Easters Ago

As the Northern Hemisphere explodes with green life, let’s take a look back at rebirth celebrations of yesteryear.

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A beautiful early Easter image, probably 1890s.
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The 1898 5th Avenue Easter Parade, New York City, New York. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
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Children at the 1898 White House Easter Egg Roll. Courtesy Library of Congress.

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Patterns of Time

Vintage Patterns Wikia has released a catalog of more than 83,000 vintage sewing patterns. Costuming enthusiasts can use the reference numbers to search for extant patterns on sites like eBay.

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Elite Styles Company, September 1922.
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Pictorial Printed Patterns, October 1931.
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Praktische Damen-und Kinder-Mode No. 26; 1935-36.

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The First Photographed Frostie

Last week, a storm brought 10 inches of snow to Western Maryland and turned my mind to snowmen of old.

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A woman builds a snowman whilst a man shovels snow. Courtesy National Museum of Wales.

In all probabilty, humans have sculpted snowmen for millenia. In 2007, Bob Eckstein, the author of The History of the Snowman: From the Ice Age to the Flea Market, told NPR that in writing his book, “I wanted to make it clear that snowman-making actually was a form of folk art. Man was making folk art like this for ages, and…maybe it’s one of man’s oldest forms of art…. [T]he further back you go, you find that people were really fascinated with snowmen.”

Eckstein says that building snowmen was “a very popular activity in the Middle Ages…after a snow came down and dumped all these free-art supplies in front of everyone’s house.” The earliest known representation of a snowman dates to that era, drawn in a 1380 A.D. Book of Hours. A century later, in 1494, Michelangelo was commissioned by Piero di Lorenzo de’ Medici, the Gran Maestro of Florence, to practice his art with snow. According to art historian Giorgio Vasari, “de’ Medici had him make in his courtyard a statue of snow, which was very beautiful.” Sadly, no one drew it for posterity.

In 1510, a Florentine apothecary, Lucas Landucci confided in his diary that he had seen “a number of the most beautiful snow-lions, as well as many nude figures…made also by good masters.” Another notable snowmen outbreak occurred just a year later, when folk in Brussels built more than 100 of them “in a public art installation known as the Miracle of 1511,” notes Atlas Obscura. “Their snowmen embodied a dissatisfaction with the political climate, not to mention the six weeks of below-freezing weather. The Belgians rendered their anxieties into tangible, life-like models: a defecating demon, a humiliated king, and womenfolk getting buggered six ways to Sunday. Besides your typical sexually graphic and politically riled caricatures, the Belgian snowmen, Eckstein discovered, were often parodies of folklore figures, such as mermaids, unicorns, and village idiots.”

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“Everybody Loved Her”: The Mysterious Death of Iola Haley Newell

“Her husband was the only one in the room, and he was asleep.”—Louisville Courier-Journal

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The reverse inscription of this albumen print reads, “My Dear Sister Iola Haley Newell in her coffin, who passed away Oct. 31st 1901 in Somerset, KY. The two ladies you can see in the looking-glass are Dr. Joe Owens’ wife & Alma Owens Tibbals, two of Iola’s dear friends…. Iola Morgan, born Feb 5, 1924, named after Iola Haley. She died 3 years before I was born. Also Perry & Dorothea Haley’s daughter named after Iola Haley, too. (Everybody loved her.)” Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

The earthly remains of Iola M. Haley Newell are buried in Somerset City Cemetery, Somerset, Kentucky, within the casket seen above. It was almost certainly white, with a crackled paint finish and colored velvet covering the pallbearers′ handles. The rest of the gently sunlit parlor held rich photographic detail. The fireplace was surrounded by colorful Victorian art nouveau tiles. On the wall, above the harp-shaped floral tribute, a paper or cardboard image of a blooming plant proclaimed, “The Year of Flowers.” Reflected in the mirror, along with two female mourners, were more images also possibly culled from “The Year of Flowers.” Behind the black-clad ladies was the staircase to the home’s upper floor.

It is a wistfully beautiful image: A bright-colored room, burgeoning with flowers in recognition of a beloved daughter, sister, friend, and bride of little more than a year, dead before age 30. The most likely causes of Iola’s demise should have been pregnancy complications or childbirth. However, there is no record of a child born alive or dead—and if the latter, we would expect to see the stillborn infant in the casket, beside its mother.

It is also clear from the photo that Iola was not the victim of a wasting disease, rather of something that cut her down in otherwise acceptable health. Her husband, Dr. John B. Newell, survived Iola narrowly, dying a year-and-a-half later. Newell worked in a field of medicine—dentistry—whose practitioners could be easily exposed to Tuberculosis and other contagious diseases. Another possible cause for one, or both, of the couple’s deaths was typhoid. An epidemic occurred in Pulaski County in 1920, and since the disease can be waterborne, contaminated waterways may have existed in the area in the decade before, when the couple was yet alive.

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Beautiful, Bountiful Buttons

Gentle Readers, your Humble Proprietress is recovering from surgery and so shall share photographic images of antique and vintage buttons in lieu of a lengthy article.

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Metal and glass buttons from the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

Of buttons, Collector’s Weekly writes, “As long as human beings have needed to keep their clothing fastened, buttons have been there to do the work.” Buttons may be utilitarian, however, even well into the era of mass production, they were made to be reused on the garments of succeeding generations, resulting in little works of art that please collectors’s eyes today.

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A small Victorian carved Mother of Pearl button featuring a steel-cut lizard, probably dating to the mid-1800s.

Many still recall our grandmothers’ button jars or boxes filled with delightful miniature wonders of carved shell, shiny metal augmented with brilliant cut-steel embellishments, luminous glass, light and fancifully shaped celluloid, and bakelite of eye-watering colors. I was born in 1963, my father in 1928, and my father’s mother in 1891. Some of my earliest memories are of Nanny, as I called her, sewing on a black Singer treadle machine richly decorated with Victorian gothic revival red and gold designs. As Nanny pumped the ornate foot panel in a soothing rhythm, I played in a pool of buttons scooped from the sewing machine’s cabinet drawers. I remember, especially, bakelite raspberries, as tart red as the real fruits, and a large navy blue button shaped like a bundle of roses. I have recently obtained a white version, seen below.

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Funeral Fragments

“When old Francis died in 1913, Dad sent him off in a hearse pulled by four black horses followed by mutes carrying ostrich feather wands and a procession of friends and family in the deepest mourning possible.”—Barbara Nadel

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An invitation to the funeral of Ruth Evelyn Cooper, who died of pneumonia in the aftermath of influenza. She was one of upwards of 50 million people whose deaths were associated with the 1918 influenza pandemic. Ruth was born 21 June, 1898; she was the daughter of mail carrier George F. and Clara Good Cooper of Murrell, Ephrata Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
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This glass slide captures one moment in the lengthy funeral proceedings of Queen Victoria, as her coffin wended its way through London, 2 February, 1901. The slide is unmarked save for the handwritten inscription, “The Queen’s Coffin.” It does not appear to be part of a commercial set and may be a personal remembrance of the day taken by someone in the crowd. (Note the two boys looking down on the passing procession from the high wall on the right.)
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This photo shows ephemera from the funeral of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1 May 1769–14 Sept., 1852). It resides in the museum of Carisbrooke Castle, Isle of Wight, England. The duke was beloved for leading the defeat of Napoleon’s forces at Waterloo, 18 June, 1818. He went on to become a prime minister and is still considered to be one of Great Britain’s chiefest politicians. The handwritten note reads: “Relics of the Funeral of the late Duke of Wellington. No.1 Silver lace from the car. 2. Cloth from the Hall. 3. Silver Tissue from the Canopy. 4. Tape from the Canopy, Chelsea Hospital. 5. Autograph of the late Duke, Nov. 1852.”

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