a trail of dull gold hairpins

Mabel “Nancy” Atherton was a striking divorcee who had sued a previous lover for breach of promise when, instead of marrying her, he ran off with a pretty young actress.

NOT this Nancy (Sinatra) found here

A year later, she in turn was named by Mrs Clara Stirling who sued her husband Jack, Laird of Kippendavie, on the grounds of adultery with Nancy.

NOT this Clara (Bow) found here

Jack counter-petitioned his wife for adultery with his friend Lord “Fatty” Northland, son of the Governor of New Zealand.

The judge Lord Guthrie could scarcely contain himself in the scorching glare of Nancy Atherton’s considerable charms. She was a lady, his Lordship drooled, ‘with gracious manners, the sort of fascination which captivates man indeed’

First to counter these judicial effusions was Nancy’s French maid who told the court she frequently saw her mistress with dashing Jack Stirling on the couch, and found one of his mongrammed handkerchiefs under her pillow. She also saw Nancy in a kimono wrap, her intentions betrayed by a trail of dull gold hairpins scattered in Jack’s bedroom.

French maids found here

Jack not only denied a romance with Nancy, he accused his wife Clara of throwing herself at Fatty Northland when the foursome swanned over to Paris together for the Grand Prix in 1908.

1908 Grand Prix found here

These four, punting by moonlight on the Thames during regatta week at Henley, flitting furtively in and out of restaurants while arranging nightly bedroom toings and froings, danced inevitably towards their own destruction. A divorce was granted to Jack, and Clara lost custody of her two year old son. I learned all this by reading Roger Wilke’s book “Scandal: A Scurrilous History of Gossip“.

But Roger omitted to tell me about the assault charge brought against Clara Stirling’s mother, Mrs Taylor. Because of Fatty Northland’s New Zealand connection, the Taranaki Times reported it in full

Taranaki found here

“Nancy Atherton was plaintiff in a case of alleged assault against 76 year old Mrs Taylor who took out a cross summons for assault. Counsel for plaintiff, Mr Freke Palmer, said the assault took place last Monday. In the past three weeks, Mrs Taylor had been constantly seen near Mrs Atherton’s house and servants had seen her looking in the dining room windows.

image by Bruce Mozert found here

Shortly after 1:00 pm, Mrs Taylor called upon Mrs Atherton and was shown into the drawing room where she asked Nancy a series of delicate questions. When Mrs Atherton refused to answer, Mrs Taylor allegedly jumped from her chair and put her fingers around Nancy’s throat, doing her best to choke her. 

Nancy managed to throw her off and Mrs Taylor rushed downstairs to the dining room when she found the front door was shut. Two servants prevented her from escaping out the window. 

Mrs Taylor alleges she was locked in the house but made no threats and contemplated no violence. After waiting some time, she was frightened by Mrs Atheron’s eyes which blazed like a tiger’s. She opened the window and called to her cabman that she was being held against her will. While trying to escape, two servants pulled and tore at her clothes until they were nearly off.

cat’s eye contact lenses found here

Mrs Taylor was fined two securities of £25.00 each and Mrs Atherton fined £10. They were both ordered to keep the peace for six months.

Another interesting article on the death of Nancy Atherton can be read here

weeding out the widows

In Victorian and Regency times the customs surrounding mourning dress were rigid and onerous especially amongst the aristocracy and middle classes. Widows were isolated in rooms hung with black cloth and their bed chambers were entirely covered in it. They were required to sleep and receive visits of condolence in special black beds of mourning.

No one wearing a heavy crape veil should go to a gay reception, a wedding, or a theatre. For the first six months the dress should be of crape cloth, or Henrietta cloth covered entirely with crape, collar and cuffs of white crape, a crape bonnet with a long crape veil, and a widow’s cap of white crape if preferred.

image found here

A deep veil is worn at the back of the bonnet, but not over the head or face like the widow’s veil, which covers the entire person when down. This fashion is very much objected to by doctors, who think many diseases of the eye come by this means, and advise for common use thin nuns’ veiling instead of crape, which sheds its pernicious dye producing catarrhal disease as well as blindness and cataract of the eye. It is a thousand pities that fashion dictates the crape veil, but so it is.

The period of widow isolation varied from one society to another. Amongst the Maoris of New Zealand a widow could not remarry until her husband’s body had decomposed. While this process was taking place she wore two special feather cloaks called “cloaks of tears”.  The husband’s bones would finally be exhumed, wrapped in these cloaks and reburied. The widow was then free to remarry.

image found here

Mourning accoutrements were  very popular until recent years, and included such items as lachrymatory tear bottles.

During Victorian funerals, men and women alike would shed tears for the deceased. A more upscale ceremony would distribute lachrymatory for the guests to capture their tears and aid in their mourning. A most common story of Victorian times is that mourners would shed their tears into a lachrymatory that used a special stopper. When the tears had finally evaporated, the mourning period would be complete.

Mourning jewellery came in many beautiful designs. Jet and pearls were popular and often a lock of hair belonging to the deceased would be displayed in a locket or ring. There are many more examples like these below over at artofmourning

Or you could get your husbands ashes packed into your breast implants – that way he’s with you for all time…….

Sheyla Hershey’s breasts contain over a gallon of silicone but no ashes

imprinted memories

When I was a child my father replastered the path to our back door. In doing so he reclaimed the small rectangle that had been a sand pit for my brother and me. He used to tell the story of how I was upset by this so as a consolation prize I was allowed to leave my handprints in the wet cement just outside the garage. My brother got the less advantageous spot beside the laundry which I accidentally walked over before it dried properly.

Sid Grauman, the part owner of Hollywood Boulevard’s Chinese Theatre, had the inspired idea of getting movie stars to place their foot and handprints in the wet cement on the sidewalk outside it.

image found here

Grauman was one of early Hollywood’s great personalities. Legendary as a practical jokster, he once sent MGM’s Marcus Loew to address an audience at the Ambassador Hotel, only to discover afterward the room was filled with dummies borrowed from the nearby Hollywood Wax Museum.

On another occasion, Grauman staged a Chaplin look-alike contest with official judges, with Chaplin himself as a secret contestant (Chaplin lost).

image of Chaplin and Einstein found here

His most notorious practical joke was played upon director Ernst Lubitsch, who was frightened of flying. He hired two stuntmen dressed as pilots to run down the aisle and parachute from the plane on which Lubitsch was travelling.”

Parachutist found here

Published in: on February 15, 2010 at 7:08 am  Comments (31)  
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shades of shame

My father was a plasterer by trade and he built the home I grew up in. He actually made the cement blocks himself, and he and my mother laid them together, on weekends and after work. It took two years to build and another ten before they adopted first my brother and then me. My mother had plenty of time to decorate.

image found here

All rooms were wallpapered in patterns that would induce a migraine if I were to still live there. The lounge had four walls of embossed yellow daisies and one feature wall of black paper with penny farthing bicycles racing across the top of the piece de resistance – a pale blue and white fireplace shaped like a cloud and sprinkled with micadust.

image found here

The summer I turned 13 I begged to be allowed to paint my bedroom wall. Long nights were spent discussing this preposterous idea, my mother objected strongly, my father not so much but in the end I gained a hollow victory. Hollow because my father chose the paint, I believe it was called shocking pink.

image found here

I can’t recall how long I endured those walls but I think it was 1974 when I defied my mother and covered them with posters. My favourite was from a movie I’d never seen starring a dark and brooding boy called Mark Frechette

image found here

“Mark Frechette, the actor who seemed to carry into his private life much of the tortured soul he portrayed in Michaelangelo Antonioni’s 1970 film, Zabriskie Point, is dead at age 27. He was the apparent victim of a bizarre accident in a recreation room at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution, where he had been serving a sentence for a 1973 Boston bank robbery.

image of Daria and Mark found here

Frechette’s body was discovered by a fellow inmate early on the morning of September 27th pinned beneath a 150-pound set of weights, the bar resting on his throat. An autopsy revealed he had died of asphyxiation and the official explanation is that the weights slipped from his hands while he was trying to bench press them, killing him instantly. A source in the county DA’s office, which is investigating the incident, termed the circumstances “a little strange,” especially since the bar left no mark on Frechette’s neck.”

The video is a little long but it’s an interesting glimpse into the past. Daria Halprin lived on, married and divorced Dennis Hopper, and now involves herself in creative arts therapy. I still haven’t seen Zabriskie Point.

What happened to your teenage pinup crushes…..?

Published in: on January 30, 2010 at 7:54 am  Comments (50)  
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maternal memories

Regular readers may recall that nursemyra was adopted as a baby and therefore has had two mothers. My now deceased New Zealand mother was raised on a farm and left her one roomed schoolhouse at the age of 14. Before she met and married my Irish father she worked as a seamstress making uniforms for soldiers fighting in WW2. She and the other girls used to write notes for the boys who would wear them, fold them over with a big red lipsticked kiss and tuck them into the breast pocket

I always liked it when she told me that story, it seemed a romantic gesture for a decidedly pragmatic woman. Tonight when I was looking for something to write about I found this site about US Army uniforms that made me think of her…

“The Army wanted the coat of its service uniform to fit easily over the chest and shoulders, and to conform to the figure at the waist. However, as swing dancing swept the Nation, the wear and tear on snug uniforms became apparent. The soldiers ripped their uniform jackets so often in jitterbugging that it became a major repair expense. Many claimed that the US Army developed an entire new uniform style in the late 1930s to accommodate swing dancing.

The new service uniform coat was approved on November 26, 1939. The back of the coat was redesigned to include 2 side pleats that extended from the shoulder seam to the waist. These pleat openings (also known as side-shoulder vents) gave the extra roominess needed to swing.

The image above is of American actor Dane Clarke and socialite Mrs. Ellis Cox. Dane was wealthy enough that his uniform was purchased privately,  including his mohair necktie. He graduated from Cornell as a lawyer, then earned a living as a boxer, construction worker and model before turning to acting.

My father was also a construction worker and amateur boxer in Ireland before emigrating to New Zealand and joining the Air Force. He kept his uniform after the war ended, it used to hang at the back of the closet. His medals lay in an old cigar box and his kit bag found a home in the same cupboard that housed the meat grinder and a disused pair of bellows.

One day when I was about 12, I borrowed my mother’s lipstick and drew a red mouth over my own, kissed and folded a piece of paper, then tucked it into the pocket of that uniform. Until tonight I hadn’t thought about that day in years. My father developed Alzheimer’s and passed away a long time ago. My mother packed up the house and moved into a nursing home where she never bothered with lipstick again.

Published in: on January 13, 2010 at 8:33 am  Comments (48)  
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castle of my youth

I’ve lived in Australia for decades now but the first 17 years of my life were spent in Dunedin, New Zealand. It’s a pretty enough city with interesting architecture and gorgeous gardens but the weather is way too cold.

One of the attractions in Dunedin is Larnach’s Castle built in the 1870s by William Larnach.

Larnach was married three times and had six children. He was pre deceased by his first two wives and his eldest daughter, Kate. He took his own life in the New Zealand parliament buildings in 1898.

The Castle has its fair share of ghost stories, mostly based around the Larnach’s tragic lives. One of the stories is that Katie, Sir William’s favourite daughter, haunts the ballroom which was reputedly built for her as a 21st birthday gift. Kate died shortly after that birthday.


Larnach’s first wife Eliza Jane was supposed to have died of apoplexy at the age of 38  in what is called the South Bedroom. After his first wife’s death Larnach then married his wife’s sister. She too died unexpectedly.


This is Barbara Parkins, not one of the many Mrs Larnachs

Larnach married again, his third wife Constance was much younger than William, the match was doomed from the start. Constance had an affair with Larnach’s son Donald. Donald later took his own life in the Grand Hotel and Larnach himself committed suicide in his office in 1898.


In 1906 the New Zealand government bought the castle and used it as a mental hospital for shell shocked soldiers. Later it fell into a state of disrepair but has been restored by its present owners.


As a teenager I attended a party in the ballroom, of which I remember little except that my boyfriend and I ran around the parts of the castle that were open, holding hands and pretending to be Romeo and Juliet. I was wearing a long red velvet shift and had flowers in my hair. A group of med students dressed as court jesters had brought along cannisters of nitrous oxide and helium and were talking in high squeaky voices…..

angie and david

Angie and David weren’t there

It was the first time I smelled marijuana though I was busy with the mulled cider and didn’t take much notice of what people were smoking. In the early hours of the morning I leaned too far over the wishing well out in the garden and dropped a greenstone earring, one of a pair my romeo had found at a building site earlier in the week.

I still have the other one…..

greenstone 003

Published in: on November 17, 2009 at 7:13 am  Comments (44)  
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