Mary Vaux Walcott

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Mary Morris Vaux with her ice axe at the foot of the Illecillewaet Glacier,
British Columbia, 1899

Although her name is not widely known, Mary Vaux Walcott (1860—1940) was a true trailblazer during the Victorian era, and left a remarkable legacy encompassing the diverse fields of art, photography, glaciology, botany, and mountaineering.

Mary Morris Vaux was born July 31, 1860, into an old and prominent Philadelphia Quaker family. She received a “guarded” education at the Friends Select School in Philadelphia, where the curriculum included Catechism, daily Scripture readings, and weekly Meetings for Divine Worship, in addition to academic subjects. Following the death of her mother soon after graduating, Mary assumed the family’s domestic responsibilities, caring for her father and two younger brothers and managing the family homes in Philadelphia and nearby Bryn Mawr, where she also oversaw the family dairy farm.

Mary first visited western Canada at age 27 with her father and her brothers. The year was 1887, the second summer the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) offered transcontinental railway service, and the first year it offered lodging at Glacier House near Rogers Pass, British Columbia. The completion of the CPR had opened the alpine region of western Canada, and ushered in the development of tourism and the sport of mountaineering. Captivated by the breathtaking majesty and unspoiled grandeur of the region, Mary returned with various family members nearly every summer for four decades beginning in 1895.

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             Mary and her brothers undertook the study of glaciers in Alberta and British Columbia, surveying, mapping, photographing, and measuring glacial movement. These studies remain vital to scientists today in understanding climate changes and land-shaping processes. Mary’s contributions were rewarded with election to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia in 1892; she was among the first women to receive this recognition.

Mary had learned the platinum photo printing process from the noted Philadelphia photographer, William H. Rau. She handled the technical aspects of the glacier photography, printed the photographs, and took many landscape photographs used by the CPR for promoting rail travel. Mary was a member of the Photographic Society of Philadelphia, and an associate member of the Photo-Secession, founded by Alfred Stieglitz in 1902. She showed her photographs in exhibitions sponsored by both groups, published them in numerous publications including National Geographic Magazine, and gave frequent magic lantern lectures with her own hand colored slides about her travels and research. More than 2,500 of the Vaux family’s original glass and film negatives and lantern slides are now in the collection of the Peter and Catharine Whyte Museum in Banff, Alberta.

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             Mary became an avid outdoorswoman, hiking, camping, and exploring the Canadian wilderness on horseback. On July 21, 1900, ten days before her 40th birthday, she became the first woman to climb Mount Stephen—and the first woman to ascend a peak over 10,000 feet in Canada. In 1908 a peak was named for her: Mount Mary Vaux rises prominently to 10,881 feet over the Maligne Lake valley in Alberta’s Jasper National Park. She was a charter member of both the Alpine Club of Canada and the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies. Mary estimated that she had ridden some 5,000 miles on horseback through the Canadian wilds in her lifetime, and she celebrated her 77th birthday with a 20-mile ride in the mountains.

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Mary photographing wildflowers in western Canada

In 1907, Mary Vaux met Charles Doolittle Walcott (1850 —1927), noted paleontologist and Secretary of the Smithsonian, during his first visit to Canada. The two were married in June 1914, and Mary became a first-time bride the month before her 54th birthday. Mary and Charles lived in Washington, and spent three to four months each year in Canada for the next 12 years. It’s important to recognize the hazards and harsh conditions during these months-long excursions in the rugged Canadian mountains: it was a true wilderness where sudden snowstorms, cold, drenching rains, grizzly bear encounters, and pack horses carrying supplies and specimens falling to their deaths were not uncommon.

Mary had taken watercolor lessons in her youth and was an accomplished watercolorist. She later recalled, “Wildflowers were a joy and inspiration in the happy days of my childhood when I was taught to observe and sketch them under the direction of a skilled artist.” Years later in Canada, a “botanical friend” asked her “to portray a rare and perishable alpine flower so as to preserve its beauty, color, and graceful outline as a living thing.” She began to focus her attention on wildflowers. Her goal was to “collect and paint the finest specimens obtainable, and to depict the natural grace and beauty of the plant without conventional design.”

Prickly Pear, watercolor on paper

Prickly Pear, watercolor on paper

Mary carried her paint box and pads on the back of her saddle, and painted wherever specimens were encountered. Often, that meant warming her stiff hands by a fire in high passes and on mountainsides, or painting in the “diffused light of the white tent,” which she found “a great handicap.” The unpredictable weather conditions created challenges, as did the short lives of alpine blooming plants, which limited the number of sketches that could be completed each season. Not only did she find that wild flowers wither quickly, but sudden frosts killed them, and unusually warm, dry weather or cold, wet weather prevented their blooming at all. “For these reasons,” she explained, “desirable specimens of many of the fragile alpine flowers are difficult to secure, and in some instances were seen in perfection but two or three times during the many seasons on the trail. The limited habitat of others made it necessary to take long rides and climb high above the timberline to procure them, and frequently no trails were available.  Our sure-footed mountain ponies were a large factor in our success.”

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Maypop (Passiflora Incarnata), watercolor on paper

Over the years, her botanical watercolors grew in number, and in 1925 the Smithsonian published North American Wild Flowers, a five-volume set of 400 color lithographs of her watercolors accompanied by her written descriptions of each plant. This seminal work led to her designation as the “Audubon of botany.” The original 809 watercolors are now housed in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

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Trumpet Honeysuckle, watercolor on paper

In 1927, both Mary’s husband Charles and her brother, George Jr. died. George had served on the United States Board of Indian Commissioners, a watchdog group charged with investigating and overseeing the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Mary was appointed by President Calvin Coolidge to fill his vacancy on the Board. She was reappointed by President Herbert Hoover and served until 1933, when the Board was disbanded. During her tenure with the Board of Indian Commissioners she traveled across the country nine times by car, made some 100 visits to Indian reservations, and presented her findings in written reports to the Board.  She took the opportunity to collect Indian artifacts on these trips, and donated a number of the pieces to the Smithsonian.

Mary Vaux Walcott made her final visit to western Canada in 1939. She died of a heart attack August 22, 1940, just after her 80th birthday, while visiting friends in St. Andrews, New Brunswick. She is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, next to Charles Walcott.

—Lynne Adele

Every Object Has A Story: Botanic Blood Balm and the Patent Medicine Craze

It’s no secret that Steve and I love antiques. We have no idea how many antiques shops we’ve been in together, and rare is the week when we don’t poke around in at least one. We love the thrill of the hunt, just looking at odd and interesting old things, and incorporating our finds into our lives in meaningful ways.

An early Tennessee folk carving and a Bill Monroe 78, recent serendipitous finds.

An early Tennessee folk carving and a Bill Monroe 78, recent serendipitous finds.

Like most people, we have a few regrets over missed opportunities (the antiquer’s equivalent to the “one that got away”): the now legendary “Whore Sofa” in Wisconsin, “The Lamp” in Kentucky, the stereoscope on a stand in Tennessee. But these are balanced with the “finds” that have made it home—a rare Currier & Ives print of “the Wonderful Albino Family” we found in Nebraska, a delightful early 20th-century folk carving from East Tennessee, and our most recent purchase, a late 19th-century patent medicine crate which is enjoying a new life holding a portion of Steve’s collection of pre-war hillbilly 78s. We love these objects for the stories they tell, the mysteries they don’t, the adventures we have finding them, and the warm patina that only age can impart.

Botanic Blood Balm box, found in East Tennessee.

Botanic Blood Balm box, found in East Tennessee.

So, what originally attracted us to an old wooden box, whose original purpose was to protect a dozen bottles of a quack medicine from breaking during shipping? First, it appeals to us visually and meets the aesthetic criteria we’ve established for our home. Second, we are huge fans of both late 19th-century advertising and the “patent medicine” craze that paralleled it, and you just don’t see these kinds of crates every day. Third, it’s useful: we’re always looking for attractive storage solutions. And finally, the price was right.

What we have since learned—because we try to research everything we buy after hauling it home—is that, like all objects, our box has its own story to tell. Even the humblest objects have value as cultural artifacts if we take the time to examine them within the context of their original creation and use.

Asa Griggs Candler (1851—1929) was born into a well-connected, prosperous, slave-holding family in Villa Rica, Georgia, just west of Atlanta. He had originally hoped to become a physician, and spent his childhood concocting pretend potions and doctoring sick animals. The Civil War interrupted his schooling and devastated his family’s finances, ending his dream of higher education. Instead, he was apprenticed as a teenager to learn the pharmacy trade. At 21, his training complete, Candler arrived in the booming city of Atlanta.

Asa Griggs Candler

Asa Griggs Candler

It was the golden age of patent medicines, and Atlanta was about to become the patent medicine capital of the South. Rife with post-war illnesses, poverty, malaria, and yellow fever, as well as ringworm (which roughly half of Southern children suffered from), the South offered great marketing potential. Candler quickly saw that the pharmacy field might be more lucrative than being a physician.

The ascent of print advertising in the post-Civil War decades and the lack of government regulation over proprietary medicinal compounds contributed to the dramatic rise in “miraculous” and “curative” tonics, elixirs, ointments, and waters, often advertised to the public with false or misleading claims. Simultaneously, the development of electricity led to “medical” inventions like Dr. Dye’s Celebrated Voltaic Belt with Electric Suspensory Appliances, which promised the speedy relief of impotence. In the 1890s, patent medicines “offered the ad-writer his greatest opportunity,” wrote advertising pioneer Claude Hopkins.

A group of 3 rare Botanic Blood Balm medicinal bottles. Even without their labels, these bottles are highly collectible today.

A group of 3 rare Botanic Blood Balm medicinal bottles. Even without their labels, these bottles are highly collectible today.

At their best, patent medicines could be harmless or even moderately useful; at their worst, they were downright dangerous. Many of them contained grain alcohol, opium, or cocaine (which did make people feel better—at least temporarily), while others contained toxic chemicals including arsenic, mercury, strychnine, and lead.

Asa Candler began buying the rights to a number of patent medicines, including Bucklen’s Arnica Salve (for all manner of fever sores, tetter, chilblains, “positively cures piles”); King’s New Discovery (for consumption, colds, and coughs); and De-Lec-Ta-Lave (to whiten the teeth, cleanse the mouth, harden and beautify the gums). By 1886, Candler (himself a hypochondriac who was likely dabbling in his own products) was advertising his Electric Bitters, touted to cure depression, poor appetite, headaches, nervousness, and more, at the price of 50 cents per bottle. In 1888, he purchased the rights to the elixir for which he is best remembered, Coca-Cola.

In 1890, Candler bought the once venerable Botanic Blood Balm Co. (B.B.B.), which had been a big seller for its inventor, Dr. J.P. Dromgoole. (Candler probably picked it up at a rock-bottom price, after an 1889 landmark Georgia Supreme Court case significantly reduced the value of the company by finding in favor of a plaintiff who sued after taking 3 bottles “as directed” for a rash on his leg, and ended up with “his head, neck and breast . . . covered with red spots and the inside of his mouth and throat filled with sores [and finally] a large part of the hair fell from his head.”

B.B.B. bottle with label intact

B.B.B. bottle with label intact

Botanic Blood Balm, which Candler marketed at the price of $1 for a large bottle, was claimed to make the blood pure and rich and stop all aches and pains. This “scientific wonder” promised positive and permanent relief from “blood poison,” and to quickly cure “old ulcers, scrofula, eczema, itching skin and blood humors, cancer, festering sores, boils, carbuncles, pimples or offensive eruptions, pains in bones or joints, rheumatism, catarrh, or any blood or skin trouble,” as well as “female weakness” and “hereditary taint.” It was also boldly claimed to be a perfect cure for syphilis. There was just about nothing B.B.B. couldn’t cure!

Newspaper advertisement for Botanic Blood Balm, 1891

Newspaper advertisement for Botanic Blood Balm, 1891

In 1891, Candler sold his entire stock of pharmaceuticals to focus on Coca-Cola, and became one of the South’s wealthiest self-made millionaires. He sold B.B.B. to J.B. Brooks, one of his part-time traveling salesmen. The passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906 marked the beginning of the end for the patent medicine industry. B.B.B. again changed hands, and was operating under William R. Warner & Co. of Philadelphia by 1916, when the company was fined $200 for misbranding and making false and fraudulent claims regarding the product’s efficacy; a chemical analysis found it to contain 14.6 % alcohol, along with senna (a purgative), arsenic, and other ingredients.

Newspaper ad extolling the many virtues of B.B.B.

Newspaper ad extolling the many virtues of B.B.B.

—Lynne Adele

Labor of Love: The Art of Hair Work in the 19th Century

Victorian table worked human hair and gold brooch.

Victorian table worked human hair and gold brooch.

Steve and I have long been intrigued with 19th-century hair work objects. We’re drawn to the fragility, intimacy, and sentimentality of these objects, executed in incredibly painstaking detail from a most delicate and personal material, human hair.

Gold and enamel mourning ring with hair of the deceased under glass, c. 1855.

Gold and enamel mourning ring with hair of the deceased under glass, c. 1855.

Frequently made into jewelry, hair was also used to create decorative art works. In fact, the variety of objects made with hair seems limitless, ranging from a simple lock of hair tucked into a locket, to intricate wreaths made of hair woven into flowers, to miniature paintings on ivory with sepia paint made from finely chopped hair. Hair from deceased loved ones was frequently used in mourning pieces, but more often the hair of the living was worked into sentimental keepsakes given as everlasting tokens of friendship, remembrance, or romantic love.

Mourning brooch of gold and enamel, with simply plaited hair of the deceased encased in glass, c. 1848.

Mourning brooch of gold and enamel, with simply plaited hair of the deceased encased in glass, c. 1848.

Although the use of hair in jewelry dates back many centuries, it reached its apex in form and popularity during the Victorian era, affording Victorians an opportunity to combine their obsession with hair and passion for elaborate ornament with their appreciation of the sentimental and the macabre. Rings, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, brooches, charms, cufflinks, and watch chains made of hair—and often elaborately embellished with gold, enamel, pearls, and precious or semi-precious gems—were all the rage. It didn’t stop there: shadowbox-framed hair wreaths decorated walls, and 3-dimensional bouquets and tableaux made entirely of hair were displayed under glass domes on Victorian parlor tables.

Bouquet of hair worked flowers under glass display dome, New Zealand, 1896.

Bouquet of hair worked flowers under glass display dome, New Zealand, 1896.

At the Paris Exposition of 1855, visitors were said to have flocked to a life-sized portrait of Queen Victoria created entirely of human hair. The trend-setting Victoria was fond of hair work, and presented a bracelet made of her own hair to Empress Eugenie of France, who was reportedly moved to tears by the gesture. Following the death of her beloved husband, Prince Albert, in 1861, Victoria wore a lock of his hair in a brooch pinned over her heart for the rest of her life.

Bracelet of finely woven hair accented with gold beads and clasp, before 1850. Probably one of a pair that would have been worn as matched cuffs.

Bracelet of finely woven hair accented with gold beads and clasp, before 1850. Probably one of a pair that would have been worn as matched cuffs.

Initially created by artisans and marketed in specialized shops and mail order catalogs, hair work soon became a popular parlor pastime for Victorian women. Publications including Godey’s Lady’s Book and Peterson’s Magazine published free patterns and instructions for DIY hair work projects, and schools were established in England and the US to teach young ladies the skill. Hair receivers became essential parts of a woman’s toilette set, to collect hair harvested from combs and brushes for later use. It has been suggested, only half-jokingly, that by the time hair jewelry began to fall out of fashion at the end of the 19th century, virtually every male had received a hair work watch chain from his fiancée, wife, sister, or mother; watch chains are among the most commonly found examples of 19th-century hair work today.

Victorian watch chain of human hair with gold clasped hand detail.

Victorian watch chain of human hair with gold clasped hand detail.

Below, we’ve assembled a small sampling of hair work, with brief descriptions of some of the techniques involved.

Raw material: a young Victorian woman displays her magnificent tresses.

Raw material: a young Victorian woman displays her magnificent tresses.

Palette work: Hair was cut into shapes and glued flat onto a surface such as vellum, ivory, or glass, to create designs that often resemble feathers and flora. Individual hairs could be used to create fine lines, or bits of hair could be sprinkled over the adhesive to add texture.

French palette work mourning hair wreath with hair from the deceased in its original frame, 1887, my gift to Steve on our first Christmas together.

French palette work mourning hair wreath with hair from the deceased in its original frame, 1887, my gift to Steve on our first Christmas together.

One of the more distinctive devices in palette work was the Prince of Wales curl, made by heating a rod used as a miniature curling iron, fixing the curl with glue, and then weighting it for several hours. Three of these feather-like curls arranged together created the Prince of Wales plume.

Brooch memorializing 2 deceased loved ones, gold and enamel with palette worked Prince of Wales curls from each deceased, seed pearls (representing tears) and gold wirework under glass, c. 1870s.

Brooch memorializing 2 deceased loved ones, gold and enamel with palette worked Prince of Wales curls from each deceased, seed pearls (representing tears) and gold wirework under glass, c. 1870s.

Table work: Working on a special table with a hole in the center, hair is woven using bobbins and weights into an intricate lace network, and is often embellished with gold or pearls. Table work was especially labor intensive: the hair was first boiled in soda water for 15 minutes, then sorted into lengths 
and divided into strands of 20 to 30 hairs. Most pieces of jewelry required long 
hair: for example, a bracelet called for hair 20 to 24″ long. Sometimes hair was formed around a wooden mold to create a desired shape, with special shapes made by local wood turners. The mold was attached to the 
center hole in the worktable. The hair was wound on a series of bobbins, and 
weights were attached to the braid work to 
keep the hair straight. When the work was finished and the
 mold still in place, it was boiled for 15 minutes, dried and removed carefully from the 
mold. It was then ready for mounting by a jeweler.

Brooch of white and brown hair, table worked and embellished with gold by the workshop of Antoni Forrer, 1847-1858. Forrer, a Swiss national, ran the leading hair work studio in London, employed a staff of 50, and included Queen Victoria among his clientele.

Brooch of white and brown hair, table worked and embellished with gold by the workshop of Antoni Forrer, 1847-1858. Forrer, a Swiss national, ran the leading hair work studio in London, employed a staff of 50, and included Queen Victoria among his clientele.

Sepia Painting: Hair was chopped finely and added to gum arabic or an adhesive called “musilix,” or ground to a powder with a mortar and pestle and dissolved in distilled water to create a brown pigment that was applied to ivory, glass, or vellum, usually in miniature landscapes or scenes related to death and mourning.

Georgian era mourning ring, sepia paint on ivory under crystal, surrounded by amethysts, depicting a woman standing at a tomb under a weeping willow, weeping into a handkerchief, c. 1784.

Georgian era mourning ring, sepia paint on ivory under crystal, surrounded by amethysts, depicting a woman standing at a tomb under a weeping willow, weeping into a handkerchief, c. 1784.

Hair Flowers, Bouquets, and Wreaths: Hair flowers were made by wrapping the hair around a rod and using a fine wire to hold it together. By varying the size of the rods, the amount and color of hair used, and sometimes incorporating beads, many different shapes and sizes of flowers, leaves, and tendrils could be made and then joined into decorative bouquets or wreaths.

Victorian hair wreath in shadowbox frame.

Victorian hair wreath in shadowbox frame.

Detail, hair flowers.

Detail, hair flowers.

—Lynne Adele

“Christmas Bells”: Longfellow’s Holiday Poem of Hope Amidst Despair

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882), the most widely known and best-loved American poet of his time, was deeply sorrowed when he put pen to paper on Christmas Day, 1863.

He was still grieving the tragic death, just two years earlier, of his beloved wife Fanny, who died of burns received when packages of locks of her children’s hair, which she was sealing with matches and wax, burst into flame and caught her dress on fire. Longfellow tried unsuccessfully to save her by smothering the flames with a rug, and was burned so seriously he was unable to attend the funeral. He turned to ether and laudanum to ease his physical and emotional pain.

After Fanny’s death, Christmas lost its joy for the poet. On Christmas Day, 1861, he wrote in his diary, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” The following Christmas he recorded, “’A merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.”

Longfellow House, Cambridge, MA, where the poem “Christmas Bells” was written

Longfellow House, Cambridge, MA, where the poem “Christmas Bells” was written


While he was a staunch abolitionist, Longfellow was also a pacifist. By the time Christmas arrived in 1863, the American Civil War had been raging for more than two years, and had taken a decidedly personal turn for the poet. Earlier that year, against Longfellow’s wishes, his elder son, Charles, 18, had joined the Union Army. In November, Charles was severely wounded in the Battle of New Hope Church, Virginia. He was brought home to recuperate on December 8.
Charles Longfellow in uniform, 1863

Charles Longfellow in uniform, 1863


Longfellow wrote the poem, “Christmas Bells” on Christmas Day, 1863. The poem tells of the narrator’s despair upon hearing Christmas bells, that “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.” It concludes with the bells carrying a message of renewed hope for peace among mankind.
Aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863

Aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863


The poem was first published in 1865. It was set to music in 1872 by the English organist, John Baptiste Calkin, becoming the carol with which we are familiar. In his version Calkin removed the stanzas relating to the war, a purge that diluted Longfellow’s powerful message. The poem follows in its original form.

—Lynne Adele

Christmas Bells

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

The Stagnant Healing Waters of Heber Springs

Heber Springs, 1915

A wintry day in Heber Springs, 1915

Part One

When we travel, we like to visit places that have special significance to us, and we prefer places off the beaten track as opposed to tourist destinations. On our recent 4,300-mile road trip, which included playing shows in West Virginia, Virginia, and Florida, it was only natural that we decided to take a little detour through Heber Springs, Arkansas. The town is known to The Victor Mourning fans around the globe through our song, “Heber Springs Albino” (on our CD, A Handful of Locusts). Steve knew I would enjoy seeing the place that inspired him to write the song, and we wanted to collect some of the “stagnant healing water.”

Heber Springs (originally named Sugar Loaf) is the county seat of Cleburne County in north central Arkansas. It’s a sleepy town with a population of about 6,000, and it appears to have seen better days. The area has been inhabited by native people for some 10,000 years. The first white settlers arrived in the 1830s, drawn in part by the mineral springs that bubbled up from the ground in what is now the center of town.

It didn’t take long for an entrepreneur to recognize the springs’ commercial potential, and in 1838 the White Sulphur Springs Company was established for the purpose of creating a “healthful, commodious and elegant watering place” that would take its place among the hundreds of mineral spa resorts that sprang up across the country in the 19th century. Visitors flocked to the spas to bathe in and drink the supposedly healthful mineral waters, and to enjoy the wide variety of social and recreational activities that were offered for their entertainment.

Following the formula of countless mineral spas, the springs’ promoters attached their discovery to the miraculous curing of a mythical, ailing “Indian princess.” In 1886, an advertising booklet claimed that the springs offered “a sure cure for dyspepsia, headache, biliousness and hundreds of other ailments.” But Heber Springs was not destined for the success experienced at Eureka Springs or Hot Springs. The land changed hands several times through a series of complex real estate deals, there was no railroad access to bring in potential customers, and the project was never realized. By the time the Missouri & Northern Arkansas Railroad finally arrived in Sugar Loaf in 1908, the healing water craze was declining.

In 1910 the town’s name was changed to Heber Springs. The land and the springs were given to the community and became known as Spring Park. Locals continued the tradition of taking the waters in hope of curing ailments. Steve has childhood memories of seeing people filling jugs of the water at the springs and describing their various medicinal uses. There are today seven remaining springs in Spring Park that provide waters identified as White Sulphur, Red Sulphur, Black Sulphur, Arsenic, Iron, Magnesia, and Eye Water, each reputed to offer specific healing properties.
—Lynne Adele

Black Sulfur, Heber Springs

The Black Sulfur Spring

Part Two

In 1975 I was living with my grandmother in a tiny house in Searcy, Arkansas. One afternoon I was in the living room, probably looking through the TV listings checking to see when the Little Rock station would be showing a Ritz Brothers or Wheeler & Woolsey film, when my grandmother came in. And I swear this is what I heard her say:

“Stevie, go get dressed, we’re going to the funeral home, Elvis Presley died!”
“What?”
“I said, get dressed, we’re going to Elvis Presley’s showing in Heber Springs.”
“Grandma, what are you talking about?”
“Virgie’s uncle ELLIS Presley died and we’re going to Heber to his showing. Get dressed.”

(My grandmother’s sister-in-law Virgie was a Presley and was also, tangentially, the niece of Luther Presley, author of the lyrics to the classic song “When the Saints Go Marching In”.)

So off we went to Heber Springs with my Aunt Viva at the wheel of her big forest green, late 60s Chevy Caprice. The scenery north of Searcy on Highway 16 starts getting pretty mountainous fairly quickly, and by the time we got into Heber Springs we were on the southern fringes of the Ozarks proper. Once parked in front of the funeral home in downtown Heber, I elected to wait in the car instead of going inside. (I was a headstrong adolescent in those days, always finding small ways to assert my independence.) The sun had gone down by this point, and I sat there alone looking at the exotic sight of small town neon signs. This wasn’t the first time I had been to Heber Springs, though.

Collecting the water, Heber Springs

Stephen Lee Canner Collecting the Water

About five years earlier I had come to Spring Park, the area where Heber’s springs are located, with my parents on a summer day trip. I wandered off to explore the park on my own. I was probably disappointed, given that most parks in my experience at that point either had a playground or a patch of woods to explore. This one had neither. My attention was captured, however, by a small concrete pool with scores of tadpoles swimming in it. I had never seen a tadpole before. I found a discarded paper cup and did a bit of “catch and release” tadpole fishing.

I wandered over to one of the springhouses and watched a family filling up jugs with water. The father began to lecture me politely on the different healing properties of each spring. From what I could gather, they seemed to be getting jugs of water from each different spring to have on hand to use as a healing aid should one of them suffer, say, an attack of biliousness or weakened constitution. Somehow, many years later, these memories resurfaced as fragments in the song, “Heber Springs Albino.”
—Stephen Lee Canner

The Victor Mourning Stagnant Healing Water

The Littlefield Home

 

The Victor Mourning at the Littlefield House

 

When faced with the task of choosing a location for The Victor Mourning’s recent photo shoot, we decided on the George W. Littlefield home, on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin. We love Victorian architecture, and this elegant (and reportedly haunted) mansion proved to be an ideal setting for our new band photos, taken by Austin photographer, Will Branch.  

The house was built in 1893 at a cost of $50,000 by George W. Littlefield—a Confederate officer, cattle baron, banker, and UT benefactor and Regent—for himself and his wife, Alice. (The couple, married in 1863, had two children who died in infancy.) They lived in the home until Major Littlefield died there on November 10, 1920; Alice continued to reside there until her death fifteen years later, and bequeathed the home to The University. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.

The Littlefield mansion is, sadly, the only remaining structure of its era on a street it once shared with other grand Victorian homes. The home’s St. Louis brick exterior, stately marble columns and steps, intricate iron grillwork, eccentric unmatched turrets, wrap-around veranda, mosaic tiles, and stained glass windows provide the opulent and eclectic elements associated with high Victorian “Queen Anne” style. The extravagance continues throughout the interior, with decorative details including a grand staircase, elaborate woodwork, impressive chandeliers suspended from 14-foot ceilings, and multiple fireplaces—including one flanked by a pair of menacing griffins. Today, the house’s rather disheveled appearance only adds to its character.

Reports of strange occurrences, no doubt fueled by the structure’s distinctive presence, have resulted in its being labeled among Austin’s haunted places. Tales of hauntings often revolve around Alice Littlefield, who has been characterized as a “melancholic, depressive, agoraphobic woman who slowly and quietly went insane later in life.” Other stories suggest that “Major Littlefield locked Alice up in the attic when he was away so she would not be grabbed by Yankees who might be strolling by and oblivious to the fact that the Civil War was over. . . . [W]hile languishing in the attic she was assaulted by bats, and her shrieks of terror reverberate in the mansion to this day.” Still other accounts stress Alice’s “deep concern for her husband’s welfare and her fears for his safety when he was away. Her ghost is said to restlessly roam the attic, peering out the windows, watching for his return.” It has also been said that Alice’s ghost can sometimes be heard “banging out a chord or two on the old piano on the first floor.”

The Victor Mourning on the porch of the Littlefield House

 

Although we had originally envisioned that the photos would be black and white, we found that the subtle terracotta and verdigris palette of the veranda complemented our monochromatic clothing beautifully. The combination of the exquisite location, soft afternoon light, and Will’s keen eye and talent as a photographer resulted in photos that reflect our visual aesthetic, allude to the band’s name, and evoke the dark, haunting nature of our music. 

—Lynne Adele

Roses and Yew

 

The Victor Mourning T-Shirt

The Victor Mourning T-Shirt

When we’re out playing shows, people who visit our merchandise table are often curious about the image on our band t-shirts. The Victor Mourning t-shirt design replicates a Victorian era mourning brooch, most likely of English origin, created between 1860-80.  The original brooch is made of gutta percha, a natural latex material from the sap of a Malayan tree, first discovered by Westerners in 1842. This material could be placed in a mold or carved by hand to create detailed three-dimensional objects with great accuracy, as seen in this brooch, in which the fingernails, flora, and sleeve cuff are rendered delicately and precisely.

Victorian mourning jewelry traditions derived from memento mori images that date back to ancient Rome and flourished in the Middle Ages, but the apex of sentimental mourning jewelry was reached during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Some of the most compelling examples of Victorian era jewelry are those created to commemorate the loss of a loved one.

Mourning jewelry was often made of jet (the fossilized remains of wood decaying under water) or one of its more affordable alternatives including gutta percha; vulcanite (invented in the 1830s, it is similar in appearance to gutta percha, but is made from Indian rubber treated with sulfur); or French jet (black glass made to resemble true jet)—materials whose black color made them especially suitable for mourning.

Following the example set by Queen Victoria (1819-1901), who remained in mourning for the rest of her life after the death of her husband, Prince Albert, in 1861, mourning evolved into a rigidly structured code of practices that dictated proper behavior and the outward symbolism of clothing and jewelry. (Women, and widows in particular, were expected to adhere strictly to accepted mourning etiquette, and failure to do so was highly frowned upon; the standards for men were briefer and far more relaxed.)

The hand was a popular motif in Victorian imagery, and was associated with affection and love. It is found frequently on calling cards, where it may clasp another hand in friendship or offer a gift of flowers; in mourning jewelry, where it may be intended to point to the heart of the wearer, hold a sheaf of wheat, a sprig of yew, or a bouquet of forget-me-nots; and on gravestones, where a single hand may point heavenward or two clasped hands signify the heavenly reunion of a husband and wife divided by death.

The original brooch: roses and yew

The original brooch: roses and yew

In mourning jewelry, the image of a single hand holding a garland of roses and yew typically symbolized the death of a husband or sweetheart. The yew, a conifer, has been associated with death since ancient times, and it is known as the “death tree” throughout much of Europe. In the United Kingdom, the yew is most often found growing in churchyards and cemeteries, where it is seen as a symbol of mortality and the transcendence of death; in the nineteenth century it became a popular mourning emblem. In this context, roses are associated with condolence and sorrow, and symbolize the brevity of earthly existence.

We think it’s a fitting logo for The Victor Mourning.

—Lynne Adele