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Social History


This One Goes Out to the Ladies

house jacket

A house jacket: from Adele’s Godey’s Lady’s Book, Vol. LXIX – 1864.

THERE WAS A CERTAIN joy here in March, when Lisa (visiting the East coast to work on all things Picture the Dead related) and I tore open the mail to find a bound bi-annual index of Godey’s Lady’s Book, July-December 1864. The book, an Ebay purchase, was even inscribed, “Anna Lloyd, from T.P.M. 1864,” giving it that extra measure of authenticity.

Godey's Inscription

But the droll amusements of that next hour—reading about how to crochet a winter jacket or whip up a batch of ginger lozenges—are presumably incomparable to Anna Lloyd’s unabashed delight when this very index was delivered to her, hot off the press and costing $12.00 for the deep-pocketed T.P.M., who was well aware of Godey’s worth in the lives of women of a certain social standing.

Godey’s was published from 1830-1898, but its heyday belonged to the forty-year reign (1837-1877) of its editor, Sara Josepha Hale. Under her longtime stewardship, Godey’s usual format was as a monthly magazine that, among its sewing patterns, song sheets, and cooking “receipts” also sought to print substantive, thoughtful and relevant articles on every aspect of a woman’s life. Conservative to its core, however, Godey’s kept away from such hot-button topics such as the women’s rights movement, even though the forward-thinking Hale was simultaneously publishing many stories, poems, and essays by women writers. The magazine also refused to become part of any political or war-related discussion—a search through this particular index does not turn up so much as a pattern for a mourning dress, and surely, in 1864, these were in great demand.

But if it was a leaf penwiper you wanted, well, you could stop your search right here.

leaf penwiper

From Adele’s Godey’s Lady’s Book,Vol. LXIX – 1864.

Materials: three pieces of black cloth; one piece of green; one piece of black silk, all but the size of our illustration; two yards of Alliance silk braid, scarlet and black; half a bunch of small gold beads; a handle.

This pen wiper represents a large leaf, veined with gold braid, edged with a fringe of gold beads, and finished off with a handle. If this is difficult to obtain in gilt or bronze complete, a handle may be made of wire, covered with gold beads twisted round, with the rosette of the beads for a button. The green cloth, of course, makes the top of the pen wiper; this should be braided all round the shape of our illustration, and then cut out. For the veinings the braid must be drawn through the cloth and back again, and fastened down on the wrong side. Nine little stars of gold beads are arranged round the leaf at regular intervals. The green cloth is lined with a piece of card-board, shaped, and covered with a piece of black silk. The three pieces of black cloth, which should be cut a trifle smaller than the green piece, should now be secured to the top, and the whole fastened by means of the handle, which is arranged with a little spring, to hold the leaves firmly together.


A pattern for a netted glove; an illustration for “Fourth of July.” From Adele’s Godey’s Lady’s Book, Vol. LXIX – 1864.

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The Snow-Man

Atlantic Monthly Cover

the first Atlantic Monthly cover from November, 1857

In honor of the sweltering weekend that Adele and I spent in Washington DC for the American Library Association (ALA) annual conference, a post about a man of ice…

WHEN I WAS LOOKING for a poem that Quinn could cut out from the paper and romantically secret onto Jennie’s picture, I turned to the venerable old Atlantic Monthly. Because I get pretty obsessive about historical accuracy, I wanted a magazine or newspaper that was actually in print at the time of the book. The Atlantic Monthly began in Boston in November of 1857, founded by such luminaries as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and published first stories by Mark Twain and Henry James. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote dispatches from the front during the Civil War. The magazine still exists today, now called The Atlantic.

I found the poem “The Snow-Man” in  the May 1864 issue. The issue in its entirety can be found here. And here’s the whole poem, below. I couldn’t find the author, anywhere. Looking for “The Snow-man” only pulled up the much better known poem by the same name by Wallace Stevens. Adele eventually wowed me with her stellar googling skills and found the poet in question: a one C.J. Sprague.

I really love this poem, in all its rhyme-y creepiness. Love that a snowman is described as “a strange, misshapen image,” with “mouth agape and staring eyes,” and “monstrous limbs.” The poet talks about trying to embrace the snowman: “And the chill of his touch through your soul will creep.” This ain’t Frosty. I thought that it was an appropriately morbid and warped thing for Quinn to produce as a love-offering.


The fields are white with the glittering snow,
Save down by the brook, where the alders grow,
And hang their branches, black and bare,
O’er the stream that wanders darkly there;
Or where the dry stalks of the summer past
Stand shivering now in the winter blast;
Or where the naked woodlands lie,
Bearded and brown against the sky:
But over the pasture, and meadow, and hill,
The snow is lying, all white and still.
But a loud and merry shout I hear,
Ringing and joyous, fresh and clear,
Where a troop of rosy boys at play
Awaken the echoes far away.
They have moulded the snow with hand and spade,
And a strange, misshapen image made:
A Caliban in fiendish guise,
With mouth agape and staring eyes,

And monstrous limbs, that might uphold
The weight that Atlas bore, of
Like shapes that our troubled dreams distress,
Ghost-like and grim in their ugliness;
A huge and hideous human form,
Born of the howling wind and storm:
And yet those boyish sculptors glow
With the pride of a Phidias or Angelo.
Come hither and listen to me, my son,
And a lesson of life I’ll read thereon.
You have made a man of the snow-bank there;
He stands up yet in the frosty air:
Go out from your home, so bright and warm,
And throw yourself on his frozen form;
Wind him around with your soft caress;
Tenderly up to his bosom press;
Ask him for sympathy, love, and cheer;
Plead for yourself with prayer and tear;
Tell him you hope and dream and grieve;
Beg him to comfort and relieve:
The form that you press will be icy cold;
A frozen heart to your breast you hold,
That turns into stone the tears you weep;
And the chill of his touch through your soul will creep.
So over the field of life are spread
Men who have hearts as cold and dead,–
Who nothing of sympathy know, nor love,–
To whom your prayers would as fruitless prove
As those that you now might go and say
To the grim snow-man that you made to-day.
But soon the soft and gentle spring
The balmy southern breeze will bring;
The snow, that shrouds the landscape o’er,
Will melt away, and be seen no more;
The gladsome brook shall rippling run,
‘Neath the alders greening in the sun;
The grass shall spring, and the birds shall come,
In the verdant woodlands to find a home;
And the softened heart of your man of snow
Shall bid the blue violets blossom below.
Oh, let us hope that time may bring
To earth some sweet and gentle spring,
When human hearts shall thaw, and when
The ice shall melt away from men;
And where the hearts now frozen stand,
Love then shall blossom o’er all the land!

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The Little Foxes

Below please enjoy a guest post about the origins of Spiritualism by Dianne Salerni, author of the novel We Hear the Dead.

Mrs. Fish and the Misses Fox

Mrs. Fish and the Misses Fox, lithograph by Currier & Ives. From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

SPIRITUALISM, THE BELIEF that the dead dwell in another realm where they can communicate with the living, began as a small movement in the mid-19th century and attracted vast numbers of believers by the end of that century. The idea of “speaking to the dead” still has its place today in popular media, but most people don’t realize that spirit mediums and séances were invented by a pair of adolescent sisters with a clever prank.

On the night before April Fool’s Day in 1848, residents of Hydesville, a small town in upstate New York, were roused from bed by the persistent knocking of their neighbor, John Fox. Mr. Fox frantically bid his neighbors to accompany him back to his house and witness what was happening there: his daughters were communicating with a ghost.

The events of that night were documented in a pamphlet later published by novice journalist, E. E. Lewis. A strange rapping sound emanated from the Fox house—a sound that could not be explained by earthly means, no matter how thoroughly Mr. Fox and his neighbors searched for the cause. When questions were asked, first by the Fox daughters and later by neighbors, the raps appeared to provide answers, knocking once or twice for yes and no. By this spiritual telegraph, as it was later called, the entity identified itself as the spirit of a murdered man buried in the cellar of the house.

Attempts to dig up the cellar resulted in ambiguous evidence, but it was enough to convince the residents of Hydesville. Within a few weeks, word had spread that the two Fox girls—Maggie, age 14, and Kate, age 11—had the ability to call spirits back from the afterlife. The girls were mediums through which the dead could pass messages to their loved ones on earth.

Was it a hoax? Forty years later, Maggie Fox confessed that it was and revealed that she and her sister had, at first, created the rapping noises by snapping the joints in their toes and ankles. Later, they employed other tricks—encouraged and coerced by their older sister, Leah Fish, who realized the potential of their little game and whisked the girls away from Hydesville to set them up as spirit mediums in Rochester, New York.

In Rochester, Leah Fish made a profitable business conducting spirit circles at a dollar a head. Furthermore, she took steps to ensure her success by calling upon her acquaintance with radical Quaker and social reformer Amy Post, who introduced her to Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. An arrangement of mutual promotion quickly developed. The reform leaders endorsed the spiritualists, and the Fox sisters made certain that the spirits devoted some of their messages to political causes. What started as an evening’s entertainment became a thriving social movement which advocated the abolition of slavery and the rights of women. Soon, new spirit mediums began to crop up all over the country as the movement became more popular and evolved into a religion.

Meanwhile, Maggie and Kate Fox blossomed into America’s first teenage celebrities. Hobnobbing with the rich and famous brought the girls into the social circle of Dr. Elisha Kent Kane, a Philadelphia war hero and explorer. Young Dr. Kane immediately saw through their pretense and, developing a romantic interest in Maggie, sought to remove her from the influence of her avaricious older sister. However, not even Maggie’s defection in the cause of love could halt the momentum of her creation. Political and religious forces had shaped spiritualism into a tool for social reform, a means of feminine expression, and a solace to those who found little comfort in more traditional forms of worship.

What began as an innocent prank would shape the history of America and eventually overshadow the two high-spirited girls who began it.

Here is E. E. Lewis’s original pamphlet about the Hydesville Haunting.

And here is Maggie Fox’s signed confession.

Check out Dianne’s blog, follow her on twitter and buy her wonderful book!

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The Medium Had the Message

Eva Carriere

The medium Eva Carrière with a light manifestation between her hands and a materialization on her head. Photograph taken in 1912 by Albert von Schrenck-Notzing.

MEMBERS OF THE Spiritualist movement believed that people lived on in spirit form after they died. These ghostly presences could be contacted through “mediums:” people who were uniquely gifted with the ability to communicate with the spirit world.

Now, by “communicate” I don’t necessarily mean talking. Mediums had all sorts of communication methods at their disposal.

This communication would take place at an event called a “séance.” Here’s an invitation to a séance that our heroine, Jennie, has in her scrapbook; it is based on an actual séance invitation that I saw online from the 1870s.

Seance Invitation

A séance was usually arranged like this: a group of people would gather, often holding hands around a table, preferably in a dark, dark room, presumably to create a welcoming environment for spirits but more likely creating a welcoming environment in which the medium could manipulate his or her various means of speaking with the dead. Which included:

A séance in progress, ca. 1920.

Trances: where the medium fell into a faint or a trance and then spoke as if a spirit was talking through him or her, often in an altered voice. Sometimes there would be one spirit guide who spoke through the medium every time, interpreting what the other spirits in the area were saying. Other times each spirit in turn would get their chance to use the medium’s voice as their own.

Spirit writing: where the medium sat with a pencil or pen, fell into a trance, and began to write as if the dead person were guiding his or her hand. Another spirit writing method involved two slates tied together (that’s old-fashioned little chalkboards used for school lessons way back when). Upon untying them: behold! writing on the boards by unseen hands!

Spirit trumpets: this was exactly what it sounds like. A trumpet hung in the air, and out of it came the eerie whisperings of the dead.

Spirit cabinets: I love this one. The medium got into a special cabinet (I imagine it like a wardrobe or the space that a magician’s assistant gets into only to disappear) and was tied to a chair so that they couldn’t move around. The door was closed, and noises would emanate… rattles, raps, bells….sometimes ghostly hands would be seen floating around the structure.

Rapping: this is ye olde favorite. Where a medium would ask the spirits questions, and then merely ask for a series of knocks as responses to yes or no questions. One rap for yes, for example, two for no. Easily done with cracking knuckles or knocking on something hidden in your skirts. It was often accompanied by table tilting: meaning that the table that the invitees were sitting around would start tipping under their hands, as if moved by ghostly means.

Some of these were so clearly hoaxes it’s hard to believe that anyone could actually fall for it. But they did.

Seance Circle

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The Uses of Snail Mail

envelope front

From my personal collection. A long-haired guy with a Confederate flag being shot out of a Union cannon. Is that a little slave boy there, too?

OF COURSE, LETTERS were just about the only means of long-distance communication during the US Civil War (messenger = excessive. telegrams = expensive. telephones = nonexistent.) They also happened to be an excellent means of propaganda-delivery. The outside of envelopes were emblazoned with slogans and anti-each-other caricatures by the creative folk working for the governments on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line.

envelope back

From my personal collection, from the back.

A wonderful collection of these crazy envelopes can be found at the Roosevelt Civil War Envelopes Collection, part of Georgetown University’s Digital Special Collections Library. It was donated to the library by Archibald B. Roosevelt, Jr., an American intelligence officer and grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt. The collection consists of 370 illustrated envelopes; fascinating stuff. The titles and descriptions of the images alone are worth a visit. Like this keeper:

The pig (Union) will root out the truffle (Confederacy) or die
description: “A pig, representing the Union, is rooting out a truffle, representing the Secession. The pig has the words ‘Root or Die’ in its side. The pig also has a saddle in it, from which the Union flag is flying.”  or

Old Secesh

Old secesh

Old secesh
description: “An amphibian or a lizard. The animal portrayed seems to have have characteristics of both.” or

Little devil blowing bubbles
description: “A little devil is blowing “Seccesion” soap bubbles using material from a “Treason” tray.”

My very favorite is this one:

Abraham Lincoln as pharmacist

Abraham Lincoln as pharmacist

Abraham Lincoln as pharmacist
description: “Lincoln is portrayed as a pharmacist with the names of Union generals on the products that surround him in a pharmacy. The products are meant to cure the illness of secession. The Confederate leaders are shown being hung in specimen bottles.”

Specimen bottles? Wow.

I used similarly colorful envelopes as reference for the letter illustrations in Picture the Dead. Here are some of them.

Envelope: Quinn to Jennie

Envelope: Toby to Jennie

Envelope: Will to Jennie

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Frills and Furbelows

Godey's Lady's Book Bonnets

Composite engraving from Godey's Ladies Book, 1860, showing ensembles with fashionable bonnets.

SO IT’S 1864 and you have nothing to wear to the tea social. And if your plan is to hop in that buggy for a quick check on the fire sales at TopShop, you’ll probably come up empty-handed. Off-the-rack was a term yet to be invented, and while dressmakers and tailors did a brisk business, you did need to plan well in advance how you would kill it at the soiree. A mohair robe? A silk paletot? Don’t fret just yet—for all of your inspiration could be found within the pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book, the immensely popular “queen of the monthlies,” which by 1860 had 150,000 subscribers.

Godey's Lady's Book

"Godey's Lady's Book," Plate 30, April 1864.

The September ’64 index from a Godey’s magazine that might have been floating around Pritchett House offers up a rich harvest of information, with topics ranging from their monthly musical column to an essay “Confessions of a Sprit Rapping Medium,” to advice on how to cure a red nose; the treatment of diphtheria by ice; things wanted in a wife; men injured by crinolines; tales of hired help; gradations of mourning; design for an ornamental cottage [with plans], and a motto from the Prince of Wales.

But the crowning jewel of any Godey’s book was its exquisite, full-color tint fashion plates, with accompanying dressmaker’s patterns. Here was where you found the very latest in what was being shown off on the streets of Paris and London. But the creation of any new item, from corset to cape to was no small feat, not to mention expensive—in 1864, Mary Todd Lincoln, a documented Godey’s clipper, set the standard for conspicuous spending, paying $25 for a bonnet, which would be about eight million dollars today.

As for trying not to swoon in a dead faint from the binding weight of your stays and crinolines, well, that’s whole separate entry.

Godey's Lady's Book

"Godey's Lady's Book," Plate 28, September 1862.

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Behold the Rhinoceros

Portrait of Black Rhinoceros, Capt. W.C. Harris, “Portraits of Game & Wild Animals of Southern Africa,” London: Published for the Proprietor, 1840.

WHEN JENNIE LOVELL looks skeptically at the illustration of a rhinoceros and wonders if there really could be such a beast, she truly would have had no frame of reference for such an animal. In fact, Jennie would be lucky to live in a home that would even carry such a book of original prints, as they were time-consuming to produce and costly to procure.

In the days before wildlife photography, when travel to continents such as Asia and Africa required a bit more planning that booking your e-tickets, artists with a taste for adventure were commissioned by wealthy patrons to embark on expeditions where they would render illustrations of animals never before seen on the European continent.

Expeditions were made up of eclectic teams of explorers and thrill seekers, as well as painters and naturalists whose collective efforts to capture (both literally and in art) the exotic animals as the leopard, ostrich, and hippopotamus could take years. The illustrations would be rendered, then copied as colored plates and finally bound into enormous, rare edition books—often for fewer than one hundred patrons.

rhino title page

Frontispiece, Capt. W.C. Harris, “Portraits of Game & Wild Animals of Southern Africa,” London: Published for the Proprietor, 1840.

William Cornwallis Harris (1807-1848) led many expeditions into Africa, and was instrumental in completing a volume of such prints, Portraits of the Game and Wild Animals of Southern Africa, which had been originally commissioned nearly thirty-six years before. Here is his rendering of the two-horned rhinoceros. You might notice that the landscape is not indigenous to Africa, but more evocative of Asia, which was considered a more poetic and romantic setting.

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