Tag Archives: funeral flowers

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


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

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

gold sequins sun king fan

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

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

How to Make Stage Lightning and Thunder: 1829-1900

Men Who Wear Corsets: 1889 and 1903

Strange Flower Superstitions in Many Lands

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

Posts about the contemporary costs of fashion were quite popular.

The Cost of a Curtsey: Court Presentation Expenses: 1907

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

What Gilded Youth Spends on Its Wardrobe: 1907

The Cost of a Fine Lady: 1857

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

Dressing on $50 to $200 a Year: 1898

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

spring green Callot orientalist

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

Some of Mrs Daffodil’s personal favourites include

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

A Children’s Christmas Cottage: 1850s

How to Entertain with Impromptu Fruit Sculpture: 1906

A Bashful Bridegroom: 1831


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

A Ghost Orders a Hat: 1900

The Angel of Gettysburg: Elizabeth Thorn: 1863

A Shakespearean Contretemps: 1830s 

stumpwork casket with garden

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

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


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

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

A Crown of Flowers: 1873

1908 Crown and shield funeral arrangement.

1908 Crown and shield funeral arrangement.


It was a busy day with the florist. His counters were filled with bouquets, crosses, wreaths, and filling baskets. The florist, Karl Breitman, was at work himself superintending even his wife was pressed into service, and was making a bridal bouquet of fragrant orange blossoms. Presently a carriage stopped, and a tall, elegantly dressed young lady came into the shop. Karl stepped forward to take her order.

“I wish to leave an order for a crown of white flowers for a funeral to-morrow morning,” she said.

“I am so sorry, madam, but as madam sees, we are so busy. A wedding to-night, a funeral to-morrow, half a dozen parties, and so many baskets ordered—it is quite impossible,” answered the little German, politely.

The young lady looked disappointed, but as she turned to go Mrs Breitman stopped her. “I will see to it, miss, that your order is filled. Only leave it with me. He’s so busy,” pointing at her husband. To speak truthfully, Mrs Breitman was a miserly soul, and could not bear the thought of losing the prospective money, for she saw by the carriage at the door and the young lady’s appearance that this was a wealthy customer.

“Thank you,” said the lady. “It is kind of you. I want a crown of pure white flowers.” “That will come very expensive, miss,” observed the florist’s wife, anticipating the ready answer—”never mind expense. I want it just so, and as handsome as you can make it.” “Perhaps a little cross of violets on the top would suit you, we make so many;” suggested Mrs Breitman, her eyes sparkling as the lady assented, for violets were just coming into season and very expensive.

“Yes, that will look well. Here is my card, which you must tie on it, and shall I write my address?” Being supplied with a card for that purpose, she drew off her glove, displaying a shapely white hand, on which glittered diamonds, and wrote the name and address. “The funeral is to-morrow at ten, and I shall expect this to be very handsome. Mind, I shall be there and see it.”

“Yes, miss,” replied Mrs Breitman, glancing at the book. “Oh, in Thirty fifth street! I thought, maybe, it was for Mrs Willis’ funeral; that is to-morrow morning, and we have a large order for that.”

“Yes,” said the lady, drawing on her glove, as she carelessly looked, “I see you are very busy. Good afternoon.”

“Good afternoon, miss. Shall I send you the bill?” inquired Mrs Breitman, following the young lady to the door.

“No I will call and pay you.” Then as she went out and got into the carriage, the florist’s wife heard her order the coachman to drive to No.__ Fifth Avenue and as she went back to her work of arranging the flowers, she picked up the card, saying,”I wonder who she is?” On the pasteboard she read in old English letters the name, “Mary Lester, Fifth Avenue.”

“Ha, Karl,” she called, I have gained a customer—one who does not care for expense.”

“Thou wilt have to arrange the flowers thyself, Katrine,” answered he crossly. “We will be up half the night before.”

Katrine nodded. When the bridal bouquet was disposed of and her husband had gone off to superintend the floral decorations of the church, where the marriage was to be, she began to make the crown. “Life and death.” she muttered, as her deft fingers wove the creamy roses and the snow white ones, arranging the odorous sprays of lilies with dentzia. “Brides and corpses! We florists deck them both, and flowers serve for one as well as for another.”

Then she fell to thinking of the lady, Mrs Willis, who was to be buried to-morrow. “Four crosses, six wreaths, a crown and loose flowers,” said she to herself. “He loved her well. It’s not two years since I made her bridal bouquet. Dear heart, I wish tonight’s bride a longer life.” When the cross of violets was made, surmounting the crown Mrs Breitman surveyed her handiwork with true artistic pleasure. It was beautiful indeed. The absence of the stiff japonicas and heavy tuberoses gave it less of a funeral look and more the semblance of a heavenly crown. After tying Miss Lester’s card on, her work was complete, and she had time to assist with the other crosses.

It was with a sigh of relief that Miss Lester threw herself back in the coupe beside a portly matron in black velvet “Oh, mamma,” exclaimed she, “I do hate this unreal, foolish fashion of sending flowers to dead people. They have a large order for a Mrs Willis’ funeral there at the florist’s, and our flowers might just as well go to her as to Cousin Marianne’s. We didn’t know George; we don’t know Mrs Willis.”

“No, love,” replied Mrs Lester, “but it is expected of us in one case and not in the other, and Marianne would be hurt and vexed if we sent no flowers for her husband’s funeral, and although I deprecate the custom as much as you, still it is well to do as all the world does.”

“The world shall never lay down laws for me,” said Mary energetically. “I think for a friend to strew flowers on the person of a loved one who has gone is beautiful; but, oh, this reduction of poetical sentiment to fashion’s edicts,” and she smote her little palms together so violently as to make her mother start.

“Don’t do that, Mary. It’s not lady-like. Tell me did you order the crown made as I desired?” Then they drifted off into a conversation upon the quality, style and flowers. “Making up orders for Mrs Willis’ funeral?” observed Mrs Lester at last, “I wonder if that is Clara Spencer, who married about two years ago to Williard Willis. You have seen them at church, Mary! Their pew is three ahead of ours?”

“Yes, I remember,” answered Mary, thoughtfully. She spoke little on her way home, and was rallied by her mother for her absent air. “I am thinking,” said she briefly. She did not like to say that her thoughts were full of that tall handsome man, with his little blonde wife, who had sat just before them in church. Sunday after Sunday. Mary had seen them together, and she was wondering if he had loved her much; if he grieved sorely for the lost.

How sorely Mary did not know.

Williard Willis was bowed in grief for the loss of his wife, his little Clara. He felt deeply too, now that she was gone, that he had not valued her enough, had treated her too much like a child, had been often impatient with her waywardness. Now that Death has laid his cold seal upon her, all her faults were forgotten and only the winning, loving ways remembered which had won his heart before marriage. It was the morning of the funeral. The air was heavy with the scent of flowers. His sister, Mrs Carr, was arranging the floral devices about the fair marble figure in its last resting place.

“How many beautiful flowers there are!” said she, through her sobs, to some of the other relatives. “Look, Sarah, what a beautiful cross James Hubbell has sent her. You know people said he wanted to marry her. And this crown—l never did see anything so perfectly beautiful! Look! All roses, and none of those horrid japonicas, See these violets in the little cross.”

“It is handsome,” said Helen Willard, turning the card over, “Mary Lester! Who is she, Sarah?”

Sarah Spence, the sister of the departed one, shook her head. “I never heard Clara speak of her.”

“She ought to be either a very intimate friend, or a relative, to send anything so handsome as this. It never cost less than forty dollars.”

“I’ll ask Willard,” said Mrs Carr, starting forward with the crown in her hand.

Helen pulled her dress. “Not now.’ It is almost time for the funeral services to begin, and he feels so bad, and I wouldn’t if I were you.”

“Well, I’ll put it aside, and after the service I can ask him. Here comes the Bishop;” and up went Mrs Carr’s handkerchief to her eyes, as she sailed forward in her new mourning to meet the venerable prelate.

When the last sad rites were over, Willard Willis returned mournfully alone. The first thing he saw was the crown standing upon the mantle, where his sister had placed it, All his loss rushed over him at the sight of it, and scalding tears filled his eyes. Who can despise his weakness? None that have known grief such as death brings.

Willard found his once pleasant, cheerful home now so lonely and desolate without its presiding genius that he could no longer bear it, and about six weeks after his wife’s death he left for Europe, seeking oblivion and interest in new scenes of interest. At first he grieved much, but his wife had been really childish, foolish and frivolous. His greater intellect was caught by her extreme beauty and winning ways, but these charms were beginning to lose their power before her death, and he felt now a sort of freedom for which he often reproached himself. After a year of absence he returned to America and re-opened his house. Mrs Carr had kindly consented to take charge of it for him, but the offer had been declined. One day as he entered the long unused and darkened parlors, he saw on the mantle the wire framework of the once fresh and lovely crown with the faded flowers hanging from it. Detaching the card, he rang for the maid to remove it, and he stood by the window, in the flood of sunshine he had just let in, watching her. She was shocked. “To think of dear missus only gone a year, and he ordering that crown, which she was sure he had been keepin’ as a soveney, away to the ash heap!” Willard was trying to analyze his feelings. Were they grief or regret or relief? Which was uppermost he could not tell. Then he glanced at the bit of pasteboard be was toying with, and read, “Mary Lester.” All at once he remembered his sister writing to him of the mystery attached to the crown, which he had just ordered away, how neither his wife’s family nor his knew Miss Lester, and how very singular it was for a young lady to send s widower funeral flowers for his wife! Yes, he was a widower? He smiled, and looked in the long mirror. The title had been associated in his mind with grey hairs and old age, and he saw the reflection of a man still young and handsome,

His reverie was interrupted by Mrs Carr. “Oh, Willard, I am glad you are at home. Now, do be a good brother, and take Helen to Mrs Hubbell’s party this evening, I cannot go, and she has set her heart on it, Don’t disappoint the child. Oh, I know you are in mourning,” seeing him glance at his dress, but Clara has been dead over a year now. Sarah Spencer is going, and she was Clara’s own sister. Don’t disappoint your little Helen.” Willard was just going to say “No”— the word was trembling on his lips, when Helen herself came running into the parlor, and looked up appealingly at her brother, with tears in her eyes. He could not refuse his favorite little sister, and promised he would go, although he feared he would be out of place in a gay assembly. But when, once more clad in evening dress, with his pretty sister on his arm, he entered Mr. Hubbell’s parlors, and met with gentle greetings on every side, he felt as if he were again in his element.

After supper, as he was leaning against the parlor door, watching the waltzes of the German, his hostess captured him, saying, “Mr Willis, I am going to introduce you to a lovely young friend of mine who does not dance,” and leading him to a lady in pink she pronounced the cabalistic words, “Mr Willis allow me to present you Miss ___.” The name was lost in the crash of the band.

Willard gave her his arm and led her to a little reception room on the other side of the hall. “Here at least we can talk without splitting our throats in trying to overtop the band,” said he, and talk they did, until Helen, a most exhaustless dancer, came for her brother to take her home. Willard found the young lady a most delightful conversationalist, witty, piquant, intellectual, and original, and could hardly believe they had been talking two hours until convinced by his own watch.

The next Sunday Willard joined his new acquaintance coming out of church, and accompanying her home, received an invitation to call, which he availed himself of very soon. He discovered her name to be Miss Lester, and soon found himself identifying her with the lady who sent the crown. One evening bearing her mother call her Mary, these suspicions grew stronger, and they were confirmed when he compared the address on the card in his possession with her residence.

He found Miss Lester occupying a large share of his thoughts. If he was pleased with a book, she must read it; no plan was undertaken without her approbation; and as Willard knew all the symptoms, he soon knew he was in love, deeply in love with Mary Lester.

“It is all those flowers!” thought he, “If she had never sent them I would never have thought of her again after our casual meeting, but I wonder—-” Then he asked himself for the thousandth time. “Why did she send me this crown?” Finally he concluded to ask her, which was, after all the wisest plan. To his great disappointment, she denied all knowledge of it; but when convinced by her card, she recollected sending a crown to her cousin Marianne on her husband’s funeral.

“It was some fearful mistake of the florist,” said she at length. “Oh, Mr. Willis, what must you have thought me capable of! Setting my cap at you the moment you were available!” and she buried her face, suffused with blushes, in her hands.

“To speak truly, I did not put that construction on, but it does look like it. Oh, Mary, how could you do it! And I, a poor, helpless innocent man, have walked right into the snare, for you have caught me. Mary, my darling, I love you truly,” taking her hands down. “Don’t hide your pretty face, or, if you must, hide it here,“ drawing her head to his shoulder.

Need the rest be told? Mrs. Willis, No. 2, thinks widowers very bold wooers, but her husband says she encouraged him at first before he ever dreamed of marrying again, and this is the only rock on which the happy couple split. And in their happiness the dead is not forgotten for a pretty rosy-cheeked little girl bears the name of Clara Spencer.

Press, 14 March 1873: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: There was a delicate art to the etiquette of funeral flowers. In many communities the floral tributes were listed in the newspapers with the donor’s name so that everyone might see how generous they had been.  A crown–or wreath–was perhaps the most common floral tribute, although they came in all shapes and fancies: crosses, sheaves of wheat, urns, pillows, and shapes representing the deceased’s profession or fraternal affiliations, or perhaps a phrase from a hymn such as “the gates ajar.” These tributes became more and more elaborate until they were ridiculed as vulgar in the very press that had, shortly before, listed them reverentially.

Miss Lester was quite right to be mortified; if she as a single woman had sent a floral crown to a widower, it would have been unspeakably forward, as she rightly observed. But a happy ending, we hope, all round. Mrs Daffodil was struck by the delicate insinuation that Mr Willis was not so much mourning his childish, foolish, and frivolous wife as his own foolishness in his “greater intellect” being “caught” by her beauty and “winning ways.” One hopes that he did not regret being “caught” a second time by a woman to whom, he admits, he would not have given a thought except for that crown of flowers….

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

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


Mrs Daffodil on Flowers

A miniature flower painting by Jan Frans van Dael, mounted as a brooch. http://webapps.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/explorer/index.php?qu=jewellery&oid=156467

Since the Family is away on holiday over the week-end, Mrs Daffodil is taking this opportunity to take a brief holiday of her own, possibly paying a visit to the Chelsea Flower Show and returning, refreshed, Wednesday next.

She has posted on floral themes many times, so, to while away the hours for those of Mrs Daffodil’s readers who will be counting the moments until a new post appears, here are some posts pertinent to the topic of flowers.

Strange Flower Superstitions of Many Lands

Queen Adelaide’s Flower-Acrostic Dress

The Wild-Flower Wedding

A Miniature Matterhorn and Gnome Miners

Funeral Flowers for Young Helen

Napoleon and the Gardener

A very recent post: The Black Rose

And Mrs Daffodil’s favourite gardening story, “The Occasional Garden,” by Mr H. H. Munro [Saki]

Mrs Daffodil wishes all of her readers a delightful and restful week-end with well-filled picnic hampers and unclouded blue skies.

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.

Bad Taste in Funeral Flowers: 1895-1914

1906 Floral Tribute for a member of the Elks.

1906 Floral Tribute for a member of the Elks.

To-day, Mrs Daffodil (since she cannot exactly say that she is “pleased to welcome”) once again yields the floor to that funereal person over at Haunted Ohio, Chris Woodyard.  One supposes it is useless to suggest a change of climate, subject, or temperament to a writer so entrenched in the subfusc world of Victorian mourning, but Mrs Daffodil will gently note that a holiday in some sunny Mediterranean country might be cheering.  Mrs Woodyard will address the history of grave concerns over grotesqueries in funeral flowers.


Flowers are an appropriate symbol for the excesses of the Victorian funeral. Newspapers documenting large funerals would note the details of these sometimes bizarre floral arrangements and their donors as if keeping score and setting a societal standard for the next bereaved family. The florists claimed that floral excess was a result of customer demand; the public, in turn, said that the pressure arose from over-zealous florists. There were also dark whispers about innocent flowers being tortured into strange and unnatural shapes.

Some trade journals made an effort to stem the tide of truly hideous design by publishing the damning details of floral tributes that they felt were beyond the pale. A Chicago correspondent to The Garden minced no words about current trends:

Floral Gargoyles.

 Here, in America, is the home of the grotesque as well as of the picturesque. Aristocracy and democracy jostle each other, and aristocracy gets the worst of it. We had a bad boiler explosion here lately, and among the emblems sent to a victim’s funeral was a floral clock set for the hour of the explosion! A theatrical treasurers’club sent a floral pass, ‘Admit one.’ Let us hope it was recognised. Gates ajar, open windows with plaster doves thereon, and tawdry wire frames showing through pillows of red and yellow flowers, all tend to vulgarise funerals, and to inspire the words ‘no flowers.’ When the city council is inaugurated, then are the florists busy. Gigantic keys, Indian clubs, desks, chairs, all are on hand, all of natural flowers distorted to suit perverted tastes. We need a renaissance in art to strike the florists here, and strike them hard. The Garden 1 June 1901: p. 385


Funeral “set pieces” generally fell into several categories: wreaths, pillows, and sprays—and, said the critics, monstrosities. Some of the latter had evocative titles and florist supply catalogues carried wire frames to create the more elaborate arrangements such as “Faith, Hope, and Charity,” (an anchor, cross, and heart) “The Sad Hour” (a floral clock); “The Broken Wheel,” “The Harp,” (or lyre) and “Gates Ajar,” an exceptionally popular design. Stuffed doves, often used to accessorize the “Gates Ajar” arrangements, could be purchased or leased.

"Gates Ajar" arrangement topped with a star.

“Gates Ajar” arrangement topped with a star.

For this next story of a client who desired a floral horse’s head with real glass eyes, I’m afraid I do not have an illustration. Perhaps these rather ghastly arrangements for deceased members of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks will give an idea of what the ultimate effect might have been.

A floral arrangement given by the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks for a deceased member. 1906

A floral arrangement given by the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks for a deceased member. 1914


1906 Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks floral tribute.


A short time ago a certain prominent and popular business man of Cleveland died after a short illness. A day or two prior to his demise one of his business associates went into a florist’s establishment and made some inquiries concerning funeral flowers, and finally placed an order that to his mind embodied all the desirable attributes of such a piece of work. It was to be emblematic of the business in which the deceased had been engaged, and it had occurred to the would-be purchaser that nothing could better represent that idea, than a floral horse’s head! But being a far-seeing business man, accustomed to keeping his eagle eye on the dim and uncertain future, and knowing that such a novel and original design might present some difficulties to a florist when it came to working out the idea, he had thought it best to take time by the forelock and get things moving in good season! The unhappy florist dodged the issue as long as possible by suggesting that the man might get well, but without success. The businessman knew what he wanted and pretty nearly when he wanted it and so the florist had to go ahead with the monstrosity. It seems to me that for downright grim, ghastly, provident, cold-blooded unsentimentality this party is entitled to the pie foundry. But about the time that a sufficient quantity of black cloth had been laid in, and whilst the florist was racking his brain to obtain a life-like wire frame and fiery and spirited glass eyes to go with the same, the order was changed for something not quite so startling. Possibly the man of unique ideas was sat upon by his colleagues. The American Florist 8 June 1895: p. 1148

The employees of the Postum Cereal Company did not have far to look to find inspiration for a floral tribute for the company founder:

Floral tribute for Charles W. Post, founder of the Postum Cereal Company.

Floral tribute for Charles W. Post, founder of the Postum Cereal Company.

Among the set pieces [at the funeral of Charles W. Post] none attracted more attention or expressed more sincere love than the floral piece given by the employes of the Postum Cereal Company. This is the piece we mentioned first, and which is shown here. The design was made to represent the little barn in which he first began making his food products in 1895. This little white building was carefully cherished by its late owner, and still stands in the beautiful grounds surrounding the Postum Cereal Company’s administration building and general offices at Battle Creek, and is always pointed out to visitors as the place where the business began. Doubtless many of our readers have visited the Postum plant and have seen this little building. The floral design was an especially difficult one to bring out because of the demands of perspective. The piece was made by S.W. Coggan, florist, Battle Creek. It measured 6x5x2 feet, and in its construction 2,285 flowers were used. The background was dark pink carnations; the barn proper white carnations. The outlines and roof were of forget-me-nots; the frame effect of American Beauties, adiantum and asparagus green. Corners of frame over roof, Easter lilies, lilies of the valley and pink Killarney roses. The piece bore the inscription, “From his Employes”

The American Florist, Vol. 42 23 May 1914: p. 936

This “bag-man’s” traveling valise was railed against in 1903, yet was still being included in the pages of funeral flower albums in 1914.


Freak Floral Designs

As an example of how not to do it, the accompanying illustration of a floral traveling bag may be worth a place. The design from which the photograph was taken was made by the Iowa Floral Co., Des Moines, for some local traveling men and gave great satisfaction. The body was of Enchantress carnations, the ribs on top and ends of Lawson, while the handle was of violets.

When an order of this kind comes along it has to be filled, but such freak things are in every way to be deprecated. They are a good deal of trouble to make and use a lot of stock lessening the retailers’ profit unless a very big price is paid. But as to anything pretty or artistic there is absolutely nothing in them. It is not even possible to see a good flower in the whole thing for the carnations are cut short and stemmed and packed just as thickly as possible together. It is devoid of all beauty and no retailers with a sense of the artistic or the uplifting of the trade at heart will encourage the making of such flat, ugly and unprofitable things. As hinted above retailers have not always the last word on such points but the making of this class of goods should be discouraged as far as possible. How much more satisfactory in every way would a pretty wreath or other design be than this, supposing the same amount of money was spent. This kind of “art” is best left to the candy makers and confectioners. It is unworthy the attention of florists.

The American Florist: A weekly journal for the trade, 23 January 1909: p. 1290

The demand for special funeral emblems applicable to the vocation of the deceased oftimes taxes the inventive genius of the florist, and some of the pieces suggested by the surviving friends frequently seem very ridiculous. A butcher in our vicinity, being in condition for a funeral, one of his intimate friends came to order a floral offering and insisted on its being in the form of a cleaver. It occurred to me that such an implement was hardly the proper thing. But no one could tell the road he went or the conditions he would encounter at the end of his route. Perhaps it was the very thing he would need.

A commercial traveler having been assigned a new territory, in the unknown world, I was asked to make a floral grip for his funeral ornamentation, by some of his friends. Did he die of the grip, I asked. Oh, no! but as his satchel was his constant companion, one said, we thought it would be a very appropriate emblem for this sad occasion. Alright, I replied, it shall be made, but will I fill it with light underwear, or do you think something heavier would be needed? Not knowing his destination, they failed to advise, so as a precaution, the man being an acquaintance of mine, I filled the grip with wet moss, which you know has a very cooling effect.

American Florist, Volume 21 1903

And how I wish I had a photograph of this postmaster’s novel floral tribute. Truly something for the dead-letter office!

A Novel Floral Design.

P.R. Quinlan & Co., Syracuse, N.Y., made a novel floral piece, the gift of the employes of the Syracuse post office in memory of Edwin H. Maynard, assistant postmaster. It was a 4-foot panel 24×42 inches containing a canceled envelope. The stamp was in pale colored Lawsons and the cancellation which bore the date of his death was in small blue chenille lettering. Upon the floral letter where the address is usually placed was the inscription, “To our beloved assistant postmaster.” The outline of the envelope was maroon carnations representing the envelope in mourning. The groundwork of the panel was Enchantress carnations trimmed with roses, lilies and swainsona. A.J.B.

The American Florist 30 June 1905: p. 1044

1914 seems to have been a particularly fertile year for bad taste in funeral flowers. Here are a few unusually elaborate specimens:


This “Sad Hours” arrangement is fully seven feet high.


To judge by the cupboards on the right, this lyre arrangement is at least five feet high.

Fraternal orders, trade unions, and vocational groups often clubbed together to provide floral tributes with the appropriate theme.

his-last-alarm-fireman-funeral-flowersa design-for-master-house-painters-funeral-flowersa 174a-floral-chair-funeral-flowersa

I cannot read the lettering on the floral chair above–it looks as though someone draped foliage and moss over an actual swiveling office chair and wired on a stuffed dove. Possibly the writing says “Our Mayor?” or “Our Mary?”  Another in the “floral chair” genre was labeled “The Vacant Seat.”

Garish as these arrangements are, they pale by comparison with this last example, a floral tribute to a man whose life was cut short in a terrible accident.

Derrick funeral flowers.

Derrick funeral flowers.


In the collection of unique designs, the one shown in the illustration on page 11 is entitled to a place at the front. It represents a derrick in flowers made by Lester F. Benson, an Indianapolis florist, on the order of a committee representing the Structural Iron Workers of America, for one of their members who was killed as a result of his gauntlet catching on the hook as the engine started. The man was lifted thirty feet from the ground before his cry, “Slack down,” was heard, and before the order could be obeyed the glove slipped from his hand, resulting in a fall which broke his neck. The design was made sectionally, to work the same as a real derrick, and the committee insisted on the florist placing a glove on the hook!

Of course no florist maintains that such a design is in anything but the most execrable taste; such gruesomeness is an utter perversion of the idea which prompts the sending of flowers to a funeral. The flowers should carry a message of sympathy, and by their purity and beauty should speak of the life beyond, should contain no suggestion of mundane things, least of all a reference to the route of departure of “the late lamented.” The derrick design appears to be just one step removed from the limit. The man who wishes to accomplish the ultimate no doubt will make for a murder victim some such design as the following: Take two clothing-store wire dummies; fit them out with suits of flowers, instead of cloth; raise the arms of each, one figure leaning forward in the act of firing a flower pistol; bring the left hand of the other toward where a man’s heart is supposed to be, and the right hand to his uplifted head; lean this figure backward. Mount the two figures, in the relationship that will suggest itself, on a base of boxwood or galax and there will be nothing further that can be demanded of the florist, unless with such a design the widow fails to survive the shock.

For the florist who makes monstrosities in flowers it is to be said: Hardly any florist has so poor a conception of the uses of flowers that he suggests any such designs; the florist nearly always simply is carrying out the instructions he receives from his customers, and must either do this or see an order involving a goodly sum go to a competitor. Florists are like others—they are likely to do that which they are best paid for doing, but it is in line for every florist to do something toward turning customers to better things in flowers.

The Weekly Florists’ Review 20 April 1911: p. 10

So much for the customer always being right…

Still, one suspects that, despite the florists’ repeated and bitter condemnation of bad taste, there was money to be made by catering to the vulgar whims of the customer.

These set-piece shaped floral arrangements began falling out of favor around the time of the First World War when Victorian mourning conventions were thought to be less relevant in the face of so many deaths. Immense and garish floral tributes still had their place—at the funerals of gangsters and film stars, but by the mid-1920s they were considered thoroughly old-fashioned.  The only pieces I’ve seen recently which seem to carry on the tradition of shaped floral tributes are U.S. flag panels and floral rosaries designed to hang inside the casket lid.  I have not had the opportunity to ask any modern florists if they ever get requests for flower lyres or for  “Gates Ajar,” but in this Age of Individualism, I suspect that there are still orders for the unorthodox and highly personalized funeral arrangement, sans the stuffed doves.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is sure that we are all very grateful to Mrs Woodyard for revealing these examples of vulgarity in funeral flowers, thus enabling us to avoid embarrassing faux pas at our own obsequies.

For more on funeral flowers, see these posts: “No Flowers” and Corsets and Beer Wagons: Floral Vulgarities, which also appear in The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.


“No Flowers”: 1891

"Gates Ajar" funeral flower tribute. [private collection.]

“Gates Ajar” funeral flower tribute. [private collection.]


But You Can’t Defeat an Enterprising Florist

[Chicago Mail.]

“Remember that that ‘Gates Ajar’ must go up to Brown’s before 9 o’clock to-morrow morning,” said a Wabash-avenue florist to one of his employes the other afternoon, “and don’t forget that it is to be an n.f. affair and that you’ll have to keep our eyes open.”

“What is an n.f. funeral?” I ventured to ask, after the young man addressed had left us.

“No flowers,” sententiously answered the proprietor.

“That means, then, that you are taking flowers to a funeral where they are prohibited?”


“Do so frequently?”

“Every day.”

“Then ‘no flowers’ really doesn’t mean no flowers after all, does it?”

“It doesn’t if we can help it—rest assured of that. We are here to sell flowers. The funeral trade forms an important part of our business, and we have to protect ourselves against the anti-floral cranks as best we can. The ‘no flowers’ order is a fashionable fad and nothing else. It originated in New York years ago at a funeral of one of the Vanderbilts, who requested that no flowers should be displayed during his obsequies. I was working for a new York florist at that time, and I well remember what a flutter this innovation caused among the tradesmen in our line of business. They did not care about losing the single Vanderbilt job, but they feared that such an example in the ultra-fashionable world would be followed by its general adoption. Thus a whim of fashion might deal a severe blow to the floral trade. The leading florists immediately held a conference and it was unanimously decided that the great funeral must not be permitted to set the fashion and inaugurate an anti-flowers era. Several very costly and elaborate floral pieces were prepared, but I spite of all we could do the orders of the deceased were obeyed to the letter and we were unable to get a solitary flower inside the Vanderbilt residence. An attempt to bribe the servants failed, as they had received ironclad instructions not to permit a floral offering of any kind whatsoever to be taken inside the house. This ultimatum fell like a wet blanket upon our hopes, but still we determined not to quit the field without making one last bold ‘bluff.’ A magnificent ivy cross was made—one of the finest that ever was seen in this country. I was about six feet high and was composed of a mass of English ivy leaves and tendrils. It represented a good round sum, let me tell you, and a good deal of work. But there was not a bud or a flower in it anywhere. Just before the time appointed for the exercises to begin we took the cross to the Vanderbilt residence, and, as we expected, were stopped at the door by a liveried lackey, who denied us admission.

“But there must be no delay about this matter, we insisted. ‘It must go in and at once. Come now; we have no time to parley with you.’

“’You can not come in.’

“’We must.’

“’I have strict orders not to admit any flowers. I can not do it.’

“’But there are no flowers in this. Look at it for yourself. It was built entirely in accordance with the wishes of the family. You have no orders against admitting ivy, have you?’

“He hesitated. Just then something round and hard dropped into his hand. He was lost. A moment later that beautiful cross stood at the head of the casket. I shall always remember the remark of my companion as we left the house: ‘Well, Jim. We’ve beaten the old man cold at his own game.’”

Talk about push and business enterprise! Are there any limits beyond which they can not go?

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 8 August 1891: p. 11

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The “anti-flower cranks” came in several flavours:  reformers who felt that the tributes contributed to the extravagance of Victorian funerals; those who found them vulgar; and those who had medical grounds. Here is an argument from the latter:

The reformers suggest that the notice of the death which appears in the papers should end with the announcement: “No flowers.” A novel argument against the sending of these tributes is that the petals of the flowers serve to keep the germs which are given off from the dead body, and in the case of people who died from infectious diseases they may become a positive source of danger, and…be absolutely death dealing. Then again the custom of preserving these wreaths is denounced by many medical men, who contend that they, containing as they do morbific bacteria, are a constant source of danger and a menace to the healthy life of those who afterward occupy the rooms. Evening Star [Washington, DC] 14 February 1891: p. 12

“No Flowers at Funeral” is an excerpt from The Victorian Book of the Dead, which contains other stories about floral tributes at funerals in its look at the popular culture of Victorian death and mourning.

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

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




Mrs Daffodil Takes a Holiday


Since the Family is away on holiday over the week-end, Mrs Daffodil is taking this opportunity to take a brief holiday of her own, possibly paying a visit to the Chelsea Flower Show and returning, refreshed, Wednesday next.

She has posted on floral themes many times, so, to while away the hours for those of Mrs Daffodil’s readers who will be counting the moments until a new post appears, here are some posts pertinent to the topic of flowers.

Strange Flower Superstitions of Many Lands

Materialising Flower Apports

Corsets and Beer Wagons: Floral Vulgarities

Animal Likenesses in Flowers

A Miniature Matterhorn and Gnome Miners

And Mrs Daffodil’s favourite gardening story, “The Occasional Garden,” by Mr H. H. Munro [Saki]

Mrs Daffodil wishes all of her readers a delightful and restful week-end with opulent picnic hampers and minimal insect accompaniment.

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.

Corsets and Beer Wagons: Floral Vulgarities: 1891, 1904

Two ladies and funeral flower arrangements including a harp, a horseshoe and a stuffed dove.


Is It Not High Time to Call a Halt?

Beer Wagons and Corsets in Flowers

The Height of Horror Reached in “The Market Woman of Hamburg.”

Is it not time to cry a halt? Has not the attempted gilding of fine gold and painting the lily been carried far beyond the point of wasteful and ridiculous excess? These questions, surely, must strike any unprejudiced mind, any simple, natural, healthy, unperverted taste, in contemplation of the extreme lengths to which floral vulgarity and shoddyism have run. The writer verily believed that the end of the scale had been reached with such sacrilegious crudities as the “Gates Ajar,” but what can be thought of a “funeral piece” consisting of a beer wagon, laden with barrels and drawn by horses, all made of roses and smilax, with straw for the horses’ tails?

The Beer Wagon floral arrangement

The Beer Wagon floral arrangement

Going back a little, is not a flower a flower? What more can be made of it? In poetry and in popular language alike the idea of a flower implies the thought of the crown of perfection. Why, the very name, “corolla,” the botanical term for blossom, means a crown. Is it artistic, to say the least, to torture what is already perfect of its kind into a shape altogether foreign to its character and which it was never intended to take? There are still in our midst innumerable sweet, old-fashioned, childlike souls, who fondly believe that the Lord made flowers just the way he wanted them. These do not hesitate to say that his works ought to be handled with something akin to reverence.

The Gates Ajar funeral flowers

The Gates Ajar funeral flowers

It is a beautiful custom—one most certainly founded upon the purest and holiest instincts of human nature, one to which even the most degraded of our species must surely respond—to deck our dead and adorn their last resting-place with flowers. But why seek to do what the old rhetoricians called “improving the sublime?” The result is caricature, if nothing worse. Imagine the steps leading to the “Gates Ajar” (what mortal has any adequate conception of the gates of Paradise?) lettered in purple chenille! Think of a silent harp with the back made of tin-foil, or a sickle whose edge will not cut, or a pillow upon which no tired head could rest, or a broken column with the break smoothly “plastered”! Still worse are funeral wreaths made of dyed immortelles and aniline-colored grasses, or of stiff, monstrous china roses, or death-lie waxen ones mingled with tawdry, tinseled leaves.

If slaughtering birds for millinery purposes is sufficiently reprehensible to attract the notice of “Audubon Societies” and “Bird Defenders,” what must be thought of our present custom of mixing the bodies of white doves among our floral atrocities? Are we much better than the old barbarians who sacrificed animals at the death of their relatives or of persons of distinction? What has become of the beautiful, heart-cherished superstition, if you choose to call it so, that it is a sin to hurt a dove because it is an emblem of the Holy Ghost? Even if the sense of the fitness of things in many minds were not outraged by such use of a lovely bird, common sense should teach any one that killing an inoffensive creature will not make the departed dear one any happier in the other world.

Talk to an intelligent florist and you will find that he agrees with you. “Floral emblems are in bad taste, I know,” he admits. “Flowers cannot be made to look well in anything but the simplest designs, like a cross, a wreath or a basket. But what can we do? People want broken wheels and things like that; we must supply the demand for them or we’d starve. The worst of it is some people know that floral designs are generally signs of vulgar ostentation, but they feel that they cannot help themselves. They send a floral piece to a friend’s funeral because they’re afraid they’ll be thought mean if they don’t. Their hearts would prompt them to send simple clusters of cut flowers, but they fear that they’ll be misunderstood. To my mind the floral pieces are more funereal, more suggestive of death than death itself.

“Some people order floral pieces because they feel that they are getting a bigger show for their money. In a piece, poor flowers can be worked up to look better than they are. Cut flowers must be good specimens or their case is hopeless. There is no way of disguising their imperfections.

“I heard about the beer-wagon. It was sent to the funeral of a brewer. It had to be made, because the brewer’s employes wanted it. One might think that, in the presence of death, the brewer’s friends would want to forget that he had ever had anything to do with beer. If talking shop is commonly regarded as vulgar, what must be thought of the intrusion of the man’s business at his funeral?”

corset flowers

But monstrosity in floral design does not stop at funeral atrocities. It is reaching hideous lengths in grotesque festival and house decorations. At a recent “opening” of instrument of torture intended to distort the God-created, natural, womanly figure—a practice one step further in downward advance than the distortion of flowers, even if far more common-there was displayed a floral corset, upon a wire frame, etc., like the usual “emblem.” In place of the head for the model was a wreath of roses, ferns and smilax, with a dove looking out from the circle, for no earthly meaning or reason than what in the domain of language would be called bombast.”

The Market Woman of Hamburg arrangement

The Market Woman of Hamburg arrangement

But the climax was certainly reached at the last floral exhibit held in this city. The “Market Woman of Hamburg” was a conflagration, a nightmare of flaming horror. The outrageous caricature of the human form was sufficiently terrible—but the colors were simply indescribable. The hat was wreathed with gaudy yellows in either coreopsis or marigold, perhaps both. The skirt was one glare of scarlet geranium and pink bougainvillea. The face, arms and hands were in pink and white tinted hydrangeas. Horror of horrors, the eyes were black shoe buttons.

The monster carried real baskets filled with cucumbers and parsley, suspended form a stick yoke and it stood upon a square yard of red and yellow corollas, which told nothing but a pitiful story of how many poor plants had been ruthlessly robbed. We are not popularly supposed to be a nation of idolaters, but it is very certain that no heathen ever permitted a more abominable image to stand a day.

Although the florist quoted in the foregoing threw the blame of the perpetration of floral funeral monstrosities upon the people who ordered them to be made, it is not just possible that the florists themselves are more largely to blame in this matter than they would have it appear? But a judicious admixture of advice with their queries for instructions they might, did they choose, bring about a change that would be most wholesome. Of course they get much better prices for such horrors as have been referred to than they would for simple clusters of cut flowers, and they also have their hands filled with flowers that must be worked off somehow, and which are not salable, except when “made up” in set pieces. They might not be able at all times to control the demand for monstrosities, but they could discourage their perpetration, instead of aiding and abetting them as at present. At all events, it is certainly time to cry a halt, and no one can so well or so powerfully take the first step as the florists themselves.

San Francisco [CA] Chronicle 22 November 1891: p. 10

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Extravagance in mortuary floral arrangements was widely deplored in the press, but to little avail. For many years accounts of funerals still listed the arrangements and their donors. Some wealthy personages gave instructions for “N.F.” or “No Flowers” funerals, leaving the florists fearful for their businesses. But they need not have worried. It seems to be human nature to give flowers for the momentous occasions of life, even if those offerings are in dubious taste. For example:

On the occasion of the funeral of Judge Bross, of Cairo, Ill., the Eggeling Floral Company filled and shipped, on short notice, an order valued at $1,600, one of the largest orders ever sent out of St. Louis by a single firm. Nearly half an express car was needed to hold the pieces, many being of immense size. Among others was a beautiful “gates ajar.” 6×8 feet, made up almost entirely of Timothy Eaton chrysanthemums and Chatenay roses, and a column four feet high of white carnations and Bridesmaid roses, with a base made up of Sunrise roses. American Beauty roses and Asparagus Sprengeri were made into a large panel. American Florist, Vol. 21, 1904

The following designs show two early-20th century funeral designs. The first was a tribute from a bowling team and comes from The American Florist 8 August 1903. The second was a reminder: never send to know for whom the clock ticks; it ticks for thee. It is from Floral Designs: A guide in choosing and ordering flowers, 1902.

bowler funeral flowers American Florest Vol. 21 1904

clock floral display

Mrs Daffodil has previously written on funeral flowers here and there is a section on the subject in The Victorian Book of the Dead, available at various online book-shops.


In a similar, personalised vein–Mrs Daffodil is uncertain as to whether her readers will find it vulgar, the colours are certainly quite lovely–a memorial wreath for a wheelman. From Elemental Cremation and Burial.

cyclist's wreath

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.

Dressing the Graves for All-Saints Day in New Orleans: 1845

All-Saints Day in New Orleans.

All-Saints Day in New Orleans.


November 1, 1845

The following letter was written in 1845, from New Orleans, by a distinguished lawyer in this city, to his sister. The lapse of time has not in the least deprived it of interest. It will well repay perusal:

I rose very early, anxious to get a sight of the great capital, and made my way over the cotton-bales which were piled upon the forecastle and guards of our steamer. Once upon the levee, my emotion was of the highest delight—long expected pleasures gratified to the full. I was at last in New Orleans, and at six of the morning the walks were thronged with people intent on business. I had seen nothing like it since I left home…after a hearty breakfast…my eye, for want of a better occupation, fell upon a paragraph in the Picayune, a copy of which paper I had bought from a boy at the door of the breakfast room, announcing that this was All-saints-day—the 1st of November—when the cemeteries would be dressed with flowers. I had often head of the custom; and far away, in the cold North, my heart had warmed with love for those who thus did honor to the dead. I shall now behold it with my own eyes, said I to myself; but will the reality equal the imagination?

The next thing to be solved was where to find the cemeteries. I was an utter stranger, and did not remember to have seen a place of burial in my walks. I could inquire of nobody. There were half a dozen old gentlemen sitting about, intent upon reading the news, and several well-dressed loungers of the younger sort. There, too, was the polite individual “who keeps the office,” and who would doubtless have enlightened one—that is, have told me which way to turn, and the name of the streets. But it would all have been so much Sanskrit to me; and, besides, who would display the least sentiment before strangers.

So I sauntered out upon my own bent toward the French town. There I saw, by and by, a black girl with a basket of flowers upon her head—dahlias, japonicas, and the pale, sweet Chickasaw rose. New Orleans is the greatest place for greenhouses I ever saw; you find them scattered along the most public streets, enlivening the very air with their beauty and fragrance. There was a large one above the St. Charles at the opposite corner of Gravier Street, and, another on a small street, at the other side of the hotel, right beneath my window.

But I have lost my story almost, and my guide as well. I had followed her at some distance, thinking she was bound for the country, until she turned aside into a narrow lane and entered a house. Here I was quite at a loss and with no one to ask—for everybody around me was talking French in furious style, and, really I could not recall any phrase of that language to express my wishes. Luckily, however, the girl reappeared, and with her came out two ladies, one quite youthful and the other aged, both dressed in deep mourning, with black vails over their faces.

I followed at a respectful distance, trying to behave as if I did not notice them, and was only lounging along the street. They went a great way, turned up many avenues, stopped at several doors, but finally they came in sight of an old church—the Mortuary Chapel as I afterward learned, at the junction of Rue des Ramparts and Rue de Conti. A few more steps brought us to the Cemetery of St. Louis, a square inclosed by a low wall of brick. There was quite a number of people, men and boys, principally negroes, collected around the entrance, and I hesitated a moment whether I might be allowed to go in. But I made bold and entered, nobody interposing the least objection.

I cannot describe the cemetery so as to give any one much idea of it. They never buy the dead in New Orleans; the soil is damp and mire-y, and graves would fill with water. So they build tombs of brick upon the surface of the earth to the height of three or four feet, or more, with a hole in the side for the coffin to be inserted. This is then closed by a marble or stone slab, containing the epitaph. The tomb is covered with plaster on the outside and painted blue, with specks of white and black, much of color of chimney jams I have sometimes seen. Above the slab there is often a small black mantelpiece, and below, in front, there is a paved space, like a hearth somewhat, and stained red. At the sides of this there are little pastures, some filled with growing plants, some with a single box tree in the center, and set off with white shells. Around the whole a railing is generally erected to keep off impious hands.

In some parts of the cemetery the tombs were already decked. Flowers and leaves were strewn upon the top and upon the hearth in front. On the mantel-pieces were vases full of bouquets and sometimes pots of rare plants. Beautiful dahlias, rudely plucked from their nourishing stems by the hand of affliction, were stuck into the strange earth around. Splendid candelabras stood upon the hearth, decorated with paper fantastically cut, holding up long wax tapers of various colors. I looked about me with a sad pleasure. The grave, thought I, has lost its terrors—it is but to lie down and sleep upon a bed of roses. Affection is not quenched when the chill of death invades those most dear to use. Their tender memories revive with the new birth of the flowers; their faces and their forms revisit our longing eyes; their low words charm again our ears as when life was once made sweet to us by their presence. Love is the conqueror of fate itself. And when we shall have fretted our brief lives away, let there be step which will kindly seek out our last homes, and hands which will sacrifice to us the flowers as often as spring returns, or summer fades into autumn.

Other parts of the cemetery were thronged with workmen repairing the plaster upon the tombs from the ravages of time and weather—some painting them again, or furbishing up the inscriptions. There were, also, troops of quadroon girls and ancient negresses, arranging wreaths, and long, trailing festoons of flowers, and hanging over the epitaphs beautiful lace vails. I observed these marks of tender and affectionate respect with emotions which I need not express.

Another part of the cemetery contained some very old tombs with quaint French inscriptions—the tombs of those who were distinguished citizens before Louisiana was purchased by the United States. Some had been rent asunder by trees growing close beside them; others appeared to have been repaired and decked year after year, until those who attended them had dropped off to death, and become the subjects of the same holy offices which they had so long administered. These were mostly mouldering into piles of rubbish, and soon would be indistinguishable from the dust around. Some, however, and very old ones, were still adorned by the hands of grateful and affectionate descendants.

I next took a view of the catacombs, which are rows of sepulture, running all along the sides of the cemetery. There are three tiers in each, and the dead are divided, one from another, by slight partitions of brick. Of course the catacombs are for poor people, and those which I saw were crowded. The only space for an epitaph is about two feet square; it is upon the slab which covers the opening to admit the coffin. Many of these places of rest were decorated with small mantel-pieces and hearths, and strewn in front by leaves and flowers. Others had squares of painted boards merely to close the cells and rough inscriptions carved upon them. Still others were walled up with brick, and there was nothing to tell who moldered within. These, said I, are the last homes of the poor and the stranger, while my pulses throbbed at the thought that I, too, might find such a place to lay my failing frame, far from the scenes of childhood, and adventurer in the great city of the South. Behind me were the tombs of those who had walked in high places—the Generals, the Governors, the important men of provincial Louisiana—men sent over from France to exercise authority, and at last interred with pomp and honor. As I turned once more to view them, a solitary chameleon, which had crawled upon one to bask in the sun, shot suddenly from my gaze into a crevice of it. Yes, noble and puissant men, ye too must die. The earth, which your proud feet almost scorned to touch, shall receive your mouldering dust to itself again. And by the side, Right Royal Governor and Judge, the poor beggar who sat at thy gate for charity, shall sleep the self-same sleep with thee. The worm shall eat they dainty corpse as well as his thin flesh; and the lizard which inhabits his tomb shall likewise gambol over thy bones. And thou, lone stranger, who came to this metropolis to seek thy fortune, and found that fortune a grave, rest thee well here! They heed thee not, nor honor thy name, but they—the teeming thousands whose loud hum I hear now—they shall come to hold companionship with thee—

My heart was full to bursting. I retraced my steps toward the entrance. There was now a table just inside the gateway, and a silver plate upon it, above which was a placard, “Souvenez vous les pauvres enfans qui n’avaient pere que Dieu,” or something to that effect. The little orphans were standing in groups about the neighborhood, and, with the usual attendance of negroes, made up the crowd I had at first noticed. I was in no mood to slight the request, especially as the plate was almost bare. As I passed, wherefore, I dropped into it my largest coin. A priest of mild and benevolent aspect, who sat in the gate, looked up with some surprise; but I pulled my hat down over my eyes and walked hastily away.

Many of the epitaphs in this cemetery were extremely pathetic and beautiful. But the most tender was that of a young girl, whose tomb was in the row of catacombs, along the back wall. It gave her name, the dates of her birth and death—she was only seventeen—and, beneath, these words:

Ma Pauvre Fille.

I never saw anything more felicitous. There is one in the Protestant Cemetery (I do not remember which row of the catacombs) much like it:

My Brother


Near the first is another name recorded, full of different instruction:

Victime de l’honneur!

Aet. 24.

About two months after I left New Orleans, a young gentleman (whose acquaintance I had made before his visit) of fine abilities and education, and great personal beauty, just rising to public notice at the bar, accepted a challenge to the duel, and was killed—“Victim of honor.” He, too, was about twenty-four.

I returned to the St. Charles. That day, and the next one, and the next, I wandered through the streets of New Orleans, and saw many strange and beautiful objects before I started home; but the memory which dwells most sacredly in my remembrance, and keeps the greatest corner of my heart, is that brief sojourn in the Cemetery of St. Louis. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 28 November, 1866: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The Romish tradition of All-Saints Day rather emphasises the cemetery visiting and decoration. On the Continent and in the States, graves are often festooned with wreaths or sprays of immortelles. These are “everlastings,” also known as “straw flowers,” carefully dried and dyed in brilliant colours by the girls and women of France. Continental tombs are also adorned with beautifully beaded wreaths, also known as “immortelles,” sometimes woven around a photograph of the deceased.

Mrs Daffodil is struck by the tone of this sentimental gentleman’s narrative: he seems to wallow in sweet melancholy. Even allowing for the fact that he was writing to his sister, he is alarmingly enchanted with the lugubrious aspects of his funereal tourism. (Worms? Dainty corpses? Sleep upon a bed of roses?)  Mrs Daffodil much prefers the wholesome displays of pumpkins, squash, wheat sheaves, and apples that brighten the Harvest Home Festival in the local parish church, although she does listen to the reading of the Bede Roll in a spirit of quiet satisfaction for certain jobs well-done. However, it should be understood that Mrs Daffodil does not claim credit for the entire list of the dead; merely those who deserved it.


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.

Saturday Snippets 25 May 2013: Pudding for Wisteria, the Menace of Funeral Flowers, How to Change a Rose’s Colour



It May Not Have Improved Her Soul But it Did Her Fuchias.

A Chicago divine tells the following story:  “At my time of life I ought not to be stunned by anything, but after service a good woman on my flock did manage to take my breath away. I was preaching about the Father’s tender wisdom in caring for us all,” he said. “I illustrated by saying that the Father knows which of us grows best in sunlight and which of us must have shade. ‘You know you plant roses in the sunshine,’ I said, ‘and heliotrope and geraniums; but if you want your fuchsias to grow they must be kept in a shady nook.’

“After the sermon, which I hoped would be a comforting one, a woman came up to me, her face glowing with pleasure that was evidently deep and true. ‘Oh, Dr. ___, I am so grateful for that sermon,’ she said, clasping my hand and shaking it warmly. My heart glowed for a moment, while I wondered what tender place in her heart and life I had touched. Only for a moment, though. ‘Yes,’ she went on, fervently. ‘I never knew before what was the matter with my fuchsias.’” Delphos [OH] Daily Herald 6 March 1899: p. 7

From England, too, I have this week received a new recipe for the plant that is sick or dispirited. It comes from Mollie Panter-Downes. A friend of hers in Surrey was showing an ailing wisteria vine to a gardening acquaintance. ‘Oh,’ said the visitor, ‘all that wisteria wants is a nice rice pudding. They love them !’  Accordingly, a rice pudding was cooked, well sugared, and laid round the feet of the vine, which promptly sat up, regained its tone, and is now full of health and pudding. There is probably a chemical explanation for this, but I would rather not know about it. Onward and Upwards in the Garden, Katherine S. White

FLOWERS, like friends  in adversity, are doubly prized in the winter— even the culture of them seems  to shed a ray of summer round the apartment where they are sheltered. Now is  the time to plant or put in glasses hyacinths or other winter bulbous roots.  The flower of the hyacinth is beautiful, its aroma delightful. It is a house  flower, and renders a parlor redolent of perfume. Hyacinths are grown either in  glasses or pots. Glasses cause less attention and trouble than pots. There is  another and a novel way of growing hyacinths that is very beautiful. It is to  scoop out a turnip and fill the hollow space with water and place the bulb in
it. Suspend it by strings where you please— the best place is in your window.
The hyacinth will flower and the turnip give out from its root a green foliage
that is superior to any flower-pot in existence. And then, if you have a choice
flower presented you, lady fair, that you wish to preserve as long as possible,
when it begins to fade, the following is an, excellent way of reviving it. Cut
the stalk and hold it a few moments in the flame of the candle, and then set the
flower again in the cold water, when it will recover its strength almost
visibly after this violent assistance, and blossom immediately. We met with the
following curious record of an experiment, which may be true, though we
do not certify it from our own observation.

“To change the color of a Rose .— Place a fresh-gathered rose in water as far as the stem will allow,  then powder it over with fine rappee snuff being careful not to load it too  much— in about three hours, on shaking off the snuff, it will have become a  green rose.” Godey’s Lady’s Book, February, 1847

Our Goldfish

We have three goldfish in our pond

Of whom my father’s very fond,

And they were given by his choice

… The names of Julia, Edith, Joyce.

But Julia was his special friend;

She swam the pond from end to end,

So long, so strong, so golden-red —

The finest fish, so Father said.

. . . But now a sudden doubt arises,

One of life’s tragical surprises:

A friend points out with skeptic air

That goldfish (girls) alas are rare.

A gloom across our pond is shed,

The water-lily droops its head,

The reeds are wilting on the brink

And nobody knows what to think.

Though Father still by word of voice

Addresses Julia, Edith, Joyce,

His tones the sad conviction carry

They might be Thomas, Dick and Harry.

— Margaret Lodge [1935]

In spite of the attempt to prevent the extravagant use of flowers at funerals, we still see on those sad occasions some new and rather poetic ideas expressed by floral emblems. One of these, called the “Gates Ajar,” was very beautiful: the “gates” paneled with lilies, and surmounted by doves holding sprays of passion-vines in their beaks.

Palms crossed, and clasped by roses and ribbons, an oblique cross of roses lying on a bed of ivy, a basket made of ivy and autumn leaves, holding a sheaf of grain and a sickle of violets, an ivy pillow with a cross of flowers on one side, a bunch of pansies held by a knot of ribbon at one corner, a cross made of ivy alone, a “harvest-field” made of ears of wheat, are some of the many new funereal designs which break the monotony of the dreadful white crosses, crowns, and anchors, hearts, and wreaths, of the past. Manners and Social Usages, Mary Elizabeth Wilson Sherwood, 1887

The reformers suggest that the notice of the death which appears in the papers should end with the announcement: “No flowers.” A novel argument against the sending of these tributes is that the petals of the flowers serve to keep the germs which are given off from the dead body, and in the case of people who died from infectious diseases they may become a positive source of danger, and like the bunch of roses which her jealous rival sent to Adriene Lecouvreur, be absolutely death dealing. Then again the custom of preserving these wreaths is denounced by many medical men, who contend that they, containing as they do morbific bacteria, are a constant source of danger and a menace to the healthy life of those who afterward occupy the rooms. Evening Star [Washington, DC] 14 February 1891: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The roses of Adriana Lecouvreur were the poisoned blossoms sent to the actress (according to legend) by the Duchesse de Bouillon, a romantic rival.

Funeral Flowers for Young Helen: c. 1880


Just as the dead were photographed post-mortem, funerary flower arrangements, such as this poignant floral offering to the memory of a young girl named Helen, were also documented by the photographer and cherished by families.

Mrs Daffodil, despite her eponymous name, is not a gardener. She relies on the staff to provide cut flowers for the House and vegetables for the kitchen without any tiresome discussion of loams, mulches, or insects. And despite growing up in the country, she never had the leisure to make a study of decorative botany, complete with those albums of pressed ferns and watercolor studies of wildflowers which seem to form so necessary a part of the education of young ladies. Handicapped as she is by her lack of botanical knowledge, Mrs Daffodil can only hazard a guess as to some of the species of flowers included in this display and whether they are real or artificial. This is of interest because frequently the “language of flowers” was used to reinforce the sentiments of the bereaved. Forget-me-nots are an obvious example. Pansies/pensees for “thoughts,” are another. It would be an interesting exercise to unravel the puzzle, if puzzle there is: rather like working a funereal-themed crossword or acrostic.

Mrs Daffodil does recognize carnations, lilies, forget-me-nots, and pansies in the photograph. It is possible there are dahlias and anemones as well.  The garland of white roses and leaves, bleeding hearts, and ivy seems obviously artificial.  If any gardeners among her readers can identify these blossoms, Mrs Daffodil would be delighted to bow to their superior knowledge.  A click on the photograph will enlarge it. The back of the photograph is marked S.P. Tresize, Photographer, Granville, Ohio. [Granville is a town in Licking County, Ohio, just over 30 miles from Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A. ]

While Mrs. Daffodil has seen photographs of floral arrangements in symbolic and sentimental shapes such as anchors and crosses, sometimes labeled with a word (“MAMA”) or a motto (“AT REST”) spelled out in flowers, this is the first time she has seen the entire name written in foliage. Mrs Daffodil will not make the expected and vulgar pun about corpses being “planted.”

This is a traditional weekend for the dressing of graves. Mrs Daffodil will post more comments on floral matters on her “Facebook” page and in tomorrow’s Saturday Snippets.

This photograph is included in The Victorian Book of the Dead, by Chris Woodyard, a collection of primary sources about the popular culture of Victorian death and mourning, also available in for “Kindle,” which Mrs Daffodil understands is an “electronic book,” (whatever that may be) but which suggests tearing pages from an antiquated novel to light the stove.

Two other posts on funereal floral tributes may be found at No Flowers and Bad Taste in Funeral Flowers.

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

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