French Coal Woman
This is a photo taken circa 1910, of a French coal woman whose job was to deliver sacks of coal to homes for heating and cooking. Note the sign behind the woman which reads “5eme Etage” — Fifth Floor. Given the French custom of naming the ground floor the first floor, this meant that the woman had carried that huge sack up four flights of stairs. Who knows how many sacks she had to deliver each day, up how many flights of stairs.
Focusing in on various sections of the photo can give us some interesting glimpses into the coal woman as well as French apartment life during that time period.
In the picture below we have a closeup of the woman’s face, which is dirty from coal dust. Most likely she would come to suffer respiratory ailments from the dust that she inhaled day in and day out. The huge coal sack is balanced on her shoulder and neck, and she is wearing a large dress; it must have been sweaty work climbing flights of stairs with a sack of coal on her back.
To the right of the woman, on the wall of the stair well, is a graffiti drawing of a head.
On the floor are various stains. The graffiti and the dirt on the floor may indicate that this was not a very well to do apartment building, probably one occupied by working families.
But note the electrical switch on the banister which indicates that even though the heat in this building was still using coal, the building had been modernized with electric lighting. Eventually the electricity would make the coal woman obsolete as more and more apartments switched to electric heat.
New Year’s Day Mummer’s Parade
New Year’s Day has always been marked by special celebrations and traditions. One of the most ancient ways of welcoming in the New Year was the Mummer’s Dance.
Mummers on Parade
Here in this picture a group of costumed Mummers parade down a street of Philadelphia on New Year’s Day, 1909. Throngs of people including many children have lined the streets to watch the mummers.
Traditional mummery (also called janneying) was a British in which people would dress in masks and disguises and visit the homes of neighbors incognito. They would be welcomed by the householders and there perform tricks, pantomimes, and songs. The hosts would attempt to guess the identity of their guests. Mummer’s costumes were often very elaborate, and sometimes scary looking.
Despite roots that may have gone back to Druid times, the practice nearly died out after 1861 when a law was passed making it illegal to wear a disguise in public, after a man was robbed and killed by assailants dressed as mummers. However vestiges of this practice survived in the England, Ireland, and parts of the United States and Canada.
Here are some close ups of the masks worn by these parading mummers.
The mummer in the center of the picture above appears to be carrying two fake mummers attached to a beam supported by his shoulders.
Another Closeup of Mummers
Above is a closeup of the mummers following the lead mummer with his scarecrow mummers hung over his shoulders. Note their elaborate head dresses.
Watching the Mummer’s Parade
Here is a moment in time from New Year’s Day 1909, an America that no longer exists. Note the Sunday Best clothes worn by the girls as they attentively watch the spectacle in front of them.