The Very Real Danger of Living in the Past

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Eleanor Rose

Captain
Forum Host
Joined
Nov 26, 2016
Location
central NC
default.jpg

(Credit: Wellcome Collection)
The Grim Reaper seemed to always be just around the corner in the Mid-19th​ century. A fancy dress or a beautiful piece of wallpaper could spell doom and despair. Fortunately, modern advances and mandated safeguards have greatly improved our life expectancy today. As for our poor Victorian friends, they had to depend on luck and a prayer.

These were three of the top dangers lurking about:

1 Flammable Fashion - In the Mid-19th​ century, huge crinoline skirts were at the height of their popularity. Often made of silk and muslin, these were highly flammable. Fanny Longfellow, wife of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, died in 1861 after her dress went up in flames when a lighted match or small piece of paper fell on her. Longfellow himself attempted to extinguish the flames, but Fanny's skirts were so flammable it was impossible for him to save her life.

2 Opium Overdoses - In the 19th century opium was an extremely popular medicine. Extracts of opium, such as Godfrey’s Cordial, were widely used as a method to soothe sickly or teething infants. Adults were not immune either. They frequently turned to opium for pain relief and a sleep aid. Accidental overdoses were frequent.

3 Arsenic Poisoning - Green wallpaper was the height of fashion in the Mid-19th​ century. The key ingredient in the vibrant shade of green pigment in the most popular wallpaper, known as Scheele’s Green, was arsenic. Although arsenic was known to be poisonous if eaten, at the time it was thought to be safe as a color pigment. Today, historic homes have had their arsenic wallpaper removed and the arsenic-dyed clothes in museum collections are generally kept safely behind glass. The picture above accompanied an article entitled, 'The dance of death' published on February 8, 1862. In the article, the chemist, A.W. Hoffman, shared his finding that green dresses, wreaths, and artificial flowers, made with copper arsenite or copper acetoarsenite (Scheele's green, Paris green), were toxic.
 

TnFed

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 18, 2018
Eleanor, since you have a sizable knowledge of Victorian times, I have a question. Why does it seem like there was so many more accounts of spontaneous combustion then?
 
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Eleanor Rose

Captain
Forum Host
Joined
Nov 26, 2016
Location
central NC
Eleanor, since you have a sizable knowledge of Victorian times, I have a question. Why does it seem like there was so many more accounts of spontaneous combustion then?
There were some Victorian scientists who thought alcoholism could cause spontaneous combustion and this idea quickly caught on with the public. In Victorian accounts (yes, there are some), victims were typically overweight, heavy drinkers whose bodies appeared to burst into flame, leaving only their legs intact. The temperance movement loved these accounts and used them to scare people away from the "demon drink."

Modern forensic science has in part explained the phenomena through the “wick effect,” wherein a body on fire produces melted fat that seeps into the clothes, causing a long, slow, self-contained burn that may look like the result of spontaneous combustion — but (and this is an important but) almost certainly began with an external source.

What a great question @TnFed ! And thanks for considering me a knowledgeable source on Victorian times. Most folks would just think I know a lot of useless facts. :smile:
 

Mrs. V

Sergeant Major
Joined
May 5, 2017
I remember being all dressed in my hoop skirts, and addressing a classroom full of students who had immigrated to America. I was talking about cook fires, and how one had to be careful with these full skirts, because you could not see necessarily how close to the fire you were, and how a spark could literally kill you. They were full of tales of relatives burned by getting too close to the fire while cooking. Or falling into the fire! To them, cooking over an open fire was normal..my outfit, not so much!
 
Joined
Mar 19, 2019
Location
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
I remember being all dressed in my hoop skirts, and addressing a classroom full of students who had immigrated to America. I was talking about cook fires, and how one had to be careful with these full skirts, because you could not see necessarily how close to the fire you were, and how a spark could literally kill you. They were full of tales of relatives burned by getting too close to the fire while cooking. Or falling into the fire! To them, cooking over an open fire was normal..my outfit, not so much!

A few years ago, I took a history / lore tour of Seton Hill University, a Catholic school in Greensburg PA that opened in 1914. One of the stories concerned a nun who reportedly wore a full habit that caught on fire from a candle. The poor nun reportedly died from her burn injuries.
 
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Kurt G

First Sergeant
Joined
May 23, 2018
There were some Victorian scientists who thought alcoholism could cause spontaneous combustion and this idea quickly caught on with the public. In Victorian accounts (yes, there are some), victims were typically overweight, heavy drinkers whose bodies appeared to burst into flame, leaving only their legs intact. The temperance movement loved these accounts and used them to scare people away from the "demon drink."

Modern forensic science has in part explained the phenomena through the “wick effect,” wherein a body on fire produces melted fat that seeps into the clothes, causing a long, slow, self-contained burn that may look like the result of spontaneous combustion — but (and this is an important but) almost certainly began with an external source.

What a great question @TnFed ! And thanks for considering me a knowledgeable source on Victorian times. Most folks would just think I know a lot of useless facts. :smile:
I find all of the "useless facts" very interesting . It really helps you understand what times were like during the 19th century . I appreciate all of these posts !
 

Tom Hughes

Sergeant
Joined
May 27, 2019
Location
Mississippi
View attachment 340576
(Credit: Wellcome Collection)
The Grim Reaper seemed to always be just around the corner in the Mid-19th​ century. A fancy dress or a beautiful piece of wallpaper could spell doom and despair. Fortunately, modern advances and mandated safeguards have greatly improved our life expectancy today. As for our poor Victorian friends, they had to depend on luck and a prayer.

These were three of the top dangers lurking about:

1 Flammable Fashion - In the Mid-19th​ century, huge crinoline skirts were at the height of their popularity. Often made of silk and muslin, these were highly flammable. Fanny Longfellow, wife of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, died in 1861 after her dress went up in flames when a lighted match or small piece of paper fell on her. Longfellow himself attempted to extinguish the flames, but Fanny's skirts were so flammable it was impossible for him to save her life.

2 Opium Overdoses - In the 19th century opium was an extremely popular medicine. Extracts of opium, such as Godfrey’s Cordial, were widely used as a method to soothe sickly or teething infants. Adults were not immune either. They frequently turned to opium for pain relief and a sleep aid. Accidental overdoses were frequent.

3 Arsenic Poisoning - Green wallpaper was the height of fashion in the Mid-19th​ century. The key ingredient in the vibrant shade of green pigment in the most popular wallpaper, known as Scheele’s Green, was arsenic. Although arsenic was known to be poisonous if eaten, at the time it was thought to be safe as a color pigment. Today, historic homes have had their arsenic wallpaper removed and the arsenic-dyed clothes in museum collections are generally kept safely behind glass. The picture above accompanied an article entitled, 'The dance of death' published on February 8, 1862. In the article, the chemist, A.W. Hoffman, shared his finding that green dresses, wreaths, and artificial flowers, made with copper arsenite or copper acetoarsenite (Scheele's green, Paris green), were toxic.
Great thread. It's a great reminder of how deadly even the simplest things could be back in the 19th century.
 
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Tom Hughes

Sergeant
Joined
May 27, 2019
Location
Mississippi
View attachment 340576
(Credit: Wellcome Collection)
The Grim Reaper seemed to always be just around the corner in the Mid-19th​ century. A fancy dress or a beautiful piece of wallpaper could spell doom and despair. Fortunately, modern advances and mandated safeguards have greatly improved our life expectancy today. As for our poor Victorian friends, they had to depend on luck and a prayer.

These were three of the top dangers lurking about:

1 Flammable Fashion - In the Mid-19th​ century, huge crinoline skirts were at the height of their popularity. Often made of silk and muslin, these were highly flammable. Fanny Longfellow, wife of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, died in 1861 after her dress went up in flames when a lighted match or small piece of paper fell on her. Longfellow himself attempted to extinguish the flames, but Fanny's skirts were so flammable it was impossible for him to save her life.

2 Opium Overdoses - In the 19th century opium was an extremely popular medicine. Extracts of opium, such as Godfrey’s Cordial, were widely used as a method to soothe sickly or teething infants. Adults were not immune either. They frequently turned to opium for pain relief and a sleep aid. Accidental overdoses were frequent.

3 Arsenic Poisoning - Green wallpaper was the height of fashion in the Mid-19th​ century. The key ingredient in the vibrant shade of green pigment in the most popular wallpaper, known as Scheele’s Green, was arsenic. Although arsenic was known to be poisonous if eaten, at the time it was thought to be safe as a color pigment. Today, historic homes have had their arsenic wallpaper removed and the arsenic-dyed clothes in museum collections are generally kept safely behind glass. The picture above accompanied an article entitled, 'The dance of death' published on February 8, 1862. In the article, the chemist, A.W. Hoffman, shared his finding that green dresses, wreaths, and artificial flowers, made with copper arsenite or copper acetoarsenite (Scheele's green, Paris green), were toxic.
Very interesting thread. Loved it.
 
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