Tag Archives: Victorian funeral flowers

“No Flowers”: 1891

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

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


But You Can’t Defeat an Enterprising Florist

[Chicago Mail.]

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

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

“No flowers,” sententiously answered the proprietor.

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


“Do so frequently?”

“Every day.”

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

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

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

“’You can not come in.’

“’We must.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Saturday Snippets 11 May 2013 Mother’s Day Week-end Edition

A floral post-mortem photograph for someone's dear Mama.

A floral post-mortem photograph for someone’s dear Mama.

A selection of items on motherhood and babies in honour of the Mother’s Day Week-end.

“This baby will kill us all,” was the exclamation of a young mother, as she vainly tried to quiet the screams of her six weeks old son. And then came the question, “What do you do when a baby just cries incessantly? My nurse is sleeping now, for she was awake the entire night. Mamma is also completely exhausted, as night before last she volunteered to take charge of him, so as to give nurse and myself opportunity to sleep; and she told me for a fact she was unable to close her eyes until after five o’clock this morning. He is no better during the day. We three are busy our entire time, walking, jolting, rocking, feeding. One takes care of him until she is worn out, and the next, most rested, takes him, and as soon as my husband comes home, he takes his turn; even papa, with his gray hairs and mature age, has become baby tender, and does his best to rest our arms and see what his powers may be to soothe him. But it seems all to no purpose. This baby cries on and on, and is killing himself and killing us all. Hear him now. What do you suppose causes such constant cries? and what would you do to quiet him?”

“I would give him a little catnip tea,” was the calm response.

“We tried that, and it kept him still just one-half hour. To be sure, that was some relief, but there must be a cause.”

“Yes, I think the cause is colic pains. A little wind is probably swallowed with his food, and before this wind is gotten rid of more follows, and thus the poor child is in constant agony. I do not believe that crying causes wind, but wind causes crying, and the indigestion which precedes may be the cause of both. And not only is crying extremely wearisome, both to mother and child, but in the case of male children it is more or less injurious, owing to the peculiarities of the groin canals. Sometimes a teaspoonful of sweetened aniseed tea will start the wind, and soon this will be followed by complete relief. It is a simple remedy, and you need not fear any ill consequence arising from it. Or try a little sweetened gin and water, not too strong, or the child will strangle.”

“Well, I’ll give him that now,” said the mother.

She gave it to him, and in less than fifteen minutes the tired child was in a sound, healthful sleep, which, she afterwards told me, he did not awake from for four hours. Godey’s Lady’s Book, August 1890  [One immediately thinks of Edward Gorey’s unfortunate Zillah, who drank too much gin.]

THE EUREKA DIAPER.— This simple invention we desire to call attention to from the fact that it is, in our opinion, one that is going to create a revolution in the nursery. It is an article that will be of great benefit to those mothers and nurses who wish to pay proper attention to a child’s health. One of the causes that make a crying child is the use of pins in fastening its covering. Now, this article not only does away with the use of pins, but it protects the bedding and clothing. It is highly recommended by physicians. Sold by all the principal dry-goods stores in the United States. Godey’s Lady’s Book October, 1870 

Students of Dr. Moses M. Pallen, a member of an old Virginia family, who came to St. Louis in 1842, were given an impression of professional obligation which was far more than scientific. Dr. Pallen held the professorship of obstetrics for more than twenty years. He taught thousands of students “that the doctor when at the bedside of the woman in labor almost meets his God, and that duty, the stern daughter of God, must be evoked every moment and hour in her travail. Give your strength to the laboring mother. Fill her with hope: it may be light diet but it will be very stimulating; it awakens courage. If the doctor ever is at the service of any one he must be at the absolute service of the lying-in woman. Be thoughtful of her in her agony of pain. Encouragement is everything. It well becomes God’s most exalted creature. To relieve distress is not only human but it is Godlike; and thrice blessed is that man who relieves a single maternal pain.” That was the character of Dr. Pallen’s teaching as one of his pupils. Dr. Warren B. Outten, described it long years after his own graduation. ST. LOUIS: The Fourth City 1764-1909, Walter B. Stevens, 1909  

Mrs. J.B. McCrum, residing at Kalamazoo, Mich., is the mother of twins so small that they are a marvel of humanity, putting in the shade all stories of Lilliputians ever heard of. One is a boy and the other is a girl, and weigh, together, three pounds and four ounces. They are perfect, and seem to be in good health. Their bed is a little paper box, filled with cotton, and they are dressed in dolls’ clothes. The mother and children were doing well at last accounts. These twins are the smallest living children ever heard of. They take food naturally, and make a noise like very young kittens. A teacup will cover the head of either. Their hands are about the size of the bowl of a teaspoon, and their bodies less than six inches long— the boy a trifle the larger. Godey’s Lady’s Book, April 1874

Latest Fashion in Clothes and Children.

The small woman who fervently prayed that there might be no “best clothes” in heaven certainly ought not to be unhappy now, for even the best clothes are simple, and are made so that she can move and be happy in them. Silks, satins, laces and flummery on children are only evidences of the folly of their mothers, for the wisest and wealthiest women dress their children in the simplest and plainest manner. You see, babies who quote Shakespeare at five, or who are looking for microbes at seven, are counted bad form, while those who dig in the sands for precious stones, or build houses that are washed away by the incoming waves, are the ones who are going to be healthy and wise. New York Sun. Repository [Canton, OH] 5 June 1891: p. 3  [plus ça change….]

Strange Occurrence At A Funeral.-— One of the strangest occurrences happened at the funeral of Michael Guthrie, who was accidentally killed the day previous on the Northwestern Railway, which we have ever been called upon to chronicle. The family of Mr. Guthrie, consisting of a wife and three children, had made extensive arrangements for the accommodation of the friends of the deceased at the funeral. A large number of carriages and a numerous assembly of mourners were present when the undertaker, Mr. Berry, arrived with the hearse. About the same time another carriage, containing a woman richly and fashionably dressed, was driven to the door. The woman alighted, and entered the house. To the astonishment of the assembly, to all of whom she was a total stranger, she greeted the children of Guthrie as her own, and they in turn addressed her as their mother, manifesting the greatest joy, mingled with surprise, at seeing her. The wife, on the other hand, was confounded. She knew not what to say or what to think of this sudden and strange appearance of one who claimed also to be the wife of the deceased and who was addressed by his children as their mother. She knew herself to be their stepmother, having been married to their father in due legal form and in the full confidence that his first wife was dead. This supposition being now overthrown by the sudden appearance of one claiming to be that deceased wife, the other wife began to upbraid the children for not telling her that their mother was living. The real mother (for such the stranger was) assured her that the children were not to blame, as they, as well as their father, had reason to believe her dead. She had deserted her husband in the city of St. Louis, where they lived, and shortly afterwards caused an announcement of her death to be published in the newspapers of that city. But she was not dead. Leaving St. Louis, she had lived in Chicago, not knowing that her husband was here until she saw the account of his death published in the papers yesterday morning. She had come to reclaim her children, and to behold for the last time on earth the form of their father.—Chicago Times. Francis Vincent Semi Annual Register 1860, January 12 

Baby’s Tooth Set in a Ring.

Among the most exclusive of New York’s smart young matrons it is at present quite the proper thing to wear a ring fashioned as indicated in the above headline. The woman who first wore on these mysterious rings told all about it the other day to a girl friend, who was admiring it and wanted to copy it. She said:

“Why the little white stone wouldn’t be considered a gem to any one but me. It is only one of my baby girl’s pearly white teeth. She knocked out a little front tooth not long ago, and, as it was too precious for me to throw away, I took it to my jeweler and asked him if it couldn’t be set in a ring. And here is the result. I told him to surmount the tooth with diamonds and turquoises, alternating with one another, as I think just the touch of blue adds much to the beauty of the ring. The baby tooth encircled with diamonds looks too white. A number of my friends who have copied my idea have taken one of their baby’s teeth to the jeweler’s and had it surrounded with the child’s birth stones.”  Trenton [NJ] Evening Times 9 April 1899: p. 7


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.