Category Archives: Wonders and Curiosities

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.

 

The Spook Party: 1897: To Celebrate National Ghost Hunting Day

spook party

Since it is, Mrs Daffodil is reliably informed, “National Ghost Hunting Day” in the United States, here is an encore presentation of a popular post on fashionable “spook parties” held in Paris.

SPOOK FUNCTIONS

An X Ray Diversion for the Paris Fashionables.

They Produce All Kinds of Fearful Shudders.

Curious Effects of the Roentgen Rays on Porcelain

And Crystal and Humans Coated With a Fluorescent Substance.

Paris, March. 30. Ghost parties are the latest diversion of fashionable folks who have money and brains in sufficient quantities to manage them. The Roetgen rays make these society functions possible, and their originators say that the amusement is only in its infancy. If this be true, it is difficult to picture what form the ghost parties will take when they are fully developed, for even in their present stage they are calculated to send every known variety of shiver and shudder and chill through the marrow of the spectator. Certainly new emotions of the shivery kind will have to be developed to keep pace with the growth of the ghost party.

The first essential of a spook function is a drawing-room of fair dimensions, containing a quantity of porcelain, glass, crystal and enamel bric-a-brac. Large vases should be numerous, and if the hostess is well supplied with diamonds, additional effect can be obtained if her faith in the integrity of her guests permits her to scatter the gems about in conspicuous places.

In a corner of the apartment should be the X ray apparatus, enveloped in black cloths. This machine only occupies as much space as the ordinary magic lantern, and as the lights in the room are extinguished before the guests enter, its presence is not apparent. An operator skilled in management of X rays should be engaged, also a couple of assistants, one of them a woman, to render various services.

The explanation of the need of the porcelain vases and bric-a-brac of various material rests in the fact that these articles being of fluorescent substance, become phosphorescent at a certain distance behind the X ray apparatus

At the first function of the kind held here the guests were greatly startled, and two or three of the women guests fainted from terror. No explanation of the mysteries were vouchsafed beforehand and the guests imagined that they were in the midst of the occult.

The host had secured form a maker of physical apparatus several glass hands, glass legs and other paraphernalia of the human body, and these, under the careful manipulation of the X ray operator and his assistants, were made to appear especially weird in the darkened room.

When the guests had assembled in the drawing-room the tinkling of a tiny bell sounded, and then appeared what seemed to be a human hand of dazzling brightness. It waved about and circled over the apartment and then disappeared. It was merely a glass hand, made phosphorescent by the action of the penetrating X rays, but it was ghostly enough to satisfy the cravings of the mightiest Mahatma in the love of theosophy.

Then a table in the corner of the room, loaded with dainty cups and saucers, suddenly blazed up out of the darkness. Only the cups and saucers were visible, they seeming to be resting on air. Then they faded away and a huge vase in an opposite corner loomed up with bewildering brilliancy. Next the scores of bits of porcelain in a cabinet were illuminated, each piece standing out separately in the darkness, all other objects and the cabinet itself being invisible.

A dazzling ball of fire then descended slowly from the ceiling, and swung back and forth over the heads of the guests. It was simply a glass sphere, which had been hung on wire prior to the coming of the guests; and was easily operated by one of the assistants standing in a corner of the apartment.

The most interesting and ghostly exhibition of them all came last, when the parting of a pair of portieres at the end of the room revealed a human form all in a blaze of light. The apparition moved slowly forward, and then it was seen that the figure was that of an unusually tall woman.

The phantom at first held her hands so that they shielded the face, and when they were lowered the sight of that face caused the men to move back nervously, nearly all of the women screamed, and two or three fainted. The face had a greenish pallor, and instead of eyes, there were two black holes. The mouth was closed and the hair streamed about, lit by phosphorescent flame. Every few seconds the spook raised her hands and seemed to scatter bouquets of flame about the room. Then when the bell tinkled the phantom receded slowly, and gradually faded from view.

This ended the party, the lights were turned on and the hostess explained how she had managed the mysteries. Everything was soon made clear, except the mystery of the human figure, and this, too, was easily explained. A clever figurante was engaged from a theatre and was concealed behind some draperies. She was enveloped in a veil which had been covered by a fluorescent substance, and her face and hair were glazed with a phosphorescent sulphate of zinc powder. This preparation, of course, could not be applied to the eyes, hence the black holes when the phantom appeared under the X rays.

Nannette du Bignon.

Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA] 11 April 1897: p. 22

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Like the radium given as Christmas gifts by the Smart Set, x-ray “spook parties” were all the rage. And although some scientists warned of the dangers of x-rays almost from the moment of their discovery in 1895, others pooh-poohed the scientists as alarmists. Ironically the lethal rays were discovered by Wilhelm Röntgen using the “Crookes tube.” This was invented by Sir William Crookes, a distinguished scientist and credulous Spiritualist who championed medium Florence Cook, materializer of the winsome spirit of “Katie King.” How strange that Sir William’s invention should come back to haunt by association at “spook parties.” One wonders if the “figurante” suffered any ill-effects from the phosphorescent sulphate of zinc powder or from those entertaining x-rays.

 

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 Man Who Saw The Sea Serpent: 1883

The announcement that the first sea serpent of the season is only eight feet long shows that the summer resort romancer is not yet in first-class condition.

 State Ledger [Topeka, KS] 26 July 1902: p. 2

It is, Mrs Daffodil is given to understand, “Sea Serpent Day,” and time to share a story of a fearsome saurian creature of the Deep.

He Saw A Sea-Serpent

“Say” ejaculated a man as he rushed up and grabbed a Herald reporter by the arm, “have you interviewed the man that saw the sea-serpent?”

The reporter replied that he had not, and asked to be immediately taken to the fortunate individual.

Now, if there is anything which Chicago has been backward in it is the production of sea-serpents, and while such towns as Boston and New Bedford and Cincinnati and St. Louis have been giving out tales of monsters of the deep, Chicago, with ample lake facilities and any quantity of the breed, has been strangely silent. The reporter consequently made haste to interview the gentleman who, it being a story, will be hereafter referred to as “a gentleman of undoubted veracity.” The man who had seen the monster was interviewed by the reporter in the not over commodious quarters which he occupied. He had a wild, startled look, from which the reporter surmised that he had not recovered from the terrible sight. His name was James Smithington, and on being requested to detail his experiences, he at once proceeded to business, first casting a furtive glance around to make sure that the animal was not in the apartment with him.

“I left the lake front about 7 o’clock last evening, in company with a friend. When about two miles off the north end of the Government pier at the entrance to the Chicago River, my attention was called to a singular looking object which was advancing upon me at a terrible rate of speed. When within a few thousand feet of us it seemed to raise its immense body, or neck, some ten foot out of the water, and at the same time twenty feet in the rear, its tail was seen to rise up, and at times lash the water. All at once the fish or serpent vanished from sight.”

At this point in the narrative the gentleman of undoubted veracity suddenly stopped, and, pulling off his boot, shook it, and then grasping it by the straps he suddenly sprang forward and crushed an inoffensive tobacco quid which lay upon the floor.

“It had become quite dark by this time,” he resumed, “and when I returned I again saw the terrible thing advancing upon me at a great rate of speed. When about twenty-five yards from me it stopped, but in an instant it shot ahead with a ringing and rumbling noise. Its single eye, of a blood-red color, was directed upon me, and I was powerless to move from beneath its baleful glare.”

The reporter shuddered a first-class shudder.

“The rumbling noise increased, the glare of its single eye became fiercer, and I seemed paralyzed. Its body was about ten feet high and equally wide, and it was nearly fifty feet long. It was a bright yellow, and the head resembled that of a bull-dog. A large flat prong extended out from either side of its jaws, and it was terrible! terrible!”

At this point in the narrative, which corresponded exactly with that of the New Bedford sea serpent, a man tapped the reporter on the shoulder and drew him aside. He wore a star upon his left breast.

“Well, young feller, I guess I’ll have ter take him along. He’s got ’em pretty bad, hasn’t he?” remarked the facetious personage with the twinkle on his coat.

“I found him a-wrestling wid the red llght on the grip-car last night. Ole Wallace gave him sixty days at the House”

The reporter silently folded up his notes and stole away, and the last thing that he saw when he looked back was the “gentleman of undoubted veracity” extracting an imaginary sea-serpent from the back of his neck. The reporter wonders if the men who saw the New Bedford serpent are getting better.

Chicago Herald.

Alpena [MI] Weekly Argus 24 January 1883: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Sea serpents were a recognised attraction of the American summer resort. One properly deployed story of a sea serpent was worth hundreds of pounds to sea-side establishments, so journalists became adept at creating stories about leviathans of the deep—each larger and scalier than the previous ones—for what came to be called the Silly Season. Some of the monsters were very silly indeed and were almost always narrated by a “gentleman of undoubted veracity.” See this post over at the Haunted Ohio blog for some vintage images of sea-serpents. And this thrilling tale of a “sea serpent” in a Kansas river.

To be Relentlessly Informative, the illustration below is of a “grip-car.”

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.