Tag Archives: Victorian funerals

The Rival Undertakers: 1900

undertaker benjamin lopez and hearse key west 1900

Undertaker Benjamin Lopez and hearse, c. 1900 https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/36152

THE RIVAL UNDERTAKERS.

In the doorway of his office stood old Job Graves. A funeral procession passed. It was a funeral of Job’s; not “Job’s funeral,” mark you, but A funeral of Job’s;” one of many which had fallen to his charge; for Job was an undertaker. Over the doorway was his weather-beaten sign, in dingy white paint; on the large front window was inscribed “Coffin Warerooms;” and within the window lay a funeral wreath of wax flowers, a silver coffin-plate, and a little white coffin, — Hope and Despair in one pathetic group.

Job stood in the doorway, and his thin body scarcely filled his threadbare coat. He leaned against the door-post, absently took off his rusty silk hat, and slowly wiped, first, his thin white face, and then his bald shiny head, with his red handkerchief. The face was worn, bleak, with tufts of white beard scattered among the hollows and under the shrunken jaw, like patches of snow among the hollows of a wind-swept wintry hillside.

stereoview hearse

Job’s gaze rested upon the old hearse,— his hearse, and the black horses, — his horses, and the black-garbed driver, — his assistant; the whole equipment, so to speak, the work of his hands; it seemed good in his sight; and a feeble sense of joy in its ownership struggled faintly with the habitual melancholy of the undertaker’s heart.

A slight elevation of the hearse-driver’s eyebrows asked of Job,  “Is all as it should be?” And the master’s answering nod returned approval. Then Job’s thin frame straightened a little, his right hand paused with red handkerchief in air, and a slight frown gathered on his pale face; for he beheld, across the street, through the gaps in the passing carriages, two other men standing in a doorway. They also were viewing the procession, and critically; over that doorway was the sign, in bright gold letters, “Daver, Funeral Director;” on the half drawn olive shade of the broad window was the same legend, adorned with many scrolls and flutings. Within the window rested a large silver plate, reading, in delicate script, “C. A. Daver & Co., Funeral Directors.” Nothing more; no suggestive signs of the craft, no symbols of mortality. Rather a scrupulous simplicity; almost an admonitory simplicity; as one should say, “Look over there, at those barbaric emblems of woe, and then behold the refined taste, the chaste quality, of this ‘establishment.'”

That is what Daver & Co. maintained, an “Establishment;” old Job Graves was only a plain “Undertaker,” and had “Coffin Warerooms;” Daver and Co. were “Funeral Directors,” and maintained an “Establishment for Funeral Furnishings.”

There stood Daver, himself, in the doorway, with his assistant beside him. A short stout man he was, with round ruddy face, thin grayish hair and beard, his red good-natured face beaming through the hairy haze like the sun’s disk through a dissolving fog.

Daver’s glance always rested lightly, soothingly on all objects; yet few interesting things escaped his notice; his critical eye now passed over the procession, and over Job Graves; and he said, in a low tone, with a skillful suppression of facial muscles acquired by long experience, and amounting almost to ventriloquism, “That hearse, Jim! What an ark!”

Then the assistant, sharply, “It ought to be burned. I wouldn’t be seen in it for all I’m worth.” As he spoke thus enigmatically, he winked in a facetious way at the driver of the hearse, and the greeting was reciprocated; evidently there were underground sympathies existent, between the two, while outer rivalries were maintained.

“Strange,” continued Daver, reflectively, “how little self-respect and pride people have about such things. It’s hard to elevate the popular taste. Ten years we’ve tried it, here; not much improvement.” Then he yawned, and returned a politic salute to the one timidly offered by a driver on the third carriage. The man had driven for him scores of times, and often for Job Graves, his rival. Daver’s disapproval was limited to the hearse; not an intense antagonism, but a pained disapproval. Daver never antagonized anybody, took the world’s blows on a slanting buckler; but he was very clear as to which prizes he sought.

funeral procession with hearse 1870

His answering salute to the driver could hardly have been sworn to, as such, in a court of law; a slight corrugation of the forehead, passing down into a brief closing of the eyes, and ending in an almost imperceptible sinking of the chin, and it was done, and no outsider the wiser. Then Daver yawned again, and retired, with his assistant, into the office; and Job Graves, with the slightest possible sigh of relief, put on his rusty hat, adjusted the striped cotton neckerchief around his old-fashioned high stock, climbed stiffly into his old chaise at the curbstone, and took up his position at the rear of the procession.

That was Job’s custom, to ride alone, at the end of the line. He had maintained this custom through the funerals of forty years; having inherited it with other customs from his father, undertaker before him. Whereas Daver, with his other “progressive” ideas, had introduced the custom of leading the line; which he did, very grandly, in a luxurious coupe, with gold lettering. This innovation was accomplished gradually, discreetly. The first year the new “Funeral Director” moved up behind the clergyman’s carriage; the next year he pushed up past the clergyman, and followed the hearse; the third year he pushed past the hearse, and led the line, in a very impressive way. This position he had ever since maintained, despite the concerted attempt, in the fourth year, of seven clergymen — one a Doctor of Divinity — to retire him.

It was the ages-long struggle between the New and the Old, this rivalry across the street. Elsewhere it is “hand-work versus steam,” or “Puritan against Cavalier,” or “stratified rock at war with the leaf of a book;” here it was caskets against coffins,” with all that these implied. Always, however, the iron rule is — with occasional exceptions — New conquers, modified by Old. So it was here; and Job saw the evil day afar off — as many a conservative sees it — but held, with might, and largely with conscience, to the old methods, to the accustomed ways.

Job knew nothing of “caskets;” he made “coffins;” made them in that back-shop; his father had made them there, and was buried in one of his own fashioning. So would Job be buried. “Am I better than my fathers?” Many a time, as a child, Job had taken his afternoon nap in a coffin in the back-shop, and nobody harmed, no human life the shorter for it. Years afterward, when his wife died, Job knew that life’s noon had passed. After that day the cemetery seemed different to him; seemed more personally related to him; even attractive. He understood now why people lingered there, after a burial, and resorted there at other times. He bought an iron settee and placed it on his lot, close by his wife’s grave; he might feel like using it.

Then the two boys went; one to lie beside his mother; a boy of ten; diphtheria; Job had a “case” of it, and might have slighted his dread duties; but Job never shirked his “work;” and the boy at home died. The other, a wild lad of eighteen, wandered into the “far country,” to be swallowed up in distance and degradation, and perhaps despair. Then Job selected cedar, and made his own coffin; twilight was about him; darkness would follow; then the coffin would be needed; coffins and darkness come together; best to have all things ready; Job was a “fore-handed” man, the people said.

The two undertakers differed widely, in many ways. They met death weekly, daily; but they met it differently. In Daver’s bluff abounding presence, death seemed minimized–he reduced it to an incident; but mourners found it loom crushingly, after his departure. Whereas Job knew it as a visitation, and his presence counselled patience, submission.

Therefore people who desired “cheerful funerals” — those chimeras — sought Daver’s tactful offices; but sensitive people and those whose fathers and mothers had been buried by Job’s father, turned to Job’s father’s son, in their hour of need, and their hearts’ wounds were touched most gently.

As Job and Daver differed in their attitudes toward the dead, so also they differed in their relations with the living. When coarse careless people made stupid jests about death and the duties of his vocation, Job listened in silence and passed on in pity. Stupidity is piteous. But Daver always laughed louder than the jester, — and hated him in his heart, and grimly wondered when he might be privileged to look at him through a casket-lid.

fancy coffin 1893

Elaborately-trimmed casket, 1893

Daver & Co., Funeral Directors, knew nothing of coffins. They had, however, “A choice line of caskets.” “This way, please,” with bows and smiles, and eager hands rubbed over each other; and you followed master or assistant into the mysterious rear-room, and you chose from “A fine stock, sir! A high grade, madame!” Occasionally, after careful scrutiny of the buyer, and skillful measuring of the degree of his grief, it was — “Extra quality, sir! Anybody using one of these never will use any other as long as he lives.” But that facetious sentence was venturesome; it was forbidden to the assistant, and was rarely indulged in by Daver himself. The main object was that some selection should be made, from the “caskets in plain black, brown, magenta or white;” or from “caskets in plush, black, brown, magenta or white.”

Daver & Co. sold many, of both kinds. Job likewise sold many, of the one simple unvarying pattern which he had learned to make, taught by his father. Before Daver & Co. appeared, Job, by working hard, met the entire demand; after the “Funeral Director’s” coming, trade fell off. Then Job Graves waited patiently; “This is not a business that you can push,” he said. But in a year or two custom increased, up to the old amount, and Job was fairly busy; his products were soon taken; “Supply creates demand;” (an economic law, we are told; — of almost suicidal application, here).

The two undertakers differed widely, in their conduct of funeral services. Job did as his father had done; not because that way was best, but because it was his father’s way. This rule of conduct became more absolute with him each year. Now that wife and sons were gone, he had no future; he had “the imagination of regret, having lost the imagination of hope.” The star of success, before him beckoned no longer; the star of experience, from behind, illumined his sad path. Job had given up the idealism of purpose for his sons; he lived by the idealism of example, from his father. Often he brooded anxiously about that absent lad, but his anxiety was not suspected by others; an undertaker is not supposed to have griefs of his own.

mr sowerberry undertaker

Mr. Sowerberry, the undertaker in Oliver Twist J. Clayton Clarke (“Kyd”) c. 1900 Original watercolour Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/kyd/83.html

In the house of mourning Job came and went silently, unnoticed. At the funeral service he effaced himself, coming forward, at the close, with resolute step and squeaky boots, from some retreat, to state, in a plain sturdy sentence, “There will now be a chance for every one to look at the body.” After this old-fashioned invitation had been accepted, and the general farewell had been taken, the company separated, like a chemical solution, into liquids and solids; liquids, — casual friends, — flowing off homeward; solids, — mourning friends, — remaining. Then Job, reading laboriously through heavy gold-bowed spectacles, like a clerk casting up accounts, called, in a firm tone, the mourners, in fours, from the residuary group, in the order of their grief.

Here there were nice shades of distinction, as in arranging guests at a court-dinner; but Job was not only an undertaker of experience, he was an old resident; he knew all the circles within circles; knew not only how deep each person’s sorrow should be, but about how deep it really was. And he always spoke with such quiet confidence, that even if he sometimes gave a “second cousin on the maternal side” precedence over a “nephew on the paternal side,” he was so convincing, that a listener might sometimes forget his own identity, or even become a trifle confused regarding his own sex.

Daver & Co. discarded many of these “old-fashioned ideas.” They did away with the sombre bunch of crape on the door-bell; and placed there, instead, “floral emblems.” By these, skilfully graduated, were expressed more distinctions than the “seven ages” of Shakespeare. A cluster of white buds, or one of full-blown flowers, — white or yellow, or white and red mixed, — these, tied with ribbons, — white, violet or black, — could become a language of flowers so plain that he who ran might read; (though, of course, he would not run, in passing a house adorned with such a symbol). In addition to the flowers, a few brown autumn leaves were considered significant; or a wisp of brown grass was added; this last symbolized the “bearded grain” of the poet.

During the funeral service itself Daver & Co. were very much in evidence, either master or assistant; on important occasions, — great crises of the profession, so to speak, — both were present; very much so; active, cheerful, inspiring all with confidence. And whereas Job Graves humbly wore around his stock a kerchief with a little “color,” in deference to the “parson,” Daver & Co. boldly wore immaculate white ties; and, with their faultless black clothes, might be easily mistaken for clergymen; thus the service often took on the high quality of a solemn festival.

But Daver and his assistant were not clergymen; Daver had no foolish deference for “the cloth.” During a funeral service he tried, visibly, even conspicuously, to be patient with the readings and prayers; it was customary to have these; therefore he must acquiesce; and, always smiling, he utilized the time in scanning the faces of the people present, to detect signs of physical weakening, and, possibly, of mortal disease. Such people, — or, better, their near relatives, — he afterward spoke to with especial consideration.

After “the church” had been tolerated for a half-hour, the great moment arrived; the moment which — Daver knew — alone justified this coming together; and the skilful man’s heart beat high with pride as he stood by the casket and offered for inspection the unequalled quality of his “work,” a triumph of funereal art.

Sometimes a family was strangely unappreciative; gave orders to keep the casket closed. Then you should have seen the “Funeral Director.” Then, only, did his unvarying “immortelle” smile vanish. “Do I understand, my dear sir,” (in a measured, circumflex tone), “that the casket is to remain closed?”

“Yes.”

“Very good, sir! It shall so be, sir.” And no human ear, however keen, could detect that pity and scorn in his voice, which the Omniscient One knew was in his heart.

Thus Daver & Co., zealous, in season and out of season, grew and prospered. They had now become the “City Undertakers;” and their doings were often chronicled in the papers. “How did they become the City Undertakers?” Who knows? This is an age of wires; both “overhead” and “underground.” However, everybody now knew of their existence, — half the problem of financial success solved — and, in the haste of sudden affliction, recalled the name.

Then, too, there were the little gifts — bookmarks, paper-cutters, paper-weights — which many of the physicians found on their desks; Christmas presents, New Year’s Greetings, with “compliments of Daver & Co.”

“Capital fellow, Daver!” And the doctor “remembered” Daver — “the next time.” “People do lean so on the family doctor.”

So Daver & Co. increased in favor and prospered; and still sturdy old Job Graves said, again and again, as he drove his plane, or plied his sandpaper, or wielded his shears, “A business that you can’t push! You can’t push it, as you can other kinds of business.”

Everybody knows that undertakers are hard-hearted, soulless. Just how everybody knows this is another question. It is a portion of that general fund of knowledge which is born with many people. Therefore Job was rarely asked for charity; beggars paused not at his office; tramps glanced at his sign and passed on. Even the children looked askance at him, when they learned his occupation.

Yes, it is a part of the Public’s innate axiomatic knowledge, that undertakers have no feelings; machines merely; necessary evils. Job felt his alienation deeply; felt it the more, since wife and children had gone away. The old-fashioned, sad-faced, silent man, in his rusty coat and high stock, went in and out among the homes of sorrow; he heard sighs and moans, saw bitter tears trickling, dropping; but always for others, never a breath of sympathy for him. He moved, a white shadow, in darkened rooms, yet a shadow with a heart. Oh, his heart was hungry, often, for pity, for affection. He even envied, sometimes, the silent form in the coffin; it at least had love rained upon it. Voices, which spoke to him in stern command, sobbed there; faces, which turned to him in critical inquiry, grew distorted with anguish as they bent over that other face, scarcely whiter than his own.

Thus Job lived, and hungered, and was “in the world but not of the world.” His impassive worn old face told little of the need of his desolate heart. He accepted his destiny, which was, — “not to be ministered unto, but to minister.”

One early morning a drunken, dishevelled tramp found rear entrance to the “Coffin Warerooms,” and lay, in a stupor, under a bench. Job’s assistant discovered him there. Perhaps this degraded human remnant, seeking such hospitality, lacked the knowledge regarding undertakers so fully bestowed on men and women in general. The assistant pushed a bag of plush trimmings under his head. Job entered hastily, preparing to journey to a distant city, to bring back a body” for burial. He glanced at the heavy besotted face, partly hidden by an unkempt beard, and said, “Let him sleep it off, here! Afterward give him food, and my old coat on that nail, there!” Then he hurried stiffly down the street, to his train.

The tramp did not “sleep it off.” He had “slept off” too many such states before. He was a shattered wreck. There are two exits from stupor. One is back into this visible world, the other is forward into the Unseen. The latter was the shorter exit for the stertorous tramp, and tramps prefer short routes. So he took it.

“Poor devil!” said Job’s assistant, and summoned the doctor and coroner; they tried pulse, opened eyelid, felt heart, voted the beast dead. Chuckled over his wisdom in selecting his lodging-house. Affirmed that he had chosen his own undertaker; “the wishes of the dead should be respected;” then a loud laugh, and they departed. So “Daver, City Undertaker,” lost this case.

Here was the ambitious assistant’s opportunity. An assistant, may not be trusted by a careful master to prepare “regular cases,” but a tramp — It was a rare opportunity; the assistant washed, shaved, clothed, — in short, “laid out” the body.

dead coffin shaving mug

Undertaker’s occupational shaving mug http://www.oldshavingmugs.com/coffin-shaving-mug-2/

When Job returned, that evening, the assistant met him at the door, told him the unexpected, and with pride led the way into the back-shop, to a painted pine coffin beside the bench. And Job Graves, undertaker, looked, then stared, then gasped, and then recognized — the dead face of his wayward son. Death had done its purifying work, as assistant or even master could never have done it; the coarse tramp-face had dissolved, vanished; the fine features of innocent, hopeful, eager youth lay there revealed. And as patient, wounded old Job felt this awful blow upon his tired heart, he looked about him appealingly; looked for some one to lean upon. There was nobody but the assistant and his hastily-offered arm. Not what the anguished man sought, but he accepted it; then sank, drooping, upon a box; and cold drops beaded his brow.

There he sat in silence, and the tall old-fashioned clock in the corner counted out the seconds, as a physician counts out the drops from a vial, at a bedside. Job heard them, and they seemed like years; — his own weary years coming back to him out of the past. He realized now that he had been desperately holding a hope and a purpose in his heart; realized now, by its absence, that it had been there, unnamed, unrecognized. He put his hand unconsciously to his side; something seemed to be going; the assistant saw that his lips were parted wide, and that he breathed in gasps; but Job uttered no word, told nothing of the desolation that had come to him. Who was there to tell? Who cared about an undertaker’s grief? That face! O, that poor white face of his boy!

angel of grief

The Angel of Grief, William Wetmore Story, 1894 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angel_of_Grief

There was a sermon, to which the old undertaker had listened, years before, which had many a time recurred to his thought; it was a sermon on the prodigal son’s return; and in whatever way he had looked at the hard facts and faced the dark probabilities, that picture of a home-coming and forgiveness had pushed its way to the front. Often he had read the beautiful parable, going away alone and unperceived to do it; and at those words “fell on his neck and kissed him,” he always stopped, and repeated them slowly and softly, and a look of hungry longing came over his face, and the good book was slowly closed and laid away. There would be no more reading of that old story. Yesterday it held a gleam of light in its depths; to-day the words were like loose formless ashes; gray like his own face; and he seemed to shrink and wither, as he sat tottering, one hand pressing his side, the other weakly supporting himself.

The next day Job did not appear at the office; he was ill, in bed…

A week later a physician stood by Job’s bedside and told him that he had no ailment, and would be “out” in a few days. For answer Job looked calmly at him and said, “On your way to your office, call at my attorney’s! Send him here! I wish to make my will!”

“But, my good man, there is really not the slightest —”

Job raised his white thin hand deprecatingly, closed his eyes, hesitated, then said, with an effort, “Please also send Daver to me! You know Daver? Does good work; has some new-fangled notions, but does good work.”

Then Job turned his face to the wall. He knew his own condition. He was dying. We all begin to die at our birth; that is normal dying. Nature does it skillfully, inexorably, gently. Job Graves had been dying with abnormal rapidity for twenty years; dying of hunger, and solitary imprisonment for life; hunger for affection; solitary imprisonment within the gloomy walls of his strange vocation. Was this also Nature’s doing? If not, whose?

Daver, mystified but smiling, prompt but constrained, came the next day. Job’s lips moved a salutation, but no sound came. Daver waited. He was ill at ease. He was in an unaccustomed position. He often was called to dark rooms and sheeted beds, but with the conditions different. This summons was premature; Daver was restless; cleared his throat loudly, fingered his hat. “To be called here! To this house, of all houses! To this man, of all men!” Daver’s ruling principle was to please; always to gloss the painful stubborn fact; but ruling principles may be suspended; hearts, like states, may experience rebellion; souls, like nations, may suffer revolution; the governing power may be unseated.

So it was with Daver. In his accustomed groove, a “Funeral Director;” outside that groove, a man; and strange rills opened in his heart, unwonted vibrations tingled along his nerves. His round red face grew anxious, sad. A man’s pity, tenderness, looked out through a “Funeral Director’s ” eyes, as they rested on that sick wan face.

The old undertaker’s eyes opened slowly; his gaze wandered restlessly about the bare room, then paused upon a crude crayon portrait of an old man, near the foot of the bed. The face resembled his own. Job’s gaze clung to it tenderly, trustfully. Then his gaze wandered, rested on the man beside his bed; he started as if with surprise, but recollected. “Daver, I have sent for you, — you know why.” He spoke feebly; the other nodded, looking constrainedly into his filmy eyes.

“I wish I could take — this — old body— with me, or see to its burying, myself; but I can’t. We all have to ask help at last, Daver.”

The plain direct appeal of the old man moved Daver strangely. He wondered at himself, as he sat there.

“We must depend on — on somebody else, Daver, when — when we are finally the ‘case,’ ourselves; and assistants are not to be trusted,— not to be trusted.” He raised his eyes, with inquiry, toward the crayon portrait; then added, “Father never slighted his work.” And a faint smile of content flickered over the dying man’s face, saying what the humble man’s lips would not utter, that he too had never slighted his work.

“Daver, neighbor,” he murmured, putting out his thin hand, seeking, in his last hours, after what he had vainly sought, for many lonely years, — a grasp of understanding and sympathy — “Daver, you — do — good— work; but you — know — what — I would wish done. My way, this time, Daver? That —is —all.”

And the “Funeral Director’s” strong red hand closed over the “Undertaker’s” wasted white one, and the grasp was a pledge. A long silence. Then Daver departed, and Job rested peacefully.

Exactly when his last breath came, nobody in the house could say; but it was about dawn, the next morning; the weary spirit slipped away. Job Graves left earth, — an undertaker; he entered heaven, — a man.

funeral procession Highgate Cemetery 1902

A few days later, a funeral procession passed along the street, between the two offices. It was “A funeral of Daver’s,” but it was “Job Graves’s funeral.” Throughout all the arrangements, the Old and the New in funereal art were strangely blended; and a discerning Public felt injured, as it felt baffled in its attempt at explanation. The door-knob of the “Coffin Warerooms” was hung with a knot of black crape, yet the hearse was from the establishment of Daver & Co., City Undertakers,” whose assistant acted as driver; the assistant from the “Coffin Warerooms” rode in the mourners’ carriage; and, — strange to tell, — inexplicable to the wise, all-knowing Public, quite contrary to his custom, Daver, in his luxurious coupe, followed the few carriages, came last in the line.

The Parsonage Porch: Seven Stories from a Clergyman’s Note-book, Bradley Gilman, 1900: pp. 221-248

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A fine epitaph for all who serve: “He Never Slighted His Work.”

Mrs Daffodil would like to take this opportunity (as she has been prodded with a hearse plume by that subfusc person over at Haunted Ohio) to announce that a new Victorian Book of the Dead blog has made its debut. The blog will provide unique, primary source material on Victorian death and mourning as well as collecting all posts on mourning, which have  previously appeared on this blog and on the Haunted Ohio site 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.

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

 

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

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

gold sequins sun king fan

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

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

How to Make Stage Lightning and Thunder: 1829-1900

Men Who Wear Corsets: 1889 and 1903

Strange Flower Superstitions in Many Lands

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

Posts about the contemporary costs of fashion were quite popular.

The Cost of a Curtsey: Court Presentation Expenses: 1907

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

What Gilded Youth Spends on Its Wardrobe: 1907

The Cost of a Fine Lady: 1857

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

Dressing on $50 to $200 a Year: 1898

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

spring green Callot orientalist

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

Some of Mrs Daffodil’s personal favourites include

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

A Children’s Christmas Cottage: 1850s

How to Entertain with Impromptu Fruit Sculpture: 1906

A Bashful Bridegroom: 1831

 

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

A Ghost Orders a Hat: 1900

The Angel of Gettysburg: Elizabeth Thorn: 1863

A Shakespearean Contretemps: 1830s 

stumpwork casket with garden

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

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

 

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

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

She Paid the Bill: c. 1900

white hearse with ponies

She Paid the Bill.

“No, I haven’t any news of importance for you,” said M. J. Cullen, the undertaker, “but I can tell you a mighty nice little story, the truth of which my books will verify. It is about the noble action of a little girl who came to me about fifteen years ago. She was then about twelve years of age, and despite the fact that her outward appearance suggested parental negligence, she appeared to have a noble and honest heart. It was about seven o’clock of a cold July evening when she walked into my office almost frozen and crying bitterly. She asked to see me, and when I made myself known she stopped crying and told me a very pitiful story, that would soften the heart in the coldest of persons.

She said she lived near my stable; that her father was a drunkard and her mother was dead. She and a little brother seven years of age, of whom she thought the world, were cared for by the neighbours when the father was on a spree, and despite the father’s misconduct the little girl could not be induced to leave him. She kept the house and prepared the meals. She bore her lot philosophically and tried to be happy, but her whole peace of mind was almost wrecked when after about two weeks’ sickness her little brother died. He was her pet, and the two were much attached to one another.

She again burst into tears, and between heavy sobs she said that on account of her father’s evil ways there was no money in the house, and she did not know how her little brother could be buried. She had been told that the city would bury the remains, but when she looked into the manner in which such a burial would be performed—that the coffin would be a plain pine box and that instead of a hearse a waggon would take him to the cemetery she became almost frantic, and would not allow it. She then pleaded with me to bury her brother. She wanted him to have a white coffin, a white hearse, with white horses, and his remains to be taken to the cemetery. Crying bitterly, she said, ‘I will give you my word of honor to pay you as soon as I get the money.’

I was much touched by the story, and went to the home of the child and there learned the truth of her statement. The dead boy was laid on the bed, which was neatly made up by the little girl. I immediately took charge of the funeral, and complied with the every wish of the child; I never expected pay, and, although I thought of the story for some time after, I never expected to see the child again.

Not long since, while seated in my office, a handsome, well-dressed young lady entered, and, addressing me by name, called me aside. She asked me if I remembered her, and I was compelled to acknowledge my ignorance. Imagine my surprise when she told me of a little ragged child of fifteen years ago. ‘I am that little girl,’ she said, ‘and I have come, according to promise, on my word of honor to pay you the bill.’ ‘I looked over the books and found the account, and she paid it. She was married well, and her husband is a prominent and prosperous business man.”

Pauper burials and the interment of the dead in large cities, Frederick Ludwig Hoffman, 1919

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: For the poor, a pauper’s burial in Potter’s Field was as much to be shunned as going to the Workhouse. We have seen how unfortunates beggared themselves providing “decent” funerals for their loved ones and paid sums they could ill-afford into burial clubs, the resulting insurance money covering perhaps only part of the costs of a proper burial.

Here is what Mr. Wild, an undertaker, testifying about conditions in the London slums, says about the disbursement of those funds:

In benefit societies and burial clubs there is generally a certain sum set aside for the burial, which sum is, I consider, frequently most extravagantly expended. This arises from the secretary, or some other officer of the club being an undertaker. When a death takes place the club money is not paid directly: it is usually paid on the club or quarterly night following. The member dying seldom leaves any money beyond the provision in his club to bury him, consequently the widow or nominee makes application to the secretary, who tells her that he cannot give any money to purchase mourning for herself and family until the committee meets; this may be three months after the death; but, says the secretary, “give me the funeral, I will advance you a few pounds upon my own account;” so that the widow is obliged to submit to any charge he may think fit to make. I do not mean to be understood that this is always the case—I am sorry to say it is of frequent occurrence.

 Report on the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Classes, Edwin Chadwick, 1843

Decades later, the fleecing of the bereaved poor continued:

The following is typical of what happens almost every day. A father of four children, who was insured for £7 died. The widow informed an undertaker who called at the house that she was unable to make the funeral arrangements until she had received the money. ‘Do not let that trouble you,’ said the man. You can pay when convenient.’

“The widow is still wondering how the cost of the funeral amounted to exactly £7. The secret is that the insurance agent communicated the news of the death and the amount of the policy to the undertaker, at the same time drawing the usual commission for his trouble.

“When the woman returned from the ceremony she had not a penny left in the world, and for long her children have been pinched with the want of food. How long shall these men be allowed to fleece the poor in life and rob them in death?”

Star 28 October 1905: p. 4

The young lady who found a kindly undertaker to trust her for his fees was fortunate indeed!

For other stories of undertakers and mortuary mishaps, Mrs Daffodil is pleased to recommend The Victorian Book of the Dead.  See also this previous post on the funeral arrangements for the son of a poor 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.

 

A Lady Undertaker: 1912

 

 WOMAN HANGS SIGN AS AN UNDERTAKER

Miss Eleanor Girodat Opens St. Francis’ Mortuary on Bridge Street.

FIRST ONE IN ENTIRE STATE

She Quotes Bible as Answer to Questions About Her Strange Profession

In the person of Miss Eleanor Girodat, 736 Bridge street, Grand Rapids has the distinction of having, in so far as is known, the only woman undertaker in the state of Michigan. There are many women engaged in various branches of mortuary work. Many of them hold embalmer’s licenses from the state board of health, but it remained for Miss Girodat to attain the unique distinction of opening a business of her own to care for the bodies of dead women and children.

“St. Francis’ Mortuary,” is the name carried on the sign above the door of the modest yet cleanly and even cheery establishment recently opened by Miss Girodat. Upon entering one is greeted with a smile from a cheery little woman, quite the reverse of the type usually associated with the so-called grewsome business in which she is engaged.

“Many people have asked me why I do it,” said Miss Girodat. “For my own part, I see nothing strange or unusual in a woman entering this business. I have read in my bible of how after the crucifixion of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus came and took the body from the tree. The story states that Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and ‘that other Mary’ brought spices for the preparation of the body for burial. So, you see, it was an ancient custom to have the women prepare the bodies of their own loved ones for burial, the last earthly office.

“There is another side to the question, too. Not many people would care to have a man nurse their women and children during sickness. After death, it seems, it is another matter. Many people I am sure would rather have a woman care for their dead.”

Miss Girodat has had several years of experience in her work. She is a graduate of the Barnes School of Anatomy, Sanitary Science and Embalming of Chicago, having received her diploma from that institution in June, 1906. Immediately after graduation she took the state examination and received her license as an embalmer.

She worked for some years as an employe of various Grand Rapids undertakers, but decided to enter into business for herself. She has arranged to have two women assistants.   A man will be employed, however, to attend to the public end of the work, such as conducting funeral services at the houses and at churches, as the case may be.

Grand Rapids [MI] Press 5 September 1912: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is shocking to think that, even in 1912, a man would be needed to attend to the public portion of the work. We have previously read of Mrs Elizabeth Thorn’s heroic grave-digging expoits at Gettysburg. Here are two more female sextons:

A Queer Job

A Girl Becomes a Sexton and Digs Graves

Evansville, Ind., March 11 Miss Josie Smith, the 17-year-old daughter of a Civil War veteran who has been the sexton of a cemetery, has succeeded her father in the capacity of sexton, and is believed to be the only grave digger of her sex in the country. Her father, who is 87 years old, has become too feeble to do the work. Daily Herald [Biloxi, MS] 12 March 1904: p. 5

By the death of Mrs Elizabeth Geese at Lewis, England loses its only woman grave digger. On the death of her husband in 1879 she was appointed to carry on his duties at the Lewes Cemetery. She was 76 years of age. Patriot [Harrisburg, PA] 29 August 1904: p. 6

And this jocular comment about another woman undertaker. Mrs Daffodil suggests that the winsome lady would have been delighted to embalm the author.

A Boston woman is a licensed undertaker. One of the nicest things to have about, from the cradle to the grave, is a winsome, kindly-disposed woman. The man is a churl who wouldn’t gladly let a pretty lady undertaker embalm him. Marlborough Express 18 May 1894: p. 2

Our friends in the Colonies were also progressive in this field:

There is in Sydney [Australia] a lady undertaker. She dresses not in funereal hues, but in most cheerful tints. Observer, 24 January 1891: p. 4

The work begun by the early mortuary tradeswomen continues to-day with Australia’s high-profile “White Ladies” and the delightful Caitlin Doughty of “Ask a Mortician” and The Order of the Good Death.

More on funeral professionals–both ladies and gentlemen–may be found in The Victorian Book of the Dead, by Chris Woodyard, a 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.

 

 

Corsets and Beer Wagons: Floral Vulgarities: 1891, 1904

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

FLORALVULGARITY

Is It Not High Time to Call a Halt?

Beer Wagons and Corsets in Flowers

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

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

The Beer Wagon floral arrangement

The Beer Wagon floral arrangement

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

The Gates Ajar funeral flowers

The Gates Ajar funeral flowers

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

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

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

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

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

corset flowers

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

The Market Woman of Hamburg arrangement

The Market Woman of Hamburg arrangement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bowler funeral flowers American Florest Vol. 21 1904

 

 

 

 

 

clock floral display

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

cyclist's wreath

 

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

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