After my sojourn across the pond, it’s back to the
McCullough House, a Victorian home that will be an 1893 setting in my second mystery. We’ve explored the public rooms downstairs. Now it’s time to take the broad staircase to the second and third floors.
The wealthy of the late 1800s generally had sparsely furnished bedrooms. These were private areas of the house so ostentation wasn’t necessary. Usually the bedrooms on the second floor contained an easy chair, table, washstand with pitcher, bureau, and chamber pots.
The beds were made of brass, iron, or woods such as
mahogany, oak, cherry, or ash. I imagine the McCulloughs had high-posted beds because the ceilings were high and the floors cold. They probably had feather beds since the wealthy could afford such luxury. The walls in the rooms were painted or wallpapered in a hardly memorable pattern. They may have had three or four bedrooms on the second floor, but the master bedroom was in the front with windows looking out over the street. At some point the owners also added a bathroom in the 1800’s sense of the word.
A bathroom was separate from a water closet. Let’s consider first the lowly water closet. Through most of the 1800s, the privy was outdoors and was called an outhouse, a house of office, or a necessary house. In fact, there was much resistance to bringing this whole unsanitary business inside the house. Not until WWI did “bathrooms” become tubs, sinks, and toilets. In 1910, Sears, Roebuck sold the three together as a “suite” with standard parts put out by, appropriately, the American Standard company. So perhaps the McCullough house began with an outside privy that was later moved into a small closet on the second floor.
Also on the second floor was the bathroom. This was strictly for bathing and when we lived there in the late 1960s, the second floor did have a large bathroom that accommodated a claw-foot tub. But in the late 1800s, this tub was made of wood, zinc, or painted tin. Often a bathroom had a fireplace and might have started as a small bedchamber. The Victorians avoided wallpaper or wood paneling in their bathrooms because of roaches. Instead, they used glazed ceramic tile in white, gray, or buff colors. The more expensive–I’d like to think the McCulloughs fit this category–used pearl, gold, or rose hues in their tiles. Can you imagine, as a domestic, making multiple trips carrying water up the back stairway from the kitchen to fill this tub and keep it warm so the owners could bathe? You would probably have been thankful people didn’t bathe as often in the 1800s.
|Probably a bit larger than the McCullough House,
but you get the picture!
The second floor is not as interesting as the top floor of the house–the ballroom. It’s possible the third floor also had a couple of small, lackluster rooms for servants’ quarters too. But the top floor was a ballroom with windows overlooking the main street, Broadway. Refreshments would have been available in the ballroom and possibly they had a midnight supper on the first floor followed the dancing.
All young ladies were given a dance program and
gentlemen wrote their names in for specific dances. Never would an unmarried woman dance more than twice with the same man. Until the late 1880s, husbands and wives never danced together in public (disregard what you see from Hollywood.) The favored dances were the waltz, polka, quadrille, gallop, cotillion, and Virginia Reel. But young ladies were warned against overexertion in Godey’s Lady’s Book. This was probably prudent since they were in corsets that cut off their lung capacities.
The finest evening wear would have been essential for the McCullough’s dance invitations.
Gloves and fans were required. The fans were made of silk, tortoise shell, lace, or ivory, and often had beads, hand-painted designs, or feathers. A lady suspended her fan on a chain from her waist while dancing. She also learned the “language of fans” so she could flirt with young men.
It would be easy to imagine the evening promenade of
men and women in fancy dress walking up the main staircase of the McCullough house to spend a pleasant evening dancing in the ballroom and drinking punch. Tightly enforced social codes required the unmarried to move through their regulated lives under the watchful eyes of the married adults. (Egads, another reason marriage was the ding dong bell of doom.) And, when the dance ended, the ladies would obtain their evening wraps, be escorted down the staircase once again, and climb into their conveyances to go home through the quiet streets of Monmouth.