The Adoration Face Powder box dates from the 1920s/1930s, and because the design on the box appears to be that of a spider web it brings to my mind the spooky goings on of Halloween.

Halloween is a contraction of “All Hallows’ Eve” and it is an annual celebration observed in many countries on October 31, the eve of the feast of All Hallows (or All Saints).

Scholars believe that the celebration was originally influenced by western European harvest festivals and festivals of the dead. The end of the harvest season is a symbolic death — the fields are left fallow for a period of time in order to restore their fertility — to be resurrected in the spring.

In A HARVEST OF DEATH, Civil War photographer Timothy H. O’Sullivan captured the image of dead soldiers on a battle field waiting to be collected, or harvested, for burial.

A Harvest of Death

The dead have a powerful hold on the living, and festivals of the dead have been observed in many different cultures for centuries.

One of the best known festivals of the dead is Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican holiday  and is held on November 1st (honoring deceased children) and November 2nd (honoring deceased adults). The living go to cemeteries to be with the souls of the departed. Private altars are built at grave sites and may contain favorite foods, beverages, photos, and other memorabilia of the departed.

Spending quality time with the souls of the departed wasn’t enough for the Victorians, they wanted to speak with their deceased loved ones. Elijah Bond, an American lawyer and inventor, made chatting with the deceased a reality — well, if you believe in the power of the Ouija board.  On July 1, 1890 the Ouija board was introduced by Bond, and he received a patent for it in 1891.

Elijah Bond

The Ouija board was originally regarded as a harmless parlor game; but following the carnage of WWI many people were desperate to reach loved ones who had been killed during the conflict, and they searched for ways in which to communicate with their sons, brothers, and husbands. Many of the survivors of the Great War, including the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, found comfort in spiritualism.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Pearl Curran was an American spiritualist who popularized the Ouija board as a divining tool. By all accounts she was an ordinary girl with no special gifts or particular ambitions. She married John Howard Curran when she was 24.  The couple’s upper middle-class lifestyle afforded Pearl the opportunity to spend her free time playing cards and calling on friends.

In 1912 Pearl and her friend Emily Grant Hutchings paid a call on a neighbor who had a Ouija board.  During the visit Emily claimed to have received a message from a relative. Emily purchased a Ouija board and took it to Pearl’s house with the plan of communicating further with the spirit of her deceased relative.

Initially Pearl was indifferent to her friend’s new obsession, but she finally agreed to participate at the board.  On June 22, 1912 Pearl received a communication from a spirit who identified herself as only as Pat-C. Then on July 18, 1913 the board became possessed with unusual strength and energy and Pat-C began to reveal further information about herself. She said “Many moons ago I lived. Again I come. Patience Worth my name. Wait, I would speak with thee. If thou live, then so shall I.”

In 1916, Pearl Curran wrote a book publicizing her claims that she had contacted the long dead Patience Worth.  By 1919 the pointer on Pearl’s board would just move around aimlessly, but it didn’t matter.  Pearl had progressed to pictorial visions of Patience Worth. She said “I am like a child with a magic picture book.  Once I look upon it, all I have to do is to watch its pages open before me, and revel in their beauty and variety and novelty…”

Pearl became Patience’s amanuensis, and she faithfully transcribed the stories that came to her through Worth’s spirit.  Together the pair wrote novels including: Telka; The Sorry Tale; Hope Trueblood; An Elizabethean Mask as well as several short stories and many poems.

Of course there were the inevitable naysayers who didn’t buy Pearl’s story of a long dead writing partner. Some of the skeptics noted that Patience was somehow able to write a novel about the Victorian age, which came 200 years after she had lived.

However it happened, the literature produced by Patience Worth was considered by many to be first rate.  Worth was cited by William Stanley Braithwaite in the 1918 edition of the Anthology of Magazine Verse and Year Book of American Poetry by printing the complete text of five of her poems, along with other leading poets of the day including William Rose Benet, Amy Lowell, and Edgar Lee Masters!

Here is one of Patience Worth’s poems, The Deceiver:

I know you, you shamster! I saw you smirking, grinning

Nodding through the day, and I knew you lied.

With mincing steps you gaited before men, shouting of your valor,

Yet you, you idiot, I knew you were lying!

And your hand shook and your knees were shaking.

I know you, you shamster! I heard you honeying your words,

Licking your lips and smacking o’er them, twiddling your thumbs

In ecstasy over your latest wit.

I know you, you shamster!

You are the me the world knows.

Pearl Curran’s husband, John, passed away on June 1, 1922. It was John who had kept meticulous records of the Patience Worth sessions, so with his death the records became sporadic and fragmentary.

Pearl married two more times but the marriages were short-lived.  In the summer of 1930 Pearl left her home in St. Louis for good and moved to California to live with an old friend in the Los Angeles area. On November 25, 1937 Patience communicated for the last time; she said that Pearl was going to die very soon.

Even though Pearl had not been in ill health, she developed pneumonia in late November and passed away on December 3, 1937.

A thorough investigation of the Pearl/Patience case was conducted during Pearl’s lifetime by Dr. Franklin Prince. In 1927 the Boston Society for Psychic Research published Dr. Prince’s book. As a part of his investigation Dr. Prince wrote an article entitled The Riddle of Patience Worth, which appeared in the July 1926 issue of Scientific American. He asked that anyone with information on the Pearl/Patience case to contact him, but no one ever did.

If you’d like to learn more about Pearl Curran and Patience Worth, visit the website dedicated to her (them?)

Photo from the LA Times

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Being in vogue in the 1910s

Doesn’t everyone want to be in vogue? Women in the 1910s certainly did, and one of the face powders they counted on to enhance their beauty was Vogue.

What’s playing at the Bijou?

The earliest ad I found for Vogue Face Powder appeared on July 12, 1914 in the Daily Review, which was a local paper in Decatur, Illinois. According to the advertisement, the purchase of a $.35 ($7.44 in current USD) box of the face powder would get you a free ticket to the Nickel Bijou! No right thinking woman could have passed up an opportunity like that. And what would have been playing on the big screen? The extremely popular serial, “The Perils of Pauline”, which debuted in 1914 and made Pearl White a star. There was a time when Pearl was even more popular than “America’s Sweetheart”, Mary Pickford!

The “Perils of Pearl”

Pearl White not only cheated death and escaped disaster in each of the films in the “…Pauline” series, she did a pretty fair job of cheating biographers out of the true story of her life. She had a flair for story telling, and she never let the truth get in her way. She told whoppers about her early life, at one point even telling reporters that there hadn’t been one natural death in her family in three generations and that except for herself, only her mother and one sister remained alive. It’s not clear how, or if, Pearl explained that story to her father and one of her brothers; both still very much alive at the time she told the tale! 

Another story that Pearl loved to tell was how she ran away from home at a young age and joined the circus, becoming both a trapeze artist and a bareback rider (undoubtedly another of her fabrications).

Pearl didn’t really need to manufacture any drama; her real life had plenty. She was married for the first time at age 18 (in 1907) to a fellow actor, Victor Sutherland. The couple divorced a few years later.

In 1919 Pearl met and married Major Wallace McCutcheon, Jr., a WWI vet. Wallace was an occasional actor, mainly on the stage and in light comedic roles; however, the war profoundly changed him. He was one of the many young men to return to their homes suffering from shell shock (i.e. psychological trauma). Only a couple of months following their divorce in 1921, a heavily armed Wallace vanished from a private club in New York. He was found many months later, and then spent the next several years drifting.  On January 4, 1928 Wallace was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a Los Angeles rooming house. Allegedly found near his body was a bottle of bathtub gin and a note that read: “Have a drink”.

And if there wasn’t enough excitement in her personal life, there was the day-to-day excitement of shooting action pictures in New York (Pearl never worked in Hollywood), as well as performing many of her own stunts.

Pearl’s later years

Like many artists and performers, Pearl was drawn to Paris in the years following World War I. She was offered film roles, but she preferred to perform on the stage. She did make one final film in 1924 — and then starred in a few stage reviews at the Montmarte Music Hall in Paris before retiring from performing.

One true thing about Pearl was that she knew how to hold on to a dollar. While in France she invested in a successful nightclub, a resort hotel and casino in Biarritz, as well as a stable of thoroughbred race horses.

At some point she became romantically involved with a Greek businessman, Theodore Cossika, with whom she travelled around the Middle East and the Orient.

As a result of injuries she sustained during stunt work, Pearl was in chronic pain. In order to ease the pain Pearl began to drink excessively. She was hospitalized in 1933 and was given opiates, to which she became addicted.

Pearl died of cirrhosis at age 49 on August 4, 1938 in the American Hospital in Neuilly, France. She was buried in the Cimetiere de Passy.

 

The Gimbel hair net envelope dates from the early to mid 1920s. The sweet little floral design in the upper corners is typical of the period, and the depiction of women playing sports reflects the sports mania that was a large part of the era.

I have an admission to make — I did not give up a promising career in sports to become a writer. Things may have been different for me if I’d been around in the 1920s because sports of all kinds were wildly popular. In particular, women enthusiastically participated in everything from tennis to hockey. Maybe I’d have found my sport and excelled in it, just like Suzanne Lenglen did.

Suzanne Rachel Flore Lenglen was born on May 24, 1899 about 70 km north of Paris, France, and she would become the first female superstar in tennis, and also the first major tennis star to turn professional.  Suzanne was a sickly child who suffered from several ailments, including chronic asthma, so her father suggested that she try tennis as a way to build her strength. Almost immediately she demonstrated a talent for the sport and her father began to train her in earnest. He would place handkerchiefs around the court which he would then expect Suzanne to be able to hit with a serve or return. Young Suzanne was an apt pupil and she quickly became a player to be reckoned with.

In 1914, only four years after beginning to play, Suzanne spent her 15th birthday winning the World Hard Court Championship at Saint-Cloud.  The outbreak of World War I at the end of 1914 put an end to  most national and international tennis competitions, and Lenglen would have to wait until 1920 to begin to compete on the world stage.

King George and Queen Mary

King George and Queen Mary

At Wimbledon in 1920 the young French woman faced Dorthea Douglass Chambers. Chambers had won at Wimbledon seven times previously, and Suzanne had never before played on a grass court! The women played to a packed stadium of several thousand spectators, including King George V and Queen Mary!

Charlotte Cooper

Charlotte Cooper

Sure, it was a stellar match – which Suzanne went on to win, but what really captured the attention of the  crowd was the audacity of Lenglen’s tennis costume, and maybe the fact that she would sip brandy from a flask between sets. In the years prior to 1920 women had played tennis dressed similarly to Charlotte Cooper, and probably sans a booze filled flask.

Suzanne was a rebel. She would play tennis in a dress that fell only to mid-calf (revealing the tops of her stockings when she moved just so); and if that wasn’t shocking enough, she bared her forearms, wore a nifty little bandeau, often secured with a brooch, on her cropped ‘do and she frequently appeared on the court in make-up.  She was given the nickname La Divine and it suited her. She was a sports diva. She was passionate and wasn’t shy about showing her emotions. She would often pout or burst into tears if she played badly.

Suzanne Lenglen

Suzanne Lenglen

Imagine for a moment being dressed like Charlotte Cooper and then attempting to compete with Suzanne as she darted around the court unencumbered by a voluminous skirt, long sleeves, starched collar and tie!

Jean Patou

Jean Patou

Suzanne’s daring costume  revolutionized the way in which women dressed to play tennis, and in addition to her cutting edge tennis togs(designed by the legendary couturier Jean Patou!), Suzanne made a fashion statement off of the court with her bobbed hair, make-up, and clothing in the latest styles. She was admired for her skill with a tennis racket, and for her fashion sense. In fact, Miss Lenglen even had a tennis shoe named after her!

Suzanne at Wimbledon, 1926

Suzanne at Wimbledon, 1926

So, let’s raise a flask of brandy (or in my case a gin gimlet) and make a toast to the incomparable Suzanne Lenglen. What a remarkable woman. She won at both Wimbledon and the French Open setting records that would remain unbroken for decades.

Suzanne would retire from the world of tennis and go on to found a school where she would teach others to play and to love the game. Among her accomplishments she was an author who wrote Lawn Tennis (1925), Lawn Tennis for Girls (1930), and Tennis by Simple Exercises (1937).

Tragically, her life would be cut short. She was diagnosed with leukemia in June of 1938. Three weeks following a newspaper report of her ailment she went blind. She died at age 39 on July 4, 1938 of pernicious anemia.

Suzanne’s legacy lives on — Court Suzanne Lenglen is the secondary tennis court at the Stade Roland Garros in Paris, France. It was built in 1994 and holds 10,068 spectators. There is a statue of Suzanne, in full stride, outside of the stadium.

Duska Face Powder Box c. 1925

Duska Face Powder Box c. 1925

The face powder box shown above is called Duska. You can tell that the box was created during the 1920s because the fountain design was borrowed from Rene Lalique’s crystal fountain, which had been a feature at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris during 1925. It was the exposition that introduced the moderne style, later dubbed art deco, to the world.

Lalique Fountain

Lalique Fountain

Lalique’s fountain had a structure reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower, but the water flowed out in way that gave it soft undulating curves, much like those of the Paris Metro signs. 

The expo had originally been expected to open in 1914 – but WWI intervened. It wasn’t until 1921 that the financing and location were settled, and the expo finally opened in 1925. 

The moderne style grew out of several styles, including art nouveau. While art nouveau reveled in sensuous curves and muted tones, the moderne style was vibrant in color, and its shapes were geometric.

The design of the Duska face powder box borrows elements from both Art Noveau and Art Deco.

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker

If I could time travel, I’d like to spend a while as an expatriate in Paris during the 1920s and 1930s.  Following WWI, the “War to End All Wars”, Paris was inhabited by artists, writers, and some of the physical and emotional causalities of the horrors of trench warfare. 

Many of the people who came of age during the years following WWI rejected 19th century values, and its art, and earned the moniker the “Lost Generation“. Some of the Americans who gravitated to the expat’s life in Paris would become international literary superstars: Ernest Hemmingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos. Others of them were artists and performers, like Josephine Baker.

I visualize myself at a sidewalk café (where else?) watching the passing parade of literati.  Maybe I’d be involved in a steamy assignation a la Anais Nin and Henry Miller.

Anais Nin

Anais Nin

It would have been an exciting place to be, with a cast of characters one can only dream about.  Fortunately, there are ways in which to vicariously experience life in Paris during the 1920s/30s – you can read Hemmingway’s novels, Anais Nin’s diaries or erotica, Henry Miller’s novel “Quiet Days in Clichy” (which I loved) or rent the 1988 film “The Moderns” or the 1990 film Henry and June” , which was based upon a portion of Nin’s diaries.

Until time travel becomes an option, we’ll have to use our imaginations – so mix yourself a gimlet (gin, please!), slip into vintage clothes, and curl up with one of the aforementioned books,  watch one of the movies, or listen to le jazz hot.

And ladies – don’t forget to powder your nose.