Category Archives: Wonders and Curiosities

A Children’s Christmas Cottage: 1850s


“The Crimea is the home of a country estate within pleasant driving distance of the city of Baltimore, belonging to Mr. Thomas Winans of Russian railway fame.

Close by the suburban mansion is a cottage, or rather, an elegant and commodious playhouse, which Santa Claus erected in a single night for the Winans children about twenty years since. Grace Greenwood, a frequent guest of the family, says of it:

“The small mansion was constructed in sections, and the furniture manufactured to order in town; everything marvelously complete. The children knew nothing of it. There was nothing on the lawn before their windows when they went to bed on Christmas Eve, but while they slept there were mysterious arrivals of wagons and workmen from Baltimore, and great doings by moonlight and lamplight. All night they worked, the carpenters and upholsterers, and at dawn gathered up their traps like the fairies and as silently stole away. In the morning the mother going to take the children, happened to look out on the lawn, and with an excellent imitation of innocence, exclaimed at the surprising sight, and then of course, the children ran pell-mell to see what the marvelous thing could be, and beheld the charming little villa, gay and bright, its windows flashing in the sun, and a fancy flag floating from its tower. The edifice was not of such fairy proportions that they could not keep house in it handsomely, and entertain their little friends and mamma and even papa, if he could stoop a little and make himself as small as he comfortably could. Washington Letter to N. Y. Times, May 4th, 1874.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A charming fancy!  Not unlike the parents who assemble toys and bicycles on Christmas Eve, only rather on a more extravagant scale.

The Winans residence on the Crimea Estate, known as Orianda House, still stands.  The children’s villa was a miniature replica. One can judge by the photo-gravures of the elaborate mansion how charming it must have been. Mrs Daffodil is told by the caretaker that the structure survived until the 1950s, but it has now vanished. However the mansion is open for visitors and events. Here is more information on the house and the Winans family.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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.

Casts of Hands a Christmas Fad: 1896

Sculpture. Cast of the right hand of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847). Hand resting on an oval base. In glass topped case with tortoiseshell frame. Plaster, cast, height, plaster, 6.5, cm, width, plaster, 14 cm, length, plaster, 24 cm, before 1903. 18th-early 19th century. English.

Christmas Fad Among Eastern Women.

A novelty which will take the place of the framed photograph or other personal gift as a Christmas remembrance for intimate friends and admirers, is a plaster cast which is an exact reproduction of the hand of the giver. Such a gift from his sweetheart would certainly be highly prized by the fond lover, for though the clasp of this image of the real is, as it were, but second-hand, it is at least a reminder of blissful first hand pressures of the past.

This new fad, however, has more than a merely romantic interest. The admirers of clever politicians, eloquent preachers and successful writers are vying with one another for the possession of facsimiles of the hands of their favorites. Casts of the hand of President-elect McKinley are very much in demand, and Mr. Bryan still stretches out his hand in effigy over the heads of his admirers.

Alabaster hand with rose. Former eBay listing.

The casts are by no means the same thing as those lily white affairs of marble which were popular among prominent actresses a few years ago, and which the sculptor was instructed to make as smooth and beautiful as possible. Even when the original hand was beautiful, the sculptor’s art failed to give an exact portrayal of all its points. Beauty and symmetry were there, and they were fair to look upon, but the little lines that mean so much, were absent. It was as if a cast had been made of a gloved hand.

To make a reproduction which will be an exact likeness, including imperfections as well as points of beauty, it is necessary that the hand be used as a mold upon which the plaster is actually cast. Then the slightest mark—even a scratch—will be faithfully repeated in the paste that tells no tales but true ones.
This idea was conceived by an interesting young woman of New York, who looks upon the newly inaugurated custom, not as a fad, but as an educational practice calculated to hold up to public view the frailties, as well as the virtues of our public men and women.

She has already secured facsimiles of the hands of Chauncey M. Depew, ex-Speaker Crisp, Banker Henry Clews and Rev. T. DeWitt Talmadge, besides those of prominent politicians, and is now at work upon the hands of distinguished literary personages.

The hands are, she says, in a very large degree, the index of the will and other mental faculties. They reveal the temperament and the traits of character as readily as the face, to one who can master them, although the latter is popularly supposed to be the leading expression of character. She contends that the hand being connected with the moto-center of the will, is an executor of the will and must bear the expression of the nerve thoughts; whereas the eye, lip and other features formerly relied upon for the reading of character are made by her subordinate to the hand.

When asked to put in her own words the story of this new fad, she said: “The modeling of the hand is not altogether a new idea. It has long been a beautiful custom in England and France to take the cast of the first born. The cast was reserved until the marriage of the child, when it was presented as a wedding gift and saved as a sort of heirloom to be handed down from generation to generation. That was a mere matter of sentiment, but later the scientific value of such casts has become known, and it is upon those lines that I am working.”

“It is similar then to palmistry?”

“By no means. The hand is the key to the soul. A beautiful hand by no means indicates the possession of a beautiful or ideal character. This cast which you see on the table is delicate with smooth, tightly drawn skin, tapering fingers, narrow finger nails, symmetrically formed and thin in the palm. A beautiful hand, you say, but let me tell you the characteristics portrayed. She is fickle, loveless, willful, usually has her own way, and will tease until she tires a person out to get what she wants, and she is very likely to discard it. No regard for the welfare, or the desires and pleasures of others bothers her. The tightly drawn skin shows a lack of sensitiveness and the straight thumb, with no upward curve, shows a lack of generosity. She is not domestic, and altogether there is little of worth in that hand. The slender, tapering fingers which are very thin at the end and have narrow nails, indicate that she will never stick long to any one person or object. She is lazy or indolent, at least; is selfish, and will easily develop consumption.

1. Henry Clews 2. Chauncey Depew 3. Horace Greely 4. Rev. T. De Witt Talmage

“The hand of Chauncey M. Depew, as you see by this cast,” she continued, holding up for the writer’s inspection a large, strong-looking hand, “with its stout wrist, outwardly curved thumb, thick and hollow palm, long, strong fingers, broad nails and with loose skin on the back is very strong. He is not curious, but very energetic. Domestic and fond of his family, he is very affectionate, as shown by the thick, hollow palm. The thumb and the loose skin show a remarkable generosity. Though not averse to fame he is very sensitive, and a mean criticism will hurt him deeply. He is extremely quick of perception and decides instantaneously. While he is irritated by trifles, he bears great matters with perfect calmness. The long, strong fingers show remarkable energy and activity of thought. His hand indicates a total lack of selfishness and I think he would do his utmost to assist a worthy person or cause. The pose in which the hand is taken is perfectly natural and as much is own as the color of his eyes. He will not die suddenly, but just wear out. The outward course of the thumb also indicates a quality which I might term unreserved.

“The cast of Henry Clews’ hand is not open like Dr. Depew’s, but closed with the forefinger extended. Dr. Depew gives what he has freely, but Mr. Clews, as the hand pose indicates will keep what he has to himself. Mr. Clews’ hand shows great business ability, secretiveness in a sense and a strong will. The hand of the late ex-Speaker Crisp cast a short time before his death while in Washington, was blue in tint, showing that he would succumb to a sudden stroke, probably of heart failure brought about by undue excitement. The fingers are rather short and fat, indicating the shortness of his body. The palms are thick, the wrist strong, and it is altogether a good hand.

“This short, fat hand, which is the fac-simile of that of a popular actress is usually accompanied by a double chin. The possessor of such a hand is jolly and good tempered, and holds decided opinions, which she is not averse to stating, regardless of her hearers.”

Many bachelor quarters in New York now contain such casts of hands, and also of feet showing the ankle, doing duty as paper weights. The left hand is usually chosen, as it is generally more perfectly formed.

San Francisco [CA] Chronicle 6 December 1896: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has previously mentioned the “summer fad,” of young ladies casting their faces in plaster to give as souvenirs to their beaux, some of whom, Mrs Daffodil grieves to say, had whole galleries of plaster beauties on the walls of their bachelor quarters. She does not imagine that plaster hands given as Christmas presents will be any more reverently received and imagines the careless gentleman stubbing out his cigarettes in the upturned, flower-like plaster hand of the Loved One.

It is curious how plaster casting, normally thought of in the context of the drawing class, was transformed into a method of character reading, although the interesting young woman’s subjects were so well-known that she certainly had enough information on their personalities to draw conclusions without recourse to plaster hands.

A few years earlier, it was the foot that was used for character analysis.

The newest fad taken up by the ladies in New York is character reading from the feet. There are regular foot reading women, who make a livelihood out of their strange calling. The proper way is to have a plaster cast taken of the foot, and sent to the chiropodist who writes out the character. Nelson [NZ] Evening Mail, 29 March 1890: p. 2

Then we have the young gentlemen of Paris (the plasterers of Paris?) who found a practical use for their plastered figures:

The superchic young men in Paris (according to an imaginative correspondent), not content with mere boot lasts, have plaster casts made of their legs from the waist down, with the object of keeping both their trousers, their knee-breeches, and even their under-wear in proper shape. One youth, with more money than brains, has an entire room of his residence devoted to the reception of some sixty pairs of plaster-of-Paris counterparts of his legs, and nothing is more peculiar than the spectacle presented by this army of fully clothed limbs standing about without any trunk and head. The Argonaut [San Francisco CA] 10 July 1893

Mrs Daffodil rather shudders to think what a character reader would make of those Parisian plasters.

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

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

A Pageant of Precious Stones: 1894

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A Pageant of Precious Stones.

Nothing could have been more brilliant than the recent pageant of precious stones which illuminated the streets of Brussels. The route followed by the novel procession was lined with dense crowds. As night set in the skies were seen to be clouded, and for a moment the weather threatened to put an unceremonious end to the program. A few drops of rain fell, but only to tantalize the spectators, for after a minute or two the downfall ceased. The procession had been formed in the Rue Ducale, and there, until nearly 8 o’clock, it remained a mysterious trail of shadows, the accoutrements of which dimly and mysteriously reflected the flickering lights of the streets. Precisely at 8 o’clock the figurantes lit their torches, the electrical apparatus was set to work and the whole street broke out into a blaze of multi-colored light. Amid enthusiastic cheers the procession was set in motion.

The first car represented Light, being an appropriate reminder that without the aid of the sun the most brilliant of precious stones would be robbed of its beauty. In a gorgeous chariot, covered with silver and blazing with light, the god Phoebus appeared in his most classical form. Following him was an escort of drummers, musicians and torch bearers, all dressed in white and silver, their tunics and casques ornamented with faceted silver plates.

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Then came a troop of cavaliers representing the turquoise, the topaz, the amethyst, the sapphire, the diamond, the emerald and the ruby, serving as a sort of summary of the cars and chariots forming the main body of the procession. Of these cars the most admired were the diamond and the ruby. The brilliant white of the one and the glowing red of the other, together with the artistic grouping of the figures on both, formed pictures of real artistic merit. In each case the colors of the precious stones and their geographical associations were admirably represented.

The topaz, with its figurante in a palanquin, and its attendants flourishing gigantic yellow fans, formed an admirable picture of Asiatic luxury. The turquoise car, with its twenty beauties apparelled in blue, and its floating mass of cerulean bijouterie, was also much admired. A miscellaneous cavalcade, representing jewelry, concluded the procession. For nearly three hours this gorgeous display perambulated the boulevards and principal streets.

The Jewelers’ Circular and Horological Review 5 December 1894: p. 45

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: One would give much to have a cinematic or even photographic record of such a brilliant occasion. Normally one thinks of Brussels lace rather than her gemstones, but this cavalcade of gemstones, complete with “figurantes”–those picturesque ladies selected for their faces and figures–sounds perfectly enchanting.

Mrs Daffodil has written before about floral parades in the States, but any “float” adored with a “floating mass of cerulean bijouterie,” must surely surpass even the most lavish productions of nature. One wonders if there were any actual gemstones worn or draped about the cars; if so, the liability cover would have been prohibitive.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdote You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

The Art Glass Portrait Fad: 1898

Spring, John La Farge 1901-2 Philadelphia Museum of Art


Painted on Window Glass

The Latest Fad in Those Who Have Fine Houses.

It Is a Luxury That Costs Those Who Indulge

In This Mode of Decorating Their Homes.

Local Art Concerns Are Receiving Many Orders For This Newest of Fashionable Whims.

Another costly vanity is being taken on by the world of big money spenders, including some Cincinnatians. It might be called a crusade against the possibility of having one’s picture turned toward the wall. At any rate, it’s a beautiful wrinkle, well calculated to wring “Papa, buy me one” from many a pair of scientifically reddened lips in Clifton, Avondale and other fat pocket-book precincts of the town. All you have to do to have one of them is to have a swell residence with a staircase window and bank account enough to draw for a few hundred. The manufacturer of “art glass portraits” will do the rest, and charge you from $100 to $10,000 for the job.

Your picture in a stained glass window–without a stain! Sunlight pouring through from the rear, making you look as many more times more beautiful than an oil painting or a seventy-nine-cent colored crayon portrait as you can imagine.

This costly “triumph” of portraiture work making the one portrayed seem to be “just speaking” may prevent many a daughter and wife getting the “old man” to loosen the twine on his purse for the price–but that’s no argument against the “triumph.” And you’d never guess how the price is regulated! The answer is startling.

To the maid or the matron in love with their décolleté loveliness and wanting it pictured in glass this latest vanity will prove much more expensive than to her of the


Told in fewer words–in the plain, blushless words of the art glass window artist–the price of having your picture in fashion aforesaid is regulated by the amount of naked flesh to be pictured.

“Naked flesh is the most difficult thing that we reproduce in these pictures,” explained one of this new-thing artists. “The chemicals used in the coloring play desperate tricks on us when it comes to burning the colors into the glass. The varying flesh tints necessary in making a portrait of a lady’s face, breast, shoulders, arms and hands offer a multitude of opportunities for faulty development of the picture by means of the fires that burn it into the glass. This fact is why, in cathedral window work, we would any time rather produce a picture of the entire 12 Apostles than of Christ on the cross, the latter figure calling for picturing an almost nude human body. It is the necessary and very delicate process of burning the portrait into the glass–in order to make it permanent and capable of resisting atmospheric changes–that makes this class of work expensive, and very trying to the artist or operator. After the utmost skill and greatest care possible has been bestowed on the preparation of the portrait, and of the kilns in which the burning is done the result may be like this,” and the artist drew forth a two-foot square sheet of glass bearing the portrait of the beautiful wife of a banker living in the northern part of this state. The heat had broken the glass through the lower part of the picture, and warped a corner. “Three hundred dollars gone in a second!” commented the artist. “And the heat was identically the same, to a fraction of a degree, as that we always do


The glass was previously examined under a powerful microscope and found perfect, and precisely the same as others that we had used with entire success. Why this piece broke, why others break; why some tint develop wholly wrong; in the kilns–these are mysteries about the business which the greatest experts are incapable of solving. Owing to these many risks the charges for the work have to be heavy, as they are. In no case can one ever tell whether a contract will lose or make us money. And, owing to this same mysterious trickery, we can never tell a customer when a picture will be done. We never know how many times it will discolor or break in the kilns. Usually it requires three or four burnings of an hour apiece to complete the work.

“My having spoken of the difficulty of picturing flesh tints,” continued the artist, “reminds me to say that I am told the finest piece of work of this kind is in a window portrait in the boudoir of a certain very wealthy Avondale couple, neither of whom has any gray hairs yet–nor children, either. The portrait shows the wife posing in some classic character. All the clothes or drapery to be seen consists of a strip of billowy gauze, with which young Mme. Avondale seems to be trying to ‘jump the rope.’ The picture was posed for and made in New York City. I am told it cost $6,000, and that the artist had three copies of it ruined in the kilns before being successful. This, all owing to the desperate difficulty presented by having an entirely nude human body to portray. I happen to know that another swell young wife is now in New York posing for a somewhat similarly startling window portrait of herself. Almost, if not fully as fine work in this line is done right here in Cincinnati, but the society queens wanting these nude or semi-nude pictures can’t bring themselves to pose for the home artists. Hearing of a $5,000 job of this kind that was contemplated I figured around and got a lady to call on the one desirous of having the work done and suggest that a model–to be selected by the couple themselves–could be substituted for me to work from, for the body portion of the picture. But it developed that apparently that portion figured most prominently in the wishes of the people—the gentleman and his wife—as to


“Consequently the job went to New York. Mrs. Belmont, of New York, who is grandmother of a Duke, leads in having the most beautiful window portrait in this country. Only the beautiful but extravagant Queen of Italy has anything to show like the huge window of art glass that fits into space at the head of the stairs in Mrs. Belmont’s New York house. This window, 14 feet high by 8 feet broad, looks toward the west, and every one who enters the hall of the house cannot fail to look up at this window, through the many colors of which all the light for the hall comes. In a framework of marvelous glass roses the mistress of the mansion stands arrayed in the most gorgeous yellow brocaded satin, wearing her famous turquoise tiara, necklace and brooches. The window was designed and the glass work done by American artists, and the crystal pieces of glowing color and many degrees of thickness are put together in a framework of silver instead of lead. It required nearly two years to complete the work, and no one save the present owner and the maker of the window knows the price that was paid for it. At some points in the decoration genuine jewels are set in with the glass, and at night a heavy iron door closes at the back of the window, which, by cunningly arranged electric lights, is softly illuminated.”

Child’s art glass portrait in the Aesthetic style. Former eBay listing.

There are three or four places in Cincinnati where this art glass portrait work is done, and several others where orders are taken for it. If the idea is attracting considerable attention as a vanity it is being patronised from a more serious and more befitting point of view as well. Mr. Richard H. Mitchell, of Mitchell avenue, Avondale, has in his residence a beautiful art window portrait of his father, Mr. Albert Mitchell, deceased. The portrait is against a background of shamrocks. Superintendent Willis Tharp, of the Waterworks, has one in his residence of his little daughter. Colonel A. L. Anderson, of Newport. Ky., thus perpetuates the likeness of his little boy. A magnificent window, from which look forth the faces of a little boy and girl of the family, stands in the Schwegman residence, Avondale.

In all of this art glass portraiture work the face, and so much of the figure as possible, is first hand painted on the glass and then burnt not onto, but into the glass. The decorative background and framing of glass is of glass stained at the time of being manufactured. save as to the more delicate, finer bits of the work. An original design is prepared in the case of every order.

Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 13 March 1898: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: What a very piquant idea: that naked flesh should cost more than a clothed portrait! Not entirely a compelling argument, one feels, for high-necked ball gowns and one imagines that the ladies who could afford Worth ball dresses wished to show them off in art glass.

“Mrs Belmont of New York” was Mrs Alva Erskine Smith Vanderbilt Belmont, who forced her unhappy daughter Consuelo into marriage with the Duke of Marlborough. The house was Petit Chateau, also known as the William K. Vanderbilt House, on Fifth Avenue, Manhattan. The turquoise parure and the stained glass sound sumptuous, but, alas, Mrs Daffodil cannot find any photographs. 

Stained glass in houses, was, like the antique furniture and “Old Master” art-works bought by the pound from European agents, considered just a wee bit parvenu. Here is a joke on the subject:

A fashionable lady, in boasting of her new “palatial residence,” said that the windows were all of stained glass. “That’s too bad!” cried her mother; “but won’t soap and turpentine take the stains out?”

The Daily Sentinel [Garden City KS] 10 May 1887: p. 2

The little girl’s portrait is a rarity. The idiosyncratic nature of family portraits and changing tastes in decor meant that many of these pieces were destroyed or relegated to the attic.

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

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

The Blazing Ghost of Cardiff Town: 1903

wicker man burning


By Howard R. Garis.

(Copyright 1903 by Robert Howard Russell.)

Never had peaceful Onondaga valley been so disquieted. The people of the town of Cardiff, from one end to the other were talking of the wonder which exceeded even the sensation of the historic Cardiff Giant. This time, instead of a giant it was a ghost, and such a wraith as never had been heard of before. The Headless Horseman was a mere baby compared to it, and Puritanical broom-riding witches were not horrible enough to be mentioned in the same breath. Truly the Cardiff ghost was an apparition most fearsome.

The spirit had first appeared to Abe Crownheart, who kept the Pine Tree as the Cardiff hotel was known. He was driving home one night from Tully, a village at the south end of the valley, when near the bridge, over the brook that runs through Enberry Took’s place, the spectre rushed out and pursued Abe. He reached home with his horse all in a lather of foam, and himself dripping wet in a perspiration of fear. For a few minutes after reaching the bar-room he could only gasp and pant.

“What ailes ye, Abe?” asked Bill Hounson. “Ye act as ef ye’d seen suthin.”

“So–so I have,” panted Abe, looking to see if the door was tightly shut. “I seen somethin’ mortal eyes never beheld since the world began. Jest’s I was passin’ Enberry’s bridge, a spirit, all blue flame, wavin’ its arms of fire, an’ waggin’ its head started down the hill after me. It chased me clean to Dave Tupmans place, the horse goin’ lickity-split al the while.” “Fer th’ love o’ tripe!” exclaimed Bert Bailey. “D’ye s’pose ’twas a real ghost?”

“I don’t care ’bout seem’ any realer,” said Abe.

“Sure ye hadn’t bin adrinkin any hard cider?” asked Bill Hounson.

“Say.” exclaimed Abe, earnestly, “I only wish it was that kind of a ghost I’d seen. This wasn’t nothin’ of that sort. It was as tall as the church steeple, and as big ’round as a hogshead. It was all on fire from head to foot, I tell you, wavin’ its flamin’ arms, and runnin’ with feet and legs all blazin’, and its head wobblin’ from side to side. Then there was the most awful smell, jest like a burnin’ lake of brimstone.

Abe’s terror was so genuine, and his fright so real, that it was communicated to his auditors. Though they hardly believed Abe had seen a ghost, they were sure he had been near something rather hair-raising. So, when the crowd in the tavern broke up a little later there were many anxious looks cast on all sides in the darkness, as the farmers made their way to their homes.

It was only two nights later that Enberry Took reported that he too had seen the ghost. It was even worse than Abe had described it, Enberry said. Closely following this came confirmation from Truem Wright and George Bennett, who told at the hotel one night how they had both been pursued by the flaming spirt, which had run after them quite a distance. Then there was no doubt about the Cardiff ghost. From one end of the village to the other the story went, carrying terror with it. Women were afraid to go out in the yard after dusk, children would not linger on the road from school, and even the farmers hesitated about journeying on the highway after supper. Nothing was talked of save the spirit, and when, three weeks after Abe had first seen it, Dr. Rood, driving home from visiting a patient, was pursued so closely by the spectre that the leather top of his buggy was scorched by the wraith’s burning arms there was intense excitement.

There was no disputing the fact that the ghost burned with real fire, for the leather of the carriage was shriveled by the heat, and the varnish was blistered. Clearly something must be done.

Enos Rasher, chairman of the town selectmen called a public meeting in the hall over Truem Wright’s grist mill. The case of the blazing ghost was gone over from the time of its first appearance, and then Enos stated the object of the gathering, which was to find a means of getting rid of the spectre.

“Who’ll undertake th’ job?” asked Enos. ”There’s no use agoin’ outside, el we kin git th’ work done t’ hum,” he went on. “Me ‘n th’ selectmen’s come t’ th conclusion that we kin offer a reword o’ twenty shillin’ t’ th man who rids Cardiff o’ th’ terrer.”

The chairman waited, but no one came forward to offer himself as a ghost-layer.

“This thing ought to be done scientific,” said Abe Crownheart, rising in his seat. “None of us has had any experience gittin’ rid of ghosts. Mebby it’s easy work, and then agin mebby it’s hard but we ought to have some one look after it what knows how to go about it. I move we hire a regular ghost exterminator, and pay him a decent day’s wages.”

The motion was seconded by several and the selectmen, accompanied by Enos, withdrew to another room for a consultation. At the close of the conference the chairman announced that the reward would be increased to $50.00 and an advertisement was to be inserted in a Syracuse paper, offering that sum to whoever would dispell the ghost.

The meeting broke up and the next day Enos Rasher took the stage for the distant city of Syracuse to have the advertisement inserted. That night the ghost was seen again by Enberry Took, whose house was nearest to where the spirit appeared. Enberry saw it, dimly luminous, floating along the hillside, and he double-locked the doors, burning a lamp all night, even sitting up with his family till morning broke.

From then on Cardiff was in a state of unrest. No one ventured near the spot, and even the Onondaga Indians, at the Castle reservation, near the town, would not pass along the road which the ghost sometimes crossed. Soon communication between Cardiff and Tully, the nearest town of any size began to fall off. The Tully people said they did not care to come to Cardiff, for the ghost might hear about them, and conclude Tully was a better place for his operations than Cardiff, transferring himself accordingly which contingency the Tully people did not care in the least to have occur. In a little while the lack of intercourse was felt, and, when the Tully Councilmen voted their town shut to and quarantined against the Cardiff folks, the inhabitants of the latter place concluded rightly that it was the last straw.

“Why,” announced Truem Wright to a group of indignant Cardiffites at the Pine Tree, “they couldn’t treat us no wuss ef we was a sufferin’ from th’ plague. Suthin’s got to be done about it, that’t all.”
Meanwhile the ghost continued to show itself. Nothing else was talked of in the town. Signs, telling of the reward were posted all over, and, one day at noon, Porter Amidown, the constable, tacked one on the fence opposite the place where the ghost most often made its appearance.

“I calcalated mebby th’ ole sinner might take notice on’t” remarked Porter, “‘n seein’ ‘s how he wan’t welcome ’round here, he might light out.”

Thus far no professional ghost-layers tried their hand at earning the $50 True, now and. then a traveling fortune hunter, a confidence man or a seller of novelties, would offer to tackle the job. One look at the spirit from a safe distance, in the fields on a dark night, was sufficient. Once a peddler, a bold swaggering enough fellow, when telling at the bar of the Pine Tree, how he would lay the ghost, fled at the first sight of the flaming figure. He never returned to claim a choice collection of jewelry he had left behind at the hotel.

In all of its wanderings the ghost had done no harm, save to scorch Dr. Rood’s carriage. It seemed as if the spectre was some unhappy wraith which, unconsumed by the fire that burned it, was doomed to haunt the place. Various explanations were given of the ghost. Some said it was the spirit of the original Cardiff Giant; others that it was the soul of some Onondaga, Indian, who had murdered his sweetheart and was wandering restlessly about the earth to expiate his crime, until the ruler of the Happy Hunting Grounds decreed that he might enter there.

A month had passed, and still the ghost held forth. The people were beginning to despair of being rid of it. One night, about an hour before sunset, when the stage from Syracuse arrived at the Cardiff post office, a stranger alighted. He was tall and thin, of dark complexion with a small black moustache. He inquired for Enos Rasher, chairman of the select men, and when the latter was found digging potatoes in the garden, the stranger introduced himself as Professor Roger Ascott.

“Wall, what kin I do fer ye?” asked Enos.

The professor silently held out a Syracuse paper and pointed to the advertisement of a ghost-hunter wanted.

“Oh,” said Enos rather dubiously, offering his hand. Then he added with more fervor. “Wall, I’m real glad t’ see ye. Are ye a real ghost-hunter?” “It is my sole business,” answered the professor, and he extended a card reading: “Professor Roger Ascott, public and Private Ghost-Layer. Spirits of all kinds dispelled with neatness and dispatch. All kinds of spectres done away with. Haunted houses a specialty. Low rates and prompt service. A trial solicited.”

“I guess you’re th’ feller we’re after,” commented Enos, after he had read the card twice. Then he told the professor all about the Cardiff ghost.

At the close of the tale to which the professor listened gravely and with attention, he said,

“Hum. Can you take me to where the spirit is seen most? I would like to get an idea of the topography of the location by daylight.”

“I’ll tel ye how t’ git thar,” replied Enos, impressively, “but ‘s fer ‘s goin’ thar’s concerned–” He paused, and the professor smiled. From a hill back of his house, however, Enos showed the scientific ghost-hunter the stamping ground of the spirit.

“Have none of you examined the neighborhood?” asked the man of science. “Perhaps the—ah–the phenomenon can easily be accounted for on natural grounds.”

“It may be, it may be,” said Enos, slowly, “but none on us calcalite on goin’ nigh ’nuff t’ see. From all accounts th’ thing’s ’bout ‘s unnatural ‘s any one ever hearn on.”

“Hum,” said the professor. “I may as well tell you that I am not after the $50, for I hunt ghosts as much for my own pleasure as for any other reason. Still I have my expense, so I usually accept a small fee. That is why I speak of low rates on my cards. If I was in the business regularly and for profit, I would have to charge more than $1,000 for getting rid of this ghost for you. Blazing ghosts are the most expensive kind there is. But as I said I am not after money.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” answered Enos, “’cause we went down purty deep in th’ treasury when we offered th’ $50. So I wish ye good luck with this job, ‘n th’ money’ll be paid over prompt.”

After securing explicit directions how to reach the haunts of the spirit the professor left Enos and trudged off in the gathering twilight.

Had any one watched him they would have seen the professor, after reaching the place, moving about and sniffing the air, as a dog does on the scent of game.

“Curious, curious,” he muttered, “um!” I wonder if–and yet how can it be? Still,” he went on, “it is natural, most natural.”

Then he moved about in a circle, still sniffing the air in deep breath. He seemed to be trying to get on the track of something. At last he appeared to have located it, for he uttered a cry of success, and hurried off up the hill.

He returned to the hotel in time for supper and found a curious throng waiting for him. To all questions he replied nothing, telling the people to have patience. Even this little hope seemed to cheer every one up, and thy felt better than they had in many weeks. They had begun to despair that the ghost would ever be laid, and, though they thought they might  get used to it in time, still it was likely to be an inconvenience for quite a period.

When it was dark the professor went to his room and came back presently. There was a suspicious bulge to his right hip pocket, but no one said anything about it.

Professor Ascott started off, followed by a crowd of men, all of whom, how ever, remained near Bert Bailey’s house, refusing to go any further. So the investigator proceeded alone.

For an hour the waiting crowd stood silent in the darkness.

“There tis!” exclaimed Enos Rasher, suddenly.

The others looked, and there, sure enough, was the ghost. It towered high in the air, with outstretched arms, a figure of bluish flame, flickering and blazing. A form of terrible fire, visible half a mile away. It appeared to be about twice as large as a man.

“I guess the professor’ll have all he bargained for,” commented Abe Crown heart.

There was a silence for a moment, while the watchers saw the ghost slowly move along toward the road.

Suddenly the stillness was broken by a revolver shot, followed by two more. Then it was observed that the ghost quickly turned and ran up the hill. A sliver of red flame from the revolver followed it, and then came the sound of another shot. The spirit was seen to stop and stagger. It tried to maintain an upright position during a fierce struggle.

“Th’ perfessor’s fightin it!” exclaimed Enos, and the excitement among the watchers was intense. The next instant the ghost fell to the earth.

“By the Great Dutch Cheese, th’ perfeesor’s downed it.” cried Porter. The group of men waited, not knowing what would happen next. The spirit was now only a bluish, burning flickering spot on the side of the hill, seemingly consuming itself with its own fire. The silence which now prevailed strained the nerves of the waiting men almost, to the breaking point. They scarcely breathed. All were wondering what had become of the ghost-hunter.

Then out in the darkness, came the sound of footsteps on the road.

“Thar comes th’ Perfessor.” said Enos.

“’N some un’s ‘ith him.” added Porter. “He must be bringin’ in the ghost.”

In another minute two figures were dimly observed emerging from the blackness, and one was that of Professor Ascott. who had tight hold of another man.

“Gentlemen, the Cardiff ghost,” announced the man of science. Enos, Porter and the others peered at the captive.

“Silas Waydell!” exclaimed half a dozen.

“The same,” answered the owner of the name, “and I must say your ghost-layer here is an expert.”

To the scores of questions for an explanation Professor Ascott returned evasive replies, until he reached the hotel. There he turned the prisoner over to Constable Amidown.

“I do not know on what charge you can hold him, unless it might be getting money under false pretenses,” said the professor.

“How’s that?” asked Enos.

“Well,” the ghost-hunter went on, “he has been digging sulphur on Mr. Enberry Took’s land, and selling it. He confessed to me. Of course he did it under the pretense that he was a ghost, and so he obtained money under false pretenses.

“You see, gentlemen,” proceeded the professor, “as soon as I went to the place and smelled sulphur I knew I must be on the right track.”

“Why, that was the sulphur spring on Enberry’s land ye sniffed,” explained Enos, “it’s bin thar fer year.”

“Exactly,” said the professor, “and where there is sulphur water there must be sulphur. I investigated and found a fine deposit on the hillside, from which a considerable quantity had been taken.

“Then I suspected the truth, that some one, not entitled to it, had made the discovery, and had invented the ghost to keep curious people away. Am I correct?” he asked of the prisoner.

“Right you are, professor,” said Silas. He did not seem worried about his arrest. He was a man of peculiar talents and well known in the locality as a person about whom curious stories had been told, none pointing to his honesty.

“But what was th’ ghost?” asked Enos.

“Simply a big scarecrow of wood, coated with sulphur,” answered the professor. “Your friend here would carry it on a long pole, after setting fire to the sulphur, and so would frighten travelers. He got too near the doctor’s carriage and scorched it. After displaying the ghost he would hurry back, dig out some sulphur and cart it away. As soon as I saw the flaming figure I knew what made it burn, and a few shots from blank cartridges brought Silas to a stop. You probably saw him drop the scarecrow when I had caught him after a chase. So that is the end of the blazing ghost of Cardiff town.”

“Wall, perfessor, you’re a wonder.” commented Enos, and the others agreed with him.

The professor went back home the next day. Silas was sent to jail for a short term, a charge of stealing sulphur being the only one they could prove. But the best part of it all was that the sulphur mine on  Enberry Took’s land turned out so well that he not only had enough money to pay off the mortgage, but sufficient to make him comfortable in his old age. So he and others blessed the Cardiff ghost that discovered the sulphur.

The Semi-Weekly Messenger [Wilmington NC] 21 April 1903: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A rare example of a happy ending associated with that pungent mineral. More usually some benighted soul is carried off in a stench of sulphuric smoke by the Devil. Or a corpulent nobleman, who has been doing himself too well at the port, is forced by his physician to drink glasses of sulphurous swill at the spa.

That ghost-hunting person over at Haunted Ohio observes that sulphur and its attendant smells are often found at sites where petroleum is drilled and tells of a similar fiery ghost in Pennsylvania.


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

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

The Electric Wedding: 1892

electric diadem

Electric diadem by M. Gustave Trouve, 1880s.

An Electrical Wedding.

One of the peculiarities of our American cousins seems to be a consuming desire for novelty in their weddings. Hence we read of their being married in balloons, and over the telegraph wires, and in other outlandish fashions. A dazzling function took place in Baltimore the other day in the shape of an electrical wedding,” which quite throws into the shade previous nuptial celebrations. The Baltimore Sun says that tiny incandescent lamps were concealed in the foliage of the screen, and glowed and disappeared irregularly like fireflies in among the trees. Electrical butterflies and birds perched among the leaves and flowers. Overhead was a crown of Chinese lanterns, each containing a sixteen-candle power lamp. The bridal arch of evergreen under which the newly married pair stood to receive their friends was provided with a row of electric lamps in red, white and blue. On top of the arch was perched an American eagle, and on the shield of pink velvet, which formed the keystone of the arch, was outlined in incandescent lights the figure of a heart, the initials of bride and bridegroom, and the date 1892. Two bronze statues stood guard at the entrance of the room, and their helmets went illuminated by incandescent lamps. This, however, was far from exhausting the catalogue of marvels. There was an ingenious arrangement suddenly set in motion, and a shower of rice and imitation snowflakes was discharged over the wedding party by means of two electric fan motors placed in the gallery overhead. As the guests entered the supper room there was a sudden outburst of electrical bells and musical entertainments. As the guests were seated there was a blaze of light, and at the completion of the first course the words Good Luck appeared over the heads of the newly-married couple, and an electric hair-pin, a gift to the bride, became incandescent and surrounded her head with a halo of light

Wine bottles were suddenly transformed into glowing candelabra, and the feast was one long continued series of electrical surprises. All this may suit the American taste. Quiet English people, however, find the wedding ceremony in itself sufficiently trying to the nerves without being stunned and bewildered afterwards by a constant succession of electrical surprises.”

Press, 29 December 1892: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The reception sounds exhausting: like getting married in a fun-house, with “surprises” popping out every time one turns around.  The bride is fortunate that no one threw a pitcher of water on her, thinking that her hair was on fire when the hair-pin lit up.

But the newspapers could not get enough of this novel wedding. Here are more illuminating details:

An Electrical Wedding.

The bride was Miss Jeanette Ries (now Mrs. Lewis S. Greensfelden), and the nuptial novelty was due to the enthusiasm of her brother, the electrician and inventor.

Electrician Ries was master of ceremonies. The marriage was at the house of the bride’s mother, Mrs. E. F. Ries, and, of course, there was no unseemly spectacular interruption of the solemn knot tying.

But no sooner had the company been comfortably seated at the banquet table than the room burst into a flood of light from numerous vari-colored incandescent electric lamps hidden among the decorations and suspended at various points above the heavily laden tables. The entrance of the bride and groom was welcomed by the automatic ringing of electric bells and the playing of electrical musical instruments.

trouve illuminated flowers

Electric flowers as designed by M. Gustave Trouve.

After the first course had been served the room was plunged into semi-darkness, when suddenly from among the floral decorations upon the table there glowed tiny electric lamps, lending an exquisite charm and attraction to the scene. Not only the flowers, but the interior of the translucent vases in which some of them were gathered scintillated with flashes of light. After a while a miniature electric lamp, which in some unexplained manner had attached itself to the bride’s hair, was seen to glow with dazzling brightness.

Mr. E. E. Ries gave a toast to the couple, wishing long life and an enjoyment of good things like those spread before them. He concluded with an injunction to be temperate in all things, at the same time touching an electric button, when two serpents slowly uncoiled themselves and issued from the wine bottle that stood before the bridal couple.

Cigars and coffee were served, and the cigars were lighted by an electric heater, while the coffee was boiled in full view of the company by an electric lighter. The speeches that were made were liberally applauded by an electric kettle drum placed under the table. It treated all with impartiality. As the company dispersed the electric current set off a novel pyrotechnic display, amid the crimson glare of which the festivities ended. Baltimore Sun.

Carlisle [PA] Evening Herald 27 May 1891: p. 3

The electric hair-pin reminds us of the creations of M. Gustave Trouve, who created electric jewels with pocket batteries, as well as ballet costumes, lit by tiny bulbs.

gustave trouve electric tiara

Although we find few other examples of electric weddings (a testimony, perhaps, to the sturdy common sense of most bridal couples) several years later, during the actual ceremony, electricity was once again employed in a singularly symbolic way to demonstrate the extinguishing of the bride’s identity. Peculiar it may have been; romantic is quite another question.

A peculiar and romantic episode occurred recently at a wedding ceremony in Cleveland. Above the bride’s head was an elaborate device, with her name in small electric lights. Above the groom appeared a similar decoration, save that it was his name that sparkled there. All through the ceremony the lights burned brilliantly, but at the words: “I pronounce you man and wife,” the bride’s name was “turned off.”

Omaha [NE] World Herald 10 November 1900: p. 11


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 Skull for a Bonnet: 1896


a brooklyn woman whose bonnet is a skull

It is once again “World Goth Day,” a time to celebrate the dark, the decadent, and the black-garbed—although, frankly, Mrs Daffodil tries to quietly exemplify those qualities year-round.  And what better way to celebrate than with a superlative example of morbid millinery?



A Brooklyn woman is the proud possessor of the most gruesome headgear ever seen atop of a feminine head. She is proud of her curious bonnet chiefly because it is unique, and the consciousness that it cannot easily be duplicated by her envious sisters adds not a little to her feminine joy.

About a month ago the lady’s husband, a well-known physician of the City of Churches, took home a human skull, which the woman laughingly placed on her head, saying: “How is this, John for a stunning effect?”
“By Jove!” replied the husband, “the effect certainly is stunning. But the authorities would arrest you if you appeared on the street in that sort of head-dress.”

There the matter dropped. But the wife, full of a new idea, had the skull carefully cleaned and polished and, with a deftness known only to the hands of woman, fashioned an affair of skull, feathers and ribbons which, when completed, was as original an arrangement as one could imagine.

“It will make a great sensation,” said the lady of the skull bonnet to a horrified woman friend. And she was right, for wherever the grinning death’s-head, in its downy bower of feathers and ribbons, is seen it causes people to gape in utter amazement. The woman’s audacity is admired by the men, but roundly condemned by the women.

Still, the lady of the skull bonnet is quite indifferent to the criticism of either sex. To be sure, it is only on very especial occasions that the hideously pretty headgear is worn abroad, and then it is generally at night.

You may imagine the surprise of the woman’s husband when he first saw the very practical use to which his wife had put the skull he so innocently brought home. He remonstrated with his wife but to no end, for she contended with true womanly logic, that if it considered proper to wear the dead bodies of birds as a means of decoration, why should not a mere skull be just as properly employed for an artistic effect?

Even so convincing an argument failed to alter the view of the do tor, and he has gone so far as to offer his wife a splendid new bicycle if she will cast aside her queer headgear and don something more conventional. But the bonnet is still in readiness for my lady’s first walk abroad, and will be until she accepts her husband’s munificent compromise.

The St. Louis [MO] Post-Dispatch 11 October 1896: p. 28

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil rarely wonders at the morbid vagaries of the human race, but she is pursing her lips dubiously about the strict veracity of the tale above. The lady and her well-known physician husband are not named and the image does not convince us it is anything more than a portrait drawn from the artist’s fancy. One wonders if it was merely a satire about the hyperbolic hat styles of the late nineteenth century?

On the other hand, medical students and physicians, quite aside from their proclivities for stealing corpses and treating dissection-room subjects with levity, were known for some very grisly fancies, such as turning human remains into articles such as shoes, tobacco pouches, jewellery, tobacco jars, and drinking vessels. So one cannot entirely rule out the possibility of a skull being casually brought home by a physician. And the late nineteenth century was known for some decadent entertainments, such as the Cabaret du Néant, where the waiters dressed as undertakers and patrons sat at coffin-shaped tables, drank from skull-shaped cups, and watched Death-themed floor shows.

Surprisingly, the term “skull bonnet” was a well-known millinery term. For example:

A fashion writer refers to  “the ugly old skull bonnet we used to see during the war.” in The Weekly Era [Raleigh NC] 8 October 1874: p. 2

A small skull bonnet of straw, the crown surrounded with flowers, is worn with this [spring morning] costume.” (spring morning costume)

The Huddersfield Chronicle and West Yorkshire Advertiser 5 May 1881: p. 4

Tiny skull-cap bonnets are mentioned in The Graphic [London, England] 29 April 1893: p. 20

And in other advertisements we see “French Skull Bonnets” [1897]; Silk Skull Bonnets [1906] and the phrase is used to describe the 1920’s cloche: “The modern skull-tight bonnet” [1924]. The term seems simply to mean a bonnet with a tight-fitting crown.

Mrs Daffodil would be delighted to see proof that this was a genuine lady with a taste for truly macabre millinery.  And she wishes those who celebrate it a happy World Goth Day.

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.

Why is the Cat Uncanny?: 1912

fairies riding cat 1894 McDonald Phantasies

Fairies riding a cat, 1894

In various parts of Europe (some districts of England included) white cats were thought to attract benevolently disposed fairies, and a peasant would as soon have thought of cutting off his fingers, or otherwise maltreating himself, as being unkind to an animal of this species. In the fairy lore of half Europe we have instances of luck-bringing cats—each country producing its own version of Puss in Boots, Dame Mitchell and her cat. Dick Whittington and his cat. It is the same in Asia, too; for nowhere are such stories more prolific than in China and Persia.

To sum up then,—in all climes and in all periods of past history, the cat was credited with many properties that brought it into affinity and sympathy with the supernatural— or, if you will, superphysical—world. Let us review the cat to-day, and sec to what extent this past regard of it is justified.

Firstly, with respect to it as the harbinger of fortune. Has a cat insight into the future? Can it presage wealth or death?

I am inclined to believe that certain cats can, at all events, foresee the advent of the latter; and that they do this in the same manner as the shark, crow, owl, jackal, hyaena, etc., viz. by their abnormally developed sense of smell. My own and other people’s experience has led me to believe that when a person is about to die, some kind of phantom, maybe, the spirit of some one closely associated with the sick person, or, maybe, a spirit whose special function it is to be present on such occasions, is in close proximity to the sick or injured one, waiting to escort his or her soul into the world of shadows—and that certain cats scent its approach.

Therein then—in this wonderful property of smell—lies one of the secrets to the cat’s mysterious powers—it has the psychic faculty of scent—of scenting ghosts. Some people, too, have this faculty. In a recent murder case, in the North of England, a rustic witness gave it in her evidence that she was sure a tragedy was about to happen because she “smelt death in the house,’’ and it made her very uneasy. Cats possessing this peculiarity are affected in a similar manner—they are uneasy. Before a death in a house, I have watched a cat show gradually increasing signs of uneasiness. It has moved from place to place, unable to settle in any one spot for any length of time, had frequent fits of shivering, gone to the door, sniffed the atmosphere, thrown back its head and mewed in a low, plaintive key, and shown the greatest reluctance to being alone in the dark.

This faculty possessed by certain cats may in some measure explain certain of the superstitions respecting them. Take, for instance, that of cats crossing one’s path predicting death.

The cat is drawn to the spot because it scents the phantom of death, and cannot resist its magnetic attraction.

From this, it does not follow that the person who sees the cat is going to die, but that death is overtaking some one associated with that person; and it is in connexion with the latter that the spirit of the grave is present, employing, as a medium of prognostication, the cat, which has been given the psychic faculty of smell that it might be so used.

But although I regard this theory as feasible, I do not attribute to cats, with the same degree of certainty, the power to presage good fortune, simply because 1 have had no experience of it myself. Yet, adopting the same lines of argument, I see no reason why cats should not prognosticate good as well as evil.

There may be phantoms representative of prosperity, in just the same manner as there are those representative of death; they, too, may also have some distinguishing scent (flowers have various odours, so why not spirits ?); and certain cats, i.e. white cats in particular, may be attracted by it.

This becomes all the more probable when one considers how very impressionable the cat is—how very sensitive to kindness. There are some strangers with whom the cat will at once make friends, and others whom it will studiously avoid. Why? The explanation, I fancy, lies once more in the Occult—in the cat’s psychic faculty of smell. Kind people attract benevolently disposed phantoms, which bring with them an agreeably scented atmosphere, that, in turn, attracts cats.

The cat comes to one person because it knows by the smell of the atmosphere surrounding him, or her, that they have nothing to fear—that the person is essentially gentle and benignant. On the contrary, cruel people attract malevolent phantoms, distinguishable also to the cat by their smell, a smell typical of cruelty—often of homicidal lunacy (I have particularly noticed how cats have shrunk from people who have afterwards become dangerously insane). Is this sense of smell, then, the keynote to the halo of mystery that has for all times surrounded the cat—that has led to its bitter persecution—that has made it the hero of fairy lore, the pet of old maids? I believe it is— I believe, in this psychic faculty of smell, lies wholly, or in greater part, the solution to the riddle—Why is the cat uncanny!

“Cats and the Unknown,” Elliott O’Donnell The Occult Review December 1912

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil really must take issue with the Great Ghost-hunter O’Donnell. It is axiomatic that if there is one person in the room who is highly allergic or antipathetic to cats, it is into the lap of that person which a cat will leap. Mrs Daffodil has never seen it fail.

That said, the idea of a spirit having a particular odour, like a flower, is a diverting one. One elderly American gentleman was queried by a “psychic researcher” after he divulged that he had smelt a ghost. He retorted “You ask me how ghosts smell. They smell like ghosts—that’s all I can tell you. How you speck they smell?”

Mrs Daffodil is fond of cats and does not consider them uncanny in the least. However, Mrs Daffodil is reminded by Mr O’Donnell’s assertion that cats can scent the approach of death of the handsome and remarkably prescient Oscar, who has foretold fifty to one hundred deaths at a Rhode Island nursing home and even has his own “Facebook” page.

Some other stories of uncanny cats are What the Cat Saw, The Cats Came Back, The Black Cat Elemental, Murder by Cat, and The White Cat

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 Phrenological Failure: 1824

veggie face


The science of Phrenology is not likely to be long in fashion. Important anticipations were entertained of indications and discoveries in the head of Thurtell, but they have failed. Some time ago a gentleman found a large turnip in his field, the shape of a man’s head, and with the resemblance of the features of a man. Struck with the curiosity, he had a cast made from it, and sent the cast to a Society of Phrenologists, stating that it was taken from the head of Baron Turnempourtz, a celebrated Polish Professor, and requesting their opinion thereon. After sitting in judgment, they scientifically examined the cast, in which they declared that they had discovered an unusual prominence, which denoted that he was a man of an acute mind and deep research, that he had the organ of quick perception, and also of perseverance, with another that indicated credulity. The opinion was transmitted to the owner of the cast, with a letter, requesting as a particular favour that he would send them the head. To this he politely replied, “that he would willingly do so, but was prevented, as he and his family had eaten it the day before with their mutton at dinner.”

The Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 135,1824

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The “science” of Phrenology was just getting started. Although it was scientifically discredited by the 1840s, it survived in the patter of the snake-oil salesman, and as a popular lecture-circuit topic and parlour entertainment into the early 20th century, as Mrs Daffodil has written in Bump Parties: 1905, 1907.

Thurtell was John Thurtell who murdered Mr William Weare over a gambling debt. The crime caused a sensation; the gruesome particulars were memorialised in a ballad, part of which ran:

They cut his throat from ear to ear,
His head they battered in.
His name was Mr William Weare,
Wot lived in Lyons Inn.

Thurtell committed a vicious murder, but was astonishingly stupid over it, openly boasting that he would “do” Weare, who was said to have cheated Thurtell at cards, and leaving the murder weapon, one of a matched set he owned, in the road. No doubt the phrenologists wanted to analyse his cranium to determine where he went wrong and prevent future murderers from making the same egregious errors.

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 Most Eccentric Dresser in America: 1916

Barbara Craydon

There is in America at least one woman to whom the styles do not matter. Styles may come and styles may go but Baroness Else von Freitag leaves them out of her calculations altogether. She is her own designer and dressmaker. One might say that she dresses as she paints, for as an artist this highly temperamental woman is a follower of the futuristic school.

Seven years ago Baroness von Freitag came to America from Germany. It was not until she entered the art field in New York that she began dressing otherwise than in a semi-conventional way. In fact she seems to have caught her inspiration from the riotous colors of the futurists, and was seen in some of the most marvelous clothes New York has ever observed.

Everything that comes to her hands may be turned to a use in her art of dress. One electrifying costume is trimmed with common meat skewers painted in most intricate design. Another is ornamented with the gilt spiral springs such as one uses in hanging bird ages. Elaborate bead work, resembling the wampum of the Indians figures largely in her scheme of decoration, and heavy embroideries of futuristic design and brilliant colors are made from nothing else than knitting wool. The baroness never throws anything away, and the effect in her clothes is marvelous.

“Clothes,” said the baroness in her studio, “should always be a matter of inspiration not of one person for thousands of different style women, but of each individual. When one follows the styles and makes herself a slave to those who invent the fashions she might just as well be in the uniform of an institution as not for all the individuality expressed in her garments. The only difference between the conventionally dressed persons and the inmates of an institution is that the style and texture of the garment is changed several times a year. While there is little expense in charity uniforms there is a demand for great outlay of money by those who are slaves to the fashions and listen to the dictates of the fashion makers.

“How often have you heard a woman say, ‘yes, the dress is pretty but I cannot wear it, I do not feel right in it.’ What more than an expression of that kind does one need to show that clothes ought to be made for the individual character? It does not matter from what materials things are constructed as long as they suit the personality of the wearer, as long as the colors blend harmoniously.

“Look about you at nature. It is seldom that the landscape presents a pale, fade-away pastel appearance. Flowers are bright with color, greens are vivid, all colors are bright. Why not use them in one’s garments? I revel in color, I must have color and plenty of it, but the colors must be put together artistically. I have found that persons who generally cling to one color have a mental attitude toward the world and things in general that harmonizes pretty well with their colors. Drab clothes fit drab-colored minds. Perhaps that is why people who have been gifted with brilliant minds have worn clothes that have been called fantastic in cut and in color. They have been criticized for such things and have been called eccentric, but then the world always calls persons whom they do not understand eccentric. It is the simplest way out for simple minds, a way that does not demand analysis, and removes all necessity of particular thought.”

Among the studios of New York City the baroness von Freitag has frequently been urged by fellow-artists to pose for pictures and it sometimes amuses her to do so. Her poses are full of imagination, full of life. There are times when she refuses to pose, especially if she does not like the style of work that the artist is doing. She insists that she must be in sympathy with the artist’s work, must understand what he is doing before she can give him a satisfactory pose. The baroness says that just standing or sitting still for an artist is no posing.

The baroness has a most marvelous collection of rings, many of them are silver set with dull stones, others she was made herself from artistically arranged beads. Some of these that she has made are futuristic in the extreme. One might say that she practically paints with her needle and the beads. The result is weird but extremely interesting.

“Why should I not cover my hands with rings if I wish?” she said, looking up from her work. “Others cover their hands with gloves. I think gloves ugly. I would certainly to feel at home with my hands encased with gloves. But my rings are a joy and pleasure to me. Sometimes I can wear only one. It depends upon my state of mind. But when I am very happy and gay I like to wear them all. Barbaric? Perhaps it is. If so, I like the barbaric.”

Shoes, also, the baroness thinks, ought to be a matter of artistic work on the part of the wearer. One pair of slippers of black satin she has made into footgear to suit her. These are Oriental to an extreme, beaded and ringed. And from the back of one hang two large beaded tassels.

When an ordinary “slave to fashions” might spend a day in selecting a hat the baroness will spend a week in making one to please her. One creation is made from the crown of a derby hat which this original woman has painted and glazed until it looks like a highly lacquered helmet. On top, for a decoration, is a long bone hair pin partly sheathed in an intricate bead design. At the back of the hat coming down to the nape of her neck she has added a strip of silver-covered cardboard edged with a gilt trimming. The effect is that of a headpiece of an Amazon, and when dressed in the costume she has designed to go with the hat the baroness carries with her one of her pet alligators.

Truly if one searched the United States from coast to coast, from north to South, it might be difficult to find a more amazingly gowned woman than the baroness, and it would also probably be difficult to find a woman who spends less in money or more in energy on her clothes than she does. As for the enjoyment derived from clothes, the baroness takes a delight in her costumes that is extremely frank and genuine enough to suggest that clothes pleasure may have been neglected by the philosophers as an element of the art of life.

New Orleans [LA] States 1 October 1916: p. 45

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The Baroness (the newspaper misspells her name, which is correctly rendered Else von Freytag-Loringhoven) was born Elsa Plötz in the supremely un-futuristically-named town of Swinemünde, Germany.  She came to the United States after helping her second husband fake suicide to escape his creditors. She was a luminary of the Dada and avante-garde movements.  Mrs Daffodil must confess that she is inherently unsympathetic to movements known as “Futuristic” or, indeed, as any sort of “istic,” as they suggest those who advocate the wearing of tin-foil head-gear.

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.