Nine kindly little ladies on a lovely outing.
That’s what I thought. Nine friends on a festive picnic, away from family duties for a few short hours of girlish giggles and shared secrets. They hiked their dresses and pulled each other up the sandy bluff like a chain of pink roses, never minding their scuffed shoes and wrinkled skirts because those are a small price to pay for the rare bliss of unencumbered time with old friends.
I’m sure some of that is true in spirit if not in fact. But look once more at the photo. What seems at glance to be a simple picnic turns far more curious at closer inspection. The photo was taken in Bainbridge, Ohio in 1920. But alert readers will note the ladies aren’t looking very 1920s, roaring or otherwise. Can these women be so fashion-challenged that they’re wearing 30-or-so year old styles? And who among them is the same size as she was 30 years ago? Even if they didn’t gain weight, some settling of contents does occur. Or are they so strapped to the old ways that they refused to change with the times? And why is the black-clad woman at far left brandishing a rolling pin?
Their clothes are some kind of mashup of Edwardian and late Victorian. The high collared shirts and bell-shaped skirts could be 1890s or 1900s, though the length tells me 1890s. The puffy sleeves are definitely 1890s. I don’t know what era the rolling pin or picnic baskets are from; they aren’t much different from ones I have. The cook’s apron, though, is definitely 1920s. I know at least one of these women is college-educated and a member of a prominent local family. The pretty little lady with the picnic basket, third from right, is Clara Brown Eggleston, my great-great grandmother. She was the wife of a distinguished doctor of both medicine and theology, who himself was the son of a college educated clergyman and businessman who lived in one of Chagrin Falls’ largest mansions. They were down-to-earth Emersonians and G-Grandmother Eggleston at least was far from pretentious. She spent a good deal of her time filling her basket with food and delivering it to the needy. But why would she do it dressed like Little Red Riding Hood, as she seems to be here?
I want answers! But lacking any, I sent the photo to fashion history expert Pauline Thomas, who believes the women are dressed in simple costumes of earlier eras for some sort of fair or anniversary event. That’s what I kind of figured. Since all their get-ups can be generally classed as Victorian or Edwardian, and the photo was taken in 1920, I can only surmise that they’re either on a costume picnic or cast members of a bring-your-own costume play. G-g’ma Eggleston does look like an elderly Red Riding Hood. And the black-clad school marm at left looks like she’s about to beat the dickens out of whatever miscreant is behind the camera.
I’ll never know what they were up to that day, but it’s comforting to see my g-g’ma looked like a sweet and kind lady, ready with brimming basket to dusty her shoes and skirt walking Bainbridge’s still-dirt side roads to share her blessed bounty with those in need of her – and her food’s – nourishment.
As for the costume picnic vs. play – I’m loving the idea of a costume picnic. Anyone want to join me?