Category Archives: Wonders and Curiosities

A Stuffed Cat-skin: 1860s

A Stuffed Cat-skin.

An eccentric and parsimonious old lady, who died in a small village in the State of Maine, some twenty years ago, always kept a half dozen cats about the house. She was a dried-up-looking old crone, and some ill-minded people had gone so far as to call her a witch, doubtless because of her oddities and her cats, “black, white, and brindled.” When one of these delightful night-prowlers departed this life, the old lady would have the skin of the animal stuffed, to adorn her mantel shelf. My informant said he had once seen them with his own eyes, arranged along on the shelf, some half score of them, looking as demure and comfortable as a stuffed cat could, while the old woman sat by the fireplace, crooning over her knitting work.

The woman paid no bills that she could avoid, always pleading poverty as her excuse for the non-fulfilment of her responsibilities.

One dark and stormy night she was taken very sick, and by a preconcerted signal to a neighbor, — the placing of a light in a certain window, — help was summoned, including the village doctor, to whom she owed a fee for each visit he had ever made her. But this was fated to be the doctor’s last call to that patient.

“O, doctor, then I am dying at last — am I?”

The physician assured her such was the case.

“Then, doctor, I must tell you that you’ve been very patient with me, and have hastened day or night to see me, in my whims, as well as my real sickness, and you shall be rewarded. I have no money, but you see all my treasures arranged along on the mantel-piece there?”

“What!” exclaimed the doctor ; “you don’t call those cats treasures, I hope!”

“Yes, they are my only treasures, doctor. Now, I want to be just to you, above all others, because you’ve not only served me as I said, but you’ve often sent me wood and provisions during the cold winters —”

Here she became too feeble to go on, and the doctor revived her with some cordial from his saddle-bags, when she took breath, and continued, —

“See them, doctor; eleven of them. Which will you choose?” The doctor, with as much grace as possible, declined selecting any one of the useless stuffed skins; when the old lady, by much effort, raised her head from the pillow, and said, “Well, I will select for you. Take the black one —take — the black — cat — doctor!” and died.

Her dying words so impressed him, that he took the cat home, and, on opening her, — for it was very heavy, — he found that the skin contained nearly a hundred dollars, in gold.

The Funny Side of Physic: 1880: p. 400-2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A macabre case of a black cat being lucky!

Recently Mrs Daffodil posted a story by Mr Oscar Wilde on the theme of deceptive appearances, The Model Millionaire. The nineteenth century press was found of stories about immensely wealthy misers who went about in rags and the eccentric places they hid their treasures, such as the following:

“ Peg-leg” Dan used to be a familiar figure on Clark Street, in Chicago. He sold pencils and chewing-gum from a little tray that swung from his neck, and the thump of his peg-leg helped to wear away the sidewalk from daylight to night-time. Then, one day they picked up what was left of Dan, and tried to patch it together on the operating-table at the hospital.

“Just look out for my peg,” he’d say anxiously; and to please him, the old wooden leg was stood up beside his cot where he could look at it.

“I’m going to will you that, nurse,” he told the white-capped girl who soothed his last hours, and she smiled back, and told him he’d need it himself.

“No, I won’t, and I ain’t joking, either.“ he said earnestly. ” Don’t you forget what I say. You can have that peg-leg as soon as they’ve finished with me, ’cause you‘ve been good to me. understand. nurse? Don’t you forget.”

She did not forget. She took the old. battered wooden leg as a memento of the kind-faced, brave old cripple. And. on closer examination, the leg was found to be hollow. and jammed with bills of high denomination. making it as valuable as was ever the “precious leg of Miss Kilmansegg.”** Something over fifteen thousand it yielded as “ Peg-leg” Dan’s treasure-trove. left to the nurse who was kind to him. And she didn’t forget.

**A reference to “Miss Kilmansegg and Her Precious Leg,” a poem about a solid gold artificial limb by Thomas Hood.

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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Richard Snowflake, Esq.: late 1880s

Five Pounds of Intelligence.

Charles Dawbarn

Richard Snowflake, Esq., was his name, but he graciously allowed his particular friends to call him “Dick.” Only eighty ounces of French poodle, counting flesh, bones, and early white hair; but then, it was all permeated with an intelligence that counted by the ton on the scales of heaven.

Civilization demands of man that he become a specialist. He must walk in a narrow groove all day, even though he put on a dress-coat when evening comes and pretend to be just like his fellows. Nature laid the same command upon Richard Snowflake. He looked like a poodle, barked like a poodle, and perhaps bit like a poodle, but he had hobby. He was a specialist, and in his own line acquired a distinction and achieved success possible, only, to a dog born under very peculiar planetary influences.

The stars had marked him as their favorite seven months before my friend made his acquaintance in the city of Detroit. But the mark was small at that time for he only weighed two pounds; one dollar and fifty cents was his price—seventy-five cents a pound for the poodle, with the intelligence thrown in. Mortals are short-sighted, but the angels wept with joy. Richard’s life-work demonstrated a wider field than the broad avenues of Detroit. In fact his destiny amongst his fellows was to become a Cyrus B. Field, a Jay Gould and a Russell Sage, all rolled into one little dog of the French poodle variety. He was born with a faculty for accumulating wealth, but unlike Jay Gould he could not begin with a patent mouse trap. A mouse was too small game for Richard Snowflake, Esq. He was far too honorable to use water to increase his capital, indeed his friends say he grew up from two pounds to five almost entirely upon milk.

The first evidence of special talent was given by Richard a few months after his change of ownership. He was in a carriage sitting quietly in the lap of his mistress whose husband was driving, when suddenly he insisted on getting out. It was the work only of a moment to run to the side of the road and return with an envelope containing two ten-dollar bills. Of course he was praised and petted for his financial ability. In a week or two he found more money, and at intervals of weeks or months continued his collections. His mistress kept an account of his earnings for the two years of his short life, including the value of a diamond ring which he fished out of the drains of a long deserted home, and she assured me the total amount was over three hundred dollars.

One day a boy—an evil-minded, wicked boy—pointed his toy pistol at poor Richard. In a glass case on the parlor table now reposes the martyred Snowflake. As the lady was telling me the history, we were looking at the little hero who lay there with glass eyes and a curly tail, and the cruel bullet was under his fore paw. The husband was in the front room and confirmed the story, as he said he had been present at several of the collections taken up by Richard for the benefit of the family.

So far, the Seybert commission will of course talk learnedly about the attraction of cohesion, and show us how Kellar, the magician, can do the same if any body can be found who will lend him a couple hundred dollars and an old diamond ring. But there was a postscript which carries the mystery a step further into the field of Spiritualism where the Journal fights its battles of today.

Just a week after Richard Snowflake, Esq. had ceased to snap at flies, and had gone to the paradise where it is believed fleas are refused admittance, his mistress felt him in her arms as she was walking in the street. Being clairvoyant and clairaudient she says she saw him and heard his cheerful little bark of greeting. Suddenly be jumped down and ran across the street. She followed till he stopped with his paw on a crumpled-up ten-dollar-bill. It was his contribution to the funeral expenses. He never appeared again, and if ten dollar bills are still lying around loose or flattering in the air, they are now doubtless gathered by dogs of another breed.

The reader might ask if I believe the story.

I have testified that I stood by the glass case containing the dead dog and the fatal bullet while listening to the wonderful narrative. There, too, was the cash account kept by the day, all ready to be added up by the skillful accountant. The ten dollar bills were the only missing links in this wonderful biography. The magician was dead.

But the dog-ghost, and that last ten dollar bill? Yes, I heard all that too. I saw neither the ghost nor the bills. The reader and the editor have exhausted my testimony, save that I remember the lady said the dog seemed half asleep and refused to eat for some hours before each find, and that she was conscious of influences at such times although they never assumed human form or personality. So the mediumship of life below man might be an interesting theme for discussion.

San Leandro, Cal.

Religio-Philosophical Journal 4 January 1890

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: What a very curious story! One has certainly heard of intelligent dogs doing clever things, such as the French dog who traded game birds for bread and the dogs who collect for charity at railway stations. But a dog with a nose for treasure is a very rare breed, indeed. How agreeable it would be to have a pet like Richard Snowflake to collect ten-pound notes or valuable jewellery whenever he left the house. Certainly it would make a nice change from the little offerings Snuff, the Hall mouser, lays on the hearth rug.

To be Relentlessly Informative, Mrs Daffodil was puzzled by the reference to water and milk, but apparently it refers to “watering one’s stock,” an ethically dubious practice of the Robber Baron class.  Kellar is Harry Kellar, an eminent American conjurer. The Seybert Commission studied psychic phenomena and Spiritualism. It was not unusual for Victorian pet owners to stuff their defunct pets and display them under glass. There is even a famous ghost legend about a dog in a glass case from the Isle of Wight.

 

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.

 

Pigeons of Doom: 1700

 

Doves in a funeral flower arrangement, 1885

Both doves and pigeons are constantly associated in the popular mind with death. Every reader of Westward Ho! will remember the white dove which was the habitual death-token of the Oxenham family.

We have in Shropshire a less poetical record of a similar death-warning, which, however, seems to have been attached not so much to a particular family as to a particular house. The narrative shall be given verbatim from the pages of the old writer who has preserved it for us.

‘Beecause many maryages of persons in this parish of Myddle have beene made with persons of Cayhowell, I will say something of that farme. . . . There is a wounderfull thing observable concerning this farme, of which I may say, in the words of Du Bartas—

Strang to bee told, and though believed of few,

Yet is not soe incredible as true.

It is observed that if the chiefe person of the family that inhabits in this farme doe fall sick, if his sicknesse bee to death, there come a paire of pidgeons to the house about a fortnight or a weeke before the person’s death, and continue there untill the person’s death, and then goe away. This I have knowne them doe three severall times. 1st. Old Mrs. Bradocke fell sicke about a quarter of a yeare after my Sister was maryed, and the paire of pidgeons came thither, which I saw. They did every night roust under the shelter of the roofe of the kitchen att the end, and did sit upon the ends of the side raisers. In the day time they fled about the gardines and yards. I have seene them pecking on the hemp butt as if they did feed, and for ought I know they did feed. They were pretty large pidgeons; the feathers on their tayles were white, and the long feathers of theire wings, their breasts, and bellyes, white, and a large white ring about theire necks ; but the tops of theire heads, their backs, and theire wings (except the long feathers,) were of a light browne or nutmeg colour. (My brother-in-law, Andrew Bradocke, told mee that hee feared his mother would die, for there came such a pair of pidgeons before his father’s death, and hee had heard they did soe beefore the death of his grandfather.) After the death of Mrs. Bradocke, the pidgeons went away. 2ndly. About three-quarters of a year after the death of Mrs. Bradocke, my father goeing to give a visit to them at Kayhowell, fell sicke there, and lay sicke about nine or ten weekes. About a fortnight beefore his death, the pidgeons came; and when hee was dead, went away. 3rdly. About a yeare after his death, my brother-in-law, Andrew Bradocke, fell sicke, the pidgeons came, and hee died; they seemed to me to bee the same pidgeons at all these three times. When I went to pay Mr. Smalman, then minister of Kynerley, the buriall fee for Andrew Bradocke, which was in April, Mr. Smalman said, this is the fiftieth Corps which I have interred here since Candlemas last, and God knows who is next, which happened to bee himselfe. Andrew Bradocke died of a sort of rambeling feavourish distemper, which raged in that country, and my sister soone after his decease fell sicke, but shee recovered, and dureing her sicknesse, the pidgeons came not, which I observed, for I went thither every day, and returned att night. Afterwards my Sister sett out [= let] her farme to John Owen, a substantiall tenant, who about three yeares after fell sicke; and my Sister comeing to Newton, told mee that shee feared her tenant would bee dead, for hee was sicke, and the pidgeons were come; and hee died then.’

From Richard Gough, Antiquityes and Memoyres of the Parish of Myddle, 1700, Ed. 1875, pp. 45-48

Shropshire folk-lore: a sheaf of gleanings, edited by Charlotte Sophia Burne, 1885: p. 227-9

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: On several recent mornings Mrs Daffodil has noticed the mourning doves making moan in the shrubberies. The creatures visit only intermittently and Mrs Daffodil does not know whether to take it as an omen or a directive…

Doves and pigeons are often conflated in folk-lore. One suspects that their reputation as downy death omens comes from their role as a symbol for the Holy Spirit.  In some parts of England there was a superstition that if pigeon feathers were found in the feather bed or pillow of a dying person, that person would not be able to pass on until the offending feathers were removed. See this post on “Feather Superstitions” for the particulars of death-preventing feathers.

 

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 Black Rose: 1910

THE BLACK ROSE

Triumph of Botanical Chemistry, but Who Would Want One

(from the New York Times)

The inventor of a process for growing black roses naturally takes pride in his achievement. The black rose is new in agriculture. Nature, within the knowledge of man, has produced no rose of that color, and the black rose, if it is a shapely, full-grown flower, will be cordially received. If it have the perfume of the garden rose, its value will be greater. Some of the most esteemed roses of the florist’s shops are almost odorless. The inventor of the black rose is to be congratulated. Black diamonds and brown ones are esteemed far above their intrinsic value. Mr Burbank’s horticultural hybrids are highly prized. It will not do, in this scientific era, to condemn the gardener or agriculturist for using his wit and art to produce freaks in defiance of nature. The freakish tendencies of nature are now too well understood. The cunning of man cannot outdo them. Only nature has not yet produced a black rose, and the first of its kind will surely command a high place in the market for curiosities.

The utility of a black rose is questionable. It will never satisfy the eye like the red, yellow or white rose: a new poetry of roses must be made to fit it; no lover will come to use it as a symbol of his passion. At its best it will seem a thing of mystery. A bunch of black roses carelessly laid on the rail of a parterre box at the opera will not necessarily charm the vision of the unfortunate lookers-on in the stalls. The near-sighted ones may fancy that the principal occupant of the box is displaying her overshoes. A black rose in a lovely woman’s hair will resemble a rosette of silk or velvet. As a gift the black rose, after its first novelty has worn away, will fit only funeral occasions. Even then its oddity and the extravagance its presence implies, will serve to make it seem unsuitable.

The advent of the black rose will be an event, a triumph of botanical chemistry, a subject for learned discussion, and some more or less tedious frivol. But, after that—what? Who really wants a black rose?

Charleston [SC] News and Courier 17 February 1910: p. 10

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  To-morrow is, Mrs Daffodil is given to understand, World Goth Day. While previously Mrs Daffodil thought that the day was to celebrate European barbarians who opposed Imperial Roman rule, this year she knows better and was ready with this post about the Goth’s favourite posy: the black rose.

It is curious that the alleged inventor is not named in the piece above; Mr Luther Burbank, the distinguished American horiculturalist was always cited as the ne plus ultra of plant breeders, but even he did not breed a black rose.

Two gentleman, both Russian, were named in the British and United States press as the inventor of the black rose.

The honor of making the black rose belongs to an amateur horticulturist—Mr. Fetisoff, of Voronezh, Russia. Mr. Fetisoff has accomplished what professional horticulturists for fifty years have been striving for. They have tried again and again and the wisdom of years has been combined in their efforts and yet they have never succeeded in producing a rose whose petals were absolutely black.

Mr. Fetisoff is guarding the secret of the existence of his black rose with religious care. The Evening Times [Washington DC] 2 July 1898: p. 6

and

A Russian nurseryman, named Seraphimoff, has actually produced a black rose….One would suppose that the admixture of manganese in the soil in which roses or tulips are grown would produce a purple shade in the flowers, but how black, which isn’t recognized as a color, can be developed, one utterly fails to understand.

The name Seraphimoff, is suspiciously religious. One fears that a sacrilegious nature faker is abroad. The word “seraphim” is one not to be used in jokes. The Brooklyn [NY] Daily Eagle 19 May 1908: p. 20

Experts who commented on these stories suggested that a black rose might be produced by intensive cross-breeding, or “culture in highly medicated soils.” The cultivar is said to exist in nature in Tibet and in Turkey; outside of nature, they may be purchased at Cartier, in onyx.  If Mrs Daffodil had to guess its meaning in the “language of flowers,” the black rose might signify, “I adore your skull jewellery and your jet lip-stick.” or “You are dead to me.”

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.

 

An Imposter at the Concord Ball: 1875

Colonial Revival costumes in a portrayal of George and Martha Washington’s wedding, 1912

A Western Deceiver.

Nora Perry writes of the centennial celebration at Lexington and Concord in a letter to the Chicago Tribune. Of the Concord ball she writes: And oh! What a pretty sight, as everybody unanimously voted. Such brocades, smelling of cedar and camphor-wood, as would now and then appear, plaited and puckered in the very stitches of the old-time—not a fold altered nor a ruffle changed. But there were not many of them. Those fair ones who rejoiced in these veritable old heirlooms walked about with their pretty chins aloft, lifted up above common modern clay by the sublime consciousness of a fine Mayflower ancestry, which these credentials would place beyond dispute.

But a woman’s wit will sometimes get the better of the stoutest credentials; and so a saucy, mischievous little damsel managed to array herself in a brand new gown, which she so plaited and puckered and betrimmed with coffee-dipped lace and scented with camphor-gum, in the very pink and pattern of the Continental dames, that all the little Mayflowers lowered their chins on her approach and whispered audibly, in her delighted hearing, “That is the real thing! Wonder who she is?”

And the little deceiver, with “a smile that was child-like and bland,” went on her way rejoicing, happy as all human nature must be at such a signal triumph. Boston is much too well-bred to ask outright questions of identity, so my fair one kept her secret with these fine Mayflowers; but after the ball she is perfectly willing to reveal her cunning guilt, and to let a faithful correspondent say that it was one of Chicago’s nearest neighbors who thus proved herself more than a match for Boston.

Daily Graphic [New York, NY] 7 May 1875: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: On this, the anniversary of the fateful day that the American Revolution began: the commemoration of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, it seems appropriate to record the sartorial conflict between the camphor-scented blue-bloods of the East and the parvenu of the West in her coffee-dipped lace.

1876 saw a revival of “Colonial” American costume, from antique lace ruffles at ladies’ elbows to daintily embroidered shoes to sack-back gowns of flowered brocades. Mrs Daffodil regrets to say that some enthusiasts actually remade historic 18th-century garments into fancy-dress costumes or pageant attire for “Lady Washington teas.”

Eighteenth-century costumes were proudly displayed as an emblem of pedigree by Americans who otherwise scorned England’s class system as un-democratic.  An aged American lady of impeccable lineage was distressed to part with her historic quilted petticoat. And this improbably aged relic was described at a celebration of The Geauga County Historical Society, 30 September, 1875:

In the exhibit, first, I bring to your attention, the singular and costly specimens of work presented by Mrs. Polly Norton, of Troy, Ohio, in 1873, a widow lady, seventy-seven years of age, and an early settler in that township. Her husband was a farmer, and died some years ago. First, the waist of a dress; second, a portion of the skirt to another dress; third, a window curtain—all made of linen, the waist being striped with blue, the other two pieces white, all worked in flowers, made of woolen floss. In this floss may be found, at this date, twenty-three different shades of color, and upon the waist are forty-seven different kinds of buds and flowers. Upon the skirt, which is supposed to be about one width, there are one hundred and sixty kinds, and it is estimated that upon the whole skirt there must have been no less than eight hundred buds and flowers worked. Upon the curtain there are one hundred and thirteen kinds, no two of which are considered to be alike. The flax was carded, spun and wove for the fabric of these relics, and the wool was carded and spun for the floss, and it was colored into all the various shades, and then worked into the almost countless flowers upon the fabric. Then the dresses were made, and the curtains stitched and worked, all this having been done by one and the same person, the great-great-grandmother of Mrs. Polly Norton, thus running back, on the line of descent, four generations, or more than six generations of the average life of men. These garments, so skillfully made, must have cost more than twelve months of work to perfect them, including the full set of curtains. The dresses look like the completion of a “sensation” toilet upon the charming person of this great-great-grandmother, as she moved in society more that two hundred years ago, in the colony of Massachusetts. Indeed, they take us back to the threshold of the days of the Pilgrims, and it would almost seem that this dress had brushed against the sword at the side of Miles Standish, or touched the gallant arm of a Governor Carver or Bradford. It was made in the old Bay State, far back beyond the days of cotton mills and whizzing spindles. Pioneer and General History of Geauga County [Ohio] 1880: pp. 42-3

Mrs Daffodil fears that this little story perpetuates the myth of pioneer ladies who made clothing entirely from “scratch,” although, both before and during the Revolution, there was an active trade smuggling the English textiles, laces, and luxury goods the Colonies desired.

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.

 

Miss Fannie Harley’s Trousers: 1919

Miss Fannie Harley, magazine writer and traveler, in her chic walking costume. It was in this costume that Miss Harley recently appeared in a New York street and attracted considerable attention. Miss Harley in her house costume of blue and white plaid gingham. The suit is trimmed with plain blue gingham bands and with white cords and tassels. Street costume of which yachting serge with a girdle of cerise taffeta and cuffs trimmed with cerise buttons. Marabou around the neck and the skirt. The French parasol is of cerise.

‘Harleys’ for Housewives and Business Girls

Wear ‘Em to Work, Walk Instead of Hobble, Get Around Better, Have Comfort and Ease and Health—And Put Skirts on Bow-Legged, Knock-Kneed and Pigeon-Toed Men.

By Fay Stevenson.

New York, Oct. 8 Young ladies of the business brigade, stop wearing décolleté blouses and tight skirts. Be modest and wear trousers! Now, don’t all blush and gasp until you finish reading what sort of trousers they are.

Miss Fannie Harley 1910-1915 in the street costume that caused a sensation in New York. https://www.loc.gov/resource/ggbain.19904/

Dr. Mary Walker wore men’s clothes several years ago, but they were so very, very masculine that no typically feminine woman wanted to don them. Now we have Miss Fannie Harley, who has come on from the West and dazzles us all by walking down Fifth avenue in a costume of white serge trousers, or harleys, as she prefers to call them, spelled with a small “h.” But call them what you please, there is absolutely nothing masculine about them, for they are made of silks, cretonnes and challis, and trimmed with marabout, chiffons, buttons and roses.

“I don’t advocate trousers for all other women,” Miss Harley told me, as we sat in her room at the McAlpin, surrounded by the most feminine materials you can imagine, even if they were cut in two pieces instead of one at the base. “I can see how the woman who has worn skirts all her life would find it very embarrassing to jump into a pair of harleys and walk right out before the public. But at the same time I think my harleys twice as modest with their round-necked smocks and coatees as the décolleté blouses and ridiculously tight skirts I see. For instance, if I were a business girl, say a stenographer in an officer where there were a number of men, I would much rather appear in a pair of harleys and one of my smocks than in the sleeveless, backless, ankle-binding dresses so many young women wear. Is there any immodest about me?”

Keeps Touch of Feminine.

Miss Harley stood up and let me survey her form head to foot. She is tall and slender, with the firm and supple form of one who has lived much in the open. She wore what she termed her “utility” harleys, which are made of khaki soutache and reach clear to her ankles.

While not the Utility Suit mention in the article, this is the walking suit pictured at the head of the post, with matching hat, 1919 http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/173563?sortBy=Relevance&ft=fannie+harley&offset=0&rpp=20&pos=1

A little white linen smock very similar to our middies came just over her hips and over this she slipped a khaki jacket with a belted effect. Her feet were clad in tan, round toed shoes with a military heel. But Miss Harley’s love of the feminine, despite her preference for trousers, displayed itself in a touch of blue. The harleys were bound with blue braid and trimmed with big blue bone buttons. All of Miss Harley’s clothes match in color schemes. Her smock also bore traces of the same shade of blue in embroidered initials.

I was forced to admit her harleys do not display her figure as much as the present-day tight skirts would. They are loose over the hips and shirred along the outer seam. At the base they measure sixteen inches.

 

“Your modern skirts are one-legged trousers, mine are two,” she laughed as she strutted about the room in a free and lively manner unhampered by swaddling clothes. “Now see how much better a business girl could get on and off cars and elevators and go back and forth from desk to desk and corridor to corridor.

And the housewife could be so much more efficient about her work if she could walk instead of having to hobble. Nurses and waitresses, all women who work, could get about their work so much better in harleys. Oh, how I hate skirts!

Not Limited to Khaki.

“Of course this would be a perfectly appropriate rig for the business girl,” she continued, walking about the room, “but I know right well it is not dressy enough for her. However, she need not choose khaki for her materials; she may have serge or broadcloth, satin or silk, or any of the new fabrics. And as to blouses she may have cerise or any color she loves. I believe in every woman keeping her feminine love of color and frills and furbelows, but I hate to see her incase her limbs in skirts as the Chinese used to bind their feet.

“Now when a woman wants to go to the matinee or to an afternoon reception or just to take a stroll down Fifth avenue, what prettier gown can she desire than this?” asked Miss Harley, making a lightning change from her khaki harleys to a pair of peacock blue silk ones. These harleys are shirred in even more artistic designs than the others. And they are trimmed in fancy silver-toned buttons which are heirlooms of Miss Harley’s. Her blouse is of crepe meteor with a band of Venise reaching to the hips and a dainty ruche of maline at the rather high V-shaped neck. Over this Miss Harley slipped a charming little coatee all shirrs and ruffles with a delightfully long cape collar. It, too, is trimmed with the heirloom buttons. A dainty pair of black velvet pumps and a walking stick complete this frock, giving it a decidedly Parisian touch.

Hats to Match.

If you are wondering about Miss Harley’s hats, they are all the same shape, and she has a different one for each pair of harleys. She is her own milliner as well as her own designer and dressmaker. And the reason she always wears her hats and gowns made from the same model is because she insists that when a woman finds that she looks well in a certain style of hat or suit she should always keep that standardized style for herself. She may change in material and color scheme as much as her nature demands, but she should appreciate what lines and angles belong to her.

One time I met a lady whom I thought was perfectly beautiful,” said Miss Harley, “but the next time I met her I wondered why my first impressions were that she was so beautiful, for this time she was positively ugly, and then it dawned upon me, ‘she is wearing a different hat and gown.’ The first time it was in the spring and she wore a chic little mushroom shape which hid an enormously large nose and brought out her best lines, the next time it was in midsummer and she had changed to a large flat hat which openly displayed all her worst points, especially the large nose. Now, if that woman had only clung to that little mushroom shape, no matter whether she changed it to felt or straw or what shades she selected, she would have always passed for a beautiful woman. Personally I prefer the tam style, only I look well with my tam slightly trimmed. I know that is my style of hat and I shall always cling to it.

“And now if I want to be a real dandy and go to a dance or a social affair I have this.” Another lightning change and Miss Harley stood before me in a pink chiffon over pink satin.

The harleys were not only shirred but slit just the tiniest bit and lace inserted. The smock was trimmed with cabochon and strands of pearls in motifs: in fact, there were fifty feet of pearls and seventeen of cabochon. So you see harleys, or trousers, can be worn and one still retain an enormous portion of femininity.

“But what about coats for cold weather?” I asked. “Those little coatees to your khaki and peacock blue silk suits would not be warm enough.”

“A large cape or a big overcoat with an artistic cape collar is what I always wear,” was Miss Harley’s immediate reply. “I think the dolman and cape about the only graceful garment that women of today wear.

“If I had my way from an artistic point of view I would put all slender willowy women in harleys and many men in skirts!”

“But why in skirts?” “Well,” continued Miss Harley between her giggles, “once I stood on a public corner and watched the men file by and of all the knock knees, bow legs and pigeon toes that were displayed I decided that they ought to hid under petticoats and give us a chance to don trousers.

“But there is one thing I don’t like about the woman who slips into a pair of trousers,” added Miss Harley, “And that is she must avoid all masculine attitude, keep her hands out of her pockets and not smoke cigarettes. My idea of harleys is for comfort and ease and health, but I think every woman ought to be as feminine as she can always.

The Weekly News [Denver CO] 9 October 1919: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Miss Fannie Harley (and Mrs Daffodil assumes that small boys and young men snickered privately at her Christian name in this sartorial context) was well-known as a travel writer, and although she disliked the term “lecturer,” she did the circuit, speaking on dress reform and “The Irony of Fashion,” as well as  “Mexico, Anti-capital Punishment, Prison Betterment, Bird Protection, Anti-vivisection, Muzzling Hat Pins, etc.”

She was much in the news between 1915 and 1919, and, possibly due to her youth and beauty, was treated with less mockery than most dress reformers. She also repudiated that name:

“Do not say I am a reformer for I am simply trying to give the fruits of my labors to the world that all may profit by my efforts.”

“My costume consists of two pieces, an upper garment and a bifurcated lower garment which I always designate by the name of harleys. The upper garment is always worn over the harleys and fitted at the shoulders, falls in graceful and natural lines to a point between the hips and knees and does not define a waistline. The harleys fitting easy around the waist and about the hips, slightly taper to the ankles, and cover each leg separately. The corset is absolutely eliminated. Ridges and rigidity would spoil the whole thing.”

Miss Harley survived into the 1950s, seeing her bifurcated costumes vindicated as working women adopted them during the Second World War.

One of Miss Harley’s house costumes

A gentleman makes the case for short skirts for both sexes in this previous post.

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.

 

 

An Imperial Secret: 1903

tsar-nicholas-and-baby-alexei

Tsar Nicholas and Tsarevich Alexei

FANTASTIC IMPERIAL SECRET

CURIOUS YANKEE STORY.

[From Our Own Correspondent.)

SAN FRANCISCO, March I6.

A fantastic “Imperial secret” that had its inception on a New York farm, and its conclusion in the courts of the Romanoffs, was told on March 14 in New York after twenty years of silence by Edward Hatch, a New York merchant, former member of the firm of Lord and Taylor.

In 1903 a New York newspaper published an account of the lamentable state of affairs on the Hatch farm near Brewster, New York State. Hatch’s story runs:

Eighty-five per cent of all the animals born there were males, said the paper. Bulls that might have sold for thousands of dollars went to the butchers because the market was flooded. All the chickens were roosters. Even the turkeys and carrier pigeons suffered from the hoodoo. The house had seven kittens, and six were toms.

A hired man and his wire on the farm had five sons. Even the corn would grow only on stubs, and scientists said it was male corn.

Soon after this story was published, Hatch now said, a stranger questioned him about it at his store. He wanted an explanation. Hatch said he thought it might be the water, which analysis had shown contained much phosphorus and magnesium. The stranger then introduced himself as the Russian Consul. He wanted a sample of the water, and Hatch agreed.

A few days later the stranger appeared on the farm with two uniformed attendants to get a keg of the water. Hatch sought an explanation. The only answer he could get was “just an experiment.”

A year later cable dispatches reported that a male heir had been born to the Imperial Russian throne. The preceding children of the Czar had been daughters.

Auckland [NZ] Star, 16 April 1926: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil feels that this is as good an explanation as any, although, alas, young Alexis was born to sorrow, haemophilia, Revolution, and an untimely death.

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.