Sunday, July 29, 2007

Victorian Occult Beliefs, Part One

Victorians believed in legends of beings of mystical lore including that of the historic Wild Men. In them, European and Asian legends met Western pioneers and explorers for some interesting tales and compilations of sightings.

Although in modern times a number of academicians and politicians have propelled these legendary beasts into the arena of indigenous wildlife, during the Victorian era, sightings of unusual giant hairy men were part of lore, often evoking hysterics or awe.
Victorians loved a good scary tale and displays of the unusual. Polite parlour talk encompassed elements of the paranormal, in fact. Scintillating in its nature, such talk cross-pollinated cultural myths and ideas allowing many occult and mythical legends to combine. Nevertheless, such beings and beasts influenced the lives of Victorian folk.

Explorers across the globe encountered the legends of what Ancient European tribes dubbed the Wild Men, even giving them place in historic heraldry. Famed zoologist, Willy Ley wrote a vintage article that includes quotes from a book by Major L.A. Waddel about encountering signs of Yeti -- the Himilayan Wild Man or Abominable Snowman– on an expedition. A member of the India Medical Corps, Waddel’s book, Among the Himilayas, recounts the Sherpa guides descriptions of the Abominable Snowman or Yeti. In 1889, the Sherpa led the group down a glacier by following the footprints of Yeti, later compared to those of bear and other wildlife during the trek. They apparently were known to dwell at the tops of snowy peaks and were taken into account around much of Asia and on down to Indonesia by explorers.

In the Americas, Native American legends round up a garden variety of Sasquatch or Bigfoot accounts that reflect the European Wild Men stories. The names vary by tribe, from the Algonkian Windigo dubbed a ‘big brother’, to the Plains Cree Wetiko, to the Ojibway Rugaru who extrapolated the French term for werewolf, loup-garou as credited to the influence of French trappers and French-speaking missionaries. As one travels from tribe to tribe, the legends of the big hairy Wild Men change tone, ranging from abductions of Native American maidens to harbingers of danger to come. As the White Man interacted with the Native Americans while pioneering West and settling once indigenous territories, the settlers would’ve heard of the Wild Man. Some totem poles have been noted to display the Wild Man alongside other deified members of the Animal Kingdom.

In the Colonialized Eastern Seaboard and amongst the Pennsylvania Dutch, Germanic legends were imported and combined with other ancient European pagan stories of the Wild Men revered and even feared as deity. During the Victorian era, the Wild Man evolved into a jolly ole elf form more familiarly called Santa Claus. The Wild Man combined with Saint Nicholas legends and evolved from Robin Goodfellow and the Italian Harlequin and the Nordic Wode as well as other myths. An interesting treatment of the evolution of the legends is found in “Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Man” ISBN# 0786402466 by Phyllis Siefker.

Victorians had to wonder if those large tracks or warning howls were man or beast or something in between. Sometimes, they turned to occult methods to make a determination, or relegated any events or encounters unexplainable to the occult. For a more modern take on the long-standing legends, visit YouTube for an opinion by Dr. Jane Goodall, a legend in her own right.

To be continued.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Art of Embalming

While working on my new Civil War romance, Katie Rose, I wrote a scene where the heroine, whose brother-in-law has just been killed at Gettysburg, is making arrangements with an embalmer to have his body shipped home to Virginia.

Prior to the American Civil War, funerals were handled by close family members and friends. But the large number of battle casualties and deaths from illness occurring such great distances from home, changed how the removal, preparation and burial of the dead was handled.

Embalming the bodies of the dead became necessary to ensure that the body of a soldier could be returned to his family and laid to rest in the family plot.

"Dr. Thomas Holmes, the father of American embalming, was engaged by the medical department of the Union Army to set up battlefield embalming stations to enable the bodies of Union dead to be returned home. Numerous embalmers were trained in these new techniques, which included preparation of embalming fluids."

At this period in time, arsenic was used to keep the body sanitary and preserve it until burial.

Embalmers charged families about $7.00 for an enlisted man and $13.00 for an officer. They moved from one battlefield to the next, taking the comforts of home with them.

At the end of the war, embalmers who worked with the military returned to their homes taking their new skills with them.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Wyoming Firsts

I was watching the History Channel the other day, no surprise there. But their new series The States was on, and they were talking about Wyoming. It became a U.S. territory on July 25, 1868.

Reports of its vastness, beauty, and natural formations were thought to be greatly exaggerated. Accounts by Jim Bridger and John Colter (of the Lewis & Clarke Expedition) were dismissed as tall tales. How little did they know.

Once government sponsored expeditions to the Yellowstone country were
undertaken, the previous reports by men like Colter and Bridger were found to be
true. This led to the creation of Yellowstone National Park, which became the
world's first National Park in 1872.

But that’s not the point. The point is Votes for Women. (See previous blog.) As in Wyoming was the first to grant such. Yeah, sure, they wanted to ensure enough votes to be admitted as a state, but that’s almost secondary to the fact that they did it! Just check out their motto: The Equality State.

In fact, according to the History Channel thing, Wyoming refused to repeal women’s suffrage just because the U.S. didn’t want women in other states to get fanciful ideas in their pretty little heads. They were content to wait until the rest of the Union caught up with them, rather than take away suffrage.

Gotta admire that.

More Wyoming women firsts:
1869 Suffrage to women
1870 Women served on a jury in Laramie
1870 First female court bailiff (Mary Atkinson)
1870 First femal justice of the peace (Esther Hobart Morris)
1924 First elected female governor (Nellie Tayloe Ross)

If they could do it, why’d it take the rest of the country so long to catch up?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Electric Chair--What I didn't need to know

There is no reason I need to know this. But I was researching the history of the telephone on the Internet (which I do need to know for my WIP) and mentioned to my husband that the telephone was invented in Boston. He very smugly said "I knew that" and then went on to say that Edison was the one who invented the electric chair as proof that it was dangerous. "Noooo," said I, and then went on to surf the net to prove--yeah, he's right.

From, in 1887 Edison (who was one of my personal heroes before learning this) put a bunch of poor animals on an electric plate and shot current through it to show how dangerous AC current was. Apparently it was part of a smear campaign against Westinghouse, Edison's competitor. Edison was a DC kind of guy. Me, I don't know the difference between the two. I don't really care. I don't think the animals did either.

Shortly after that, in 1888, New York established electrocution as the official form of capital punishment for the state.

And so many people think about the Victorian era nostalgically as a better, gentler time! Hah!

I really did not need to know this, and I have no intention to use it ever in any of my books. That being said, I do have a morbid fascination with crime and punishment. . . . .

Monday, July 16, 2007

What Would Queen Victoria Think, Today? An Exercise in Writing

My quill pen is in my hand. It's dipped in blood red ink. Here's what's going on.

Characterizations for my Victorian novel are underway. They're being beefed up, today. That said, I’m turning off the charm, and looking at the character depth. My newest critique group is named, Brutal Honesty. It epitomizes my new approach to revisions – brutally honest.

I'm writing-in Queen Victoria as a ‘magic helper’ role in my novel. She was simply a whisper in the background and will now become a lion’s roar. She’ll create a moment of change in the storyline where one is missing. The hero-myth, as used in storytelling, presents the magic helper as the character who injects wisdom at a critical moment. The hero or heroine is able, then, to proceed.

So. How to write her in when she's half a world away?

Easily with letters. Victoria was a prolific letter writer and wrote to anyone who was anyone. My heroine has a moral dilemma – quite the quandary. The hero is not destined to be my heroine’s husband. Will they have an affaire? Victoria will write to my heroine, spouting her morality which has been succeeding in expanding her world, literally. What advice would Victoria be spewing in her letter? For she was known to take the proverbial bull by the horns in respect to moral issues and not just in the Peerage or the Aristocracy.

Victoria put in place morality laws and elevated social structure to clean up the image of the royalty. She wanted shining examples at the top. It went along with her expansionism that has never been surpassed. Insisting on impeccable backgrounds and behavior for her own spouse and those of her children, she’d advise my heroine not to have an affaire. In the letter, she believes her high morals are the reason for her success in love and matters of state.

She’d roll over in her grave, today, observing what remains of her value system within her progeny in England. Never would she have allowed a scandlized mistress to marry an heir to the throne, nor allowed wild young royals to live together out of wedlock. She won’t condone my heroine entertaining an affaire even though its with the heartthrob of a hero. Because my heroine is a courtier in another court that is more interested in emulating the decadence of the French court, my heroine's strong Christian upbringing is challenged.

Victoria's economizing traits, however, trickled down amongst some of her descendents, though not all. She’d approve of the tendency to turn off as many lights as possible and of using tea bags twice. Over spending on ball gowns was not her style, though, as she used her coffers to create the most formidable navy ever seen, for example. Twice the size of any other country’s forces. Today's group of royals are tending to forget they're essentially civil servants and their allowances are too high for them to be above reproach when compared to other heads of state for frivolity in the face of the public. Disposable wardrobes may be a problem, today, but in Victoria's time, she even re-used the laces and buttons from prior generations, and so did her aristocratic peers. My heroine, therefore, receives a number of reminders from her distant friend.

Economizing in other areas, though, allowed Victoria to focus on what she valued, such as information gathering in a quickly changing world. Emulating the German’s, Victoria focused heavily on creating spy networks, not wanting to be left behind. Real spies, for example, never participated in brothel offerings and attended church regularly. They were nicknamed, ‘ghosts.’ My noble hero happens to be spying, and so needs to remain above reproach, himself. Spies who broke the rules in the Victorian era were considered despicable fellows ever after. My hero has to make moral choices in his income potentials in the spy world, and in maintaining morals high enough to be eventually considered worthy of my heroine.

Victoria would roll over in her grave, today, at intelligence faux pas such as the mistakes in the War on Terrorism and chasing after weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist. Her spies weren’t put out to pasture in the manner of disrespect that occurs, today. Former members of Military Intelligence retire and then live in fear of black helicopters circling their homes as they stroll to the corner market and post such fears on web sites. Spies in the Victorian era were held in truly high esteem, and retired into elevated endeavors. The gifted Sir Robert Baden Powell came to the forefront on such matters, founding the Boy Scout moment which taught young males the same high value system instilled in the spies in Victoria's national espionage teams.

I’ve decided, then, on Queen Victoria’s role in my novel. She'll be a story complication and her successful morality movement a wrench in the cogs of the romance for my hero and heroine. Both my hero and heroine have much at stake if they break the Victorian social taboos being propelled forward by the most powerful queen in history.

It'll give them more to think about.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


It's all the rage. EVERYONE does it (OK, I don't. It requires patience and creativity I don't have.) It's new, it's exciting, it's...Victorian?

Another favorite pastime of both adults and children alike is the keeping of a scrapbook which is a collection of pictures on a subject of interest.

These scraps or "cutouts" can be printed in either black and white or in color, and either embossed or diecut. The collector fills his album with pictures grouped in themes, interspersed with personal notes, lines of poetry or dedications from family and friends.

Delighting in romanticism and sentimentality, popular scrapbook subjects include angels, children, birds, butterflies, pets, and fans. Also popular are military and naval themes as well as scraps depicting circus and seaside outings.

Victorians At LeisureThe Victorian Scrapbook

They scrapbooked cards, pictures from catalogs, Valentines, poems from admirers, sayings, anything they wanted to keep and remember. Sound familiar? OK, so they didn't invent them, but they did popularize them. Early scrap albums were looked upon as an extension of the diary and likewise used for the recording of personal mementoes and thoughts.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Princess Beatrice Contributed to Literature, Part 1

As the youngest of Queen Victoria's children, Beatrice's lot in life was to remain close to her mother. Even after Victoria's death on January 22, 1901, Beatrice spent much of the remainder of her years devoted.

Appointed literary executor of her mother's estate, Beatrice's daunting task was to edit Victoria's considerable volumes of diaries. The upside was that the diaries had been meticulously maintained.

In an era when letter-writing was begrudgingly prized, and journalizing was practically required, Queen Victoria had written more than most. Compelled to tear out incriminating or hurtful pages, Beatrice burned what was best buried with her mother, in her estimation. She dutifully copied by hand what remained into 111 volumes of notebooks provided by the court stationers, Parkins & Grotto.

What was omitted from the final versions of Queen Victoria's diaries is irreplaceable. On the other hand, the edited versions may have warranted some semblance of privacy in the very public world of Queen Victoria.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Another game

But this is a sports-related (online) board game. OK, so it's from a UK primary school, but it's fun! And it's short - there are only a couple questions but some interesting facts. The links open in a 2nd window.

Sports in Victorian Times

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Happy Independence Day, America!

The 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia was attended by millions. It's not every year you can celebrate your country's 100th anniversary, and those Victorians weren't letting this party pass them by. Plus, this was the first ever world's fair. An event not to be missed.

They were emerging from Reconstruction, and there was the successes of science, industry, and cultural exchange on an unprecedented level. There was everything from a giant Corliss steam engine and Turkish scarf dancers, to hundreds of replicas of fishes. [link]

The idea of the Centennial Exposition is credited to John L. Campbell. In December 1866, Campbell first suggested to Philadelphia’s mayor, William Strumberg Stokley, that the Centennial be celebrated with an exposition in there. It was, after all, the place the Declaration was signed.

Celebrations started as early as May 10, 1876 - there was a lot to see and do, had to start early.

Philadelphia was astir with the excitement of anticipation as a whole nation,
well prepared by months of publicity, waited. The day was May 10, 1876, and in a
few hours the President of the United States and the Emperor of Brazil would
open in Fairmount Park the great International Exhibition to celebrate the
centennial year of American independence.
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission

Games & Hobbies

It's summer so of course my mind turns to games - usually of the outdoor type but there are rainy days when you need to entertain yourself, too. I'll blog about that another day. Unless someone else wants to take that one?

There are sports (croquet, cricket, football, and boxing) and then there were the children's games. Now, one site I read has Games and Sewing under the same heading. As in girls sewed for fun. I'm not seeing this, but I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who do sew for fun. And I will gladly pay you to do any sewing I may need.

It was also an era when the rules were introduced. Marquess of Queensbury Rules for Boxing was just one. (I learned of these rules through The Quiet Man, that cool ending between John Wayne and Victor McLaglen. Great fight there!)

Rule # 11? No shoes or boots with springs allowed.

Well obviously.

Monday, July 02, 2007

President Garfield is shot 1881

Who? you're probably wondering. Yes, he was a US president - the 19th. Yes, he was shot. But who was he? The second president to be assassinated. He was in office for 4 whole months, and was killed by a disgruntled non-employee. You really do have to be careful of all the lunatics out there.

" attorney and political office-seeker named Charles Guiteau. He was a
relative stranger to the president and his administration in an era when federal
positions were doled out on a “who you know” basis. When his requests for an
appointment were ignored, a furious Guiteau stalked the president, vowing

Where were the Secret Service? As we know it, they didn't exist. Garfield was walking to the train that was to take him on a short vacation when Guiteau walked up behind him and fired 2 rounds. The first grazed Garfield’s arm, and the second lodged below his pancreas.

History of the Secret Service:

  • Created on July 5, 1865 in Washington, D.C., to suppress counterfeit currency.
  • In 1867 their responsibilities were broadened to include "detecting persons perpetrating frauds against the government." This appropriation resulted in investigations into the Ku Klux Klan, non-conforming distillers, smugglers, mail robbers, land frauds, and a number of other infractions against the federal laws.
  • 1894 they began informal part-time protection of President Cleveland.
  • 1901 Congress informally requested Secret Service Presidential protection following the assassination of President William McKinley. (The 3rd President assassinated.)
Historical accounts vary as to the exact cause of Garfield’s death. Some believe
that the physicians’ treatments—which included the administration of quinine,
morphine, brandy and calomel and feeding him through the rectum--may have
hastened his demise. Others insist Garfield died from an already advanced case
of heart disease.
I'm going with A...I'm sure the B cause of death was circulated by the idiot doctors who fed him through the rectum. Ewwww.