Sunday, June 30, 2013

Loose ends

The summer of 2013 makes its debut as the right time for completing projects - not my own, but others' unfinished crafts.  At every weekend garage sale in the region I've discovered abandoned needlework, and now have a pile of sewing rescue jobs on the go.

A set of 12 Dresden Plate quilt pieces for applique

Needlepoint missing several rows 
Linen tablecloth with floral embroidery pattern and silk floss
Vintage quilt requiring major restoration work
Charmed by old fabrics and traditional patterns, I take these bits and pieces home with the idea of finishing the work that boredom, distraction, dissatisfaction or disability (failing eyesight? arthritic joints?) may have left undone.   I'm not a great seamstress, but unfinished borders and dropped stitches bother me.  Schoolgirl memories of Grade Six Home Economics class and a teacher named Miss Yerex come to mind.

 Flashback to Bedford Park Public School, Toronto, Ontario,  1966-67.  The girls were seated in small groups ranked according to sewing ability.   I was at table 4, which meant a C level.  Our assignment was to make a simple cotton apron and each step in the process earned a student valuable grade points. There was a skirt, a waistband, a bib and ties, and if you worked very, very, diligently, without suffering too many setbacks, it would take the entire school year to put these elements together correctly.  If anything went wrong with craftsmanship (inaccurate cutting, crooked stitching, untidy knots, sloppy ironing) points were deducted. Miss Yerex was a perfectionist, and never hesitated to deliver a scathing comment while removing unruly stitches with a seam ripper.  If anything went wrong with behavior in class (chewing gum, talking, messing around) points were deducted.  For an extra measure of humiliation, your name and the number of disappearing points were called out by the teacher at the time of an infraction.   One poor girl accidentally dropped an iron and lost all of her accumulated points.  There were tears.

The apron that haunts me

My Grade Six apron was never finished.   A sense of defeat accompanied the sad-looking yard of scorched fabric that I brought home at the end of the year.  The impossible standards of that Home Economics class made me feel stupid, clumsy and inadequate.  I guess that it's never too late to tie up loose ends and now, at age 58, I've devised a self-help exercise for Domestic Science shortcomings.  By picking up the dangling threads of failed textile dreams, I'm finally getting Miss Yerex off my back.


Saturday, June 8, 2013

Shediac Murder Mystery

I went into Turbide & Leger to buy a few spools of thread and came out with a fascinating old yarn.  The plaque marking the store as a designated N.B. Heritage Building prompted a conversation with owner Richard Leger who sketched out the storyline of a mystery that unfolded more than a century ago in the place where he now sells quilting supplies and work clothes.

Waverley Hotel, Shediac, N.B.  c. 1890

Today's view of  the heritage building

Richard Leger, inside the store

Back in the late 1800s when the building was the Waverley Hotel, travelers arriving in Shediac by train stopped here for drinks and overnight accommodation.  The Waverley was known as a rather rowdy establishment and its shady reputation was further downgraded when all the elements of a melodrama converged on the night of October 12, 1877.   A wealthy, horse-trading dandy, an attractive young servant girl, the innkeeper's family, a poisonous powder, a hatchet and a heavy stone were involved in a crime that, to this day, has never been solved.

Tim McCarthy, a Moncton business man passing through Shediac on his way to P.E.I. to buy a horse, was delayed in crossing the Northumberland Strait due to stormy weather.  He visited the Waverley's bar-room and had a few drinks with the owners, Mrs. Osborne, her son Harry and daughter Eliza.   The hotel maid, Annie Parker, took note of the 3- inch thick roll of bills that McCarthy produced from his pocket as he paid for several rounds.  Tim McCarthy disappeared that night, and the Osbornes were eventually arrested as suspects in his murder.

Annie Parker was the principal witness in the Osborne trial, and her vivid testimony produced a sensational story for newspapers throughout the province.  According to the 17 year-old employee, it was Mrs. Osborne who had encouraged Harry to kill McCarthy with a hatchet after adding a drug to the victim's glass of brandy. Harry delivered two fatal blows to McCarthy's head while he was slumped over the bar in a stupor.   The body was loaded onto a horse-drawn wagon, driven to the Scoudouc River and dumped into the water with a stone tied to the neck to weigh the corpse down.  Annie was assigned the task of cleaning up blood from the bar-room floor.  She claimed that the Osbornes offered her half of the money stolen from McCarthy, a cash payment that she flatly refused.

Annie gave a detailed account of the clothing that McCarthy had been wearing at the time of the murder - a rubber overcoat, a cloth coat and a brown felt hat.   She stated that the victim's brown overcoat with black velvet trim remained in the hotel and was tried on by John Osborne (head of the household) 8 or 9 days after the crime. Apparently Eliza offered to shorten the sleeves for her father.

 The whereabouts of the brown coat became a crucial bit of evidence in the case.  In the spring of 1878, when the ice on the river thawed, two fisherman found the body of Tim McCarthy floating downstream.   The deceased was still wearing the brown coat and felt hat and had rolls of money in his pockets.   Annie Parker's testimony was discredited, and the Osbornes were subsequently freed from Dorchester jail.

It was not just the fabrication of details that did Annie Parker in.  Her manner on the witness stand was described by reporters as peculiar and inappropriate, given the serious nature of the crime.

"It must be said that the flippancy, the giggling, the misplaced quips that characterized her testimony did not exactly create a good impression."   - Le Moniteur Acadien, May 23, 1878

Newspaper accounts of the trial continued to offer an eager public plenty of juicy details about Parker's appearance.

"Witness Annie was the centre of attraction.  She wore a white hat covered with muslin - with scarlet and a spray of rosebuds. This gaudy hat, surmounting a rich profusion of glossy ringlets down her neck, added to her naturally attractive appearance; while a jet chain from neck to waist set off her figure yet more advantageously.  She wore no ear rings and but one ring, a black one, on the second finger of her left hand.  She wore a dark dress of seal brown shade which, with a brown silk sun umbrella, completed the outward array of the young Quebecer."  - St. Andrews Bay Pilot  July 25, 1878

There were rumours circulating about Annie Parker's past.  Some claimed that she had given birth to an illegitimate child in Bathurst N.B. prior to her employment at the Osbornes' hotel.   An unwed mother in those days was considered the lowest of the low in social standing, credibility and moral fibre. Others pointed to Annie's close association with Tim McCarthy's widow as a source of suspicion.  It was suggested that the servant girl had been bribed by Mrs. McCarthy to frame the Osbornes.  Perhaps, as some people speculated, Tim's wife had plotted a murder to end an unhappy marriage. A friend of Annie Parker claimed that the girl had bragged to her about an offer "to be kept like a lady" if the Osbornes were convicted of the crime.   It wasn't long before Annie Parker was dubbed the "Little Witch."

"Annie Parker's name will only be mentioned with loathing and disgust by every friend of morality and rectitude.  Her natural pertness, and perceptive and varied talents, illiterate as she is, will not redeem her blackened character from infamy, which gross conduct has earned for it."    - St. Andrews Bay Pilot August 22, 1878

The story of Annie Parker, the Osbornes and Tim McCarthy was not quickly erased from collective memory after the case was officially dropped.  A folk song was written  in the form of a lament supporting Annie's version of the facts.  For years to come in communities throughout N.B., children skipping rope could be heard chanting the following lines:

"Speak up, speak up, you old felt hat,
Speak up like Annie Parker,
And tell us what they've done with Tim,
Make it light or darker."

N.B.   This is not a photo of Annie Parker, but an anonymous portrait of a girl with similar style from the 1870s.