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  • Lee Sigler

Drag Me Into History

Updated: Aug 18, 2021

I wanted to be a smarter collector and began researching various topics – native cultures, the history of knitting, the history of textiles, ceramics, Victorian diets, life in Africa, and just plain history!

Thus, I know who the Bey of Tunis was in 1800. And that the first war the United States fought after the Revolutionary war was in the waters around Tunisia – and with pirates. Not much different than today! I know what a Prince of Wales Plume is and what sprang is.

I also learned that Syphilis – is known by different names around the world:

  • the English called the disease the French Pox,

  • the French called it the Neapolitan or Italian disease,

  • the Italians and the Dutch called it the Spanish disease,

  • Portuguese called it the Castilian disease,

  • Russians called it the Polish disease,

  • Polish called it the Russian disease,

  • Turks called it the Christian disease,

  • Persians called it the Turkish disease, and

  • Japanese called it either the Portuguese or Chinese disease.

How did I get into this? I wanted to learn about death in the 1800s and why the fascination with it in woman’s art?


Beadwork Memorial for Tiley Keen 1856

Plagues came and went – taking many lives with them. Women died in childbirth – not necessarily from the birth process but many died from dirty medical practices that resulted in secondary infections. Men went off to fight wars and died. Babies died from a myriad of childhood diseases. And the women were left to remember those who had died.

It was popular to memorialize lost loved ones in pictures. This tribute to Tiley Keen was likely created by her mother. The inscription on the gravestone reads, “To the memory of Tiley Keen who died June 25, 1856 aged 1 year & 11 months. They said she was a lovely Child, or did they say in vain. God saw our idol would be spoiled And took her home again.”

This is a fairly typical memorial style – with the tombstones and palm trees and mountains in the background. An unusual feature is two additional tombstones at the bottom with initials and dates of death – likely other relatives.

The Victorians were heavily into symbolism. The gravestone itself means mortality. The palm trees symbolize eternal peace and are a symbol of Christ’s victory over death, generally associated with Easter. The tree trunks of the palms are leaning – meaning mourning for a short interrupted life, There are several flowers at the bottom of the picture – the most notable being the lily of the valley which means purity or rebirth. The sun shining in the sky symbolizes everlasting life.

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