New Year’s Eve was celebrated on 31 December for the first time in 45 B.C. when the Julian calendar came into effect.
During World War I, soldiers on both sides ceased dealing death for one joyous Christmas Day.
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 fraternization. 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 a 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.”
Long before Internet memes, the obsession with yowling, murderous, disdainful, aloof, and weirdly adorable felines produced trade cards that are still collected today.
In the aftermath of Katherine Parr’s passing, Lady Elizabeth Tyrwhitt, one of her closest friends, recalled, “Two days afore the death of the Queen, at my coming to her in the morning, she asked me where I had been so long, and said unto me, she did fear such things in herself, that she was sure she could not live. Whereunto I answered, as I thought, that I saw no likelihood of death in her. She then having my Lord Admiral by the hand, and divers others standing by, spake these words, partly, as I took it, [in delirium], ‘My Lady Tyrwhitt, I am not well handled, for those that be about me careth not for me, but standeth laughing at my grief, and the more good I will to them, the less good they will to me.’”
“Connecticut River at Hartford 18 feet above low water mark. Heavy rain still prevailed, with much thunder.”—Beckwith’s Almanac
Harriet Leonard Hale, scion of an old and venerable New England family, was the third child and only daughter of Russell Hale. Hale was born 22 July, 1799, in Glastonbury, Hartford County, Connecticut, and died 13 April, 1849, in that same place. Harriet’s mother, Harriet Ely, was born 17 April, 1803, in Agawam, Massachusetts, and died 2 September, 1880. Russell was the son of Thomas Hale of Glastonbury (10 June, 1768–12 Feb., 1819) and Lucretia House (1771–24 September, 1835). The Hales descended from Samuel Hale, born 1 July, 1615, at Watton-at-Stone, Hertfordshire, England, who came to Connecticut as a young man, married Mary Smith in about 1642, and died in Glastonbury on 9 November, 1693.
Harriet Hale was born 14 April, 1833, in Glastonbury. Her two older brothers were Robert Ely (1827–1847) and Henry Russell (1830–1876). The 1850 Census of Glastonbury included Harriet Ely Hale as a widow, together with her daughter Harriet and her son Henry, a farmer. It is the only census that Harriet Hale Fox appeared on, as the one compiled a decade previously, when she was seven in 1840, listed the names of household heads only.
At age 18, Harriet wed blond, bearded, and bespectacled Henry Fox, a man twelve years her senior, on 5 October, 1851. He had been born in East Hartford, Hartford County, Connecticut, 19 April, 1821, and was the son of Leonard Fox (1792–1866) and Hannah Nicholson (1795–1894). The Fox family had been in New England since emigrating from London in the 17th century. Members of the clan participated in the Revolutionary War, and Leonard Fox fought in the War of 1812.
All of this historic context, moreover the genetic material of their ancestress, was not valued by her descendants, who found her mourning brooch too disgusting to keep.
In about 1996, while trawling for hair-work brooches on eBay with a tax return smoldering in my pocket, I found a listing with a ridiculously blurry photo of what looked like—just maybe—a Regency-Era mourning brooch. The accompanying item description encapsulated the prevailing 20th-Century attitude toward mourning jewelry. As I recall, it read something very close to “We found this pin that belonged to grandma. It has hair in it! Eww! Get it out of our house!” I obliged for about $40; no other bidders were willing to take the chance with that kind of sales photo. One- by three-quarters-inch in size, this type of small brooch was known as a “lace pin” and used to secure veils, ribbons, pelerines, and other accessories. They were also worn by men as lapel pins.
The 210-hundred-year-old gem that I received was made of 10-karat or higher plain and rose gold with completely intact niello and inset faceted jet cabochons. (Niello is a black metallic alloy of sulfur, copper, silver, and usually lead, used as an inlay on engraved metal.) The brooch was in pristine condition, bearing the inscription “Mary Palmer. Ob. 3 July 1806, aet. 38.” The abbreviation “Ob.” is from the Latin obitus—“a departure,” which has long been a euphemism for death. “Aet.” is from the Latin aetatis—“of age.”
The historical importance of March 1843 daguerreotype was forgotten until now.
A new image of John Quincy Adams, America’s sixth president, will be presented for sale by the auction house Sotheby’s later this year. The March 1843 daguerreotype, which Quincy Adams gifted to a friend, remained in the recipient’s family through the generations although its historical importance was forgotten. The image was made during a sitting with early photographers Southworth & Hawes that yielded at least two daguerreotypes. A copy of the other now resides in the collection of the New York Metropolitan Museum.
There is a third, badly damaged daguerreotype of Quincy Adams held by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Adams disliked it, noting in his diary that he thought it “hideous” because it was “too close to the original.” More than a hundred years later, in 1970, the daguerreotype was bought for 50 cents in an antique shop. After identification, it was eventually donated it to the nation.
“Being a Grave Gardeners lets them contribute to a place that holds both personal and historic resonance.”
Through the stone gates of Woodlands Cemetery, a tranquil, verdant oasis thrives in the heart of University City. The Victorian necropolis, the last undeveloped parcel of the estate of botanist and plant collector William Hamilton, was preserved and a repurposed as a rural cemetery in 1840 as the city and University of Pennsylvania pushed westward. Today, The Woodlands is flourishing with the aid of creative placemaking and inventive programming.
The Grave Gardeners program is the most recent brainchild of Woodlands’ executive director Jessica Baumert and her staff. The cemetery is home to hundreds of “cradle graves,” tombs with both headstones and footstones connected by two low walls that create a bathtub-like basin. In the 1800s, family members of the deceased filled the French-style “cradles” with living, blooming coverlets of flowers. Cultivating these gardens on weekend outings to sylvan cemetery grounds like The Woodlands was a way of keeping a loved one’s memory alive. As descendants scattered and their memories of connections to Victorian ancestors faded, the gardens died out. The Woodlands’ Adopt-a-Grave program enlists the help of volunteers to revive these now scruffy patches of dirt and grass, one grave at a time.
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Thank you to my dear cousin, Elizabeth Harrison, for calling this to my attention.