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7 Crazy Victorian Traditions You Won’t Believe Existed

We’re ALL obsessed with history, but how much do you REALLY know of the Victorian era?

The Victorian Age is typically remembered as incredibly buttoned-up, conservative, and dull.

And even though many critical technological advancements were made during this time, we mostly think of the era as a time when the strict way of life of Queen Victoria, the stiff-upper-lip matriarch, ran supreme.

However, the Victorians were complex, and much provocative entertainment was produced in their period. For one, they made ghost stories at a glorious speed and saw the relatively peaceful Christmas holiday as the ideal chance to share spooky stories over a crackling fire.

They also clung to many strange and downright creepy traditions, some of which we couldn’t imagine doing nowadays. Believe us, you’ll want to know more! Here are 7 of the most disturbing practices Victorians came up with. Some are exceptionally alarming!

Photo by Nelia L at Shutterstock

Covered Mirrors

We already know that mirrors have a history of creeping people out. It probably comes from Greek mythology, when Narcissus stared at his reflection on and on, much to his doom.

Or there’s the idea that a genuinely nefarious demon or creature doesn’t have a reflection in vampire stories. But perhaps no other group in history was more suspicious of the power held by mirrors than the Victorians.

If a family member died in a home, the women would rush to cover all the mirrors with some sort of dark cloth. One reason is that they believed if they walked past the mirror and saw the deceased looking back at them, they would die next.

Another, perhaps more spiritual, explanation is that they believed the soul would remain trapped inside the mirror forever, never finding peace.

Besides this odd extension of the Victorians’ rather rigorous mourning ritual, mirrors also served as the inspiration for dozens of strange games during their time.

We’ve all played “Bloody Mary” at least once in our lives, quietly staring at the mirror in the dark, whispering the name like an incantation, determined that the tortured spirit of the demonic Bloody Mary would appear.

Well, you probably didn’t know that this comes from the influence of the Victorians, who were the first to invent the spooky urban legend.

Taxidermy Hats

This craze is possibly an extension of the overall fascination with taxidermy and how the Victorians pushed creative boundaries with the controversial practice. For one, complete portraits of dead bunnies studying in a library, for instance, were all the rage.

They gave the animals human characteristics after death. Things like reading, having tea, or playing croquet were trendy during these times. How or why this became fashionable with upper-class Victorians is still unclear.

But evidently, donning a dead, stuffed animal on top of one’s head was thought to be the ultimate in haute couture. The more adventurous types of people went with mice, squirrels, and kittens…which, when you think about it, is incredibly awful in its own way.

But most had a bit of an obsession with birds, so decorating their dresses or hats and such with feathers was all the rage during this era. The more daring Victorian women would attach an entire corpse of a bird onto their clothing.

This trend was so popular that 67 species of birds had almost been added to the extinction list. Turns out, these people would have done anything for the sake of fashion!

Darwin Was Addicted To Scarfing Down Exotic Animals

Since we’re on the subject of animals, let’s continue this Victorian-era obsession. Charles Darwin might have enjoyed studying all those rare animals. But apparently, he also enjoyed chowing down on them as well.

He joined a Cambridge society named the “Glutton Club,” where he and his companions ate odd dishes like hawks, maggots, squirrels, and owls.

And when he was on his grand voyage of discovery aboard the Beagle, he ate giant tortoises, iguanas, armadillos, and a puma. Unfortunately for us, though, there’s no report of him ever saying, “Get me an alligator sandwich. And make it snappy!”

Photo by CornelPutan at Shutterstock

Safety Coffins

Another bizarre tradition originating from the fear of death, the use of safety coffins was all the rage. In the 1800s, people feared the idea of being buried alive.

Whether this gruesome obsession had to do with the incredibly high mortality rates or that one of the era’s most influential writers, Edgar Allan Poe, wrote several short stories about being buried alive, people were deathly afraid of waking up in a coffin underground.

This coffin was essentially an unconventional contraption allowing a person to get air and signal to people above ground, usually by a bell. Someone would hear the call in the graveyard and rush to save the person who had been buried.

That way, the one accidentally buried alive wouldn’t suffocate and could be saved. Fun Fact: This is where the phrase “saved by the bell” comes from.

However, how often people were mistaken for dead in the Victorian Age isn’t clear, and whether these coffins ever came in handy is up for debate.

The Thames Was Packed With Sewage And Dead Animals

People in the Victorian period thought the contaminated air was making them ill…WRONG! By 1860 thousands of tons of raw waste matter had been dumped into the Thames daily because there wasn’t any other storage for sewage.

Oh, and it was also the primary drinking water source for the city. People died by the thousands from cholera, dysentery, and typhoid. But it doesn’t end there. The streets were unbelievably disgusting as well.

In 1891 Lady Harberton reported that her long dress had collected nine cigarettes, two cigar ends, a pork pie, two hairpins, four toothpicks, one slice of cats meat, half a sole of a boot, one plug of chewed tobacco, straw, mud, scraps of paper, and fecal matter during a short walk through London.

Women Used Meat As A Face Treatment

We would have assumed that skincare was more of a modern concern. Still, evidently, the females of the Victorian era, and even some of the gentlemen, were very concerned about keeping their faces pillowy soft.

If you think they did this using a seaweed treatment or perhaps a mud mask, think again. During this time, they would stamp out their rosacea, acne, or dry skin using a piece of raw beef.

One beauty advice writer said, “bind your head, every night, with thin slices of raw beef, which will keep the skin from wrinkles and give a youthful freshness to the complexion.” That is, if your dog doesn’t eat your face in your sleep, of course!

Photo by Donna Beeler at Shutterstock

Mourning Culture

50% of Victorian children died before turning five years old. The worst mortality rates were in the slums, particularly the Seven Dials area of London and Angel Meadow, a Manchester slum so awful it was nicknamed “hell on earth.”

Over 30,000 workers, primarily Irish immigrants, were packed into a square mile, and many Angel Meadow youths were left to protect themselves and survive on scraps. Some even ate stray cats.

Mourning culture in these times was rather detailed and entailed traditions that helped the living overcome the passing of a loved one. Things like pieces of jewelry with locks of hair from the dead or taking photos with the corpse of the dearly departed were very popular.

Perhaps this creepiness is nowhere near as apparent as in the form of mourning dolls. For wealthier families, it was standard practice to create a mourning doll bearing the likeness of their departed.

The dolls were made from wax, and the hair would be taken straight from the deceased’s body. This was in the hopes of finding some misguided level of authenticity.

Then, the dolls would be placed in a crib, sometimes changing their clothes and generally cared for as though they were real. This was seen as a healthy way for the family to cope.

We’re not surprised that the Victorian era is known for any number of spine-tingling horror stories. Their everyday reality was filled with morbid details.

We hope you found our list of Victorian era culture interesting. But don’t worry, we’ve got many more fantastic historical articles for you to enjoy. We also recommend reading: 8 Inspiring Historical Sites Every American Should Visit


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