Category Archives: Professions

The Ball Dress: 1890

THE BALL DRESS

Mary Kyle Dallas

“You are invited to the regiment ball, my dear,” said Mrs. Ackland as her daughter entered the room, her dripping waterproof and umbrella giving evidence of a sturdy battle with the storm that could be plainly heard even through closed shutters and dropped curtains on that upper floor. “The most polite letter from Col. B__, and knowing that I forsook society long ago, Mrs. Col. B__ will take you with her own girls; it is really charming of her. Here is the ticket.”

The elderly lady’s frail fingers drew two elegant squares of pink and gold pasteboard from an envelope as she spoke. But the girl, having hung the waterproof in an adjacent kitchen and perched her umbrella where it could drip harmlessly into the stationary tubs of said kitchen, did not even pick them up.

“It would be better to publish the fact that I have retired from society also, mamma,” she said, a little sadly.

“You!” cried her mother. “At 20, Effie?”

“It comes to that when one has one black frock,” said Effie,” and that patched at both elbows.”

“You could go in white,” said her mother, “you look very girlish. Gentlemen admire white, or used to. White and a few flowers and no jewelry—no one could find fault with that style. The greatest heiress in Boston when I was a girl was known for her simplicity—always white.”

“I fancy I should be if I went in a sheet and pillow case costume,” said Effie. “Really, that would be the only white one I could manage. That poor old white dress that still exists in your memory is short in the waist, shorter in the skirt, won’t meet in the belt, and has a sleeve that would not go over my wrist. I’ve grown a great deal in five years, mamma.”

“Is it five years since you went to your cousin Jennie’s wedding in it?” cried Mrs. Ackland. “Dear, dear, how time flies. Couldn’t you make over one of my old silks?”

“I should be a laughing stock, mamma” said Effie. “Well, I can live without going to the ball, though I should enjoy it very much.”

“The daughter of Capt. Ackland ought to have opportunities,” said the widow. “How are you to marry if you never meet any one I cannot think. A pretty girl like you was never meant to be a spinster and work for her bread.”

“Things point in that direction now,” said the girl. “Typewriting is not a lively amusement, and I am as likely to marry as I am to go to China. Don’t sigh so bitterly, mamma. It would only make you lonelier if I went to the ball, and I should be up late and make mistakes next day—lose my place, perhaps. I’ll write a very polite regret when I get some fine note paper. Now, let us have tea.”

“The little brown teapot, the two blue cups and plates to match, were soon on the table. Effie Ackland had a way of making excellent little dishes out of next to nothing—it was very convenient under the circumstances—and though the girl pined for something besides the daily routine of typewriting and evenings spent in listening to her mother’s reminiscences of former grandeur—for Mrs. Ackland had been a belle and a beauty and an expectant heiress when she married the dashing young captain—it was the mother who bemoaned herself.

At last, tea being over, it was discovered that the storm had passed, and that moon and stars were shining, and Effie declared that she would run down to the little stationer’s and get some note paper of the proper sort on which to reply to the kind invitation and offer of the colonel and his lady.

It was a quiet neighborhood and very late, and Effie wrapped herself in a thick cloak and tied a little blue hood over her head and ran lightly down stairs and down the street toward the stationer’s shop. However, when she reached its door she found it closed. The old woman who kept it had expected no customers, and had retired early. Effie knew of another shop of the same sort a few blocks further on which was always open late, and turned her steps that way—at least she intended to do so. But there are still portions of New York city where it is very easy to lose one’s self, and besides Effie was not an old resident of that part of the town. Somehow she missed the right corner, crossed the street at the wrong angle, and shortly discovered that she was lost.

It was a gloomy and unpleasant street in which she found herself, and the girl was somewhat frightened. However, she decided that the best thing she could do was to keep on walking until she came to a decent shop or met a policeman of whom she could ask the way. She acted on this resolution with her usual promptitude, but for a long while she went on seeing nothing but liquor or cigar shops and meeting not a solitary guardian of the peace and came at last to an old building with a blank wall in the center of which an arched gate stood open.

Just as she stood opposite this gate two drunken men came howling down the street, and in terror of them she stepped beneath the arch. They passed without seeing her, but before she dared to venture out a light shone in her face, and turning she saw a figure in black, with red shoes, a red cap, horns, hoofs, a long tail, which he carried over his arm, and in his hand a great paper parcel—in fact, Satan as we see him portrayed in ancient pictures, acting for the nonce as messenger boy.

Startled beyond expression, Effie was about to fly, when the demon spoke.

“Well, mamselle, I’ve been waiting for you a long while,” was his characteristic remark. “I came so far to save time. Won’t you get a roasting!”

Then he tossed the parcel into her arms, turned and fled.

Effie fled also. What the demon had given her she did not know, but she quite mechanically clutched it as she flew along the lonely street, and by mere accident took the right direction and found herself at the corner of an avenue she knew. She arrived at her own door just in time—at least so her mother declared—to save that lady from going out of her mind with terror. She had no paper, but she had the parcel which the demonic personage had crammed into her hands to prove that she had not merely imagined the meeting with him, and now she unfastened the many pins that held it, unfolded the paper and sundry muslin wrappings within, and behold—a dress—the loveliest ball costume of golden satin and black lace that could be imagined.

The demon had presented her with a dress in which to attend the ball.

“What does it mean?” she ejaculated. “Really I feel as if I was out of my mind!”

“It must be providential,” said the mother. “Try it on, my dear.”

Effie obeyed. The costume fitted her perfectly.

“You look like an angel,” said the mother.

“But the demon said I should have a good roasting,” said Effie.

“It was only a man in some queer dress,” said the mother.

“Of course,” said Effie, “at least, I suppose so.”

“And now you can go to the ball,” said the mother.

“Shall I dare? Will I not find my costume vanishing, like poor Cinderella’s in the midst of my dance with whatever stands for the young prince at the officers’ ball of the regiment? I doubt if it will be here in the morning; besides I ought to advertise it, ‘If the fiend who presented a young lady with a black lace ball dress in a dark alley on the night of the __th will kindly call,’ or something of the sort.

“Oh, we will look into the papers, of course,” said the mother. “But I don’t believe we will find anything—fate intends you to go to the ball.”

So it seemed indeed.

Effie went to the ball and her dress was pronounced charming. In passing I will mention to the reader that it was there that she met the gentleman who afterward became her husband, and that much happened and all good fortune came to her through the demon’s gift of the ball dress.

No one ever advertised for the dress, and it hung in Effie’s wardrobe until her wedding day. She never wore it again, and never expected to solve the mystery that surrounded it.

Effie had married a rich man and lived in very elegant style, and a man servant was one of the necessaries of the household. Mrs. Ackland, who lived with her daughter, suggested a Frenchman, and having advertised for such a person a candidate presented himself. He had but one reference, but that was a good one.

“I will tell you the reason I have no more, madam,” said he. “I have had my ambitions—desired to go upon the state. I even obtained a position—I played a demon in the last act of a great spectacle at the __ theatre. There were seventy-five demons—it was glorious. But alas I got into difficulties there through my good nature. The renowned Senora V__ had been playing at the theatre, and left behind her a lace dress. She telegraphed that she would send her maid for it, as she was to wear it that night. Every moment was precious, and the old lady who had charge of me had sprained her ankle. ‘My friend,’ she said to me, ‘if you would but go down the long stairs and to the end of the passage and wait with the parcel until Mlle. Fanchon, the senora’s maid, comes for the dress, you will save us all much trouble—you will not be wanted for an hour.’

“I obliged her, of course. I even went into the damp alley of the back entrance and waited there. I was kept a tremendous time, and when at last a young woman rushed in I gave her the parcel like an idiot—without asking who she was. I gave it to the wrong woman. Fifteen minutes after the real maid arrived. Oh, there was a row! All I was worth would not have paid for the dress. But I was dismissed at once. I deserved it. It was the act of an idiot. How well do I remember what I said to her—“you’ll get a roasting, mamselle.’ Well, it was I who got the roasting. At first they accused me of stealing the dress, but–”

“I am sure you tell the truth,” said Effie, and engaged the man at once.

That day Senora V__ was astonished by receiving a box which contained the long-lost dress uninjured.

A letter which was enclosed told the story in full, but without giving any names, and Camille—the new waiter—never guessed that the liberal gift he received at Christmas time was offered, not to the accomplished waiter, but to the demon who had brought about so much happiness by his gift of a ball dress.

Daily Illinois State Journal [Springfield, IL] 7 November 1890: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Although it was most thoughtful of Mrs. Col. B___ to offer to chaperone, it was, of course, highly improper for a young, unmarried lady to wear a ball gown of gold satin and black lace, rather than something pale and virginal. Perhaps we may excuse the contretemps with a ruling  that black lace might, construed under the most liberal interpretation and in emergency circumstances, be called “second mourning.”

 

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

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

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The Dress-maker’s Duty to Humanity: 1886

THE FUNNY SIDE OF DRESSMAKING

“Dressmaking has its humorous side as well as anything else,” remarked a little black-eyed dressmaker on North Clark Street.  “There is the thin woman who will dress in snaky stripes, the scrawny girl who insists on a  décolleté gown, the matron of embonpoint who pleads for flounces to the waist, the matchlike maiden who wants a torturingly tight bodice, and the fluffy-puffy little body who wants gathers.

“But I never give in to them,” she continued with a snap of her eyes.  “I think too much of the human race.  I believe we all have one duty toward humanity.  Mine is to keep women from committing artistic suicide.  The little idiots come into my parlors, look at a fashion-plate, discover the picture of a lady in green gloves holding her fingers as if they were covered with molasses-candy, and decide that they want a dress like hers.  Now, there are nineteen chances out of twenty that the dress was never meant for her at all.  If they think so much of dress, why don’t they make a study of it?

“There is a certain rich lady here, with the face of a Madonna, who came to me with goods for a plaid dress.  I wouldn’t make it for her.  ‘Madame,” I said, ‘you must dress in gray silk.’ I had my way.  There wasn’t a bit of trimming on that dress—nothing but draperies—and she looked like a goddess.  Then another mistake is the universal adoption of color because it is announced to be fashionable, regardless of the fact that the majority of the wearers are making perfect guys of themselves.  Heliotrope is a point in question.  There is a young bride on State Street who came home from Europe last week with a dress of heliotrope.  Her skin is as dark as a Spaniard’s, and her hair and eyes are jet black.  She would have been magnificent in dark red or a cloud of black lace – but heliotrope!” and of this the dressmaker nearly died… [Chicago News]

The Lamar [AL] News 1 April 1886: p. 4

John_Faed_-_The_Little_Seamstress

The Little Seamstress, John Faed, Artuk.org

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire We can but respect the dress-maker’s scruples and punctilious devotion to her calling!  The great Charles Frederick Worth himself was similarly conscious of his duty to humanity.

How Worth Makes The Woman.

Very many ladies of this city send regularly to the great man-dressmaker, Worth, in Paris, for their dresses, both summer and winter. Do not for a moment suppose all these women have seen Worth. The greater proportion send a photograph to him, with a description of the complexion, the color of hair, eyes, etc. It is not an infrequent occurrence to have the photograph returned to the owner with regrets at being unable “to compose a toilet for Madame.” A lady of high fashion in this city relates how she went to Worth on one occasion to have a number of dresses made. He asked her to walk across the room. It was a medium-sized apartment. When she was about half across, he called to her from the sofa where he was sitting, “Madame, that is enough; I cannot invent a dress for you; your figure does not please me. Good morning, Madame.” A mother and daughter in this city, charming women, but newly rich and over-anxious about dress, wear the most exquisite toilets of Worth’s composition, which are entirely unique. They have never been to Paris, or “waddled through the Tuileries,” yet Worth has seen them—that is, he has their life-sized pictures; he admires them, and sends then; poetical and ravishing dresses.

The Millinery Trade Review 1876

Miss Maude Annesley, who spent a fruitful year in Paris chronicling French life and fashion, wrote about the tactful Parisian dress-makers.

Even in the rooms of the humbler dressmakers there is a faint echo of the method of the great ones. There is a drawer full of pieces of many colours, wherewith effects can be tried, there is a long glass in three parts in which to study “all sides of the question,” there are thick curtains ready to be drawn when artificial light is needed. Then, although there are no mannequins to prance about in wonderful confections, there is the dressmaker herself, who sees at a glance what Madame ought to wear, and will proceed to illustrate her notion with silk and pins to her customer’s entire satisfaction. They all have taste and ideas, these dressmakers. They would never think of allowing some one to choose anything unbecoming. There is the difference between an English and French dressmaker. In London a woman enters a well-known dressmaker’s establishment, or goes to some old favourite — it is the same thing everywhere. She chooses what she wants, and her taste is rarely disputed.

I will not say that a Parisian couturiere is always right, no one is infallible; but I aver that she very rarely is mistaken in her ideas of what will or will not suit her customers.

And she is so clever in inventing little notions to hide or lessen some imperfection. If Madame is too thin (very rare in these days of the thin woman rage!), if she is too fat, too short, too tall —then it is wonderful to watch the skillful hands manipulating drapery and trimmings. And the tact shown is remarkable.

I was once waiting in the waiting-room at my dressmaker’s when, from the fitting-room, I overheard an enlightening conversation as follows: —

Customer — “I want the neck cut low. No collar.”

Dressmaker — “Parfaitement, Madame.”

Pause. Some action which I naturally could not see.

Dressmaker — “How charming Madame looks with that white tulle edged with pink against her cheek!”

Customer, in “purry-purry” voice — “It is rather becoming. You can use that for the guimpe.”

Dressmaker, sorrowfully — “Alas, Madame, impossible. One cannot edge a guimpe with pink, one can do it only on a collar. It is a thousand pities Madame is to have no collar, her complexion looks ravissante with this pink. However, it is no good discussing it.”

Pause. Some talk about a sleeve.

Customer, in doubtful voice — “Do you think the dress would look as well with a collar?”

Dressmaker, still sorrowful — “Much better, Madame. However, we will not talk of it. . . Does Madame like this band of lace straight or crosswise?”

Customer, after much talk of lace and frills, and several pauses — “Do you know, I think I will have a collar after all! That pink is so charming.”

Dressmaker, joyfully — “Oh, I am glad, Madame. I would not have thought of trying to persuade Madame, but I am sure it will suit Madame admirably.”

Some time afterwards the lady who was “not persuaded” passed through my room. She had no collar to her dress, and her neck was short, her chin double, and two deep wrinkles surrounded the yellow “column.”

I told my dressmaker what I had overheard, and she chuckled. “Well!” she said. “What else can one do with ladies who are unreasonable?”

I agreed, and admired her diplomacy.

My Parisian Year, Maude Annesley, 1912

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 Theatrical Hairdresser’s Revenge: 1880s

hairdressers manual parting 1906

POMATUM POTS AND BRUSHES.

The Theatrical Hairdresser’s Cruel Revenge.

The theatrical hairdresser generally has a shop in some street which is in a transition condition from that of residence to business. His establishment is on the parlor floor of what was once a handsome mansion, and he has had the two front windows knocked into one, to accommodate a big affair in which he displays wigs of all sorts, false hair of all colors and no end of an assortment of adjustable beards, whiskers and moustaches. In addition to these he deals in cosmetic powder and mysterious face washes, which he purchases by the gallon at a drug store for next to nothing and retails at a profit of several thousand per cent, as his own secret composition. He also rents beards and wigs out, but as he has exaggerated ideas as to rates, it is a little cheaper to purchase outright than to lease from him. Still, he does a heavy business in the leasing line with the amateurs, who not only hire all their capillary decorations from him, but also employ him on the occasion of their performance to attend on them and make them up for their parts.

His professional connection is his most interesting one, however. At the back of his shop is a little room strongly scented with fancy soaps and perfumes. In it, of an afternoon, he is to be found operating on the heads of ladies who have a free-and-easy manner and chat about scenes, hits, calls before the curtain and the like to other ladies who wait their turn very much as men wait in a barber shop on Sunday morning.

When his afternoon’s work is done, and the last of his fair customers has gone away with her hair elaborated into artistic and bewildering forms,

The Artist Prepares for His Evening’s Work.

This consists in the packing up of an endless assortment of grease paints, chalk balls, oil pots, pomatum pots, scent vials, scissors, tweezers, combs and brushes, not to mention a hundred or more of other objects in a morocco-covered case. An hour before the curtain rises he passes the back doorkeeper and vanishes in the gloom of the unlighted stage.

It you happened into the dressing-room of the leading lady or the star, fifteen minutes later, you would find him hard at work. The lady herself, in her corsets, with a towel over her shoulders and her heels on the dressing-table, is seated pulling at a cigarette or lazily conning her part. While the hairdresser performs his work, the waiting maid moves about arranging her mistress’ attire for its coming use. When the momentous task is accomplished, all my lady has to do is to slip into her dress and wait for her call.

Having finished the customer who, by reason of her superior position, claims precedence, the hairdresser extends his artistic favor to such of her less important sisters as have not been dressed during the day. Then he devotes himself to the gentlemen.

The leading man wants a shave, and gets it in locomotive time. The lover must have his hair patted in the middle and his moustache waxed; it is scarcely hinted at than done. The comedian’s wig needs dressing–it is brushed into form while he is making up his nose. The hair dresser is never idle. If he has nothing else to do, he may be lending slicks of cosmetic and balls of grease paint out of his box to people who have forgotten theirs.

The hairdresser does not take much Interest in the drama, except that which his instinct of business inspires him with. But on opera he comes out strong.

If he can insinuate himself into the service of some singer, no matter how humble, he is in his glory. He performs his professional duties toward him or her with the loving tenderness of a true artist. I know a tonsorial artist who in his day was the special hair-dresser of Grisi, Mario, and other famous singers of both sexes. He knows more stories about them than their biographers do, and is always telling them. One of his favorites is to the effect that he used to preserve all the combings from the heads of his patrons in the operatic line, which he made up as souvenirs, tied to a card with pink, blue or whatever colored ribbon their one-time owner favored.

The Mementos Commanded a Ready Sale

among the admirers of the divinities they represented. At one time there was such a run on the hair of one singer that he could not supply the demand legitimately. Happily, however, his wile’s crowning glory was of the same color, so he cut it off close and got enough for it in retail lots to open one of the finest shops in New York.

At least, so he told me; and as he was shaving me at the time I did not like to run the risk of impugning his veracity.

There is a legend current in the craft of a theatrical hairdresser who fell in love with a popular actress he was frequently called upon to beautify. He confessed his devouring passion on his knees but she laughed him to scorn. More than that, she insisted on his continuing his ministrations to her and made him the butt of her heartless gibes while he was devoting himself to enhance her loveliness. The iron entered his soul and he swore vengeance. One night, when he had to prepare her for a most important part, he surpassed himself in the splendor of her crowning decoration. Having finished, he anointed her golden locks with a compound of a peculiarly fascinating aromatic odor, which so attracted his callous enslaver’s notice that she asked him what it was.

“It is a mixture of my own, madame,” he replied. “I call it the last breath of love.”

The actress remarked that she would call him a fool, and he bowed and withdrew. A few minutes later, when she appeared behind the footlights, instead of the roar of applause which she expected, she was hailed with a tempestuous scream of laughter.

Her discarded lover had had his revenge. He had dyed her golden locks with a chemical which turned pea green as soon as it was dry. She dresses what hair she has left herself now, while he is boss of a five-cent shaving emporium, never speaks to any lady but his landlady, and has a Chinaman to do his washing. But he buys a seat in the front row every time she plays, and feasts his eyes on the remainder of his vengeance.

The Boston [MA] Globe 13 January 1884: p. 9

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: No doubt the would-be lover found this a most piquant revenge, despite his demotion to the five-cent emporium. Mrs Daffodil suggests that the verdant-haired actress could have easily made a career change to the circus where brightly-tinted hair is desirable, if not a requisite. She also would have made a brilliant mermaid-in-a-tank attraction.

As for the opera-lover, one hopes that he compensated his wife for the loss of her hair with a selection of stylish wigs and a holiday in Paris.

Mrs Daffodil has previously written about a noted theatrical wig-maker and a Court Hairdresser. Other discussions of historic barbering and hair-dressing may be found in this page’s “Hair and Hair-dressing” category.

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 Rival Undertakers: 1900

undertaker benjamin lopez and hearse key west 1900

Undertaker Benjamin Lopez and hearse, c. 1900 https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/36152

THE RIVAL UNDERTAKERS.

In the doorway of his office stood old Job Graves. A funeral procession passed. It was a funeral of Job’s; not “Job’s funeral,” mark you, but A funeral of Job’s;” one of many which had fallen to his charge; for Job was an undertaker. Over the doorway was his weather-beaten sign, in dingy white paint; on the large front window was inscribed “Coffin Warerooms;” and within the window lay a funeral wreath of wax flowers, a silver coffin-plate, and a little white coffin, — Hope and Despair in one pathetic group.

Job stood in the doorway, and his thin body scarcely filled his threadbare coat. He leaned against the door-post, absently took off his rusty silk hat, and slowly wiped, first, his thin white face, and then his bald shiny head, with his red handkerchief. The face was worn, bleak, with tufts of white beard scattered among the hollows and under the shrunken jaw, like patches of snow among the hollows of a wind-swept wintry hillside.

stereoview hearse

Job’s gaze rested upon the old hearse,— his hearse, and the black horses, — his horses, and the black-garbed driver, — his assistant; the whole equipment, so to speak, the work of his hands; it seemed good in his sight; and a feeble sense of joy in its ownership struggled faintly with the habitual melancholy of the undertaker’s heart.

A slight elevation of the hearse-driver’s eyebrows asked of Job,  “Is all as it should be?” And the master’s answering nod returned approval. Then Job’s thin frame straightened a little, his right hand paused with red handkerchief in air, and a slight frown gathered on his pale face; for he beheld, across the street, through the gaps in the passing carriages, two other men standing in a doorway. They also were viewing the procession, and critically; over that doorway was the sign, in bright gold letters, “Daver, Funeral Director;” on the half drawn olive shade of the broad window was the same legend, adorned with many scrolls and flutings. Within the window rested a large silver plate, reading, in delicate script, “C. A. Daver & Co., Funeral Directors.” Nothing more; no suggestive signs of the craft, no symbols of mortality. Rather a scrupulous simplicity; almost an admonitory simplicity; as one should say, “Look over there, at those barbaric emblems of woe, and then behold the refined taste, the chaste quality, of this ‘establishment.'”

That is what Daver & Co. maintained, an “Establishment;” old Job Graves was only a plain “Undertaker,” and had “Coffin Warerooms;” Daver and Co. were “Funeral Directors,” and maintained an “Establishment for Funeral Furnishings.”

There stood Daver, himself, in the doorway, with his assistant beside him. A short stout man he was, with round ruddy face, thin grayish hair and beard, his red good-natured face beaming through the hairy haze like the sun’s disk through a dissolving fog.

Daver’s glance always rested lightly, soothingly on all objects; yet few interesting things escaped his notice; his critical eye now passed over the procession, and over Job Graves; and he said, in a low tone, with a skillful suppression of facial muscles acquired by long experience, and amounting almost to ventriloquism, “That hearse, Jim! What an ark!”

Then the assistant, sharply, “It ought to be burned. I wouldn’t be seen in it for all I’m worth.” As he spoke thus enigmatically, he winked in a facetious way at the driver of the hearse, and the greeting was reciprocated; evidently there were underground sympathies existent, between the two, while outer rivalries were maintained.

“Strange,” continued Daver, reflectively, “how little self-respect and pride people have about such things. It’s hard to elevate the popular taste. Ten years we’ve tried it, here; not much improvement.” Then he yawned, and returned a politic salute to the one timidly offered by a driver on the third carriage. The man had driven for him scores of times, and often for Job Graves, his rival. Daver’s disapproval was limited to the hearse; not an intense antagonism, but a pained disapproval. Daver never antagonized anybody, took the world’s blows on a slanting buckler; but he was very clear as to which prizes he sought.

funeral procession with hearse 1870

His answering salute to the driver could hardly have been sworn to, as such, in a court of law; a slight corrugation of the forehead, passing down into a brief closing of the eyes, and ending in an almost imperceptible sinking of the chin, and it was done, and no outsider the wiser. Then Daver yawned again, and retired, with his assistant, into the office; and Job Graves, with the slightest possible sigh of relief, put on his rusty hat, adjusted the striped cotton neckerchief around his old-fashioned high stock, climbed stiffly into his old chaise at the curbstone, and took up his position at the rear of the procession.

That was Job’s custom, to ride alone, at the end of the line. He had maintained this custom through the funerals of forty years; having inherited it with other customs from his father, undertaker before him. Whereas Daver, with his other “progressive” ideas, had introduced the custom of leading the line; which he did, very grandly, in a luxurious coupe, with gold lettering. This innovation was accomplished gradually, discreetly. The first year the new “Funeral Director” moved up behind the clergyman’s carriage; the next year he pushed up past the clergyman, and followed the hearse; the third year he pushed past the hearse, and led the line, in a very impressive way. This position he had ever since maintained, despite the concerted attempt, in the fourth year, of seven clergymen — one a Doctor of Divinity — to retire him.

It was the ages-long struggle between the New and the Old, this rivalry across the street. Elsewhere it is “hand-work versus steam,” or “Puritan against Cavalier,” or “stratified rock at war with the leaf of a book;” here it was caskets against coffins,” with all that these implied. Always, however, the iron rule is — with occasional exceptions — New conquers, modified by Old. So it was here; and Job saw the evil day afar off — as many a conservative sees it — but held, with might, and largely with conscience, to the old methods, to the accustomed ways.

Job knew nothing of “caskets;” he made “coffins;” made them in that back-shop; his father had made them there, and was buried in one of his own fashioning. So would Job be buried. “Am I better than my fathers?” Many a time, as a child, Job had taken his afternoon nap in a coffin in the back-shop, and nobody harmed, no human life the shorter for it. Years afterward, when his wife died, Job knew that life’s noon had passed. After that day the cemetery seemed different to him; seemed more personally related to him; even attractive. He understood now why people lingered there, after a burial, and resorted there at other times. He bought an iron settee and placed it on his lot, close by his wife’s grave; he might feel like using it.

Then the two boys went; one to lie beside his mother; a boy of ten; diphtheria; Job had a “case” of it, and might have slighted his dread duties; but Job never shirked his “work;” and the boy at home died. The other, a wild lad of eighteen, wandered into the “far country,” to be swallowed up in distance and degradation, and perhaps despair. Then Job selected cedar, and made his own coffin; twilight was about him; darkness would follow; then the coffin would be needed; coffins and darkness come together; best to have all things ready; Job was a “fore-handed” man, the people said.

The two undertakers differed widely, in many ways. They met death weekly, daily; but they met it differently. In Daver’s bluff abounding presence, death seemed minimized–he reduced it to an incident; but mourners found it loom crushingly, after his departure. Whereas Job knew it as a visitation, and his presence counselled patience, submission.

Therefore people who desired “cheerful funerals” — those chimeras — sought Daver’s tactful offices; but sensitive people and those whose fathers and mothers had been buried by Job’s father, turned to Job’s father’s son, in their hour of need, and their hearts’ wounds were touched most gently.

As Job and Daver differed in their attitudes toward the dead, so also they differed in their relations with the living. When coarse careless people made stupid jests about death and the duties of his vocation, Job listened in silence and passed on in pity. Stupidity is piteous. But Daver always laughed louder than the jester, — and hated him in his heart, and grimly wondered when he might be privileged to look at him through a casket-lid.

fancy coffin 1893

Elaborately-trimmed casket, 1893

Daver & Co., Funeral Directors, knew nothing of coffins. They had, however, “A choice line of caskets.” “This way, please,” with bows and smiles, and eager hands rubbed over each other; and you followed master or assistant into the mysterious rear-room, and you chose from “A fine stock, sir! A high grade, madame!” Occasionally, after careful scrutiny of the buyer, and skillful measuring of the degree of his grief, it was — “Extra quality, sir! Anybody using one of these never will use any other as long as he lives.” But that facetious sentence was venturesome; it was forbidden to the assistant, and was rarely indulged in by Daver himself. The main object was that some selection should be made, from the “caskets in plain black, brown, magenta or white;” or from “caskets in plush, black, brown, magenta or white.”

Daver & Co. sold many, of both kinds. Job likewise sold many, of the one simple unvarying pattern which he had learned to make, taught by his father. Before Daver & Co. appeared, Job, by working hard, met the entire demand; after the “Funeral Director’s” coming, trade fell off. Then Job Graves waited patiently; “This is not a business that you can push,” he said. But in a year or two custom increased, up to the old amount, and Job was fairly busy; his products were soon taken; “Supply creates demand;” (an economic law, we are told; — of almost suicidal application, here).

The two undertakers differed widely, in their conduct of funeral services. Job did as his father had done; not because that way was best, but because it was his father’s way. This rule of conduct became more absolute with him each year. Now that wife and sons were gone, he had no future; he had “the imagination of regret, having lost the imagination of hope.” The star of success, before him beckoned no longer; the star of experience, from behind, illumined his sad path. Job had given up the idealism of purpose for his sons; he lived by the idealism of example, from his father. Often he brooded anxiously about that absent lad, but his anxiety was not suspected by others; an undertaker is not supposed to have griefs of his own.

mr sowerberry undertaker

Mr. Sowerberry, the undertaker in Oliver Twist J. Clayton Clarke (“Kyd”) c. 1900 Original watercolour Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/kyd/83.html

In the house of mourning Job came and went silently, unnoticed. At the funeral service he effaced himself, coming forward, at the close, with resolute step and squeaky boots, from some retreat, to state, in a plain sturdy sentence, “There will now be a chance for every one to look at the body.” After this old-fashioned invitation had been accepted, and the general farewell had been taken, the company separated, like a chemical solution, into liquids and solids; liquids, — casual friends, — flowing off homeward; solids, — mourning friends, — remaining. Then Job, reading laboriously through heavy gold-bowed spectacles, like a clerk casting up accounts, called, in a firm tone, the mourners, in fours, from the residuary group, in the order of their grief.

Here there were nice shades of distinction, as in arranging guests at a court-dinner; but Job was not only an undertaker of experience, he was an old resident; he knew all the circles within circles; knew not only how deep each person’s sorrow should be, but about how deep it really was. And he always spoke with such quiet confidence, that even if he sometimes gave a “second cousin on the maternal side” precedence over a “nephew on the paternal side,” he was so convincing, that a listener might sometimes forget his own identity, or even become a trifle confused regarding his own sex.

Daver & Co. discarded many of these “old-fashioned ideas.” They did away with the sombre bunch of crape on the door-bell; and placed there, instead, “floral emblems.” By these, skilfully graduated, were expressed more distinctions than the “seven ages” of Shakespeare. A cluster of white buds, or one of full-blown flowers, — white or yellow, or white and red mixed, — these, tied with ribbons, — white, violet or black, — could become a language of flowers so plain that he who ran might read; (though, of course, he would not run, in passing a house adorned with such a symbol). In addition to the flowers, a few brown autumn leaves were considered significant; or a wisp of brown grass was added; this last symbolized the “bearded grain” of the poet.

During the funeral service itself Daver & Co. were very much in evidence, either master or assistant; on important occasions, — great crises of the profession, so to speak, — both were present; very much so; active, cheerful, inspiring all with confidence. And whereas Job Graves humbly wore around his stock a kerchief with a little “color,” in deference to the “parson,” Daver & Co. boldly wore immaculate white ties; and, with their faultless black clothes, might be easily mistaken for clergymen; thus the service often took on the high quality of a solemn festival.

But Daver and his assistant were not clergymen; Daver had no foolish deference for “the cloth.” During a funeral service he tried, visibly, even conspicuously, to be patient with the readings and prayers; it was customary to have these; therefore he must acquiesce; and, always smiling, he utilized the time in scanning the faces of the people present, to detect signs of physical weakening, and, possibly, of mortal disease. Such people, — or, better, their near relatives, — he afterward spoke to with especial consideration.

After “the church” had been tolerated for a half-hour, the great moment arrived; the moment which — Daver knew — alone justified this coming together; and the skilful man’s heart beat high with pride as he stood by the casket and offered for inspection the unequalled quality of his “work,” a triumph of funereal art.

Sometimes a family was strangely unappreciative; gave orders to keep the casket closed. Then you should have seen the “Funeral Director.” Then, only, did his unvarying “immortelle” smile vanish. “Do I understand, my dear sir,” (in a measured, circumflex tone), “that the casket is to remain closed?”

“Yes.”

“Very good, sir! It shall so be, sir.” And no human ear, however keen, could detect that pity and scorn in his voice, which the Omniscient One knew was in his heart.

Thus Daver & Co., zealous, in season and out of season, grew and prospered. They had now become the “City Undertakers;” and their doings were often chronicled in the papers. “How did they become the City Undertakers?” Who knows? This is an age of wires; both “overhead” and “underground.” However, everybody now knew of their existence, — half the problem of financial success solved — and, in the haste of sudden affliction, recalled the name.

Then, too, there were the little gifts — bookmarks, paper-cutters, paper-weights — which many of the physicians found on their desks; Christmas presents, New Year’s Greetings, with “compliments of Daver & Co.”

“Capital fellow, Daver!” And the doctor “remembered” Daver — “the next time.” “People do lean so on the family doctor.”

So Daver & Co. increased in favor and prospered; and still sturdy old Job Graves said, again and again, as he drove his plane, or plied his sandpaper, or wielded his shears, “A business that you can’t push! You can’t push it, as you can other kinds of business.”

Everybody knows that undertakers are hard-hearted, soulless. Just how everybody knows this is another question. It is a portion of that general fund of knowledge which is born with many people. Therefore Job was rarely asked for charity; beggars paused not at his office; tramps glanced at his sign and passed on. Even the children looked askance at him, when they learned his occupation.

Yes, it is a part of the Public’s innate axiomatic knowledge, that undertakers have no feelings; machines merely; necessary evils. Job felt his alienation deeply; felt it the more, since wife and children had gone away. The old-fashioned, sad-faced, silent man, in his rusty coat and high stock, went in and out among the homes of sorrow; he heard sighs and moans, saw bitter tears trickling, dropping; but always for others, never a breath of sympathy for him. He moved, a white shadow, in darkened rooms, yet a shadow with a heart. Oh, his heart was hungry, often, for pity, for affection. He even envied, sometimes, the silent form in the coffin; it at least had love rained upon it. Voices, which spoke to him in stern command, sobbed there; faces, which turned to him in critical inquiry, grew distorted with anguish as they bent over that other face, scarcely whiter than his own.

Thus Job lived, and hungered, and was “in the world but not of the world.” His impassive worn old face told little of the need of his desolate heart. He accepted his destiny, which was, — “not to be ministered unto, but to minister.”

One early morning a drunken, dishevelled tramp found rear entrance to the “Coffin Warerooms,” and lay, in a stupor, under a bench. Job’s assistant discovered him there. Perhaps this degraded human remnant, seeking such hospitality, lacked the knowledge regarding undertakers so fully bestowed on men and women in general. The assistant pushed a bag of plush trimmings under his head. Job entered hastily, preparing to journey to a distant city, to bring back a body” for burial. He glanced at the heavy besotted face, partly hidden by an unkempt beard, and said, “Let him sleep it off, here! Afterward give him food, and my old coat on that nail, there!” Then he hurried stiffly down the street, to his train.

The tramp did not “sleep it off.” He had “slept off” too many such states before. He was a shattered wreck. There are two exits from stupor. One is back into this visible world, the other is forward into the Unseen. The latter was the shorter exit for the stertorous tramp, and tramps prefer short routes. So he took it.

“Poor devil!” said Job’s assistant, and summoned the doctor and coroner; they tried pulse, opened eyelid, felt heart, voted the beast dead. Chuckled over his wisdom in selecting his lodging-house. Affirmed that he had chosen his own undertaker; “the wishes of the dead should be respected;” then a loud laugh, and they departed. So “Daver, City Undertaker,” lost this case.

Here was the ambitious assistant’s opportunity. An assistant, may not be trusted by a careful master to prepare “regular cases,” but a tramp — It was a rare opportunity; the assistant washed, shaved, clothed, — in short, “laid out” the body.

dead coffin shaving mug

Undertaker’s occupational shaving mug http://www.oldshavingmugs.com/coffin-shaving-mug-2/

When Job returned, that evening, the assistant met him at the door, told him the unexpected, and with pride led the way into the back-shop, to a painted pine coffin beside the bench. And Job Graves, undertaker, looked, then stared, then gasped, and then recognized — the dead face of his wayward son. Death had done its purifying work, as assistant or even master could never have done it; the coarse tramp-face had dissolved, vanished; the fine features of innocent, hopeful, eager youth lay there revealed. And as patient, wounded old Job felt this awful blow upon his tired heart, he looked about him appealingly; looked for some one to lean upon. There was nobody but the assistant and his hastily-offered arm. Not what the anguished man sought, but he accepted it; then sank, drooping, upon a box; and cold drops beaded his brow.

There he sat in silence, and the tall old-fashioned clock in the corner counted out the seconds, as a physician counts out the drops from a vial, at a bedside. Job heard them, and they seemed like years; — his own weary years coming back to him out of the past. He realized now that he had been desperately holding a hope and a purpose in his heart; realized now, by its absence, that it had been there, unnamed, unrecognized. He put his hand unconsciously to his side; something seemed to be going; the assistant saw that his lips were parted wide, and that he breathed in gasps; but Job uttered no word, told nothing of the desolation that had come to him. Who was there to tell? Who cared about an undertaker’s grief? That face! O, that poor white face of his boy!

angel of grief

The Angel of Grief, William Wetmore Story, 1894 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angel_of_Grief

There was a sermon, to which the old undertaker had listened, years before, which had many a time recurred to his thought; it was a sermon on the prodigal son’s return; and in whatever way he had looked at the hard facts and faced the dark probabilities, that picture of a home-coming and forgiveness had pushed its way to the front. Often he had read the beautiful parable, going away alone and unperceived to do it; and at those words “fell on his neck and kissed him,” he always stopped, and repeated them slowly and softly, and a look of hungry longing came over his face, and the good book was slowly closed and laid away. There would be no more reading of that old story. Yesterday it held a gleam of light in its depths; to-day the words were like loose formless ashes; gray like his own face; and he seemed to shrink and wither, as he sat tottering, one hand pressing his side, the other weakly supporting himself.

The next day Job did not appear at the office; he was ill, in bed…

A week later a physician stood by Job’s bedside and told him that he had no ailment, and would be “out” in a few days. For answer Job looked calmly at him and said, “On your way to your office, call at my attorney’s! Send him here! I wish to make my will!”

“But, my good man, there is really not the slightest —”

Job raised his white thin hand deprecatingly, closed his eyes, hesitated, then said, with an effort, “Please also send Daver to me! You know Daver? Does good work; has some new-fangled notions, but does good work.”

Then Job turned his face to the wall. He knew his own condition. He was dying. We all begin to die at our birth; that is normal dying. Nature does it skillfully, inexorably, gently. Job Graves had been dying with abnormal rapidity for twenty years; dying of hunger, and solitary imprisonment for life; hunger for affection; solitary imprisonment within the gloomy walls of his strange vocation. Was this also Nature’s doing? If not, whose?

Daver, mystified but smiling, prompt but constrained, came the next day. Job’s lips moved a salutation, but no sound came. Daver waited. He was ill at ease. He was in an unaccustomed position. He often was called to dark rooms and sheeted beds, but with the conditions different. This summons was premature; Daver was restless; cleared his throat loudly, fingered his hat. “To be called here! To this house, of all houses! To this man, of all men!” Daver’s ruling principle was to please; always to gloss the painful stubborn fact; but ruling principles may be suspended; hearts, like states, may experience rebellion; souls, like nations, may suffer revolution; the governing power may be unseated.

So it was with Daver. In his accustomed groove, a “Funeral Director;” outside that groove, a man; and strange rills opened in his heart, unwonted vibrations tingled along his nerves. His round red face grew anxious, sad. A man’s pity, tenderness, looked out through a “Funeral Director’s ” eyes, as they rested on that sick wan face.

The old undertaker’s eyes opened slowly; his gaze wandered restlessly about the bare room, then paused upon a crude crayon portrait of an old man, near the foot of the bed. The face resembled his own. Job’s gaze clung to it tenderly, trustfully. Then his gaze wandered, rested on the man beside his bed; he started as if with surprise, but recollected. “Daver, I have sent for you, — you know why.” He spoke feebly; the other nodded, looking constrainedly into his filmy eyes.

“I wish I could take — this — old body— with me, or see to its burying, myself; but I can’t. We all have to ask help at last, Daver.”

The plain direct appeal of the old man moved Daver strangely. He wondered at himself, as he sat there.

“We must depend on — on somebody else, Daver, when — when we are finally the ‘case,’ ourselves; and assistants are not to be trusted,— not to be trusted.” He raised his eyes, with inquiry, toward the crayon portrait; then added, “Father never slighted his work.” And a faint smile of content flickered over the dying man’s face, saying what the humble man’s lips would not utter, that he too had never slighted his work.

“Daver, neighbor,” he murmured, putting out his thin hand, seeking, in his last hours, after what he had vainly sought, for many lonely years, — a grasp of understanding and sympathy — “Daver, you — do — good— work; but you — know — what — I would wish done. My way, this time, Daver? That —is —all.”

And the “Funeral Director’s” strong red hand closed over the “Undertaker’s” wasted white one, and the grasp was a pledge. A long silence. Then Daver departed, and Job rested peacefully.

Exactly when his last breath came, nobody in the house could say; but it was about dawn, the next morning; the weary spirit slipped away. Job Graves left earth, — an undertaker; he entered heaven, — a man.

funeral procession Highgate Cemetery 1902

A few days later, a funeral procession passed along the street, between the two offices. It was “A funeral of Daver’s,” but it was “Job Graves’s funeral.” Throughout all the arrangements, the Old and the New in funereal art were strangely blended; and a discerning Public felt injured, as it felt baffled in its attempt at explanation. The door-knob of the “Coffin Warerooms” was hung with a knot of black crape, yet the hearse was from the establishment of Daver & Co., City Undertakers,” whose assistant acted as driver; the assistant from the “Coffin Warerooms” rode in the mourners’ carriage; and, — strange to tell, — inexplicable to the wise, all-knowing Public, quite contrary to his custom, Daver, in his luxurious coupe, followed the few carriages, came last in the line.

The Parsonage Porch: Seven Stories from a Clergyman’s Note-book, Bradley Gilman, 1900: pp. 221-248

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A fine epitaph for all who serve: “He Never Slighted His Work.”

Mrs Daffodil would like to take this opportunity (as she has been prodded with a hearse plume by that subfusc person over at Haunted Ohio) to announce that a new Victorian Book of the Dead blog has made its debut. The blog will provide unique, primary source material on Victorian death and mourning as well as collecting all posts on mourning, which have  previously appeared on this blog and on the Haunted Ohio site blog.

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 Girl in the Car: 1903

woman in coffin 1876 American Enterprise. Burley's United States centennial gasetteer and guide

Ghost Editor, Fort Worth Telegram

Dear Sir: I had never been a believer in the supernatural prior to the occurrence of the incident which gives rise to my story, but the facts which I am about to relate had the effect of purging the skepticism that had hitherto prevailed in my mind regarding such matters.

During the year of 1903 I was employed as an express messenger on the Fort Worth-Texarkana run.

One night there was transferred to my car from the western division a coffin containing a corpse consigned from El Paso to Schenectady, N.Y., and while this is no unusual traveling companion for an express messenger, the night in question was one which prompted thoughts of the supernatural, gloomy with a stillness in the air that foretold the approach of a heavy storm.

Being absorbed with routine matters which demanded my attention, little time was given to thought of the contents of the pine box lying in a far corner of the car. Vivid flashes of lightning and the ominous aspect of the sky made it plain that the elements would soon be warring. Being forty-five minutes late out of the last station passed and due in Longview at midnight, we were traveling at a rapid rate with an endeavor to make up the time lost. The air of the car being somewhat close, I stepped to the door and threw it half open. Simultaneously a blinding flash of lightning, accompanied by a crash of thunder, made me start back involuntarily from the open door. Before I could recover my composure, a gust of wind swept thru the car, extinguishing every light. I sprang to the open door and slammed it together, avoiding a deluge of rain that fell as the sluice gates of heaven had been opened. Turning quickly with a view to relighting my lamps, a flash of lightning revealed to me the form of a girl about twenty years of age standing in the center of the car. In my astonishment, thinking that my imagination had served me with an illusion, I waited for a second flash that again revealed the form of the girl, and while my gaze was limited to the momentary glare, I took in every detail of her figure and dress. She was attired in a brown street dress with long gloves to match, and her dark hair fell loose in a mass around her shoulders, contrasting strongly with the paleness of her face. For a moment I could scarcely move. My first thought was of how this girl could have gained entrance to my car while the train was moving at the rate of forty miles an hour. Another lightning flash showed the girl advancing toward me with her arms outstretched in a imploring attitude. My glance in this brief second also reverted to the farther par of the car, and to my horror observed the lid of the coffin thrown to one side and now standing open. This was the first time that I had associated the form of the girl with the supernatural, and my senses seemed to leave me as I dashed to the door and slammed it violently ajar. As I did, something seemed to pass me, and vanish out into the storm, followed by a wailing cry that even now at times rings thru my ears. I staggered back from the door from which I had sought to plunge and fell heavily to the floor of my car.

When the train reached Longview the baggage man climbed into my car and discovered my condition. A stiff drink of whisky brought me back to my normal senses and I recited my story.

After the lamps had been re-lit, a promptly investigation was made of the box in my car, which was found intact and strongly nailed.

Various opinions were presented by my train associates, and I caught  some of them winking knowingly.

I carefully noted down the address and destination of the coffin and the name of the consignor. A few days later I wrote to Schenectady requesting of the consignor a description of the corpse, and a week later received an answer describing in both feature and figure the girl whom I so fully described to my fellow workers the night of the visitation. I answered this letter, confiding my interest in the matter, with the request to be advised if the lady had formerly worn a brown dress, receiving a reply in the affirmative and to the effect that it was in this she had died from heart failure thru climbing a flight of stairs at a hotel in El Paso.

Do I believe in ghosts/ Well, I have another occupation than that of express messenger. Yours truly,

W.K.T. SCOTT

Fort Worth [TX] Star-Telegram 13 December 1907: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A nice, shuddersome story!  One can readily understand the narrator’s resignation from his occupation after such an uncanny encounter.

After the American Civil War, when embalming became more widespread, it was commonplace to ship corpses via the rails. The Wells Fargo company was one of the first in this field; they found an ingenious and heartless way to exploit the deaths of consumption patients.

AN INDUSTRY IN CORPSES
How an Express Company and an Undertaker Whack Up on Consumptives.

The Wells-Fargo Company does some queer things in the way of business, but the strangest perhaps is a new line, worked up by one of the shrewdest agents of the country at Denver. Colorado is a sort of last chance of consumptives, and pretty generally they die there. Most of them are supplied with money from home in regular installments, so when they die not enough coin is found among their effects to pay an undertaker. Undoubtedly many of them would be buried by the county, but right here’s where the company gets in.

It has a contract with an undertaker who takes charge of the body, embalms it, and gets it all ready for shipment. Then the Fargo agent wires to the agents in the towns from which the deceased received letters. If any relatives can be found it is a sure thing, and nine times out of ten enough friends can be found to put up a check for the undertaker’s charges and transportation. When this has been done the body is shipped to the friends or relatives by fast train, and turned over by the agent. The company makes a fat annual profit out of this melancholy business–“the corpse industry,” they call it—it is a good snap for the undertaker, and this county is saved just so many dollars. Many a time there have been three to four corpses at once in the company’s “cooling room” at Denver awaiting notice from friends in just this way. It is a cold day when W.F. & Co., can’t discover a new way to turn an honest penny.

The Pittsburg [PA] Dispatch 19 July 1891: p. 18

Mrs Daffodil thanks Chris Woodyard for that diverting Wells Fargo anecdote, which appears in her book, The Victorian Book of the Dead, also available in a Kindle edition.

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 Fashion Demonstrator: 1898

worth eau de nil 2

SPRY MODELS NOWADAYS

Supple, Shapely Forms Assisted by Nimble Wits in Setting Off the Good Points of Wares

Variety of the Goods Sold by Women

Elaborate Procedure of Foreign Dressmakers.

The demonstrator is to the front now. There are demonstrators of household appliances, demonstrators of food products and medical appurtenances, demonstrators of wearing apparel, demonstrators of everything under the sun except matrimony, and the tenantable qualities of flats and apartments to let. You may notice a bustling, wide-awake-looking woman rustling about almost any boarding house nowadays, and you are told, on making inquiry as to her calling or occupation, that she is a demonstrator. Whether it is some newly invented contraption for light housekeeping, or a new face mask, or complexion wash, demonstrated on one side of her own face and the back of one hand, whether it is a corset, or a combination garment, or a glove fastener that engages her efforts, she is certain to be busy.

In the world of wearing apparel it used to be the model upon whom much depended; the model with so many inches of bust measure to her credit, so many inches of waist measure, so much length of limb. The model stood like an inanimate statue and allowed capes, coats, street suits, and reception gowns to be placed upon her at the will of the saleswoman, taking really very little interest in the proceeding. Occasionally she submitted to having a hat perched on her head to see how it went with the suit. The demonstrator is of a different pattern. She is all alive, all pliancy. A certain grace of bearing and movement is as essential to her calling as a well-developed figure.

wedding corset 1898

Manufacturers with a new make of corsets to put on the market, for instance, begin by engaging a demonstrator to show its advantages to the woman buyer of a big store, and having won approval, gets the firm to give a special view of the corset. Cards are sent out to selected customers announcing this special view. The new corsets and the agile demonstrator have a room to themselves, a room gas lit, warmed, and properly decorated, where Miss B., the shapely demonstrator, may shine out as a central figure. None of those who attend this opening (men are excluded of course) is left in the slightest doubt as to how far the bones in the corsets will bend without breaking; how strong and durable they are; their weight, length, and their special advantages. Miss B., has three or four other makes of corsets at hand and tries them all on in turn in order the better to demonstrate the superiority of her own goods. The demonstrator’s business is not all in one direction. She must be as quick to show the weak points in rival wares as to exhibit the rare qualifications of her own.

The guests at the special view are not alone the customers of the retail house. Cards have been sent to representative trade journals in the manufacturer’s interests, and these papers send women to report upon the merits of the corsets. Representatives of retail houses in other cities are also on hand. Miss B. has enough spectators to give her inspiration in her task.

As with corsets, so with everything new in the way of women’s wear, whether outer or under garments. No longer though is the model or the demonstrator a mere lay figure. The new-style demonstrator who tries on a gown or a coat, must walk well and enter into the spirit of her business, displaying to the best advantage certain ins and outs of the garment that otherwise might pass unnoticed.

“A good demonstrator can sell any amount of goods that otherwise might be passed over as unattractive, or of little worth,” said the head saleswoman in one store. “Say a woman comes in here looking for a gown and does not know exactly what she wants. All our gowns valued at $100 or more are shown on the demonstrators. In looking over the assortment, the shopper may find a costume that suits her in every respect, but for a certain arrangement of the trimming. Perhaps the effect that she objects to may be new in style, and for that reason may strike her as odd, when in reality it is a great addition to the costume. The demonstrator puts on the gown and walks about in it for inspection. She lifts her arms to her head and puts her figure in graceful poses; she gives the gown a style that never would have been made apparent, had it been put on a wired frame or an inert model. The idea that the modiste had in view when she designed the gown is made really chic and original, and will suit her perfectly.”

The demonstrators in the big wholesale Broadway houses are kept busy in winter trying on thin, unlined summer gowns for the next season’s wear. They try these on over tight-fitting jerseys. The out-of-town merchant who comes in to see the effect of the new styles may be wearing a heavy overcoat at the time, but the demonstrators are usually hearty, healthy young women who do not suffer from fluctuations of temperature.

irish crochet summer dress

“Trying on these flimsy, thin things in winter isn’t near as bad as bundling up in furs and heavy jackets for the trade in the summer time,” said a demonstrator, and then she went on to say how well she liked the business and what excellent opportunities she and her mates had for getting really first-class gowns and coats for much less than actual cost.

“A demonstrator has a much better time than a salesgirl,” she said. “Our hours are shorter, and we generally get off at half past 5 the year round. Of course a demonstrator in a wholesale house is in much better luck and has less to do than one employed in a retail house. In the months when we are busy we are rushed to death, but for a good deal of the time there is very little to do and our wages go on all the same. August and September are busy months for us, and from the middle of January to March is the rush season.”

It seems that the animation and power of expression demanded of the present-day demonstrator on this side of the water are qualities that have long been required abroad.

“At the famous outfitters in Paris and London,” said a business woman, “there are demonstrators not only of one style of beauty, but of all the varying types—blond, brunette, and intermediate colorings. One demonstrator will be tall, slender and willowy in form; another will be plump and small; another tall and of Juno-like proportions. The visitor is shown into a room that gives no indications of the nature of the business to be transacted. A few good pictures and some flowers may be about, but the furnishings and appointments are very plain, so as not to detract from the gown that is to be the main object of interest.

“‘What style of gown does madame require?’ has been asked at the door; and according to the kind of gown desired is the special room into which the customer is shown. One apartment is devoted to ball and reception toilets, another to street suits, yet another to outing costumes or gowns for house wear. Madame waits in the empty room and soon a demonstrator comes in and walks quietly about as if looking at the different objects in the room, so that the customer may see to advantage the gown she has put on for her benefit. The demonstrator is as near in appearance to madame’s physical type and coloring as the assortment of demonstrators permitted. Every aspect of the gown—sideways, back, front, three-quarters view—is shown. Then the demonstrator withdraws, and another of the same type, but wearing a different gown, comes in to take her place. So the different toilets are show until one is chosen. Of course this is in one of those establishments where the artist will not make a gown or a garment for a woman which he thinks unsuitable for her, even if she orders it. The demonstrators both here and abroad are often pressed into service to sit for pictures to be used as advertisements for the house. The demonstrators in the high-priced establishments are courteously reticent, and seldom have a word to say, throwing all their force of expression into poses and gestures. Demonstrators like Miss B., who shows corsets or some new-fangled stocking supporter or combination garment, are glib of tongue, and emphasize every motion with a flow of words. They are energetic and pushing, and to a certain degree, modifications of the woman drummer.”

The Sun [New York, NY] 9 January 1898: p. 26

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  As this article observes, the work of the fashion demonstrator is much more akin to that of a woman drummer than that of, say, the French mannequin.  The vendors of the ever-changing world of fashion were constantly in search of the latest line of patter or display. This novel tactic for showing gowns was adopted by a London dressmaker:

Some clever dressmaker in London has chosen to be original, as though we would not all choose if we could. Each one of her young women attendants is dressed in some costume that the firm wishes to advertise. One glides about in a soft clinging dress of the first Empire. Another is jaunty in one belonging to the Directoire period. One with rosy cheeks, that the fogs of London and long hours of standing have not paled, stands blushing in the dress of a debutante. Leaning in pensive attitude with sad looks, here is one in long, sweeping robes of mourning and dainty and exquisite in lace and soft silks sits someone by a tea table handing steaming cups to ladies worn out with the task of choosing gowns to outrival those of their rivals. Otago Witness 20 June 1889: p. 34

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 Mermaid Palace: 1912

mermaid palace

Mlle. Heloise Yane, the vivacious little French actress of the Capucines, is at last to have what she has long wanted—a submarine palace. There is nothing in existence like it. Neither the crowned heads of Europe nor the nabobs and potentates of Asia have anything to compare with the wonderful structure which Mlle. Yane contemplates. That is one of the principal reasons why she wants it.

“Villas and chateaux! I’m tired of them. Anyone with any money at all can buy them,” she declared, somewhat pettishly, some months ago, while discussing her Summer plans with Mons. Francois Le Duc, the French engineer,  “can’t you suggest something that will be different from everything else?”
“Well, how about a submarine palace—I don’t know of anything like that in existence,” replied the engineer facetiously.

“The very thing, Monsieur! You shall design one for me. You can begin”—

“But, Mademoiselle,” pleaded the engineer, “I was but joking. The thing is entirely impracticable.”
“It may be impracticable, but it isn’t impossible, is it? I’m sure you can do it, and its very impracticability will be its principal charm, for it will insure its individuality.”
Realizing that the young woman was entirely serious, the engineer at once turned his attention to the problem, and now, after three months’ hard work, his plans have all been completed, and he awaits only his fair client’s commands to commence actual work.

The site selected for this unique structure is in the Bay of Naples, midway between Sorrento and the Island of Capri, where there is a depth of one hundred feet.

The palace is to be built entirely of glass. There will be two stories. To obtain access to it, one will have to don a diving suit and be lowered from a boat. The entrance will be built upon the lock principle, that is to say, it will be open to the sea until the visitor steps into it. When the sea-doors will be closed and the water released. The visitor will then pass into the next chamber, where he or she will emerge from the diving suit and be ushered into the edifice.

This may seem a little cumbersome, but the engineer declares that it will be a comparatively simple matter, not more than five minutes elapsing from the time the arrival of a guest above the palace is announced until he is being welcomed below by the fair hostess.

Being entirely transparent, this structure enables its occupants to observe everything that is going on among the denizens of the deep, and, of course, they enjoy a reciprocal privilege. Through the glass walls Mlle. Yane will constantly gaze upon huge octopi and other sea monsters which infest these waters, and, though the horrible creatures may get on her nerves somewhat at first, she will soon realize that her marine neighbors can do her no harm and she will become accustomed to their presence.

In addition to this, the architect has provided for a periscope similar to those used in submarine vessels, so that everything that goes on above the surface of the water may be reproduced upon a screen in the observation chamber of the submarine palace.

Majestic Vesuvius in the distance, villa life on the Sorrento coast, the activities of the sponge fishers, and the constantly changing scenes in the beautiful Bay of Naples, will make a picture which those lucky enough to visit the submarine palace ought never to tire of nor forget. This observation chamber will be placed on the very top of the structure.

Opposite it will be situated one of the principal attractions of the submarine life which the French actress has mapped out for herself and her friends—the electric fishing chamber. Mlle. Yane is an enthusiastic fisherwoman, and when she first decided upon her submarine Summer home she did not look with favor upon the idea that she would have to forego her favorite pastime while enjoying the seclusion which her palace beneath the waves afforded.

It was then that M. Le Duc suggested the electric-fishing plant. Instead of hooks and lines the fish will be enticed to destruction by bait attached to electric wires, and as soon as they get within range, the fisherman, sitting a switchboard, will press a button and send a charge of electricity into the fish which will electrocute it instantly. Its body will then float up to the surface, where it will be taken in by boys in boats, rowing around for that purpose.

This electric fishing plan will likewise be used to rid the inmates of the glass palace of such unwelcome visitors as giant octopi if they become at all obstreperous and try to break through. Appetizing bait will be attached to the electric wires and put where the octopus can reach it, and when its huge tentacles close on the wire, it will receive its death charge.

At first blush it might seem that fishing thus conducted would lose much of its charm, and yet there is no important element of the sport as it is usually practiced, which the fisherman at the switchboard will necessarily miss. The fascination of waiting for the finny beauties to nibble at the bait, the joy of being able to press the button at just the right moment, either too soon nor too late, and the novel experience of seeing the captured fish float quietly to the surface ought to satisfy the most ardent angler, and Mlle. Yane, at any rate, feels quite sure that in this respect her submarine palace will be worthwhile.

On the ground floor, in addition to the specially constructed entrance chamber, will be the grand staircase and foyer hall, which will lead up to the grand salon and dining room on the second floor.

In its interior decorations and furnishings the submarine palace will be in every respect equal to the most luxurious edifices of royalty, but the lighting effects will be different and superior to anything ever before attempted. By an arrangement of prismatic and refracting lenses electric light will suffuse the whole palace with a soft, mellow, purplish blue atmosphere, in keeping with the purplish tint of the waters of the bay. The effect of this, taken in connection with the constant presence of the fish encircling the palace, will be to give one the impression of actually living in the water.

There will be an elevator from the ground floor to the fishing chamber, and a wireless telephone will communicate with the wireless apparatus at Sorrento.

In addition to the other attractions of the palace will be a well-fitted gymnasium, where the French actress sand her guests may indulge in fencing and other athletic pastimes.

Although the palace under the waves will always be cool, provision will be made for swimming, a special swimming tank in which the water will be constantly renewed having been devised by the architect. Entrance to it will be by means of a lock-device similar to that provided for the entrance to the palace.

Donning her bathing costume, Mlle. Yane will enter a small chamber on the ground floor of the palace. She will then close the door leading to the palace and open the door leading to the swimming tank, which will be entirely enclosed by glass to keep out the cuttle-fish and other monsters of the deep. This swimming tank is one hundred by fifty feet and is supplied with oxygen generated by a plant in the palace proper, the inflow of the water being controlled so that it cannot rise beyond a certain height. After the swimmer has disported herself in this chamber to her heart’s content she returns to the lock-chamber, closes the door leading to the tank, presses a button and releases the water which followed her into the chamber and then opens the door leading to the palace.

Ventilation and air for the palace proper are provided by means of a powerful plant located on the ground floor.

Although the plans for this home beneath the waves seem to be complete as one could desire, all that remains to put them into execution is the necessary funds, and the engineer has figured that at least half a million will be required to complete the palace in the manner above outlines.

“Of course, it will cost a lot of money,” concedes Mlle. Yane, “more than I can afford, but I would not care to inhabit even this sumptuous palace alone, you know.”

Mlle. Yane is very popular. It is said that she might have the choice of half a dozen men eager to supply both the funds and the companionship necessary to make the submarine palace a thing of reality.

Anyway the plans are now all ready, and any day Mlle. Yane may decide who is to be the happy man to dwell among the fishes with her.

Fort Worth [TX] Star-Telegram 14 July 1912: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The illustration is captioned “The Hostess and Her Guests Will Wear Mermaid Costumes in Keeping with the Environment.” Mrs Daffodil has previously described some ways to dress (or undress) like a mermaid.

One would have given much to see this charming fantasy brought to fruition with the assistance of some besotted millionaire, although it seems unsporting to slaughter the finny beauties with electricity.  Mrs Daffodil has found no trace of Engineer Le Duc outside of this article, but Heloise Yane was again in the news in 1913 when it was reported that she had been jilted by Prince Michel Murat in favour of Miss Helen Stallo, a Standard Oil heiress from Cincinnati.

 mermaidpalace.jpg

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

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

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