“All Tombs Around Are in Its Splendor Lost”

The remarkable gothic revival, self-designed memorial to Victorian teenage paragon Charlotte Canda was a much-visited tourist attraction during the Victorian age.

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Monument to Charlotte Canda, Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York. One half of a stereoscopic card, circa 1880. “Published by E. & H. T. Anthony & Co., Emporium of American and Foreign Stereoscopic views, chromos, albums, Magic Lanterns, and slides, 591 Broadway, opposite Metropolitan Hotel, New York.” Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Charlotte Canda (3 Feb., 1828-3 Feb., 1845) was the daughter of Frenchman Charles Francis A. Canda (1792-1866), of Amiens, Somme, Picardie, and Adele Louisa Theriott (1804-1871), whom he wed 10 May, 1824.

Charlotte’s mother’s ancestors were early French settlers of New York. Adele was the daughter of Gabriel L. Theriott and sister of Augustus B. Theriott (1808 – 1866), who inherited their father’s dry-goods business circa 1823 when he was still a teenager.

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New York Times, February 11, 1886.

It has been put forth that Charlotte’s father was an officer in Napoleon’s army and that he was a veteran of the Battle of Waterloo, after which he sailed for America. However, this is likely untrue. There was a Canda in the Battle of Waterloo, which occurred in June 1815, but that man was Charles’s brother, Louis-Joseph-Florimond Canda, who served many years as an officer in the French army, married Angeline, daughter of the Marquis De Balbi-Piovera from Genoa, emigrated to the United States, was an early settler of Chicago, and died there in 1886. The purported military backstories of both Candas are told almost identically in varying sources, indicating that Charles and Florimond have been conflated.


These portrait miniatures are likely Charlotte Canda’s paternal grandparents. They were offered for sale by Boris Wilnitsky Fine Art, which stated that they carry a reverse inscription identifying them as Charles Canda of Amiens and his wife. The miniatures were likely brought by Florimond Canda to the United States.

Florimond’s younger brother and father’s namesake likely came to America with him in 1818. We know that from 1818 to 1820, Charles was a teacher in the classical department of Brooklyn’s Erasmus Hall High School, according to 1906’s The Chronicles of Erasmus Hall. An entry in the New York Genealogical Records, 1675-1920, notes that Canda was a professor of drawing there. He was also a skilled painter, as is proved by a Canda landscape dating to 1822 that was sold by Sotheby’s New York in May 2000.

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An Italianate landscape with figures at a classical column by a town, painted by Charles Canda in 1822.

After leaving Erasmus Hall, Canda likely taught painting and drawing privately. He was definitely doing so in November 1835, when he advertised in the New York Evening Post that his at-home classroom in Leonard Street was again open after a temporary closure. Later advertisements make clear Canda also instructed drawing at various ladies’ boarding schools in the city.

By 1837, Charles and Adele Canda had opened their own school, first located at 15 Amity Street, near Broadway. Later, they and the school moved to 17 Lafayette Place. It successfully drew both female boarding and day students who were educated and instructed in the attributes befitting a proper lady of the era.

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New York Evening Post, 26 August, 1837.

It has been asserted that Charlotte Canda was not Charles and Adele Canda’s biological child, but an adopted foundling. I can find no evidence to prove this. That she was an only child is true—however, her father had a much younger sister named Clemence (b. 1816), who lived with the family and with whom Charlotte almost certainly had a sisterly relationship, as Clemence was only nine or ten years older than her niece.

No identified painting,  portrait miniature, or daguerreotype of Charlotte appears to exist, but she was reputedly attractive. According to a 6 February, 1845 New York Evening Post article, “Nor had beauty, too, been withheld by the lavish hand of nature, to crown the rare union of charms and qualities which made her the idol of her parents, the delight of her friends, and one of the loveliest ornaments of society.” The only face we can put to Charlotte is that of the statue incorporated into her tomb, which would later please her family and so must capture at least some of her physical presence.

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Charlotte Canda. Photo by James P. Fisher III.

Charlotte grew up in her parents’ school, which developed a fine reputation; intellectually and artistically, she benefited. It is certain that Charlotte was instructed in drawing by her father, an art for which she showed strong natural talent. According to a 6 February, 1845 New York Evening Post article about her funeral, “To a singular brightness and sweetness of character, she united great quickness of mind, and an unusual degree of cultivation…. She was the familiar mistress of six languages [(English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Danish)] besides being an accomplished musician and proficient of much … skill in drawing.”

On Saturday, 23 November, 1844, Clemence Canda died at age 26 or 27. Her cause of death is not known, but a reasonable speculation is Consumption (Tuberculosis). She was greatly grieved by the loss of Clemence, and in her sketchbook, Charlotte quietly designed a grand memorial for her young aunt.

Charlotte may have been consoled by the man whom it is said intended to wed her, Charles-Albert Jarret de la Mairie, who was born 2 November, 1818, at Château de Bordes, Pontign, France. Ten years her senior, he was the son of Chevalier Henri-Rene-Louis Jarret, Seignoir de la Mairie (1778-1858), and his wife Augustine-Marie Le Gouz du Plessis (1780-1849). The family was minor French nobility, his paternal grandmother being Philippe-Madeleine de Boisjourdan, Dame de Chânay (1751-1840), and his paternal grandfather Chevalier Henri-Réne-Julien Jarret, Seigneur de la Mairie et de l’Epine (1751-1781). We know little else about Charles-Albert and nothing about his relationship with Charlotte, but we will read more of him later.

As of the day that Clemence Canda died, Charlotte Canda had less than three months to live.

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Charlotte’s 17th birthday fell on Monday, 3 February, 1845. According to the Morning Post of the following day, she had been invited to a small gathering of friends at a house on Eleventh Street, probably partly in her honor, but had followed the wishes of her parents and declined to go. At some point during the evening, at least one of these friends came around to the Canda home and begged her to join them, as the party “was nothing without her.”

Her parents had not wanted her to go out because, the Morning Post reported, “every one of her birthdays had been marked by some cross or mishap, frustrating the ordinary pleasant celebration of the day.” Now, however, Charlotte begged Charles and Adele to reconsider because it had been a good day thus far and “she wished to conclude it an agreeable manner.” Faced with the pleas of their beautiful and adored daughter, the Candas relented—the newspaper noting that, in retrospect, “every circumstance appears to have occurred that could give the keenest poignancy to the agonies of such a blow to the hearts of her parents.”

Reportage from the Evening Post of 5 February provided its readers with full details: After making the decision to let Charlotte go, Charles Canda “engaged a cab at the livery stable of Patrick Rooney, in Fourth Street, to convey him, his daughter … and a young lady residing at no. 29 Waverley Place, to the house of a friend on Eleventh Street. Canda rode with them and returned in the cab at 11 p.m. to escort the two partygoers home. The first stop was Charlotte’s friend’s house, which they reached around 11:30 p.m.

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This daguerreotype, which is the oldest known image of New York City, was taken of the Unitarian Congregational Church of the Messiah on the east side of Broadway (nos. 728-730) near Waverly Place in the fall of 1839 or winter of 1840. Charlotte would be fatally injured in just this area some five years later. The image has been flipped to show the actual view. Courtesy National Museum of American History.

“The driver, Patrick McCormick, alighted to open the carriage door, leaving the reigns of the horses loose on the seat. Mr. Canda got out of the carriage and went into the house … with the lady, leaving Miss Canda in the carriage, and the driver standing in the door awaiting the return of Mr. Canda. After the lapse of a few minutes, the horses suddenly started off and ran to Broadway, then to Fourth Street, and thence to the stable, where they came to a stand, with no other injury to the carriage than the leaves of the steps damaged,” the Post reported.

When the horses at stopped running and the driver caught up to them, Charlotte was no longer in the carriage. She had either jumped or was thrown out and struck her head near the intersection of  Broadway and Waverley Place. Two gentlemen found her unconscious in the snowy street and carried her to the New York Hotel at 715 Broadway, where medical aid was summoned.

After some confusion, Charles Canda deduced what had happened and hurried to the hotel. There he found his daughter insensible. “She had sustained such injuries as caused her death in about a half hour after the occurrence,” noted the Post. It has been put forth that Charlotte died in her parents’ arms, but there is no indication that Mrs. Canda knew her daughter had been mortally injured or that she would have had time to arrive at the hotel before Charlotte expired. It is possible that she did pass away in the arms of her father, but no primary source material I have found indicated this happened.

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The New York Hotel (left) pictured in 1875. Charlotte Canda died there late on the night of 3 February, 1845. Today, it is the site of the Tisch School of the Arts.

The following day, Charlotte was laid out at her parent’s Lafayette Place home-cum-school. While funeral arrangements were being made, a Coroner’s Inquest was held, probably in the family’s parlor where the coffin rested. The Evening Post reported, “The jury rendered the following verdict: that the deceased came to her death in consequence of the injuries received by jumping or being thrown from the carriage, with which the horses in the charge of Patrick McCormick started and ran from No. 29 Waverly Place … the said Patrick McCormick  having carelessly left the reins lying on the seat, instead of holding them, as he should have done, while he was standing at the side of the carriage, whereby he might have prevented the horses from running away.”

The funeral was held on 6 February at the Catholic Church of St. Vincent de Paul on Broadway at Canal Street. The Post described it thusly: “The church was throughout hung with black, and all the light being excluded from without, it was illuminated with tapers within. A grand mass for the dead was performed, and a requiem chaunted, with funeral music of the most impressive character. Notwithstanding the severity of the weather and the encumbrance of the street with snow, the funeral was attended by a great concourse of our most respectable citizens, walking on foot from the residence of Mr. Canda to the church.”

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This 1861 print shows Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral and its graveyard. Charlotte Canda was either buried in the cemetery or within the church itself for several years before being removed to Green-Wood.

Charlotte was interred at the Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Prince and Mott streets in Manhattan and the Candas took what little comfort they could in the familiarity of Charlotte’s possessions around them.

When they explored her portfolio, they found several surprises.

First, in the book Green-Wood: A Directory for Vistors by Nehemiah Cleaveland, the author writes as a friend of the Candas who has been allowed to inspect Charlotte’s belongings: “In the portfolio which contains most of her drawing, there are two which possess a touching interest. They are the last she executed. The first is an attempt to depict Cromwell in the act of looking into the coffin of King Charles.” A few days later, she drew the scene again in more detail and wrote beneath it in French, ‘Death! I must learn to look thee in the face!'”

Second, her parents found Charlotte’s designs for Clemence’s tomb. Her father added to the plans some personal symbols representative of his daughter and commissioned sculptor Robert Launitz, who worked with another sculptor, John Franzee, to create a tomb at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood. Canda was said to have paid for the memorial with the dowery he had put aside for Charlotte’s marriage, but this may be another heartrending embellishment to her story.

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The tomb of Charlotte Canda in Green-Wood Cemetery. The rest of her family, including her young aunt, Clemence, are buried or entombed there as well. Photo by James P. Fisher III.

Charlotte—and presumably Clemence—was reinterred or entombed (it is unclear to me whether the Canda memorial is comprised of burial plots or is a family tomb) at Green-Wood on 29 April, 1848, and tomb construction finished. The cemetery describes the resulting Gothic Revival structure as “in the form of a tabernacle, standing at a prominent intersection of avenues in the Cemetery. An open, arched canopy flanked by two slender spires containing a portrait statue of the young woman wearing a garland of seventeen rose buds representing the years of her life. Above her head, a star symbolizes her immortality and a stylized butterfly with extended wings in the interior of the arch denotes her liberated spirit. An ornamental parapet encloses the sarcophagus set before the tabernacle…. The exquisite carving of the tomb preserves the love, devotion, and grief of the parents for their beloved daughter, taken from them at such a special time in her life.”

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By 3 March, Charles Canda had risen in spirit enough to place an ad in the Evening Post:

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The Candas’ school kept the fire of youth around them and their pupils brought them solace, purpose, and hope. Charlotte’s fiance, Charles-Albert Jarret de la Mairie, did not fare so well, however. After Charlotte’s death, he traveled to Rome, where he met and fell in love with a married woman. Having apparently acted on this passion, he was mortified by the social disgrace that followed. Jarret fled Rome for New York in September 1847.

On 18 October, at around noon, Jarret turned up at the home of his one-time prospective father-in-law, Charles Canda. He seemed, Canda later told a Coroner’s Inquest, “under great mental excitement. During the conversation he asked me if I had the same opinion of him as my sister—he fancied that my sister despised him. I tried to ascertain the cause of his strange conduct and asked him if he had committed any crime.”

The young man denied this but “asked a great many strange questions and said he intended to destroy himself…. I told him that he had friends and that I would like him to come back later” when a Catholic priest could minister to him. “He left me at half-past four o’clock,” Canda recalled, adding, “While at my house he showed us a pistol and alarmed my family very much.” (Source: New York Municipal Archives; NY County Coroner’s Inquests, Roll No. 35 Sept-Dec 1847.)

Jarret returned to a hotel at Broadway and Reade Street run by Frenchman Antoine Vignes, who was also deposed by the Coroner. “I asked him if he would have some dinner. He replied, ‘No,’ then went to his room, and soon after this he came downstairs and asked for a carriage to return to France.”

Thus began a series of frenetic goings and comings throughout the evening…. Jarret returned for the last time around 10 p.m. and went to his guest chamber. Vignes stated that, at one point, he entered Jarret’s room and found him holding a loaded barrel revolver. “I asked him what he was going to do,” Vignes recalled. “He said he was going to blow his brains out so that he did not disgrace his family.” (Source: Ibid.)

Within mere minutes, Jarret did just that.

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Buffalo Commercial, 19 October, 1847.

The 28-year-old left three suicide notes. To his brother, Louis-Marin-Augustin Jarret de la Maire (1816-1882), he wrote, “Farewell my good Louis. Farewell forever. Farewell, likewise my good Agatha. I dare no longer write to my father or mother, neither to Henry or his wife.”

To Augustine-Marie Le Gouz du Plessis: “To my Mother: There are two pistols that I have fired without being able to kill myself. Farewell, forgive me.”

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The grave of Charles-Albert Jarret de la Mairie. Photo by Tim Milk.

Finally, to no one, or everyone: “Before dying, I ask for forgiveness of those I have rendered so unhappy, and particularly to the person who brought me here.”

As a Catholic who’d killed himself, Jarret could not be buried on consecrated ground, but Charles Canda would still have him near the family that might once have been his own. He rests in Green-Wood just outside their plot.

Charlotte’s parents appeared on the 1850 census at the helm of their still-prosperous school. There were about 20 girls in residence, as well as a number of teachers and servants. The state of New York conducted another census in 1855, in which the Candas were again enumerated at their school, which then was comprised of about 30 female students and more than a dozen teachers and domestics.

Charles Canda was naturalized as a U.S. citizen on 5 June, 1849, at the Marine Court of the City of New York. His intent to do so had been registered by the city on 13 July, 1839.

In June 1855, Charles Canda applied for a passport. In the application, it was noted that he was 5’7″ in height with a medium forehead, gray eyes, a Roman nose, a medium mouth, a round chin, dark brown hair, a dark complexion, and an oval face. In the application, he attested, “I, Charles F. A. Canda, do solemnly, sincerely, and truly swear that I am a citizen of the United States, having been naturalized in the city of New York.” Scrawled on the side of the application is a note reading, “To be accompanied by his wife, Adele Canda, age 50 years.” The assumption is that the Candas traveled to France.

On 10 September, 1858, the New York Times mentioned the Candas as professional references in an ad for a young ladies school run by Madam K. F. Canchois.

Five years later, in July 1860, Canda again applied for a passport to undertake more travel accompanied by Adele. His physical description remained the same, save that his hair was no longer dark brown, but gray. Earlier that year, the Candas had been enumerated on the 1860 U.S. Census of New York City. Their school was closed and Charles and Adele lived in retirement with two servants.

Charles Canda died, aged 74, on 27 September, 1866. He was buried at Green-Wood on 29 September. Charlotte’s mother lived until 1871, dying in France.

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A drawing of Charlotte’s tomb from 1850’s Greenwood Cemetery Visitors Directory.

For many years after Charlotte’s death, her magnificent tomb was a well-known tourist attraction—one of the official highlights of a visit to Green-Wood. Generations learned the sad story of her tragic end and shed a tear for the beautiful teen as they stood before her statue.

In 1899, more than 50 years after she died in the New York Hotel, poet Daniel Pelton rhapsodized after a visit to the park-like cemetery:

“Turn’d to the left, I seek the intricate round,
Where Charlotte Canda decorates the ground,
Like Sirius, fairest of the starry line.
Yet death seems setting on that heavenly shrine;
All tombs around are in its splendor lost,
And all must bow before its mighty cost.
Yet who would envy, who would take her place,
Though not possessed of any wealth or grace.
The dread of pain, tenacity of life,
Increase with woe, and feed on mortal strife;
In vain the roses round her bloom,
Vain may the polished marble shine,
In vain the sculptured image show
Charlotte in life almost divine.
Still, all is night beneath the gorgeous tomb,
And the black grave wears the same dismal gloom.
Thou lovely flower, too delicate for Earth,
‘Tis only strange such beauty here had birth;
Supine it fell before the autumnal blast
To rise to Heaven when wintry storms have passed.” Ω

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Stereoview of the statue of Charlotte Canda, circa 1880. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Apparitions of the Aperture

In the second half of the 19th Century, at the height of the Victorian Age, the union of photography and the supernatural spawned strange and enthralling results.

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Cased tintype spirit image by an unknown photographer, circa 1868. Jack and Beverly Wilgus Collection. (Unless otherwise noted, all images in this article are courtesy Jack and Beverly Wilgus.)

By Beverly Wilgus and Ann Longmore-Etheridge

Early in the practice of the photography, ghostlike images appeared on daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes. The explanation for them was not supernatural: Because of the need for long exposures, in some cases of more than a minute, anything that moved whilst the camera lens was open went either unrecorded or appeared transparent in the final product. In 1856, Sir David Brewster (1781-1868), an important figure in photography’s evolution, described in his book The Stereoscope: Its History, Theory, and Construction the method by which amusing extras could be created in photographs. Brewster advised that sitters should be posed and after the majority of the plate exposure was finished, a new person should move into the scene and stay for the final seconds. This would result in a “spirit” presence.

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This English stereoview card from the early 1860s titled “The Ghost in the Stereoscope” noted that it was “kindly suggested by Sir David Brewster.”

Whilst Brewster clearly promoted this method for what it was—a trick—others with an interest in the expanding religion of Spiritualism saw ghost images as proof of life after death. It should be noted that the Victorians were not the only folk taken in by the callow exploitation of technology they did not fully understand.

With the first affordable digital cameras in the 1990s came a veritable epidemic of “ghost orb,” “rod,” “vortex,” “portal,” and “skyfish” photos on the new World Wide Web. The promulgating of them, in some case, led to recognition and profit. These types of images were, and still are, the result of the compact distance between the flash and the lens of digital cameras illuminating dust, water droplets, bugs, camera straps, individual hairs, fingertips, human breath, and more. In 2018, we generally accept this explanation, but in 1995, the debates between believers and skeptics were as inflamed and impassioned as they were a century before, in the age of spirit photography.

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The back of this 1875 carte de visite (CDV) states, “This picture was made December 25th, 1875, in Cincinnati by Jay J. Hartman under the most rigid test conditions, in a gallery he had never visited before … all manipulations of the plate being done by a skeptical photographer … and all the time closely watched by 16 respectable, intelligent gentlemen.”

William Mumler (1832-1884) of Boston is the best known of the many 19th-century American spirit photographers. Mumler claimed to have stumbled upon his miraculous ability by accident, but “as word spread, Mumler’s hobby became a lucrative business, and soon he was taking spirit photographs from dusk till dawn, summoning lost loves beneath his skylight, and dispensing solace to a public addled by the rising death toll of the Civil War,” wrote The New Yorker‘s  Dan Piepenbring in an October 2017 review Peter Manseau’s book, The Apparitionists. “The images retain their intimate, macabre tint even now. His subjects assume stately, almost catatonic poses—the process required them to sit still for a full minute—their expressions pensive and inscrutable, their arms stiff and expectant. As for the spirits, they have the denatured texture of blighted leaves. Translucent smudges against a sooty backdrop, they sometimes coalesce into personhood only under scrutiny, in the same way that faces emerge from clouds. Stare at enough of them in sequence and you’ll fall into a loop of cognitive dissonance: they look so fake that they must be real, and then so real that they must be fake.”

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Mumler’s 1872 CDV of Mary Todd and the ghost of her husband, Abraham Lincoln. Courtesy Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection.

Arguably, Mumler’s most famous image is of U.S. First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, wearing widow’s mourning, taken some seven years after the president was shot at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. Mumler claimed in his autobiography that he hadn’t recognized Mary Lincoln when she came to his studio wreathed in a black veil, yet he duly produced an image showing the president gazing lovingly upon his wife. Whilst 99.9-percent sure today that the image is a fake, we can hope without hypocrisy that it comforted Mary then.

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Two CDVs by William Mumler in the Wilgus Collection. Left: A young spirit girl holds a flower under the nose of Captain R. Montgomery of Hodgsdon Mills, Maine. The child was recognized as his dead daughter. Right: A ghostly cleric presents Henry C. Gordon, an American medium credited with levitation, with a crucifix of which he appears aware.

Another notorious spirit photographer was Frenchman Edouard Isidore Buguet (1840-1901). Also a medium, Buguet rocketed to fame in the early 1870s, but his success was short-lived. Frank Podmore wrote in his 1902 book, Mediums of the 19th Century, Vol. II, that in June 1875, “Buguet was arrested and charged by the French Government with the fraudulent manufacture of spirit photographs. When put on trial Buguet made a full confession. The whole of his ‘spirit’ photographs were, he stated, produced by means of double exposure.”

A plethora of witnesses testified favorably about the photographer and when “these witnesses were confronted with Buguet, and heard him explain how the trick had been done, one after another they left the witness-box, protesting that they could not doubt the evidence of their own eyes. . . . [I]t came out in the evidence that a very clearly defined head … which had been claimed by M. Leymarie as the portrait of his almost lifelong friend, M. Poiret, was recognised by another witness as an excellent likeness of his father-in-law, still living at Dreux, and much annoyed at his premature introduction to the spirit world,” noted Podmore.

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Buguet carbon prints, circa 1874. Left: “The Count de Medina Pomar with the spirit of his father, General the Count de Medina Pomar.” Right: “Sitters: Mons. Leymarie and Mons. C. Spirit: Edouard Poiret.”

In his 1911 book Photographing The Invisible, James Coates devotes two chapters to English spirit photographer Robert Boursnell (1832-1909). The first begins, “It appears that before Mumler got his first picture in 1861, Mr. Boursnell got curious appearances on his plates, not only spoiling them but leading to disagreements with his employer, who accused him of not cleaning the glass properly. These splotches came at intervals. For a long time, there was a lull. Boursnell was a medium; that was the trouble.”

The lull Coates mentions lasted 40 years. When Boursnell again picked up photography as an older man, the same results allegedly manifested, leading to the appearance of spirit faces and figures. As a spirit photographer, “He was strikingly successful and in 1903 the spiritualists of London presented him with a signed testimonial and a purse of gold as a mark of their high esteem. A hundred chosen spirit photographs were put on exhibition in the rooms of the Psychological Society at Portman Square,” stated Nandor Fodor in 1934’s, An Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science.

“Like every other spirit-photographer, he also was accused of fraud,” Fodor continued, noting that evidence of the fraudulent production of Boursnell’s images was presented to the London Spiritualist Alliance. “Duplicates, triplicates, and quadruplicates of Boursnell’s spirit pictures were numerous. A tracing could be made from one form in one photograph to the form in another, and not the slightest difference in detail could be discovered.”

Despite this, Boursnell—like Buguet—never lost the faith of his followers and was still considered by Coates to have been a genuine medium. In one example, Coates’ argument against the swipe of Occam’s razor seems particularly tortured. During the first decade of the 20th Century, an Australian man called Barnes sat for Boursnell in London. One of the ghost extras in the resulting image was conclusively proven to be a blurry reprint of a published portrait of assassinated Empress Elizabeth of Austria. Instead of viewing this as evidence of fraud, Coates saw it as proof that mental images from human minds might appear in spirit photos. Barnes, Coates explained, had read a book with the same image as its frontispiece sometime before visiting Boursnell.

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A 1902 cabinet card of Robert Boursnell posed with spirit extras.

Both the Spiritualism and the technology of the 19th Century required faith. In the 20th Century, the late Arthur C. Clark professed, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” For the average Victorian, the arcane processes of early photography were tantamount to paranormal occurrences. To today’s average folk, the Internet and technology-driven VR realms we inhabit are effectively the same. What is constant is this, as expressed by songwriter Roy Harper:

“That we both may share
The hope adhering
That we’re not just
Spirits disappearing.” Ω 

 

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There is no photographer’s name or studio on this circa-1895 cabinet card, but “Olivia Sheppard” is handwritten on the reverse. There are references in the literature of the period to a female dress reformer and spiritualist Olivia F. Shepard, and likely this is the same woman. The “spirits” surrounding her include two Caucasians, an Arab, and two American Indians.

Remembering the Christmas Truce of 1914

During World War I, soldiers on both sides ceased dealing death for one joyous Christmas Day.

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Camaraderie outside the trenches, Christmas Day 1914. A beautifully colorized version of this photo can be found here.

It came and then was gone, but for a while death held no dominion on the battlefields of France. Soldiers on both sides were entrenched, following killing orders from generals and cousin kings. “You no shoot, we no shoot,” the signs Germans troops held up supposedly read. So, the British did not shoot. Instead, they all met in the middle—a muddy No Man’s Land. They decorated tiny Yule trees and exchanged cigarettes, cigars, tinned foods, and even helmets. They buried their dead; they sang carols and played football, too.

According to historian Gerard DeGroot, a professor at the Unversity of St. Andrews, “The truce was, first and foremost, an act of rebellion against authority. In the trenches, though peace on earth seemed a ridiculous fantasy, impromptu ceasefires had been occurring as early as December 18. The British High Command, alarmed that the holiday might inspire goodwill, issued a stern order against fraternisation. Officers were warned that yuletide benevolence might ‘destroy the offensive spirit in all ranks’. Christmas, in other words, was to be a killing time.

“The Germans, however, were stubbornly festive. In an effort to bolster morale, truckloads of Christmas trees were sent to the Kaiser’s forces. All along the line, Germans were acting in bizarrely peaceful fashion. Guns fell silent. Candles and lanterns taunted British snipers. Late on Christmas Eve, Germans singing ‘Stille Nacht’ [‘Silent Night’] echoed across no man’s land. The British, initially perplexed, soon joined in.”

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Among barbed wire strands oddly reminiscent of Christmas lights, peace prevailed for these British and German soldiers on 25 December, 1914.

In a letter home, Frederick James Davies, a private in the 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, wrote of 25 December, “We had a good chat with the Germans on Xmas Day. They were only fifty yards away from us in the trenches. They came out and we went to meet them. We shook hands with them. We gave them cigs, jam, and corn beef. They also gave us cigars but they didn’t have much food. I think they are hard up for it. They were fed up with the war.”

Captain Bruce Bairnsfather recalled, “I wouldn’t have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything…. I spotted a German officer, some sort of lieutenant I should think, and being a bit of a collector, I intimated to him that I had taken a fancy to some of his buttons…. I brought out my wire clippers and, with a few deft snips, removed a couple of his buttons and put them in my pocket. I then gave him two of mine in exchange…. The last I saw was one of my machine gunners, who was a bit of an amateur hairdresser in civil life, cutting the unnaturally long hair of a docile Boche, who was patiently kneeling on the ground whilst the automatic clippers crept up the back of his neck.”

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“Reports of a Christmas Truce have returned from the front. Both sides temporarily forgot about their mutual enmity and met in No Man’s Land where they chatted and played football,” noted the Illustrated London News.

Henry Williamson, 5th Battalion, The London Rifle Brigade, City of London Regiment, Territorial Forces, wrote to his mother on 26 December, “It is 11 o’clock in the morning. Beside me is a coke fire, opposite me a ‘dug-out’ (wet) with straw in it. The ground is sloppy in the actual trench, but frozen elsewhere. In my mouth is a pipe presented by the Princess Mary. In the pipe is tobacco. Of course, you say. But wait. In the pipe is German tobacco. Haha, you say, from a prisoner or found in a captured trench. Oh dear, no! From a German soldier. Yes, a live German soldier from his own trench. Yesterday the British & Germans met & shook hands in the Ground between the trenches, & exchanged souvenirs, & shook hands. Yes, all day Xmas day, & as I write. Marvellous, isn’t it?…. Our men are speaking to them now. They are landsturmers or landwehr, I think, & Saxons & Bavarians (no Prussians). Many are gentle looking men in goatee beards & spectacles, and some are very big and arrogant looking. I have some cigarettes which I shall keep, & a cigar I have smoked.”

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British officers from Northumberland Hussars and German counterparts in the Bridoux-Rouge Banc Sector of the Western Front during the Christmas Truce.

Another member of Williamson’s unit, Rifleman Graham Williams, recollected, “Then suddenly lights began to appear along the German parapet, which were evidently make-shift Christmas trees, adorned with lighted candles, which burnt steadily in the frosty air! First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful,’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words ‘Adeste Fideles.’ And I thought, well, this is a most extraordinary thing—two nations singing the same carol in the middle of a war.”

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This early January 1915 edition of the Daily Mirror featured English and German soldiers together during the Christmas Truce.

Wrote a German soldier, Josef Wenzl, “What I had still believed to be madness several hours ago I could see now with my own eyes. One Englishman, who was joined soon by another, came towards us until he was more than halfway towards our trenches—by which point some of our people had already approached them. And so Bavarians and English, until then the greatest of enemies, shook hands, talked and exchanged items. A single star stood still in the sky directly above them, and was interpreted by many as a special sign. More and more joined, and the entire line greeted each other.”

And then there was the footie—a match between the 133rd Royal Saxon Regiment against Scottish troops. The 133rd’s War History, says that someone produced a ball, and that this “developed into a regulation football match with caps casually laid out as goals. The frozen ground was no great matter. Then we organized each side into teams, lining up in motley rows, the football in the center. The game ended 3-2 for Fritz.”

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By 1917, the story had become legend, described thusly, “Under the muzzle of their guns, wreathed in holly and mistletoe in honour of the Christmas festival, four Greathearts of the heavy artillery lift their voices, and their carols rise toward the stars that are shining on battlefields abroad and on peaceful fields at home.”

Why do we remember this blessed peaceful night? It was a beacon of light in a useless apocalypse that killed 18 million people and wounded 23 million more. British soldier Alfred Anderson recalled at the end of his life, “It was then we discovered that those on the ‘other’ side were not the savage barbarians we’d been told. They were like us. Why were we led to believe otherwise?” Ω

Carte Postal Totes Inapprop

Faux widow + faux husband’s tomb + mourning doggerel = Happy birthday?

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This Edwardian postcard from my collection shows a woman in the fullness of her beauty sat atop a chest tomb that is arguably from much earlier in the Victorian era. Whilst the woman is not dressed in conventional mourning, she does wear a recognizable widow’s bonnet—a necessary prop for the maudlin poem below the image: “She wore a wreath of roses, And once again I see that brow, No bridal wreath was there, The widow’s sombre cap conceals Her once luxuriant hair; She weeps in silent solitude, And there is no one near To press her hand within his own, And wipe away the tear; I saw her broken-hearted! Yet methinks I see her now In the pride of youth and beauty with a garland on her brow.”

The postcard was mailed from somewhere on the Channel Island of Jersey, off the coast of Normandy, France, at 6:30 a.m., 30 July, 1905, to Miss Edith Conner at Clarence Lodge, Clarence Road, in the Jersey town of St. Helier.

The sender’s message was both cheerful and bizarrely inappropriate, as it appears to recognize the recipient’s birthday: “Dear Edith! Permit me to wish you many happy returns of the day. With heaps of love & kind regards to all. Yours truly, A.J.”

One must wonder if the little shop on the High Street was dreadfully low on carte postals. Ω

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Postcard, reverse.

Postcards: Email by Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet

“Thank you dear for the nice letter you sent us and all the kisses. Hope you are a good boy. Did you throw Herbert out of bed Sunday morning?”

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Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Today’s postcards convey “Wish you were here!” almost exclusively, but in the first decades of the 20th Century this method regularly moved information to friends and family who resided even just a few miles away. The short messages often read much like modern email, and when in combination with the photos on the front, can seem like old-school versions of modern Facebook posts.

On 4 March, 1914, this cheerful, beautifully colored postcard of Hagerstown, Maryland’s Broadway (above) was sent to Mrs. C. L. Pennison, Newton, Massachusetts, care of Peckitts on Sugar Hill. The message reads, “Dear Catherine, I was pleased to get your card on Monday while at home. But surprised to hear you are in the White Mountains. I hope you will soon recover your health up there. We were in the midst of a blizzard Monday but are enjoying pleasant weather now. I am well and enjoy my work. Yours, B.”

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Ann Longmore-Collection.

This postcard of the Washington Street Bridge, Monticello, Indiana, was addressed to Miss Ruthie Brown of Modesto, Illinois, and mailed 4 July, 1913. The reverse reads, “Dear Ruth: This is where I am spending the day. This morning our car struck a buggy just as we were going up the hill beyond this bridge. I hope you are having a lovely vacation. Would like to hear from you very much. Grace Mc. 1 Danville, Ind.”

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Courtesy Jack and Beverly Wilgus Collection.

Beverly Wilgus, the owner of this example, writes, “This postcard was mailed by a grandfather to his granddaughter in November, 1912. The caption ‘Tommy’s first and Turkey’s last picture” [has an] unpleasant edge. The image is embossed and gives the figures a slight 3D effect. It was sent to Dorothy Flower in North Uxbridge, Massachusetts, by Grandpa Midley.”

The message reads, “Dear Dorothy: How would you like to have your picture taken this way? I suppose you would rather have some of the turkey to eat. Hope you will have some for your Thanksgiving dinner. Am going to try to get to No. Uxbridge to see you soon.”

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Courtesy James Morley Collection.

Margaret Ripley was a nurse in France during World War I. The above is one of a series of postcards she sent to her sister back in Surrey, England. “Had 2 nice days here unfortunately Louvre & all museums shut but seen as much as possible. Off to Dunkirk tomorrow to typhoid hospital—so glad to feel we may at last get real work in connection with war. Have enjoyed our week’s holiday very much & were hoping to stay on here a few more days. Love to E & children. Hope they are well again. Mar.”

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Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Although the photographic image is from a decade previous, this postcard’s stamp was cancelled 24 December, 1922. Addressed to Mr. S. Schmall, 4549 Calumet St., Chicago, Illinois, the delightful message reads: “Thank you dear for the nice letter you sent us and all the kisses. Hope you are a good boy. Did you throw Herbert out of bed Sunday morning? Love to you & all. Aunt Alice.”

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Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection

Postmarked 30 October, 1917, this postcard was sent by the United Brethren Sunday School of Myersville, Maryland, to Helen Keller and family. “U B ready for the U.B. Rally. We need you on Rally Day. Remember the date: Nov. 11th. Do not disappoint us. Help us make this our best Rally Day.” (If there was a smiling emoticon after “Do not disappoint us,” I would feel less creeped out.)

According to Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, “In liturgical Protestant churches, Rally Day marks the beginning of the church calendar year. It typically occurs at the end of September or the beginning of October. Although not all Protestant churches observe this day, the customs associated with it include giving Bibles to children, promoting children from one Sunday school grade to the next, welcoming new members into the church, and making a formal presentation of church goals for the coming year.”

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Courtesy Jack and Beverly Wilgus Collection.

Beverly Wilgus writes, “This multiple-print, real photo postcard shows two soldiers in a studio prop biplane flying over a real San Antonio streetscape. A banner reading ‘San Antonio 1911’ flies from the wing. Even though the plane is obviously phony, the two airmen appear to be real pilots since the message on the back reads, ‘Our first lesson what do you think of it? Geo.’”

I’m thinking Photoshop, version 1.911. Ω

Beside the Seaside

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea! I do like to stroll along the Prom, Prom, Prom! Where the brass bands plays tiddely-pom-pom-pom! So just let me be beside the seaside! I’ll be beside myself with glee and there’s lots of girls beside, I should like to be beside, beside the seaside, beside the sea!”

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This British ambrotype shows either a mother (right) with three daughters, or four sisters of disparate ages, posed on the exposed ground of a tidal estuary or river. Their fashions date to about 1870. The littlest girl is either carrying her bonnet or a bucket. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

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Capocci & Sons, ice cream vendor, on the beach during a sunny, happy day at Bournemouth, Dorset, in the 1890s. The 1891 census enumerated Celestine Capocci, a 51-year-old ice cream maker born in Italy, and her large family living at 5 St. Michael’s Cottages, Holdenhurst, Bournemouth. Glass-plate negative courtesy James Morley (@photosofthepast). The identification of the ice cream vendor was made by EastMarple1, who is a collector and historian at Flickr.

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Three elegant young adults on the deck of a ship or a seaside pier, circa 1900. Glass-Plate negative from the collection of James Morley.

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On the beach at Trouville, Normandy, France, in September 1926. Paper print from the collection of James Morley.

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Although posed in front of a backdrop, this girl was genuinely at the seaside, as Littlehampton, West Sussex, remains a vibrant holiday community to this day. Whilst photographers roamed the beach at Littlehampton and other resort towns, photography studios with their painted seaside scenes provided a second souvenir option. This Carte de Visite, taken circa 1900, is courtesy Caroline Leech.

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“The most easily identified and most commonly found British tintype are the seaside portraits where families pose with buckets and spades in the sand or lounge in deck chairs on pebbled beaches with wrought iron piers in the background,” writes the administrator of the site British Tintypes. “The seaside might also be the one place where middle class people could safely and easily have a tintype made—as a fun, spur-of-the-moment amusement in keeping with other beach entertainment.” Tintype, mid-1890s, Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Ω


Lyrics to “I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside,” written in 1907 by John A. Glover-Kind.