This issue of Digging History Magazine features the Victorian Era:

  • “Oh, Victoria, You’ve Been Duped:  Haints, Hoaxes and Humbug in the Age of Acceleration”.  For Americans it seems a strange misnomer to label a significant portion of our own nineteenth century history as Victorian. After all, Queen Victoria, who ascended to the British throne in 1837 at the tender age of eighteen, was not our ruler. America was no longer under British rule, yet Britain still dominated the world. America progressed through a number of eras of rapid change during the nineteenth century – the Second Great Awakening, Manifest Destiny, Industrial Revolution, Antebellum, Civil War, Reconstruction and the so-called Gilded Age. Perhaps it has become more convenient to enfold our own “age of acceleration” into the so-called “Victorian Era”. . . It has always fascinated me that despite an era of progressiveness and sophistication, this century – much of which encompassed the vaunted “Victorian Era” – produced some of the most stunning dupery in human history. Victorians were among the most hoodwinked and hornswoggled to have ever inhabited planet Earth.
  • “It Was a Victorian Thing:  Get Me Out of Here – I’m Not Dead Yet!”  Merriam-Webster defines fear as “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation of awareness of danger.”1 When fear becomes exaggerated, inexplicable and illogical it escalates to the level of phobia. While it isn’t uncommon for human beings to fear death, Victorians had a decidedly good reason for a heightened sense of dread in regards to life’s inevitable conclusion.  A September 20, 1963 article in LIFE magazine suggested this peculiar phobia was perhaps inspired by the nineteenth century master of creepy stories, Edgar Allan Poe.2 Indeed, stories like “The Premature Burial” or “The Fall of the House of Usher” were themed with heightened paranoia. In a time before embalming became standard practice the fear of being buried alive (taphephobia) seems to have been palpable. Why else would there be a need for “safety coffins” or “grave signals”? Was it rational? If so, why? Victorians began to address this particular dread via invention, but the fear of being buried alive had been around for quite sometime. Unbelievable stories taken from eighteenth and nineteenth century newspapers.
  • “Friggatriskaidekaphobia and the Thirteen Club” – Do you suffer from friggatriskaidekaphobia (and you say, “I don’t even know how to pronounce it, so how could I be afflicted with it!?!”). Maybe not, but it may affect up to ten percent of Americans. According to the Mayo Clinic, in clinical terms a phobia “is an overwhelming and unreasonable fear of an object or situation that poses little real danger but provokes anxiety and avoidance.”  This particular phobia, as it relates to a certain calendar date, may only be experienced one to three times per year. Although it haunts millions of people no one seems to know definitively when and where the notion of “Friday the 13th” being an unlucky day, or for that matter the number “13” being associated with misfortune and bad luck, originated.  The Thirteen Club, established in New York City in the 1880s, thumbed its nose at all the superstition surrounding the number 13 — and had a jolly time doing it!
  • “Don’t Be Duped:  Genealogical Fraud Has Been Around a Long Time” – October is Family History Month and a good time to again remind family history researchers to be aware of genealogical fraud. New England was a logical place from which both genealogical fascination and fraud emanated. After all, that’s where America began! Evidence suggests our European forbears were deeply interested in what has become one of the world’s most popular hobbies, as mentions of “genealogy” began appearing in newspapers of the early 1700s.  Think genealogical fraud of the eighteenth and nineteenth century doesn’t affect your research?  Think again!
  • “In a Dead Woman’s Eye”.  “In a Dead Woman’s Eye” was intriguing enough to write an extended article about a crime fighting theory pursued at various times throughout the 1800s. What if a murder victim’s assailant could be identified by examining the victim’s retina not long after death? Might the retina have the criminal’s visage imprinted there? Photography had been introduced and some thought the same principles might apply for the human eye.  A fascinating article taken from a late nineteenth century headline.
  • “Ways to (Fashionably) Go (or Stay) in Days of Old” – As noted in the May-June issue, we can file this article under something I like to call “It Was a Victorian Thing”. Part 1 focused on deadly and life-saving female fashion and Part 2 takes a look at the gents. Read any mid-to-late nineteenth century newspaper and you’re likely to find any number of ways people died, some rather gruesomely. About four years ago I started paying attention to some of them, although I don’t recall exactly how I came across these particular headlines in a number of newspapers across the United States. After stumbling across the “killed by her corset” or “saved by her corset” headlines I began noticing similar headlines – “killed by his collar” or “saved by his collar”. Again, what was that all about? Much like corsets, the issue was related to the material used to manufacture fashionable men’s high collars.  Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction!”
  • “The Dash:  Ezekiel William Pettit” – An updated and enhanced article previously published at the Digging History blog.
  • And more, including book reviews and tips for finding elusive genealogical records.

Sharon Hall, Publisher and Editor, Digging History Magazine