The Hairwork Bracelet

Hairwork mourning bracelet with portrait, c. 1850 [Found on Pinterest, no source given.]

Even with an abundance of online shopping opportunities available, holiday gift buying can be tedious.  The parking, the crowds, the endless renditions of a prepubescent Michael Jackson singing “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”….  Don’t you wish you could skip the whole thing and just have your spirit guides materialize some nice apports?

The first part of this story, from 1880s Prussia, is found in the August, 1886 issue of Fact. It relates, how a family, under the influence of the writings of Allan Kardec, made experiments to “obtain spiritual manifestation.” The son, Carl, was quickly developed as a medium, and the usual rappings, table tipping, and psychographic writings took place.

Than, in March of 1884, Carl reported a visitation:

“I was awakened at the university, a few weeks before, and saw in the perfectly-dark chamber a beautiful girl, in shining white raiment, lying upon a sofa. The apparition gazed kindly upon me. In doubt whether I was awake or dreaming, I dipped my fingers in the glass of water upon the light-stand, and rubbed my eyes. But the apparition did not melt away, and only disappeared after I had become quite sure I was not dreaming. Now, I say, I believe in the possibility that this earlier appearance might have been of an objective nature, and it would be of interest to receive information from it.”

The story concluded in Fact for September 1886, as follows:

As may be supposed, this story excited our interest, and we begged “the spirits” for information. Through tippings and repetition of the alphabet, my son received orders to take the pencil, and then wrote, psychographically, the following words:

“It was Clara L—-, of Munich. She died the same night. Her spirit is always near you, Carl.”

My son was deeply moved by this communication, and, after earnest inquiry, we obtained from him the following information: —

“In 1882, when I served in Munich as volunteer, I went frequently with my comrades, of whom Clara’s brother was one, to the house of her uncle. Clara and her brother were orphans, and were brought up at Stuttgart by this uncle, whom I was informed was a general in the Dutch service. The old gentleman was fond of youthful society, and often gave little entertainments at his house, which were very enjoyable. I left Munich in October, 1882, and Clara’s brother was at the same time mustered into service as lieutenant in the cavalry. When I came again to Munich last fall (1883), I felt it my duty to pay my respects at the house of the general, and was very cordially received by him and Clara, who had grown taller and still more beautiful. We went out frequently in company together, and this was the cause of my remaining longer in Munich than was agreeable to you. I cannot believe this young, blooming, and healthy creature is dead.”

We remarked that, if it were so, Clara’s brother would surely have sent him notice; but Carl replied that, having neglected to leave his university address, the brother would not know where to reach him.

We resolved to communicate with this Lieutenant L__, and, searching out his address in a military directory, Carl wrote him a letter, simply asking after his welfare, and that of his family. After a few days of painful suspense, the following reply was received upon the 29th of April: —

“Ingolstadt, April 26, 1884.

Dear Carl,—I was much pleased to receive from you a sign of life at last. I cannot answer your kind inquiry after our welfare as I could wish, for, only think, my poor sister died on February 8th, of inflammation of the lungs! I should have sent you the sorrowful tidings at that time, but had no idea where to reach you. Clara was perfectly prepared, and commissioned me to send her last greeting to you, with a little wreath of pressed flowers, which would be found in her prayer-book. In the confusion, I forgot to look for it, and uncle, who set out immediately after Clara’s burial to visit his sister in the Hague, shut up her room. He will return to Munich in May, when I will send the flowers to you at once.

“I am pretty well here, and a somewhat arduous service leaves me little time for unavailing regrets, and all must be endured. Farewell, and do not quite forget me. With hearty greeting,

“Thine, Ernest L__.”

This letter moved us deeply, but the affection which reached beyond the grave of this pure being touched us even more than the signs of her love and well-being, given by Clara in our former séances, had done.

On May 5th we received through tipping of the table and the alphabet the following communication: —

“Consider what follows an expression of our favor.”

We heard writing upon the block, and found upon the paper the following independent writing: —

“These great favors are granted to your love, because you have continually been faithful, and we have remained friendly to you.”

Then followed the order, through tipping, for Carl to hold the block, and we again heard writing. After a few minutes the pad was taken from Carl’s hand, and fell immediately upon the table Light was made, and we found upon the block of paper a little wreath of dried flowers, and the words ’

“From Clara for Carl, out of the South.”

According to the assurance of Clara’s spirit, this is the same wreath which she bequeathed to Carl upon her death-bed. Our astonishment over this was great. We had, for the first time, experienced spirit-transportation! Naturally, we were curious to know how the bouquet could be brought from the closed dwelling in Munich to us here, but our curiosity was only met by these words: —

“Ask not how and why; enough for you that we reward you so, and will reward you still more! ”

Under such, influences our love for Clara grew more and more, like that of a person still moving upon earth.

In the séance of Aug. 20,1884, my son was again ordered to hold the pencil, and his hand wrote: —

“Have a bracelet made from this portion of my hair, and let the clasp be made so that half of it can be used as a locket, with a glass over it.—Clara.”

Then followed a request for him to hold the slate. After a few minutes the sign for light was given, and we found on the slate a slender strand of golden brown hair, perfumed with violet, and tied with a bit of red silk. Carl recognized it as Clara’s hair. Through his own hand was written the following message: —

“It is my earnest wish that Carl should wear the bracelet as soon as possible. Carl, your hair-dresser will give you the address of a skillful braider of hair, to whom you may trust the work, and your dear father may see to having the setting properly done wherever he will.”

I made the design for the bracelet on the same evening, and it was all carried out according to Clara’s wish.

The bracelet is a gold-rim, eight mm. broad, in a groove, in the outside of which lies the braid of hair. On one side of it is a medallion, which, on the inside, has a receptacle, or depression, which is covered with a leaf of mica, or spectacle-glass, held in place by a fine, gold rim, and a thin plate of gold covering it.’ On the outside the medallion is ornamented with an engraved DH

In the fall of 1884, my son was promised a Christmas present from another spirit who came to us, calling herself “Fernande,” and who, according to her communication, was the wife of an English army surgeon, Dr. Brown, who fell in the Crimean war. She survived her husband six years, and died in Hungary. The ghost of this physician often gave us, and especially my wife, valuable medical advice; but Fernande’s spirit mingled with more sympathy in her daily intercourse. These friends, and many more, were brought by Clara to us, and into our surroundings.

During the séance appointed for the evening of Dec. 25, 1884, Carl was requested to lay his bracelet upon the table, which was done. After a few moments light was called for, and to our greatest astonishment we found in the small locket, upon the bracelet, a medallion portrait of a beautiful young woman, looking downward. Through tips and the alphabet was spelled out this message “The glass must not be removed, or the picture will be lost to you.”

Just before noon of the next day, I provided myself with a good magnifying glass, and demanded the bracelet of Carl that I might carefully examine the wonderful portrait in the clear daylight. After the examination of the picture, as the lower plate of the locket would not stay perfectly closed, I pressed a little harder upon it, and the hinge striking upon the rim, and this upon the crystal, unfortunately the little rim and crystal sprang out of the locket and fell to the floor. I stooped quickly, and grasped the glass, which still had a brown hue, but after a few seconds this faded, and the glass was again white and transparent. The picture which had been imprinted upon it had vanished.

I was much perplexed over this misfortune. My family overwhelmed me with reproaches. I could only urge as an excuse that the goldsmith had done his work unskillfully, and hence the misfortune; that the crystal rested upon the braid of hair, which, being elastic, worked like a stretched string. But my rather faintly-spoken defence, at lunch, was without avail with my family, and the general depression of spirit was not to be banished.

Finally, we heard loud raps on the dining-table, and the message was given by the use of the alphabet, to my great relief:

“The picture is not lost to you.”

On New Year’s Day, 1885, Carl received the order: —

“Have the bracelet made to close perfectly before Thursday.”

I ordered the necessary alteration made by a goldsmith, and on January 8th was written, psychographically: —

“Handle my picture with care; since, after the loss of the other, for which no one should be blamed, each new manifestation takes more time.”

Then followed the order for Carl to put his bracelet into his sister’s right hand. While she held it came the following message through taps and alphabet: —

“Receive what I present you from a loving heart.”

Light was brought, and we found in the locket the same picture of Fernande which had been lost to us on December 26th. My son is still the fortunate possessor of this bracelet, with the picture.

Facts September 1886: p. 228-232

I’ve written before about art from the spirit world  revealing some of the secrets of how spirit paintings (as opposed to spirit photographs) were created.  How do you suppose the portrait of “Fernande” was created? I’m assuming it was an idealized “fancy head,” rather than a recognizable portrait. I have a few other accounts of mysterious drawings that later vanished from the paper via “spirit power.” Usually stories of apports come from mixed seance circles, rather than a closed family group, which raises questions of the party or parties responsible for the ingenious portrait.

To be Relentlessly Informative, hairwork–braided or worked into images like weeping willow trees–was a Victorian tradition for sentimental and mourning jewellery. Hair does not decay so it was the perfect symbol of the beloved–living or dead. I find the genre itch-making and unsettling, but many people took comfort in having a part of their departed loved one next to their heart or skin. Brooches, pendants, rings, and bracelets were the most common forms, sometimes paired with a portrait of the deceased and engraved with dates of life and death. There were professional hair-workers and the neat-fingered amateur could buy books of patterns and instruction for DIY hairwork.

Ideas on how Fernande’s portrait was made? Some air-sensitive chemical developer? Do not remove the glass before sending to chriswoodyard8 AT

The Hairwork Bracelet. A hairwork sample card showing some of the 19th-century designs for using the hair of the beloved–living or dead.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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