Category Archives: Mourning

Rings that are Fatal: Various Dates

RINGS THAT ARE FATAL.

Amazing Stories New and Old.

“A learned German physician,” says a well-known writer upon jewels, “has given an instance in which the devil of his own accord enclosed himself in a ring as a familiar, thereby proving how dangerous it is to trifle with him.”

The Germans are all learned, as we know, and I should not like to dispute a statement so admirable. Finger-rings henceforth should have a new interest for as. The idea that the devil is bottled up in one may not be pleasant to entertain but then we have the German’s word for it, and Germans know everything.

If I do not feel inclined, however, to enter upon such a controversy, as is here suggested, none the less do I, as a jeweller, realise the potency of the superstitions connected with precious stones. Until the last two years, the opal— most beautiful, most lustrous, most wonderful of gems was almost a drug in the popular market. As well might you have sent a woman a letter edged with black to congratulate her upon her marriage as an opal for her wedding present. The prejudice arose, of course, from the old superstition that the opal is fatal to love, and that it sows discord between the giver and the receiver unless the wearer, happily, was born in October. In the latter case the stone becomes an emblem of hope and will bring luck to the wearer.

But, I hear you ask, is all this serious? Are you not rather joking, or speaking of the few and not of the many? I answer that I am as serious as ever I was in my life. Not only did we find it almost an impossibility five years ago to sell an opal at all, but the few women courageous enough to wear them in society contributed in the end to their unpopularity. I remember well a leader of fashion who for 12 months was conspicuous everywhere for the magnificence of the opals she wore, both upon her arms and her fingers. One day she came into my shop and bought an opal ring of immense size and singular magnificence.

“I am determined to kill this superstition,” she said, “and I am buying this ring because I am sure it will bring me luck.”

“I hope it will,” said I, “and if it should do so I trust that you will speak of it. The opal is sadly in need of a good word. I feel sure that nobody can speak that word to greater advantage than yourself.”

She promised that she would; and during the next three months she was loud in her conviction that the opal had been the best friend she had ever bought. Her husband doubled his fortune in that time. Her son obtained conspicuous honours at Cambridge. She backed the favourite for the Derby and he won. It really looked, even to the man of no superstitions, as though a freshet of fortune had flowed for her since the day she bought the ring.

Alas! how soon her hopes were to be shattered. Two months after her horse won the Derby her husband was in the bankruptcy court, a victim in a high degree of the Liberator [a famous race horse.]

It would be absurd and ridiculous, of course, for any sane man to regard the case as a post hoc ergo propter hoc. The event was a pure coincidence; yet nothing in this world would induce the lady in question to regard that ring otherwise than as a fatal one. We may say what we like, but once a woman has dubbed this or that lucky or unlucky, the homilies of a thousand bishops would not change her opinion. Witness that remarkable story told in the “Lives of the Lindsays,” in which we are shown how the Earl of Balcarres, forgetting on the morning of his wedding his appointment to marry the grand daughter of the Prince of Oxaxute, went hurriedly to church at the last moment without the all-necessary ring. This, of course, was a sad position for anybody to be in, and the young man appealed pathetically to the company to know if the deficiency could not be made good. Happily, or rather most unhappily, the best man standing at his side suddenly remembered that he had a ring in his pocket, and he slipped it into the earl’s hand just as the service began. Was it not a strange thing that this should have been a mourning ring, and that, when the happy bride ventured to look down upon her finger, she saw a skull and crossbones grinning at her? So great was her distress that she fainted in the church and when she came to she declared that it was an omen of death, and that she would not live through the year. And did she? the matter-of-fact man asks expectantly. Alas! twelve months were not numbered before Lady Balcarres was in her grave!

byron's mother's wedding ring Newstead Abbey

Byron’s mother’s wedding ring, Newstead Abbey

It is necessary at this point to tell you a story with a happier ending, lest the superstitious man should have it all his own way. It is said of Lord Byron that he was about to sit down to dinner one day when a gardener presented him with his mother’s wedding ring, which the man had just dug up in the garden before a wing of the house. Byron was at that time expectantly awaiting a letter from Miss Millbanke a letter which was to contain an answer to his proposal of marriage. When he saw the ring which the gardener brought him, he fell into a fit of deep gloom, regarding it as a sign of woeful omen but scarce had this depression come upon him when a servant entered with a letter from the lady. She accepted the poet.

There is another story told by the late Professor de Morgan I think it appeared in “Notes and Queries” which relates an instance of a page who fled to America simply because he lost a ring which he was carrying to the jeweller. The stone was an opal, if I remember rightly. The lights of it had so impressed the lad when he saw it upon his mistress’s finger that he stopped upon the plank bridge crossing the stream in his town, and took the jewel out of the box to admire it. But his fingers were clumsy, and in his attempt to try the ring on he let it slip into the river. Two years after in America he told the story, and related how that the ring had driven him to the condition of a miserable serf in the plantations. He did not know then that his condition was soon to be changed, and that diligence and hard work were to carry him to such a position of affluence that at the end of 20 years he returned to this country and to his native town. On the night of his arrival be went with a friend. to the old bridge, and recalled his misfortune there.

“It was in that very spot,” said he, thrusting his stick into the soft mud of the river, “that I dropped the ring.”

“But look!” cried the friend, “you have a ring upon the end of your stick!”

Sure enough, incredible though it may sound, the very ring he had dropped into the river 20 years before was now upon the end of the muddy stick.

Some people may be inclined to take this story with a grain of salt. Personally I am willing to think that Professor de Morgan and “Notes and Queries” would not have fathered upon us a mere bundle of lies. For the matter of that, there are cases as marvellous of the recovery of rings in nearly every town in England. At Brechin they will tell you of a Mrs Mountjoy who, when feeding a calf, let it suck her fingers, and with them a ring she wore. When this animal was slaughtered three years after, the ring was found in its intestine.

In the year 1871 a German farmer, who had been making flour balls for his cattle, missed his dead wife’s ring which he had been wearing upon his little finger. He made a great search for the treasure, holding the ring in some way necessary to his prosperity; but although he turned the house upside down, he never found it.

Seven or eight months after, this farmer shipped a number of bullocks upon the Adler cattle ship. The Adler came to port all right, but one of the bullocks had died during the voyage and been thrown overboard. Strangely enough, the carcase floated upon the sea, and was picked up by an English smack— the Mary Ann, of Colchester— the crew of which cut open the body to obtain some grease for the rigging. Did we not know that every line of this story had been authenticated, we should laugh when it is added that the farmer’s ring was found in the stomach of the derelict bullock and duly restored to its owner through the German Consul.

Here are stories of luck if you like. I will give you one also of luck which has never been told except to me and to the members of the household in which the strange occurrence took place. A lady, whose husband was a bank manager, purchased at my house some six years ago a singularly fine turquoise ring. She came to me at the end of two years and declared that the jewel in question had completely lost its colour. I saw that this was so, and told her there was no secret about the matter, but that she had washed her hands with the ring upon her finger, The turquoise, as all the world knows, should never be dipped in water. Some of the finest stones will stand the treatment, but in the majority of cases it is fatal. You would think that this was not a case for any superstitious fears, but my client was sadly troubled from the start at the omen of the ring; nor could my assurances comfort her. And oddly enough, within three months of the date of her visit to me her husband was in difficulties and had fled to America.

But this is not the end of the story of the turquoise. I had, previous to this calamity, set a new stone in the place of the old, and this jewel, being properly treated, kept its colour very well. Yet, as though that ring must prove fatal to all who wore it, it was the instrument of the capture of the lady’s husband, and of the term of imprisonment which followed on his arrest. The thing worked out in this way. For two years the fugitive remained abroad, but with that love of country which sometimes will prevail above reason, the unfortunate man returned here at last, and lay in hiding at the house which his wife had taken near Reading.

This was a rambling old place, with a decaying wing, very convenient for hiding a man. One morning the servants, who were not in the secret, found a turquoise upon the floor of a bedroom in this side of the house. As they had reason to believe that no one except themselves had been in the place for some years, they carried the ring to their mistress as a wonderful and amazing discovery. She, in her feverish desire to protect her husband, made up some cock-and-bull story which did not satisfy them. Although they had promised absolute secrecy, they made haste to tell the story in the village, where by a colossal misfortune the detective who was watching the case was even then staying. Needless to say how he pricked up his ears at the information; arguing rightly that where a ring was there a man or woman must have been. Three days later he arrested the defaulter, who had been hidden in the house all the time and had dropped the ring upon the floor of the bedroom. He had worn it on his little finger as a memento of his wife when he fled from the country, but it proved a fatal ring to him and to her.

It is scarcely within the scope of this article to write upon that vast branch of this subject which would properly come under the heading of poisoned rings. There was a story told in the French newspapers at no distant date of a man who bought an old ring in a shop in the Rue St. Honore, He was much interested in this, and was examining it closely, when he chanced to give himself a slight scratch in the hand with the edge of the ring. So slight was it that he scarce noticed it, and continued in conversation with the dealer, until of a sudden he was taken with violent pains in his body and fell in a fit upon the floor of the shop. The doctor who was summoned discovered every trace of mineral poison, and administered an antidote–happily with success, though the man suffered severely for several hours, and was at one time upon the very point of death. There is no doubt whatever that he had purchased what is called a “death ring,” a common weapon of assassination in the sixteenth century, and still to be found in the byways of Italy. The ring in question was made in the shape of two tiny lions’ claws, the nails being minute tubes from which the poison was ejected into the body. A man bearing a grudge against another would contrive to send him such a ring as a present and he would so manage it that he would meet the unlucky wearer very shortly after the present was received. It was the easiest thing in the world to give the victim a hearty shake of the hand, so squeezing the sharp claws into the flesh and administering a dose of the poison. And so skilled were the men in the manufacture of these rings that the day was rare when the victim of one lived even 10 minutes after he had received this death grip.

Otago [NZ] Witness 15 October 1896: p. 50

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has written before on those useful poisoned diamond rings with little spikes and a cursed ring formerly the property of the Spanish royal family. Various royal personages have also possessed “lucky” and “unlucky” rings as magical talismans.

Mrs Daffodil cannot accede to the author’s suggestion that Byron’s proposal to Anne Isabella Milbanke was a story with a “happier ending.”  The ill-matched couple separated shortly after their one-year anniversary and may have never seen each other again before Byron’s death in Greece in 1824.

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 anecdote

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 Countess and the Dead Queen: 1693

 

queen ulrika of sweden with four dead children

When Queen Ulrica was dead, her corpse was placed in the usual way in an open coffin, in a room hung with black and lighted with numerous wax candles; a company of the king’s guards did duty in the ante-room. One afternoon, the carriage of the Countess Steenbock [Stenbock] , first lady of the palace, and a particular favourite of the queen’s, drove up from Stockholm. The officers commanding the guard of honour went to meet the countess, and conducted her from the carriage to the door of the room where the dead queen lay, which she closed after her.

The long stay of the lady in the death-chamber caused some uneasiness; but it was ascribed to the vehemence of her grief; and the officers on duty, fearful of disturbing the further effusion of it by their presence, left her alone with the corpse. At length, finding that she did not return, they began to apprehend that some accident had befallen her, and the captain of the guard opened the door. He instantly started back, with a face of the utmost dismay. The other officers ran up, and plainly perceived, through the half-open door, the deceased queen standing upright in her coffin, and ardently embracing the countess. The apparition seemed to move, and soon after became enveloped in a dense smoke or vapour. When this had cleared away, the body of the queen lay in the same position as before, but the countess was nowhere to be found. In vain did they search that and the adjoining apartments, while some of the party hastened to the door, thinking she must have passed unobserved to her carriage; but neither carriage, horses, driver, or footmen were to be seen. A messenger was quickly despatched with a statement of this extraordinary circumstance to Stockholm, and there he learnt that the Countess Steenbock had never quitted the capital, and that she died at the very moment when she was seen in the arms of the deceased queen.

The Haunters and the Haunted, Ernest Rhys, 1921

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Queen Ulrika Eleanora of Denmark, consort of King Charles XI of Sweden, died in 1693, age 36, weakened by seven pregnancies in as many years and mourning the loss of four sons. The painting at the head of this post shows her with her lost children. She was universally beloved; her husband said at her deathbed: “Here I leave half of my heart.” He never remarried.

Maria Elisabeth Stenbock Countess Stenbock

Maria Elisabeth Stenbock (died 1693) was Mistress of the Robes to Queen Ulrika Eleanora of Denmark 1680-1693.  Portrait by David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl

A variant of this legend states that, while the queen was dying at Karlberg Palace, her favorite lady-in-waiting and Mistress of the Robes, Countess Maria Elisabeth Stenbock, lay sick in Stockholm. On the night the queen died, Countess Stenbock was seen to arrive at Karlberg and was admitted alone to the room containing the remains of the queen. The officer in charge, the splendidly-named Captain Stormcrantz, looked through the keyhole and saw the countess and the queen speaking by the window of the room. He was so shocked by the sight that he started coughing up blood. The countess, as well as her carriage, was gone in the next instant. It was found that the countess had been gravely ill in bed that day and had not left Stockholm. The King ordered that the affair be hushed up.  Countess Stenbock died of her illness several weeks later, and Captain Stormcrantz also died shortly after seeing the ghostly Queen.

 

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 anecdote

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.

Hist Went the Corpse: 1889

Baltimore and Ohio Employees magazine 1912 wake poem

A Wonderful Escape

“When I first went on the police force,” said the fat policeman to a Philadelphia North American man. “I was lucky. One of my assignments was a queer one, and I’m not likely to forget it. I was sent to the house of a man who had just died. He was well known and belonged to a good many lodges. It was a big crowd at the funeral. I was stationed at the foot of the coffin to preserve order. The shutters were closed and the gas burned dimly. The coffin lid was off and the body exposed. No one besides myself and the ‘stiff ‘ was in the room. After I’d been there awhile I began to grow uneasy. I kept looking at the dead face. I’d take my eyes off, and the first thing I’d be gazing at the body again. Suddenly the eyes opened. I thought I was dreaming. Then the left eye winked. Holy smoke!”

“’Hist went the corpse.’”

“My teeth chattered.

“‘Say, officer.’

“Goodness! The corpse sat up. ‘Ain’t you dead?’ I gasped.

“’Me, me dead?’

“’Yes.’

“’Oh, no.’

“’What are you doing there?’

“’That’s only a dodge.’

“’Dodge?”

“’Yes. I’m just now a dodger. A kind of an Artful Dodger. See?’

“’I’ll call the folks.’

“’Heavens, no. I’ll tell you. You see I wasn’t feeling well. I’ve got a mother-in-law who is a holy terror. Worse than ten parrots and the hydrophobia. Well, I’ve been trying for ten years to get rid of her. Now, I told my wife that I would simulate death, get put in a vault, be taken out again right away and sneak west. She liked the idea. I’ll be taken out tonight, go to a hotel, and I’ll meet my wife in St. Louis. In that way we’ll shake the old girl. Well, here’s a dollar. I wish you could send out and get me a little spirits’ reviver.’

“Pretty soon the folks began to come in. The supposed corpse looked as natural as life everybody said. People always say this at funerals. There is no use saying it at weddings or balls. The mother-in-law sobbed. Then she leaned over and kissed the corpse.

“’Why, John smells of whisky,’ she said.

“‘John was a beautiful drinker,’ explained the wife.”

Aberdeen [SC] Daily News 10 September 1889: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Possibly in connection with the 19th-century’s idée fixe about premature burial, we find many stories, some amusing, some grim, about corpses “waking up” or the watchers at a wake fearing that they have wakened up, such as The Corpse Sat Up, by that grave person over at Haunted Ohio. There is also an entire genre of stories about persons pretending to be dead, for example, The Corpse Counted the Coins, in which a similar scam was worked for a more mercenary reason than was admitted by John-the-beautiful-drinker above, or to induce a cruel father to relent and give his blessing to a young couple, as in The Resurrection of Willie Todd.

We can only hope that the Artful Dodger and his wife found an earthly paradise in St. Louis and that the mother-in-law did not disinherit her newly-widowed daughter when she decided to go west to Forget.  Mrs Daffodil fears that a woman worse than ten parrots and the hydrophobia would be capable of anything.

 

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.

His Third Wife: 1875

Mr. Cooley’s Third.

My neighbor Cooley married his third wife a short time ago, and the day after he came home with her his oldest boy, the son of his first wife, came into the room where she was sitting alone sewing. Placing his elbows on the table he began to be sociable. The following conversation ensued:

Boy: How long d’you expect you’ll last?

Mrs. C.: What on earth do you mean?

Boy: Why ma, she held on for about ten years. I reckon you’re good for as much as her. I hope so anyhow. I’m kinder sick of funerals. They made an awful fuss when they stowed ma away, and a bigger howl when they planted Emma. So I’d jes’ as leave you keep around awhile. But pa, he has his doubts about it.

Mrs. C.: Doubts! Tell me what you mean this instant.

Boy: Oh, nothing! On the day Emma got away, pa came home from the funeral, and when he ripped the crape off his hat he chucked it in the bureau drawer and said: “Lay there till I want you again,” so I s’pose the old man must be expectin’ you to step out some time or other. In fact, I see him conversing with the undertaker yesterday; with him, makin’ some kind of permanent contract with him, I s’pose. The old man is always huntin’ for a bargain.

Mrs. C.: You ought to be ashamed to talk of your father in that manner.

Boy:  Oh, he don’t mind it. I often hear I the fellows jokin’ him about his wives. He’s a good natured man. Anybody can get along with him if they understand him. All you’ve I got to do is to be sweet on him, and he’ll be like a lamb. Now, Emma, she used to get mad, heave a plate, or a coal scuttle, most any thing at him. And ma, she’d blow him up about 15,000 times a day; both of them would bang me till got disgusted. And pa didn’t like it. Treat me well, give me candy and money, and you’ve got pa sure. Emma used to smack me; and when pa said he was opposed to it she’d go at him with an umbrella, or flat-iron, and maul him. I guess you and me will jog along all right together, and by the time pa gets another wife I’ll be big enough not to care how many airs she puts on. What I want is time. You stick for three or four years, and then the old man can consolidate as much as he’s a mind to, and I won’t scare worth a cent. It’s only the fair thing anyway. Enough of this family’s money has been used on coffins and tombstones, and we ought to knock off for awhile. Good morning. I b’lieve I’ll go to school

Mrs. Cooley did not enjoy her honeymoon as much as she expected.

The San Francisco [CA] Examiner 8 October 1875: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Just as the nineteenth-century press made jokes about “Merry Widows” and their hunt for new husbands, the widower was shown as no less eager to remarry.

AN AMENDED EPITAPH

There is a good story going the rounds of Bishop Wilmer, a well-known United States divine. One of his friends lost a dearly beloved wife, and in his worry, caused these words to be inscribed on her tombstone: “The light of mine eyes has gone out.” The bereaved married within a year. Shortly afterwards the Bishop was walking through the graveyard with another gentleman. When they arrived at the tomb the latter asked the Bishop what he would say of the present state of affairs, in view of the words on the tombstone. “I think,” said the Bishop, “the words ‘But I have struck another match,’ should be added.”

Bay of Plenty Times, 24 February 1896: p. 3

Since wife-mortality was often high, due to childbirth, some husbands might be suspected of following in the footsteps of the infamous Bluebeard, with multiple wives sent to their doom. One can understand this new bride’s trepidation:

SHOWING HER ROUND

The widower had just taken his fourth wife, and was showing her round the village. Among the places visited was the churchyard, and the bride paused before a very elaborate tombstone that had been erected by the bridegroom. Being a little near-sighted, she asked him to read the inscriptions, and, in reverent tones he read:

“Here lies Susan, beloved wife of John Smith and Jane, beloved wife of John Smith, and Mary, beloved wife of John Smith.”

He paused abruptly, and the bride, leaning forward to see the bottom line, read to her horror:

“Be ye also ready.”

North Otago Times, 7 June 1913, Page 1

 

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.

 

Saved by the Clock: 1901

floral clock with swags 1914

1901 funeral flowers in the form of a clock. The hands point to the time of death.

CLOCK PREVENTED A BURIAL ALIVE

Girl Was Apparently Dead, but Timepiece Aroused Doubt.

IT WOULD NOT STOP

Sister Refused to Permit Burial While the Clock Ticked.

Supposed Corpse Was in a Trance and Awoke on the Fifth Day of Her Sleep.

“I am not superstitious,” said the landlady, “but there was something happened at my house about two years ago that made my flesh creep for a while, in spit of my skepticism.

“Among my boarders at that time were a widow named Mrs. Dodson, her sister, Miss Ashby, and a young man whose name was Mr. Duby. Mr. Duby was a dealer in curios. He had in his collection a number of clocks and watches, and on Miss Ashby’s birthday he made her a present of a eight-day clock. This time piece was very fine. It was about two feet high, was made of scented woods inlaid with gold, and the face, with the exception of the slits for the pendulum and the keyholes, appeared to be hermetically sealed.

“Shortly after presenting this gift to Miss Ashby Mr. Dunby left for a trip in Mexico. About 11 o’clock on the Monday after his departure I was getting ready for bed, when Mrs. Dodson tapped on the door and called to me softly through the keyhole.

“’O, Mrs. Clark,’ she said, ‘won’t you come upstairs a moment, please? Alice has been taken ill very suddenly, and I don’t know what to do for her.’

“I threw on my clothes and hurried up to Miss Ashby’s room, but, quick as I had been, it was plain that she was breathing her last. I dispatched my husband posthaste for the doctor around the corner, but before he returned the girl was gone. Mrs. Dodson and another boarder and myself were alone with her when the end came, and the minute we were assured that all was over Mrs. Dodson looked up at the clock on the mantel and said:

“’Ten minutes past eleven. I must stop the clock.’

Could Not Stop the Clock.

“She walked over and opened the painted glass door and put her hand on the pendulum, but the minute she let go it commenced ticking as loudly and regularly as before. Mrs. Dodson looked round at us in surprise.

“’Why, how strange!’ she cried. ‘It won’t stop.’

“She caught the pendulum again. Even as she held it a faint whirring noise was heard inside the clock, as if it rebelled against this restriction of movement, and no sooner was the pendulum released than it went on with its monotonous vibrations. By the time my husband came with the doctor, Mrs. Dodson had worked herself up into a fever of grief and superstitious fear.

“’It won’t stop,’ she said over and over again.

“My husband tried to comfort her. ‘If you want a clock stopped at the hour of death,’ he said, ‘we will have to get another.

“But Mrs. Dodson would not listen to that suggestion. “I must stop this one,’ she said, ‘or none at all. It has been the custom in our family for generations to stop the clock in the death chamber the minute one of us dies, and Alice would never forgive me if I should fail to do the same thing for her.’

“Seeing that her distress was genuine, my husband took the clock downstairs, and began to tinker with it himself. He turned it sideways and upside down—did everything to it, in fact, except to break it into smithereens—but, no matter how he treated it, it kept on running.

“Mrs. Dodson wept unrestrainedly. ‘It is very strange,’ she said. ‘This is the first clock I ever saw that wouldn’t stop when you wanted it to. Most of them take spells and refuse to run, but this one won’t stop running. The phenomenon is something more than mere chance. It is meant as a warning, and I am going to heed it. I am not going to bury Alice till the clock stops.’

Averted a Premature Burial.

“In vain did we argue with her. Doctors and undertakers pronounced Miss Ashby dead, but, although her body was robed for burial, Mrs. Dodson would not consent to embalming or sepulture. For four days the girl lay in her room upstairs, watched constantly by Mrs. Dodson or a trained nurse, and for four days that clock kept up its everlasting tick-tock. On the morning of the fifth day after Miss Ashby’s death Mrs. Dodson looked out as I was passing through the second floor hall and called to me excitedly.

“’I think Alice is coming to,’ she said. ‘Send for the doctor.’

“I was ready to drop with nervousness, but I managed to gather strength enough to summon the doctor, and then we set to work on the girl. It sounds impossible, but she really did revive, and, although very weak and naturally slow of recovery, she finally regained perfect health. For a long time that clock was an object of superstitious veneration, even to the strongest-minded person about the house, and not till Mr. Duby came home from Mexico did our faith in the supernatural give way to practical common sense.

“’That clock,’ said Mr. Duby, ‘Is the product of my own inventiveness. I tinkered away on it for months and finally got the works in such condition that nothing short of absolute destruction could prevent its going for eight days after it was once wound. I used to think I was fooling way my time when I pottered around with those old springs for hours at a stretch, but it proved to be the best work of my life. If it hadn’t been for that clock—’

“And we all shuddered at the thought of what would have happened if it hadn’t been for the clock. Oh, no; there was really nothing unearthly about the affair, but since then I have been a good deal more charitable with persons who are naturally superstitious than I was before.”

The Inter Ocean [Chicago IL] 5 May 1901: p. 33

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It was a wide-spread custom to stop the clocks in a house at the time of death, perhaps symbolising that time was over for the deceased. One stopped the clock to avert bad luck or perhaps to ward off another death in the house. A 1909 compendium of “popular superstitions” recorded: “When anyone has died in a home, the clock must be stopped at once, and all the pictures turned toward the wall, or more of the family will die soon.”

There were various, and sometimes conflicting, beliefs about clocks and death. A sampling:

If a clock, long motionless, suddenly begins to tick or strike, it is a sign of approaching death or misfortune.

Van Smith died Saturday night of pneumonia and typhoid fever. He was a noble youth, just budding into manhood. In the room in which he was sick is an old family clock that has not run for a great many years. Several years ago while old uncle Johnnie Smith, the grandfather of the deceased, was lying sick in the same room, a few hours before his death the clock struck several times. A few years afterward Mr. Wm. Smith, father of the deceased, died in the room, and a short while before his death the clock again struck. On Friday night it struck again and Van died on Saturday night following. It was not running, had not been wound up, and was not touched by any one. This is indeed wonderful, but it is true, and can be verified by a score of witnesses.  The Pulaski [TN] Citizen 12 February 1880: p. 3

And

A DEATH CLOCK.

We have recently been informed of a truly wonderful clock, which is said to belong to a family in Newport. The clock is of simple construction, and belongs to the family of Mr. L—y; but all the efforts of clockmakers have not been able to make it keep time—consequently, it has been permitted to rest in silence. A few hours before the death of Mr. L—y’s sister, some short time since, the clock suddenly struck one, after a silence of many months. It thus continued to maintain its silence until another member of the family was prostrated with a fatal malady, when it again struck one, and on the following day the child was buried. A year elapsed, when a second child sickened and died. The clock was punctual in sounding one a few hours previous to its death. A third child, a little boy fifteen months old, was afflicted with scrofula, which baffled the skill of his physician, and died. The clock gave the usual warning, and struck one. It has never failed in sounding a death knell when any of the family in whose possession it now is were about to die. “There are stranger things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy.”—Cincinnati paper. Ballou Dollar Monthly Magazine Vol. 16, 1862: p. 414

Clocks were also said to stop or “die” at the same moment as their owner, in the manner of the old song “My Grandfather’s Clock,”  which contains the refrain: “But it stopped short, never to go again/ When the old man died”] Perhaps this is why Miss Ashby’s clock stubbornly refused to be stopped.

They have a genuine grandfather’s clock in Maryland, at the residence of the late Thos. M. Clavert, in Cecil county. The clock had been running for twenty-one years without repairs. When Mr. Calvert died, the folks looked at the clock to note the moment of his death. The clock had stopped, and they can’t make it run again. The Atchison [KS] Daily Champion 31 January 1880:p. 2

REMARKABLE CLOCK OWNED IN OMAHA

Stopped Short at Moment of Death of Two Members of the Family.

Omaha, Apri. 2. Doctor John F. Hertzman, a physician who has lived in this city for twenty-five years and has held several minor public offices, died this morning at 5:20 o’clock after an extended illness.

Watchers beside his bedside declare that, at the moment he was declared dead by the attending physician, the clock in the bed chamber ceased to tick. The fact has become known and many curious neighbors have called to see the phenomenon. The clock has been permitted to stand at 5:20.

The curious incident is further emphasized by the fact that three years  ago the same clock also stopped at the exact moment of the daughter’s death.

Another curious fact in connection with Doctor Hertzman’s death is told. His age, according to Omaha time, was 48 years, 6 hours and five minutes.

As Doctor Hertzman was born in France, it is figured by the relatives that he died almost at the moment, if not at the exact moment, of the close of his forty-seventh year, when the difference in time between the two points is considered. Tucson [AZ] Daily Citizen 2 April 1902: p. 8

 

To be Relentlessly Informative, there has been a lot of loose talk about the term “saved by the bell,” as a reference to bells rigged to ring when a prematurely buried person revived. While such devices did exist, they did not inspire the idiom. The phrase had its origins in the boxing ring.

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 Ghost With a Broomstick: 1901

beaded funeral wreath

Beaded French funeral wreath or immortelle.

A GHOST WITH A BROOMSTICK.

After Burying His Wife Schernel Went Home and Felt Her Wrath Physically.

Some days ago a joiner named Louis Schernel, living in the rue d’ Alsace in Levallois-Perret (Seine) took his wife to the Beaujon hospital for treatment. Then he went on a spree, which he kept up for two weeks.

At the end of that period he thought it was about time for him to visit his wife and find out how she was progressing. He went to the hospital and asked to see Mme. Schernel.

The clerk, not catching the name precisely, fancied that he asked for “Mme. Cermel,” a woman who had died just two days before and whose body was about to be taken to the cemetery.

“There is her funeral starting now,” said the official, pointing to a hearse.

There were no mourners to follow the hearse. The dead woman was poor and friendless. Schernel, convinced that his wife’s body was in the hearse, followed It to Saint-Ouen. The last prayers were recited, and while the gravedigger was filling up the grave Schernel knelt and prayed, after which he left the cemetery and purchased a wooden cross and a wreath in a store adjoining the place. He placed them carefully on the grave, knelt again in prayer, and then proceeded to the nearest saloon to mend his broken heart. He continued his spree for five days more. Meanwhile his wife returned from the hospital sound in body and mind. She heard of her husband’s prolonged spree, but knew nothing of her supposed funeral.

While she was shopping he returned in a glorious condition, and, without undressing, threw himself on the bed. She returned to find him snoring like a foghorn. She allowed him to sleep for some hours, and at last proceeded to wake him up with a broomstick. She succeeded marvellously.

With a yell Schernel jumped up and ran out of the house. At full speed he fled through the streets until he came to the police station. There he told the officer in charge that the ghost of his wife was in his house raising Cain.

The officer thought he was crazy. But to investigate the affair he went to the Schernel home, and sure enough, there he found Mme. Schernel putting the place in order and very much astonished at the precipitate flight of her husband.

A little inquiry developed the truth in the case, but Schernel insists that he is a widower and that the ghost of his wife haunts his house. Now nothing can induce him to go home. But later on the ghost will have something to say in the matter. Paris correspondence of the New York Courrier des Etats Unis.

The Clayton [AL] Record 7 March 1901: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  M. Schernel seems to be in denial, while Mme. Schernel, a lady of considerable sang froid, in Mrs Daffodil’s opinion, seems to have taken her husband’s sprees in stride. One shudders to think how vigorously that broomstick would have been deployed if Mme. Schernel had returned to find that her “widower” had decided during one of those sprees that it was not good for man to be alone and had brought home a new bride.

Some gentlemen were remarkably premature in making such arrangements:

A dying woman in Leavenworth overheard her husband make proposals of marriage to a servant girl. She didn’t die.

The Daily Phoenix [Columbia SC] 10 November 1870: p. 3

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

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

Garters of Funereal Black: 1909

1910 french mourning catalog merry widow

A very merry widow from a 1910 catalogue of mourning goods.

A wife, pretty enough to warrant her desire for decorative garments, wasn’t appreciated by her grouchy husband. He was kicking hard at a batch of lingerie which she was trying to make him pay attention to. She appeared before him in a film of lace.

“What do you call that?” he growled; “it looks to me like a fishnet that has caught a mermaid.”

“I’ll swear solemnly that only one idea was in my mind when I had this sent home on approval,” she sobbed. “I said to myself, how proud it’ll make my husband to see me in it—in case of a fire.”

That plea won. The man bade her keep the garment. A pair of jeweled black garters were next to be offered for his scrutiny. Their price was $10.

‘I can see why those Rhinestone diamonds catch your eye,” he grunted, “But why, oh, tell me why, have jet-black garters on flesh-tint silk stockings?”

She took to weeping to get an idea. Her gasps and moans broke him all up, and he asked what she was crying about.

“If I must tell,” she slowly said, ‘twixt sobs, “I will, though I meant to keep the secret locked within my own breast. My dear brother, who died only a few weeks ago, was a stickler for all the conventional usages of mourning, while you disapprove strongly of wearing black in token of grief. Well, there I was in a dilemma. My dear brother would want me to put on black for him, but my dear alive husband would be offended by it. I hit on a way to honor bruddy’s memory without disregarding hubby’s desire. I wouldn’t change any of my garments to the hue of mourning, but, quite unknown to all save you, me and the spirit of my departed brother, I would wear these garters of funereal black. I was caught and rended between love and duty, and I fondly hoped I had solved a complex problem sentimentally. However, if you object, then—“

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 4 April 1909: p. 40

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  One can only admire the lady’s talent for improvisation and her patience with that growling husband….

Calls for mourning reform from those who believed it to be unwholesome and over-costly echo down the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Mrs Daffodil suspects that the husband above objected principally to the cost, although his ghost would have been greatly offended if his wife did not put on full mourning after his passing. Here is an eloquent plea for the mourning band:

How long are we all to slavishly bow to this unwritten law of mourning, which forces us to adopt a custom inartistic and unsanitary, a blot upon the beauty of the world. a depression upon the nerves and spirits of the entire family, and very often a cruel tax upon the purse, for “mourning” and debt are only too often interchangeable terms. Why can we not break away from this tyrannical old law? There are women who, being widowed, abandon colors utterly and absolutely, just as some mourning mothers find a sorry comfort in wearing densest black as an outward expression of “that within which passeth show,” and their sincerity lends dignity and pathos to the mourning garb. But only think of the thousands who, for aunt or uncle, cousin (distant or near) or for relatives by marriage, resentfully don the purely conventional mourning, that they hate as a restraint and loathe as unbecoming;

Why may we not adopt in such cases the mourning band about the arm, securely stitched to the left sleeve of coat or jacket? It is too modest to mar either costume or suit, while it quietly and effectively announces our loss and expresses our respect.

The etiquette of mourning, like the man who drinks, or is addicted to drugs, demands a steady “tapering off”.” You should pass from crape to plain black–thence to black and white–thence to lavender and gray, and thus gently glide into blues, pinks, etc. But sometimes the deepest mourning is the briefest.

The Pittsburg [PA] Press 3 June 1906: p. 41

 

For more on the nuances and curiosities of Victorian mourning, Mrs Daffodil recommends The Victorian Book of the Dead, also available for Kindle.

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.