Turning Through History: The Fox Sisters

With Halloween upon us, it is fitting to focus on spiritualism and the occult for this blog post. This week, I’ll be focusing on the Fox Sisters, who are the epitome of the saying, “Trick or Treat.” These three girls, Leah, Margaret, and Catherine Fox, helped to found spiritualism, which is the belief that spirits can communicate with the living. The Fox Sisters gained a massive following with their ability to communicate with the dead. However, these “founders” would later admit their supernatural abilities was a hoax, a trick!

It started in 1848 in a house situated within Hydesville, New York. Margaret, then 15, and Catherine, then 12, lived in this house with their parents, which was reportedly haunted. At first, the family was not fearful of living within the house, but distant knocking and sounds similar to moving furniture began to frighten the Foxes. The family was soon convinced that spirits lived amongst them within the Hydesville home.

 

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The Fox Sisters in 1852. From left to right, Katherine, Leah, and Margaret. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

On a night in March, Catherine chose to communicate with the creator of the strange sounds. She communicated with the spirit with the snapping of her fingers. The spirit replied with raps. When asked to tell the ages of each of the Fox Sisters, the spirit rapped out the numbers. During the next few days, a language was created between the spirit and the girls that involved the girls snapping their fingers and the spirit rapping back answers.

Snapping and rapping.

The Fox Sisters gave the spirit a nickname, calling him “Mr. Splitfoot.” This is, frighteningly, a nickname for the devil. Over time, the spirit began to reveal his past to the girls. Mr. Splitfoot claimed he was a peddler in his past life, and his name was Charles B. Rosna. He continued to reveal that he was murdered only five years, previously, and he was buried in a cellar. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote about the Fox Sisters, claimed neighbors dug up the cellar and found bits of bone. However, it wasn’t until 1904 that a skeleton was found buried in the cellar wall. No one named Charles B. Rosna was ever identified.

 

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The childhood home of the Fox Sisters in Hydesville, Wayne County, New York. This is the house where raps were reported in 1848 and became the birthplace of the Spiritualist movement. (The Granger Collection/ Universal Images Group)

 

Neighbors of the Fox Sisters began to regard the girls as having supernatural abilities. The girls were sent to live with relative in nearby Rochester, and the raps continued. Amy and Isaac Post, longtime friends of the Fox family and radical Quakers, invited the girls to stay at their Rochester home. The Posts became convinced of the genuineness of the girls’ ability to commune with the dead and began to share the mysterious abilities of the girls with their Quaker friends. These radical Quakers would form the core of Spiritualists, which explains why Spiritualism connected with radical politics, such as abolition and women’s’ suffrage.

The Fox Sisters gave their first public demonstration of spiritualism at Corinthian Hall in Rochester on November 14, 1849. Those who came to view the demonstration paid to view the phenomena. This was the first of many such demonstrations, in which the Fox Sisters put their supernatural abilities on display. These performances accumulated into fame, and their séances in New York, in 1850, gained the notice of people like James Fenimore Cooper and Sojourner Truth. And, over time, many others would claim the ability to communicate with the dead (mediums).

However, there were skeptics who doubted the authenticity of the snaps and raps. Scientists and skeptics began to formulate theories on the sources of the noises. Physician E.P. Longworthy noted that the knockings and rappings happened under their feet or when their dresses touched the table. John W. Hurn published claims in the New York Tribune that the girls were frauds. Many other leading scientists of the day concluded the noises came from cracking joints, and many went so far as simulating their theories.

One particular investigation threw quite a bit of doubt on the Fox Sisters. Three investigators from the University of Buffalo had the sisters perform a séance while seated on a couch with cushions under their feet. The rappings did not occur under these conditions, and the investigators concluded the sounds came from cracking joints in the toes, knees, hips, and ankles.

 

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A public demonstration of Spiritualism. Here, the medium summons spirits and ghosts from the other side. (Science Photo Library)

 

 

Another instance occurred in 1857. The Boston Courier swore to give a $500 prize to any medium who could demonstrate genuine paranormal abilities in front of a committee of Harvard professors. The Fox sisters attempted to procure the prize, but failed when the committee concluded the rappings came from cracking joints.

However, one skeptic came to believe the genuineness of the Fox Sisters. William Crookes, a leading physicist, tested Catherine Fox in the 1870s, and concluded she was believable. However, Crookes’ contemporaries called him gullible and claimed he’d been caught up in the medium’s trickery.

And, remember when, in 1904, the skeleton of Charles B. Rosna was dug up from the cellar of the Fox Sisters’ childhood home? Neighbors claimed this to be the body of the peddler the Fox Sisters communicated with in 1848. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle embraced these claims in his writings. However, skeptic Joe Nickell researched into the matter and found evidence that even this was a further hoax. The bones were, in part, those of an animal and no peddler by that name existed.

Even though the Fox Sisters helped to found Spiritualism, many skeptics concluded their séances were just trickery. This would later be confirmed when the Fox Sisters confessed.

In 1888, Catherine and Margaret became wrapped up in a quarrel with Leah, their sister, and other prominent Spiritualists. The quarrel came about when concerns for Catherine’s and Margaret’s alcoholism were raised, along with Catherine’s inability to take care of her children. Margaret also longed to return to the Catholic Church, and she began to convince her “powers” were that of the Devil.

 

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The Fox Sisters in 1884. From left to right, Leah, Kate, and Margaret. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

Catherine and Margaret looked for a way to gain an edge in this embittering battle. The two found an opportunity in a reporter. They travelled to New York City to talk with a reporter, who was offering $1,500, if they revealed their tactics for communicating with spirits. The reporter gained an exclusive on their confession. To further their confession, Catherine and Margaret appeared before an audience of 2,000 in the New York Academy of Music. Both revealed how they could create the raps at will with the cracking of toe joints, while doctors, pulled from the audience, on the stage to verified this fact.

However, Margaret and Catherine cut their noses off to spite their faces. Only a year later, in 1889, both recanted their confessions at the pressure of the Spiritualist movement and their financial instabilities. Leah, on the other hand, married to a Wall Street banker, remained in a comfortable life. It was Margaret and Catherine who struggled to make income, once more, as mediums, but failed to bring the large crowds they once drew. Skeptical clients and sparse demand for their talents led to the two dying in poverty and being buried in pauper’s graves. All three sisters are buried in Brooklyn, New York.

Sources:

Abbott, Karen. “The Fox Sisters and the Rap on Spiritualism.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 30 Oct. 2012, www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-fox-sisters-and-the-rap-on-spiritualism-99663697/.

Stuart, Nancy Rubin. “The Fox Sisters: Spiritualism’s Unlikely Founders.” HistoryNet, HistoryNet, 4 Aug. 2016, www.historynet.com/the-fox-sisters-spiritualisms-unlikely-founders.htm

Taylor, Troy. “The Fox Sisters – The RIse and Fall of Spiritualism’s Founders.” THE FOX SISTERS – FOUNDERS OF THE SPIRITUALIST MOVEMENT, The Haunted Museum, www.prairieghosts.com/foxsisters.html.

Weisberg, Barbara. Talking to the Dead: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism. Harper Collins, 2008.

 

 

Turning Through History: The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall

Who’s the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall? Legend says she’s the ghost of Lady Dorothy Walpole, who was the sister of the first Prime Minister of Britain, Robert Walpole. She was the wife of Charles Townshend, but problems were prevalent in their marriage. Charles had a heavy hand, and he was not shy about slapping his wife around. When he discovered his wife having an affair with a Lord Wharton, he punished her by imprisoning her in Raynham Hall. However, another theory exists that she was imprisoned by the Countess of Wharton for sleeping with her husband. She was kept at Raynham Hall until she died of smallpox in 1726.

 

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Portrait of Lady Dorothy Walpole. Could her spirit be that of the Brown Lady? (Wikimedia Commons)

 

However, she didn’t start to haunt Raynham Hall immediately. It took more than a century for her specter to begin to appear in the halls and corridors of the grand estate. On Christmas of 1835, Lucia C. Stone recorded that Lord Charles Townshend invited guests to Raynham Hall for the holiday. Two of these guests, a Colonel Loftus and Hawkins, claimed to have seen a “Brown Lady” during their stay. They spotted the “Brown Lady” while on their way to their bedrooms, noting a woman in an outdated brown dress. The next night, the Colonel claimed to have seen her again, taking note of her eyes. Her eyes, he claimed, were empty eye sockets that glowed. His reports caused many staff members to resign from their service at Raynham Hall.

 

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Raynham Hall, the home of the Brown Lady…if she actually exists. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

Another claimed to have seen the Brown Lady in 1836. Captain Frederick Marryat was the friend of Charles Dickens and himself the author of popular seafaring novels. He asked to stay in the haunted room to prove a theory: local smugglers faked the haunting to scare people from the area. However, this happened to not be the case.

Captain Marryat slept in the haunted room with a revolver under his pillow. He slept there for two nights, but saw nothing. On the third night, Marryat heard a knock on the door. He opened the door to find… the two nephews of his host, who requested he come to their rooms to inspect a newly purchased gun. Captain Marryat went with the young men, but took his revolver with him, joking that it was, “in case you meet the Brown Lady.” Nervous, perhaps?

The three men strode down a long and dark hall as they made their way, but lamplight further along caused the men to take pause. One of the younger men claimed it was one of the ladies going to visit the nurseries. These men were in a state of half-dress, in nothing but their shirts and trousers. In gentlemanly modesty, the three decided to hide in the doorframes of opposing bedrooms to conceal themselves from the lady until she passed.

The men waited for the woman to pass, but as she came nearer and nearer… Captain Marryat recognize some of the lady’s features. She wore a brown, outdated dress. He held out his revolver, about ready to demand why the figure was there, when the Brown Lady stopped before him of her own volition. She greeted him with a shadowy and malicious smile, to which Captain Marryat’s response was to shoot her in the face. Honestly, why would you shoot a ghost in the face?

 

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Captain Frederick Marryat, the English novelist who thought it’d be wise to shoot a ghost in the face. (Design Pics Historical Collection / Universal Images Group)

 

Legend has it that the ghost disappeared on the spot as the bullet passed through the corridor and lodged into a panel of a door. Never again did Captain Marryat tempt fate with the Brown Lady.

The next sighting happened in 1926 when Lady Townshend claimed her son and his friend spotted the ghost on the staircase. On this very staircase, the Brown Lady was spotted again a decade later when in 1936 Country Life Magazine was featuring Raynham Hall for an article. Captain Hubert C. Provand, a photographer from London, was taking photographs for the article with assistance from an Indre Shira. Both claimed to have taken photographs of the main staircase, when setting up for a second round, Shira saw the misty form of a woman begin to appear. She was moving towards them, down the stairs. Provand removed the cap from the lens, under Shira’s orders, while Shira took what would become the famous photograph of the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall.

 

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The famous image of the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall. Do you recognize this photograph? (Wikimedia Commons)

 

Provand and Shira’s account was published in Country Life magazine and Life magazine, along with the photograph. Many paranormal investigators have since accepted the photograph as convincing proof of ghosts and the afterlife. However, many skeptics have claimed otherwise. One theory is that Shira rubbed grease onto the photograph to get the misty effect of the infamous form. Another claim is that it is accidental double exposure or that light slipped into the camera.

Most interestingly, one theory states that the lady in the photograph looks similar to the iconic image of the Virgin Mary. Supposedly, the light patch on the bottom part of the image shows an inverted “V” shape, which is similar to the outer garment worn by the Virgin Mary. Additionally, the head is covered and the hands in prayer, with a probable pedestal visible in the misty form. This could be a superimposition of a Virgin Mary statue onto the staircase.

Whatever the case, the legend stands as an entertaining story. And the photograph, well, I’ll let you determine that in the comments. What do you think? Fact? Fake?

Sources:

“The spectre of the Brown Lady will haunt us no more.” Independent on Sunday [London, England], 8 Oct. 2006, p. 26. General OneFile. Accessed 4 Oct. 2017.

PR, Script M. “Although She Died in 1726, it was Over… Derived Headline].” Eastern Daily PressOct 14 2015. ProQuest. Web. 4 Oct. 2017 .

Raynham Hall Museum, raynhamhallmuseum.org/.

“Raynham Hall, Norfolk | Raynham Hall Ghosts.” Haunted Rooms®, www.hauntedrooms.co.uk/product/raynham-hall-norfolk.

Ruffles, Tom. “The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall – Re-Examination of a Classic Ghost Photograph and a Possible Explanation : Tom Ruffles : Free Download & Streaming.” Internet Archive, 17 June 2017, archive.org/details/RufflesTheBrownLadyOfRaynhamHall.

Thompson, Jonathan. “The Brown Lady Spooks no More ; Famous Ghost Image Caused by Dodgy Camera.” The Independent on Sunday: 5. Oct 08 2006. ProQuest. Web. 4 Oct. 2017 .

Turning Through History: Was Jack the Ripper a Woman?

Many theories exist about the identity of Jack the Ripper. The most plausible theories name ordinary civilians as possible suspects, such as Joseph Barnett, a fish porter, and George Hutchinson, an unemployed laborer. Other theories are bit more far-fetched in their range of possible subjects, such as Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Sir William Withey Gull, the physician-in-ordinary to Queen Victoria. However, quite possibly the strangest theory is that Jack the Ripper was a woman.

But, before I delve into the possibility of a female Ripper, allow me to give you a little background information on arguably the most famous serial killer in recorded history. Jack the Ripper stalked the slums of Whitechapel, London for his victims—female prostitutes. He slit the throats of his victims and mutilated their bodies, removing internal organs from at least three poor women. This indicates that Jack the Ripper had knowledge of human anatomy, which provides a clue as to his—or her—identity.

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A map of the murder sites in Whitechapel, London. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

Now, Jack the Ripper was active between 1888 to 1891, presumably, in what is called the Whitechapel Murders. Estimates vary on the number of his/her victims. Many sources cite five women, called the “canonical five,” but files on the Whitechapel Murders includes eleven.

Rumors about the murders being connected increased through October of 1888, when press outlets and Scotland Yard, a historical equivalent to today’s police force, received letters from the supposed murderer. One of the letters, often referred to as the “Hell” letter, was sent to George Lusk, the head of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, a group of local volunteers who patrolled the streets of Whitechapel. This letter included a chunk of a human kidney. This sensational display fanned the public mind and molded the beginnings of the legendary name “Jack the Ripper.”

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The “From Hell” letter sent on October 15, 1888 to George Lusk, the head of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, a group of local volunteers who patrolled the streets of Whitechapel. (Wikimedia Commons)

Newspapers gave wide coverage to the murders as it happened. Police investigation looked into as many as eleven murders, but not all can be connected or attributed to one particular killer. Five victims conclusively link back to one killer. Circling back to the “canonical five,” these victims include Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly.

Any true crime junkie, especially those that love historical murders (raises hand slightly), knows that Jack the Ripper was never caught. Those theories that I mentioned at the start of the article are all we are left with in trying to figure out his—or her—identity. Most frustratingly, we will never know. We are only left with suppositions from Scotland Yard, journalists, and authors contemporary to Victorian London. We are also left with theories from modern day authors and couch detectives. One of these more interesting theories asks: “Was Jack the Ripper a woman?”

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The Whitechapel Monster again seen seeking another victim : outrages at the East End’. Illustrations relating to the Whitechapel or ‘Jack the Ripper’ murders. Image taken from The Illustrated Police News. Law courts and weekly record. Originally published/produced in London, December 1, 1888. The Illustrated Police News. Law courts and weekly. London, December 1, 1888. Colindale, front page, number 1,294. The Illustrated Police News. 1/12/1888 Front Page (British Library / Universal Images Group)

Back in the early 2000’s, an Australian scientist took swabs from those letters sent to Scotland Yard and press outlets by Jack the Ripper. You know, those letters that captured the attention of newspapers and created quite a bit of fanfare? Those swabs were tested for a DNA profile, which revealed an interesting discovery. Those samples revealed that those letters were likely sent by a woman!

Yes, a woman. I repeat, a woman.

And, this might not be so crazy. Original investigators into the crime had four suspects, all of whom were male. However, even the chief inspector began to consider a female killer when a witness familiar with the victim, Caroline Maxwell, claimed that she saw the fifth victim, Mary Kelly, hours after she was murdered. Maxwell swore she saw Kelly outside the Britannia public house, stumbling about and severely drunk. She said Kelly was wearing, “a dark shirt, velvet bodice, and maroon-coloured shawl.”  Maxwell identified this as clothing she’d seen Kelly wear a handful of times before. And this, I remind you, was hours after the victim’s death. The chief inspector surmised this was the female killer parading about in Mary Kelly’s clothes.

Later theories also note that a midwife would have knowledge of human anatomy, which was a possible clue mentioned earlier in this article. One of the most likely female suspects was Mary Pearcey, who was hanged in 1890 for the murder of her lover’s wife and child. These two unfortunate victims were killed in a manner similar to the modus operandi (MO) of the Ripper.

 

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Mary Pearcey–was she Jack the Ripper? I don’t know about anyone else, but this picture certainly gives me the chills. (Murderpedia)

 

 

Weird, huh?

Please let me know what you think in the comments below! Was Jack the Ripper a man…or a woman? What do YOU believe?

Sources:

Buist, Erica. “Jack the Ripper: Five Unlikely Suspects Other than Aaron Kosminski.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 8 Sept. 2014, www.theguardian.com/uk-news/shortcuts/2014/sep/08/jack-the-ripper-five-unlikely-suspects-other-than-aaron-kosminski.

Casebook: Jack the Ripper – Jack the Ripper: A Suspect Guide – Mary Eleanor Wheeler Pearcey, casebook.org/ripper_media/book_reviews/non-fiction/cjmorley/144.html.

5 Craziest Jack the Ripper Theories.” BBC America, www.bbcamerica.com/shows/ripper-street/blog/2013/01/the-5-craziest-jack-the-ripper-theories.

History.com Staff. “Was Jack the Ripper a Woman?” History Channel, History Channel, 15 Aug. 2012, www.history.com/news/ask-history/was-jack-the-ripper-a-woman.

Morris, John. Jack the Ripper: the Hand of a Woman. Seren, 2012.

 

Turning Through History: The Black Lady of Bradley Woods

Tucked away in Lincolnshire, England is the small village of Bradley. This village might at first seem obscure, when studying a map of England, but the surrounding woods boasts of an old legend.  A woman clothed in black; pale, stricken, her eyes teary. She’s young and pretty. Rather harmless, other than the fact that she is a ghost.

 

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Seventeenth century map of Lincolnshire. Can you find the village of Bradley on this map? (Britannica ImageQuest)

 

The Black Lady of Bradley Woods is viewed as a harmless apparition. Many have encountered her throughout the last few centuries. Many have seen the salt in her eyes, the flow of her black robes. However, who was the Black Lady when she was alive?

Several theories exist as to her identity. One theory states she was a nun at a nearby convent in Nunsthorpe. This explains her black clothing, but why would she be haunting the Bradley woods and not her convent? Why would she be so downcast in the afterlife?

Another theory states she was a spinster who lived in seclusion in a cottage in Bradley. Some even suggest she practiced witchcraft, which would explain her seclusion and grief. But, we’re missing a very important detail here. If the Black Lady is the ghost of a witch, where is the ghost of her black cat?

 

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Every witch is supposed to have a black cat, right? (Britannica ImageQuest)

 

And lastly, the most famous and interesting of the stories includes more detail in the history of the Black Lady. During the War of the Roses, a woodsman, his wife, and child lived in a cottage in the woods outside Bradley. The woodsman was recruited as a soldier in the army of the Earl of Yarborough. Time passed as the wife waited, with her baby in hand, for her woodsman husband to return.

She waited in their lonely cottage in the woods, as so many damsels in so many fairytales, but this story was not to have a happy ending. The enemy army soon advanced onto the village. She tried to escape with her baby, but her flight was interrupted by three cavalrymen.

Do you see where this story is turning?

She was raped and abandoned in the woods, with the cavalrymen taking her baby from her. She was disgraced in the tragedy and went on to search for her family, even after her soul moved on into the afterlife. And, as the legend finishes, many people in Bradley believe that if you go into the woods on Christmas Eve you can summon the ghost of the Black Lady with a simple chant. Much like Bloody Mary, all you need to say to make her appear is, “Black lady, black lady, I’ve stolen your baby.” Repeat this line three times, and she will appear. (Also, is it me, or do conjuring ghosts require a snappy phrase and repetition with the magic three?)

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Bradley Woods, the haunting grounds of the Black Lady. Go out into these forests on Christmas Eve and utter three times, “Black lady, black lady, I’ve stolen your baby” to see if you meet the ghost herself. (Wikimedia Commons)

Other possibilities might exist, but these three theories stand as the most substantial. My question is: which one is correct? Any ideas? Comment below!

Sources:

“The Black Lady at Bradley Woods.” Lincolnshire Info, www.lincolnshireinfo.co.uk/north-east-lincolnshire/bradley/black-lady-bradley-woods/.

Mullins, Canon. “Bradley Village & Parish History.” Bradley Village, Bradley Village, www.bradleyvillage.co.uk/history/.

O’Neill, Susanna. (January 2012). Folklore of Lincolnshire. History Press Limited. pp. 132–133.

 

Turning Through History: Lord Byron’s Skull Cup

Lord Byron was “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” He earned the phrase from his discarded lover, Lady Caroline Lamb, and he more than lived up to the infamous epitaph. He lived for carnal pleasure, taking men and women as lovers. He lived for carnal pleasure, left a trail of broken hearts in his wake, and didn’t give a damn. This is why I find Lord Byron to be such an interesting character, and why I wanted to write a post on him for this week’s “Turning Through History.”

 

NPG 142; George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron replica by Thomas Phillips
Lord Byron in Albanian Dress, by Thomas Phillip. Painted in 1813. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Of course, when tackling someone as interesting as Lord Byron, where does one start? There are so many quirks, eccentricities, and stories I could focus on in paying attention to this raucous poet. Do I start with his relationship with the Shelleys? His only legitimate daughter, Ada Lovelace, surprisingly one of the first computer programmers? Or his self-imposed exile? I decided to tackle something smaller, something rather mundane in the larger scheme of the poet’s life, but fascinating regardless…

Lord Byron owned a skull cup.

Now, you must be asking yourself, “What the hay does that mean?” I’ll tell you! Lord Byron owned a cup fashioned from an actual skull. Yes, Lord Byron drank out of human remains.

 

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Byron’s ancestral home of Newstead Abbey, where the infamous skull was discovered. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

 

After attending Trinity College in Cambridge, Lord Byron resided at his family home of Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire. Newstead Abbey had been an Augustinian priory, until it was granted to one of Byron’s ancestors in 1540 by Henry VIII. On the property was a graveyard where the priory monks had been buried. One of the gardeners of the estate discovered a skull on the grounds, from one of the graves, and Lord Byron claimed it for his own. He had it fashioned into a cup for him to drink from, which he purportedly used to make toasts at many of his wild parties.

Lord Byron was so taken with the skull, he even wrote a poem in its honor:

“Start not—nor deem my spirit fled:
   In me behold the only skull
From which, unlike a living head,
   Whatever flows is never dull.

I lived, I loved, I quaff’d, like thee:
   I died: let earth my bones resign;
Fill up—thou canst not injure me;
   The worm hath fouler lips than thine.

Better to hold the sparkling grape,
   Than nurse the earth-worm’s slimy brood;
And circle in the goblet’s shape
   The drink of Gods, than reptiles’ food.

Where once my wit, perchance, hath shone,
   In aid of others’ let me shine;
And when, alas! our brains are gone,
   What nobler substitute than wine?

Quaff while thou canst—another race,
   When thou and thine like me are sped,
May rescue thee from earth’s embrace,
   And rhyme and revel with the dead.

Why not? since through life’s little day
   Our heads such sad effects produce;
Redeem’d from worms and wasting clay,
   This chance is theirs, to be of use.”

Lord Byron left behind a legacy with his many fancies, eccentricities, and romances, which made him “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” He’s also remembered for his creative genius as one of the most brilliant poets of the Romantic movement, for poems such as “She Walks In Beauty,” “The Corsair,” “Don Juan,” and “The Vision of Judgement.” But the most important take away from all this⸺he owned a skull cup!

Sources:

Byron, George Gordon. “Lines Inscribed Upon a Cup Formed from a Skull.” Poets.org, Academy of American Poets, 11 July 2017, www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/lines-inscribed-upon-cup-formed-skull.

“Lord Byron (George Gordon).” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/lord-byron.

Mondragon, B. “Neurotic Poets.” Neurotic Poets – Lord Byron, www.neuroticpoets.com/byron/.

Strangeremains. “Halloween Horror Post #9: Lord Byron’s Skull Cup.” Strange Remains, 28 Dec. 2016, strangeremains.com/2016/10/15/halloween-horror-post-9-lord-byrons-skull-cup/.

Turning Through History: The British Museum

One part of researching for a story is not including every detail you dig up. I’ve begun working on an idea for a novel, which includes researching angles for the professions of one of the characters. Originally, I was going to have this character work for the British Museum, but this angle fell through with further research. I could not find enough information on employees of the Museum throughout the Victorian era, but I was able to piece together a general history of the great institution. I do not want this research to go to waste, so I will share about the British Museum, here. However, I will only share through the nineteenth century, as that has been the primary focus of my research.

In 1753, a fellow named Sir Hans Sloane passed away. He granted to the king at the time, George II, a collection of rarities and oddities. Sir Sloane had amassed the collection over the span of his lifetime, which totaled at 71,000 objects when he died. His collection included books, rare manuscripts, coins, paintings, prints, and even dead animals, or “natural specimen.”

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Sir Hans Sloane. The man who started it all. Credited to Wikimedia Commons. 

 

Collections of other great men were integrated into the original collection. This included the collections of Robert Haley, 1st Earl of Oxford, and Sir Robert Cotton.  Parliament passed an act on June 7, 1753, which established the British Museum. However, the museum itself did not open to the public until January 15, 1759.

Montagu House was the original home of the Museum, and remained open to any and all with an inquisitive mind. Admission was free, and so quite a few came to pass through the doors. However, the original building that houses the Museum was constructed from 1823 to 1852. This building was designed in the Greek Revival style by Sir Robert Smirke on the site of Montagu House.

 

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The British Museum from Great Russell Street in 1852. Credit to Wikimedia Commons. 

 

However, it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that the Museum gained true notoriety, arguably. This increase in notoriety came with acquisitions that gained great press and interest from the public. The Rosetta Stone was included into the collection in 1802 and statues from the Parthenon found their way into the collection in 1816. George IV gifted the King’s Library in 1823, which launched the construction of additional buildings.

By 1857, both the quadrangular building, which housed the King’s Library, and the Reading Room had been constructed to hold the expanding collection. In the 1880s, the Natural History Museum was established when the natural history collections were removed to a building in South Kensington.

 

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The Reading Room in the British Museum. Built to hold the King’s Library, gifted by King George IV in 1823. Great minds, such as Karl Marx and Virginia Woolf, labored within this great room. Credited to Wikimedia Commons. 

 

The Museum became greatly involved in archaeological expeditions. Its Assyrian collections were the result of such expeditions, which created an understanding of cuneiform. The Rosetta Stone also had the same effect in understanding Egyptian hieroglyphs.

 

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The famous Rosetta Stone. Housed in the British Museum. Credited to Wikimedia Commons. 

 

It’s active participation and increasing collection made the British Museum a center of Victorian society and culture. Droves came to the Museum to view the collections, ranging from the historical, to the natural, to the curious. Those from all tiers of society mingled together within the walls of the Museum for lectures, displays, and popular guides written specifically for the collections. The Museum grew as the nineteenth century wore on, and continued to grow into the national landmark and treasure that stands today.

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British Museum today. Credited to Wikimedia Commons. 

 

Sources:

“The British Museum Opened.” The British Museum Opened | History Today, www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/british-museum-opened.

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “British Museum.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 2 May 2013, www.britannica.com/topic/British-Museum.

“History of the British Museum.” British Museum – General history, britishmuseum.org/about_us/the_museums_story/general_history.aspx.

Knowles, Rachel. “The History of the British Museum.” Regency History, www.regencyhistory.net/2013/01/the-history-of-british museum.html.                          

 

Turning Through History: Thornseat Lodge

Not much information exists on Thornseat Lodge. It’s a dilapidating hunting lodge in Yorkshire. It is abandoned, not kept, but its beauty remains apparent in the architecture. It’s walls still tell a story, even if little of that story can be found on the great, wide internet.

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Thornseat Lodge in all its glory. Credit: Sheffield History

Thornseat Lodge was built in 1855 for Thomas Jessop. But, who was Thomas Jessop? Allow me to tell you, because that is why you came to this dark corner of the net, right? To read about obscure histories, long forgotten?

Thomas Jessop was born to William Jessop in January 1804 in Blast Lane, Sheffield. William Jessop’s Sheffield house was beside his steelwork company, which he ran with his partners. These three partners gave the company the name of Mitchell, Raikes, and Jessop. However, markets expanded into the United States. Thomas joined the business along with his three brothers. The steel company became known as William Jessop & Sons in 1832.

An entrance into Thornseat Lodge. You can see the shrubbery growing inside the house. Credit: Sheffield History

Thomas Jessop eventually came to own the entire company in 1871, after the passing of his brothers and father. He, himself, passed away on November 30, 1887, and he is buried in Ecclesall Parish Churchyard.

Thornseat Lodge, built for his use as a hunting lodge, was used for a time after his death. It was a children’s orphanage in the 1930s into the 1980s, when it was abandoned. In the mid-1980s, it was purchased by a moderately successful and local businessman by the name of Doug Hague. And, in the land registry, the hunting lodge is registered to Hague Construction.

A room inside Thornseat Lodge. Another example of the neglect. Credit: Sheffield History

Altogether, other than some talk in 1994 to convert the building for usage, the plans fell through, and the building has since been left to rot. It is entirely abandoned, as my research has found, but the beauty in the structure remains.

 

Smashed and broken windows. Credit: Sheffield History

 

One can see remnants of its grandeur from its Victorian days. What did those walls see? What did Mr. Jessop bring home from his hunt? What games did those 1930s children play? It is the perfect setting for a story, as I am currently writing. A short story, one that is more haunted and haunting. One that I hope comes alive with my limited, but worthwhile, research.

You have to admit, despite it’s neglect and decay, this IS the perfect setting for an unsettling story. Credit: Sheffield History

Sources:

May, Roger. “Thornseat Lodge (C) Roger May.” Thornseat Lodge (C) Roger May :: Geograph Britain and Ireland. Accessed June 14, 2017. http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/171059.

“Thornseat lodge.” Derelict Places. Accessed June 14, 2017. http://www.derelictplaces.co.uk/main/residential-sites/25329-thornseat-lodge.html#.WUH4MIWcGM8.

“Thornseat Lodge, Mortimer Road, Nr Agden Dam – past Bradfield Sheffield.” Take now or stay the same. April 26, 2009. https://projectsheffield.wordpress.com/2009/04/25/thornseat-lodge-mortimer-road-nr-agden-dam-past-bradfield-sheffield/.

“Thornseat Lodge.” Sheffield History. Forum started on February 17, 2007. http://www.sheffieldhistory.co.uk/forums/topic/180-thornseat-lodge/

 

Turning Through History: Poison in the Cocoa

Currently, I am working on a new short story, and I am pulling inspiration from a number of places. I have become inspired by Thornseat Lodge, a hunting lodge in Yorkshire, as the setting for the story. I almost wrote a blog post about the crumbling, Victorian era residence, but I found another source of inspiration much more interesting for a blog post. This is the scandalous trial of Madeleine Smith.

You see, Madeleine Smith was not a conventional Victorian era miss. She was a young, beautiful woman living in Glasgow, Scotland, but she did not live by society’s dictates. She broke the rules of chastity and convention when, in 1855, she started an affair with a man by the name of Pierre Emile L’Angelier. A rather sensual name, if you think about it.

 

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Photo of Madeleine Smith, the accused poisoner. Doesn’t looking into her eyes give you chills? Credit: Murderpedia.

 

Madeleine was young and in love. Passionately in love. Her affair with L’Angelier was torrid, and also secret. Her parents did not know about her lover, because he was socially beneath her as an apprentice nurseryman. Madeleine’s parents would’ve never accepted his suit for her hand. This is evidenced in the fact that her parents rejected the idea when, at one point, she brought up the possibility of marrying him, which was met with swift rejection and condescension.

Still, her affair remained secret. The lovers met often at her bedroom window, and at night. The two also exchanged passionate, and scandalous, letters. Letters filled with longing and idealization. On one of their meetings, the two even consummated their affair. Madeleine had lost her virginity to Pierre, and this was apparent in the letters the two exchanged.

If her parents ever discovered the truth, she could have been disowned and thrown out of the family’s home. And, what would have happened, then? Opportunities were limited, already, for women without a whiff of scandal attached to their reputations. Honest work would be nearly impossible to find for a fallen woman. A woman of dubious morals. In essence, a woman who was not a virgin.

Of course, Madeleine wanted to keep the affair a secret, and she was able to for two years. Until, in 1857, her father found a suitable match for her. One of his friends, a William Harper Minnoch, who was an upper-middle class man.

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Profile of Madeleine Smith. Image from “The Complete Report of the Trial of Madeleine Smith”, 1857. Credited: Wikimedia Commons

 

Seeing her future mapped out for her, Madeleine tried to retrieve those passionate letters from Pierre. However, he refused to return their correspondence. Rather, he blackmailed her. Either she married him, or he would show those letters to her fiancé. Madeleine decided there was another option.

She was observed by witnesses visiting a druggist’s office…ordering arsenic. She signed her name as “M.H. Smith.” She gave him a cocoa on one of their clandestine meetings. Cocoa laced with arsenic. Pierre Emile L’Angelier died on March 23, 1857. Clearly, the lesson here is to never blackmail a woman into marrying you.

After dying from arsenic poisoning, Pierre’s lodgings were searched through. Madeleine’s letters were discovered, anyway, and she was arrested and charged with his murder. During her trial, she was viewed as an innocent woman, incapable of the crime. However, the evidence pointed to her, considering she had a motive and was spotted purchasing arsenic, a handful of times, before Pierre’s death. She was given a verdict of “Not Proven,” which is a verdict that can only be given in Scotland.

 

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Trial of Madeleine Smith. Drawn by A. Duncan Smith in 1905. Credited: Wikimedia Commons

 

Madeleine Smith lived a full, and free, life. In 1861, she married an artist and had two children. She participated in the Fabian Society, and even served coffee at the meetings. She was surprisingly able to handle the beverages, because she was known by her married name, and few knew of her dramatic past. Luckily, no one died of arsenic poisoning. She moved to New York City after separating with her husband in 1889. She married a second time in 1916.

She lived a rather unremarkable life after her affair and murder charges. However, her legacy remains a source of plays and novels, including myself. I am basing a character on her and her fascinating past, and I hope you can see why. Her choice of weapon, although common, is interesting when you consider what she served it in–cocoa, of all things!

Sources:

Johnson, B. (n.d.). Famous Victorian Poisoners. Retrieved from http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/Victorian-Poisoners/

MacGowan, D. (2011, March 5). The Trial of Madeleine Smith. Retrieved from https://www.historicmysteries.com/the-trial-of-madeleine-smith/

Madeleine Smith and her poisonous tale. (2005, November 23). Retrieved from http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/madeleine-smith-and-her-poisonous-tale-1-465286

The Strange Affair of Madeleine Smith: Victorian Scotland’s Trial of the Century by Douglas MacGowan

 

 

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