Category Archives: Theatre

A Game of Stealing Spoons: 1892

THE LATEST FAD.

The Way Some Boston Girls Are Amusing Themselves

The Spoon Question at the Tremont Theatre, and Its Explanation—Pretty Girls and an Unpretty Game—How One Girl Plays It—Dilemma for the Hotel Men.

To the Editor of the Herald: It chanced one day not so very long ago that I saw the nervous and energetic business manager of the Tremont Theatre in a more nervous and energetic mood than usual. It was hot; the board of health, he thought, was not doing everything it might to make Boston a model city in summer, and he was suffering from both causes. On this occasion neither cause was, however, the mainspring of his complaint. It was not his own grievances that were weighting upon him as heavy as Atlas’ burden; it was righteous indignation against a public’s ingratitude.

“Think of it,” he ejaculated hoarsely, thrusting his chin forward, and emphasizing his words with his thin, nervous hand, “we give them the best kind of a summer show; we give them mighty good music out here between the acts; we give them ice cream, gratis—and good ice cream, too—and what do they do in return? I’ll tell you just what they do; some of them carry off the spoons; that’s what they do.”
The idea was so deliciously ludicrous that one could not help laughing. What in the world they could do with such useful spoons, perfectly appropriate to their purpose, but hardly desirable for private establishments or domestic pride, puzzled me.

It puzzles me no longer.

The explanation came in the oddest way, but it was absolutely convincing.

A few evenings later I was calling on some stay-in-town people. There were several young people in the room—pretty girls most of them. A popular actress was of the party, and in a very amusing way she was relating

What She Called her Cheek

In taking a party of four down to see “Puritania” one evening and telling with much laughter how the entire party marched out between the acts and partook of free ice cream. “We were determined,” she said, “to take in the entire show, but I must confess that it was not unalloyed pleasure to me. I for one felt that it was a rather large ‘deadhead’ contingent to eat at the courtesy of the house. You ought to have seen the way I bolted the cream. I was in mortal agony for fear Mr. Childs would come along and see the performance. I suppose we were welcome enough, but it did seem to me like ‘crowding the mourners’ a bit.”

Just as the laugh went round the young hostess spoke up: “I say, dear, there was only one thing needed to make that affair simply magnificent. You ought to have stolen the spoons. That would have completed the thing in great shape.”

Supposing that they had heard the statement of “spoon lifting,” just as I had, I mentioned the fact and my inability to account for such appropriating of valueless things. A shout of laughter greeted my seriousness. The young girl of the house rose from her low seat, dropped me a curtsey, and pirouetting across the room, took from a table in plain sight a tray of filigree silver, and with a laugh and another low curtsey presented it to me. On it reposed nearly two dozen indifferent looking spoons, mostly after dinner coffees. I looked from the tray to my hostess. In answer to my amazed glance—for the spoons were not to be confounded with the souvenir fad—she began telling the spoons off in her hands. “Parker House, “ “Tremont House,” “Young’s,” “The Victoria,” “Grand Hotel,” “Langham,” and so on, until I had seen stamped on the back of a series of plated spoons the name of almost every hotel and restaurant in town.

“That,” she cried in triumph, with a wave of her hand, “is my collection of hotel spoons, and I flatter myself that it would be hard to beat it.”

So this is the latest “fad” of the collector. Society girls are making collections of hotel spoons, and the most remarkable feature of the fad is that the spoons are collected surreptitiously, and the collectors take the greatest possible pride in the number they can exhibit. The modus operandi seems to be to get a young man to do the collecting. Of course, it costs more to get the spoons in this way than it would to buy them, but they are only valuable because they are secured irregularly. Usually two or three young people go in for a lunch, which always ends with coffee. Then the sport begins, and much of the maneuvering to “collect’ the spoon and get away before the waiter notes or suspects its loss is said to be very funny. Up to date it is thought that the waiters have

Not Got on to the Game.

There is said to be as much excitement in it as if it were a game of chance, as so many of the girls find much difficulty in avoiding an attack of hysterical giggling, and spoiling the whole thing.

There is one Boston girl who will have no spoon in her collection which she has not collected herself, and she has one of the largest exhibits of her success of any one in her set. Her method is all her own. It is warm weather. She wears her summer gowns cut V-shaped in front. During the coffee drinking she casually drops her spoon her lap, and as carelessly covers it with her napkin. When she wipes her mouth she manages to drop the spoon down her neck, if you please. Why she does not put it in her pocket is a mystery. It would be simpler, but I suppose it would not be so exciting, certainly not so startling, so bizarre—or, possibly, she does not have a pocket.

This new “fad”—that is exactly what these girls call it—admits of strange possibilities, if it should become an epidemic, as fads are always liable to do. I found myself on my way home that night calculating—if I know five girls who are collecting (let us be gentle for the moment and avoid the real verb), there are liable to be 50 who have taken it up. If 50, why not 500? If 500 take to making such collections, what will the hotel man do then, poor thing? Who can say where this collecting will stop? Why not collect china, too? From ages there have been jokes about the men who jauntily carried off the napkins in their pockets, and women who helped themselves to hotel towels. It may be that the jibes at them were all unjust. May not they, too have been “collecting.” May not the discredit that has fallen on the man who helps himself to overcoats in front halls be unfair? Why should not a man make collections of overcoats whose sole value should lie in the fact that they do not belong to him? Why not make collections of furniture? Smuggling it out of hotels by private messengers would, it seems to me, make a very exciting game, and tax the ingenuity of the collector; it would require as much calculation as playing chess or cracking a crib. So much the better.

Seriously, the lack of moral conscience shown by young people today is in too many instances startling. It is dangerous to generalize, of course, but such facts as these are far from amusing. Doubtless this new fad originated with some young collegian whose animal spirits got away with him, and a deed which of itself is absolutely a crime—for wrong is a matter of quality, not quantity—loses on a safe acquaintance its real status. This was proved to my satisfaction on the evening in question. A girl, who when she was first told of this latest fad was shocked, became so infatuated before the evening was over that she was prepared to start a collection of her own.

Now these girls were well brought up. I doubt, if they were hungry, if it would occur to them to steal food, or if it did occur to them if they would have the nerve to do it. Yet with full pockets they make a

Game of Stealing Spoons.

Whose only value arises from the dishonest manner in which they have been acquired. Not one of them thought of the wrong in the deed. They thought only of the fun.

If a poor girl in  the South Cove, having nothing except desires for a possession she might never hope to secure, were to steal a 25-cent trinket, she would get marched off to the station house. The case may not look exactly parallel. It is not. All the excuses are on the side of South Cove.

It would be very entertaining to know what the waiters think of the little society game. Perhaps they have not got on to it yet; perhaps they are still rated for the loss of the spoons; perhaps they are charged with them. When admirers of women assert that the feminine nature is singularly lacking in moral sense, it is customary for gallantry to loudly deny the impeachment, but do not the times give proof of their lack of principle?

What would happen if some irate hotel keeper, totally lacking in a sense of humor—and there be such men keeping public houses right here in Boston—were to make an example of a collector?

What would happen?

Well, probably the judge would look upon it as a good joke, and if the court room was in a good humor the laugh would go round. For all that the notoriety would not be desirable.

Perhaps the business manager of the Tremont may feel differently when he knows that the public that eats ice cream is not stealing the spoons, but “collecting” them. It may comfort his indignation to know that nothing so vulgar as stealing is going on in that fashionable playhouse, but that a new game of help yourself is being played by self-considered respectable people. And then, again, perhaps he won’t see the joke.

In the meantime it may not be without its compensations. I heard one woman remark to another in the horse cars: “I am going to ‘Puritania’ again Monday. I want to see them steal the ice cream spoons.”

Boston [MA] Herald 31 July 1892: p. 28

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil wishes to make it clear that she is merely reporting on a shocking moral trend; not advocating it. Such light-hearted theft should not go unchecked. Giggling amateurs do not realise that they make it more difficult for hard-working, professional criminals to ply their trade.

It is Mrs Daffodil’s understanding that hotels have much the same problem with towels, robes, ash-trays, and other amenities that find their way into guests’ suit-cases. Some shrug and accept the losses. Others post notices that pilfered items will be added to the bill.  Still others, resourcefully, have taken to selling souvenir amenities. As the young ladies might say, “Where’s the fun in that?” To paraphrase a well-known axiom: “Stolen fruit tastes the sweetest.”  (Or perhaps “Ice cream tastes sweetest when eaten from a stolen spoon.”)

 

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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Independence Day Tableaux: 1918

Liberty and Columbia [All photographs from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.]

As a loyal subject of the Crown, it would be inappropriate for Mrs Daffodil to celebrate Independence Day, particularly as she feels that much in American life would be improved under the reign of a female sovereign. She does, however, send the best compliments of the day to her American readers,  along with these vintage images of patriotic tableaux held on the Ellipse in Washington D.C., circa 1918, just before the end of the Great War. Mrs Daffodil further hopes that the champagne will be properly chilled and the hampers packed with all good things for your holiday picnic luncheons.

 

liberty

Mrs Daffodil is uncertain what this lady represents–The Spirit of Freedom? Democracy? Liberated France? The Spirit of Electricity?

The entire Ensemble. It seems as though there were Druidesses present.

The entire Ensemble. One crosses Miss Columbia at one’s peril.

druidess

An American Druidess? Her costume is a bit of an enigma, as is the building in the background. It seems too near and the wrong shape to be the Capitol Dome.

A more martial version

The stalwart Miss Liberty

Washington 4th of July tableaux

And a stern, martially attired Columbia in her Liberty cap, who seems in need of a spear.

 

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
.

This post originally appeared in July of  2013.

The Floral Fête: 1892

 

A Floral Phaeton Santa Barbara

THE SANTA BARBARA FLOWER CARNIVAL

In April 19 the city of Santa Barbara California, engaged in a magnificent Floral Festival, a “Battle of Flowers,” which lasted four days. The affair was a success from first to last, and reflects great credit upon the inhabitants of the city, for everybody from mayor to common citizen seemed to have a hand in the enterprise. The event was evidently based upon both sentiment and good sense; it was a grand holiday, adapted to the tastes of all, from gray-haired men and matrons down to little children. And much to the credit of the city be it said that those elements which during public holidays so frequently lead to excesses of various kinds were entirely wanting. This open-air flower-festival was as innocent and pure as it was gay and cheerful.

santa barbara floral fete tandem floral cart

In our churches and Sabbath schools a day known as Floral Day has for some year been quite generally observed. The Santa Barbara festival was an enlargement of this—a city instead of a mere congregation participating. Such consistent methods of engaging in public festivals are commendable, and it is with pleasure that we devote space in this issue to some notice of the event.

Before the visit of President Harrison to the Pacific Coast early in the current year, C. F. Eaton, of Monticello. suggested among ways of showing general appreciation of the presence of our chief magistrate a “Battle of Flowers,” such as may be seen every year in the city of Nice, France. The idea was adopted and the result was so satisfactory that later on a score of the leading citizens resolved to inaugurate an annual season of floral festivities. For this purpose the Santa Barbara Floral Festivities Association was formed. This year witnesses the first season of its usefulness. It is the intention of the association to incorporate, and thus to provide for such a festival yearly in Santa Barbara.

floral wheels of the bicycle club santa barbara

This season’s festivities began with a display of horticultural products in the pavilion at the fair grounds. Owing to the lateness of the season and the remarkable weather of the past month. it had been feared that this would not be a very brilliant success. So much is always expected of Santa Barbara because of her celebrity as the home of the rose and many subtropical flowers, that more than one true friend of the city shook his head over the prospects of the horticultural exhibit. But it was a decided and pronounced success, as all who visited the pavilion testified.

Santa barbara carriage in louis style

But the great event of the carnival was the street procession which signalized the triumphal entry of the goddess Flora to this fair city. At an early hour of the day on which it took place, the people on the main street had begun to decorate their several places of business so that all might be in readiness for the pageant of floral cars and other vehicles passing. Much taste was shown in adorning the buildings, and garlands, cornucopias, vines, pampas-plumes, evergreens, flags and hunting were everywhere used in abundance. Many windows were converted into flower-gardens, filled with lilies, roses and other flowers.

The day itself was all that could be desired for making a success of the procession. All the forenoon State street was one surging mass of pedestrians and carriages. Hundreds of strangers were everywhere present, every street-car was filled, and the busses and hacks did a thriving business. All the people were bent on having a thoroughly good time and on making the most of the day.

Santa Barbara decorations of Devoniensis roses

It was nearly two o’clock when the procession began to move. The first vehicle that followed the band of music and the marshal with his aids was a grand floral float twenty feet long and eight feet wide, drawn by four large gray horses ridden by boys and led by four men dressed in semi-oriental costumes. The float stood about five feet from the ground and from the top downward was draped with moss and calla-lilies. The top was painted and upholstered to resemble water upon which floated five shell-like boats. The four smaller boats were occupied by beautiful young girls. Each boat was supplied with golden oars and silken sails. In the larger and more beautiful boat sat the goddess Flora— Senorita Carmelita Dibblee. Behind the goddess and rising above her was a very handsome canopy of silk— outside yellow, inside pale azure-blue with delicate figures of small roses. This was draped with tassels and ropes of silk. The sails were of white satin. Ribbons of satin passed from each boat to the hands of the goddess.

Of the many other vehicles which entered into the pageant, there is not space to give a description here. Some of them are shown in the annexed engravings, made from photographs. Suffice it to say that they represented the application of much taste and skill, while it was plain to see that flowers without stint were available for the occasion. One native flower of which all Californians are proud — the eschscholtzia, was used with lavish profusion, and roses loading the air with fragrance, lilies, callas, marguerites, smilax and wild brodiaeas were among other kinds freely employed.

During the four days of the festival a brilliant reception, a grand tournament, and a ball were given; also a competitive display of flowers and fruits, for which numerous cash prizes were given. No sooner was the floral fête-day over, than the participants began to consider the good reasons apparent for an annual perpetuation of the day in Santa Barbara. It is to be hoped the example here set forth may be widely heeded, and that such fête-days may be multiplied throughout our land.

American Gardening 1892: pp. 395-396

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil is desolate at not having any illustrations of the shell-like boats of the Goddess Flora and her attendants, but hopes that the floral carriages will make up for the lack. Mrs Daffodil understands that there is a similar entertainment held every year in Pasadena, California called “The Rose Bowl Parade” where floats entirely made of various sorts of vegetation delight viewers. It has something to do with American foot-ball, which is not the proper sort, so details are scanty in the British papers.

Mrs Daffodil normally leaves matters floral to the gardeners, but Angus McKew, head gardener at the Hall, has been good enough to inform Mrs Daffodil that the Eschscholzia is also known as the California Poppy, while brodiaeas are commonly called “cluster-lilies.” Mrs Daffodil is greatly obliged to Mr McKew and will try to temper the Hall’s requests for cut flowers.

 

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.

Circus Girls Wear Corsets: 1895

circus world poster with ladies

ALL OF THEM WEAR CORSETS.

Women Circus Performers Encased in Steels.

A Poser for the Dress Reformers—Female Acrobats and Trapeze Stars Do Their Most Daring Acts in Corsets, and Declare Them Safe, Comfortable and Indispensable.

The first request made of all girls who go into a gymnasium is the surrender of corsets. This request is backed up by physicians, who declare it utterly impossible to do good “gym” work in corsets.

Dress reformers tell how injurious to health the corset is; how the action of the intercostal muscles is prevented; how the floating ribs are crushed, how the lower portion of the lungs is paralyzed, but here is a fact that they will find some trouble in explaining satisfactorily. The champion women acrobats, equestriennes, trick and bareback riders, equilibrists, aerial specialists and trapeze performers wear corsets. They do their most wonderful acts in corsets. Contortionists are the only class who habitually work without them.

These women are the most energetic of their sex, noted for their endurance, activity, fine physical development, and especially for length of wind. Now if corsets are such deadly articles, why don’t they take effect on the queens of the sawdust rings?

Imagine being introduced suddenly into the dressing room of Barnum & Bailey’s circus, where 15 stellar performers of whom you had intended to ask, “Do you wear corsets?” had just reached the corset stage in their toilets. Every one of the 15 had either just clasped on a pair or was about to do so. The sight was convincing. No questions were necessary.

“Oh, you do, don’t you?” was the natural exclamation.

“Do what?” asked a young woman in lavender tights.

The wardrobe woman, who was the intruder’s chaperone, made a speech.

“Ladies, this newspaper woman wants to know how many of you wear corsets when in the ring, and if the most difficult feats can be performed in them.”

Linda Jeal 1879

Miss Linda Jeal in her “jockey” costume. designed to help her avoid catching her hair and skirts on fire during her act. http://www.bulibstats.net/illinoiswomen/files/is/htm1/jeal.htm

Then Lavender Tights, who was recognized as Linda Jeal, who flies through paper hoops and does daring bareback hurdle acts, said:

“Everybody that I know wears them. I’d have a broken back if I didn’t, and I guess all the others would. There’s nothing the matter with corsets if they aren’t laced to death. If I left them off I’d never be able to do a thing.

Don’t they disturb the action of your heart? Can you use your intercostal muscles?”

“Well, I’ve been in the business over 20 years, and I guess I’d have been dead before now if corsets affected the heart, and I’ve got the use of about every muscle there is in my body,” and the girls all joined in Miss Jeal’s merry laugh as she turned to them for confirmation.

“Of course, you can’t use the lower part of your lungs in breathing. No anti-corset preacher would allow you that privilege.”

“That’s just what a doctor said to me when I went to be examined to get my life insured. He said I looked ‘delicate.” So I let out my breath and then, while he held a measure, I inflated my lungs. The doctor said I was ‘very deceiving.’ In this business a woman has got to have as much wind as she can get. If she don’t she can’t work. I can do anything in corsets I can without, and for that matter, I can’t do some things at all without the corsets.”

The insurance company accepted Miss Jeal at a very moderate premium, because they decided she was an exceptionally good physical risk.

“Doesn’t corset reform ever get into the circus?”

Sometimes, but not much. My niece has been riding for six years and she got an idea she couldn’t perform with corsets on. Her mother and I had always worn them, but she had her own way. I saw she was getting a stoop in her back, and last fall I told her she must come out in corset. She did, but she was sure she never could bend this way nor that” (drifting backward and forward). “But she did. One day when the corsets burst she insisted on stopping practice to take them off. I said ‘Go ahead.’ When she came back she found she couldn’t get along without them, and now she’s converted to corsets. I read everything I see in the papers about dress reform and the evils of corsets, but it is only necessary to see what acrobatic feats women performers do in corsets to see the holes in anti-corset arguments. There’s Mary Wentworth. Ask her.”

Miss Wentworth came over from her dressing trunk.

“I’m dressed now for a contortion act and haven’t any corsets on. I don’t know any contortionist of first rank who does wear them. But in everything else I do I wouldn’t think of going without them. Yes, I practice in them, as well as perform. I always wear them in trapeze acts.”

Miss Wentworth is one of the all-around performers, who is considered to have a long career ahead of her, and she expects to wear corsets to the end of her days.

miss lonny contortionist elastic lady acrobat 1900

Miss Lonny, “Elastic Lady Acrobat” or contortionist, c. 1900-1909 http://cdm15847.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15847coll3/id/78662/rec/5

Just then along came a little woman in pink, simply one bunch of exquisite muscle from neck to heels. “Come here, Miss Julietta. You always wear corsets, don’t you?” called Miss Wentworth.

“I never go without them. But what’s all this about?”

“Why, you know there are folks who are trying to get women to stop wearing corsets, because it injures their health,” explained Miss Wentworth.

“Injures the health? Look at me. How could I do my tricks if I wasn’t healthy? I’ve been training since I was 3 years old, and have worn corsets ever since I can remember. Do I look as if they hurt me? See that,” and Miss Julietta threw up a muscle on her arms like rock, and took a couple of deep breaths that were like filling a balloon. “Why, I can do anything in corsets,” and the muscular little woman hurried to her corner to change her dress, and in a few moments was saying good-day.

circus performers in corsets dance on the slack rope

Miss Julietta is a gymnast, an acrobat and about everything else except a contortionist. She does a wonderful high-rope act now, where she jumps up and down on the rope, changes her costume, and keeps the audience breathless, wondering why she doesn’t shake herself to pieces.

circus performers weara corsets swinging from the rings

Two aerial performers are Josie Ashton and Miss Potter. One works with a partner on a double flying trapeze, and Miss Ashton in pendulating rings. Both are devotees of corsets. It has become the fad now among dancers on the stage to scorn corsets. Miss Girdelles performs some eccentric dancing feats and high kicking, which has been considered feasible only sans corsets. Grotesque acrobatic tricks are combined with the dancing. “All in corsets,” she says, “and couldn’t be done without them.”

Josie Ashton circus bareback rider

Miss Josie Ashton was also an equestrienne.

At this point a little woman in street clothes came in. An English sailor hat was perched on an elaborate coiffure, and as she appeared Miss Jeal called out:

“How do you do, Miss Pink Cheeks? Do you wear corsets?”

“Miss Pink Cheeks,” who is one of the flying Dillons, looked surprised at such a question, and dropped into her dressing chair.

“Do you wear corsets in your act?”

“No, I don’t.”

The girls looked surprised as she went on. “I never have worn them while performing.”

“Why, you look just as if you did when you walk into the ring.”

“I know it; that is because every muscle in my body has been developed, and the body has got its natural shape.”

Miss Dillon has an idea that will delight women who are tired of having the Venus de Milo and the Medici lady’s waist held up to them as models. When asked to account for the discrepancy between her idea of the shape of a woman’s waist and that the Venus exploits, she said:

“Why, Venus didn’t take any exercise. If she had used her muscles as she ought, she would have lost that lumpy look about her waist, worked off some extra flesh and had a respectable shape instead of looking like a dowdy.”

flying dillons circus

Miss Dillon at one time was part of “The Flying Dillons.” trapeze act.

Miss Dillon’s act is exceedingly daring. She works on a high trapeze, and after exploits that make timid women wish she wouldn’t do so any more she takes a dive from the top into a net below.

Mme. Catroni, who had been listening to her side partner, Miss Dillon, said: “I didn’t take to wearing corsets until I was 20 years old, but I think you’ll find that most women performers, unless they are contortionists, wear corsets into the ring. There may be a little fondness for making a good appearance, and nobody would want to see a woman without them unless she was very slim and compactly built. I never heard of a woman’s being injured by a broken corset steel. I got my head smashed and a rib broken in a four-horse tandem hurdle race a year ago, but the corset steels didn’t even scratch me. Even the lady clown wears corsets, and she can turn somersaults, backward flips and handsprings. She doubles herself up and rolls around the ring, and all those things that dress reformers would say were impossible.”

the meers sisters circus

The Meers Sisters performed an equestrienne act.

The Meers Sisters, who perform four times within eight hours what would seem to be most exhausting bareback acts, and at the end of each number still are able to go into the dressing room smiling and joking, looked scornful and the mere idea of not wearing corsets.

“What a silly notion,” one said.

“We never could do without them,” exclaimed another. “Corsets give the back support. Sometimes a steel smashes, but that never stops us.”

“Which all goes to bear out the speech of Dr. Mary Green of Detroit sprung on the dress-reform session of the National Woman’s Council in Washington when she declared that corsets, when properly worn, were not injurious in any way, and that she had even prescribed them. If Dr. Green wants any arguments, get the records of these champion women performers, who all wear corsets.

Boston [MA] Herald 28 April 1895: p. 29

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  We have seen a debate about the use and utility of corsets before–by ladies of the stage.  It continues to-day among historical re-enactors and tight-lacing enthusiasts, some of whom are known as “waist-trainers.” The dress-reformers of the age were, of course, ever-ready with statistics of consumption caused by corsetry and often advocated less stringent “waists” or “bodices.”

Circus performers often used different names in the course of their careers so accurate biographical data is sometimes hard to find.  Linda Jeal was known as a “hurricane rider” and “The Queen of the Flaming Zone” for her fiery equestrienne act.   Mme. Girdelle was one of The Three Girdelles, described as “grotesques.”  Mme. “Catroni” was Mattie Robinson Castroni, a “mounted broadsword fencer” who fenced on horseback in velvet Renaissance costumes and armour with her husband, Prof. G.M. Castroni. Mrs Daffodil regrets that she was not able to find an image of this diverting act.

 

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.

Shoeing for a New Play – Theatrical Footwear: 1901

SHOEING FOR A NEW PLAY.

Footwear a Big Item in a Stage Production—Cost from $1000 to $1600

Some Trials of a Theatrical Bootmaker.

Through some oversight the manager of a theatrical company that is soon to “try” an elaborate costume play upon an Eastern city has neglected to make arrangements to have the company shod, and the anxiety into which the cast has been plunged by this carelessness gives some idea of the importance which attaches to the matter of shoeing for a modern stage production. The actors who have been engaged for this one took it for granted that the usual arrangements had been made with the usual bootmaker for providing them with the proper footgear, and all that they would have to do would be to drop in any day and leave their measurement. That is the way they have been accustomed to buying their stage shoes, and they have been dropping into a little shop in Union Square, which has practically a monopoly in theatrical bootmaking, every day for the last week. The woman who is in charge of the shop during the proprietor’s absence says: “It will teach them all a lesson.”

A man, who from dress and manners was obviously from stageland, entered the shop and with an air of easy assurance took a chair and announced that he had come to be measured.

“For what?” asked the woman.

“For what?” repeated the actor, “why, for the shoes I am to wear in -—,” mentioning the title of the play.

“We know nothing about the boots you are to wear in that piece,” said the woman; “but possibly if you will leave your order we can get them out for you in time—what style is it you want?”

The actor’s easy assurance gave way instantly to bewilderment, and from bewilderment to mental stampede. “Style,” he echoed, gazing helplessly around him, “why, classic, Spanish, Louis XIV.—I don’t know, how should I know? Something like that thing there in the show case,” and he pointed to a black satin Spanish slipper with high heels slashed with yellow and trimmed around the top with silver, “that’s what I want, isn’t it? something on that order, anyway.” The woman told him that it would be impossible to fill an order from so meagre a description, and advised him to go around to the costumers’ and obtain details. The actor humbly promised to do so.

When he had gone the woman turned to another customer. “That man,” she explained, “would have known all about the boots he is to wear, if he had seen them; that is, if we had made them for him he could have pointed out where they were historically and otherwise wrong. As it is, you can see for yourself how ignorant he is, and how helpless. It is customary for a manager, when a new play is to be put on, to leave the order with a bootmaker for all the footgear that are to be worn by the cast; the style and the designs are sent to us by the costumer, or in some cases, are left to our own judgment,”

“What does it cost to shoe a company for a first-class production?” inquired the customer.

“From $1000 to $1600 dollars,” the woman answered. production will cost about $900.

“And who pays for all that?”

“Why, the actors themselves. It costs each one from $80 to $100, according to the number of changes he or she has to make in the course of the play. The supers, of course, do not have to pay for the shoes they wear—they are included in the company’s property.”

The popularity of historical plays has made the high kid boot extending above the knee, and known to the trade as a “knickertaur,” in greater demand than any other style. They cost from $10 to $18 a pair. Other costume boots vary in price from $8 to $40 a pair.

“How many dancing shoes,” said the woman in the shop, “do you suppose that young woman there (pointing to a photograph of a woman balancing airily on one great toe) how many shoes do you suppose she ordered here yesterday? Two hundred pair. Almost as many as some people wear in a lifetime, isn’t it? She’s going to Australia, and she doesn’t want to run short of shoes.”

The shoes which the young woman had ordered and which are kept in stock were quite shapeless and heelless affairs. A pronounced box toe explained the ease with which ballet dancers pose for minutes at a time on them. “And all the glittering tinselled sham,” continued the shopkeeper “which you read about as ‘existing behind the footlights, does not apply to these wares. They are of the best material and best workmanship, and cost more than any shoes of any sort sold in this country.”—[N. Y. Evening Post.

Boot and Shoe Recorder: 4 September 1901: p. 29

pink boots

Bejewlled satin boots worn by music hall variety artiste Kitty Lord, 1894-1915 http://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/Online/object.aspx?objectID=object-91634&start=34&rows=1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has shared information about theatrical costuming and some unusual special effects such as stage thunder and lightning, sandstorms, and giant dragons. Theatrical footwear, despite the “sock and buskin” being shorthand for the profession, has received much less attention than its costumes and special effects. Yet where would our chorus be without ballet shoes? Where would high-kicking music hall artistes be without tall satin boots? Where would our leading men be without their discreet lifts to allow them to tower over their leading ladies? For example:

“There is the raising of the actor’s shoes. We can make a man two inches taller, without spoiling the shape of his foot; this enables many an artist to hold positions that he could not fill without these raised shoes. Some of our leading artists wear them. The giants in the museums wear them to make them still taller. I remember once a friend of mine, an actor, came to Chicago to join ‘The Burglar’ company. The manager noticed at rehearsal that he was shorter than the leading lady—that would never do. He came to me and told me his troubles. I told him to cheer up—sit down and let me take his measure, and explained to him the process of raising shoes. On the opening night he was one inch taller than the leading lady, and every one was happy. It may be remarked that many people resort to this device in their street shoes.”

The Saint Paul [MN] Globe 12 April 1897: p. 8

Smaller feet were also part of stage wizardry and this “Cherman” shoe-maker [Mrs Daffodil cannot do the dialect] also elevated actresses with what sound like chopines:

“I suppose,” said the reporter, “that it’s part of a theatrical shoemaker’s art to make women’s feet appear smaller?”

“Women?” he said. “Vy do you say only women? Let me dell you dat men are shust as vain as women. I make de feet look smaller for both. Don’t ask me how, for dat is a secret of de craft. Most beople dink de high heel does it. But it’s more dan dat. You must get de heel shoost so. I also make bedple taller. Dere’s Janauschek—I fill her up mit cork and sawdust.”

“Fill her up with cork and sawdust?”

‘‘Dat is, de shoes of her. I make her two or tree inches higher dan she is.”

Time 26 September 1885: p. 102

slap stick shoes

Music Hall “slap-stick” shoes worn for the “Big Boot Dance” by Sammy Curtis. https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1114606/theatre-costume/

Mrs Daffodil is reminded by the shoes above of the host of a vintage variety television show, a Mr Edward Sullivan, who used to announce that his viewers were about to witness “a really big shoe.”

 

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 Chorus Girls Make a Dragon: 1893

ali baba headline

GIRLS MAKE THE DRAGON

Startling Stage Realism Ingeniously Made of Harmless Material.

[Boston Herald]

There are, indeed, tricks in all trades, and, as theatrical business has become more or less of a trade, it follows that it has its tricks. “In “Ali Babi,” the big spectacle presented by the American Extravaganza Company at the Globe Theater, there appears at a given hour something which makes a man who has been drinking feel queer, while the prohibition contingent look at it with horror and then with delight. This is the snake, or as it is billed, the dragon, and it is forty feet long. It is a very ingenious affair, and was made in Paris by M. Ganet, the master of properties of the Chatelet Theater.

The body of the reptile is nothing more nor less than twenty young women who travel on all fours, and who, at the right moment and a given signal, jump up and reveal themselves as diabolical sprites. They are clad in gray tights and green bodices, and on their heads are little horned skull caps. The article of attire that gives to each the appearance of apportion of the serpent’s body, and which, when the twenty girls creep along in follow-the-leader fashion, makes a wriggling, creeping snake of monstrous size, is a satin-lined cloak of thin canvas, which is roughly painted and mottled in green, yellow and white to represent the scales of a reptile’s hide.

The awe-inspiring, bird-like head, with rolling, ghastly eyeballs and crocodile jaws, serrated with rows of cruel, sharp teeth, is said to be the most ingenious part of the affair. It is made of papier mache and wicker work, light enough for a boy to carry, and, with devices inside to move the jaws and eyes.

The eyes are swung on a pivot and worked by means of a spiral spring. The huge jaws are hinged, and a stout lever inside, with the aid of a little muscle, makes them snap and yawn ferociously. Each nostril is shaped like the crater of a volcano, and the aperture from which the molten lava would come is replaced by a little alcohol lamp, the faint, blue flame of which cannot be seen from beyond the footlights. Over each of these lamps the fan-shaped mouth of a long tube comes. About six inches from the lamp and connected with the tube is a receptacle for lycopodium. When the boy who manipulates the apparatus concludes that it is proper for the dragon to make an imposing display of its ferocity, he blows through the tube, the powdered club-moss seed is scattered over the alcohol flame and makes a ghastly bluish and altogether startling flash.

Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 11 March 1893: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The dragon was a high-light of the Ali Baba entertainment and was invariably mentioned in reviews and advertisements.

“The Dance Diabolique,” executed by twenty secundas, who are metamorphosed from a monster fire-breathing dragon…. The Salt Lake [UT] Herald 1 January 1893: p. 6

And

The ballets of “Ali Baba” are three in number, and are novel in both movement and costuming. They are a Nautch dance in the first act, a demon dance in the second act, in which a monstrous, fire-breathing dragon is instantaneously transformed into a score or more of dancing sprites… The Indianapolis [IN] Journal 23 April 1893: p. 10

 Victorian stage designers were most ingenious, creating on-stage sand-storms and thunderous tempests. Costume designers peopled the stage with fanciful animals and made fairies fly.  A forty-foot dragon would have been a mere bagatelle.

Mrs Daffodil regrets that she was unable to find a photo-gravure of the ensemble en dragon, but she was able to locate an illustration of one of the costumed young ladies.

ali baba dragon chorus girl costume

A thumbnail sketch of the costume of one of the chorus who made up the body of the dragon.

The dragon dance sounds like an uncomfortable occupation, even for the young and lithe. Mrs Daffodil suggests that a more appropriate name for the entertainment would have been “Creeping Beauty.”

 

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 Talking Dog: 1891

gypsy the talking dog

THE TALKING DOG

A Paris Saloon-Keeper Taken In

Too Much Faith and Cupidity.

A queer case came before a Paris police court the other day, in which a saloon-keeper named Latrouche appeared as complaining against a traveling showman called Pivot, whom he charged with swindling him out of 400 francs under somewhat strange circumstances. In the first portion of his long statement to the presiding judge, Latrouche insisted that the prisoner’s dog could talk. But the story is best told in the following stenographic report of the proceedings.

The President (to the complainant) “Well, I must say that you have a robust faith.”

The Complainant Latrouche—”But, Mr. President, the people who were in my place at the time also believed—that the prisoner’s dog talked just like a human being.”

“Well, what did he say?”

“The accused, Mr. Pivot, came into my establishment with his dog, a little brindle. Well, he sat down at a table, and the dog jumped up on a stool and squatted himself beside his master. I approached the man asked him what he wished to have. He replied, ‘a bock;’ and right then a queer voice added, ‘and a piece of veal for me!’ I was astounded, and looked about to find out where that voice came from. Pivot said, ‘Don’t be frightened, it is only my dog.’ ‘What!’ said I; your dog can talk?’ ‘Yes,’ replied Pivot, ‘I taught him to talk!’ Well you can imagine my astonishment, and, thinking that the fellow was fooling me, I said, ‘Make him speak again.’ Then Pivot said: ‘Ask him what he wants.’ Then I, not believing the thing possible, but just to see, said to the dog, “Well, old fellow, what will you have?’

‘I told you I wanted a piece of veal!’ said the dog. My wife, my children, my waiter, and all the customers exclaimed in wonder: ‘Gracious, he talks! As for me, I remained nailed to the floor, motionless as an ecce homo, until the accused remarked: ‘Well, well, why don’t you serve use?’ I got the bock and the piece of veal. I gave the beer to the individual and the meat to the dog.

“Then my wife brought me into a corner; my young ones came and my waiter also came. ‘You must buy that dog,’ said she, ‘and put up a sign, Au chien qui parle! Crowds will come and we will make a heap of money!’ My youngsters also said: ‘Oh, yes, papa, buy him!’ And my waiter remarked: ‘That is going to put an awful amount of work upon me, with all the people that will come.’

“Well, finally you bought him?’

“Yes, sir, 400 francs; but immediately after paying down my money the dog said to his master: ‘So that is what you are doing! Selling me, eh! Very well, I won’t speak another word.’

“And he didn’t speak after his master went away.”

“Not a word, not a syllable, nothing; and in the evening everybody was laughing at me. They told me that the dog’s master must have been a ventriloquist. Then I became furious at being swindled. I went to the commissary of police and told the whole story. He nearly split his sides laughing. Eight days afterward I found the thief at the Montmartre fair, where he was performing as a juggler.”

The President (to the prisoner)—”You are a ventriloquist?”

The Prisoner—”Yes, sir.”

“And you swindled the plaintiff by making him believe that your dog could talk?”

“It was he who tormented me to sell the dog. I didn’t want to sell him, because I made my living with him. Then the plaintiff said to me: ‘I’ll give you 200 francs.’ I refused. ‘Three hundred!’ said he. Then I began to say to myself that I might get another dog. The plaintiff said finally: ‘Come, I’ll give you 400 francs, with the bock and the piece of meat thrown in.’ Well, then I accepted.

“And what became of the dog?”

“Oh, he found me out again; but the gentleman can have him if he wishes.”

Latrouche—”Thank you, I don’t want your dog that can’t talk!”

The President (to plaintiff) “So it turns out that it was you that pressed the prisoner to take your money.”

Latrouche—”Because my wife told me that with the sign ‘The Talking Dog’ I would make a heap of gold as big as myself.”

The prisoner was discharged.

The Evansville [IN] Courier 21 June 1891: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A gallant gentleman, indeed, to blame the wife for his avarice and credulity!  One suspects that the aptly-named M. Pivot was not quite as reluctant to part with the animal as he testified; there are other records of mountebanks training their talented animals to find their masters after sale. The dog rebuking his master for selling him with silence was the perfect touch.

For genuinely talented dogs, please see Caesar, Jack, and Paddington Tim–dogs who collected at rail-way stations for charity, A Clever Dog Drives a Bargain, and The Dog- Caddie.

One of the footmen, who has a somewhat juvenile sense of humour, told Mrs Daffodil of an amusing “Looney-toons cartoon” about a singing frog.  He saw similarities to the story above, except there is no dog and no ventriloquist. Mrs Daffodil will let her readers decide if the comparison is apt.

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.