Tag Archives: insanity

A Jar of Sugared Fruit: 1869

little girl and grandmother offering sweet

WAS IT INSANITY?

Madame Rosine was sewing some light, dainty stuff; her nervous fingers flashed to and fro in the twilight, and the diamond bracelet on her white arm glistened like the eye of a snake, as she held her needle up to the fading light, and inserted the gossamer thread.

The world generally, I confess, uses women up in about forty years: they shrivel and grow grim and enervated in its atmosphere…But, Madame was an exception; she grew rounder and rosier and plumper every year; every year nature seemed to discover some unfinished beauty in her which she proceeded with artist hand to “touch up.” There was a sense of color, and light and warmth in her stately presence, that fascinated me, as well as her younger pupils.

It was after school-hours, yet Madame, who was a very conscientious teacher, was expounding to me patiently a chapter in Ancient History. A very ancient and profound chapter in the story of the world.

How the old heroes met death; stoically, yet as a king of terror. How the terrible king held high revel in the bleak walls and grave-like secrecy of the inquisition. How men’s lives were wrenched out of them by sheer physical force, and death was made hideous by his association with all that was vile and cruel in man.

“Those were frightful times!” said I with a shudder. “I’m glad we got over them before I was born!”

“We haven’t got over them, my dear,” said Madame, with her courtly smile. “We have arrived at great achievements in medicine, certainly, and great attainments in art. Every year we are conquering the world’s roughness, and making it easier to live—we have yet to perfect the science of death. We are perfecting ourselves in every thing—only in this we are barbarous; we let men gulph out of existence brutishly.”

“It is a difficult field of study, Madame,” said I, “and dangerous.”

“And so,” continued Madame, not noticing the interruption, “not a hand is lifted, not a voice raised; we die hideously, when the passage might be made dewy and fragrant as a walk over a land of flowers. We keep our halt, our sick and suffering, hovering cruelly on the brink of death, when death is inevitable, and no one leads them kindly by the hand down the dismal road. They are left to crawl out of life alone, and open the doors of the other world with their own trembling hands, because we are too cowardly to be courteous; we will not venture to usher them in thither while there is a better life, and glow and pleasure left—we send them out in the dark.”

Madame’s voice grew into a thoughtful whisper, and she looked dreamily out into the twilight, as she said these words.

I looked up at the lady, as she sat there in the flash of the yellow sunset, her silk dress falling about her in shining folds, her dark eye and crimson cheek catching strange luster as she spoke. Yes, she was indeed the model of a Frenchwoman, well dressed, well cared-for, tasteful and philosophic.

Madame Rosine was my teacher; she was also the teacher of my younger sisters, who, during our father’s absence, were left with her in her cottage on the sea-shore.

The cottages on the sea-shore were very sparse; they were let out to strangers during the summer months, who came down to bathe and reinvigorate themselves with the fresh sea air.

She and her old grandmother, a queer, half silly, but kindly old lady, inhabited the little white house just beyond the turn of the hills, where they swept off from the shore, leaving the white line of beach-sand for the waves and the bathers. There were one or two other little pupils, from among the summer residents.

My father thought a deal of Madame’s French; and of her powers of training. And Madame thought a deal of my father. We had been very happy at the cottage this summer; the sunshiny, breezy days had passed like a swift flight of birds that paused to dip their wings in the radiant waters, and vanished beyond the hills.

Madame Rosine arose and approached the doorway which looked out on the far line of beach, and the brimming, heaving sea, tinged with the ruddy light of the departing sun.

“I believe,” said she, “grandmother is getting too old to trust with the children.”

A nodding, smiling old woman in a red kerchief came, leaning on her stick, up the gravel path, a little child toddling on in advance of her.

It was little Fanchette, my sister, with her hands and tiny white apron full of green, shiny seaweed.

She held the dripping mass up to Madame’s gaze as she skipped eagerly forward.

“Me dot a fower!” she cried.

Madame withdrew her silken dress from possible contact: an expression of disgust warped her face. She had sent the little thing out so clean and shining, to be admired by the gazers on the seashore, an attractive exposition of her system and her care.

But with the self-control which she inculcated in her pupils, she checked the expression; her face resumed its courteous complacency as the old woman came slowly up the path.

“I think, grandmother,” said she, “these walks are getting too much for you. The children are too much of a charge—I will accompany them myself next time.”

It was grandmother’s charge to walk with the little ones on the beach of an afternoon, and to take the little day-pupils home. The toddling things liked the old woman well; she was “grandmother” by election to the whole of them, and that she sometimes wandered off with them for half a day or so, did not discredit her claims in their eyes.

“Rosine,” said she, “thou wilt not deprive me of the little ones!” Her old voice quivered.

Madame did not answer. She was busy disgorging Fanchette’s little apron of its contents.

The next day, bright and early, I saw the old grandmother, staff in hand, making her swift way toward the gate, her ruffled cap blowing back in the breeze, and Fanchette, with a many furtive glance backward, trudging valiantly by her side.

I supposed that they were only going down for milk, but school-time came, and Fanchette’s face was absent.

I did not trouble myself much about the child; it was safe and happy, no doubt, and I had my head full of French verbs.

We were expecting my father up that day; he would come in the afternoon train. He usually came out once a week. On that day Madame always wore red ribbons in her hair, and looked younger and more coquettish than usual. She was also very kind to us on those days; we had cakes and sweetmeats for lunch, and made a sort of gala-day of it.

But if my father came and little Fanchette was unaccountably absent—what then?

I saw that Madame grew uneasy as the morning waned, and her uneasiness reflected itself in me. We spent the intervening time between lessons, in walking down to the gate, and glancing up and down the road for the fugitives. Madame had a saintly patience with that childish old grandmother, but it gave way as the day passed, and no sign of them appeared.

“I will go out,” said she, “Sophie, and take a walk along the shore. Doubtless they are there among the shells.”

Madame walked thoughtfully along the shore, while I, less anxious, strolled on, flinging pebbles into the water. The tide was rising; nearer and nearer came the creeping waves; they wetted my feet; they drove me further and further from the beach toward the line of rocks overhanging it.

Just then, where the water and the rocks met, and a tangled mass of scraggy, wild growth overhung the steep ascent, I caught a glimpse, just above my head, of some red, glittering object, and parting the bushes, there lay Fanchette asleep, her rosy face pressed against the stones. A dangerous sleep in such a chamber, when the tide was rising.

“Madame! Madame!” I cried, “I have found her!”

Madame came quickly back; she stretched up her round, strong arms, and caught the child hastily down from its eyrie. She turned homeward without a word; not a word during all the long walk, either to Fanchette or me.

As we reached the cottage gate, who should look up from the porch, and smiling, knock the ashes from her pipe, but the old grandmother.

“Ah, aha!” said she, cunningly, eyeing Madame with that half fearing, half defiant expression which I have seen in the eyes of animals when doubtful of their master’s intentions toward them. “Ah, yes! too hot, too hot, you see, to bring the little one home. Grandmother only left her to cool a little!”

To cool! If Fanchette had not happened to wear her red dress, she might have been cooling under the waves tonight, I thought to myself.

It seemed, however, that Fanchette had strolled away from the old woman, who, in her bewilderment at losing her, and terror of Madame Rosine, had thought of no better way to shield herself than to deny the fact.

Fanchette, all curled and smiling, was ready to be brought in when my father, immediately on his arrival, asked for his favorite child.

We said nothing about her recent adventure.

“I so hate to disturb your dear father, Sophie,” said the complacent Madame, “he has already so much on his mind.”

Madame waited assiduously upon my father on these days, spread his hot biscuit with her own dainty fingers, and showed him an attention which my own sweet mother never did; but I think my father liked it. We were little half-orphans, for my mother had died in giving birth to Fanchette, but Madame often declared she felt like a mother to us.

Madame was alone in the world.

“Monsieur,” said she, sweetly, on the day of my father’s visit, “I am alone; I am very sad; but I feel sure that the good God watches over me and the dear old lady. What, else, should become of us, two poor, lone waifs by the seashore!”

Madame was alone in the world, but she owned the little cottage, or would own it on grandmother’s death, and a snug little sum in the bank, it was said.

My father looked into the lady’s eyes and smiled when she said that so pathetically, and I heard him call her Rosine.

The sunshine streamed over her and little Fanchette, who, wearied with her recent exploits, curled herself up in Madame’s loving arms, and fell fast asleep. A very sweet picture it made, and as my father had something of an artist eye, no doubt it pleased him.

The next day as I walked in the garden, I saw the old grandmother sitting solitary upon a stone; she did not lift her eyes, nor speak to me. The blithe, cheery look that kept her foolish old face like foggy sunshine was all gone out; she looked gray and wrinkled, and sullen.

I did not dare to speak to the old woman when she was in this mood, and strolled on through the garden, among the fallen leaves. Presently, as I stooped among a clump of flowers to gather a low forget-me-not, I heard another footstep rustle the fallen leaves, and Madame passed swiftly, without seeing me.

She was evidently looking for her grandmother. I heard her utter a low exclamation when she came upon the wretched object sitting there alone. Oh, but this was a trying old woman! and Madame certainly had a saintly patience with her!

I trembled in my hiding-place when I heard Madame’s voice speaking sternly and gravely in French; so severely I had never heard her voice sound before, but I did not catch the words.

As I passed out again, when the conversation ceased, the old woman still sat crouching on her stone; her face had a cowed, scared look, and she shrunk away from me.

She continued thus sullen and solitary for days, occasionally varying her grimness by a flight to the sea-shore, whence she would have to be brought home by the maid-servant, or by Madame herself. Or she would sit for long, monotonous hours in the doorway, neither knitting nor smoking as her wont.

The children shunned her; by one leap their old favorite had taken herself out of the cheery little circle of their lives, and become a thing mysterious and apart. Not a child came up to her for a kiss, or to show her new primer, or bring her a flower to smell; they eyed her askance and walked away.

Certainly this old woman, growing into a specter, was making an ominous reputation for the school, and undoing all Madame’s patient labor for success.

Yet Madame Rosine’s saintly patience and politeness was a model to her pupils; she took her own shawl of an evening, and wrapped it about grandmother’s shoulders; the crimson shawl that grandmother used to covet.

“The dear old mother,” she said, “one would fain make her comfortable, if one only could. My dear Sophie, we must always respect the aged, be they ever so ungrateful.”

Ungrateful, indeed, the old lady was; when Madame’s jeweled fingers pressed her angular shoulders with the luxurious shawl dropping down its ruddy folds, the recipient of this kindness repelled her with a gesture of aversion. She got up feebly, and put the crimson drapery from her. After that she hobbled off to bed.

Madame’s eye followed her as she left the room, with a glance of philosophic consideration, as if meditating the possibility of further experiments in her behalf.

After this the old woman kept her bed most of the time; but she had a notion that she would not be treated us a child; a dainty cloth was therefore spread in her room at meal-times, and Madame herself prepared an orderly repast to set before her. The old lady would sit up at the table, querulous and provoking, but eat nothing; some time afterward I would hear her shuffling feet coming down the stairway to sit in the ashes of the kitchen, where she munched a mouthful with the servant, betaking herself back in terror if she heard Madame’s stately step approaching.

But gradually she gave up that; she grew whiter and thinner, and finally kept her bed altogether.

We were sent up in the afternoons to pay our respects to her, shrinking back in childish awe from the spectral figure bolstered up before us, and making our courtesies brief as possible.

One day she seemed to rouse up a little as we entered; she nodded her withered head to us in its wide-frilled cap, and apparently wished to speak; but we could not understand the mumbling words, and shrank nervously toward the door.

The old woman lifted with her trembling hands a gaudy tulip from a vase on the table, and held it toward Fanchette. Fanchette could not withstand the temptation; she faltered slowly, slowly up, and took the flower from the shaking, bony hand; then the wrinkled donor smiled, a wrinkled, quavering, ghost of a smile, and placed her hand on the child’s curling head. Fanchette was not thinking of her old friend much; her childish eyes were wandering over the white-spread table, whose array of jelly and other good things was far more attractive. A nice white bowl of gruel stood near the edge; she stretched up on her tiny tiptoes and peered into it.

The sunshine streamed in over the snowy table, the clean old woman and the gaily-dressed child. We stood at the door and looked, but did not approach. Overcoming all her scruples, the little epicure had mounted to a chair. The invalid drew the table slowly toward her. Apparently she had a whim that they should have a meal together; these two children, the one hoary-headed, the other with her downy, sunshiny hair just lighting with a golden luster her infantile head, used to be attached to each other once; the old attraction seemed to be coming up again as they sat sunning together.

With her trembling hands the old woman took some sugared fruit from a jar, and held it all glistening with crystal sweetness toward the child.

The sight was too much for those of us who did not want to appear covetous, and had outgrown the ingenuousness of childhood.

We politely withdrew.

Madame was on the stairs as we came out; apparently she had been waiting. She, good lady, was always so anxious about us.

“Fanchette ?” she said, quickly, seeing, as we swept out into the garden, that the little one was missing.

We pointed merrily up the stairs, and I saw Madame gather up her long robe and rush up swiftly like a young girl.

I can not tell what had come over me in regard to Madame lately; I took a strange, dreamy interest in every thing she did, and watched her with an apparently motiveless fascination. Why did she hurry up stairs so? Would we, would Fanchette be punished for staying too long with the old lady? Or for touching her dainties, which we had been forbidden to do? An interesting woman, my father always said; and she had become so to me.

***

The old lady was dead. Her troublesome, querulous life had flickered out at last. She lay up stairs folded in the linen so long prepared for her. She had died in the night. Madame, who had sat up all that long solemn night, looked worn and white this morning; she had dark lines under her eyes, and was strangely restless and uneasy, as people are apt to be who have overtasked their strength.

“I so wanted the poor soul to die easy, Sophie,” said she to me, who, being the oldest pupil, was honored with Madame’s confidence occasionally.

As we stood in the breezy, white draped room, and looked at the solemn face from which death had swept out all the silliness and insignificance, there was a stir of the gauzy window-drapery. Madame started: it was only little Fanchette, who peered in with curious, frightened face, and sped away.

Madame called the child, but she would not return; she held aloof from Madame all that day, and would not be caressed or cared for, though it appeared to me she did not look well. But children have queer and eccentric instincts, and Fanchette was an odd child. She wandered about in the garden, and eyed us askance all day, like a bird that has alighted among strangers a moment, and will take wing presently.

When I came down the stairway I found Fanchette sitting in the sunny porch. “Come in, darling,” said I, “to luncheon. We’ve got something good.”

Fanchette was a little epicure; “something good” always won her heart. This time she did not stir. “Me dot somesin dood,” said she. She put her tiny hand in her tiny pocket, and drew out the confection old grandmother had given her yesterday. The cunning little one, arrested by Madame’s entrance in the midst of her dainty revel with the old woman, had pocketed the delicacy.

“It will make you sick, Fanchette,” said I, prudently.

“Did it make granny sick?” said the child, turning her feverish little face up toward the window where her dead friend lay.

I did not answer. Madame called me, and I left the child to her feast.

The pupils were all running wild with the liberty and change death made in the house. I had to assist in keeping the little things quiet, and I had to go to the village for Madame. The death of the poor old woman had upset the usual routine altogether.

When I returned, I saw Fanchette lying curled up among the honeysuckle leaves; the shadow of them flickered over her red dress. The child was asleep. Madame came hastily out to see how I had succeeded with my shopping; she stopped as she saw Fanchette lying there.

“The child,” said she, “will get her death! Run up with the things, Sophie, and I will wake her up.”

Anxious to show my purchases, I waited impatiently in the upper chamber. Apparently, it took a long time to wake Fanchette.

I listened. A cry rang through the house that thrilled me to my finger-ends, and some one came staggering heavily up, as if burdened with a dead weight.

It was Madame; her white face blanched to a death-like hue; her eyes set. The burden she carried was Fanchette.

“Oh, God?” she cried, “who will make death easy for me!”

 For little Fanchette was dead.

***

The line of demarcation between sanity and insanity physicians tell us is very difficult to discern. It melts off indistinctly between the passions, the emotions, and even the intellectual and philosophic processes of the mind.

This woman was sane when she essayed to study the problem of death. But when the little innocent child unwittingly entered through the door which she had dared to open for the decrepit and miserable old woman, reason, long clouded with subtle and metaphysical arguments, went out in the gust. Its light never was relit.

The cottage by the sea-shore, where Fanchette had partaken of the death feast whose subtle poisons Madame had prepared with skillful hands, is deserted and in ruins. But to the moping maniac, whose cell I sometimes visit, Fanchette and the old grandmother are often present; they come together, hand in hand, whispering and eyeing her together.

A. M. Hoyt

Beadle’s Monthly, Volume 3, 1869: p.524-529

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: “Moping maniac,” indeed… It seems a shocking lapse of judgement on the part of the philosophic and conscientious Madame Rosine—so enchanted with dewy and fragrant death—that she did not think to reserve a sweet or two from the old lady’s jar for use in an emergency.

 

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.

Fashion Lunacy, as Explained by a German Alienist: 1913

Perhaps an example of a woman who refuses to dress her age?

Perhaps an example of a woman who refuses to dress her age?

INFLUENCE OF FASHION ON SANITY

People with Passion for Violent Clothing Are Three-Quarters Mad, Declares German Alienist

People with a passion for violent clothing are three quarters mad. This is the discovery of the distinguished German mental alienist, Dr. Bernard Holz, and he is backed by other investigators. Generally, he declares, fashion and clothes have a direct influence on insanity. Dr. Rudolf Forester of Berlin has been investigating the same subject and he has just published a book on “The Connection of Professions and Fashions with Mental Diseases.” Dr. Forester says it is a sign of progressive paralysis when a man of plain life takes to dressing himself up like an Unter den Linden dude and wears a silk hat. And Dr. Holz says it is a sure sign of paranoia when elderly persons show a minute zeal about their clothing, and particularly when two elderly members of the same family copy one another’s garb.

“A certain proportion of lunatics,” says Dr. Holz, “probably three percent, owe their troubles to the influence of fashion, that is, to women’s fashions. This does not include the vast number upon whom fashion acts indirectly in an injurious sense, for instance, to tight-laced women who suffer from hysteria. Hysteria is essential a fashion nervous disease. Also it does not include thousands of indirect victims whose nervous systems are undermined through disappointment with their dressmakers, jealousy of the women’s clothes and inability to pay modistes’ bills. If these cases are counted, then a third of women lunatics are victims of fashion.”

When fashion is an indirect or contributory cause of insanity, Dr. Holz finds that it chiefly produces functional disturbances of the mood, such as undue exaltation, undue depression and diseases of the will. The commonest form of indirectly caused fashion insanity is maniacal depression. Fashion lunacy seldom appears early in life.

“The greatest of all dangers for women of between 40 and 50,” says Dr. Holz, “is a too minute attention to clothing and to changes of mode. When a young woman is unreasonably keen on fashion, that may mean mental disease; but when a woman getting on in life does so, that almost certainly means a mind unbalanced.

“One sign of all half-lunacy is an entire lack of sympathetic and human interests and a fussy self-concentration on ones’ own petty, often insignificant, needs and imagined needs.  This concentration is petty and insignificant when in an elderly woman it takes the form of dress. Women with grown-up children, perhaps grand-children, who persist in leading fussy, ‘worldly’ lives, who think only of their complexions and their hats, are nearly always half way towards insanity.” With this view Dr. Foerster’s book agrees, for it notes that insane women often collect vast quantities of useless clothing, spend extravagantly, and show an unnatural desire to shine in society.

“The first sign of a normally healthy brained organism is,” says Dr. Holz, “a considerable decline of interest in clothes after one passes 30. When a woman has passed 60 a craze for clothing may mean premature demetia senilis. A client of mine, the brilliant and admired Baroness A., who spoke five languages and wrote attractive verse, suddenly began at the age of 70 to study fashion papers. At first, she discussed the fashions with the brilliance which she showed for every other interest, and she began to design her own dresses. For several weeks she was entirely concentrated in this petty work. Six months later she was entirely imbecile, lost interest in everything except brightly colored clothing, and within a year was dead.

“In such cases,” says Dr. Holz, “the craze for fashion may be merely a symptom of insanity which already is well under way. But insanity may be caused in perfectly healthy persons who pay too much attention to clothes. Concentration of the mind on one subject; the sight of unattainable furs and gems; and, above all, the consciousness of a woman of small means that she appears badly dressed at social gatherings—these things have a distinctly disorganizing effect upon the nervous system.

“A woman of strong mind escapes this peril by keeping to her own class, but if ambition is stronger than common sense the ceaseless struggle for fine clothing and perpetual self-consciousness may undermine sound mental health. Probably there are other causes. But it is not necessary to assume inherited or constitutional mental weakness in every case of madness brought on by fashion.” Dr. Holz’s experiments with patients and animals indicate that possibly colors may have something to do with insanity. He holds that blue and violet are “insane,” that is, nerve-disturbing colors, and adds that the lunacy rate may be affected by fashion when the prevailing mode compels a particular color to be worn.

Dr. Holz tested the pulses and nervous reactions of seven women patients when handsome colored articles of attire were unexpectedly placed before them. He found that, contrary to current belief, red and orange do not excite. Green soothes, but purple, violet, and blue have disturbing effects. The craze for violet, which is common with South German women, may be one cause of mental instability.

The experiments with animals chiefly consisted in dressing dogs and rabbits in violently colored jackets. In most cases violet and blue caused a more violent revulsion and stronger desire to get rid of the jackets than any other color. Rabbits, in particular were bewildered when dressed in blue.

Dr. Holz thinks that pyromania, the passion for setting fire to property, may be a fashion disease. He says he treated three women victims of pyromania, all of whom showed a craze for minutely careful dressing. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 8 November 1913: pg. 13

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  One has certainly heard the phrase “fashion-mad,” but one feels that perhaps the foreign alienist’s command of the English tongue was imperfect, for him to have taken the idiom at its most literal. Mrs Daffodil can scarcely repress a smile at a man who dresses rabbits in coloured vests and then denounces ladies whose pulses rise at “handsome colored articles of attire.”  Mrs Daffodil would beg to draw the alienist’s attention to his Kaiser’s mania for military uniforms—some 600 at last count, many designed by the Emperor himself.

Mrs Daffodil recognises that women of a certain age who dress as if they were still ingenues of nineteen have always been figures of fun, yet she is incensed at this dashed foreigner condemning her sex. If Dr Holz does not care for mutton dressed as lamb, he should keep to his own swinish cuisine. Mint sauce has no place among the sausages and beer.

Girl Weds A Ghost: 1900

"She always has the table laid for two and chats as though talking to someone in the vacant chair across the table."

“She always has the table laid for two and chats as though talking to someone in the vacant chair across the table.”

GIRL WEDS A GHOST

WOMAN IN OKLAHOMA MARRIES THE SPIRIT OF HER DEAD FIANCE

Bride Keeps House—Midnight Cemetery in Graveyard Shocks Village Gossips

Witchita, Kan., Oct. 10 Bessie Brown, of Cameron, Okla., is married to a ghost. Furthermore, she and her spectral husband are living together in a five-room cottage. The wedding took place one week ago, and the bride and groom moved at once into their new house, which Miss Brown had furnished with her own money. They are as happy as any young married couple could be, and persons who pass the house can hear them talking and laughing just as if they were both in human form.

This is the strangest romance ever known. Bessie Brown, of wealthy parents, high social standing, and possessed of many natural charms that make her one of the most beautiful girls in Oklahoma, married the ghost of the man she loved. She is not demented. Her mind has been tested, her brain has been examined by specialists, and her actions have been watched carefully, but no trace of insanity can be discovered. Therefore her parents agree that she must be wedded to an apparition, something which she imagines she can see and know, but which no other human being can recognize. This is what her father says about his daughter’s queer actions:

“Bessie had been brooding continually over the death of John Allen, to whom she was engaged to be married when he was killed. We tried to console her in her grief, but she wanted us to leave her alone. We feared she would lose her mind if she did not stop grieving so intensely. I had a doctor visit her several times and he said her mind was all right, but that she was failing in health on account of constant worry. That was a year ago. About six weeks ago Bessie brightened up so much that we feared she was under the influence of some drug. Then one day she made the statement that she had seen the ghost of Mr. Allen, and that hereafter she would not be sorrowful any more, for she was going to marry the ghost. She said she had given her promise to her sweetheart that if ever he died she would marry his ghost, and that now, since his spirit had appeared to her, she must keep her promise.

“Mrs. Brown and I feared the poor girl had lost her mind surely by this time, so we sent to Dallas for a specialist to make another examination of her brain. He pronounced her mental condition perfectly normal, and said that she was not under the influence of any drug. He said her case was a strange one, and that she must surely see the ghost she talked about so much. I asked her to introduce me to the ghost, and she said I could not see it, but that it was with her always. She talked reasonably about it. She seemed to know that we thought her insane because of her strange declarations, but insisted that she was actually going to marry the specter. She called upon our minister and asked him to perform the ceremony. He tried to persuade her that it was sinful that she should marry a mere apparition, but she insisted.

“The minister went with Bessie last week into the graveyard where her lover was buried and at midnight the ceremony was performed which united her to the ghost of the man whom she had promised to marry two years ago, but who was killed in a railroad wreck just a few weeks previous to the wedding. I believe after close study of the girl’s actions that she truly thinks she is wedded to the ghost, and that the apparition appears to her as naturally as if the spirit were still in the body. We are trying to do everything we can to make her forget her ghost, but it seems as if we are going to fail.”

Before the graveyard wedding Miss Brown rented a cottage and furnished it for two. She is now living in it with her ghost husband. She can be seen sitting on the back porch conversing with an invisible companion, and often walks along the street talking aloud to some person whom no one else can see. The town people are much excited over the matter. They all know Miss Brown to be a Christian young woman, and one who would not deceive any one for the world. Most of them actually believe she is married to the ghost of her dead lover.

Jackson [MI] Citizen Patriot 10 October 1900: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil would give much to know the sequel to this story–did the young lady ever look across that table and suddenly realize that the chair was empty? Did she ever fall in love with an earthly man and, if so, how would one get a divorce from a spirit husband?

This is an excerpt from The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past, by Chris Woodyard, the author of 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.

The Lunatic at the Door: A Thrilling Episode in the Life of a Physician: c. 1860s

Victorian surgical scalpels

It was shortly after a more than heavy clinic in one of the largest medical colleges where a number of local physicians were taking a well-deserved rest, and over their cigars began to talk “shop.” Experiences in their early practice formed the topic of the conversation when one of the oldest practitioners present said:

“There is one experience in my life I will never forget if I live to be a hundred,” and when his colleagues leaned back comfortably in their chairs a group of attentive listeners, he continued:

“It’s many years ago and I had an office then in the basement of a building on Eighth street waiting patiently for patients. I remember it was a bitter cold night and my landlady, her two daughters and the servant were out, the ladies having gone to the theater and the girl to a ball. The only living thing near me was my pet canary, and even it had gone to sleep in its cage. I was deeply absorbed in a medical work when I was disturbed b y a loud knock at the door. When I opened it a tall man, in fact, a veritable giant, confronted me.

“’Are you the doctor?’ was his salutation.

“’Yes, sir; step in.’ I was shivering in the cold, and I was glad when he closed the door behind him. By the light of the lamp and that which the fire from the grate threw out I saw, as I said before, a tall man, seemingly stout as a bull, dressed in a heavy frieze coat, the fur cap with the visor well pulled down shaded the upper part of his face, while a grizzled beard hid the rest. I had hardly made this mental survey before my prospective patient repeated his question:

“’You’re the doctor?’

“’Yes; what can I do for you?’

“Before answering he walked over to the chair whereon he had thrown his coat, and, reaching into a side pocket,

DREW OUT A KNIFE.

“It was a knife, gentlemen that to my eyes appeared a foot long. I didn’t have much time to think, for before I could make a move he stood between me and the street door, while I knew there was no chance of escape by the rear door, which I had locked and bolted. I did some quick thinking, for in a second it flashed upon me that I was in the presence of a lunatic. Before I could devise a plan of action he spoke again.

“’I ain’t going to hurt you,’ and he grinned while he spoke. ‘If you’ll do as I tell you. If you refuse—‘ and instead of finishing the sentence, he tapped the back of my chair with the knife significantly.  ‘I tell you what I want. You see I’m a sick man, and my trouble is that there’s a bird in my stomach peckin’ at my entrails I want you to cut in there and get the d__d thing out.’

“I knew it was useless to argue with a lunatic, and so I told him to lie down in my operating chair. Once in it I might chloroform him, and while he was under the influence of the drug I could easily make my escape and summon assistance. Somewhat relieved by the thought that my deliverance was near, I acquiesced in the proposal and prepared for the coming trial. I induced him to divest himself of his coat, vest and shirt, but all the time he kept his knife handy. When at last he laid down on the chair he kept the dangerous weapon in his right hand. Finally his had dropped back, and I reached up for the chloroform bottle. He saw the action, and in a jiffy he raised up:

“’No, you don’t,’ he said. ‘I’ll take no drug. If you’ve got to cut me I’ll see it done.’

“’Here was a dilemma I had not figured on, and all my hopes went glimmering. But an inspiration came. ‘Very well,’ I said, as I picked up a scalpel and bared the flesh over the region where the mysterious bird was located in the opinion of my addle-brained patient. My hand was perfectly steady and I cut slowly, hardly more than grazing the skin. Then I reached over where my bird cage hung, I slipped my hand through the door and snatched the astonished songster from its roosting place and gave it the liberty of the room. With

A SQUEAK AND FLUTTER OF

its wings it settled on the bookcase. ‘You are all right now,’ I said to my patient, who had watched the flight of the bird with wide-opened eyes.

“’Yes, thank God, and you have saved me.’

“Apparently he was sane in a moment. He leisurely put on his clothes, laid a five-dollar bill on my desk and departed as mysteriously as he had come. I did not notify the police, nor did I ever heard of my queer patient again.”

Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 2 January 1898: p. 16

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is probable that “the largest medical college” was the Medical College of Ohio, Cincinnati, Ohio, founded in 1819. While undoubtedly an admirable training ground for physicians, there was considerable irregularity in the methods the College used to obtain specimens for the dissecting table. A sensational case connected with the College was “The Harrison Horror,” involving the corpse of John Scott Harrison, son of the late President William Henry Harrison.