Tag Archives: history

‘Tis the Season: 19th century Shoplifters

by K.B. Owen

As “Black Friday” rapidly approaches, the official opening of the holiday shopping season in the U.S., we thought it would be fun/interesting to look at a related activity, past and present.

According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, retailers lose $13 billion (that’s a 13 with nine zeroes after it!) in merchandise each year.  The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is prime-time for such thefts, when professional and amateur alike hit the crowded stores.

Such was the case in the 19th century, too. According to a December 12, 1897 article in The Sun: 

As soon as the shops become crowded with throngs who go to investigate, admire, and buy their Christmas offerings, shoplifters also turn out en masse. Experience soon teaches them that they can do their most profitable work this season.

from 1886 Professional Criminals of America, by Thomas Byrnes. Don't you love the nicknames some of these gals have?

from 1886 Professional Criminals of America, by Thomas Byrnes. Don’t you love the nicknames of some of these gals?

For now, let’s set aside discussion of the amateur shoplifters of the 19th century — wealthy and middle class women, mostly, who often had their charges dropped by the store because they came from a prominent family and/or they were diagnosed with kleptomania (by some accounts brought on by something “menstrual”). Our focus today is on the professionals, also known as “hoisters,” or “h’isters.” There were two kinds of hoisters: the clouters and the pennyweighters. To quote one of the policemen in the article: “These people have more ways of stealing than they have fingers and toes.”

Shoplifters such as Flossie Maitland and May Murray (couldn’t find their pics, sorry), worked together as clouters, with one to distract the clerk and the other to wear the apparatus under her skirt. The clouting apparatus consisted of a hidden band around the waist, to which strong elastic bands are attached. The item to be stolen would be dropped on the floor, and the clouter would stand over it (covering it with her skirt), then stoop down as if she was picking up a hairpin, reaching under her skirts to secure the item beneath the criss-crossed elastic.

Artist: James D. McCabe, Jr, 1872, via www.librarycompany.org

Artist: James D. McCabe, Jr, 1872, via www.librarycompany.org

The Sun article describes May Murray as “‘Big May,’ the most notorious shoplifter in the country.” Policemen in every city had heard of her. When she was caught in New York (after being followed in and out of several stores by police in a nearby cab), they found a 42-inch sealskin coat hidden under her skirt, and two other fur coats beneath the cab seat from the stop at the previous store.

Pennyweighters (both male and female) were thieves who would steal an item and replace it with a cheap copy so its disappearance wasn’t quickly noticed. Jewelry was a typical target. The thieves would scope out the jewelry on display ahead of time and create something close in appearance that could be quickly swapped out.

So, without security cameras or metal detectors, what was a Victorian department store owner to do? The common solution was to hire a detective to keep watch, although some stores, such as Lord & Taylor, denied that they even had a problem with shoplifters.

Surprisingly, some of the private detectives were women. Why? According to a female detective interviewed for The Sun article, “they (store managers) found that men were clumsy at following and arresting women shoplifters.”

Here’s a bit more about this particular lady detective, from the reporter’s point of view (he’s referring to himself in the third person):

shoplifters2

“Things not being what they seem” certainly makes writing mysteries fun!

Have you ever seen someone shoplift an item? Should we bring back store detectives, as opposed to those metal detectors that go off for no good reason when you’re trying to leave the store? I’d love to hear from you.

~Kathy

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen).

K.B. Owen signing books at Prospero’s Books (Manassas, VA)

K.B. Owen taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature.

A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells.

Unlike the fictional Miss Wells, K.B. did not have to conduct lectures in a bustle and full skirts. Thankfully. No doubt, many folks are grateful for that little fact.

There are five books in the Concordia Wells mystery series thus far, with book 6 due out in December.

We blog here at misterio press twice a month (sometimes more often),  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

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Happy April Fool’s Day!

Have you ever wondered about the origin of April Fool’s Day? The most popular theory is it began in France in 1582 when the Gregorian Calendar was introduced, and New Year’s Day was changed from March 25 – April 1 (new year’s week) to January 1.

Apparently it took a while for everyone to get the news or even accept the change once they did hear about it. Those who stuck to celebrating the new year on April 1st were considered fools and opened themselves up to all kinds of practical jokes, like invitations to fake New Year’s parties.

By anonymous (Punch (the Danish) page 105) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, PD-ART- PD-old-auto-1923

By anonymus (Punch (the Danish) page 105) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, PD-ART- PD-old-auto-1923

Each country now celebrates April Fool’s Day in their own way. In India, they smear colors on each other; in Portugal they throw flour on each other and in England they play small pranks but only before noon. It’s considered bad luck after that. We here in America play practical jokes on our friends and family throughout the day.

I’ll share one of my favorite practical jokes that didn’t actually happen because nobody could stop laughing long enough to make the phone call.

My mom is a big bird lover. When she lived in North Carolina she hung lots of bird feeders in her yard, full of seed for them. Unfortunately, hungry and determined squirrels also shared her yard and no matter what she tried; she couldn’t stop them from getting into the feeders. Until one day, she got so fed up she bought some traps and began trapping them. Every day she would catch squirrels and drive them to the local park where she would rehome them.

By Cephas (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

My husband thought it would be hilarious to have someone call her, acting as a game warden and tell her that she’s been seen dumping squirrels in the park. Unfortunately, she would have to pay a fine for each squirrel she dumped or take back thirty squirrels from the park. I’m not sure how stunned my mother would have been to get this call because the guys at work he tried to get to make the call couldn’t stop laughing every time they picked up the phone.

So, how about you? What’s the best joke you’ve played on someone for April Fool’s Day? Or has someone really got you good? Please share!

 

 

 

The History of Emotions (and a contest to celebrate the launch of a new book!)

I’ve been thinking a lot about emotions lately, for a lot of reasons.

One was Veterans Day. Nothing makes our hearts swell quite so much as thinking about the sacrifice our troops make for us.

So first, let me say a huge THANK YOU to all the brave men and women through the years who have left home and family in order to protect and preserve our country! We owe you everything. Big HUGS to all of you!!!

The other day, I stumbled across this interesting tidbit. The English word, emotion, comes from the Latin word, exmovere, which literally means “to move out.” Ah, apparently the ancient Romans knew a thing or two about emoting. They got it that feelings needed to “move out” of us, not be suppressed or bottled up.

This made me curious, so I went cruising around the cybersphere to see how different cultures feel about feelings. Here are some of the random things I discovered that you can use to impress your friends at the next party you attend.

The Giriami people of coastal Kenya don’t separate reason from emotion, nor do they feel the need to segregate emotions from one another. Their word utsungu refers to bitterness, resentment, anger and grief–feelings that are often experienced together.

For the Ifaluk of the Caroline Islands, emotions are a social event. One of their emotion words is song, refering to justifiable anger at someone who has behaved inappropriately toward you. That person, when they find out you are experiencing song, is supposed to feel metagu. This word translates as fear/anxiety but it’s probably more about guilt and fear of social rejection. However, if the person who supposedly caused the song does not feel the anger is justified, then the two parties negotiate how they should feel, and depending on the situation, others may join the discussion.

I’m still trying to decide how I feel about that. On the one hand, they’re talking–always a good thing. But on the other hand, emotions determined by a committee? Yikes!

Most Native American cultures view emotions as part and parcel of the whole human experience–body, mind, emotion, spirit and the social context are inseparable. One’s goal is to remain in harmony within oneself, and also with others and nature. Physical illness is viewed as evidence that something is out of harmony and the healer’s task is to help the afflicted person regain that harmony.

Hmm, very interesting. In other words, many very old cultures, that would be considered ‘primitive’ by the standards of modern industrialized society, view emotions as a natural part of being human that is inseparable from reason or even from our bodies.

So how did Americans end up being so–well uptight I guess would be the best word–about emotions?

A little more messing around with Google and I had some answers. Seems that started with the Romans as well, although they never intended to promote the suppression of emotions.

They pretty much invented civilization. The Latin word civilitas, from which our words civilization and civility are derived, has several translations: politics/government, citizenship, and the behavior of an ordinary person. The Romans believed that every person, in order to be a good citizen, should behave in a manner that would avoid social friction. (The key word being behave.)

Cicero Maccari--fresco in Palazzo Madama, Rome

The Romans invented the Senate–now we know who to blame! (public domain in USA)

This concept of civilitas became one of the basic building blocks of European societies. Regardless of what one was feeling, the expectation was that one would behave in a civilized manner, i.e., exhibit self-control. Makes sense. We can’t be civilized if everybody is running around impulsively acting out every emotion!

So things hum along for quite a few centuries with most folks trying to be civilized, except when they were trying to conquer each other.

Then along comes the Age of Enlightenment, also referred to as the Age of Reason. There’s some debate about when exactly this age started, but it was somewhere between 1650 and 1700. A bunch of philosophers started to question two time-honored traditions, the authority of the church and the idea that monarchs were ordained by God to rule. They introduced the novel idea that all human beings could think for themselves. Wow, what a concept!

 A lot of great stuff came out of the Enlightenment, including the scientific method, democracy, free enterprise, the concepts of individual freedom and religious tolerance, the spread of literacy and the idea that books should be available to all people, not just the upper classes.

Unfortunately, however, as this movement took hold, the idea that reason should rule supreme evolved into a distrust of emotion. Emotions were the enemy of rationality. They were evil. Now it was no longer sufficient to control your behavior. Now you were supposed to control your feelings as well. It wasn’t enough that you refrained from hitting your neighbor or calling him names when you were mad at him; you were not supposed to feel that way!

The Age of Enlightenment gave way to Romanticism in the late 1700’s and emotions came back into vogue in Europe. But in the meantime, the British colonies in America had gone and thrown themselves a revolution and they were now the United States–a country founded on the concepts of the Enlightenment. Indeed, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights are pure Enlightenment philosophy.

The Romantic Era not only influenced art and literature in Europe, it had a huge impact on politics and nationalism there. American art and literature were also strongly influenced by it, but from a philosophy of life standpoint, the rugged individualists who’d braved leaving their homelands to settle in a new land still preferred the ideals of the Enlightenment.

So the attitudes toward emotion did not swing very far back toward the middle ground in the U.S. It was okay for poets and artists to be emotional but the rest of us were still expected to keep a lid on our feelings.

 Now as a psychologist and professor of developmental psychology, I know research has established that all human beings, regardless of race, culture or gender, feel the same feelings. We are born with the same basic emotions.

crying newborn

Indeed, we come into the world howling in protest, which is considered a sign of good lungs! (photo by Ernest F of his daughter, from Wikimedia Commons)

Tiny babies express happiness, interest, surprise, distress and disgust. Anger, fear and sadness show up around six months old. In the second year of life, pride, guilt and shame, called the self-conscious emotions, develop as the toddler realizes s/he is a separate entity from others, that s/he has a ‘self.’

Almost all other emotions are variations or combinations of these basic ones. We all feel these emotions. What varies from culture to culture is to what degree and in what way we express them. And how much we are allowed to acknowledge them within ourselves.

I also know, as a psychologist, that you really can’t suppress emotions. Pushing them down and trying to ignore them just makes them go underground, and then they’re likely to come out in unexpected and undesirable ways. One of my professors in college used the analogy of a volcano to describe the futility of suppressing emotions, especially anger. He said that if we manage to drop a huge boulder in the crater and stop the volcano from erupting, the pressure from the hot lava is still there. It will look for every crack and fissure in the sides of the mountain to come spewing out.

spewing lava

Lava spewing from side of volcano (Stromboli, Italy–photo by Wolfgangbeyer at German language Wikipedia)

So the Romans had it right, all those centuries ago. We have to move emotions out of our systems in some way, shape or form, but in a civilized manner.

Another reason emotions have been on my mind lately is because of the new book I’m launching today in my Kate Huntington Mystery series. Of course there’s an intriguing mystery to be solved, but the other theme of the story is what happens to the main characters when they are being hounded by the paparazzi (often not a very civilized bunch). How do they cope as their feelings of frustration and helplessness build up?

Check it out below. And there’s a contest to win free stuff! You even get a free e-book of the first novel in the series just for entering the contest.

And don’t forget to tell me what you think in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we handle feelings in our society? And those of you outside the U.S., how do you think your culture’s approach to emotions is different or similar to ours? 

Celebrity Status, A Kate Huntington Mystery

Kate is now married to Skip Canfield, the man who patiently courted her through the last two books in this mystery series, and life is good. Skip’s private investigating agency may be doing a little too well, however. They’ve attracted their first celebrity client, a pop singer whose anonymous stalker has a twisted concept of love. Before Skip realizes just how twisted, he involves first his psychotherapist wife and then their lawyer friend, Rob Franklin, in the case.

Soon they are being hounded by paparazzi and someone is planting evidence to convince Skip that Kate and Rob are lovers. As they try to cope with this onslaught of unwanted attention and a stalker who will stop at nothing to remove the obstacles in his path, Kate and Skip struggle with the reality that you can’t always keep those you love from harm.

About the Author

Author Kassandra Lamb

Writing and psychology have always vied for number one on my Greatest Passions list. Since psychology was more likely to pay the bills, that’s what I studied (I’m partial to eating). But now that I’m retired from a career as a psychotherapist and college professor, I can spend most of my time in an alternate universe in which my protagonist, Kate Huntington, is always the kind, generous and insightful person I wish I was. When not at my computer, transported in mind and spirit into Kate’s world, I live in Florida and Maryland, with my husband and my Alaskan Husky, Amelia. I hang out a lot on Twitter and Facebook as well, so feel free to track me down there.

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The prize: a $30 gift certificate from Amazon, a canvas tote bag and a signed paperback copy of Celebrity Status. EVERY person that enters the contest will get an ebook of the first book in the series, Multiple Motives.

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We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

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