Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Tumshie Lantern

The first Jack-O'-Lantern's were, in fact, not pumpkins, but turnips. In Scotland these carved turnips (or 'neeps' as they're regionally known) were called 'Tumshie Lanterns'. Scottish children would carry these lanterns out while 'guising'.

In Scotland children traditionally go guising on Hallowe'en. "Going around the houses guising, they are given money (not sweets) and to earn the money they either sing, tell jokes, or have a really good costume. (The scarier the better for making money.) My son, one Halloween made £20 worth of pennies." explains Scottish author and artist Sharon McPherson.

The turnips that were used for carving are in fact Swedish Turnips (Swedes) or Rutabaga as it's known in the U.S. Irish immigrants brought this tradition to America, however the turnip was traded in for the much more easily carved pumpkin (which they did not have in their native country). You can read more about the history of the Jack-O'-Lantern here on the History Channel website.

This year I decided to carve a turnip (swede) in honor of tradition. I now know first hand why the pumpkin was so much more appealing to hollow out and carve for the immigrants. It took me about 2 hours to hollow out and carve the little turnip and I got a nasty blister on my finger due to the force that was needed to gouge out the flesh. We decided to go with a gentler, more pumpkin-like expression instead of the ghoulish face that would have been more traditionally carved into it. All in all I'm very pleased with myself since I think it turned out quite nicely.

Pictures: My Tumshie Lantern and a traditional Jack-O'-Lantern (carved neep) on display in the Museum of Country Life, Ireland

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Ghostly Ruins

I got this book a few months ago because I have always been fascinated by abandoned architecture. The thought that once they were so full of life and now they're a hollow reminder of what once was. To me there's just something so eerie and intriguing about that. The book is great in showing what these structures looked like 'as they were' and as they now look- derelict and decaying. I especially love these words of caution from the author to people who are less than respectful of the structures:

"4. Vandalism is for adolescents. If the only way you can feel important is by spray painting "Vinnie" on limestone ashlar wall laid by men with ten times your value to society, then wait until you grow up to visit."

If you get the chance definitely have a look through the book. Ghostly Ruins by Harry Skrdla.

One building in particular has always struck a chord with me and that is the abandoned H.H. Richardson Complex or The Buffalo Psychiatric Center. I used to drive past this all the time, back in the Queen City. My grandmother, in fact, worked there as a nurse during the 1970's. She said there was some kind of tunnel for the staff to walk through to get from one building to the next and she said that was creepy. It's such a foreboding structure. When I think of an old insane asylum in a horror movie, this is one totally fits the bill. Having opened in 1880 I'm sure it's treatment methods weren't exactly pleasant, so I'm guessing there's probably some uncomfortable feelings inside.

While looking up the Buffalo Insane Asylum awhile back I came across photography by Shaun O'Boyle. He has taken some beautifully melancholy pictures in his project Modern Ruins - Portraits of Place. On his website it says he is currently publishing two books on Northampton State Hosipital and here are some of those pictures from Northampton...

From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no man lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.

From The Garden of Proserpine

Algernon Charles Swinburne

Here are some other really neat websites I came across:


Sunday, 23 August 2009

Lily Dale Continued

My friend Bridget just recently went to Lily Dale on a visit home and she took some pictures for me. I've done a couple blog entries that have mentioned the village, so I thought I would post her current pictures of Lily Dale as it looks today.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

All Souls' Day

All Souls' Day, also known as Day of the Dead and Feast of All Souls, commemorates the departed. This holiday is primarily observed within the Catholic church.

The Roman Catholic celebration is based on the doctrine that the souls of the faithful which at death have not been cleansed from the temporal punishment due to venial sins, or have not fully been purged from attachment to mortal sins, cannot attain the beatific vision in heaven yet, and that they may be helped to do so by prayer and by the sacrifice of the Mass. In other words, when they died, they had not yet attained full sanctification and moral perfection, a requirement for entrance into Heaven. This sanctification is carried out posthumously in Purgatory.

In Slovakia it is custom for friends and relatives to go at night to the cemetery and place flowers and candles on the graves of deceased loved ones.

While reading this article I learned that cemeteries in Slovakia are often "active, colorful and vibrant places". Year round there are always many people in the cemeteries maintaining graves and visiting lost loved ones. It's fascinating to think just how uncomfortable our culture is with death, if you mention an interest in cemeteries many pass it off simply as 'morbid'. I urge anyone to read The Victorian Celebration of Death.. the author James Stevens Curl touches on some interesting subjects about our view of death today.

I found this awesome entry at Pumpkin Rot, which prompted me to do my own entry.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Madeleine Smith & the poisoned cocoa

Madeleine Smith (abt 1835-1920) was a Glasgow socialite involved in a sensational murder case in Scotland during the summer of 1857. The notoriety of the case was such that it was known not only in Great Britain, but also in Europe and America.

Madeleine came from a wealthy, upper class family. Her father was well known architect James Smith. Madeleine went to boarding school in London and returned to Glasgow when she was 18. Not long after this she met Pierre Emile L'Angelier.

Emile L'Angelier was a French nurseryman and warehouse clerk who had moved to Glasgow in 1852. Glasgow is where Emile first took notice of the beautiful Madeleine Smith. Emile then began to search for a mutual acquaintance who could introduce them, as was the custom of the time in polite society. In the spring of 1855 the two finally met.

It was not appropriate for a lady of the upper class and a warehouse clerk to be seen together, but Madeleine found him exciting and exotic so she commenced correspondence with him. Meetings between the two were arranged and when Madeleine's father found out he demanded an immediate end to the friendship. Despite her father's forbiddance, Madeleine continued to secretly meet with Emile.

The correspondence continued, and they would refer to each other as husband and wife. Their romance intensified and they began planning their wedding and in the summer of 1856, the unthinkable taboo of Victorian times was broken - they became lovers.

All the while Madeleine's parents, unaware of their daughter's affair, were searching for a suitable husband for their daughter. They finally settled on William Minnoch. In September of 1856 he stayed with the Smiths at their summer home in Helensburgh where he and Madeleine spent some time together. Madeleine accepted William's marriage proposal in January 1857.

Madeleine wrote Emile in February to sever all ties with him. Emile, however, refused to comply and instead he threatened to show all the letters he had kept to Madeleine's father (they had wrote some 250 love letters between them). Madeleine wrote more letters begging Emile not to expose their actions to anyone and requested that he meet her in secret.

Emile L'Angelier is what they called an "arsenic eater", meaning he would take arsenic for various 'health benefits'. Around this time (February 1857) he began to complain of stomach pains and nausea. He told a friend he did not know why he felt so sick after taking coffee and hot chocolate with Madeleine. He also claimed that if she were trying to poison him he would forgive her. During this time Madeleine had gone to a few local apothecaries and bought arsenic which she claimed to be for killing rats (this is known because she had to sign the poison book as was required).

Emile died the 23rd of March 1857 of arsenic poisoning. Madeleine, at 22 years old, was arrested on the 31st of March (based on the stack of letters found). When questioned about the arsenic she purchased (3 separate occasions) Madeleine claimed she bought it to mix with water and use on her face and arms for her complexion.

The case of Madeleine Smith was moved from Glasgow to Edinburgh due to such strong, popular interest. The news of the case was in papers in both America and Europe. The evidence in the case was this:

Evidence against Madeleine

  • Her letters obviously threatened her with scandal
  • Her insistence that Emile meet with her
  • She bought three doses of morphine shortly before Emile died
  • On the morning of Emile's death, she left her home and travelled alone to the family summerhouse in Rhu
  • She had carried out a clandestine love affair and was clearly capable of deceit
  • When her fiancĂ© Minnoch caught up with her, she said she was ashamed of something she had done.

  • Evidence against Emile

  • Killing Emile would not have averted the scandal, as he still had possession of the letters
  • There is only Emile's notebook to prove that they did actually meet – no one witnessed any meetings
  • She bought the first dose of arsenic after Emile first records feeling unwell
  • The morphine she bought was coloured with soot; the morphine found in Emile's stomach was white. (Arsenic sold in chemists was routinely coloured to differentiate it from other household products like flour.)
  • Emile's friends testified to his use and knowledge of arsenic. Indeed Chambers Journal (July 1856), which he had read, suggests that people who dabbled with arsenic write a letter exonerating friends lest they become implicated in murderOn July 9th 1857 the jury reached a verdict of 'Not Proven' which in Scottish law means there was not enough evidence to prove she was guilty.
  • He told his friends that he wanted revenge on Madeline
  • Emile "coached" Miss Perry, suggesting the notion of poison to her. On the night he took ill, he asked for her – in the expectation that she would alert doctors to the possibility of arsenic poisoning. Fatefully she was delayed in arriving, and by then it was too late.

  • After this Madeleine disappeared from society. It is believed that she had moved to America where she lived in New York City and died there under the name Lena Wardle Sheehy in 1928, but this is highly unlikely since according to the death certificate Madeleine would have been born 30 years before this woman. There are other theories that she went to Australia or New Zealand, but no one knows for sure whatever happened to Madeleine Smith.

    William Minnoch's grave can be found in the Glasgow Necropolis: you can see a picture of his monument here.

    *Pictures: Madeleine Smith at her trial and 7 Blythswood Square, Glasgow, where the Smiths lived.

    *Sources: A Most Curious Murder, Crime Library and The Scotsman

    Monday, 10 August 2009

    Encyclopedia of The End & Bees

    I recently bought this neat little book (only 160 pages). I finally got a chance to really skim through it last night. I was pleased to see they had entries on both The Fox Sisters and Lily Dale in the book and it also covers everything from the term Goth to food for mourners to bees...

    The entry I found on bees was new to me. I was unaware that in British folklore the bond between humans and bees lasts unto death. Bees were so important to people they were referred to as "the little servants of God" and it was believed they could see the future, thus making it unlucky to kill them.

    Most churches kept beehives and would use the wax to make candles used at funeral masses. It was thought the relationship between humans and bees was so strong that bees could be led away by a human death, so survivors would "tell" the bees when a relative died.

    In the 18th c. in rural England when a person died a relative would tie a crepe band around a resident beehive as failure to do so might risk the bees abandoning the hive.

    In learning this I immediately thought of how millions of honey bees are mysteriously dying all over the US right now, in a phenomena which is called Colony collapse disorder.

    Friday, 7 August 2009

    Ye Olde Coffin House

    Located in the small fishing town of Brixham in Devon, England, this house holds the distinction of being "the only coffin shaped house in the world".

    This fascinating building dates back to 1640 and it's story is just as interesting: there was a dispute between a father and his daughter's sweetheart. The Father proclaimed that he would rather see his daughter in a coffin than allow them to wed. Well the sweetheart took this to heart, and constructed a house in the shape of a coffin. The father was so impressed with this that he finally allowed his daughter to wed the man and that they lived happily ever after, or so the story goes.

    Also, as I was looking up The Coffin House I came across something called 'a coffin corner', which was prevalent in Victorian homes.
    This is an architectural myth which states that back in the 19th century when most people died in their homes, which is the same location the wake would have been, getting a coffin down the narrow stair case became an issue. The solution to this problem was to create a niche in the wall where the coffin could be turned.

    Tuesday, 4 August 2009


    Taphephobia is the fear of being buried alive, which was a widespread concern in the 19th century. Irish patriot Daniel O'Connell left instructions not to be buried until they were absolutely certain he was dead. I'm guessing there was no more certain a way than waiting for decomposition to set in.

    There were many accounts of 'revival after death', as well as evidence of premature burials. One example is of the incredible naturalist Frank Buckland's 16 day venture into the vaults of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London, searching for John Hunter's coffin so the anatomist could be re-interred in Westminster Abbey. While down there, Buckland found evidence from at least 3 coffins that premature burial took place.

    This prompted people to come up with precautionary measures to ensure their loved ones were adequately expired before interment. Cemeteries in Germany were often provided with a 'corpse house'. This was essentially a waiting room for the bodies to begin showing signs of decay so that they were able to be buried. Other efforts included contraptions where a rope was tied to the corpse's hand so if it were to move it would ring a bell above ground. There were also vaults where a body was kept inside for a number of days until they were absolutely ready for burial.

    The German poet Gottfried Keller (1819-1890) wrote verses entitled Lebendig begraben or Buried Alive.

    The top picture is of a body buried in the 1840's... however, the skeleton was found posed in a very distressed position suggesting this person was most likely buried prematurely. You can read more about it here.

    Sunday, 2 August 2009

    Hamilton Mausoleum

    The Hamilton Mausoleum is located in Hamilton in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. The Mausoleum was built for Alexander the 10th Duke of Hamilton (1767-1852), and took 15 years to complete from it's commencement in 1842.

    -It was built with out using any mortar, just brick stacked on brick.

    -The Mausoleum has actually sunk 18 feet since it was first built, thus leaving it prone to flooding.

    -The 10th Duke of Hamilton's body was to occupy not a coffin, but an Egyptian sarcophagus. However, when the sarcophagus arrived it measured 6' tall and the Duke measured 6'2"-6'4" tall. Various accounts have his legs being cut off, folded over or smashed with a sledgehammer. Any road, it was a tight squeeze.

    - Alexander was a Master Mason. The mausoleum is still used by the Freemasons for Masonic ceremonies.

    The lower level of the Mausoleum is the crypt where the corpses were kept, until the building was deemed too structurely unstable to house them any longer. All the bodies have been interred elsewhere.

    As you can see by this picture there are three gates leading into the crypt. The gate on the left signifies 'life', the middle is 'death' and the last one is 'immortality'. At the time of a interment the mourners would walk through 'the gate of life' the coffin would be carried through 'the gate of death' and the entire party would leave through 'the gate of immortality'.

    Here is a close up of the faces life, death and immortality (respectively). Note the rate of decay on each of them...

    The upper level is the chapel, where the 10th Duke of Hamilton's sarcophagus was kept. The pedestal is still there on which it sat and you can still see an eerie outline of the sarcophagus on the black marble. In the chapel there is an reverberation time of 15 seconds (when the old brass doors were still there it was 30 seconds). The chapel is also noted for it's 'whispering walls'. These are alcoves where two people can stand either side, whisper into the wall and are able to hold a conversation this way. We tested this out and it worked perfectly, even with all the noisy echo's going on!

    With in the past month the South Lanarkshire council has erected a locked fence around the premises of the mausoleum to deter vandalism, which was becoming a serious issue. We were told they plan on washing off the unsightly graffiti in the upcoming months.

    Please take a look at the other photos I took (of the crypt, ect.) here on flickr.

    Friday, 31 July 2009

    Hunterian Museum Glasgow

    We finally made the trip to the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow University (after recently visiting The Hunter House Museum in East Kilbride) and it was fantastic! The Hunterian is the oldest public museum in Scotland. In 1783 William Hunter (1718-1783) donated an extensive and varied collection to the University of Glasgow. The Museum first opened in 1807 in a building off High Street, it moved to it's present location in 1870.

    William's brother John (also a surgeon) founded his own museum in London, also known as 'The Hunterian Museum'. John's collection is most notable for his obtaining the skeleton of Charles Byrne's known as "The Irish Giant".

    View the Flickr set here... Lot's of interesting specimens!

    Hunterian Museum Glasgow

    Pictures: the Museum and William Hunter's death mask.

    Wednesday, 29 July 2009


    I first took note of the silhouette after visiting Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, where the walls are lined with gorgeous silhouettes of him and his family.

    Silhouettes became extremely popular in the late 18th/early 19th century. It was an accessible portrait to the average person of the time. They were inexpensive and quickly produced.

    The word 'silhouette' is derived from Etienne de Silhouette, who was the French Controller-General of Finances during the reign of Louis XV. He was considered particularly cheap, so the nickname given to these inexpensive paper cuttings was effectively meant to mock the man.

    Silhouettes can be cut out of paper, hollow cut (cutting into the paper) or painted. Silhouettes were a fun past time for the rich and an affordable portrait for the working classes. Most cut silhouettes were cut in doubles: one for a frame (that would come with the picture) and one for the album. This is why you may find two of the same silhouette today in different locations. Painted silhouettes were usually achieved by mixing beer with pine soot and then painting it on ivory or plaster. One silhouette artist in particular, Mrs. Isabella Beetham, would use her finger to smudge the soot mixture onto the ivory. If you look at one of her paintings closely, thumb prints can be easily spotted in the images.
    One of the most common silhouette artists to be found is John Miers, who had a studio on the Strand in London.

    When the photograph came along the silhouette was all but obselete. It did see a revival in popularity in the early 20th century, but most of these were done by machine. There are still some silhouette artists today: you can book them for parties and weddings, and they can even be found at Disneyland. I find that there is just something so tasteful and intimate about a silhouette that a regular painted portrait just doesn't convey.

    Top silhouettes are of Martha and George Washington and the bottom is an example of a Miers portrait.

    Sunday, 26 July 2009


    The above pictures are 'then and now' pictures of Uddingston, South Lanarkshire.

    Recently my husband has come across this website and has been fascinated by it. It's so interesting to see how much or how little things have changed in an area as the years have gone by. It prompted me to take a couple pictures of the little Victorian coal mining town we live in.

    Uddingston is mainly famous for two things: Bothwell Castle and Tunnocks. Tunnocks are notable for their incredible teacakes and the fact it has been a family-run business since it's humble beginnings in 1890. It boasts "more than 5,000,000 of these biscuits made and sold every week". Also, St. Andrews University has a Tunnocks Caramel Wafer Appreciation Society, which is one of the oldest student societies at the university.

    I will cover Bothwell Castle in an upcoming post.

    Thursday, 23 July 2009

    Greyfriars Kirkyard

    I mentioned Greyfriars in my last post on the Covenanters, and how it was used in the 17th c. as a prison for the men captured at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge. I decided that I would do a post on the rich history of Greyfriars Kirkyard itself.

    Greyfriars is located in Edinburgh, Scotland. The kirk (church) opened in 1620. Greyfriars was witness to the Resurrectionsists (see entry on Mortsafes) that were roaming Scotland in the 18th and early 19th centuries. It resembles a zoo in some places, due to the tombs being barred up from precautions taken by the deceased's relatives in securing their graves from disturbance. Greyfriars was seen on a 2008 episode of the Sci-Fi Channel's 'Scariest Places on Earth'. There have been a number of deaths that have occured in the kirkyard, and it is reported to be extremely haunted. I found the yard to be serene and beautiful, but I suppose if you go looking for a scare, you'll find one.

    Of course, Greyfriars is most famous for a little Skye terrier named 'Bobby':

    "In 1858, a man named John Gray was buried in old Greyfriars Churchyard. His grave levelled by the hand of time, and unmarked by any stone, became scarcely discernible; but, although no human interest seemed to attach to it.

    The sacred spot was not wholly disregarded or forgotten. For fourteen years the dead man's faithful dog kept constant watch and guard over the grave until his own death in 1872.

    The famous Skye Terrier, Greyfriars Bobby was so devoted to his master John Gray, even in death, for fourteen years Bobby lay on the grave only leaving for food.

    It is reported that a daily occurance of people from all walks of life would stand at the entrance of the Kirkyard waiting for the one o'clock gun and the appearance of Bobby leaving the grave for his midday meal." - GreyfriarsBobby.co.uk

    Bobby is buried just inside the gates of Greyfriars.

    All pictures taken by myself on my last visit to Greyfriars in May.

    Wednesday, 22 July 2009

    Buried heads & the Covenanters

    A few weeks ago we were walking around Hamilton Old Parish Church and checking out the graveyard that surrounds the church, when we stumbled across a monument to The Covenanters. What made this monument particularly interesting was the fact that only the heads of these men are buried in the yard.

    Covenanters were a group of Scottish civilians in the 17th century who wanted Presbyterianism recognised as the official form of church and not Episcopacy, which was favored by the crown. These people signed the National Covenant in 1638, hence the name 'Covenanters'. These people would not accept the King as the head of the church. Practicing Presbyterianism was an offence punishable by death. Many Covenanters were imprisoned in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh. After the Battle of Bothwell bridge over 1200 prisoners were brought to Greyfriars and held in the chruch yard, where many of them died and were buried right in the cemetary where they parished.

    Both of the pictures above were taken by myself the above is the Covenanter's marker in the church yard of Hamilton Old Parish Chruch and below is a close up of the Covenanter's memorial in Greyfriars Kirkyard.

    Monday, 20 July 2009

    Hunter House Museum & the Hunter brothers.

    I finally managed to make it to the Hunter House Museum in East Kilbride, Lanarkshire (about a 15 minute drive from where I live). A few months ago I had read the book 'The Knife Man' by Wendy Moore. It was all about John Hunter and his incredible forward thinking in medicine, during a time when they were still practising Medieval procedures.

    John hunter is famous for obtaining the corpse of the Irish giant Charles Byrne. Like most people in the 18th century, Byrne did not want his body going to an anatomist. So as to avoid this fate (which would have been a certainty given his proportions), his friends agreed to bury him in a lead coffin and dump it in the river Thames. John Hunter, however, managed to keep Byrne from his watery grave, and added his skeleton to his anatomical collection, which is now The Huntarian Museum in London. There is also a Huntarian Museum here in Glasgow at the University, but that collection was donated by John's elder brother William upon his death.

    I would recommend reading the fantastic story of John Hunter: the man infected himself with syphilis in the name of science! He is truly the father of medicine as we know it today.

    Friday, 17 July 2009

    Spirit Photography & William H. Mumler

    To expand upon my previous post about Lily Dale, I had mentioned something fascinating called "Spirit Photography".

    Spirit photography is a form of physical mediumship and became popular in the later half of the 19th century. It was a photograph taken of a living person where the spirit of a deceased family member or friend would also be captured in the image.

    William H. Mumler was the first spirit photographer, having taken a self portrait around 1860 that depicted the hazy apparition of his dead cousin in the background. There after, Mumler became a full time spirit photographer, which became a lucrative business as grieving families of causalities of the Civil War wanted reassurance that their family members would live on.

    One of Mumler's most famous photographs was that of Mary Lincoln. The picture appears to show a foggy image of Abraham behind his widow, clad in black mourning attire.

    Mumler, as you may have guessed by now, turned out to be a fraud. The method he used to achieve these photos was double exposure. It was discovered that some of the 'ghosts' in Mumler's photographs were in fact living people. Mumler was brought to trial in 1869 and died a pauper in 1884, his career being ruined.

    The above photographs are of Fannie Conant, a well known Boston medium, pictured with her deceased brother Chas.
    The next is of Mary Lincoln and her husband.

    Sunday, 12 July 2009

    Strange Medicine

    As you can see from the above picture, there used to be some strange medicine taken in the name of health and/or beauty.

    Arsenic complexion wafers were very popular during Victorian times. Women would take these wafers and in some instances raw grains of Arsenic from apothecaries, in the hope of achieving the beautiful, soft and pale skin that was all the rage. Men would also take Arsenic as a way to improve health, avoid infection and improve body-tone. These people were called 'Arsenic Eaters'.. while it does nothing for a person in terms of achieving a 'high', it is in fact highly addictive (not to mention lethal). There is speculation that Napoleon Bonaparte was an Arsenic Eater.

    Other odd remedies include:

    Chocolate covered Strychnine.
    Chloroform cough medicine.
    Belladonna (Deadly Nightshade).

    In addition, my husband came across this interesting remedy- "The Everlasting Pill": a reusable metal capsule that would pass through the system (in the belief that it purified the body) to be reused again...sometimes amongst a whole family.