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." -

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.

Saturday, 11 July 2009


Mortsafes were a uniquely Scottish invention. They were invented to deter the rampant bodysnatching or graverobbing that was going on in the early 18th and 19th centuries.

The bodysnatching started as a means of procuring corpses for medical students to use in their studies of anatomy and physiology. This was a particularly heinous crime during a time of deep religious sentiment, when death was a common thing and people believed they absolutely needed their physical body intact in order to gain entrance to heaven.

The Mortsafe was invented in 1816. These huge, expensive iron cages were placed over the graves of individuals by family and friends intent on protecting their loved one's body from the horrible 'resurrectionists'.

Many of these graveyards were also equipped with watch towers, where members of the church would take turns keeping watch at night for any suspicious figures lurking in the dark near a freshly buried corpse.

Unfortunately during World War I many of these Mortsafes were destroyed by town members salvaging any scrap metal they could to assist in the war efforts. I have had the luck of coming across several wonderful examples of Mortsafes, some of which resemble bird cages, the doors now rotted off the hinges and laying in the tomb itself.

All four pictures were taken by myself on visits to various old graveyards around the country.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Lily Dale

I've just finished reading the book "Lily Dale: the true story of the town that talks to the dead". The reason I had decided to read it was because Lily Dale is a familiar name to me.

My Great-Grandmothers, Grandmother, Mother and Aunts have all been to Lily Dale multiple times. I had heard stories of what spiritualists have told them and which were the preferred and trusted mediums of the town; a reading with one of the best can cost up to $200 per hour. I myself have never been inclined to have a reading and I don't ever foresee myself wanting one, but I do find it all intensely interesting.

The town is located approximately 1 hour south of Buffalo, New York off of the Interstate 90. Founded in 1879, Lily Dale is the oldest spiritualist community in the United States.

In the early 20th century spiritualism became very popular, almost fashionable in America. Many famous people made their way to Lily Dale, including Harry Houdini and Mae West- who was a regular client of a renowned medium of the time named Jack Kelly. Kelly once drove from Buffalo to Lily Dale blind folded, or so it is said. Also, many modern mediums including John Edward and James Van Praagh have visited.

Lily Dale is still going today, however it is mostly a summer community (you must be a spiritualist in order to own a home in the village). In 1949 the town outlawed physical mediumship, which is defined by the use of: raps, loud noises, material objects, spirit photographs (see above), levitation, dimly lit rooms, spirit cabnets and spirit trumpets.

You can visit the official Lily Dale website at

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Theodore Roosevelt.

Theodore Roosevelt is my personal hero. I think he is one of the greatest Americans for all time. A lot of times when I'm in certain situations I like to think "What would T.R. do?" I would like to share some interesting facts about President Tiddy (he disliked being called "Teddy").

- He was shot in the chest during an assassination attempt in Milwaukee, WI. The bullet became lodged in his chest wall. He continued to go ahead and give his speech, while blood poured out of his chest.
- He was the first American as well as President to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
- He coined the Maxwell House slogan "Good to the last drop" when he sampled their coffee in Nashville, Tennessee.
- His favorite breakfast was hard boiled eggs with waffles.
- On his presidential inauguration in 1905 he wore a gold mourning ring with a lock of Abraham Lincoln's hair that John Hay had given him.
- He was the first president to ride in an airplane, own a car and have a telephone.
- He was the first to officially call the Presidential residence 'The White House' before T.R. it was known as 'The Executive Mansion'.
- He is the youngest President of the United States, he took the oath at 42.
- He had a tattoo of his family crest.
- And of course, the "Teddy Bear" was named after him.

He was larger than life and a truly inspirational figure. When he died the Vice President to Woodrow Wilson, Thomas R. Marshall, said- "Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight".

Monday, 6 July 2009

Victorian Name Brooch

I just bought an old Victorian name brooch! I've had my eye out for one for a while now, lo and behold, I found one with my name on it.

The Victorians and Edwardians loved these brooches. It's original use was to label the staff of large estates. These pins went on to become popularly used as sweetheart brooches and tokens of love. They became machine manufactured, thus making them affordable and rather common.

The sentiment and personalization is what makes them so charming. Most of the name brooches I have seen have been made in silver or Whitby jet, always adorned with beautiful flourishing engravings, flowers, hearts, clovers and so on.

The names on the brooches are very 'of the time', lucky for me 'Carrie' was a rather popular name in the last half of the 19th century. Most of the names I have come across are 'Agnes', 'Nellie', 'Polly', 'Minnie', 'Flora' ect.

The picture above I used from Wee Birdy London. The other picture is of my own recently purchased find.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Motorcycle Hearses

The other day my husband and I were walking past the Funeral parlor right by our apartment building when we noticed in the window they have a small model of a 'motorcycle sidecar hearse'. I had never seen anything like this before, but it didn't seem unbelievable to me. When we got home I had a look at the website that was advertised along side the model.

It seems the sidecar hearse is by no means a new concept. It actually dates back to 1967, when a Londoner who was a motorcyclist drowned, and his friends and family wanted to give him an 'appropriate' funeral. It has been done on a few other occasions since 1967.

The man who is now popularizing the purpose built side car hearse is Rev. Paul Sinclair a.k.a. the 'Faster Pastor'. Sinclair believes that "people's life styles should be reflected in in their funerals". Sinclair released the first literal motorcycle hearse in 2002. Since then his fleet has grown and he's working on expanding even further. Rev. Sinclair also reassures us that with casket the motorcycle hearse will not exceed speeds of 70 mph.

If you would like to take a look at the official website it is here at

St. Andrew's Cathedral

St. Andrew's was founded in 1158, when the previous church St. Rule's became too small to accommodate the bishops there. The work on the church took close to 150 years to complete. It was consecrated in 1318 in the presence of Robert the Bruce.

The Scottish Reformation (1559-1560) ultimately brought an end to the cathedral. In June of 1559 John Knox (who is now buried under a parking meter in Edinburgh) preached a sermon at St. Andrew's parish church that worked the congregation into such a frenzy, that they went to the cathedral and destroyed anything they thought associated with the "popery". The friars in turn were all expelled from the priory.

Stone coffins, now exposed, in which the most important officers of the priory might have been buried.

St. Andrew's Flickr Album

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Bothwell Parish Church (St. Bride's Collegiate Church)

Bothwell Parish Church is located in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. It is touted as "The Oldest Collegiate Church in Scotland". Archibald Douglas (also known as 'Black Archibald') the third Earl of Douglas originally founded the church in 1398. However, during reconstruction in the 1930's, stone fragments dating from the 13th c. were found.

St. Bride's in fact occupies the site of a church that stood there in the 6th c. Archibald's body was laid to rest in St. Bride's: unfortunately, his tomb no longer exists.

It is an absolutely beautiful church. The interior is incredible and the stained glass work is absolutely stunning. The back of the church where the choir sits is the oldest part. The graveyard is equally noteworthy, with unique enclosures that almost resemble bird cages to save the interred from the feared body-snatchers that terrorized Scotland in the 18th and 19th centuries. See more pictures here.

The Green Man

The Green Man is a recurring figure in many old churches and buildings throughout Europe. He is recognizable as a face in foliage, usually with vines growing into the mouth and sometimes eyes or nostrils. There are many who have adopted the Green Man as a Pagan symbol, but his true meaning was lost sometime during the Middle Ages. The Green Man is a very mysterious figure, a fact that is quite startling given his ubiquitous nature.

The Green Man pictured is from Rosslyn Chapel. He also shows up at the Glasgow Cathedral, which I hope to visit soon. I'll be sure to post pictures whenever he crops up on my travels!

Friday, 3 July 2009

Victorian Funeral Cakes.

Funeral Cakes were in fact, a very real and a very common thing. They were used not only as refreshments, but also as a keep sake for the mourners. These small Victoria sponges were usually wrapped in white paper and sealed with black wax and a skull seal. Here is a recipe for "Victorian Funeral Cakes" (taken from the New York Times):

Total time: 35 minutes 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1 tablespoon baking powder 2 large eggs, beaten 1 cup milk 1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar.

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease and flour 18 2 1/2-inch muffin-tin cups.

2. In a medium-size bowl, mix sugar, flour and baking powder. In a small bowl, mix eggs, milk, melted butter and vanilla. Add to dry ingredients, stirring just until mixed.

3. Fill muffin cups halfway. Bake on the middle level of the oven for 12 to 15 minutes.

4. Immediately remove the cakes from the cups, and let cool on racks for 15 minutes. Sift confectioners' sugar over each cake.

Yield: 18 cakes.