Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween is for Lovers

The old guidwife's well-hoarded nuts,
Are round and round divided,
And many lads' and lasses' fates
Are there that night decided:
Some kindle cosily, side by side,
And burn together trimly;
Some start away, with saucy pride,
And jumpout over the chimney
Full high that night.

Robert Burn's poem "Halloween" (1786) was still a favourite in Victorian England, where in the last days of October and the first days of November, the would write their name on nuts, as well as the name of their intended, which would be placed in a fire to see how their relationship would turn out.

Undated Halloween Greeting Card.
The first nineteenth-century mention of Halloween  appears in Godey' s 'Lady's Book' (October 1872), which relies on Burns' poem for a description of the event. 
Amongst the American people but little other sport is indulged in than the drinking by the country folk, of hard cider, and the masticating of indigestible "crullers," or "doughnuts." The gamlins make use of the festival to batter down panels, dislocate bell-wires, unhinge gates, destroy cabbage patches, and raise a row generally.
The destructive rituals offended Victorian sensibilities, but the romantic rituals captured the imagination. And the intense spiritualism of the era made room for the introduction of new "ancient" rituals, like the Ouija Board

This is the last of my October 2014 Halloween posts. Happy Halloween! Have a great weekend, and play safe!

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Jack the Ripper in Popular Culture

Jack the Ripper is the most legendary terror of late-Victorian London. I've written about him before, and it's the legacy that the ripper case left upon the imagination that fascinates me the most.

If the Ripper Case didn't actually invent crime journalism and detective fiction, it certainly changed the shape of them. Jack the Ripper was the first serial killer to attract worldwide media attention, which was, in part, due total reforms that enabled the wider circulation of inexpensive magazines and newspapers, including the Illustrated Police News.

The Illustrated Police News, 15 September 1888.
"Whatever information may be in the possession of the police they deem it necessary to keep secret ... It is believed their attention is particularly directed to ... a notorious character known as 'Leather Apron'." - Manchester Guardian, 6 September 1888.
'Leather Apron,' 'Jack the Ripper'... adopting a nickname for a murder suspect became standard media practice with these words, and would soon be followed by 'the Axeman' of New Orleans, 'the Boston Strangler,' 'the Düsseldorf Ripper,' and many others.

Public frustration with the inability of the police to solve the case opened the public's hearts to freelance detectives, like Sherlock Holmes and Sexton Blake. The public obsession with this horrifying unsolvable mystery directly captured the imagination of writers as well.

Fiction that was directly inspired by the case began to appear as soon as October 1888. John Francis Brewer wrote a short gothic novel that featured the murder of Catherine Eddowes, The Curse Upon Mitre Square (1888). These stories immediately had an international appeal because the whole world was watching London for clues at the time.

The Spanish-language 'Jack El Destripador' was published soon after the murders, and sent a comedic version of Sherlock Holmes after a similar killer.

Indirectly, Jack the Ripper influenced the popularity of other works, like Dracula, which definitely gained popularity through the public's obsession. But in terms of those that dealt most directly with Jack the Ripper, Marie Belloc Lowndes' 'The Lodger' (1913) was the most influential work. In this novel, Mr. and Mrs. Bunting suspect their lodger is a wanted serial killer, called "the Avenger." Alfred Hitchcock adapted the story to film, and the theme became as popular as Holmes versus the Ripper.

Today there are hundreds of books that try to solve the mystery, and works of fiction that still feed a public interest in the story. Lowndes' novel has been made into five films.

The movie Time After Time (1979) lets Jack the Ripper escape from 1890s London to 1970s San Fransisco, followed in hot pursuit by H.G. Wells.

And Jack the Ripper made it into comic books.

And of course, Ripper Street, the TV series.

In 2011, Madame Vastra from Doctor Who claimed to have eaten Jack the Ripper. As you can see (in the picture below), the construction of Madame Vastra's character is partially built on a framework, pre-established by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Throughout October 2014, I will be sharing the halloween-themed stories of 1890s London. Check back often!

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Photos of Victorian Dead People

WARNING: This post contains images of dead Victorian babies. This is a terribly sad collection of photos.

Taking pictures of dead people was a classical Victorian art form that lasted well into the twentieth century and is more politely referred to as 'post-mortem photography,' or 'memorial portraiture.' The photos themselves were called 'cabinet cards,' or 'mourning portraits.'

While we may consider them creepy, they were a normal part of American and European culture, and are still used today by many families who lose a baby during childbirth. Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep is the name of one organization that provides this service to grieving families.

In the 1890s, grieving families commissioned the photos of lost loved ones of all ages. The pictures were, in many cases, the only visual remembrance they had of their lost loved one.

Before 1839, mourning portraits were expensive endeavors that involved hiring a portrait artist. But the daguerreotype was invented in 1839, making a new kind of portraiture more accessible to the rising middle class. The practice reached its peak at the end of the nineteenth century, and faded away during the twentieth.

Post-mortem photography faded away as medical services increasingly became a part of everyday life. In the nineteenth century, most people died in their homes, frequently during childhood. Children would often be photographed with a toy, or with another relative, usually a sibling, or the mother. High childhood mortality rates were part of why so many of these photos are of infants and children.

The most significant differences between post-mortem photography in the 1890s, and what organizations, like Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, do today are where the photos are taken, and the stigma that is attached to them. I originally wrote this post as part of my halloween series, but am editing it now to encourage greater sensitivity toward this art form and its history, which is as long as the history of photography.

Infant 1890
Montreal 1890
Metta Jones, age 2 months, April 1890.
Germany 1890
Boy photographed by G.W. Barnes,
Rockford IL, 1890.
Mom and triplets, 1890.
Rosita Quintero 1892
A young girl in West Newton Massachusetts, 1893.
The Keller Family, 1894.
A priest, 1897.
5 year-old Flora Hoffman, 1897.
Miss Grace, 1898.
One of the most common misconceptions of post-mortem photography is that metal stands were used to pose the dead as if they were still alive. Dead subjects were usually posed in coffins, in beds, or as if napping in a chair. Brady stands, which people commonly think were used to pose the dead, were actually used to assist the living in staying still long enough to have their photos taken. If you spot one of these stands in a Victorian photo, it's a good indication that the subject was alive at the time the photo was taken.

Which raises the question: What the heck is happening in this photo???

This post was edited on 24 November 2014.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Scary Toys

Complete Game of Authors - McLoughlin Brothers, NY (1887)
Toys form the subject of many horror movies. These 1890s examples give us some indication of why.

McLoughlin Brothers, NY (1890).
Cat Holes is a combination tiddlywinks game with points marked on each of the holes. My guess is that the object of the game is to get tiddlywinks in the holes, aiming for the most points.

Scientific American, 26 April 1890.
Back of doll.
Edison's Phonograph doll contained a 2 1/2" ring-shaped wax cylinder. A child could engage the cylinder by turning a small crank in the doll's back. A spring mechanism reset the phonograph.

1893 World's Fair bank.
Put a coin in by Columbus's feet and an Indian Cief pops up!

"Black Dandy" made in Germany (1895).
A ball toss toy in black face. I don't think I could sleep well after looking at that, and I certainly want to piss it off by throwing balls at it.

This papier-mâché version from the same year makes it seem that this was a popular motif. Through modern eyes, I look at this and see horrifying racism.

William Tell Iron Bank (1896)
With this iron bank, you can watch mechanical William Tell shoot an apple off his young son's head, as the boy stands in front of a castle tower. Place your coin on Tell's gun, and Tell will take aim. Put down the boy's right arm, and the apple moves to his head. Press Tell's right foot, and the gun fires the coin, which knocks the apple down, as the coin falls into the castle. Tell's head then falls back in relief! For more pics, click here.

1899 pull toy.
And then there were pull toys...

The above may also be an example of the grossest style of Victorian plaything, taxidermy toys. In those days rocking horses used real horse hair, so I'm sure the above is not a vegan creation to say the least.

Just imagine being tucked into a nursery, surrounded by these playthings, and sweet dreams!

Throughout October 2014, I will be sharing the halloween-themed stories of 1890s London. Check back often!

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Dens of Debauchery

Without kids to take trick-or-treating, we've been talking about going out for Halloween, but no one wants to spend too much money, which got me thinking of what writers in London in the 1890s feared most: poverty and debauchery.
"There were opium dens where one could buy oblivion, dens of horror where the memory of old sins could be destroyed by the madness of sins that were new." - Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891).
East End Den etching (1870)
Addictions were killing writers, like Wilkie Collins, at the end of the Victorian era. Decadence was paired with degeneration in the imagination, and the adventurous upper classes secretly enjoyed 'slumming.'
"It was rumoured that he had been seen brawling with foreign sailors in a low den in the distant parts of Whitechapel, and that he consorted with thieves and coiners and knew the mysteries of their trade. His extraordinary absences became notorious, and, when he used to reappear again in society, men would whisper to each other in corners, or pass him with a sneer, or look at him with cold searching eyes, as though they were determined to discover his secret." - Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891).
William Ewart Gladstone was the only PM to physically walk the streets, trying to rescue fallen women, and make London a safer place (however duplicitous Gladstone's interest in prostitutes may have been). Like most Victorian Londoners, he was probably both fascinated and terrified by the path that poverty and vice could lead one down.
"Have you seen that awful den of hellish infamy—with the very moonlight alive with grisly shapes, and every speck of dust that whirls in the wind a devouring monster in embryo?" - Bram Stoker, Dracula (1897).
Stories, like Dracula, make it clear that no one was really safe from the horrors of vice.
" is only recently that I have come to the den where I live now. But that is the humour of Absinthe! — It leads one down in the social scale so gently, step by step, — so insidiously, — so carefully — that one can- not see the end. And even for me, the end is not yet." - Marie Corelli, Wormwood: A Drama of Paris (1890).
Poverty in Victorian London was the 1890s writer's greatest fear. The specter of poverty lived in a den, some dark, smoky place, filled with opium and thieves. Dens of thieves turned boys, like Oliver Twist, into "fogle-hunters." Loose women would be killed by the Ripper.

While socially-conscious middle-class Londoners worked tirelessly to improve the lives of the poor, the media often portrayed the oppressed classes as monsters.

Workers in a textile factory.
Phantom stalking Whitechapel, as an embodiment of neglect.
Consequently, it may be argued that the thing Victorian Londoners feared the most was other Victorian Londoners.

Throughout October 2014, I will be sharing the halloween-themed stories of 1890s London. Check back often!

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Chamber of Horrors (Waxworks)

Melted and damaged mannequins after fire in
Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in London, 1925
Marie Tussaud's great-grandson, Louis Tussaud opened his own wax museum at 207 Regent Street, London, on Christmas Eve 1890. The establishment would compete with his great-grandmother's more famous Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum. Though the waxworks at Regent Street were destroyed in a fire on 20 June 1891, Louis ran a successful venture and his museums around the world are now owned by Ripley Entertainment.

The viewing public's approach to the figures in wax museums has always varied from judgmental mockery to silent horror, the latter of which Madame Tussaud's capitalized on by making lifelike figures of the most infamous murderers on trial. A court case, involving murder and a wax museum established the the principle of "libel by innuendo" in English law, and Monson v Tussauds Ltd has been used to draw up defamation laws in many countries since.

From House of Wax (1953) to House of Wax (2005), waxworks form the basis of horror movies, and often included (still do) other attractions, like the hall of mirrors, chamber of horrors, and mock torture chambers. Although they are open year round, they've always tempted those who are in the mood for aa fright, as on Halloween Night. Suitably, the wax figure originated with funeral practices.

House of Wax (1953)
During Royal Funerals in the Middle Ages, mourners traditionally carried the fully-dressed corpse on top of the coffin, so that everyone could see it. Hot weather and the condition of the body sometimes made this practice unappealing. Gradually, was effigies began to stand in for the role of the corpse, and because the figures were fully dressed, only the head and hands needed to be sculpted out of wax.   When the funeral ended, the church would often put these figures on display for paying visitors.

The funeral effigy
(without clothes) of
Elizabeth of York,
mother of King
Henry VIII, 1503,
Westminster Abbey
Gradually, sculpting lifelike figures out of wax became a profitable art form. Figures were created for viewing by those patrons of the arts, the European aristocracy, especially in France.

King Louis XIV's court painter and sculptor, Antoine Benoist exhibited forty-three wax figures that resembled Louis XIV's Royal Circle at his home in Paris. After this exhibition, Louis XIV permitted the figures to be viewed throughout the country, which attracted the attention of King James II, who invited Benoist to England in 1684.

In England, Benoist made figures of the English Royal Court. Soon, Benoist was making wax figures of living royals all over Europe.

Mrs. Mary opened London's first wax museum in 1711. The 'Moving Wax Works of the Royal Court of England' included 140 lifelike figures, some of which used clockwork to create moving parts.

With London's location established on Sherlock Holmes' Baker Street, Madame Tussaud's is still the most famous name in wax museums.

Wax head of Mary
Pearcey (1890) from
Madame Tussaud's
Chamber of Horrors.
As in the Murder of Mrs and Baby Hogg, Madame Tussaud's would often purchase the actual evidence from horrifying crimes to accessorize the figures in their Chamber of Horrors. In 1893, they tried to do the same thing with the Arddlamont Murder Case, but were sued for defamation the following year, when the accused killer was found not guilty. This didn't stop the Madame Tussaud's Chamber of Horrors from carrying on as it always had. The Chamber of Horrors went on to exhibit: George Chapman, Hawley Harvey Crippen, Henri Landru, Buck Ruxton, Bruno Hauptmann, John Christie, John George Haigh, George Joseph Smith and Charles Manson.

Brisbane Courier, 31 May 1895.
As in this article from the Brisbane Courier (31 May 1895), the best waxworks became a place to meditate on the worst aspects of human life. Without access to television news and full-color crime reporting, the figures in the waxworks' Chamber of Horrors became a place to look killers in the eye, while everyone was still terrified of Jack the Ripper and obsessed with Sherlock Holmes.

By the 1890s, most major cities had a wax museum, but the popularity of these went into decline during the twentieth century, as waxworks had to compete with other attractions.

Throughout October 2014, I will be sharing the halloween-themed stories of 1890s London. Check back often!

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A London Ghost

The following story appeared on the front page of the Evening Post, 21 April 1894.

Throughout October 2014, I will be sharing the halloween-themed stories of 1890s London. Check back often!

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

1890s Witches

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle protested the harassment of mediums by comparing it to the antiquated persecution of witches. In 1897, Sigmund Freud said he understood "the stern therapy of the witches’ judges," as he learned more about cults, particularly sex cults.

Sex cults were an offshoot of a Victorian obsession with magic. The Victorian obsession with ancient magic and spiritualism was far more mainstream than most people imagine, and included a long list of writers and celebrities, who participated in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, including Bram Stoker, and Constance Wilde.

Unlike one writer, I think it's safe to say that, although he believed in ghosts and fairies, Conan Doyle didn't believe in, condone, or support witches. However, Joe Revill does identify an interesting current of 1890s writing on the subject of witches.
Karl Pearson

Woman as Witch: Evidences of Mother-Right in the Customs of Mediaeval Witchcraft. A lecture given to the Somerville Club by Karl Pearson, 1891 outlines Pearsons belief that witchcraft was actual magic, and that "the confessions wrung from poor old women in the torture chambers of the Middle Ages have a real scientific value for the historian of a much earlier social life." Pearson was a professor of Applied Mathematics at the University College London, and would carry on theorizing, lecturing, and writing about witches throughout the 1890s.

In Woman as Witch, Pearson makes the connection between the history of witchcraft's relevance to contemporary interests in the status of women. Don't start calling him a suffragette just yet. His view of men and women throughout history was very specific, and served to reinforce Victorian ideas about gender.
The woman as depositary of family custom and tribal lore, the wise-woman, the sibyl, the witch, would hand down to her daughters the knowledge of the religious observances, of the power of herbs, the mother-lore in the mother tongue, possibly also in some form of symbol or rune such as a priestly caste love to enshroud their mysteries in. The symbols of these goddesses would be the symbols of woman’s work and woman’s civilisation, the distaff, the pitchfork, and the broom, not the spear, the axe, and the hammer. Since agriculture in its elements is essentially due to women, hunting and the chase characteristic of men, the emblems of early agriculture would also be closely associated with the primitive goddess. - Karl Pearson
Pearson definitely believed that Joan of Arc was a witch. However, he did not condone the use of witchcraft, or goddess worship, among his contemporaries, considering it primitive and savage. He painted this image of the witch:
We have accordingly to look upon the witch as essentially the degraded form of the old priestess, cunning in the knowledge of herbs and medicine, jealous of the rights of the goddess she serves, and preserving in spells and incantations such wisdom as early civilisation possessed.
Sir Laurence Gomme
Laurence Gomme's Ethnology in Folklore (1892) others witchcraft, the way that Dracula does vampirism, by painting it as a pre-enlightened set of beliefs still held foreign (and 'backwards') cultures. A tantalizing concept for a work of fiction that seeks to frighten its readers, but an isolating approach to cultural studies. Gomme, didn't believe England was safe from witches, any more than Van Helsing thought they were safe from vampires.
The demonism of savagery is parallel to the witchcraft of civilisation in the power which votaries of the two cults profess, and are allowed by their believers to possess, over the elements, over wild beasts, and in changing their own human form into some animal form, and it will be well to give some examples of these powers from the folklore of the British Isles. - Laurence Gomme
Ethnology in Folklore is a terrible read, though it provides an interesting study in the history of race, and frequently sites Jacob Grimm (of the Brothers Grimm) for his work on teutonic mythology. Most notably, Gomme's witches have the power to turn into animals, though their power has been diminishing over the centuries, and by the 1890s they could only turn into small (mostly harmless) animals.

Gomme's writing, however, makes it easier to see why some might think Conan Doyle believed in witches, as it links them directly to fairy magic (with the help of Grimm, of course).

Matilda Joslyn Gage
Although she was writing in the States, Matilda Joslyn Gage must be included among the writers, who wrote about witchcraft in the 1890s. In Women, Church and State (1893), she became one of the first writers to identify Christianity's impediments to women's equality. Gage demonstrated how religious doctrine is (even still) used to justify depriving women of civil, human, economic and political rights, even denying women the right to worship alongside men.

In Women, Church, and State, the historical persecution of witchcraft is identified as one of Christianity's tools for oppressing women for having any kind of knowledge, power, or autonomy. Gage also identifies ways in which her contemporaries recoiled from anything associated with witchcraft.
So firmly did the diabolical nature of the black cat impress itself upon the people, that its effects are felt in business to this day, the skin of black cats being less prized and of less value in the fur market than those of other colors. A curious exemplification of this inherited belief is found in Great Britain. An English taxidermist who exports thousands of mounted kittens each year to the United States and other countries, finds the prejudice against black cats still so great that he will not purchase kittens of this obnoxious color. In the minds of many people, black seems ineradicably connected with sorcery. - Matilda Joslyn Gage
Interestingly, the way that Gage understood witch lore in the 1890s, witches were supposed to be able to fly on animals or bits of wood, whereas in contemporary witch lore, we only image witches flying about on brooms. What is the significance of those brooms in relation to gender? Does it indicate that women are oppressed now in ways we weren't back then?

Aradia, title page.
In 1899, Charles G Leland published a book about witchcraft, as a kind of gospel text, Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches. In Aradia, Leland claims to convey the traditions of Italian witchcraft as conveyed him by his witch informant, Maddalena. The accuracy of the book is debatable, but it has been influential.

Because Wicca is a real religion today, I would trust the testimony of Wiccans as to whether Aradia is an accurate representation of the craft. The number of self-identified Wiccans in the USA has risen from 8,000 in 1990 to 342,000 in 2008 (interestingly, 75% of these are women). It shouldn't be as hard for us to find someone to ask as it was for Leland.

Leland provided a photograph of his witch informant, as a young fortune teller, making me feel that he wasn't protecting her identity very carefully, or else... he had someone else pose for the photo.

Maddalena, as a young fortune teller.
In the 1890s, as today, witchcraft is generally lumped in with superstition and the occult. While people wrote about witchcraft in the 1890s, witchcraft was still practiced, even in the distorted sense of women providing 'magic' or 'homeopathic' remedies. Oscar Wilde's mother had a woman living with her called 'Mrs Faithful,' who could make a powder that would 'cure' pregnancy.

In Women, Church, and State, Gage sites an American 1867 case of persecuting witchcraft, in which a woman used a few drops of cat's blood to help an ailing child. Compare that unproven remedy to what her contemporaries were buying from Victorian Druggists (cocaine, heroine, antimony, strychnine, etc.), and it becomes harder to argue that "witch" wasn't a word that was just being thrown around to hurt women for having any sort of knowledge, or independence (however weird, I mean... cat's blood? Really...).

Throughout October 2014, I will be sharing the halloween-themed stories of 1890s London. Check back often!

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