL HORROR FRIGHTENED HORSES

The Corpse of a Man Pulled After the Demolished Hearse in a Runaway

Rochester, N.Y., Feb. 24. A ghastly accident occurred at the double funeral of Mr. and Mrs. John Hackett, held near Lyons yesterday afternoon that has deeply shocked that community.

While the first hearse, drawn by a spirited team of blacks, was passing through a deep snow drift the horses became frightened, and, unseating the driver, ran away. The hearse containing the coffin and the remains of Mr. Hackett tipped over and the casket was demolished, throwing out the corpse, which, becoming entangled in the wrecked hearse, was dragged a considerable distance over the bare road and through deep snow drifts. When the terrified team finally broke loose from the wrecked vehicle and its ghastly occupant, the corpse was so badly mangled as to be almost unrecognizable. A driver was sent to look up another casket, which was procured several hours later, after which the funeral procession proceeded to the cemetery, where both bodies were interred in one grave. Tucson [AZ] Daily Citizen 24 February 1902: p. 4

One undertaker, when he discovered that the hearse horse he had trained could not keep to the required solemn gait, made the best of a bad job and released the horse to a racing career:

There is a son of Del Sur in California that they call “The Los Angeles Del Sur Wonder,” but known, for short, as the “hearse horse.” He was bred by an undertaker, and used for a while hauling the hearse. He was found to be rather faster than was needed to keep at the head of the procession, and being trained, trotted a 2.20 gait and paced in 2.18. Otago Witness, 28 April 1892: p. 27

 

White child’s hearse with driver outside Neil Regan Funeral Home, Scranton, PA c. 1900 http://en.wikipedia.org

An essential part of funeral pageantry, black horses were used for many adult funerals; white horses—or sometimes white ponies—drew the white hearse of the maiden, the child, or the infant. White horses were also used at state funerals:

Last of the Lincoln Hearse Horses.

A local celebrity recently died after a kind, useful life of thirty-eight years, says the Indianapolis Journal. His name was Jesse, and the one act which entitled him to mention was participation in the funeral cortege of the martyred Lincoln. He was the last of the six white horses which drew the hearse containing the honored body along the streets of Indianapolis. His mate in the proud but sorrowful lead of the team died eight years ago. The McCook [NE] Tribune 3 July 1891: p. 8

Since they were so much in the public eye, certain traits made for the most desirable hearse horses. In the United States, this was a suggested standard:

A more popular hearse-horse is coal-black with no white markings, and he must also have a long, flowing tail. Occasionally they are accepted when slightly marked with white, which is less objectionable on the hind feet than in the face or on the front feet….A hearse requires a horse from 15-3 to 16-1 hands high and weighing 1200 to 1250 pounds. Quarterly Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture, Volume 21, 1909 p. 490 and 512

In England, a matched set of black Drenthe horses from Hanover were employed at royal funerals. For the fashionable society funeral, black Belgian stallions were the ne plus ultra. Some of the cheaper imported stallions lacked the all-important tail-weepers and were provided with false tails:

A queer English custom is that of decorating the black hearse horses with long false black tails. They attract no more notice on a street in Liverpool than do the black nets used in this country to cover the horses. Pierre [SD] Weekly Free Press 16 November 1905: p. 1

The use of nets, as seen in several of the illustrations, seem to have been confined to the Americas. If draped, a European funeral horse would wear a blanket, as we see in these pictures of Russian and Roumanian hearse horses.

Russian hearse with elaborately draped horses, First World War http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205250983

Draped Roumanian hearse horses c. 1920

Rich in detail is this account of the “Black Brigade” of funeral horses in London. I’m particularly amused by the horses being named for current celebrities. It is also fascinating that an influenza epidemic put pressure on the supply of desirable hearse horses.

A sample of the Black Brigade

THE BLACK BRIGADE

A good many of the coal horses are blacks and dark bays, and by some people they are known as ‘the black brigade ‘; but the real black brigade of London’s trade are the horses used for funerals. This funeral business is a strange one in many respects, but, just as the jobmaster is in the background of the every-day working world, so the jobmaster is at the back of the burying world. The ‘funeral furnisher’ is equal to all emergencies on account of the facilities he possesses for hiring to an almost unlimited extent, so long as the death rate is normal. The [funeral] wholesale men, the ‘black masters,’ are always ready to cope with a rate of twenty per thousand —London’s normal is seventeen—but when it rises above that, as it did in the influenza time, the pressure is so great that the ‘blacks’ have to get help from the ‘coloured,’ and the ‘horse of pleasure’ becomes familiar with the cemetery roads.

A hundred years ago there was but one black master in London. He owned all the horses; and there are wonderful stories of the funerals in those days when railways were unknown. The burying of a duke or even a country squire, in the family vault, was then a serious matter, for the body had to be taken the whole distance by road, and the horses were sometimes away for a week or more, and were often worked in relays, much on the same plan as the coach-horses, only that rapid progress through the towns and villages was impossible, for the same reason that no living undertaker dare trot with a tradesman within the limits of the district in which the deceased happens to have been known and respected….

Hearse with Plumes, John Henry Walker, 1850-85 http://www.musee-mccord.qc.ca/en/collection/artifacts/M930.50.7.409

Altogether there are about 700 of these black horses in London. They are all Flemish, and come to us from the flats of Holland and Belgium by way of Rotterdam and Harwich. They are the youngest horses we import, for they reach us when they are rising three years old, and take a year or so before they get into full swing; in fact, they begin work as what we may call the ‘half-timers’ of the London horse-world. When young they cost rather under than over a hundred guineas a pair, but sometimes they get astray among the carriage folk, who pay for them, by mistake of course, about double the money. In about a year or more, when they have got over their sea-sickness and other ailments, and have been trained and acclimatised, they fetch 65£. each; if they do not turn out quite good enough for first-class -work they are cleared out to the second-class men at about twenty-five guineas; if they go to the repository they average 10£; if they go to the knacker’s they average thirty-five shillings, and they generally go there after six years’ work. Most of them are stallions, for Flemish geldings go shabby and brown. They are cheaper now than they were a year or two back, for the ubiquitous American took to buying them in their native land for importation to the States, and thereby sent up the price; but the law of supply and demand came in to check the rise, and some enterprising individual actually took to importing black horses here from the States, and so spoilt the corner.

Three-horse hearse, c. 1895-1898 http://www.historymuseum.ca/collections/artifact/140018/?q=deueil&page_num=2&item_num=2&media_irn=5249990 Canadian Museum of Civilization digitized historical negatives

Here, in the East Road, are about eighty genuine Flemings, housed in capital stables, well built, lofty, light, and well ventilated, all on the ground floor. Over every horse is his name, every horse being named from the celebrity, ancient or modern, most talked about at the time of his purchase, a system which has a somewhat comical side when the horses come to be worked together. Some curious traits of character are revealed among these celebrities as we pay our call at their several stalls. General Booth [founder of the Salvation Army], for instance, is ‘most amiable, and will work with any horse in the stud’; all the Salvationists ‘are doing well,’ except [George Scott] Railton, ‘who is showing too much blood and fire. Last week he had a plume put on his head for the first time, and that upset him.’ [Journalist W.T.]Stead, according to his keeper, is ‘a good horse, a capital horse—showy perhaps, but some people like the showy; he does a lot of work, and fancies he does more than he does. We are trying him with General Booth, but he will soon tire him out, as he has done others. He wouldn’t work with [biologist Thomas Henry] Huxley at any price!’ Curiously enough, Huxley ‘will not work with [physicist John] Tyndall, but gets on capitally with Dr. [philanthropist Thomas John] Barnardo.’ Tyndall, on the other hand, goes well with Dickens,’ but has a decided aversion to Henry Ward Beecher. [Liberal statesman John] Morley works ‘comfortably’ with [Conservative politician & PM Arthur] Balfour, but [Liberal statesman William Vernon] Harcourt and [Irish political leader Michael] Davitt ‘won’t do as a pair anyhow.’ An ideal team seems to consist of [political activist and atheist Charles] Bradlaugh, John Knox, Dr. [Alfred] Adler, and Cardinal [Henry Edward] Manning. But the practice of naming horses after church and chapel dignitaries is being dropped owing to a superstition of the stable. ‘All the horses,’ the horsekeeper says, ‘named after that kind of person go wrong somehow!’ And so we leave Canon [Frederic] Farrar, and Canon [Henry] Liddon, and Dr.[William Morley] Punshon, and John Wesley and other lesser lights, to glance at the empty stalls of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, now ‘out on a job,’ and meet in turn with [celebrity quack doctor] Sequah and [Louis] Pasteur, [hypnotist Franz Anton] Mesmer and [Electrohomeopathy inventor Cesare] Mattei. Then we find ourselves amid a bewildering mixture of poets, politicians, artists, actors, and musicians.

‘Why don’t you sort them out into stables, and have a poet stable, an artist stable, and so on?’

‘They never would stand quiet. The poets would never agree; and as to the politicians—well, you know what politicians are, and these namesakes of theirs are as like them as two peas!’ And so the horses after they are named have to be changed about until they find fit companions, and then everything goes harmoniously. The stud is worked in sections of four; every man has four horses which he looks after and drives; under him being another man, who drives when the horses go out in pairs instead of in the team.

One would think these horses were big, black retriever dogs, to judge by the liking and understanding which spring up between them and their masters. It is astonishing what a lovable, intelligent animal a horse is when he finds he is understood. According to popular report these Flemish stallions are the most vicious and ill-tempered of brutes; but those who keep them and know them are of the very opposite opinion….

There is an old joke about the costermonger’s donkey who looked so miserable because he had been standing for a week between two hearse horses, and had not got over the depression. The reply to this is that the depression is mutual. The ‘black family’ has always to be alone; if a coloured horse is stood in one of the stalls, the rest of the horses in the stable will at once become miserable and fretful. The experiment has been tried over and over again, and always with the same result; and thus it has come – about that in the black master’s yards, the coloured horses used for ordinary draught work are always in a stable by themselves.

1880 hearse

The funeral horse hardly needs description. The breed has been the same for centuries. He stands about sixteen hands, and weighs between 12 and 13 cwt. The weight behind him is not excessive, for the car does not weigh over 17 cwt., and even with a lead coffin he has the lightest load of any of our draught horses. The worst roads he travels are the hilly ones to Highgate, Finchley, and Norwood. These he knows well and does not appreciate. In a few months he gets to recognise all the cemetery roads ‘like a book,’ and after he is out of the bye streets he wants practically no driving, as he goes by himself, taking all the proper corners and making all the proper pauses. This knowledge of the road has its inconveniences, as it is often difficult to get him past the familiar corner when he is out at exercise. But of late he has had exercise enough at work, and during the influenza epidemic was doing his three and four trips a day, and the funerals had to take place not to suit the convenience of the relatives, but the available horse-power of the undertaker. Six days a week he works, for after a long agitation there are now no London funerals on Sundays, except perhaps those of the Jews, for which the horses have their day’s rest in the week.

To feed such a horse costs perhaps two shillings a day—-it is a trifle under that, over the 700—and his food differs from that of any other London horse. In his native Flanders he is fed a good deal upon slops, soups, mashes, and so forth; and as a Scotsman does best on his oatmeal, so the funeral horse, to keep in condition, must have the rye-bread of his youth. Rye-bread, oats, and hay form his mixture, with perhaps a little clover, but not much, for it would not do to heat him, and beans and such things are absolutely forbidden. Every Saturday he has a mash like other horses, but unlike them his mash consists, not of bran alone, but of bran and linseed in equal quantities. What the linseed is for we know not; it may be, as a Life Guardsman suggested to us, to make his hair glossy, that beautiful silky hair which is at once his pride and the reason of his special employment, and the sign of his delicate, sensitive constitution.

The Horse-world of London, William John Gordon, 1893, pp 139-147

****

We find equally telling detail in this section from an article on unusual professions. Painting over inconvenient white portions of a funeral horse was widely practiced. An 1875 article tells of undertakers “not stinting with paint or black lead.” A lady observer in 1912 wrote about “dyed horses” in Paris funeral processions.

Vista of funeral horses, man painting out a white fetlock.

The last curious industry deals with funeral horses. Mr. Robert Roe, of Kennington Park Road, has imported these stately animals for upwards of twenty-five years. It seems they come from Friesland and Zeeland, and cost from £40 to £70. There must be about nine hundred funeral horses in London. The average undertaker, however, keeps neither horses nor coaches, but hires these from people like Seaward, of Islington. Mr. Seaward keeps a hundred funeral horses, so that a visit to his stables is an interesting experience.

“It is dangerous,” said one of my informants, “to leave a pair of these black stallions outside public-houses, when returning from a funeral; for these animals fight with great ferocity.” Once, at a very small funeral, the coachman lent a hand with the coffin; but, in his absence, the horses ran amuck among the tombstones, which went down like ninepins in all directions.

A white spot takes a large sum off the value of a funeral horse. In the photo one of Mr. Seaward’s men is painting a horse’s white fetlock with a mixture of lampblack and oil. A white star on the forehead may be covered by the animal’s own foretop.

On the right-hand side in the photo. will be seen hanging a horse’s tail. This is sent to the country with a “composite” horse— a Dutch black, not used for the best funeral work, owing to his lack of tail. He is sold to a country jobmaster, with a separate flowing tail, bought in Holland for a shilling or two. In the daytime, the “composite” horse conducts funerals, the tail fastened on with a strap; but at night he discards it, and gaily takes people to and from the theatres.

Worn-out funeral horses, one is horrified to learn, are shipped back to Holland and Belgium, where they are eaten.

The Strand Magazine, Vol. 13, 1897: p. 202

At least, that was the practice in England; Belgian horses were prized in their native country for their tender meat. In the United States, a hearse horse often retired to green pastures, after a long and useful career. This clever hearse horse had a well-deserved tribute paid to him on his retirement.

KEPT UNDERTAKERS BUSY

Horse Always Stopped at Houses Where Crape Hung on Door.

From the New York Press.

Having reached such a degree of zealousness in behalf of his owner’s business interests that he would stop in front of any house on the front of which symbols of mourning were displayed, Dan, for twenty years a faithful horse for Thomas M. O’Brien, an undertaker of Bayonne, N.J., has been retired on a pension. The undertaker made arrangements with a farmer in Orange county to take good care of Dan for the rest of his life, and to give him decent burial when he dies. Dan was shipped away yesterday. Twice when on the way to the railroad station the horse balked, and it was noticed that each time he balked it was in front of a house with crape hanging on the door. It was not until the driver whispered in Dan’s ear that his boss already had the jobs that the intelligent animal consented to move on.

Dan knows the way to and from every cemetery within 20 miles of Bayonne. Some persons even assert that he knows most of the family plots in those cemeteries. More than once the horse placed O’Brien in an exceedingly embarrassing position by stopping with a hearse in front of houses on which mourning was displayed regardless of whether O’Brien had been retained to have charge of the burial.

One of the stipulations entered into between O’Brien and the Orange county farmer is that Dan must not be compelled to do any work. He must have good oats and timothy hay in winter and, added to that, all the grass he can eat in spring, summer, and fall.

“He’s earned his retirement by twenty years of faithful work,” O’Brien said. “If he were a man instead of a horse, he would have been a partner long before this. He was simply indefatigable in hunting for new business.” The Washington [DC] Post 17 January 1909: p. M10

Shrouded horses with hearse, 1858, advertising Undertakers Massey & Yung, San Francisco

The hearse horse might also serve as an equine memento mori as in this elegiac New England article:

THE OLD HEARSE HORSE

Among the long-standing fixtures of our day are the Hearse-man, the venerable Robert Bell, and his scarcely less venerable old Black Horse, which will be twenty years old next months. For fourteen years the same man and the same horse have been in attendance at almost every funeral that has taken place in our city. For nearly two thousand times have they borne to their resting places the old and the young—the rich and the poor, the learned and the unlettered. There can be seen scarcely a more grave sight than these funereal accompaniments. The old horse though lively and active on other occasions, knows the moment a corpse is put into the hearse, and he will scarcely mind the admonition of a whip to change his speed from walking. His master is growing infirm and the horse is nearly blind—a premonition that all must ere long return to the dust. Portsmouth [NH] Journal of Literature and Politics 12 May 1860: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil is sure that we are all very grateful to the subfusc author for being so relentlessly informative and are pleased to have learned something new to-day about this department of the Victorian funeral industry.

Mrs Daffodil has noticed an unlikely resemblance between the plume-adorned hearse-horses with their dark burdens and beplumed circus horses drawing brilliantly carved and coloured circus wagons at a stately pace. One idly wonders if an aged circus horse ever retired to a career as a hearse-horse or if a black horse of too cheerful a disposition might run away with the circus.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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

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

 

A Wardrobe Peculiarly Suited to the Bereaved One’s Conditions: 1905

Casting Off the Widow’s Weeds, Henry James Richter, 1823 http://www.wikigallery.org/wiki/painting_231401/Henry-James-Richter/page-1

Mourning Gowns That Harmonize with the Bereaved One’s Complexion and Spirits

The genius of a Washington dressmaker has conceived the idea of specializing for the bereaved. “Widows’ outfits” are the objects of her particular attention, and upon them are brought to bear all her creative power.

“Widows’ outfits” does not appear upon her sign, which is merely a very high sounding name on a small and thoroughly correct name plate that has adorned her front door for a generation past. It is only to the initiated of a very select clientele that she has imparted the information that wardrobe peculiarly suited to the bereaved conditions may be obtained from madam for a consideration.

According to her theory, not only must a widow’s weeds be an expression of her grief, but they must convey in them the depth of it as well as the previous state of happiness or the reverse. For elderly widows who have jogged happily through forty or fifty years of conjugal congeniality she advises lightweight drap d’ ete with heavy crape bands and folds, lightening into black crepe de Chine as time goes by.

In the case of a young woman sincerely mourning a much loved husband, one to whom she was wedded in every sense of the word, there is the “creped becomingness” of the softer fabrics such as chiffon cloth, &c., and her costume generally looks as if she had been dipped to her ears in the blackest ink obtainable. For grief that is genuine and inconsolable madam advises only the softest, sheerest fabrics, as customers are apt to be unmindful of their appearance, and careless of their attire, and the softer the material the better it will stand hard usage. For mourning meant to be worn all day without change for the evening, the clinging stuffs make the best gowns.

In all cases madam thinks it is impossible to have the collar too high, and sometimes, if madam sees fit and they are becoming, two little points, to go up under the ears, are added to the already chokingly high neckband. These are most frequently an adjunct to the collar when there is a tendency toward extreme thinness, as it not only hides the lines in the neck, but adds a something to the face that heightens the woefulness of the moral atmosphere.

For a young and beautiful widow of an old man, “well, youth is youth, and black is a trying thing at best—trying alike to complexion and spirits, and it would be far better if madam’s customer would leave the matter to her judgment, for you know madam has been long in the business, and well, you know white crepe is just as much mourning as the most unrelieved black, when it comes to that, and besides, the French always give a suggestion of it to their deepest mourning.”

For this gown madam makes a tentative suggestion as to the advisability of a lightening effect produced by a tiny vest of white crape, “which will relieve the severity of the dead black, which is apt to make even the fairest look a wee bit sallow.”

As soon as the bereaved one begins to make a more active interest in her fellow man and commences to realize that “grief is a selfish thing, and that every one owes it to society to take up one’s duties in it again,” madam sets her uncommon wits to work and provides her with gowns that, as an indication of her mental state, are quite as adequate as a sworn statement.

There are street clothes that express to a thought the degree of mourning, walking gowns of varying depths of woe, afternoon toilets of chiffon cloth, crepe de chine, and dull taffetas, each displaying in its cut and trimming a pleasing melancholy, while into matinees is allowed to creep a suspicion, and that the barest, of frivolity, in the shape of ruffles of mousseline plisse.

A dinner gown is, of course, included among these. It is but slightly décolleté, just sufficiently so to give the necessary air of smartness to the gown to make it suitable for the occasion, and “prevent one from being so gloomy looking as to affect the enjoyment of the assemblage.”

“The sleeves? Well that is entirely a question of—are madam’s arms plump? No? Then perhaps it would be better that the sleeves be to the elbow that is always—Oh, madam’s wrists are large? Well, as madam was saying short sleeves are a little uncomfortable at a dinner, and elbow sleeves are sometimes trying even to the prettiest arms, so possibly it would be wisest to make one of those half-concealing, half-revealing sleeves that madam thought so charming on that gown she saw yesterday.”

“Then the skirt! Could anything be straighter than its lines? Not unless carved from ebony, and then only in reality, not in effect. Severe simplicity in its most exaggerated form is the keynote of this frock that breaks the ice after the period of seclusion from the world and its frivolities, and then comes the next step in what madam considers the right direction. This is signaled by a gown all white, like a debutante’s, but what a difference! This gown is equally suitable for dinner or dance.

Does madam trim black gowns with violet, and violet gowns with black? Does she make a dark gray silk for church and a light gray for parties? Heaven forbid! Madam is an artiste. The second mourning of her clients is composed of dark violet, untrimmed; light violet, also untrimmed; soft grays without a touch of either black or white, and creamy white gowns galore. With each gown for the street madam insists that a hat of exactly the same color be worn, with absolutely no hint of contrast. When the time comes for the final doffing of all that pertains to woe in the shape of clothes, madam strongly advises that one take the plunge boldly and at once, making the change as decided as is possible.

The Washington [DC] Post 29 October 1905: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is somewhat appalled at the suggestion that a widow coming out of mourning is like a “debutante.” Still, there are reports of ladies who took the piquant idea to heart.  Here is an excerpt from The Victorian Book of the Dead to illustrate the concept:

Some widows made their coming out of mourning tantamount to a debut, complete with a new wardrobe.

AN AMERICAN’S FAD

A Fanciful Widow Who Celebrated Her Abandonment of Mourning

English newspapers and magazine paragraphers who delight to select and repeat for their innocent auditors all the curious fads and caprices of fashionable American women will doubtless remark with grave wonder on one of the last and most absurd arrangements in dinners lately given by a New York woman who is a lover of harmonies. Two years ago she suffered the loss of her husband.

After many months of travel abroad she returned home this autumn with boxes of exquisite creations of silver grays, violet, lavender and heliotrope, fresh from the hands of French modistes. After receiving many attentions from home friends, she decided to give what she chose to call “a going out of mourning dinner.” Her idea was carried out to the last detail, and the whole filled her guests with amusement and surprise. Her gown was a superb combination of silk, velvet and chiffon, running through every tint of violet, lavender and heliotrope, and lavishly ornamented with jet and black lace. Her ornaments were black pearls and enamelled violets.

The dining table was laid with a white cloth overspread with a scarf and central square of white silk, and lines embroidered heavily in the delicate gray stems and lavender flowers of wisteria. Violets, heliotrope, and lilies-of-the-valley were the flowers used in decorating the table and for the men’s boutonnieres. The candles, in silver candelabra, were of violet-tinted wax, with violet silk shades. The opalescent glass glowed with tints of violet and lavender, sugared violets were the only bonbons on the table, and great bunches of violets tied with violet satin streamers were attached to the right-hand side of the back of every woman’s chair.

Wheeling [WV] Register 25 December 1891: p. 4

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

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

 

The Banshee of the Fitzgeralds: 1760s

An Irish Ghost Story

By Kate Bell

The tale I am about to relate is strictly true. It was told to me by a young lady whose grandmother, or grandaunt, or great-grandmother, had been the heroine. I am not quite certain which of the three, but it was some ancestress or relative. I wish to be particular on this point, because I know how much more interesting it must make the story.

About 60 years ago then—more or less (I know it must have been a long time ago because there were rebels in Ireland then) armed bands of men, most absurdly called ‘Whiteboys,’ though they were full-grown villains of the blackest die, roamed over certain districts of Ireland, doing all the mischief they could, burning houses, shooting men, ill-treating women and children, rousing Catholics against Protestants, tenants against landlords, and, in fact, everybody, who had nothing, against everybody who had anything. The special objects of the Whiteboys’ hatred were the landed proprietors. These persons were not at that time greatly to be envied. Inheriting, for the most part, heavily mortgaged estates, they inherited also a talent for spending money, far beyond any capacity for gathering it. When, at last, their tenants refused to pay any rent at all, and the excited state of the country made it dangerous to attempt to force them, why, the result was that the majority of the ‘landed gintry’ of Ireland found themselves finally ‘landed’ in the ‘Encumbered Estates Court.’

Mr Fitzgerald was a landed proprietor, who lived at Kilbally-something House, near the small country-town of Ballykillsomething else; (the final syllable does not matter much in these Irish names). Although a Protestant, Mr Fitzgerald had hitherto lived on amicable terms with his tenantry. He was known to be a just and kind-hearted man, and besides, (which was of much more importance in the eyes of the Irish poor) he came of a ‘rale ould family,’ a family of sufficient dignity to possess a ‘Banshee’ of its own. Therefore although the majority of the tenants had ceased to pay any rent, they were forbearing and generous enough not to shoot their landlord, and, as long as he ‘kept quiet,’ did not mean to do him any harm. So the wives of the poorer tenants still went up to the kitchen of the big house for a chat, and still resorted to ‘the misthress’ when they needed help, or medicine, or a word of good advice, the latter two, however, being much oftener asked for than taken.

A few years before the (unknown) date of my story, Mr. Fitzgerald had married Annie O’Byrne, the daughter of a neighbouring country gentleman. Many men envied him the prize, for Annie was one of the belles of the county and as good as she was pretty. Picture her to yourselves, my readers if you can! for she is the heroine of this tale, generous, bravo, and witty, impulsive, loving, and loveable; in fact, a perfect specimen of that most charming of all feminine creatures, the true Irish lady. Annie had been brought up almost entirely in her own native county, the only exception being two seasons spent at a fashionable boarding school in Dublin. There was one branch of her education not attended to at that boarding school. This neglect, afterwards turned out to be of the greatest use to her, as we shall see. In her early childhood, Annie had learnt from the nurses aid servants who surrounded her, many of the wild legends and superstitions of her native country and many also of its touching ballads. Possessing a vivid imagination and retentive memory, she could, in later years relate some wild story of the district in such a manner as to thrill her auditors with pleasing horror, or sing some touching Irish ditty till tears came to their eyes but her special talent lay in imitating the mournful ‘keen’—that heart-breaking wail of the Irish mourner.

Mrs. Fitzgerald was of course a great favourite amongst the tenants, both on her father’s and husband’s estates. Her intimate acquaintance with their habits and modes of thought, and her knowledge of their native language gave her great influence. Her ready sympathy in their troubles quite won their hearts, those warm and loving Irish hearts, which yet often so cruelly belie themselves under the evil influences of ignorance–and superstition!

Ballykil——-House was situated on a terrace commanding a lovely view of the surrounding country. The lawn studded with clusters of Arbutus and Hydrangea, and bordered by two fine avenues of Elm and Ilex, sloped gradually down till it reached the high road, beyond which, stretched an undulating plain, where the fields and hedges glistened with that vivid green, so peculiar to the Emerald Isle.

Ballykil__ House was a large and comfortable mansion though, (like many of the Irish country houses of that time) standing much in need of repair. The sitting-rooms were all on the ground floor, and so also ware the kitchens and servants offices, The latter lay at the back of the house, and were reached by a long passage, having been built out from the main edifice. The old-fashioned vaulted stone floored kitchen had three large windows on each side, looking out on the one hand, into the glen before mentioned, and on the other into the shrubbery. The windows had no shutters, but were crossed by two or three iron bars, an unusual precaution in those days, for burglary was not a vice of the Irish peasantry, nor even petty theft. Upstairs there were the sleeping rooms of the family and servants. Mr. Fitzgerald’s domestic establishment had been greatly reduced since the real troubles had begun, and consisted at present of only three female servants and one man, the latter acted as groom, gardener and general messenger.

One summer evening, Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald were sitting on the terrace in front of their house, admiring the glories of the sunset rays gilding the fair scenes before them, and discussing the state of affairs in general and the state of their own district in particular.

‘ How happy we are,’ said Mrs. Fitzgerald ‘to be so quiet and peaceful here.’

‘Long may it last!’ replied her husband, ‘but there are floating rumours, that the Whiteboys have been seen in the neighbourhood, and if so; farewell, to peace!’

‘I do not think they would do us any harm at any rate,’ observed Annie, ‘for none of our people would join them, we are not rich enough to tempt an attack for the sake of plunder, and I do not think there is one man in the district, who harbours ill-feeling or revenge against us.’

‘You forget Con Bourke,’ answered Mr. Fitzgerald; ‘I was obliged to turn him out as he had not paid rent for three years; he was thoroughly bad, or I might have left him alone, but I found he was spreading mischief and persuading the tenants not to pay any rent, vowing vengeance. I have never ventured to eject another tenant since.’

‘But you know dear, Con came from another part of the country,’ remarked Mrs. Fitzgerald eagerly ‘he was not one of our own people and besides that, he is gone to America.’

‘I hope so, but I doubt the fact,’ replied her husband, ‘and if the Whiteboys should ever attack us I fancy we shall have to thank Con Bourke. But who is this coming up the avenue?’

As he spoke, a man appeared, riding in haste. On reaching the house, he dismounted and handed Mr Fitzgerald a letter. Annie, watching her husband while he read saw his face grow suddenly grave and anxious. He turned quietly, however, to the messenger saying, ‘Take your horse round to the stable for a feed, O’Hara, and send Jerry here to me.’ Only when the man had disappeared did Mr Fitzgerald relieve his wife’s curiosity. ‘This is a letter from the High Sheriff, my dear Annie, calling on me to repair at once to the town, both as a magistrate and as an officer of militia, to assist in keeping order and to protect the inhabitants against an expected attack by the Whiteboys. The militia has been called out in the immediate neighbourhood already, Sir George says.’

Annie turned pale, for danger threatened her husband. ‘And how does Sir George know of this attack?’ she asked. ‘He has received an anonymous communication, informing him that a large band of rebels intend entering the town to-night, where they expect to be joined by a number of malcontents. Their object is to seize the gaol, and burn it down after having set free the prisoners, especially that last batch of rebels. However, I must go at once, but I cannot bear to leave you here alone, Annie I don’t know what to do.’

‘I am not in the least afraid,’ replied Annie, bravely. ‘You know I am quite safe amongst our own people, and as the Whiteboys will be occupied with the attack on the town there is no fear of them. I am far more anxious about you, my dear husband, who are going into danger. However it is your duty to go at once, and I will not keep you back by my foolish fears.’

‘You should have been the wife of a soldier, my dear,’ said her husband, kissing her, and while Mrs Fitzgerald went into the house to make some preparations for his departure, Mr Fitzgerald gave his orders to Jerry, who now appeared breathless with excitement.

‘Bring round the car at once, Jerry, put on your uniform and load your gun, there may be fighting in store for us. The Whiteboys are expected in the town to-night.’ Jerry grinned with delight at the prospect of a shindy, for he was a soldier in his master’s regiment of militia.

In less than a quarter of an hour the car was at the door, and master and servant, both, armed, but with large top boots concealing their uniforms, mounted one on each side, and away rattled the old jaunting car down the avenue. ‘God bring you back safe to me again, darling,’ had been Annie’s last words as she had been bravely struggling to  keep back the tears that would glisten in her eyes as she bade good-bye. As Mr Fitzgerald looked back up the avenue to wave a last farewell, he saw his wife still standing on the terrace. The last rays of the setting sun were falling on her sweet face and crimsoning the long curls of her hair tossed back from her brow, as she held one child high in air to kiss its hand to papa, and the other child clung timidly to her dress. Mr. Fitzgerald never forgot that scene, for his wife’s hair was grey ere she stood on that terrace again.

When the car had disappeared Mrs Fitzgerald went into the house and occupied herself busily till night came on; determined not to give way to her sorrow and anxiety. The elder of the two children, little Aileen, had. been feverish and restless during the day and her mother determined to keep the child with herself for the night. Before retiring to rest, Annie drew back the curtains of her window, and looked out. The wind had risen, and heavy masses of cloud swept across the sky, obscuring at intervals the light of the newly risen moon. All seemed quiet in the direction of the distant town, and breathing one more prayer for her husband’s safety, Annie lay down to sleep. An hour or two later Aileen awoke, and became more and more restless in spite of the medicine and cooling drink administered by her mother, till finding sleep impossible, Mrs Fitzgerald rose and throwing on a long white dressing-gown, sat down in aa armchair by the bed-side, prepared for a night watch. After a time little Aileen cried for more ‘nice drink,’ but there were no more lemons in the room so Annie, giving the little girl the last drop left in the tumbler, told her to be quiet and be a good child while mama went to fetch some for her. Then, drawing back the curtains that the child might see the moonlight, Mrs Fitzgerald took the candle and left the room.

Having descended to the dining-room, and finding no lemons on the sideboard, Annie suddenly remembered that there were some in a pantry which opened off the kitchen, and at once she hurried there to get them. As she left the dining-room a draught, by the shutting of the door, blew out her candle.

‘This is unfortunate!’ said Annie to herself ‘especially as I have no matches. However, it is moonlight so I can grope my way to the kitchen where I shall find both matches and candles on the chimney piece.’ So leaving her own candle on the Hall table, she hurried down the long dark passage leading to the kitchen. Mrs. Fitzgerald had told her husband truly that she was not afraid, for personal fear had really never crossed her mind, and her only personal anxiety was lest the child should become frightened at her long absence.

On opening the door, Annie found the kitchen almost in total darkness. Only a few streaks of light only, lay across the floor, the moon being half obscured at the moment. The rest of the floor was darkened by heavy shadows from the shrubbery. As she groped her way to the chimneypiece Mrs. Fitzgerald for the first time, experienced a sensation of awe and loneliness, aptly turned eerie and this feeling increased when, after searching on the chimneypiece (where, she knew the cook always kept her matches, she could find none. She was still standing in the deep black shade thrown by some shrubs across the upper end of the kitchen, when the moon suddenly emerged, bright and clear, from behind the clouds and all the floor before her lay in one broad expanse of soft and silvery light, crossed by bars of shadow.

Delighted at the sudden change Annie looked up, and out of the barred windows, looked up—and saw at every window human faces—faces, that looked white and ghastly in the moonlight, pressed against the bars, fierce eyes that seemed to be piercing that corner of black shadow where one white speck appeared—faces that were cruel, coarse and brutal! eyes that haunted Annie to her dying day.

The shock was so great, that for one instant her heart and brain seemed turned to stone, she could not breathe or stir. Then, like a lightening flash, the whole truth burst upon. her. ‘The Whiteboys the cruel Whiteboys they will kill us all! they will burn down the house,’ but then the first thought of the woman’s heart was ‘my children ! Oh god! save my children,’ and in that brief moment an agonized though silent prayer went up to Him. who, heareth in the time of trouble.’ But she must act as well as pray, and what can she do? Poor Annie! surely terror must have driven her mad! Loosening the knot of her black hair till it fell in waving masses to her waist, throwing her arms above her head,  and there clasping and wringing her hands and uttering one long low wail of agony she suddenly emerged into the light. Those hardy men were terror stricken at the sight; some with a cry of horror turned and fled, others hid their eyes and whispered to their companions behind them; for fast as those faces disappeared from the windows others took their place, at first incredulous, but soon on all there came the same blank look of awe and dread. Truly they saw a weird sight!

What was that ghostly, awful figure wandering up and down, and round and round that gloomy vaulted room, keeping her lonely watch at dead of night. White feet gleaming on the cold stone floor, white garments floating to the ground! Pale hands, now folded patiently upon her breast, now wrung as if in bitter agony! A white and ghastly face! whose fixed blue eyes gazed at them, with such a wild and mournful, but yet stony gaze, that the bravest amongst that murderous band, shuddered as they looked: and ever and anon, there rang out upon the breathless silence, that shrill and mournful keen, that wailing deathsong which thrills the Irish heart.

What could this be but the Banshee?—the ‘Banshee of the Fitzgeralds!’ that sad spirit who appears only to announce the approaching death of one of that family which she loves and guards; and who mourns bitterly over the fate which she alone foresees, but has not power to avert. Woe to the man, who disturbs that spirit in her night watch or who interrupts her ‘keen’ of sorrow

There were amongst those men however, some more determined and less superstitious than the rest, and although even they, dared not enter the house which that spirit walked, yet they said ‘Let us wait a while perhaps she will disappear soon, and then we must make haste, seize what we can, and burn the house down.’ And Annie heard them!

The band retreated to the glen, from whence two or three of the boldest returned at intervals to look in; but the spirit walked still! still wept and wailed, and wrung her hands only each time they came, the wail was lower and feebler, the step slower and more solemn. At last the boldest gave way, and came no more. For the Irish peasant will face danger in any earthly form, but let the terror take a ghostly shape and he is the veriest coward! With gloomy fears and lowered voices, the baffled Whiteboys slowly slunk away and disappeared down the glen.

Annie Fitzgerald unfortunately, did not know that the men she feared had gone at last, and she still dreaded their return. It was past midnight when she had left her room that night, and now the clock was striking three. The moon sank down below the verge of the horizon, but a faint light still lingered on the sky, and so the Banshee walked still! near to the windows, where the glimmer of her white garments might be seen; only the wail had ceased at last. The voice was gone indeed she walked mechanically now. The faint red gleam of early dawn appeared. The chirping of the awakening birds sounded from the shrubberies. Slowly, oh, how slowly, the blessed light of day crept up the eastern horizon, bringing release to a brave weary creature whose strength was well-nigh exhausted. Then, only, did Annie feel that she was saved. She knew that the Whiteboys dare not wait for daylight, and so, casting one last shuddering look at those barred windows, she left the kitchen, and walked steadily down the long passage. When she reached the foot of the staircase, strength failed her, brave Annie gave way at last and fell senseless on the floor. There the servants found her a short time afterwards. Roused by the crying of little Aileen, the nurse had run down to her mistress’ room, where she found the child alone, crying out for her mama who she said had left her ‘such a long long time ago.’

Fortunately little Aileen must have fallen asleep immediately after her mother had left the room, and had not awakened till daylight appeared. Nurse calling down the other servants, immediately went in search of her mistress, and was horrified to see the white heap lying at the foot of the staircase. They carried Annie to her bed, and tended her lovingly till her husband’s return a little later, when he found his wife, whom he had left so bright and well, senseless and speechless Immediately Jerry was despatched for the doctor and also to bring the parents of Mrs. Fitzgerald, who lived a few miles away. The servants could give no reason for the condition in which they had found their mistress, and all seemed most mysterious. Presently, however, the cook ran up to say that there were numerous footsteps outside the kitchen, as if a number of men had come up from the glen and returned thither. Mr Fitzgerald at once suspected that the Whiteboys, instead of attacking the town made their way to his house, and that the letter to the sheriff had been only part of a plot to mislead him and others; for no alarm or attack had occurred in the town during the past night. Before the doctor arrived Mrs Fitzgerald recovered consciousness sufficiently to relate with tolerable clearness what had happened. This enabled her husband to send messages to the town giving information as to the direction the band had taken their steps having been traced after leaving the glen.

Very brief was poor Annie’s gleam of intelligence; she soon relapsed into unconsciousness again, and a severe illness followed. For weeks she lay in brain fever, struggling with dreadful phantasies, haunted incessantly by those faces and eyes, and wailing on monotonously that dolorous ‘keen’ she had often practised in her merry childhood, but which now wrung the hearts of the loving watchers by her bedside learning, as they did, from her ravings, all the concentrated agony which she had endured on that dreadful night. But if the wife had prayed earnestly for her husband in his hour of danger, so now his prayers for her were answered; and Annie recovered to be more than ever the beloved wife, mother, and daughter, and in addition to become henceforward the heroine of the county.

The long hair which had played its part was shaved off during her illness, and when Annie’s locks grew again, they were grey. But some thought this only added to the beauty of the sweet face, which, had grown more thoughtful and grave then of yore. Many years passed ere Mrs Fitzgerald could be persuaded to relate her story to any but her husband. As the terror and suffering of that night passed away in the past, she would occasionally, however, tell the tale to some of her children and dear friends at their very earnest request.

It seemed to her, she said, as if in immediate answer to her prayer for help, that thought had come into her mind. By a sudden inspiration, knowing as she did the superstition of the Irish poor, and knowing how mysterious and ghostly she must appear in that lonely room at dead of night, she had acted—for the very last time in her life—the part of Banshee and strength had been mercifully given her to bear a mental strain for three long hours, which might well have driven her mad.

Soon after Mrs Fitzgerald’s recovery, the band of Whiteboys, which had threatened Kilbally—— House, was captured by two and threes, having dispersed about the country. It appeared that Con Burke, inspired by revenge, had induced them to attack his late landlord’s house, informing them that there were plate and jewels of great value in the house (an invention of his own) and rousing their indignation against Mr. Fitzgerald as a ‘tyrant’ Landlord and, a ‘heritic.’ As those Whiteboys were all from a different part of Ireland, they believed him, their only aim indeed, being plunder and destruction. All the men acknowledged the terror they had felt at sight of the ghost!

Most of the prisoners wore transported. Only a few of the greatest criminals amongst them suffered death, but from that time, the district remained quiet and Mr. Fitzgerald enjoyed many happy years in peace with the noble woman whose courage had saved to him his wife, his children, and his home.

Auckland Star, 27 May 1876: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  While this story was published in the 1870s, the “Whiteboys” protested the injustices of landlords in the 1760s. The authoress, with a romanticised view of the Irish countryside, voices some unfortunate common prejudices about the “superstitions” of the “peasants,” as well as a bit of dismissiveness for the lower orders.

The “keen” or caoine was the Irish funeral lamentation uttered at wakes and funerals. It was, indeed, heart-breaking. Here is an early 20th-century description:

The cries of lamentation usually take the form of questions which are asked in a half-singing, half-reciting and sobbing voice. “Mo cushla machree (pulse of my heart), why did you die from me ? Wasn’t it you that was the best of husbands and fathers, giving joy to all that knew you, and wouldn’t those that love you go through fire and water to save a hair of your head from being hurt ? ” The piercing wail of a mother for a favourite son is most heartrending to hear. “Ah, Michael, mo ville astore (my ten thousand treasures), sure your like was not to be found on all the broad acres of Ireland, and your death has cast a shadow on the country that no sun will ever disperse.”

The Banshee or Bean Sidhe is the Irish death messenger. She may appear as an old woman washing the bloody clothes of the soon-to-be-dead or as a younger woman with long red hair. She keens or wails in the manner of Irish mourners, announcing an imminent death.  The Fitzgeralds as well as the O’Neills, the O’Donnells, and the O’Briens, were among the ancient families of Ireland said to have their own personal banshees. It was said that the banshee might even cross the water to wail for members of those families who had sailed to America.

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

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

 

A Touching Tribute to a Wife: 1872

A Touching Obituary

A disconsolate husband [who also happens to be the editor of a local newspaper] thus bewails the loss of his wife, and apostrophizes her memory:

Thus my wife died. No more will those loving hands pull of my boots and part my back hair, as only a true wife can. No more will those willing feet replenish the coal hod and water pail. No more will she arise amidst the tempestuous storms of winter, and gladly hie herself away to build the fire without disturbing the slumbers of the man who doted on her so artlessly. Her memory is embalmed in my heart of hearts. I wanted to embalm her body, but I found I could embalm her memory much cheaper.

I procured of Eli Mudget, a neighbor of mine, a very pretty gravestone. His wife was consumptive, and he had kept it on hand several years, in anticipation of her death. But she rallied that Spring and his hopes were blasted. Never shall I forget the poor man’s grief when I asked him to part with it. “Take it, Skinner,” said he, “and may you never know what it is to have your soul racked with disappointment, as mine has been!” and he burst into a flood of tears. His spirit was indeed utterly broken.

I had the following epistle engraved upon her gravestone: “To the memory of Tabitha, wife of Moses Skinner, Esq. gentlemanly editor of the Trombone. Terms three dollars a year invariably in advance. A kind mother and exemplary wife. Office over Coleman’s grocery, up two flights of stairs. Knock hard. ‘We shall miss thee, mother, we shall miss thee.’ Job printing solicited.”

Thus did my lacerated spirit cry out in agony, even as Rachel weeping for her children. But one ray of light penetrated the despair of my soul. The undertaker took his pay in job printing, and the sexton owed me a little account I should not have gotten any other way. Why should we pine at the mysterious ways of Providence and vicinity? (Not a conundrum.) I here pause to drop a silent tear to the memory of Tabitha Ripley, that was. She was an eminently pious woman, and could fry the best piece of tripe I ever flung under my vest. Her pick-up dinners were a perfect success, and she always doted on foreign missions.

Camden [NJ] Democrat 27 April 1872: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A touching tribute, indeed. It is not just any woman who can fry tripe to perfection, although Mr Skinner is ambiguous about whether the tripe was within his person or tucked under the vest until he could feed it to the dog.

Widowers were a pathetic lot. Sometimes they would go to any length to procure a monument for their lost loved one.

A Sorrowing Widower

A fellow living on the Indiana shore of the Ohio river, near Vevay, Indiana, having recently lost his wife, crossed in a boat to the Kentucky side, visited a grave yard there and stole a tombstone, which he placed over the remains of his lamented better half. Public Ledger [Philadelphia, PA] 19 June 1860: p. 1

This widower was late to the party, but better late than never…

THE TOMBSTONE

Meant a Good Deal and He Wanted It Right Away.

[New York Journal]

A countryman entered the office of a dealer in monuments.

“I want a stone to put at the grave of my wife,” he said.

“About what size and price?”

“I don’t know. Susan was a good woman. A trifle sharp, mebbe, at times, but she was a good woman and never got tired of working. Just seemed to sort of faded away. She brought me a tidy sum when I married her, and now I want to put up a stone that her children and me kin be proud of.”

“Did she die recently?” asked the dealer, sympathetically.

“Not so very. It will be five years next month. I thought to put up a stone sooner, but I’ve been too busy. Now I’ve got around to it, and want one right away.”

“Well, here’s a book of designs. Select what you think will suit you.”

“I don’t know much about such things, and you are in the business. I’d rather you would take $50 and do the best you can. I want sumthin’ showy. I’ll tell you how it is, and then you’ll know the kind. I want to marry the Widder Scroggs, and I heerd she said that I was too mean to even put a stone at the grave of my first wife, when she brought me all of my property. Put a stone that will catch the eye of a wider and write a nice verse on it. If $50 ain’t enough and you are sure a little more will help me with the wider put it on, and I’ll make it right soon as I marry her. She’s got a heap of property, and while it seems a lot of money to put in a stone, I reckon the chances are with it.” And the sorrow-stricken widower paid $50 and inquired where he could get a present cheap that would suit a widow. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 21 November, 1896: p. 12

Such little attentions to a late wife’s grave did not go unnoticed:

A Kansas woman fell in love and married a widower for no other reason, so she said, than that he took such excellent care of his first wife’s grave. Kansas City [MO] Star 2 April 1924: p. 26

One might do worse than to use a widower’s care-taking qualities as a benchmark when choosing a mate, although bedding plants and granite or slate slabs require a good less attention than a wife.

You may read more about widowers, tombstones, and mourning in 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.

 

Bad Taste in Funeral Flowers: 1895-1914

1906 Floral Tribute for a member of the Elks.

1906 Floral Tribute for a member of the Elks.

To-day, Mrs Daffodil (since she cannot exactly say that she is “pleased to welcome”) once again yields the floor to that funereal person over at Haunted Ohio, Chris Woodyard.  One supposes it is useless to suggest a change of climate, subject, or temperament to a writer so entrenched in the subfusc world of Victorian mourning, but Mrs Daffodil will gently note that a holiday in some sunny Mediterranean country might be cheering.  Mrs Woodyard will address the history of grave concerns over grotesqueries in funeral flowers.

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Flowers are an appropriate symbol for the excesses of the Victorian funeral. Newspapers documenting large funerals would note the details of these sometimes bizarre floral arrangements and their donors as if keeping score and setting a societal standard for the next bereaved family. The florists claimed that floral excess was a result of customer demand; the public, in turn, said that the pressure arose from over-zealous florists. There were also dark whispers about innocent flowers being tortured into strange and unnatural shapes.

Some trade journals made an effort to stem the tide of truly hideous design by publishing the damning details of floral tributes that they felt were beyond the pale. A Chicago correspondent to The Garden minced no words about current trends:

Floral Gargoyles.

 Here, in America, is the home of the grotesque as well as of the picturesque. Aristocracy and democracy jostle each other, and aristocracy gets the worst of it. We had a bad boiler explosion here lately, and among the emblems sent to a victim’s funeral was a floral clock set for the hour of the explosion! A theatrical treasurers’club sent a floral pass, ‘Admit one.’ Let us hope it was recognised. Gates ajar, open windows with plaster doves thereon, and tawdry wire frames showing through pillows of red and yellow flowers, all tend to vulgarise funerals, and to inspire the words ‘no flowers.’ When the city council is inaugurated, then are the florists busy. Gigantic keys, Indian clubs, desks, chairs, all are on hand, all of natural flowers distorted to suit perverted tastes. We need a renaissance in art to strike the florists here, and strike them hard. The Garden 1 June 1901: p. 385

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Funeral “set pieces” generally fell into several categories: wreaths, pillows, and sprays—and, said the critics, monstrosities. Some of the latter had evocative titles and florist supply catalogues carried wire frames to create the more elaborate arrangements such as “Faith, Hope, and Charity,” (an anchor, cross, and heart) “The Sad Hour” (a floral clock); “The Broken Wheel,” “The Harp,” (or lyre) and “Gates Ajar,” an exceptionally popular design. Stuffed doves, often used to accessorize the “Gates Ajar” arrangements, could be purchased or leased.

"Gates Ajar" arrangement topped with a star.

“Gates Ajar” arrangement topped with a star.

For this next story of a client who desired a floral horse’s head with real glass eyes, I’m afraid I do not have an illustration. Perhaps these rather ghastly arrangements for deceased members of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks will give an idea of what the ultimate effect might have been.

A floral arrangement given by the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks for a deceased member. 1906

A floral arrangement given by the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks for a deceased member. 1914

elks-head-funeral-flowers

1906 Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks floral tribute.

 

A short time ago a certain prominent and popular business man of Cleveland died after a short illness. A day or two prior to his demise one of his business associates went into a florist’s establishment and made some inquiries concerning funeral flowers, and finally placed an order that to his mind embodied all the desirable attributes of such a piece of work. It was to be emblematic of the business in which the deceased had been engaged, and it had occurred to the would-be purchaser that nothing could better represent that idea, than a floral horse’s head! But being a far-seeing business man, accustomed to keeping his eagle eye on the dim and uncertain future, and knowing that such a novel and original design might present some difficulties to a florist when it came to working out the idea, he had thought it best to take time by the forelock and get things moving in good season! The unhappy florist dodged the issue as long as possible by suggesting that the man might get well, but without success. The businessman knew what he wanted and pretty nearly when he wanted it and so the florist had to go ahead with the monstrosity. It seems to me that for downright grim, ghastly, provident, cold-blooded unsentimentality this party is entitled to the pie foundry. But about the time that a sufficient quantity of black cloth had been laid in, and whilst the florist was racking his brain to obtain a life-like wire frame and fiery and spirited glass eyes to go with the same, the order was changed for something not quite so startling. Possibly the man of unique ideas was sat upon by his colleagues. The American Florist 8 June 1895: p. 1148

The employees of the Postum Cereal Company did not have far to look to find inspiration for a floral tribute for the company founder:

Floral tribute for Charles W. Post, founder of the Postum Cereal Company.

Floral tribute for Charles W. Post, founder of the Postum Cereal Company.

Among the set pieces [at the funeral of Charles W. Post] none attracted more attention or expressed more sincere love than the floral piece given by the employes of the Postum Cereal Company. This is the piece we mentioned first, and which is shown here. The design was made to represent the little barn in which he first began making his food products in 1895. This little white building was carefully cherished by its late owner, and still stands in the beautiful grounds surrounding the Postum Cereal Company’s administration building and general offices at Battle Creek, and is always pointed out to visitors as the place where the business began. Doubtless many of our readers have visited the Postum plant and have seen this little building. The floral design was an especially difficult one to bring out because of the demands of perspective. The piece was made by S.W. Coggan, florist, Battle Creek. It measured 6x5x2 feet, and in its construction 2,285 flowers were used. The background was dark pink carnations; the barn proper white carnations. The outlines and roof were of forget-me-nots; the frame effect of American Beauties, adiantum and asparagus green. Corners of frame over roof, Easter lilies, lilies of the valley and pink Killarney roses. The piece bore the inscription, “From his Employes”

The American Florist, Vol. 42 23 May 1914: p. 936

This “bag-man’s” traveling valise was railed against in 1903, yet was still being included in the pages of funeral flower albums in 1914.

freak-traveling-bag-funeral-flowers

Freak Floral Designs

As an example of how not to do it, the accompanying illustration of a floral traveling bag may be worth a place. The design from which the photograph was taken was made by the Iowa Floral Co., Des Moines, for some local traveling men and gave great satisfaction. The body was of Enchantress carnations, the ribs on top and ends of Lawson, while the handle was of violets.

When an order of this kind comes along it has to be filled, but such freak things are in every way to be deprecated. They are a good deal of trouble to make and use a lot of stock lessening the retailers’ profit unless a very big price is paid. But as to anything pretty or artistic there is absolutely nothing in them. It is not even possible to see a good flower in the whole thing for the carnations are cut short and stemmed and packed just as thickly as possible together. It is devoid of all beauty and no retailers with a sense of the artistic or the uplifting of the trade at heart will encourage the making of such flat, ugly and unprofitable things. As hinted above retailers have not always the last word on such points but the making of this class of goods should be discouraged as far as possible. How much more satisfactory in every way would a pretty wreath or other design be than this, supposing the same amount of money was spent. This kind of “art” is best left to the candy makers and confectioners. It is unworthy the attention of florists.

The American Florist: A weekly journal for the trade, 23 January 1909: p. 1290

The demand for special funeral emblems applicable to the vocation of the deceased oftimes taxes the inventive genius of the florist, and some of the pieces suggested by the surviving friends frequently seem very ridiculous. A butcher in our vicinity, being in condition for a funeral, one of his intimate friends came to order a floral offering and insisted on its being in the form of a cleaver. It occurred to me that such an implement was hardly the proper thing. But no one could tell the road he went or the conditions he would encounter at the end of his route. Perhaps it was the very thing he would need.

A commercial traveler having been assigned a new territory, in the unknown world, I was asked to make a floral grip for his funeral ornamentation, by some of his friends. Did he die of the grip, I asked. Oh, no! but as his satchel was his constant companion, one said, we thought it would be a very appropriate emblem for this sad occasion. Alright, I replied, it shall be made, but will I fill it with light underwear, or do you think something heavier would be needed? Not knowing his destination, they failed to advise, so as a precaution, the man being an acquaintance of mine, I filled the grip with wet moss, which you know has a very cooling effect.

American Florist, Volume 21 1903

And how I wish I had a photograph of this postmaster’s novel floral tribute. Truly something for the dead-letter office!

A Novel Floral Design.

P.R. Quinlan & Co., Syracuse, N.Y., made a novel floral piece, the gift of the employes of the Syracuse post office in memory of Edwin H. Maynard, assistant postmaster. It was a 4-foot panel 24×42 inches containing a canceled envelope. The stamp was in pale colored Lawsons and the cancellation which bore the date of his death was in small blue chenille lettering. Upon the floral letter where the address is usually placed was the inscription, “To our beloved assistant postmaster.” The outline of the envelope was maroon carnations representing the envelope in mourning. The groundwork of the panel was Enchantress carnations trimmed with roses, lilies and swainsona. A.J.B.

The American Florist 30 June 1905: p. 1044

1914 seems to have been a particularly fertile year for bad taste in funeral flowers. Here are a few unusually elaborate specimens:

sad-hours-clock-and-doves-funeral-flowers

This “Sad Hours” arrangement is fully seven feet high.

immense-lyre-funeral-flowersa

To judge by the cupboards on the right, this lyre arrangement is at least five feet high.

Fraternal orders, trade unions, and vocational groups often clubbed together to provide floral tributes with the appropriate theme.

his-last-alarm-fireman-funeral-flowersa design-for-master-house-painters-funeral-flowersa 174a-floral-chair-funeral-flowersa

I cannot read the lettering on the floral chair above–it looks as though someone draped foliage and moss over an actual swiveling office chair and wired on a stuffed dove. Possibly the writing says “Our Mayor?” or “Our Mary?”  Another in the “floral chair” genre was labeled “The Vacant Seat.”

Garish as these arrangements are, they pale by comparison with this last example, a floral tribute to a man whose life was cut short in a terrible accident.

Derrick funeral flowers.

Derrick funeral flowers.

THE PENULTIMATE DESIGN.

In the collection of unique designs, the one shown in the illustration on page 11 is entitled to a place at the front. It represents a derrick in flowers made by Lester F. Benson, an Indianapolis florist, on the order of a committee representing the Structural Iron Workers of America, for one of their members who was killed as a result of his gauntlet catching on the hook as the engine started. The man was lifted thirty feet from the ground before his cry, “Slack down,” was heard, and before the order could be obeyed the glove slipped from his hand, resulting in a fall which broke his neck. The design was made sectionally, to work the same as a real derrick, and the committee insisted on the florist placing a glove on the hook!

Of course no florist maintains that such a design is in anything but the most execrable taste; such gruesomeness is an utter perversion of the idea which prompts the sending of flowers to a funeral. The flowers should carry a message of sympathy, and by their purity and beauty should speak of the life beyond, should contain no suggestion of mundane things, least of all a reference to the route of departure of “the late lamented.” The derrick design appears to be just one step removed from the limit. The man who wishes to accomplish the ultimate no doubt will make for a murder victim some such design as the following: Take two clothing-store wire dummies; fit them out with suits of flowers, instead of cloth; raise the arms of each, one figure leaning forward in the act of firing a flower pistol; bring the left hand of the other toward where a man’s heart is supposed to be, and the right hand to his uplifted head; lean this figure backward. Mount the two figures, in the relationship that will suggest itself, on a base of boxwood or galax and there will be nothing further that can be demanded of the florist, unless with such a design the widow fails to survive the shock.

For the florist who makes monstrosities in flowers it is to be said: Hardly any florist has so poor a conception of the uses of flowers that he suggests any such designs; the florist nearly always simply is carrying out the instructions he receives from his customers, and must either do this or see an order involving a goodly sum go to a competitor. Florists are like others—they are likely to do that which they are best paid for doing, but it is in line for every florist to do something toward turning customers to better things in flowers.

The Weekly Florists’ Review 20 April 1911: p. 10

So much for the customer always being right…

Still, one suspects that, despite the florists’ repeated and bitter condemnation of bad taste, there was money to be made by catering to the vulgar whims of the customer.

These set-piece shaped floral arrangements began falling out of favor around the time of the First World War when Victorian mourning conventions were thought to be less relevant in the face of so many deaths. Immense and garish floral tributes still had their place—at the funerals of gangsters and film stars, but by the mid-1920s they were considered thoroughly old-fashioned.  The only pieces I’ve seen recently which seem to carry on the tradition of shaped floral tributes are U.S. flag panels and floral rosaries designed to hang inside the casket lid.  I have not had the opportunity to ask any modern florists if they ever get requests for flower lyres or for  “Gates Ajar,” but in this Age of Individualism, I suspect that there are still orders for the unorthodox and highly personalized funeral arrangement, sans the stuffed doves.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is sure that we are all very grateful to Mrs Woodyard for revealing these examples of vulgarity in funeral flowers, thus enabling us to avoid embarrassing faux pas at our own obsequies.

For more on funeral flowers, see these posts: “No Flowers” and Corsets and Beer Wagons: Floral Vulgarities, which also appear in 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.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

 

The Mourning Droop: 1931

vogue-vol-59-widow-garden-dress

A MOURNING DROOP

A pretty mannequin who appeared in a Berlin Court to sue her employers for wrongful dismissal saw her case turn out happily, says the “Daily Mail.”

It was admitted that she was a great success in the mourning department of the establishment in which she was employed, but it was alleged that she was an utter failure when transferred to the frivolous department for evening frocks.

“It is difficult to wear evening gowns in the daytime successfully if one is dancing all night in an evening frock,” was her reply.

The manager dismissed her as a pleasure-loving trifler.

“The truth is, I have sacrificed myself for the business,” she said to the Judge.

“When I began in the mourning department, the manager told me that I killed the dresses with my cheerful face and merry expression, and suggested that if I danced half the night I should have an appropriately weary expression.

“I took him at his word and had a wonderful time night after night, with the result that I was almost dropping with fatigue during the day.

“I drooped so beautifully that people bought freely the expensive Paris models which I wore.”

The Judge thought over this singular story.

“I suggest,” he said to the manager, “that you take this young woman back and put her again, in the mourning department.”

The manager consented, and the pretty mannequin looked delighted at the prospect of dancing gaily all night and drooping plaintively in black gowns all day.”

Evening Post, 28 February 1931: p. 22

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil suspects that the pretty mannequin shortly danced her last dance and drooped her last droop unless she was able to carved out some time for wholesome slumber.

Selling mourning goods required sympathy, tact, and a fine sense of propriety to appeal to the vanity of the bereaved who were supposed to just then be thinking that “all is vanity.” It was essential to find a shop-girl with exactly the right temperament to serve in the mourning department: not so lively that the bereft were disheartened; not so melancholy that they despaired of purchasing

In another store in Fifth Avenue a handsome girl had been saleswoman in the fancy lace section for two years. Her record was admirable until she was transferred to the mourning counter early in the third year. The sales at the mourning counter immediately fell off and the manager started an investigation.

Going down the aisle one morning he noticed this girl with a customer. The customer was robed in deep black and was evidently depending on the girl to sustain her interest in the goods she needed, but the girl was answering inquiries in an absolutely perfunctory manner, with her eyes glued to a bargain table in the next aisle where a sale of laces was advertised. At a question sharply put by her customer she turned her attention to her own counter, and the manager caught the look of distaste and hatred which she flung upon the black things which surrounded her.

This girl disliked mourning, sorrow, death and all things connected with them. She had never known any particular trouble, had a desire for the gay bright colors and things of life, and refused to consider anything but her own needs. She had no sympathy with the black robed mourners who came to her. The manager, being a far-sighted mortal, saw this and realized the girl’s capacities in another branch. He put her at the colored goods counter and sales looked up. 

Crerand’s Cloak Journal, October 1912: p. 166

You will find more information on mourning costumes and customs in 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.