Tag Archives: mourning

Hearse Horses: 1860-1911

 

Miniature model of a hearse and horses, c. 1865-75 http://www.musee-mccord.qc.ca/en/collection/artifacts/M990.674.1

It is the week-end of the Royal Windsor Horse-show and Mrs Daffodil has been persuaded by a box of really excellent chocolate cremes to allow Chris Woodyard, the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, to post a guest article on the theme of “hearse horses,” a class which Mrs Daffodil can confidently assert will not be on the programme at Windsor. In view of Prince Phillip’s impending retirement, a Hearse Four-in-Hand event might be seen as lacking in tact.

But enough persiflage. Chris Woodyard is champing at the bit….

Hearse and plumed hearse horses, 1870

In the United States, until the advent of the automobile hearse, hearse horses were a cherished commodity, well-known and sometimes beloved by the communities they served. The acquisition of a new pair of hearse horses was, like the purchase of a new hearse, an important event—something to be puffed in the papers. A smart team of plumed hearse horses was a selling point for any undertaker.

As late as 1911, E.F. Parks, an undertaker in Bryan, Texas, announced the arrival of “our fine team of hearse horses” rhapsodizing: “They are simply beautiful. White with a touch of red about the ears, back and hip. They are full brothers 5 and 6 years old.” Undertaker Parks even ran a contest for several weeks in the local newspaper to name the horses, selecting “Prince” and “Pilot” as the winning names. The Bryan [TX] Eagle 16 March 1911: p. 1

Mexican hearse with six netted horses. 1884

Articles about the acquisition of hearse horses often stressed the animals’ training (which seems to have been primarily about gait and speed), yet there were hundreds of accounts in contemporary newspapers of hearse horses running away or colliding with trees, trains, or telegraph poles, often with grave consequences.

FUNERAL HORROR FRIGHTENED HORSES

The Corpse of a Man Pulled After the Demolished Hearse in a Runaway

Rochester, N.Y., Feb. 24. A ghastly accident occurred at the double funeral of Mr. and Mrs. John Hackett, held near Lyons yesterday afternoon that has deeply shocked that community.

While the first hearse, drawn by a spirited team of blacks, was passing through a deep snow drift the horses became frightened, and, unseating the driver, ran away. The hearse containing the coffin and the remains of Mr. Hackett tipped over and the casket was demolished, throwing out the corpse, which, becoming entangled in the wrecked hearse, was dragged a considerable distance over the bare road and through deep snow drifts. When the terrified team finally broke loose from the wrecked vehicle and its ghastly occupant, the corpse was so badly mangled as to be almost unrecognizable. A driver was sent to look up another casket, which was procured several hours later, after which the funeral procession proceeded to the cemetery, where both bodies were interred in one grave. Tucson [AZ] Daily Citizen 24 February 1902: p. 4

One undertaker, when he discovered that the hearse horse he had trained could not keep to the required solemn gait, made the best of a bad job and released the horse to a racing career:

There is a son of Del Sur in California that they call “The Los Angeles Del Sur Wonder,” but known, for short, as the “hearse horse.” He was bred by an undertaker, and used for a while hauling the hearse. He was found to be rather faster than was needed to keep at the head of the procession, and being trained, trotted a 2.20 gait and paced in 2.18. Otago Witness, 28 April 1892: p. 27

 

White child’s hearse with driver outside Neil Regan Funeral Home, Scranton, PA c. 1900 http://en.wikipedia.org

An essential part of funeral pageantry, black horses were used for many adult funerals; white horses—or sometimes white ponies—drew the white hearse of the maiden, the child, or the infant. White horses were also used at state funerals:

Last of the Lincoln Hearse Horses.

A local celebrity recently died after a kind, useful life of thirty-eight years, says the Indianapolis Journal. His name was Jesse, and the one act which entitled him to mention was participation in the funeral cortege of the martyred Lincoln. He was the last of the six white horses which drew the hearse containing the honored body along the streets of Indianapolis. His mate in the proud but sorrowful lead of the team died eight years ago. The McCook [NE] Tribune 3 July 1891: p. 8

Since they were so much in the public eye, certain traits made for the most desirable hearse horses. In the United States, this was a suggested standard:

A more popular hearse-horse is coal-black with no white markings, and he must also have a long, flowing tail. Occasionally they are accepted when slightly marked with white, which is less objectionable on the hind feet than in the face or on the front feet….A hearse requires a horse from 15-3 to 16-1 hands high and weighing 1200 to 1250 pounds. Quarterly Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture, Volume 21, 1909 p. 490 and 512

In England, a matched set of black Drenthe horses from Hanover were employed at royal funerals. For the fashionable society funeral, black Belgian stallions were the ne plus ultra. Some of the cheaper imported stallions lacked the all-important tail-weepers and were provided with false tails:

A queer English custom is that of decorating the black hearse horses with long false black tails. They attract no more notice on a street in Liverpool than do the black nets used in this country to cover the horses. Pierre [SD] Weekly Free Press 16 November 1905: p. 1

The use of nets, as seen in several of the illustrations, seem to have been confined to the Americas. If draped, a European funeral horse would wear a blanket, as we see in these pictures of Russian and Roumanian hearse horses.

Russian hearse with elaborately draped horses, First World War http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205250983

Draped Roumanian hearse horses c. 1920

Rich in detail is this account of the “Black Brigade” of funeral horses in London. I’m particularly amused by the horses being named for current celebrities. It is also fascinating that an influenza epidemic put pressure on the supply of desirable hearse horses.

A sample of the Black Brigade

THE BLACK BRIGADE

A good many of the coal horses are blacks and dark bays, and by some people they are known as ‘the black brigade ‘; but the real black brigade of London’s trade are the horses used for funerals. This funeral business is a strange one in many respects, but, just as the jobmaster is in the background of the every-day working world, so the jobmaster is at the back of the burying world. The ‘funeral furnisher’ is equal to all emergencies on account of the facilities he possesses for hiring to an almost unlimited extent, so long as the death rate is normal. The [funeral] wholesale men, the ‘black masters,’ are always ready to cope with a rate of twenty per thousand —London’s normal is seventeen—but when it rises above that, as it did in the influenza time, the pressure is so great that the ‘blacks’ have to get help from the ‘coloured,’ and the ‘horse of pleasure’ becomes familiar with the cemetery roads.

A hundred years ago there was but one black master in London. He owned all the horses; and there are wonderful stories of the funerals in those days when railways were unknown. The burying of a duke or even a country squire, in the family vault, was then a serious matter, for the body had to be taken the whole distance by road, and the horses were sometimes away for a week or more, and were often worked in relays, much on the same plan as the coach-horses, only that rapid progress through the towns and villages was impossible, for the same reason that no living undertaker dare trot with a tradesman within the limits of the district in which the deceased happens to have been known and respected….

Hearse with Plumes, John Henry Walker, 1850-85 http://www.musee-mccord.qc.ca/en/collection/artifacts/M930.50.7.409

Altogether there are about 700 of these black horses in London. They are all Flemish, and come to us from the flats of Holland and Belgium by way of Rotterdam and Harwich. They are the youngest horses we import, for they reach us when they are rising three years old, and take a year or so before they get into full swing; in fact, they begin work as what we may call the ‘half-timers’ of the London horse-world. When young they cost rather under than over a hundred guineas a pair, but sometimes they get astray among the carriage folk, who pay for them, by mistake of course, about double the money. In about a year or more, when they have got over their sea-sickness and other ailments, and have been trained and acclimatised, they fetch 65£. each; if they do not turn out quite good enough for first-class -work they are cleared out to the second-class men at about twenty-five guineas; if they go to the repository they average 10£; if they go to the knacker’s they average thirty-five shillings, and they generally go there after six years’ work. Most of them are stallions, for Flemish geldings go shabby and brown. They are cheaper now than they were a year or two back, for the ubiquitous American took to buying them in their native land for importation to the States, and thereby sent up the price; but the law of supply and demand came in to check the rise, and some enterprising individual actually took to importing black horses here from the States, and so spoilt the corner.

Three-horse hearse, c. 1895-1898 http://www.historymuseum.ca/collections/artifact/140018/?q=deueil&page_num=2&item_num=2&media_irn=5249990 Canadian Museum of Civilization digitized historical negatives

Here, in the East Road, are about eighty genuine Flemings, housed in capital stables, well built, lofty, light, and well ventilated, all on the ground floor. Over every horse is his name, every horse being named from the celebrity, ancient or modern, most talked about at the time of his purchase, a system which has a somewhat comical side when the horses come to be worked together. Some curious traits of character are revealed among these celebrities as we pay our call at their several stalls. General Booth [founder of the Salvation Army], for instance, is ‘most amiable, and will work with any horse in the stud’; all the Salvationists ‘are doing well,’ except [George Scott] Railton, ‘who is showing too much blood and fire. Last week he had a plume put on his head for the first time, and that upset him.’ [Journalist W.T.]Stead, according to his keeper, is ‘a good horse, a capital horse—showy perhaps, but some people like the showy; he does a lot of work, and fancies he does more than he does. We are trying him with General Booth, but he will soon tire him out, as he has done others. He wouldn’t work with [biologist Thomas Henry] Huxley at any price!’ Curiously enough, Huxley ‘will not work with [physicist John] Tyndall, but gets on capitally with Dr. [philanthropist Thomas John] Barnardo.’ Tyndall, on the other hand, goes well with Dickens,’ but has a decided aversion to Henry Ward Beecher. [Liberal statesman John] Morley works ‘comfortably’ with [Conservative politician & PM Arthur] Balfour, but [Liberal statesman William Vernon] Harcourt and [Irish political leader Michael] Davitt ‘won’t do as a pair anyhow.’ An ideal team seems to consist of [political activist and atheist Charles] Bradlaugh, John Knox, Dr. [Alfred] Adler, and Cardinal [Henry Edward] Manning. But the practice of naming horses after church and chapel dignitaries is being dropped owing to a superstition of the stable. ‘All the horses,’ the horsekeeper says, ‘named after that kind of person go wrong somehow!’ And so we leave Canon [Frederic] Farrar, and Canon [Henry] Liddon, and Dr.[William Morley] Punshon, and John Wesley and other lesser lights, to glance at the empty stalls of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, now ‘out on a job,’ and meet in turn with [celebrity quack doctor] Sequah and [Louis] Pasteur, [hypnotist Franz Anton] Mesmer and [Electrohomeopathy inventor Cesare] Mattei. Then we find ourselves amid a bewildering mixture of poets, politicians, artists, actors, and musicians.

‘Why don’t you sort them out into stables, and have a poet stable, an artist stable, and so on?’

‘They never would stand quiet. The poets would never agree; and as to the politicians—well, you know what politicians are, and these namesakes of theirs are as like them as two peas!’ And so the horses after they are named have to be changed about until they find fit companions, and then everything goes harmoniously. The stud is worked in sections of four; every man has four horses which he looks after and drives; under him being another man, who drives when the horses go out in pairs instead of in the team.

One would think these horses were big, black retriever dogs, to judge by the liking and understanding which spring up between them and their masters. It is astonishing what a lovable, intelligent animal a horse is when he finds he is understood. According to popular report these Flemish stallions are the most vicious and ill-tempered of brutes; but those who keep them and know them are of the very opposite opinion….

There is an old joke about the costermonger’s donkey who looked so miserable because he had been standing for a week between two hearse horses, and had not got over the depression. The reply to this is that the depression is mutual. The ‘black family’ has always to be alone; if a coloured horse is stood in one of the stalls, the rest of the horses in the stable will at once become miserable and fretful. The experiment has been tried over and over again, and always with the same result; and thus it has come – about that in the black master’s yards, the coloured horses used for ordinary draught work are always in a stable by themselves.

1880 hearse

The funeral horse hardly needs description. The breed has been the same for centuries. He stands about sixteen hands, and weighs between 12 and 13 cwt. The weight behind him is not excessive, for the car does not weigh over 17 cwt., and even with a lead coffin he has the lightest load of any of our draught horses. The worst roads he travels are the hilly ones to Highgate, Finchley, and Norwood. These he knows well and does not appreciate. In a few months he gets to recognise all the cemetery roads ‘like a book,’ and after he is out of the bye streets he wants practically no driving, as he goes by himself, taking all the proper corners and making all the proper pauses. This knowledge of the road has its inconveniences, as it is often difficult to get him past the familiar corner when he is out at exercise. But of late he has had exercise enough at work, and during the influenza epidemic was doing his three and four trips a day, and the funerals had to take place not to suit the convenience of the relatives, but the available horse-power of the undertaker. Six days a week he works, for after a long agitation there are now no London funerals on Sundays, except perhaps those of the Jews, for which the horses have their day’s rest in the week.

To feed such a horse costs perhaps two shillings a day—-it is a trifle under that, over the 700—and his food differs from that of any other London horse. In his native Flanders he is fed a good deal upon slops, soups, mashes, and so forth; and as a Scotsman does best on his oatmeal, so the funeral horse, to keep in condition, must have the rye-bread of his youth. Rye-bread, oats, and hay form his mixture, with perhaps a little clover, but not much, for it would not do to heat him, and beans and such things are absolutely forbidden. Every Saturday he has a mash like other horses, but unlike them his mash consists, not of bran alone, but of bran and linseed in equal quantities. What the linseed is for we know not; it may be, as a Life Guardsman suggested to us, to make his hair glossy, that beautiful silky hair which is at once his pride and the reason of his special employment, and the sign of his delicate, sensitive constitution.

The Horse-world of London, William John Gordon, 1893, pp 139-147

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We find equally telling detail in this section from an article on unusual professions. Painting over inconvenient white portions of a funeral horse was widely practiced. An 1875 article tells of undertakers “not stinting with paint or black lead.” A lady observer in 1912 wrote about “dyed horses” in Paris funeral processions.

Vista of funeral horses, man painting out a white fetlock.

The last curious industry deals with funeral horses. Mr. Robert Roe, of Kennington Park Road, has imported these stately animals for upwards of twenty-five years. It seems they come from Friesland and Zeeland, and cost from £40 to £70. There must be about nine hundred funeral horses in London. The average undertaker, however, keeps neither horses nor coaches, but hires these from people like Seaward, of Islington. Mr. Seaward keeps a hundred funeral horses, so that a visit to his stables is an interesting experience.

“It is dangerous,” said one of my informants, “to leave a pair of these black stallions outside public-houses, when returning from a funeral; for these animals fight with great ferocity.” Once, at a very small funeral, the coachman lent a hand with the coffin; but, in his absence, the horses ran amuck among the tombstones, which went down like ninepins in all directions.

A white spot takes a large sum off the value of a funeral horse. In the photo one of Mr. Seaward’s men is painting a horse’s white fetlock with a mixture of lampblack and oil. A white star on the forehead may be covered by the animal’s own foretop.

On the right-hand side in the photo. will be seen hanging a horse’s tail. This is sent to the country with a “composite” horse— a Dutch black, not used for the best funeral work, owing to his lack of tail. He is sold to a country jobmaster, with a separate flowing tail, bought in Holland for a shilling or two. In the daytime, the “composite” horse conducts funerals, the tail fastened on with a strap; but at night he discards it, and gaily takes people to and from the theatres.

Worn-out funeral horses, one is horrified to learn, are shipped back to Holland and Belgium, where they are eaten.

The Strand Magazine, Vol. 13, 1897: p. 202

At least, that was the practice in England; Belgian horses were prized in their native country for their tender meat. In the United States, a hearse horse often retired to green pastures, after a long and useful career. This clever hearse horse had a well-deserved tribute paid to him on his retirement.

KEPT UNDERTAKERS BUSY

Horse Always Stopped at Houses Where Crape Hung on Door.

From the New York Press.

Having reached such a degree of zealousness in behalf of his owner’s business interests that he would stop in front of any house on the front of which symbols of mourning were displayed, Dan, for twenty years a faithful horse for Thomas M. O’Brien, an undertaker of Bayonne, N.J., has been retired on a pension. The undertaker made arrangements with a farmer in Orange county to take good care of Dan for the rest of his life, and to give him decent burial when he dies. Dan was shipped away yesterday. Twice when on the way to the railroad station the horse balked, and it was noticed that each time he balked it was in front of a house with crape hanging on the door. It was not until the driver whispered in Dan’s ear that his boss already had the jobs that the intelligent animal consented to move on.

Dan knows the way to and from every cemetery within 20 miles of Bayonne. Some persons even assert that he knows most of the family plots in those cemeteries. More than once the horse placed O’Brien in an exceedingly embarrassing position by stopping with a hearse in front of houses on which mourning was displayed regardless of whether O’Brien had been retained to have charge of the burial.

One of the stipulations entered into between O’Brien and the Orange county farmer is that Dan must not be compelled to do any work. He must have good oats and timothy hay in winter and, added to that, all the grass he can eat in spring, summer, and fall.

“He’s earned his retirement by twenty years of faithful work,” O’Brien said. “If he were a man instead of a horse, he would have been a partner long before this. He was simply indefatigable in hunting for new business.” The Washington [DC] Post 17 January 1909: p. M10

Shrouded horses with hearse, 1858, advertising Undertakers Massey & Yung, San Francisco

The hearse horse might also serve as an equine memento mori as in this elegiac New England article:

THE OLD HEARSE HORSE

Among the long-standing fixtures of our day are the Hearse-man, the venerable Robert Bell, and his scarcely less venerable old Black Horse, which will be twenty years old next months. For fourteen years the same man and the same horse have been in attendance at almost every funeral that has taken place in our city. For nearly two thousand times have they borne to their resting places the old and the young—the rich and the poor, the learned and the unlettered. There can be seen scarcely a more grave sight than these funereal accompaniments. The old horse though lively and active on other occasions, knows the moment a corpse is put into the hearse, and he will scarcely mind the admonition of a whip to change his speed from walking. His master is growing infirm and the horse is nearly blind—a premonition that all must ere long return to the dust. Portsmouth [NH] Journal of Literature and Politics 12 May 1860: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil is sure that we are all very grateful to the subfusc author for being so relentlessly informative and are pleased to have learned something new to-day about this department of the Victorian funeral industry.

Mrs Daffodil has noticed an unlikely resemblance between the plume-adorned hearse-horses with their dark burdens and beplumed circus horses drawing brilliantly carved and coloured circus wagons at a stately pace. One idly wonders if an aged circus horse ever retired to a career as a hearse-horse or if a black horse of too cheerful a disposition might run away with the circus.

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.

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 Wardrobe Peculiarly Suited to the Bereaved One’s Conditions: 1905

Casting Off the Widow’s Weeds, Henry James Richter, 1823 http://www.wikigallery.org/wiki/painting_231401/Henry-James-Richter/page-1

Mourning Gowns That Harmonize with the Bereaved One’s Complexion and Spirits

The genius of a Washington dressmaker has conceived the idea of specializing for the bereaved. “Widows’ outfits” are the objects of her particular attention, and upon them are brought to bear all her creative power.

“Widows’ outfits” does not appear upon her sign, which is merely a very high sounding name on a small and thoroughly correct name plate that has adorned her front door for a generation past. It is only to the initiated of a very select clientele that she has imparted the information that wardrobe peculiarly suited to the bereaved conditions may be obtained from madam for a consideration.

According to her theory, not only must a widow’s weeds be an expression of her grief, but they must convey in them the depth of it as well as the previous state of happiness or the reverse. For elderly widows who have jogged happily through forty or fifty years of conjugal congeniality she advises lightweight drap d’ ete with heavy crape bands and folds, lightening into black crepe de Chine as time goes by.

In the case of a young woman sincerely mourning a much loved husband, one to whom she was wedded in every sense of the word, there is the “creped becomingness” of the softer fabrics such as chiffon cloth, &c., and her costume generally looks as if she had been dipped to her ears in the blackest ink obtainable. For grief that is genuine and inconsolable madam advises only the softest, sheerest fabrics, as customers are apt to be unmindful of their appearance, and careless of their attire, and the softer the material the better it will stand hard usage. For mourning meant to be worn all day without change for the evening, the clinging stuffs make the best gowns.

In all cases madam thinks it is impossible to have the collar too high, and sometimes, if madam sees fit and they are becoming, two little points, to go up under the ears, are added to the already chokingly high neckband. These are most frequently an adjunct to the collar when there is a tendency toward extreme thinness, as it not only hides the lines in the neck, but adds a something to the face that heightens the woefulness of the moral atmosphere.

For a young and beautiful widow of an old man, “well, youth is youth, and black is a trying thing at best—trying alike to complexion and spirits, and it would be far better if madam’s customer would leave the matter to her judgment, for you know madam has been long in the business, and well, you know white crepe is just as much mourning as the most unrelieved black, when it comes to that, and besides, the French always give a suggestion of it to their deepest mourning.”

For this gown madam makes a tentative suggestion as to the advisability of a lightening effect produced by a tiny vest of white crape, “which will relieve the severity of the dead black, which is apt to make even the fairest look a wee bit sallow.”

As soon as the bereaved one begins to make a more active interest in her fellow man and commences to realize that “grief is a selfish thing, and that every one owes it to society to take up one’s duties in it again,” madam sets her uncommon wits to work and provides her with gowns that, as an indication of her mental state, are quite as adequate as a sworn statement.

There are street clothes that express to a thought the degree of mourning, walking gowns of varying depths of woe, afternoon toilets of chiffon cloth, crepe de chine, and dull taffetas, each displaying in its cut and trimming a pleasing melancholy, while into matinees is allowed to creep a suspicion, and that the barest, of frivolity, in the shape of ruffles of mousseline plisse.

A dinner gown is, of course, included among these. It is but slightly décolleté, just sufficiently so to give the necessary air of smartness to the gown to make it suitable for the occasion, and “prevent one from being so gloomy looking as to affect the enjoyment of the assemblage.”

“The sleeves? Well that is entirely a question of—are madam’s arms plump? No? Then perhaps it would be better that the sleeves be to the elbow that is always—Oh, madam’s wrists are large? Well, as madam was saying short sleeves are a little uncomfortable at a dinner, and elbow sleeves are sometimes trying even to the prettiest arms, so possibly it would be wisest to make one of those half-concealing, half-revealing sleeves that madam thought so charming on that gown she saw yesterday.”

“Then the skirt! Could anything be straighter than its lines? Not unless carved from ebony, and then only in reality, not in effect. Severe simplicity in its most exaggerated form is the keynote of this frock that breaks the ice after the period of seclusion from the world and its frivolities, and then comes the next step in what madam considers the right direction. This is signaled by a gown all white, like a debutante’s, but what a difference! This gown is equally suitable for dinner or dance.

Does madam trim black gowns with violet, and violet gowns with black? Does she make a dark gray silk for church and a light gray for parties? Heaven forbid! Madam is an artiste. The second mourning of her clients is composed of dark violet, untrimmed; light violet, also untrimmed; soft grays without a touch of either black or white, and creamy white gowns galore. With each gown for the street madam insists that a hat of exactly the same color be worn, with absolutely no hint of contrast. When the time comes for the final doffing of all that pertains to woe in the shape of clothes, madam strongly advises that one take the plunge boldly and at once, making the change as decided as is possible.

The Washington [DC] Post 29 October 1905: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is somewhat appalled at the suggestion that a widow coming out of mourning is like a “debutante.” Still, there are reports of ladies who took the piquant idea to heart.  Here is an excerpt from The Victorian Book of the Dead to illustrate the concept:

Some widows made their coming out of mourning tantamount to a debut, complete with a new wardrobe.

AN AMERICAN’S FAD

A Fanciful Widow Who Celebrated Her Abandonment of Mourning

English newspapers and magazine paragraphers who delight to select and repeat for their innocent auditors all the curious fads and caprices of fashionable American women will doubtless remark with grave wonder on one of the last and most absurd arrangements in dinners lately given by a New York woman who is a lover of harmonies. Two years ago she suffered the loss of her husband.

After many months of travel abroad she returned home this autumn with boxes of exquisite creations of silver grays, violet, lavender and heliotrope, fresh from the hands of French modistes. After receiving many attentions from home friends, she decided to give what she chose to call “a going out of mourning dinner.” Her idea was carried out to the last detail, and the whole filled her guests with amusement and surprise. Her gown was a superb combination of silk, velvet and chiffon, running through every tint of violet, lavender and heliotrope, and lavishly ornamented with jet and black lace. Her ornaments were black pearls and enamelled violets.

The dining table was laid with a white cloth overspread with a scarf and central square of white silk, and lines embroidered heavily in the delicate gray stems and lavender flowers of wisteria. Violets, heliotrope, and lilies-of-the-valley were the flowers used in decorating the table and for the men’s boutonnieres. The candles, in silver candelabra, were of violet-tinted wax, with violet silk shades. The opalescent glass glowed with tints of violet and lavender, sugared violets were the only bonbons on the table, and great bunches of violets tied with violet satin streamers were attached to the right-hand side of the back of every woman’s chair.

Wheeling [WV] Register 25 December 1891: p. 4

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 Mourning Droop: 1931

vogue-vol-59-widow-garden-dress

A MOURNING DROOP

A pretty mannequin who appeared in a Berlin Court to sue her employers for wrongful dismissal saw her case turn out happily, says the “Daily Mail.”

It was admitted that she was a great success in the mourning department of the establishment in which she was employed, but it was alleged that she was an utter failure when transferred to the frivolous department for evening frocks.

“It is difficult to wear evening gowns in the daytime successfully if one is dancing all night in an evening frock,” was her reply.

The manager dismissed her as a pleasure-loving trifler.

“The truth is, I have sacrificed myself for the business,” she said to the Judge.

“When I began in the mourning department, the manager told me that I killed the dresses with my cheerful face and merry expression, and suggested that if I danced half the night I should have an appropriately weary expression.

“I took him at his word and had a wonderful time night after night, with the result that I was almost dropping with fatigue during the day.

“I drooped so beautifully that people bought freely the expensive Paris models which I wore.”

The Judge thought over this singular story.

“I suggest,” he said to the manager, “that you take this young woman back and put her again, in the mourning department.”

The manager consented, and the pretty mannequin looked delighted at the prospect of dancing gaily all night and drooping plaintively in black gowns all day.”

Evening Post, 28 February 1931: p. 22

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil suspects that the pretty mannequin shortly danced her last dance and drooped her last droop unless she was able to carved out some time for wholesome slumber.

Selling mourning goods required sympathy, tact, and a fine sense of propriety to appeal to the vanity of the bereaved who were supposed to just then be thinking that “all is vanity.” It was essential to find a shop-girl with exactly the right temperament to serve in the mourning department: not so lively that the bereft were disheartened; not so melancholy that they despaired of purchasing

In another store in Fifth Avenue a handsome girl had been saleswoman in the fancy lace section for two years. Her record was admirable until she was transferred to the mourning counter early in the third year. The sales at the mourning counter immediately fell off and the manager started an investigation.

Going down the aisle one morning he noticed this girl with a customer. The customer was robed in deep black and was evidently depending on the girl to sustain her interest in the goods she needed, but the girl was answering inquiries in an absolutely perfunctory manner, with her eyes glued to a bargain table in the next aisle where a sale of laces was advertised. At a question sharply put by her customer she turned her attention to her own counter, and the manager caught the look of distaste and hatred which she flung upon the black things which surrounded her.

This girl disliked mourning, sorrow, death and all things connected with them. She had never known any particular trouble, had a desire for the gay bright colors and things of life, and refused to consider anything but her own needs. She had no sympathy with the black robed mourners who came to her. The manager, being a far-sighted mortal, saw this and realized the girl’s capacities in another branch. He put her at the colored goods counter and sales looked up. 

Crerand’s Cloak Journal, October 1912: p. 166

You will find more information on mourning costumes and customs 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.

 

She Wanted to Be a Widow: 1889

 

She Made a Pretty Widow, c. 1890

She Made a Pretty Widow, c. 1890

Perhaps the queerest of tales is that of a young lady who had just attained her majority, and with it the unrestricted control of 100,000 dollars. This young lady’s sole desire was to become a widow. Weeds are so becoming. What is so interesting as a young bewitching widow, with a handsome fortune? Accordingly, to obtain the desirable result, she engaged the services of the real estate agent who managed her property to procure an accommodating moribund husband. The agent set to work, and, with the aid of a friendly physician (every apothecary and sawbones is a physician here), a suitable subject was found in the person of a destitute printer, who was supposed to be dying of whisky and consumption.

After a little inducement the dying man consented, knowing that he was on the verge of the grave, the prospect of being decently buried overcoming any repugnance he might have felt at such an unnatural wooing, and by his orders the fair would-be widow was asked to name the day. Thereupon the next day there was presented at the bed of the bridegroom the bride and a widowed friend, the dying man’s mother, the real estate agent, the doctor, and a Justice of the Peace. The blushing bride having satisfied herself that the man she was about to take for better or worse “would soon be where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest,” shyly consented to be united according to the Statute in such cases made and provided by the accommodating Justice, and without bestowing another look on her newly-acquired husband, the fair bride left the room, having left sufficient coin of the Republic to pay the present living expenses and the future funeral charges, which she fondly hoped would be at early date.

Time passed, however, and still the bride remained a wife, and not a widow, and days merged into weeks and weeks into months, and the lady was reminded of the existence of a husband by the frequent demands on her purse. At last, her patience being exhausted, she determined to visit her husband to ask him why he persisted in living, and when he intended to be ready to be measured for his coffin. With that intent she proceeded to take the train for ‘Frisco, her residence being Oakland, and just as she was stepping into the carriage, someone stepped in front of her with outstretched arms, and said, “Frankie, my darling, I have found you at last.” Frankie (the lady) took a good look at the speaker; it was her husband. She was too cool to faint that, of course, goes without saving, but her voice, husky with emotion, trembled as she said, “What, not dead yet”

“No,” replied her husband, “I have quite recovered. They told me they did not know your address.”

You can imagine the fair one’s feelings. After a stormy interview and a refusal by the husband of a substantial sum to permit a divorce, a compromise was affected, whereby the lady was to furnish so much a month to the husband for his needs, —meaning whisky, of course—and after two or three months of unlimited quantities of the aforesaid needs, death claimed the victim who had so nearly escaped him. And the fair widow furnished with unbecoming cheerfulness the necessary funds to inter her dear departed and now, the object of her life being attained, she is turning the heads of all young eligible men with her ravishing widow’s weeds. But enough of this. I know your readers will say I have been romancing, but I can assure them that the lady is now residing in Oakland, and has taken no steps whatever to contradict the story on the contrary, she is quite proud of her exploit. Funny taste, is it not?

Waikato Times, 14 September 1889: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is rare to find a young woman (particularly one in possession of such a large fortune) who knows her own mind so well. Not for her the siren-song of young and handsome. It is not entirely dissimilar to those young persons, poor in worldly goods, but bountifully equipped with feminine charms, who calculatingly marry elderly millionaires, although in those cases, the young persons crave the money rather than the weeds.  One must admire the young lady’s coolness, if not her kindly heart.

The bewitching widow was something of a cliché in popular mortuary literature:

We could hardly conceive how it was possible the head could think of the fashion of a bonnet if the heart were breaking, We for a long time supposed that the matter lay entirely with the milliner, but we were undeceived once by having to carry a mourning bonnet back, intended for a young and pretty widow, because it was not becoming, and another, as the funeral did not occur for two days thereafter, was forthwith made that suited to a charm. The Spirit Messenger, R.P. Ambler, Editor, 14 June 1851: p 361

and

It is in questionable taste for a young and pretty widow to wear her mourning after she has become reconciled to the death of her first husband and is quite willing to marry a second. A widow still wearing her weeds, and at the same time carrying on an animated flirtation with some new admirer, is a sight to make the gods weep…To angle for a second husband with the weeds worn for the first, because they are becoming, is a thing that should be forbidden by law. Social Customs, Florence Howe Hall, (Boston: Dana Estes & Co., 1911)

For more on mourning customs and bewitching widows, see The Victorian Book of the Dead, as well as this story, “The Widow’s Baby,” and “The Mourner a la mode,” a satirical poem about a fashionable widow.

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 Fatal Envelope: 1904

viewing corpse in coffin The Spectre of the Hall, author of Varney the Vampire 1848

DEATH SCENE IN PLACE OF MONEY

Waiting Wife Across Sea to Get Picture of Husband in Coffin.

Friends in the New World Were Kinder Than Fortune.

A picture of her husband lying in his coffin will be received by the wife of Peter Weber of No. 89 1-2 Davenport street, in faraway Germany, instead of a long expected epistle containing money which would bring her to him. The photograph was taken yesterday in the rooms of a local undertaking establishment and will be forwarded to the wife.

The story of Weber is one of expectations which death with a relentless hand destroyed. Five months ago he came to this country, after vainly toiling for success in his native land. He had by economy gathered together sufficient funds to pay his expenses, but scrape as he would, eh could not gather sufficient to bring his faithful wife with him. At last she told him to go to the land of promise alone, and said that she would follow when he was able to send for her.

Weber came alone on his journey, he forfeited all his pleasure, and bought nothing but the sheer necessities of life. Each economy which Weber practiced instead of a hardship was a delight to him.

One day, his journey over, he reached Cleveland, and set about finding work at his trade of furrier. But the long journey and the few hours of relaxation had told upon Weber. The next morning when he attempted to rise from his bed, he fell back. The strange weakness which had seized him during the past few days, had him securely in its grasp. He was taken to lakeside hospital where the physicians diagnosed his illness as a severe attack of typhoid fever.

Repeatedly in his delirious moments, he raved of the sorrow which would come to his wife if he died and he spoke of the happy future which he had planned. But the end came Tuesday.

A few foreigners, little known to Weber, heard of the illness and had sent him to the hospital at their own expense, they too met the expenses of his funeral. A modest casket was purchased and the preparations completed for a simple burial. They also decided to send a picture of the casket, the flowers and her husband to Mrs. Weber. Yesterday a photographer was hired to go to the undertaking rooms.

The top of the casket was opened, the flowers placed at the foot and the friends gathered about the coffin. A flashlight was lit. The coffin was again closed and the photographer and the friends took their departure.

Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 7 April 1904: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Photographing the dead was, of course, a common practice in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  It was a chance for one last look at the loved one; a chance to “secure the shadow, ere the substance fade.”

Mrs Daffodil understands the thoughtful impulse of Weber’s friends to show the bereaved wife that her husband did not die alone and friendless in a strange land. It was, no doubt, kindly meant. But Mrs Daffodil would not care to have been at the widow’s side when she opened the fatal envelope.

More on post-mortem photography may be found 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.

 

 

Dressing the Hair of the Dead: 1888

dressing the hair The manual on Barbering 1906

DRESSING THE HAIR OF THE DEAD.

A Professional Talks About Her Uncanny Occupation.

‘I was only 12 years old,’ said a prominent lady hair-dresser of this city, ‘when I was called on by the friends of an old lady who had died to come and dress her hair.’

‘And did you go?’

‘No; I ran and hid myself under a bed and stayed there a whole afternoon. Although I loved her and had often dressed her hair when she was alive, I could not bear the idea of doing it after death. But I have done many heads since for dead persons, and, while I do not like it, I have a professional pride in making them look well for the last time.’

‘It must be very distasteful to you.’ ‘

‘Not always. It comes in the way of my business, and naturally my employees shrink from going. Sometimes we have a call through the telephone to come to such a number and dress a lady’s hair. One of the young ladies will be sent with curling irons, pomades, hair-pins and other things, only to find that the lady is a corpse. The girl will not nor cannot undertake it, and I go myself. There is only the front hair to crimp and arrange becomingly. One day last week I dressed Mrs __’s hair for the last time. She was young and very pretty, and looked as if asleep. The hair does not die, so that it is easily arranged. When it is a wig or crimped I have it sent to the store, and when it is dressed, take it to the house and put it on. Let me tell you something that happened lately. A lady died in this city who wore a grey wig. I dressed it and put it on. You can just think how surprised I was when, a couple of weeks later, a member of the family came in here and tried to sell it to me. She said they had taken it off just before the casket was closed for the last time.’

‘And did you buy it?’

‘Buy it? Certainly not. It is not very long since a man came in and offered me a number of switches of different shades and colour. I would not buy them, and sent for a policeman, as I thought he had probably stolen them. But as it turned out, they came from an undertaker’s and were the unclaimed property of strangers who had been given pauper burial.’

‘Is it customary to dress the hair of the dead?’

‘It is. I have some customers who have exacted a solemn promise from me that I will dress their hair when they die and make it look natural and becoming. I have even been sent for by those who had only a few hours to live and taken my instructions from their dying lips.’

‘Is the process the same as with the living?’

‘Just the same, except that I do not arrange the back hair in all cases. But sometimes the hair is dressed entirely, just as it would be for an evening party. And I frequently furnish new switches, crimps, or bangs, at the request of relatives who want no pains spared.’

‘And are you not afraid?’

Madame shrugged her handsome shoulders.

‘It is a lonesome task,’ she said, ‘and it certainly does make me nervous. Once the corpse opened her eyes and looked at me as a lady who was holding a lamp went out of the room in a moment, leaving me with a lock of hair in the crimping-pins. A gust of wind blew the door after her, and I was in the dark alone with the dead women. I think if she had not opened the door just at the moment she did I should have fallen insensible,’—

Detroit [MI] Free Press 1 January 1888: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil does not have a high opinion of either the intelligence or the moral scruples of the repellant relatives who offered to sell the dead lady’s wig to the hairdresser. They might at least have dyed it so that it was less recognizable, or, more sensibly, taken it to a different coiffeuse, if they needed to offset funeral expenses.

Wigs and chignons for the living were, however, often made of what was termed “dead hair,” or hair cut from corpses. These corpses might be unfortunates from the Workhouse or paupers destined for Potter’s Field; working girls of the streets, murderers or their victims.  If not a black market, it was certainly sub-fusc.  Medical men issued stern warnings about the diseases and insects that might be found in “dead hair,” and argued for prohibiting any hair except that from the living in hair-pieces. These warnings were widely ignored. In 1911, for example, hair from Chinese who died in the Manchurian plague, was being imported by Germany and England without so much as a murmur from the trade authorities.

For more mortuary professions for ladies, please see this link, and this, about a lady undertaker. You will find more information on the popular and material culture of Victorian mourning in The Victorian Book of the Dead, by Chris Woodyard and under the “Mourning” tab on this blog.

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.

 

Such a Very Little Coffin: 1901

A mourning card for three children.

A mourning card for three children.

“JACKY”

[Pall Mall Gazette.]

“Yes, Miss, I’m glad the Society can send me and Baby to the ‘Ome for a bit; but won’t you walk upstairs?”

So spoke Mrs Hunt, a sad-looking young woman with a quiet voice, to the girl standing beside her, and they began to toil up the many stairs of a model lodging-house. At last Mrs Hunt stopped at one of the doors, but before turning the handle she hesitated a moment and said, “You know I lost my Jacky yesterday. You won’t mind, will you?” And then she led the way into the dingy little top back room.

The girl glanced around almost nervously, for this was one of life’s realities that she had never met before; but there was nothing alarming in the sight of the little coffin resting on two chairs. Yet, somehow it made her feel strange, perhaps because it was such a very little coffin. Mrs. Hunt, however, did not seem to notice the addition to her furniture, for she asked abruptly, “Will they want me to take slippers to the “Ome, for I ‘aven’t got none,” and her voice was quite composed, though a trifle dull and hard. So the girl pulled herself together and a serious discussion followed as to the advisability of buying cheap shoes in the Edgware Road, or of getting a second-hand pair “off a friend.”

But all the while that she was speaking, the girl could not keep her eyes from wandering every now and then towards that other corner of the room, and suddenly she began to realise with astonishment that the coffin, though small, was made of polished oak with silver-plated fittings, and it rested on small black draperies. And then the girl remembered that she had seen a baby downstairs decked out in crape and black ribbons, and she knew that this must be Jacky’s baby sister. How could this mother be so very foolish? For Mrs Hunt was a widow, who supported herself and her little ones by doing mangling. If she worked all day and the greater part of the night she could not hope to earn more than eight or nine shillings a week. And yet she could afford to indulge in high-class funerals.

And as the girl thought on these things her heart hardened, and she deemed it her duty to give the woman a few words of advice on the subject of her extravagance. But the words would not come. For somehow that inconvenient little lump in her throat would return when she thought of this woman’s desire to honour her dead even at the cost of starving. She could almost hear her say, “Has my little boy had so many luxuries that you grudge him a decent burial?” And the girl could not speak.

Now, when she had turned to go, and had even laid her hand on the door, Mrs Hunt said suddenly, almost harshly, “Perhaps you’d like to see ’im.” And before the girl could reply, the lid of the coffin was drawn back.

What! Was that still little form that white face, almost terrible in its loveliness—was that the noisy, dirty imp she had seen not many days before? I seemed incredible. She remembered in wonder that she had tried to bring herself to kiss the face that had been almost repulsive in its filth and ugliness; and had tried and had failed. And now she would fain have knelt and have pressed her lips to the little white hand, humbly, reverently, as to something sacred. She would not dare now to touch the face that she had turned from in disgust; it looked so white, so pure, he would have feared to defile it. “Defile!” Yes, that was the word that kept beating itself on the girl’s brain as she stood there looking down. “Undefiled, undefiled, a little child undefiled.”

And where were now her sapient remarks as to the desirability of cheap funerals for the poor? Gone, utterly gone. She was indeed stricken dumb and stood there silently gazing, her eyes wet with tears. And at last, as many before her have done when the feelings of their littleness is borne home to them, she unconsciously used the words of another: words, old indeed, but true for all time, for all men—

“For of such is the kingdom of Heaven.”

But some one heard her. There was a sudden sob, a sound as of the breaking of an ice of distrust and despair, and the mother turned away, her shoulders heaving, her face buried in her apron; and a cry rang out, an exceedingly bitter cry:

“Oh, I wants ‘im! ‘E weren’t much to nobody but me, but I loved ‘im an’ I wants ‘im!”

And this is how it came to pass that the inquiry officer of a certain society failed in her important duty of advocating thrift and economy among the London poor.

Star, 26 January 1901: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: One likely possibility that the young inquiry officer did not consider is that many of London’s poor subscribed to Burial Societies. In the 1840s there were over one hundred Burial Societies in London alone. A small sum paid weekly–from a half-penny to a penny and three half-pence and twopence in 1844–ensured that the all-important decent funeral would be within reach.  The pauper funeral held as much horror for the Victorian poor as the Workhouse and was to be avoided at all cost.

It was found in 1907 that eighty-three per cent of all English decedents carried insurance. The authors of that study added severely, “It would seem that the insurance policy lure prompts to funeral extravagance, and that the pitiless extortions consequently exacted from the poor by a certain class of undertakers aggravates needlessly the anguish of the bereaved, and calls for indignant protest from the public upon whom, in some instances, the victims immediately thereafter become a charge.” Preventable Death in Cotton Manufacturing Industry, Arthur Reed Perry, 1919

For more information on the popular culture of Victorian mourning and death, Mrs Daffodil recommends The Victorian Book of the Dead, by Chris Woodyard, also available for something called a Kindle.  Mrs Daffodil understands the principle of paper-making using wood-pulp, but fails to see where kindling comes into 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.