AN EVENING OF GHOSTS AND TEA
(Jennifer Miller and Laura Edwards)
Early Saturday evening, 7 members and guests of the Ladies Historical Tea Society gathered at the home of Natalie Ferguson for high tea and tales of the bizarre and unexplained. We served a meal of Creamy tomato basil soup, herb and cheese pie, ham and Swiss cheese sandwiches, and English custard-filled tea cake. Our teas were the tea society’s Lavender and Black Ceylon. All ladies in attendance dressed in reproduction or period- inspired clothing, some resurrecting Edwardian attire, while others revisited the 1860’s. This event is truly one of the few where all attendees are urged to dress in period clothing. Though period dress is always encouraged, it is by no means a prerequisite for events. I have found, however, that doing so creates a nostalgic atmosphere, and serves to fashion the perfect ambiance for a Halloween event.
The theme of the evening, being of course ghost stories, stems not from a particular fascination with Halloween per se, but out of a fascination with how the Victorians were very much intrigued with Spiritualism and the paranormal. It is interesting to note that this fascination was indeed widespread and not at all confined to the lower classes or poorly educated. A great number of periodicals of the day centered on spiritualism, reaching a vast learned audience. The interest was not isolated to modest country dwellings; it extended into grand parlors of the most highly respected families, challenging the “intellectuals”, who prided themselves on their superior sophistication as advocates of industry and modernism. Ironically, it was within the homes of the elite, where most of the dabbling transpired. For they had the wealth and social standing to attract the most prestigious Victorian citizens into their grand homes where they would solicit the services of spiritual mediums to conduct experiments in contacting the dearly departed.
(Polly Singer and Natalie Ferguson)
(The Fox Sisters of New York- From left to right: Margaret, Kate, and Leah-Image from Wikipedia)
The new ‘conjurers of the dead’ came to England in the 1850’s by way of America. Three sisters in particular, the Fox sisters, were perhaps the most well known mediums of the era, having given birth to the movement at their New York home in 1848. They became known for their great abilities to communicate with the deceased through spiritual messages and summoning spirits through table turning and spiritual rapping. This practice became a huge phenomenon in England, inspiring social events around practices in spiritualism. Even grand tea parties, where a séance was the theme of the afternoon, would not have been all together unheard of.
(Jenni,Polly, Rebecca, and Laura)
Happily, there were no séances at the Tea Society’s event but we did share many tales of the paranormal including some eye-witness accounts of the unexplained. Member, Polly Singer shared a wonderful historical overview of Loudon House in Lexington, Kentucky, whose sister house in New York, served as the backdrop for the Dark Shadows series. She shared a detailed map of hauntings from the house, along with personal experiences when she worked there: Radios turning on by themselves, the sounds of a party when no one was in the house, the sensation of being watched, and images of spectral ‘statues’ appearing in windows for select passersby to see. Others read tales from Dickens and some more obscure authors, while I shared the tale of Lord Rossmore’s Banshee, from a collection of stories compiled by Reverend John Seymour, found in a compilation of Irish Ghost Stories. Two members shared of their own personal accounts with levitation. I also shared of the sometimes peculiar things that have happened here at our house. I, and others, have smelled roses and lilac water in the dead of February. My husband smells cigarette and cigar smoke. We had a visitor see an apparition of a woman in white in our stairwell, and I once heard running upstairs when my son was fast asleep in his bed, and I was the only one in the house. All made for a splendid evening to leave each guest pondering the unexplained things that go bump in the night.
I wish to thank Natalie Ferguson for hosting the event and making the delicious custard-filled tea cake. I also want to thank all in attendance for making the evening so much fun. Without each of you, I would be left to dream away and merely fantasize about sharing my rather peculiar interest in tea culture. Thank you for the gracious indulgence!