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Posts Tagged ‘biographies of political wives’

Imelda Marcos being Imeldific, June 20, 2009, Manila.

Imelda Marcos being Imeldific, June 20, 2009, Manila.

“Filipinos are brainwashed to be beautiful. We’re allergic to ugliness,”

said Imelda Marcos as as she greeted reporters this weekend in her swank two-story Manila penthouse. Approaching her 80th birthday on July 2, she complained about her lot in life, saying she is penniless and struggling to still look presentable. Her claim is hardly believable, since she and her husband, the late President of the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos, stashed away billions during his dictatorship. Meanwhile, a 22-carat diamond engagement ring still adorns the former beauty queen’s finger.

“Despite some 900 civil and criminal cases she had faced in Philippine courts since 1991 _ cases ranging from embezzlement and corruption to tax evasion _ she has emerged relatively unscathed and never served prison time. All but a handful of the cases have been dismissed for lack of evidence and a few convictions were overturned on appeal….

Imelda Marcos penniless yet jeweled

Imelda Marcos penniless yet jeweled

Imelda, her hair coifed and cheeks rouged, teared up as she complained she had to withdraw money from her husband’s meager war pension to post bail so she could travel to Singapore earlier this month for an eye checkup paid for by her children.“I was first lady for only 20 years. All the beautiful things I gave to the Philippines, am I being persecuted for that? I didn’t know you can inherit a crime from your husband.”

Her husband and his cronies allegedly amassed ill-gotten wealth estimated at $5 billion to $10 billion during Marcos’ 20 years in power, but the Presidential Commission on Good Government, created to recover the Marcos billions, says the government has only found cash and assets totaling $1.63 billion.

The assets include three separate sets of diamond tiaras, ruby brooches, emerald necklaces and other jewels.

She remains unashamed of her past, when she shopped in the world’s richest boutiques and launched lavish beautification projects at home in the midst of the Philippines’ extreme poverty.”

*Imeldific is a word coined after former First Lady Imelda Marcos. It means “ostentatious extravagance” as in this example:

She had a shoe collection that met Imeldific standards.

I’ve written more posts on the Marcoses:

“Ferdinand Marcos’ Restless Corpse”

“Imelda Marcos Almost Gets the Beatles Killed”

“Imelda Marcos: 2000 Shoes”

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For background information, read my previous post, “Eva Peron’s Restless Corpse.”

Here is part 5 0f 5 of the 1996 A & E “Biography” series on Eva Peron, “Evita: The Woman Behind the Myth.”  Halfway through the tape, you will get an eyeful of Evita.

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Before they took off on their World Tour in June of 1966, the Beatles had put the finishing touches on their new album, “Revolver.” Click below to hear the song that would prove prescient of the “Fab Four’s” horrible experience in Manila – “Taxman.”

 

Monday, July 4, 1966
Manila, the Philippines, the second stop for the Beatles on their 1966 World Tour
The Manila Hotel

The Beatles: (l. to r.) George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, John Lennon. ca. 1966

The Beatles: (l. to r.) George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, John Lennon. ca. 1966

Manila, The Philippines:

Early in the morning, Tony Barrow, the Beatles’ publicist, and Vic Lewis, their booking agent, were awakened by sharp raps on the door of their suite. Two grim-looking men in military uniforms saluted and introduced themselves as the official reception committee from Malacañang Palace, the residence of President Ferdinand and First Lady Imelda Marcos.* They’d come to make final arrangements for the Beatles’ visit to the Palace for a luncheon hosted by the First Lady. (1)

Dictator Ferdinand Marcos with wife Imelda at his 1965 inauguration in the Philippines.

Neither Barrow nor Lewis knew what they were talking about. No one had told them that the Beatles were expected to make a presidential visit. The Beatles – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr – were sleeping, they explained, and couldn’t be disturbed. The band had just flown in from an exhausting concert in Tokyo. The “Fab Four” needed their rest, as they were schedule to give both afternoon and evening concerts in Manila that very day. Barrow and Lewis promised to pass along the request to Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager.

“This is not a request,” insisted the two men, one, a general, and the other, a commander, in the Philippine Army.

First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos was a former beauty queen. Here she models a traditional gown. She regarded herself as a goddess and was used to having her way. 1963

Fashion icon Imelda Marcos descends from a flight with her son Bong Bong. Undated photo

That afternoon, the Beatles performed their hits songs to an audience of 35,000. Afterwards, Tony Barrow and others in the Beatle’s entourage filed into Brian Epstein‘s suite to watch coverage of the concert on the evening news. They were pleased to discover that every channel featured scenes of screaming, swooning fans caught up in Beatlemania. However, Channel 5, one of the country’s major networks, ran additional footage not seen on the other channels. The scene showed the First Lady at the Palace with her disappointed luncheon guests, 200 children. The voice-over said, “The children began to arrive at ten. They waited until two….The place cards for the Beatles at the lunch table were removed.” Imelda Marcos was very mad as she and her guests filed into the grand dining room without their guests of honor. The spin was that the Beatles had deliberately snubbed the President and Mrs. Marcos by not showing up.

Brian Epstein went into full damage control mode. He issued a hastily written apology to the First Couple and called an interview with Channel 5 in his hotel suite, in which he professed complete ignorance of the invitation and praised the Marcoses. An hour later, the interview was broadcast but Brian’s appearance was blacked-out by static interference. That’s when everyone started to get nervous.

ticket stubs to the Beatles July 4, 1966 concerts in Manila

ticket stubs to the Beatles July 4, 1966 concerts in Manila

Worry soon turned to panic. After their evening show, the Beatles noticed that their police escort had disappeared. When their car pulled up to the Manila Hotel, the gates were locked against them. While they sat their in the idling car, wondering how they were going to get up to their suite, several dozen “organized troublemakers” attacked their car, banging on the windows, rocking it back and forth, and shouting threats in several languages. Vic Lewis shouted at the driver: “Drive on! Go through the people and smash the gates down!” The driver obeyed. At the entrance, everyone in the Beatles’ entourage ran into the hotel with the angry mob snapping at their heels.

Shortly, an official appeared at Vic Lewis’ suite demanding payment of local taxes. Lewis produced a contract stating that someone else – the promoter – had that responsibility, not the Beatles. This was brushed aside. Until all taxes were paid, said the taxman, no one in the Beatles party was being allowed to leave the country. When the man left, Lewis found Barrow. “We’ve got to get out of here – now.” He called the bell hop for help with the luggage.

The manager told Lewis that no one would be coming to help. “The whole hotel is going on strike. They think you’ve insulted President Marcos.” Bomb and death threats were telephoned to the deluged British Embassy and to the four Beatles’ hotel suite.

The next morning, Paul had seen the newspaper headlines blaring BEATLES SNUB PRESIDENT. The Beatles had known nothing of the invitation. “Oh, dear,” he thought. “We’ll just say we’re sorry.” About then “things started to get really weird,” recalled Ringo. He and John were hanging out in their bathrobes when a roadie popped his head in their room and shouted, “Come on! Get out of bed! Get packed – we’re getting out of here.”

Everyone in the entourage grabbed amplifiers and suitcases and made for the main elevators, but they were turned off. They had to take the service lift down. The halls were dark and lined with staff who shouted at them in Spanish and English. It was very frightening. When they got downstairs to check out, the front desk was deserted. Even their cars were gone. Someone managed to get a Town Car and everyone squeezed in and made for the airport.

But the airport route was sabotaged. Soldiers were stationed at intersections and roads were closed. Finally, they found a back road that led to the airport. The airport was deserted. “The atmosphere was scary,” remembered Tony Barrow, “as if a bomb was due to go off.” Once the Beatles got on the escalator, the power was shut off. As the Beatles moved through the terminal, little bands of demonstrators appeared, grabbing at them and trying to hit them.

Mobs rough up the Beatles at the Manila airport. John Lennon is at upper corner, right. July 6, 1966

They checked in for their flight as quickly as possible then were herded into a lounge “where an abusive crowd and police with guns had also gathered.” The cops began to shove the Beatles back and forth. It was impossible to tell the thugs from the military police. According to Ringo, “they started spitting at us, spitting on us.” The Beatles hid among a group of nuns and monks huddled by an alcove. Other members of their entourage, though, were kicked and beaten.

Finally, everyone was allowed to run across the tarmac to the plane. Vic Lewis felt sure he’d get a bullet in the back. The Beatles were terrified they’d be killed before they entered the safety of the airplane. Paul said, “When we got on the plane, we were all kissing the seats. It was feeling as if we’d found sanctuary. We had definitely been in a foreign country where all the rules had changed and they carried guns. So we weren’t too gung-ho about it at all.” Ringo remembered being afraid of going to jail. Ferdinand Marcos was a dictator (who, in a few years, would declare martial law in the Philippines.)

Everyone was poised for the plane to take off when the authorities came back on board and detained Tony Barrow for thiry minutes. For the plane to be allowed to take off with the Beatles on it, Tony was forced to pay a “leaving Manila tax” that amounted to the full amount of money the Beatles had made in their concerts before 80,000 fans.

Once the plane lifted off and everyone was safely in the air, all the anger of the past 24 hours boiled over. The Beatles blamed Brian for the debacle. He’d obviously received the invitation in Japan, ignoring it or misleading the Philippine authorities.

Beatlemania. October 1965, London, England, UK.  Policemen struggle to restrain young Beatles fans outside Buckingham Palace as The Beatles receive their MBEs (Member of the British Empire) in 1965.

Beatlemania. October 1965, London, England, UK. Policemen struggle to restrain young Beatles fans outside Buckingham Palace as The Beatles receive their MBEs (Member of the British Empire) in 1965.

By the time the Beatles had landed in India, they had made a command decision. This would be their last tour. They were never going to go on another tour again. Never again, swore John, was he going to risk his life for a stadium filled with screaming 13-year-old girls.

Brian said, “Sorry, lads, we have got something fixed up for Shea Stadium. If we cancel it you are going to lose a million dollars.” So they played New York’s Shea Stadium later that summer. It was the first stop on their U.S. tour, their final tour as the Beatles.

shea-stadium-ticket

Click here to read: “Imelda Marcos Almost Gets the Beatles Killed Part 2”

(1) Spitz, Bob. The Beatles: The Biography. (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005)

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Mary Todd Lincoln in mourning clothes, 1863. Even during the period in 1862 and 1863 when Mrs. Lincoln was in mourning for her son Willie and wore only black, she managed to go further into debt for new clothes. By 1864, she told Elizabeth Keckley: "The President glances at my rich dresses and is happy to believe that the few hundred dollars that I obtain from him supply all my wants. I must dress in costly materials. The people scrutinize every article that I wear with critical curiosity... If he is elected, I can keep him in ignorance of my affairs, but if he is defeated, then the bills will be sent."3 Only on January 1, 1865 did she completely shed her mourning attire.

Mary Todd Lincoln in mourning clothes, 1863. Even during the period in 1862 and 1863 when Mrs. Lincoln was in mourning for her son Willie and wore only black, she managed to go further into debt for new clothes. By 1864, she told Elizabeth Keckley: "The President glances at my rich dresses and is happy to believe that the few hundred dollars that I obtain from him supply all my wants. I must dress in costly materials. The people scrutinize every article that I wear with critical curiosity... If he is elected, I can keep him in ignorance of my affairs, but if he is defeated, then the bills will be sent." Only on January 1, 1865 did she completely shed her mourning attire.

After her son Willie’s death at age eleven on February 20, 1862,  Mary Todd Lincoln went into deep mourning. She traded in her sparkling jewels, frilly white and colorful gowns, and flowered bonnets made fashionable by her icon the French Empress Eugénie (click to read earlier post) for widow’s weeds of dull black crepe. Her stylish White House parties were put to the side. Gaiety gave way to sadness. Mary had lost her favorite son, the perfect one, the one she considered most like her husband.

After Willie died, Mary’s youngest son, eight-year-old Tad, still tossed with the same typhoid fever that killed his brother. He lay critically ill nearby, but Mary, incapacitated by grief, would not and did not rush to his side to nurse him. Meanwhile, Willie’s embalmed body was laid out in the Green Room of the White House and his coffin was open. Mary mustered enough energy to place a sprig of laurel on Willie’s chest before retreating to her bedroom and shutting the door. She took to her bed, weeping and sobbing  in such uncontrolled spasms that she became quite ill.

She did not come out of her bedroom to attend Willie’s funeral and never again entered the Green Room or the second floor guest room where Willie died. She rid the house of all of Willie’s toys and clothes and forbade his and Tad’s best friends, the Taft boys, from ever returning to the White House to play.

During Mary’s tormented period, Abraham, also heartbroken at his son’s death, sent for help. Two of Mary’s  friends, a nurse, and Mary’s sister Elizabeth heeded the calling. One of the friends was the esteemed Washington seamstress Elizabeth Keckley. In memoirs she wrote with a ghostwriter six years later, she recalled a day when President Lincoln led his distraught wife (whom he called “Mother”) to the window, pointed to the lunatic asylum at a distance from the White House, and said,

 “Mother, do you see that large white building on the hill yonder? Try and control your grief or it will drive you mad and we may have to send you there.”

The recently widowed Queen Victoria wearing mourning clothes at Balmoral, Scotland, 1863. She is riding "Fyvie" and is accompanied by her faithful servant John Brown. Her husband, Prince Albert died in December of 1861 of typhoid fever or perhaps cancer of the stomach. For forty more years, the rest of Victoria's life, she wore black widow's weeds. Suspicion was aroused by Victoria's partiality to John Brown as a servant; most of the members of the Royal Household referred to him as "the Queen's stallion" and defamatory pamphlets referred to her a "Mrs. Brown." A 1997 film with Judy Dench titled "Mrs. Brown" was about the possible love affair.

The recently widowed Queen Victoria wearing mourning clothes at Balmoral, Scotland, 1863. She is riding "Fyvie" and is accompanied by her faithful servant John Brown. Her husband, Prince Albert, died in December of 1861 of typhoid fever or perhaps cancer of the stomach. For forty more years, the rest of Victoria's life, she wore black widow's weeds. Suspicion was aroused by Victoria's partiality to John Brown as a servant; most of the members of the Royal Household referred to him as "the Queen's stallion" and defamatory pamphlets referred to her as "Mrs. Brown." A 1997 film with Judy Dench titled "Mrs. Brown" was about their rumored love affair.

It was three weeks before Mary could even be persuaded to get up out of  bed and put on her mourning clothes. Queen Victoria (1819-1901) now became the First Lady’s fashion model. Victoria’s husband Prince Albert had died unexpectedly just three months earlier and Victoria had plunged herself and her entire staff into the deep black dress of mourning. Following Victoria’s lead and further compounding her debt to clothing merchants (click to read an earlier post), Mary Lincoln ordered an entire new wardrobe of dull black crepe dresses, bonnets, and weeping veils.

For more than a year, six months longer than was called for in the mourning manuals of the day, Mary wore first-degree mourning. Her black crepe straw bonnet was so heavily veiled that she could not turn her head, which gave her an odd appearance as she was always facing forward. She became a very public mourner. She wanted to draw attention to her grief as if she was the only one who had lost a child at a time when Civil War soldiers were dying in record numbers from Mississippi to Maryland on the nation’s bloody battlefields.  During her mourning, she cancelled the Saturday afternoon Marine Band Concerts held on the White House lawn, explaining that, “When we are in sorrow, quiet is necessary.”  She bought black jet jewelry to accent her sooty “widow’s weeds” and used writing paper with the thickest margins of black.

Finally, in 1863, Mary ordered another new wardrobe, running up yet more bills, and moved into the stage known as half-mourning, exchanging her lusterless black for fabric in lavender, gray, and somber purples with a little touch of white at the wrist. (1)

 

Click here to access my related post, “The Madness of Mary Lincoln.” Also, for more posts on the Lincolns, view the drop down menu, “Categories,” in the left column, find at the top, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and click.

(1) Baker, Jean H. Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1987)

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Carolyn King Waller

Carolyn King Waller

Lisa: Carolyn, today let’s dish on Ethel Kennedy. What were you telling me about her anger?

Bobby Kennedy California Primary Victory Party at the L.A. Ambassador Hotel, June 5, 1968, the night of his assassination

Bobby Kennedy California Primary Victory Party at the L.A. Ambassador Hotel, June 5, 1968, the night of his assassination

Carolyn: She loved Bobby so. She urged him to run for the presidency in 1968 and then, of course, he was assassinated. Jackie (Kennedy) had said that the same thing that had happened to Jack (murder) would happen to Bobby, but Ethel wouldn’t listen, and Jackie was right. But Ethel was the chief component in having Bobby run. She was extremely ambitious for Bobby. When Bobby started to run, Jackie said, “Oh, we’ll be in the White House again!”
And Ethel said, “Who is this we?”
Ethel’s anger was displaced when Bobby died. She was more Kennedy than Kennedy. Kennedys were always told not to show anything but courage to the outside world. Ethel couldn’t show the world that she was in private anguish over the loss of her beloved Bobby after he died. So she had displaced anger that she vented on her oldest sons: Joseph, Bobby Jr., and David – David had a drug problem but that had a lot of reasons to it. Bobby Jr. and Joseph got the worst of her wrath.
She pretty much let those kids run wild. She made them not want to be at home because she was raging. They became homeless in Hyannisport and Hickory Hill. They didn’t have a place to sleep at home. She sent them away the summer Bobby died. They were unwelcome at Ethel’s house. Some of the Kennedy elders kept their children away from Ethel’s kids because they were so wild. Ethel lived an unexamined life.

Lisa: Explain.

Carolyn: She never said I’m so angry, I’m so sad. She whaled into her older sons. She beat them with a hair brush. She sublimated her sadness. She had a black rage. For example, years earlier, when she found out that (actor) Paul Newman had become a supporter of Kenneth Keating of New York, a rival of Bobby Kennedy’s, she got mad. On a pretext, she invited Paul to play a friendly game of tennis with her.

Paul Newman

Paul Newman

LaDonna Harris witnessed the match:
“From the moment they got on the court, Ethel wouldn’t let up on Paul. Ethel has an unhealthy kind of competitiveness, a masculine kind of meanness. She told him he was a lousy player. She teased him nonstop….He just didn’t know how to deal with it. He finally walked off the court. He had tears in his eyes.” (1)

Carolyn: Ethel had a quirky sense of humor. She used live frogs for centerpieces at her dinner parties. People got pushed into swimming pools at her parties.

Bobby and Ethel Kennedy

Bobby and Ethel Kennedy

I think she called Lyndon Johnson Uncle Cornpone. I think she looked for weaknesses in others and then hurt them with it. I think the whole point here is that Ethel had displaced anger, her early years – she grew up in an atmosphere of too much liquor, bad upbringing – they let them run wild. They drove fast. Had a lot of money. She was ruthless. Bobby, too. But he was kinder. He liked children and animals. But not Ethel. She was cruel. Bobby was spiritual. He had a good side; he was a fine father. His kids somewhat fell apart when he died because they needed his nurturing. Bobby was the nurturer; that’s it.

(1) Oppenheimer, Jerry. The Other Mrs. Kennedy. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994)

To read more on the Kennedys on this site, scroll down the right sidebar to “Categories – People – Kennedys.”

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Imelda Marcos at 77

Imelda Marcos at 77

In 1986, the Marcos regime of the Philippines was overthrown in a people’s revolt and the dictator Ferdinand and wife Imelda Marcos were forced to flee the Malacañang Palace. (See last post.) Imelda fled wearing her espadrilles. Because she was flying to Hawaii in an American helicopter provided by U.S. President Reagan and paid with American tax dollars, she was unable to take her enormous wardrobe. In the palace closet, she left behind between 2 and 3 thousand shoes. Imelda Marcos was the First Lady of the Philippines, a country deep in poverty. The outrage was immediate and the news went international. President Marcos’ successor, Corazon Aquino, ordered many of Mrs Marcos’ shoes to be put on display as a demonstration of her extravagance.

In 1988, the band Big Audio Dynamite wrote this song about Imelda Marcos and her enormous collection of shoes. Click below to hear:

2000 ShoesArtist: Big Audio Dynamite

Phillipine star greedy girl
Took the money to buy the world
First a little then the lot
Others’ needs were soon forgot
Heard you like a love song
This here one is just for you
In keeping with your taste we hope
It’s called 2000 shoes

Never had a conscience
Or any moral views
Even any kind of taste
Just 2000 shoes
If I had the world to sell
Could strike a deal with you
I know you haven’t got the cash
Just 2000 shoes

Catwalk at the embassy
Supplied by human rights
Qadahafi and George Hamilton
Mao Tse Tung and disco lights

Never had a conscience
Or any moral views
Even any kind of taste
Just 2000 shoes
If I had the world to sell
Could strike a deal with you
I know you haven’t got the cash
Just 2000 shoes
2000 shoes

Phillipine star greedy girl
Took the money to buy the world
First a little then the lot
Others’ need were soon forgot
Heard you like a love song
This here one is just for you
In keeping with your taste we hope
It’s called 2000 shoes

So here it is Imelda
Sorry it’s the blues
Would have done it different
If I were in your shoes

Never had a consience
Or any moral views
Even any kind of taste
Just 2000 shoes
If I had the world to sell
Could strike a deal with you
I know you haven’t got the cash
Just 2000 shoes
2000 shoes

The world's bestknown shoe collector, former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos, has opened the Marikina City Footwear Museum in Manila in which most of the exhibits are her own footwear.

The world's best-known shoe collector, former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos, has opened a museum in which most of the exhibits are her own footwear.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. In 2001, Imelda returned to Manila in the Philippines, reentered politics (although still facing corruption charges for looting the national coffers for over 20 years), and opened a shoe museum to house some of her shoe collection. “They went into my closets looking for skeletons, but thank God, all they found were shoes, beautiful shoes,” a smiling Mrs. Marcos said that year, wearing a pair of locally made silver shoes for the day. The exhibits include shoes made by such world-famous names as Ferragamo, Givenchy, Chanel and Christian Dior, all size eight-and-a-half.

“More than anything, this museum will symbolise the spirit and culture of the Filipino people. Filipinos don’t wallow in what is miserable and ugly. They recycle the bad into things of beauty,” she said.

Imelda Marcos is a classic example of a person who, when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade.

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eugenie
As mentioned in yesterday’s post, Mary Todd Lincoln slavishly followed the fashion lead of the Empress Eugénie, Empress Consort of France (1853-1871), the wife of Napoléon III, Emperor of the French. The empress’ style was reported in detail by the Vogue magazine of the day, Godey’s Lady’s Book. In 1860, age 32, the Empress Eugénie was considered one of the most beautiful women in Europe. At a ball, she outshone all other women. It was said that every man was in love with her. Her friend, the Princess de Metternich recalled that, on one occasion, the empress was

“attired in a white gown spangled with silver and dressed with her most beautiful diamonds. She had carelessly thrown over her shoulders a sort of burnous of white embroidered with gold, and the murmurs of admiration followed her like a trail of lighted gunpowder.”

In 1862, the Empress Eugénie set the fashion world on fire. She appeared at the races, one of the biggest social events of the year, without a shawl, a bold move for a society woman, especially for an empress. She was wearing an elegant, off-the-shoulder gown by the very up-and-coming couturier Charles Frederick Worth, an Englishman who had recently opened the haute couture shop, “The House of Worth,” in Paris. The empress did not want the lovely gown hidden from view. The world of fashion took note. “The streets of Paris were soon buzzing with ladies without shawls.”

From her childhood days, Mary Todd Lincoln adored being the center of male attention. Once she became the First Lady, she longed to become a fashion trend setter. Ignoring the dowdy style of the English Queen Victoria, she modeled herself after Empress Eugénie, sticking flowers in her hair and bodice, piling on the jewels, and opting for expensive gowns that dipped in the bust and shoulder. Husband Abraham Lincoln called Mary’s dresses her “cat-tails.” Mary tried hard to be fashionably dressed but she was generally displeased with the result; the hooped dresses and yards of fabric swamped her short frame and the excess jewelry and ornamentation was overwhelming.

Mary Todd Lincoln in a photograph by Mathew Brady, November 1861, in a heavy white silk dress onto which Washington modiste Elizabeth Keckley had sewn 60 velvet bows and countless black dots.

Mary Todd Lincoln in a photograph by Mathew Brady, November 1861, in a heavy white silk dress onto which modiste Elizabeth Keckley had sewn 60 velvet bows and countless black dots.

Mary’s departure from the high-necked muslins worn by Western women brought swift condemnation from Oregon Senator James Nesmith, a guest at an 1862 East Room reception, who wrote to his wife of the 43-year-old “weak-minded Mrs. Lincoln and her sorry show of skin and bones. She had her bosom on exhibition, a flower pot on her head – There was a train of silk dragging on the floor behind her of several yards in length.” Mary Lincoln, continued the senator, who used to “cook Old Abe’s dinner and milk the cows,” now seemed eager “to exhibit her milking apparatus to public gaze.”

Mary’s plunging necklines caught Abe’s eye, too. “Whew,” he is quoted as saying, “our cat has a long tail tonight – if some of that tail was nearer the head, it would be in better style.”

(1) Baker, Jean H. Mary Todd Lincoln. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1987)

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Mary Todd Lincoln (1818-1882)

Mary Todd Lincoln (1818-1882)

When Mary and Abraham Lincoln moved into the White House in 1861, Mary was 43 years old, a time when women her age dressed in somber grays, dull browns, and boring blues. But not Mary Todd Lincoln. For her, expensive clothes were a mark of importance, of breeding. She proceeded to dress like a peacock, draping herself in bold blues, crimson, yellow, and royal purple, attracting a lot of unwanted unattention and sparking criticism from the Washington social elite. Brought up among the overdressed ladies of Kentucky, her gowns and bonnets were ornamented with flowers, lace, dots, and bows sewn on yards of velvet, taffeta, and silk at a time of war when soldiers were going without blankets. Mary took her fashion cues from Eugenie, Empress of France, whose parties and clothes appeared in line drawings and detailed descriptions in one of Mary’s favorite magazines, Godey’s Lady’s Book.

Buoyed by a grandiose sense of self-importance coupled with her new position as the president’s wife, Mary demanded what she wanted. She expected everyone to do her bidding. She was surprised when clothing merchants sent her bills. The line between purchase and donation was fuzzy. Mary looked for donors to buy her gowns and hats, rewarding them with political favors. When she blew her four-year budget for White House renovations in under a year, she contrived several plots to secretly defray her debt. In one instance, she ordered the White House gardener into selling manure from the stables at ten cents a wagonload. It raised more stink than cash. (1) Her spending eventually came to light and became a national scandal. Lincoln was mortified and had to deal with it, all the while referring to it benignly as his beloved Mary’s silly “flub-a-dub.”

Willian's of Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington's best known milliner at the time, made Mary Todd Lincoln's bonnets. Unfortunately, he also made bonnets for Mrs. Horatio Taft.

Willian

Now, back to what we were saying about Mary and her clothing:

It was an April evening. The Marine Band was playing a concert on the White House lawn. Mary and President Lincoln had invited many guests, among them Mrs. Horatio Taft. As Mrs. Lincoln approached Mrs. Taft, she spied something she wanted. Mrs. Taft was wearing a stunning bonnet trimmed with pretty purple ribbons that tied beneath her chin. Willian, the stylish French hatmaker, had just finished making Mary a bonnet with the same pretty purple ribbon. However, Willian had run out of the pretty purple ribbon before finishing Mary’s bonnet and Mary had been forced to settle for chin ties in a quieter shade of lavender. Mrs. Lincoln wanted Mrs. Taft’s pretty purple ribbons. She approached Mrs. Taft, reeling her aside, and insisted that Mrs. Taft hand over the ribbons.

Mrs. Taft was angry, but what could she do? Her mind raced with worry. Her husband Horatio was a government appointee, chief of the U.S. Patent Office. Mrs. Lincoln could get him fired and then how would they pay for teenage Julia’s private school? At a time of war, what job could Horatio get? So, begrudgingly, Mrs. Taft handed Mrs. Lincoln the pretty purple ribbons.

Later, when Julia Taft was grown up, she wrote about the incident with Mary Lincoln in her memoir, Tad Lincoln’s Father:

“This illustrates an outstanding characteristic of Mary Todd Lincoln – that she wanted what she wanted when she wanted it and no substitute!”

(1) Baker, Jean H. Mary Todd Lincoln. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1987)

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Eva Duarte de Peron, First Lady of Argentina (1946-1952)

Eva Duarte de Peron, First Lady of Argentina (1946-1952)

At 8:52 p.m. on the night of July 26, 1952, all radio broadcasts in Argentina were interrupted for an emergency announcement: First Lady Eva Peron – “the Spiritual Leader of the Nation” – was dead of cancer at 33. All activity came to an abrupt halt. Movies stopped playing. Shops closed. Restaurants were emptied of patrons. Argentina went into mourning.

The enormous public display of grief took the government by surprise. Crowds gathered outside the official presidential residence, congesting the streets for ten blocks in any direction. In a panic to be near Eva Peron’s body when it was being moved, eight people were crushed to death in the pressing throngs and 2,000 were treated for injuries at area hospitals. The streets of Buenos Aires were overflowing with tall stacks of flowers laid in remembrance for the people’s beloved Evita. Although she never held an official political office, Eva Peron (1919-1952) was eventually given an official funeral worthy of a head of state. To the poor of Argentina, Senora Evita was a saint.

The Body of Eva Peron Being Carried Through the Honor Guard to the building of the General Labor Federation in Buenos Aires to Lie in State (Aug. 13, 1952)

The Body of Eva Peron Being Carried Through the Honor Guard to the building of the General Labor Federation in Buenos Aires to Lie in State (Aug. 13, 1952)

Before Eva had died, her husband, Argentine President Juan Domingo Peron (1895-1974), had contacted the famed embalmer, Dr. Pedro Ara, whose work was referred to as “the art of death,” to preserve Eva’s body. Dr. Ara’s technique of replacing the corpse’s blood with glycerine, which preserved all organs, created a lifelike appearance. Eva weighed only eighty pounds at death and was severely burned from radiation treatments but Dr. Ara was able to recreate her former beauty and give her an embalmment equal to that of Lenin. It has been suggested that Dr. Ara fell in love with Eva’s body. Plans were made to build a marble monument to Evita’s honor larger than the Statue of Liberty. During the construction her embalmed body lay in state for two years.

Then President Peron was overthrown and the body of Eva Peron stolen. For sixteen years, the whereabouts of Eva’s body remained a mystery. Juan fled to Spain in exile. Finally, in 1971, Eva’s body was discovered in a grave under a false name outside of Rome. It was exhumed and flown to Spain where Juan Peron kept the corpse in an open casket on the dining room table in his villa. Juan was now married to third wife Isabel who combed the corpse’s hair in a daily devotion and, at Juan’s request, was rumored to occasionally lie inside the coffin next to Evita to absorb some of her political magic.

In 1974, Juan returned to power as president of Argentina. Upon his death, wife Isabel succeeded him. Isabel returned Eva’s body to Argentina where it was briefly displayed next to Juan’s body.

Bodies of Juan and Eva Peron Lying in State (c. 1974-76)

Bodies of Juan and Eva Peron Lying in State (c. 1974-76)

Isabel was overthrown in 1976. The new military leaders had Eva Peron’s body safely buried in the Duarte family tomb under three plates of steel in the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. The tomb was said to be secure enough to withstand a nuclear attack or a restless corpse.

Now read “Eva Peron’s Restless Corpse Part 2.”

 

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Regarding some of my recent posts on insane asylums (see sidebar, “Categories: The Insane Asylum”), my neighbor and friend, Karen O’Quin, wrote:

I really liked your blog – thanks for sending!!  I see a theme there.  My experience with Austin State Hospital is that when I first started working at Travis State School in 1967, they only had men there – they called them “boys”.  Some had been there for years as they had been admitted to ASH long before because they were a little “weird” and then became too institutionalized to be let out.  They did not have IQs consistent with mental retardation.  Some were later placed in group homes.  I don’t know if you’ve read Mary, Mrs. A Lincoln, but it is her account of being committed to a lunatic asylum by her son, Robert.  Someone very recently found letters she had written to her attorneys from the asylum.  I think they were going to be a book, too. 

Mary Lincoln (1818-1882)

Mary Lincoln (1818-1882)

When I was young, I remember my mother talking about Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of Abraham Lincoln, and her inappropriate and extravagant spending sprees during the depth of the Civil War. Above all I remember Mom mentioning that Mary had a collection of about 300 pairs of gloves. Thinking about it now, it reminds me of Imelda Marcos, wife of the president of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos, and her closet rack of 2700 pairs of shoes.

Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln came together as husband and wife from two very different worlds. Mary was pampered and rich; Abraham was tested and wise. Both were prone to depression but it was Mary, with her fragile mind, perhaps schizophrenic or bipolar, who finally cratered under the constant barrage of grief and loss that became her sad lot in life.  Three of her sons died while her husband was president during a bloody and acrimonious civil war. The hate mail sent to her husband was unbelievable. Then her beloved Abraham, her anchor, was assassinated. It was more than Mary could bear. She descended into madness.

She began to wander hotel corridors in her nightgown, was certain someone was trying to poison her, complained that an Indian spirit was removing wires from her eyes, and continued her frantic spending, purchasing yard after yard of elegant drapery when she had no windows in which to hang it. (PBS American Experience: “The Time of the Lincolns”)

The doctors treated her with laudanum which gave her hallucinations, eye spasms, and headaches. She began to behave bizarrely, creating a public scandal. Her only surviving son Robert, a practicing attorney, arranged an insanity trial and had her committed to the asylum Bellevue Place just outside Chicago. Although Mary was only hospitalized for three months, she never forgave Robert for the humiliation and deprivation.

A recently published book, The Madness of Mary Lincoln by Jason Emerson, awarded “Book of the Year” by the Illinois State Historical Society in 2007, examines Mary’s mental illness. The book is based on a rare find – a trunk of letters found in the attic of Robert Lincoln’s lawyer. They contain the lost letters written by Mary during her stay in the asylum. The book sheds light on the ongoing mystery of Mary’s mental illness, its nature, roots, and progression, and suggests that Abraham Lincoln had some understanding of it and provided stability.

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