Elizabeth Siddal: Pre-Raphaelite muse and supposed vampire

Elizabeth Siddal 2

Two thumbs up to BTG fan Carl Funk who reminded me about one of Highgate’s most important residents, Elizabeth Siddal.

Elizabeth’s the one who helped inspire the dreamy, gorgeously flowing paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and most of us are probably familiar with her via Sir John Everett Millais (she was his inspiration for his Ophelia painting).

She was also the primary muse for poet and artist, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who later married her.

The story behind the famous Ophelia painting goes something like this: “While posing for Millais’ Ophelia in 1852, Siddal floated in a bathtub full of water to represent the drowning Ophelia. Millais painted daily into the winter putting lamps under the tub to warm the water. On one occasion the lamps went out and the water became icy cold. Millais, absorbed by his painting, did not notice and Siddal did not complain. After this she became very ill with either a severe cold or pneumonia.”

The other story that haunts Elizabeth is the vampire myth.

After dying from an overdose of laudanum (an opium mixture) in 1862, she was buried in Highgate Cemetery. Rossetti was so distraught, he slid the only existing copy of his poems into her coffin to be buried with her.

Respectfully borrowed from Snovits Apple

Respectfully borrowed from Snovits Apple

By 1869, Rossetti had stopped painting and began focusing on his poetry. However, he became obsessed with retrieving his original poems from his wife’s coffin and after finally obtaining permission, he had her coffin exhumed and the book of poetry removed.

Interestingly enough, the exhumers found Elizabeth’s body was so well-preserved (complete  with long, flowing red hair that filled the coffin) after having died 7 years earlier, it gave rise to the rumor that she was a vampire.

It’s assumed that her long-term addiction to laudanum is most likely the reason for her body remaining intact for so long.

Unfortunately, I was unable to get any photos of her grave when I last visited Highgate as the site’s apparently now off-limits to visitors. However, I did find some wonderful photos over at the Snovits Apple blog and I do hope she doesn’t mind that I borrowed one of them to share with you all.

Speaking of sharing, check out Carl’s song, The Angel of Swain’s Lane, a wonderful, Bob Dylan-esque song that pays tribute to Elizabeth Siddal.


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Snapshot Photos: What kind of headstone is this?


Pulled this headstone out of the archives and said hey, this is a bit of a puzzle to make the BTG readers think for a bit.

While you’re doing that, here’s a little background: The stone commemorates Johann Koch, a man who claimed both a fiery temperament and a strong prejudice against communists. Born near Heidelberg, Germany, he emigrated to the United States in 1900 and eventually, Woodinville, Washington, where he worked as the village blacksmith for many years.

Yup, you got it.

Mr. Koch didn’t want just any old headstone marking his life. He wanted an anvil.



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Hear ye, hear ye!


Let the dragons roar out the news! We’ve hit the magical 1,000 email subscriber mark! Obviously, we must celebrate this momentous occasion so keep your eyes peeled for some great posts this week.

P.S. Winter is coming.  :)

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Snapshots: What’s in a name?

Wesley Barefoot

I don’t have any background on who this is or his life’s story. Seems like with a name like Barefoot, an interesting life would be practically guaranteed.

The headstone’s in the local cemetery in Soquel, CA, a quiet little town south of Santa Cruz. The cemetery is fascinating enough in its own right and has proven to be one of the most popular posts here on this site.

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Damages: Ravensdale Cemetery

Ravensdale Cemetery

Most of us non-Pacific Northwesterners think Seattle is all about Starbucks, Microsoft, Boeing, and Amazon. What we don’t realize is that at one time, the PNW was one of the biggest (some might even say the biggest) coal producer in the country.

While Newcastle and Black Diamond are two of the better known and larger communities, there are also other, smaller communities that did their part. Ravensdale is one of them.

Ravensdale also happens to be one of the sadder stories.

In November, 1915, an explosion occurred in the mine, killing 31 men and the town never really recovered from the tragedy. Residents called up for the World War I draft left and never returned. Coal was eventually phased out in favor of oil and natural gas which meant the mine, the town’s sole source of income, was eventually shut down.

Vandals began attacking the old cemetery, breaking open tombs, stealing the remains, and damaging the headstones.

Courtesy Mike McDonald*

Courtesy Mike McDonald*

When I visited several years ago, the place was littered with cigarette butts and beer bottles.  Reminded me why it’s sometimes a good thing to bring another person along when visiting some of the more remote cemeteries.


*This photo was borrowed from Mike McDonald. Check out some of his other photos of Ravensdale Cemetery here.

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Snapshots: Woodmen of the World

Woodmen of the World examples

If you’ve ever wondered about all those stone tree stumps in the cemetery, wonder no more. You are in the presence of a Woodman of the World.

Woodmen of the World was (actually, still is) a privately held insurance company located in Nebraska. Prior to 1930, the company was best known for providing its members with a variety of tree stump-styled headstones, as seen above.

The headstones typically included carvings of the tools of the trade (an axe, maul, and a wedge). Some might also include a dove to represent peace or the Latin phrase, Dum Tacet Clamat (Though Silent, He Speaks).


Dum Tacet Clamat




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Snapshots: The carriage driver

HG_Carriage Driver

BTG has cracked the 500 likes/email subscriber level! Thank you for all the like love and to celebrate, I’m pulling out one of my special photos from that fabulous place in London; Highgate.

Click the photo to see an enlarged version and then take a closer look at the carvings on the base of the headstone. Notice the horn and whip? Don’t forget to check out the first two stone posts in the foreground of the photo, either. That’s right; horseshoes.

Yup. This is the grave of one of those fancy, high-class carriage drivers for the London social classes. Pretty neat, huh? Almost makes you want to pop in a BBC special like the Bleak House series starring Gillian Anderson. By the way, the guy who plays the evil lawyer in it, carries the aura over to the new Dracula movie that’s now showing.

P.S. If BTG can hit the 750 and/or 1,000 mark (either for likes or email subscribers), I’ve got two other photos that are even more interesting than this.

Way more. :)

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