Side view

This cotton petticoat belonged to, and was probably made by, Eva Riggs (1838-1892) of Laytonsville.  It was donated in the early days of the Society, probably in the 1950s or 1960s, and the donor’s name has unfortunately been lost. The information he/she/they provided is still intact, however, thanks to a careful volunteer who noted that the hairpin lace* trim was made by Eva Riggs Griffith in the late 1860s to trim her trousseau. Miss Riggs married Festus Griffith (1838-?), also of Laytonsville, in 1871.

* Hairpin lace is a form of crochet, made on a crochet “staple” or, in a pinch, a bent-wire hairpin. The crocheted strips can be joined to create a light, airy, lacy fabric. Hairpin and other crochet work was popular in the mid 19th century as lace trimming for underclothes, baby bonnets and the like.  Note: I am going by what a previous cataloger called this work (which may simply be what the donor called it).  It looks like a crochet lace to me, but I am far from an expert needlework identifier and if you quibble with the “hairpin lace” designation, let me know!

Research in the census, cemetery records, and local genealogy files (all available in our library) shows that Festus Griffith (1838-?) was born at Edgehill Farm in Laytonsville; attended Benjamin Hallowell’s school in Alexandria; moved to Baltimore, where he worked as a clerk in a grocery store; and served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, attaining the rank of Captain. According to Captain Griffith’s entry in the Biographical Cyclopedia of Representative Men of Maryland and the District of Columbia (1879), “after the cessation of hostilities he engaged in mercantile pursuits in Baltimore and New York, until 1870, when he went to Texas, where he sojourned for four years, participating during that period, very actively, in public affairs, and extensively engaging in cotton operations. In 1874 he returned to Maryland, where he is now quietly engaged in agricultural pursuits.” On June 28, 1871, he married his old neighbor Eva Riggs, apparently in Texas (and I wish I knew the circumstances. Did he write her from Texas, asking her to come out and get hitched? Were they engaged for many years, waiting for Festus to establish himself through his extensive cotton operations? Had they been childhood sweethearts, or did they not really meet until after the War?) The 1880 census shows the couple living in the Mechanicsville [Olney] district with Eva’s parents, Elisha and Avolina Warfield Riggs. The Griffiths did not have any children; Eva died in 1892 in Howard County, and I have not been able to find a death date for Festus (one website, summing up his Confederate career, just says “yes” next to the date of death).

So there’s a lot about Captain Griffith out there. But what about Eva? So far, all I’ve found is her basic history; it’s not even entirely clear what her name really was: the various census and other records refer to her as Avolina, Eveline, Eve, Eva and Evvie (I’ve gone with Eva here because it appears to be what the donor called her). The only thing we have to flesh out the bare bones of Eva’s story is this petticoat – but it can tell us a lot. The fabric is clean and cared for, other than a few tiny stains near the waistband; the lace trim is well-made, and the donor’s remark about “trimming some of her trousseau” probably means she made a fair amount of it. The waist measures between 24 and 25 inches (depending on how much overlap you leave at the no-closure waistband fastening). The petticoat is styled for a bustle, the fashionable look for 1871. If you were to write the story of Eva Riggs Griffith’s life, based on the facts above and this garment, what would you conclude?

This "walking dress" appeared in the June, 1871 issue of Peterson's Magazine (Eva and Festus married in June of 1871). It shows the fashionably bustled silhouette that Eva's petticoat is styled for.

Well, I was going to lead off with a comment about today’s artifact relating to our ice storm… except, no ice storm.  (Salt, to put on the ice, get it?)  Uncooperative weather notwitshstanding, here is a little box of Atlantic Sea Salt, imported (and packaged) by Muth Brothers & Co., Baltimore.

This salt was for bathing, not for cooking.  Bathing in salt water was (and often still is) considered healthful and invigorating; as the box proclaims, this salt “Produc[es] a Real Salt Water Bath.”  The wood box (7″ x 4″, and 4 1/4″ high) is covered on four sides with pink paper labels.  The short sides have directions and prices; a 3 pound box was 25 cents, a 7 pound box 50 cents, etc.  (As the box is empty, and I can’t fill it with sea salt to test the weight, I’m not sure if this was a 3 lb or 7 lb box.)   The instructions are as follows:

“To every gallon of water add four or five ounces of Sea Salt.  In order to thoroughly dissolve the Salt it will be well to put the Salt into the water, say one hour before using.” 

On the lid, in ink, is the inscription (mailing address?) “Miss Susie G. Jones, Olney, Md.”  Susan G. Jones (b. 1869) of The Briers, Olney, married George T. Barnsley in 1890.  As near as I can tell, Muth Bros. & Co. opened for business in Baltimore in 1889.  (For once, an undated artifact can be dated with relative ease!)  Perhaps the salt was a gift – or something she bought for herself – as part of the preparations for her wedding.

1874 second day dress

1874 second day dress

Virginia Louise Childs (1844-1901) of Brookeville married Rev. Peter Harrison Whisner (1837-1906) on April 14th, 1874 in Rockville.  Whisner was the Methodist minister for the Rockville circuit from 1871 to 1875; later he was assigned to various districts around Baltimore, and in Virginia.

This silk two-piece dress (with matching jacket) was worn by Virginia  Whisner the day after her wedding.   It has many stylish elements, including moderate fringe, a fishtail hem to the bodice, and a modest train.  In the 19th century, the “second day” dress was often as important as the wedding gown itself, usually suitable for traveling, but also suitable for receiving guests.  Virginia’s gown is the second-earliest wedding-related dress in our collections

Unfortunately we have, as of now, no photographs of Virginia Whisner.  The gown is on exhibit until the end of June 2009, at the Waters House History Center in Germantown.  When researching for this exhibit I was able to find a photo of Rev. Whisner on a genealogy page for a West Virginia family, but no images of Virginia herself.  Archivally, she can be found in the 1870 census living with her parents in Brookeville; in biographical sketches of her husband in various Methodist histories; and in her obituary, which appeared in the June 27th, 1901 edition of the Nashville Christian Advocate (Virginia having died in Kentucky) and was described as “a measured but heartfelt obituary penned by her widower.”