Category Archives: Widows

The Nail in the Skull: c. 1600, 1840s

celtic knot with skull 1900.JPG

AN ENGLISH GREEN-ROOM STORY.

There is a story told in English green-rooms, for the truth of which, writes Celia Logan, in the N.Y. Dispatch, I cannot vouch. It is to the effect that a certain carpenter, a long, long time ago, murdered his wife by driving a nail into her skull. He fled, and the better to conceal his identity, became an actor. He rose to eminence, and the whirligig of time and the wheel of chance brought him to the very village in which years before he had killed his wife, whose murder, however,–so the story runs—had not been suspected, her long, thick black hair concealing the cruel wound from which no blood had flowed.

The part was Hamlet. Whatever memories the place evoked, he had sufficient mastery over his feelings to keep them hidden. The first scene of the fifth act came on. The theatre stood on what had formerly been a burial ground, and the property man had not far to go for skulls, but just dug a little and brought up a dozen or more, and at night tossed them into the trap for the gravedigger to shovel on the stage. He handed a skull to the Hamlet, saying:
“Here’s a skull now hath lain you in the earth for three-and-twenty years.”

Hamlet—“Whose was it?”
Gravedigger “This same skull, sir, was Yorick’s skull, the king’s jester.”

Hamlet took the skull saying: “This—“

He turned pale and staggered, for the skull had left on it one long lock of black hair. Handed to him upside down, the lock fell back, revealing a nail in the skull! The actor recognized it as that of the woman whom he had murdered twenty-three years before. At this mute evidence of his guilt coming from the grave to confront him the actor lost his presence of mind and his senses.

In his insane utterances he revealed his terrible secret, and was only saved from punishment by his fellow actors hushing him up and hurrying him away. He never recovered his reason, and died in a madhouse, raving of the nail in the skull.

About thirty years ago a story was written by a Frenchman on this same ghastly subject, laying the scene in private life in France, and making the perpetrator of the deed a woman. It had a great success, and to this day is occasionally revived, and goes the rounds of the newspapers, but old English actors insist that it was founded on the incident in theatrical life which I have just related, and which did transpire on the British stage.

Rhode Island Press [Providence RI] 21 July 1877: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A nice story to give one the grues!  This was a popular version of what those more learned than Mrs Daffodil might term an “urban legend,” and came in various flavours. Dr John Donne was said to have been the discoverer of a nail-murderess.

The Murderer discovered.

When Dr. Donne, afterwards Dean of St. Paul’s, took possession of the first living he ever had, he walked into the church-yard, where the sexton was digging a grave, and throwing up a skull, the doctor took it up to contemplate thereon, and found a small sprig or headless nail sticking in the temple, which he drew out secretly, and wrapt it up in the corner of his handkerchief. He then demanded of the grave digger, whether he knew whose skull that was: he said he did very well, declaring it was a man’s who kept a brandy shop; an honest drunken fellow, who, one night having taken two quarts of that comfortable creature, was found dead in his bed next morning,  –Had he a wife?—Yes.—What character does she bear? —A very good one: only the neighbours reflect on her because she married the day after her husband was buried. This was enough for the doctor, who, under the pretence of visiting his parishioners, called on her. He asked her several questions, and, among others, what sickness her husband died of. She giving him the same account, he suddenly opened the handkerchief, and cried in an authoritative voice, Woman, do you know this nail? She was struck with horror at the unexpected demand, and instantly owned the fact.

A Thousand Notable Things, Edward Somerset, 2nd Marquise of Worcester, 1822

Mrs Daffodil always likes to give credit where credit is due; she found the John Donne anecdote along with an exceedingly nasty ghost story in a post by that pointed person over at Haunted Ohio—The Old Lady with the Nails.

 

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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Grandmere Jeanneton: 1884

grandmere

“GRANDMERE JEANNETON.”

I was smoking my after-dinner cigar and reading Figaro on the esplanade in Strasbourg, when I was accosted by an old woman who inquired in French for the nearest photographer. She wore the common dress of the Alsatian peasant, and her dusty shoes indicated a long foot journey, but under her linen head-dress fell her white hair round a face that, sunburnt and wrinkled and wearing traces of recent tears, yet was so beautiful in its expression of tender goodness and touching resignation not unmixed with a certain pride, that I involuntarily addressed her as “Grandmere,” and forgetting that I had promised a friend to await his arrival, offered to guide her to her destination.

On the road she told me her simple story. She was a widow, and lived prior to the French-German war with her married son in a village, fifty miles from Strasbourg. They were well-to-do peasants before the enemy invaded their little village; but one morning they woke to find the Prussians encamped in their fields and making themselves perfectly at home. More troops arrived the next day and the following, until the quiet village was a big camp, where the enemy heaped up the stores needed for the siege of Strasbourg.

One dark night the camp was alarmed and a magazine containing among other stores a considerable quantity of powder was found on fire, and there was no doubt that it was the work of the inhabitants. Accordingly the next morning six of the most prominent or most patriotic of the inhabitants were brought before the Prussian commander, and after a short examination that proved nothing, without further trial, were shot in the square in front of the village church. The widow’s son was one of the six victims, and his wife, who became frantic with grief over his death, was the next morning found lifeless on his grave, thus leaving her infant son to the sole care of his grandmother.

The old woman now centered all her hope and all her affection in the little boy, and as he grew up she was fully repaid, for he loved his grandmother with an intensity often found in children who die young a love that was alone equaled by his veneration of his dead parents, his adoration of “la belle France” and his hate of the Prussians, for the old woman, who loved her country dearly, and never forgot that her husband fell fighting for it at “Solferino,” and that her son was killed by its enemies, instilled, perhaps unconsciously, both feelings in his young breast.

One day, when the boy was 10 years old, a Prussian official who inspected the village school was struck with his beauty and serious air, and addressed a question to him in German respecting his parents. “The Prussians killed them,” answered the boy in French. The official colored, and in a rebuking tone asked the boy why he didn’t speak German. “Because it is the language of my country’s enemies,” answered the boy fearlessly.

The official ordered him in arrest, and he was shut up in a chamber above the school-room, where he remained until night, when he boldly leaped from the window to the ground and, as he fell in a thick copse, escaped unhurt. The boy now fairly flew to his grandmother’s house, but as he was afraid of being seen and brought back to the school if he followed the road, he crossed in through the fields behind the village.

It was in the harvest and the grapes were ripe, so old Martin, the owner of the choicest grapes in the village, kept watch with a loaded shot-gun over his precious treasures. Softly he walks over the field behind the wine-press, when he hears something force its way through the grapevines. He stops and cocks his piece. He will now catch the thief who robs him of his biggest grapes. The moon is behind the clouds, out he sees the outline of a person running fast through the vines. “Halt!” he commands but the person never heeds him. He raises his gun–a flash–a scream–a fall of a body among the grapes, and when the old man arrives on the spot, he finds instead of the supposed grape thief a little curly-haired boy whose life is fast ebbing away with the blood that flows out and mixes with the crushed grapes; his black eyes are already fixed and glassy and it is with a faltering voice he whispers: “Give my love to grandmother and tell her– father! mother! I am coming”–his hands grasp the vines tighter, he raises himself to a sitting posture, the moon coming from behind the clouds shines on the wine leaves in his curly hair, a cry rises in his throat: “Vive la belle France!”–he sinks back, his eyes closed, and the orphan boy is gone.

“And it was me–me alone–who murdered him,” complained the grandmother when she concluded her tale. Her eyes were dry, but the muscles round the corner of her mouth worked convulsively and there was a great sob in her throat. “It was all my fault, the result of my unforgiveness; holy Mary have mercy–” and the old woman ran the black beads of her rosary through her fingers, murmuring her prayers.

We arrived shortly after at our destination, the atelier of a French photographer, with whom I was slightly acquainted. I introduced my companion to him, and he, after offering her a seat, addressed some questions to her about her picture. She looked at him with wonder, and finally replied that she only wanted a picture of her boy. “Ah!” said the photographer, “a little boy, very good, where is he!” A tear dimmed the old woman’s black eye, and for answer she pointed up to heaven. “Oh!” exclaimed my friend, “dead! I do not like to photograph dead bodies, but still as monsieur brought you here I will make an exception; when did your little boy die?”

“When the grapes ripen he will have been gone a year,” replied the grandmother.

“But, my dear,” began the photographer, perplexed, when I interrupted him, and taking him aside told him the old woman’s story and how she had walked fifty miles on her old legs to procure a likeness of her dead grandchild.

“But, my dear fellow, what can I do? I am grieved, upon my word I am; but what would you have me do? I can’t photograph angels!”

A noise of romping children was now heard and two boys, about 8 and 10 years old, came running into the atelier, crying at the top of their voices: “Oh, papa, voici!”

“Hush, children!” said the parent, “go away; I am busy,” and the happy boys disappeared laughing in the next room. A sudden idea struck me and turning to the old woman, who looked wistfully at the door through which the boys escaped, I asked her if she had kept any of her little boy’s clothes. “Indeed I have, monsieur!” she answered. “I have kept everything belonging to the little dear,” and opening a bundle she carried with her she continued: “Here is the best dress and (her voice sunk to a whisper) the last I ever saw him wear.”

I now took the photographer aside and made him acquainted with my plan for “photographing angels,” and after obtaining his promise of carrying out my instructions I persuaded the grandmother to leave her grandson’s clothing in the atelier and follow me to an inn, where I left her to the care of the buxom hostess.

Two days after the photographer sent for her and on her arrival handed her a picture at sight of which the old woman began crying freely. “My boy! my own darling boy! It is the clothes I spun every thread of myself and his pretty curly hair but why does he cover his face so? Won’t he look at me?” she asked suddenly, looking up from the picture that represented a little boy kneeling in a chair with his folded hands before his face.

“Oh!” remarked the photographer, “he is saying his prayers.”

“Yes, yes, I know! he is praying for his poor old grandmere. Oh, my darling boy!” and the great tears rolled down her wrinkled cheeks. “God and our lady bless you, messieurs!” said she when she grew calmer. “I am now going to pray by my boy’s grave until I follow him;” and refusing all aid for her trip home, but pressing her newly found treasure fast to her brave old heart, “Grandmere Jeanneton” left us.

As to the picture, our readers have of course all guessed that the photographer dressed his oldest boy in the poor peasant boy’s clothes; and who would not practice such a deception to see the tears that rolled down Grandmere Jeanneton’s aged cheeks?

The Argos [IN] Reflector 25 December 1884: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil was formerly in service in the household of Mrs Marrowfat, the society medium and shudders at the impostures by which that clever lady enriched herself at the expense of the desolate and sorrowing. And yet, somehow, Mrs Daffodil cannot bring herself to condemn the photographer who gave such consolation to the aged Grandmere who had lost everything.

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 Sewing Machine Agent and the Widow: 1875

lady at sewing machine 1860s

How a Pennsylvania Widow Served a Sewing Machine Agent.

The usually quiet little village of Leesport on the line of the Philadelphia & Reading railroad, eight miles above Reading, has had a sensation, which has caused a good deal of amusement. A Reading sewing-machine agent induced the head of a family to take a machine and pay for it in monthly installments. Before the machine was paid for, the husband and father died. The widow was in destitute circumstances, with half a dozen children, and unable to pay the balance owing on the machine, when the agent came round to take the machine away. She determined that he should not remove the machine until he had handed back at least some of the money that had been paid on it by her husband. He was apparently just as determined to secure the machine without returning any of the filthy lucre, insulted the woman and endeavored to take by force what he said belonged to the company by reason of the payment of monthly installments having been stopped.

While the agent was inside the house she locked both the front and back doors, and put the keys in her dress pocket, and being a robust woman “went for” the agent. She took hold of him and a severe and prolonged struggle ensued, while the children were frightened and cried and screamed. The widow threw the agent over the hot kitchen stove, and finally succeeded in setting him down on top of it and held him there, when he begged piteously for mercy. “For God’s sake, let me go, and I’ll pay you back every cent your husband paid me.” Being satisfied that he was severely scorched, if not partly roasted around the thighs, she pulled him off the stove, but held on to him until he had paid back every cent of the installments and then she gave him two minutes time to take the machine and clear out with it. The name of the plucky woman and also that of the agent, are withheld by special request.

Atchison [KS] Daily Patriot 30 September 1875: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mr Isaac Singer patented  the sewing machine in 1851. It was touted as relieving the housewife from the drudgery of sewing, yet made possible even more drudgery in sweatshops.

We might debate who did it better:  how very different the methods of this “robust” widow were from those in another story of a widow and a sewing machine on the hire-purchase plan. Equally happy endings, except, possibly, for the scars impressed on that part of his anatomy by the agent. And a salutary anecdote about the importance of life insurance.

 

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.

 

In Lieu of Champagne: Mrs Daffodil’s One-Thousandth Post

 

Mrs Daffodil is pleased to report that to-day marks an anniversary of sorts: the one-thousandth post on this site. Mrs Daffodil should enjoy breaking out the champagne for a toast, or at the very least, passing around a box of chocolate cremes, but, alas, this is impracticable, since her readers are scattered all around the globe.

In lieu of champagne, Mrs Daffodil will share her reader’s best-loved posts and some of her own favourites, interspersed with some cuttings from her fashion scrap-books.

gold sequins sun king fan

“Sun King” fan with tinted mother-of-pearl sticks and guards and shaded copper and gold spangles, c. 1880-1910 https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/asset/fan/xAG2xDgj6hb8LA

Although it is difficult to choose from posts so numerous and wide-ranging, three of the most popular posts shared by Mrs Daffodil were

How to Make Stage Lightning and Thunder: 1829-1900

Men Who Wear Corsets: 1889 and 1903

Strange Flower Superstitions in Many Lands

A guest post by the subfusc author of The Victorian Book of the Dead on Bad Taste in Funeral Flowers: 1895-1914, also made the top of the charts.

Posts about the contemporary costs of fashion were quite popular.

The Cost of a Curtsey: Court Presentation Expenses: 1907

Where That $10,000-a-year Dress Allowance Goes: 1903

What Gilded Youth Spends on Its Wardrobe: 1907

The Cost of a Fine Lady: 1857

As were stories of how to dress nicely on a budget:

Dressing on $50 to $200 a Year: 1898

How To Be a Well-dressed Young Man on a Budget: 1890

spring green Callot orientalist

1923 Callot Soeurs orientalist dress http://kerrytaylorauctions.com

Some of Mrs Daffodil’s personal favourites include

How to Dress (or Undress) Like a Mermaid: 1868 to 1921

A Children’s Christmas Cottage: 1850s

How to Entertain with Impromptu Fruit Sculpture: 1906

A Bashful Bridegroom: 1831

 

The Dress Doctor: An Ingenious Lady’s Profession: 1894

A Ghost Orders a Hat: 1900

The Angel of Gettysburg: Elizabeth Thorn: 1863

A Shakespearean Contretemps: 1830s 

stumpwork casket with garden

Stumpwork casket with a garden on the lid, c. 1660-1690 http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/39240/stumpwork-casket

Mrs Daffodil thanks all of her readers for their kind attention and she would very much enjoy hearing about their favourite posts on this site in the comments.

 

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.

Spoken Between the Courses: 1905

SPOKEN BETWEEN THE COURSES

Mr. Bounderby’s wife had not said a word to him since they sat down to dinner, except to remark that the weather was exceedingly warm. Casting a covert look at her across the fish he noticed two deep and ominous lines between her eyebrows.

“Brace up, Bounderby!” he said to himself, and forthwith swallowed a great goblet of wine without drawing breath.

“My dear,” he began, “You seem rather distrait this evening.”

“I—I am far from well, Archibald,” faintly. “The doctor”—

“Ah!” Bounderby drags his chair close to the table and assumes the attitude of a man about to catch a cannon ball in his bare hands. “Why, my dear, I think I never saw you looking so well before.”

“That Is because I have taken pains to conceal my sufferings. Doctor Borax assured me that I am falling rapidly, and nothing short of a trip to Switzerland would save me,” whisking a dainty bit of cambric across her eyes.

“Huh! He doesn’t consider my chances of failing when he gives such expensive prescriptions. Besides, you are the very picture of health.”

“That is the most dangerous sign of all. Nature’s last rally before the end. I feel it here! Here!” Clasping her bosom convulsively and staring at the ceiling.

“Well, now if it is us bad as that,” replies the unsympathetic brute, “I shouldn’t risk the journey. But apart from financial reasons there is another why you shouldn’t go.”

“How can there be any other?”

“Heh? Oh, to be sure! Why, business wouldn’t permit me to go with you, and as for straggling off alone in your feeble health”—

“Oh, I have arranged for all that. Dear mamma will accompany me.”

“Take the old ca — old lady with you? There’s double expense!”

“But what (tragically) does a paltry sum of money weigh against a life?”

“As you say (musingly), what does a paltry sum of money weigh against a life? I give it up.” He relapses into deep thought and then returns to the charge. “But think, Celestina, how people will talk if you spend the summer away from your husband.”‘

“And for idle gossip would you hold me here to perish at your feet?”

Bounderby, in a brown study, rouses at the last words.

“Perish? Feet? Whose feet? Certainly not! But, my love, are you not the least bit selfish? Of course I can deny you nothing, but a man needs woman’s companionship more in summer than any other time,” (He sighs deeply.) “It is then that love’s romance is renewed and the most holy sentiments of the soul awakened. Ah, me,” and bows his head on his breast.

His wife regards him curiously, even with some alarm.

“Since you are bent on going” — after a pause— “better this summer.”

“And why this summer more than another?” icily.

‘There is— er — a possibility I shall not have to spend the silvery evenings alone,” his coward eyes downcast.

“Archibald Bounderby,” nibbling nervously on her handkerchief, “I insist on your explaining your meaning.”

“Oh, it’s nothing that could interest you, my dear. Fact is an old friend of ours has asked me to look her up a house in the neighborhood. It will comfort you when in foreign climes to think that I have a pleasant place to spend the evenings. Won’t it, darling?”

“And might I ask who this person is?” twisting her handkerchief to shreds and displaying ill-concealed emotion.

“Why, certainly, my dear. Of course, you have not forgotten— the former Miss Gabster— she’s a widow now.”

“You mean the creature with dyed hair that angled so shamelessly for you before we were married?” her voice rising shrilly.

Bounderby swallows a chuckle mid shakes hands with himself effusively under the protection of the table. “I certainly knew the lady very well before marriage, but what of that? It will make it all the easier to renew the acquaintance.” The craven Bounderby dares not raise his shameful head, and an ominous silence follows. A servant enters with the next course, removes the remains of the fish and himself.

“Well, my dear, and what are you thinking about?” he asks. She seems to be writing on the table with a fork. Then she gulps hard, as if a croquet ball had lodged in her throat:—

“I— l have been thinking that, after all, it is selfish of me to consider my own happiness first. Wha— what If you should fall ill whe— when I am away,” with a look as if confronted by some horrid vision.

“And your health, my dear,” hardly able to repress his unholy glee.

“Archibald (with tragic gravity), a wife’s place is at her husband’s side. I shall remain.”

Victorious in his villainy, the arch-hypocrite says to himself as he imprints a chaste kiss on his wife’s brow, “Archie, old boy, you were born to be a diplomat!”

Los Angeles [CA] Herald 30 April 1905: p. 30

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The summer pilgrimage of the Little Woman to some Beauty Spot while her lord and master remained toiling at home in the summer heat was a convention which inspired many jokes and saucy sea-side postcards. We have seen the rules for gentlemen who preferred to think of themselves as “slipping the leash” rather than abandoned by wife and chicks. Mrs Daffodil has mentioned the Summer Girls who posed as married ladies to avoid mashers. Gentleman, too, posed as “grass widowers” as we see in this cartoon.

knew his way about mourning cartoon

Algy: No bereavement, I hope, dear boy? I see you’re in mourning. Neddy: Oh, no, nobody dead. Fact is, I’m off to Rotorua for a week. I want the girls to take me for a widower, and then I’m sure of a good time.

 

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.

Mrs Lincoln’s Bonnet String: 1865

mary todd lincoln bonnet worn to ford's theatre

The bonnet worn by Mrs. Lincoln to Ford’s Theatre on 14 April, 1865, the night President Lincoln was assassinated. http://digitalcollection.chicagohistory.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p16029coll3/id/2592/rec/1

MRS. LINCOLN’S BONNET STRING NOW A TREASURED RELIC IN A MISSOURI HOME

A Bit of Tulle From Headgear the Martyred President’s Wife Wore the Night He Was Assassinated Has Been Preserved and Handed Down in Family of Man in Whose Apartment the Great Emancipator Died.

Even in his lifetime mementoes of President Lincoln were carefully preserved to be passed on as heirlooms. With his tragic death these took on greatly increased significance and importance, and with the growing appreciation of the great emancipator’s place in history they have come to be among the most cherished of possessions.

One of these to which unusual interest attaches now reposes in a small pasteboard box in one of the finest ante-bellum homes in Central Missouri, the residence of Mrs. Charles Carroll Hemenway at Glasgow. It is a string from the bonnet Mrs. Lincoln wore to that fateful performance of “Our American Cousins” at Ford’s theater, April 14, 1865. A mere wisp of white tulle, it has lain all these years, folded several times and carefully protected from the light, together with a letter written by an eye-witness of the tragic scenes in which it figured. Although the bonnet string itself is of purely sentimental value, the letter throws vivid and authentic light on the closing hours in the life of the martyred President.

The bonnet string and the letter were sent in May, 1865, by George Francis of Washington, to his niece, Josephine Hemenway, who at her death, passed them on to her brother, the late Rev. Charles Carroll Hemenway, of Glasgow, Mo. It is from his widow, now wintering in New York City with her daughter, Josephine Hemenway Kenyon—widely known woman physician and editor of the Child Health page for Good Housekeeping magazine—that permission has been obtained to tell the story, perhaps for the first time in print.

Mr. Francis and his wife lived in an apartment house across the street from Ford’s theater, where Lincoln was assassinated. The President was carried to their apartment, but Mr. and Mrs. Francis had retired, so he was taken to a small bedroom at the end of the hall, occupied by a young man. Mrs. Lincoln, in her distraction, cast her bonnet aside and when she departed from the house several hours later, she neglected to take it with her. The young man, knowing that she would adopt the mourning bonnet as was the custom of the period, made no attempt to return her property. Keeping it for his own, he cut from it one of its strings which he gave to the Francis family across the hall.

WILD DAYS IN WASHINGTON.

Mr. Francis’s letter with its detailed account of the occurrences of that tragic night follows with the omission of some family news at its conclusion.

“Washington, D.C.

“May 5, 1865.

“Dear Josephine: Your letter of last week and the one in January reached me in due time. I have been on the point of writing to you for sometime back but we have had so much excitement here, so much to occupy my attention, that it has seemed as if I must be in a dream and I have hardly known what I was about.

“The fall of Richmond, the surrender of Lee’s army and the assassination of the President is all that has been thought of here. The President died in our house and we witnessed that heart-rending scene. I shall never forget that awful night, following as it did one of such general rejoicing. For a week before the whole city had been crazy over the fall of Richmond, and the surrender of Lee’s army. Only the night before, the city was illuminated, and though it has been illuminated several times just before this time it was more general and was the grandest affair of its kind that ever took place in Washington.

“THE PRESIDENT IS SHOT!”

“At the time of the murder we were about getting in bed. I had changed my clothes and shut off the gas when we heard such a terrible scream that we ran to the front window to see what it could mean. We saw a great commotion in the theater, some running in, others hurrying out, and we could hear hundreds of voices mingling in the greatest confusion. Presently we heard some one say ‘the President is shot,’ when I hurried on my clothes and ran across the street as they brought him out of the theater.

“Poor man! I could see as the gas light fell upon his face that it was deathly pale and that his eyes were clouded. They carried him out into the street and toward our steps. The door was open and a young man belonging to the house, standing on the steps, told them to bring him in there, expecting to have him laid upon our bed. But the door of our room being fastened, they passed on to a little room in the back building at the end of the hall. Huldah (Mrs. Francis) remained looing out of the window until she saw them bringing him up our steps, when she ran to get on her clothes.

“Mrs. Lincoln came in soon after, accompanied by major Rathbone and Miss Harris. She was perfectly frantic. ‘Where is my husband? Where is my husband?’ she cried, wringing her hands in the greatest anguish. As she approached his bedside, she bent over him kissing him again and again, exclaiming, ‘How can it be so! Do speak to me.’

NO HOPE FROM THE FIRST.

“Secretary Stanton, Secretary Wells and all of the members of the cabinet except Secretary Seward came in and remained all night. Also Charles Lumm, George Carter, General Augur, General Meigs, two or three surgeons and a good many others. Our front parlor was given up to Mrs. Lincoln and her friends. The back parlor (our bedroom) was occupied by Secretary Stanton. He wrote his dispatches there during the night. Judge Carter held an informal court there, and it was full of people.

“Mrs. Lincoln went in to see her husband occasionally. Robert Lincoln was with her. Reverend Dr. Gurly was there and made a prayer by the bedside of the President, and then in the parlor with Mrs. Lincoln.

Mr. Lincoln was insensible from the first and there was no hope from the moment he was shot. As he lay on the bed, the only sign of life he exhibited was his breathing. About 2 o’clock he began to breathe harder and he breathed with more and more difficulty until he died. After he died, Dr. Gurly made a short prayer over him and then prayed again with Mrs. Lincoln in the parlor.

A CABINET MEETING THERE.

“A cabinet meeting was then held in our back parlor, and soon after the most of the people left. Mrs. Lincoln went soon and in about two hours after he died he was carried away to the President’s room. We saw him the last time up in the capitol the day before he was carried away.

“Things are now resuming their natural appearance, but business seems to keep very quiet….

“Your Uncle

“George Francis.

Kansas City [MO] Star 12 February 1934: p. 18

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  At the head of the article, we find an image of the bonnet worn to Ford’s Theatre by Mrs Lincoln on that tragic night in 1865. The ribbons do not appear to have been removed or altered, but perhaps there was tulle over the present strings or the “tulle” was actually a bit of lace.

One is slightly uncertain of the bonnet’s provenance–it appears to have been purchased by the Chicago Historical Society in 1920, which is when the Society bought the eccentric and eclectic collection of Charles Frederick Gunther, a wealthy confectioner who amassed a wealth of historical artifacts for his own museum, including many relics of the Lincoln assassination, such as the furniture of the President’s death-chamber, as well as the purported skin of the serpent from the Garden of Eden.

 

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 Baroness’ Jewel Box: 1870s

 

jewel casket hermann bohm

THE BARONESS’ JEWEL BOX

A Story from the German

The Baroness Rukavina Eltz was the most splendid and dashing personage in the Er Valley. Her castle near Somlyo was the finest specimen of a great residence in all that shadow of the Er Mellek [Érmellék], and she, a Roumanian by birth and a Hungarian by marriage, seemed to unite  all the brilliant characteristics of both these picturesque races.

She was a widow to begin with, and since the animal man has speculated upon the varieties of the angel woman, a widow has been pronounced the most amiable variety of the species. She was very beautiful, tall, svelte, blue eyed, black-haired , piquant, red and white, with the most scornful little mouth and the most delicate profile; her hand and foot were models, although the latter was frequently stamped when she was not pleased. She was–in the third and last place, as preachers say– very rich, and had fallen heiress to two collections of jewels which were almost fabulously valuable. A brilliant creature, the Baroness. She owned villages and vineyards and made a large income every year from her sale of Ruster, a grand wine of a pale golden hue, which had as full and peculiar a flavor as she had herself. The Baroness sent her wine to Vienna, where it was considered equal to Tokay.

Of course, she had suitors, the beautiful, sharp Baroness. They came from Transylvania and Russia, from Roumania and all Hungary, from Austria and all the German Principalities; and for the unlucky wretches about Pus Poki and the Behar Settlement, and the country gentleman of Erdioszegh, they knelt and worshipped in vain as she dashed past them on her fleet thoroughbred, for she was Diana as a huntress and the queen of the Amazons also. Her black horse Tetenyer was said to emit fire from his nostrils when he stopped to breathe.

This grand lady was afraid of nobody, loved nobody, had no friends, save the nuns at the foot of the Rez Gebirge and one old priest who seemed to be deeply in her confidence. Every year she made a grand visit somewhere–Vienna, Paris, Rome, London or St. Petersburg. She spent money like water, made everybody talk, wonder and admire, and where her splendid jewels were the envy of all the Court ladies.

Yes, she was afraid of one man, and that was her steward, Neusiedler, he who for years had managed her vast estates, her vineyards and her wheatfields, her fields and fisheries.

Neusiedler was a crouching, cross eyed, mean-looking German, married to a bold, black eyed woman, who was twice his size, and who lived in the village, near the castle, and who spent her time envying and hating the Baroness. Madame Pasteur, the French companion, and Matilde, the French maid, who never left the Baroness, thought that Neusiedler, and his wife had the evil eye and that they would some day wilt the Baroness. But Rukavina Eltz laughed at this fear, and kept on her course exultant. Still when the yearly pay day came round, and she had to look over accounts with Neusiedler, she did show what she had never shown before–fear.

Among her jewels was a splendid rope of pearl-colored pearls, the rarest thing in the whole world, neither black nor white, but pearl color, with three great emerald pendants, each as large as a small pear. The Emperor always noticed this jewel with a smile and a compliment when the Baroness Rukavina-Eltz went to a court ball at Vienna. He told her that the Empress had nothing half as handsome, and it is to be feared that the Emperor spoke also of the white, firm neck on which the necklace rested, for Rukavina-Eltz was apt to blush and look magnificently well at such moments. Then she had great chains of sapphires as blue as her eyes and some big rubies which the baron had given her (the old Baron, twice her age, who went down into Roumania for her when she was 15.) and she had diamonds, of course—every rich lady has diamonds– and a great box full of engraved amethysts and antique gems, some that Cardinal Antonelli gave her in Rome, for he, too, had admired the wild Baroness.

Indeed, if the Baroness Rukavina Eltz had ever written her memoirs, what a story she could have told! But the end of every woman’s history is that she finally falls in love, and such was the beginning of the end of the story of Rukavina-Eltz. She went to England one summer, and there was a young Lord Ronald Somerset, or a Lord George Levenson Montague, or a young Lord Howard Plantagenet (they mix them up so, these English words, they are not half so individual as our Hungarian names.) who could ride better than she could. This was a terrible blow to the Baroness and she wished herself dead.

But when at dinner the soft-voiced, handsome, tall young Englishman, Sir Lyster Howard Lyster (that was his name after all) sat next to her and talked so well and so complimentary to her seat, ‘cross country, and noticed the pearl-colored pearls, and the emeralds, with his lips, and the neck underneath with his eyes, Rukavina Eltz forgave him, and he began to talk of her home near Somlyo, and it ended in a large English party coming to the Er Valley, under the shadow of the Er Mellek, for a long summer visit. And how they raved about everything—the wine, the horses the scenery, the wild, barbaric splendor of the Baroness’ housekeeping, and how they all hated Neusiedler and his big, black-browed wife, who were invited up to the balls.

There was an English lady, one with very long teeth, and a very long noise, and very high eyebrows, and they called her Lady Louisa. She was very grand and lofty, and Madame Pasteur heard her say one day—“Do you know, dear Baroness, I think you are so very careless—don’t you know? –about those beautiful jewels of yours—do you know?”

“But who could steal them?” said the Baroness, laughing. “There are none like them in all Hungary, and no one would dare wear them, they are so rare!”

‘Ah! But some of these wild people of yours! They might swallow your emeralds, those fierce Croats, the Roumanians; and then you keep them in such open closets and boxes.” Madame Pasteur nodded her meek head, too. She had trembled for the jewels always.

But the Baroness and Sir Lyster began to think of other things and jewels; and there were moonlight rides and walks, and there were long talks and many reveries. Lady Louisa went home, they all went, but Sir Lyster came back.

And then, one evening, Madame Pasteur said afterwards that she saw Neusiedler come in and bully the baroness and she heard him hiss out the words—“Remember if you marry, you lose all. Remember the Baron’s will!”

And Rukavina-Eltz turned pale and said, “Bully, traitor, fiend,” between her shut teeth. She went off to Paris on one of her long visits, and Neusiedler squeezed the tenants and made every one miserable. The castle was shut up and black Tetenyer grew thin in his stable.

When she came back she looked older and more sedate. She went often to see the nuns at the foot of Rez Gebirge. She saw the priest also very often, and Madame Pasteur thougth she was growing devote. But she dressed in her usual dashing colors (for she was a very Roumanian at heart) and she wore one of those scarlet quilted petticoats that the English ladies wore so much; and very pretty it looked, with her dark habit and her dark dresses looped up over it. This, with a scarlet feather in her hat, looked as if the Baroness was thinking of England.

It was a miserable day, that, when Madame Pasteur and Matilda came screaming down the long corridor.

“The jewels are gone! Gone! Gone!’

The Baroness had the great bell of the castle run, and Neusiedler was sent for at once. She was very pale for she loved those pearls and emeralds.

Neusiedler was composed, every look was made to say, “I told you so;” he had always warned her about the jewels.

“What can be done?” asked the Baroness.

“Search, whip, imprison, all who attempt to leave the province,” said Neusiedler, calmly.

“Except women—I will have no women whipped,” said the Baroness.

“I am glad to hear that, “said Neusiedler, laughing his malicious laugh, “for Madame Neusiedler goes to Vienna tomorrow.”

“Ah!” said the Baroness, “you know I could not mean, at any rate, that Madame Neusiedler should be disturbed; send her in my little carriage with the three ponies to Erdiosegh.”

“Your excellency is very condescending,” said Neusiedler, bowing to the ground.

The local police sought everywhere for the lost jewels, but no traces of them could be found. The Baroness sat in a sort of stupor and looked out of the window.

“I will go to England,” said she hastily one day. “Neusiedler, some money, and arrange for me to be gone three months.”

“It is well, Madame,” said the steward.

It was a very roundabout route that the Baroness took for England. When Matilda and Madame Pasteur reached the station at Erdiosegh, they were astonished to see the Baroness dash into the ticket-office and buy tickets for Vienna, and when they arrived, all of them, at her fine hotel at Vienna, who should step out to meet them but Sir Lyster Howard Lyster.

Nothing but the well-known eccentricity of the Baroness apologized to Madame Pasteur for what followed. She commanded two dresses to be made, and that Madame Pasteur should go with her to a public masked ball at the Opera House in Vienna.

“Sir Lyster Howard Lyster will go with us!” said she, as a shade passed over the pale face of her companion.

Oh! That the lady of sixteen quarterings should be seen in such a low place! No; she was not seen! She was masked; but that she should even go! What a sacrifice of pride and of decency, Madame Pasteur thought it, as she saw the Baroness take the arm of one masked man after the other, and then go into the supper room with a party who followed a tall mask in a black domino.

A voice stuck on Madame Pasteur’s ear—was it that of Madame Neusiedler? Was it—could it be?

Yes! And as she threw back mask and hood there sparkled on her neck the pearl-colored pearls and the emerald pendants of the lost jewels. O Heaven!

“The necklace of the Baroness,” shouted the impulsive, the imprudent Madame Pasteur.

It nearly spoiled the plot, for Madame Neusiedler was among the friends and confederates. However, the tall Englishman stepped forward, and the two Viennese policemen arrested the woman.

She behaved with extraordinary coolness, and explained—“It is indeed the necklace of the Baroness, given by her to my husband for moneys which he had advanced to her. Let her deny it if she dare. I have her written acknowledgment of the money, and I have come to Vienna to sell the necklace, where it is well known.”

All gathered around the wonderful necklace, which the Chief of Police put in his breast pocket, removing the woman Neusiedler.

The Baroness went back to her hotel and allowed Madame Pasteur to pass a wretched night. She would explain nothing.

All Vienna was alive when the great case came on, and not a few ladies were glad to hear that the Rukavina-Eltz jewels were in pawn—that envied necklace.

Neusiedler came to his wife’s rescue, and told the story over again. The evidence against the Baroness was damning. She had, according to his story, lived far, far beyond her income, and he had supplied her with money. She had fabricated the story of the lost necklace, to try and cheat him, but here were her signatures,  and here was the Baron’s will, which she was about to try to disregard—his will saying that she should never marry, or, if she did, that she lost all her vast estates.

“Baroness Rukavina Eltz, what have you to say to this? What is your defense?” said the prosecuting counsel.

“Only this!” said the Baroness, holding up in her hand the pearl colored pearls and the emerald drops, the real necklace! On the Judge’s desk lay a facsimile of the famous necklace. The two ornaments looked exactly alike.

“Let an expert be brought and say which is the real necklace and which the imitation one, made in Paris, and used by me to lure this wretched and dishonest thief of a steward on to his destruction!” said the Baroness, with a flash of Roumanian fire in her eyes.

It was true! Neusiedler had been foiled; he had stolen a false necklace, which the Baroness had had made in the Rue de la Paix.

“He has been stealing from me for years; he has doubtless forged a false will of the Baron, for I have found the true one!” said Rukavina Eltz. “I could not unravel the net that he has thrown over me but for this happy thought of tempting him to steal some false jewels. Had he got the real ones, his story would have been plausible. Now, I trust justice is convinced that it is a lie!”

A dreadful noise followed this speech of the spirited Baroness; Neusiedler had fallen down in a fit. Never more would he drink the yellow tinted Ruster; never more would he return to the joys of crushing the peasantry of Somlyo—of cheating the Baroness. The Baroness had cheated him at last. Sold! Sold! Sold! With false pearls and emeralds!

It was a very grand wedding, that of the Baroness to Sir Lyster Howard Lyster, who though only an English country gentleman, proved to be richer than she and who made her a loving and a hunting husband.

The Emperor gave her away, and she wore the pearl-colored pearl with the emerald drops, now become historical.

“Ah! Madame, dear Baroness, please tell me where you have kept the real jewels all these months?” said the pious Madame Pasteur, almost kissing the hem of her mistress’ robes.

The Baroness was dressed for travelling, as her faithful adherent knelt and asked this question. She had on the quilted satin red petticoat; the scarlet of old England.

“Was it in the double locked closet of the north tower?”

“Ah, no! faithful Pasteur, thou knowest Neusiedler had the key to that!”

“Was it in the jewel case of thy great ancestress, the Roumanian Princess?”

“No. Guess again!”

“Was it in the convent of the nuns of Rez Gebirge?”

“No, Pasteur, I never gave them anything to keep but my sins.”

“Was it in the Baron’s strong box in the cellar?”

“No, my dear Pasteur, no. You have the hiding place under your finger. They were quilted into the lining of this red satin petticoat. I owe the idea to that good Lady Louisa. “See here!” and gently raising the edge of her travelling skirt, right over her left foot, the Baroness showed Madame Pasteur a neat little series of pockets, where the jewels had been safely hidden in a scarlet prison.

The Columbian [Bloomsburg PA] 19 August 1881: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A happy ending, and all due to an undergarment that proved functional as well as decorative.  Never let it be said that fashionable scarlet petticoats are good for nothing but seduction.

The Baroness must, indeed, have been magnificent to turn the head of the Emperor, married to the exquisitely beautiful and equally wild horsewoman, the Empress Elisabeth.

 

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.