Category Archives: Theatre

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.

Advertisements

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.

 

A Dissatisfied Spectre: 1903

ghostly knight

A Spectral Job.

I had been told that the Blue Room was haunted, and was prepared accordingly for a pleasant, sociable evening.

“Oh, yes, a splendid old fellow,” said my host, referring to the resident spectre. “Fought at Agincourt, and is full of racy stories of the period. You ‘re certain to like him. Get him to tell you that story of his about Sir Ralph and the suit of armour. Good-night.”

When I reached the Blue Room the first thing I saw was a shadowy form seated in a despondent manner on the chest of drawers.

“Evening,” I said; “glad to meet you.”

He grunted.

“Mind if I open the window?”

He grunted again.

I was not used to treatment of this kind. All the ghosts I had ever met before had been courteous, and, even when not conversationalists, they had never grunted at me. I was hurt. But I determined to make one more effort to place matters on a sociable footing.

“You seem a little depressed,” I said. “I quite understand. This shocking weather. Enough to give anyone the blues. But won’t you start haunting? I have often known a little spirited haunting work wonders when a spectre was feeling a cup too low.”

This time he did speak. “Oh, haunting be hanged!” he said rudely.

“Well, tell me about Agincourt, then. Glorious day that for Old England, Sir.”

“I don’t know anything about Agincourt,” he snapped. “Why don’t you read your Little Arthur?”

“But you fought there”

“Do I look as if I had fought at Agincourt?” he asked, coming towards me. I admitted that he did not. I had expected something much more medieval. The spectre before me was young and modern. I pressed for an explanation.

“My host distinctly told me that the Blue Room was haunted by a gentleman who had fought at Agincourt,” I said. “This is the Blue Room, is it not?”

“Oh, him,” said the spectre, “he’s a back number. He left a fortnight ago. They sent him away so that they might give me the place. I don’t want to haunt. What’s the good of haunting? Foolishness, I call it. They talk about a career and making a name. Bah! Rot!”

“Tell me all,” I said, sympathetically.

“Why, it’s not my line at all, this haunting business. But just because I came of an old family, and all my ancestors were haunting houses in different parts of the country, the asses of authorities would have it that I must be given a place, too. ‘We’ll make it all right, my boy,’ they kept saying. ‘You. leave it to us. We’ll see that you get a billet.’ I told them I didn’t want to haunt, but they thought it was all my modesty. They recalled the old chap who was here, and gave me the place. So here I am, haunting an old castle, when I don’t know how to do it, and wouldn’t do it if I could. And everybody in the Back of Beyond is talking of the affair, and saying what a scandalous job it was. And so it was, too. The Spectral News has got a full-page caricature of me this week in colours, with a long leader on the evils of favouritism. Rotten, I call it. And just as I hoped I was going to get the one billet I wanted.”

“Ah, what was that?” I inquired.

“I wanted to go on the boards, and be a real ghost in a play, you know— just as they have real [persons of colour] that don’t need blacking.”

“Then your leanings are towards theatrical triumphs?”

“Rather,” said he; “I’m all for going on the stage. You should see me knock ’em.”

“Then I’ll tell you what I can do for you. I know the manager of the Piccadilly Theatre. He is just going to produce Hamlet, and I know he is looking about for someone to play the ghost. I don’t see why a real ghost shouldn’t make an enormous hit. Call on him, and he may give you the part.”

He was off in an instant.

A month later the papers were raving about his interpretation of the part, and wondering what Shakespeare was thinking about it, and the Blue Room was once more occupied by the ghost who had fought at Agincourt, one of the dearest old fellows I ever met.

Punch, Volume 125, 25 November, 1903

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  One can only imagine the scathing reviews in the Spectral News. But that is the younger generation of ghosts for you: spoilt, only concerned with their own affairs, not willing to lend a hand or begin at the bottom and work their way up. It is the same way with this modern generation of servants. But Mrs Daffodil is pleased that the old gentleman got his job back.

The ghost story was a standard of any self-respecting British periodical Christmas Number.  Such stories were usually goose-fleshers, but there are also some humorous classics, such as Jerome K. Jerome’s Tales Told After Supper and John Kendrick Bangs’s The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall.

Mrs Daffodil has written before about a threat to the traditional Christmas ghost.

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

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

 

 

 

A Chat with a Wig-Maker: 1893

A WIG-MAKER AT HOME

I am assured that to the well-regulated mind Bluebeard’s chamber could never have presented half the horrors suspended, like Damocles’ sword, above my devoted head as I passed through the room sacred to “commerce” in the establishment of Mr. Clarkson, the wig-maker, at 45. Wellington Street.

In the aforesaid receptacle of Lord Bluebeard. only the capital portions of exceedingly charming young ladies seem to have been on view, while in Wellington Street all the visages of all the terrible beasts which have ever disported themselves in Dreamland. after overindulgence in Christmas pudding, confront the beholder.

They leered, they glowered, they smiled, suggesting pantomimes and Covent Garden balls, as I hastened beyond their realm into the sanctum sanctorum of Mr. Clarkson.

A cosy, oddly shaped little room is this sanctum, with all its walls which are not hidden by mirrors covered with rare old prints and photographs of celebrities. Here the stage beauties of past and present are to be seen in a collection begun by Mr. Clarkson’s father, full forty years ago. Most of the portraits are signed, and among the signature are those for which many a member of the jeunesse doree would gladly pour forth a golden shower.

This little boudoir of mirrors is the magic mill into which totters old age, to emerge later blooming with beaute du diable (in all outward appearance. at least), and Mr. Clarkson is the miller.

He is a small, fair-haired young man, of pleasant manner, looking even less than his twenty-eight years, despite the beard, which is evidently intended to confer a semblance of maturity, and he assured me that, including his studies in Paris, he had been in his present business since the early age of twelve.

On a pleasing and expansive background of necktie played a diamond surrounded with pearls, presented, together with a large frame of photographs to Mr. Clarkson by the Queen, in token of her appreciation of his various services. As Mr. Clarkson, “Perruquier and Costumier to her Majesty,” informed me of these honours his eyes travelled to the photographs of royalty in question, and mine followed his, not ceasing their peregrinations until they rested in amazement upon a large glass case, filled. apparently, with numerous gentlemen’s very prettily curled scalps. I threw a glance of horrified inquiry at my host.

“Hundreds of men in society wear things like these.” said Mr. Clarkson. “I could mention some names which might surprise you. Women have by no means a monopoly of the false-hair market. although they are so fond of pinning on artistic little fringes, and making their back hair look as though it must rival Godiva’s if it were let down. See,” he continued, indicating a radiant golden object which made me feel dazedly that Mr. Clarkson had been guilty of scooping some lovely female’s face out of the back of her head and throwing the former detail away.

“See, that is intended for a rather well-known woman of society, who has ruined her hair by constantly bleaching it. Natural, isn’t it?”

Half-tearfully, I admitted that it was, and changed the tenor of my thoughts by asking Mr. Clarkson if he had as many interesting anecdotes to relate as he had hirsute adornments to display.

“Come upstairs, where we will not be interrupted,” he returned mysteriously. “B__, the detective, will be wanting this room to get up a disguise in presently.”

Feeling that I was walking straight into the pages of a “shilling shocker,” I followed my host to an apartment above the precincts devoted to business, and which was, he informed me, the scene of his nativity. “I‘ve plenty of anecdotes,” he announced. “but first I’ll show you a few things which may interest you.”

The room was filled with Covent Garden ball prizes and souvenirs of regard from various celebrities, from which I found it hard to distract my attention, until Mr. Clarkson placed in my hand a large silver-clasped volume presented by Wilson Barrett. “This is my autograph album,” said he. “Unluckily. it never occurred to me to start one until a couple of years ago.”

I opened the book at random upon a delightful sketch by Bernard Partridge. representing, under the heading “Before and After Going to Clarkson,” a hideous skeleton and a dapper individual on the right side of middle age.

Mr. [W.S.] Penley had written “I don’t like London,” and Mrs. Langtry addressed her “Willie” Clarkson as “the only comfort of her declining years.”

“I am forty-seven to-day, but, thanks to your Lillie powder, my complexion is equal to a youth of seventeen,” wrote Arthur Williams; while sprinkled about over the classic pages I saw the chirography of the Kendals [William and Madge], the two De Reszkes, the Countess of Ailesbury [Louisa Elizabeth Horsley-Beresford], Ally Sloper [probably W. Fletcher Thomas, who drew the eponymous comics], Professor Pepper [of Pepper’s Ghost fame], and hundreds of brightly shining luminaries from Sarah Bernhardt to Lottie Collins, who, by-the-bye, send all the way from Paris and America to Clarkson for their wigs.

“Now you shall see some of my dearest possessions,” said Mr. Clarkson. Thereupon he summoned a “myrmidon” in the shape of a boy, who obeyed his behest, returning bearing several large objects, among which was visible a huge and wonderfully curled black wig. “That was worn by Louis XIV. at his coronation, and was secured by my father,” he explained. “Here is the original wig worn by Fred Leslie as Rip Van Winkle; here is a wax model of Mr. [Joseph] Jefferson in the same part, given me by himself, and the wig is made of his wife’s hair.”

Again the youth appeared, this time staggering under the weight of a figure clad in an extremely curious costume, mostly composed of feathers.

“This dress was given to Edmund Kean when he was created a chief of the Huron Indians,” Mr. Clarkson observed with pride. “He presented it to Miss Foote, the mother of the celebrity who became the late Countess of Harrington. She in turn gave it to Leigh Murray, the comedian, whose wife preserved it for upwards of forty years, before passing it on to Mr. [A.A.] Gilmer, of the Alhambra, who finally gave it to me.”

Having gazed at these most interesting relics, and also seen all that was mortal of Mrs. Langtry and Sarah Bernhardt’s “Cleopatra” back hair, as well as a trailing mass of golden locks used by Miss [Violet] Van Brugh, Miss [Ellen] Terry’s understudy, in the part of Fair Rosamund, I reminded Mr. Clarkson of the “anecdotes.”

“Well, I could tell you many, which would make you believe truth stranger than fiction,” said he. “Scarcely a day passes which doesn’t bring some queer experience or acquaint me with a secret, for you know, not only is my work among stage people and professional detectives, but with those who wish to see a bit of life, or amuse themselves in an eccentric way, or discover a mystery, or satisfy jealous suspicions, without being recognised. I ’m often asked, also, to conceal disfigurements, from black eyes to tattooing. Speaking of the latter, when the King of the Maoris was in England he used to frequent the Alhambra, and the difference in the actors‘ appearance on and off the stage puzzled him tremendously, until the mystery of ‘make-up’ was explained, and my name was incidentally mentioned to him.

The very next day he came here with his interpreter, saying he desired to be made up. It then transpired that his Majesty was fond of walking in Piccadilly, but that his pleasure was marred by the attention his dark face and plentiful tattooing excited. Could I hide both? Of course, I could, and did, much to the satisfaction of the king, who could hardly tear himself away from the mirror. The following day he returned, radiant with delight over the success of his experiment, purchasing enough grease paint and powder to last the remainder of his life. Just as he was departing, he rushed back to say very sternly that if his chiefs should come inquiring for articles of make-up I was on no account to let them have any.”

“Do women of society ever come to you for other purposes than to be made beautiful?” I inquired.

“Sometimes with precisely the opposite desire. For instance, only a few days ago a coroneted carriage drove to my door, and a woman over whose beauty London has raved for several seasons entered with a request to see Mr. Clarkson alone. I’d often made her up for private theatricals, so we were not strangers. She had a wager, she informed me, that she would be able to sell flowers for two hours in Piccadilly during the most crowded time of day without being recognised, and she expected me to help her win the bet. It looked a shame to hide that lovely face under a rough, dark make-up, change the shape of the straightest nose in England, and put stones in the pretty mouth to alter the contour of the cheeks. But I did it, added a frowsy wig, a common frock, a torn straw hat, and sent for a basket of violets. Instead of the stately beauty who had swept into my shop in her Parisian gown, away went a Cinderella without Cinderella’s fairness. But the experiment was successful, I learned next day, and the wager fairly won.”

“And now, won’t you give me something with a spice of mystery?”

“As much as you like. Well, then, one morning a closed brougham drove to my shop, and the footman handed in a letter which contained a request that one of my people should be sent out for the purpose of disguising a lady. That was all. We were given no means of knowing whether she was young or old, or what sort of disguise was wanted, however, one of my best men was packed off, with a variety of materials in his disguise box, and was driven rapidly all the way to Richmond, or, at least, within half a mile of the town. There he was asked to alight, and provided with a cigar, which he was ordered to continue smoking until he should see a gentleman, wearing a red carnation in his buttonhole, advancing along the left-hand side of the road. Then he was to throw his cigar away, as a species of signal. He obeyed his instructions, met a gentleman, well dressed and of fine appearance, who explained the programme which was to be carried out by my man at the hotel, with extreme precaution in keeping his purpose secret. Unfortunately, however, the proprietor of the hotel, who was a great frequenter of the Alhambra and other theatres where my people are employed, recognised the man and called out ‘Hullo, Clarkson!‘ The poor fellow was quite frightened, lest in some way his object should thus have been defeated, but, luckily, the office was nearly empty. and he was allowed to proceed towards the room mentioned in his directions without being molested. The door was opened by a pretty young girl, who seemed agitated and hysterical, and who nervously entreated to be disguised as an old woman with as little delay as possible. After that day, the same man was sent for once or twice a week, during a period of three or four months, ordered to proceed to different hotels in different places, and usually to have a new disguise ready. At last we learned that the young lady was an important ward in Chancery, who had been secretly married.

“The ‘black eye’ episodes are sometimes very funny to us, though usually annoying enough for those most nearly concerned. Not long ago, for example, a young lady went out for a quiet walk the day before that set for her marriage, and was struck between the eyes with a stone thrown by a small boy. She was to have a large church wedding, and was horrified to find both her orbs assuming a deeply mourning tint. At last some sagacious and sympathetic friend suggested me, and I had the honour of making up her eyes an hour before the marriage. The work was triumphantly accomplished, and the bride went to the altar a ‘thing of beauty and a joy for ever’ to her bridegroom and her relatives.”

“Haven’t I heard your name in connection with the discovery of some famous criminal or other?”

“Perhaps you are thinking of the Strand abduction case. Yes, it was through our disguises that Newton was arrested. I am rather proud of that affair,” Mr. Clarkson smiled intelligently, and I was waiting in breathless expectation for a thrilling reminiscence, when the door opened to admit the head of the previously-mentioned “myrmidon.”

Mr. Beerbohm Tree has sent down about that wig of his for ‘A Woman of No Importance,’” was the announcement.

And Mr. Clarkson was obliged to make his adieu more abruptly than I could have wished, leaving me in a condition of some bewilderment as to whether it was the wig. or the woman, or matters in general which were of “no importance,” or whether in reality they were all very important indeed. A. L.

The Sketch 16 August 1893: p. 129-130

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  We have met the illustrious Mr Clarkson previously, in a recent story of a fancy dress ball, where he drew his costume inspiration from a whiskey bottle. It is said that he was an accomplished black-mailer and insurance arsonist: eleven out of the twelve premises he occupied burnt down. It was also rumoured that he had made disguises for Jack the Ripper. He certainly was an inveterate name-dropper, but with such an illustrious clientele, who could blame him?

The Strand Abduction case was a sordid affair: Edward Arthur Callender Newton abducted Lucy Edith Pearman, the 15-year-old daughter of a Strand tobacconist, passing her off as his daughter Rose.

One wonders if the society beauty who won her wager impersonating a violet seller, inspired Mr George Bernard Shaw to write about the opposite transformation in Pygmalion.

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.