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.