06 February 2008

Nothing To Disclose Her Identity

I love that the NY Times opened their online archives. One can while away the hours rummaging through the old articles with a few simple keyword searches.

If you're interested in the real people of the past (and I will confess to finding them fascinating, in the aggregate) the police-beat stories are endlessly engrossing. Many of them are sad. Some of them are gruesome. I am alternately reassured and appalled by the continuity of human folly. We haven't changed that much, really.

While poking through hits from the keyword 'knit,' I came across one with the evocative headline 'Nothing To Disclose Her Identity,' published 12 June 1885. I had a feeling it was going to lead me to a gruesome sort of story, the "unidentified body found" kind, and it did, to a short a notice of a young woman's body discovered on Riker's Island. As one might expect, the appearance and clothes of the deceased were described in the hope that someone might recognise her. The description of her dress ended thusly:

... and the stockings were of the peculiar homemade kind which only German women knit out of chocolate-colored worsted.
It is not clear (of course) if the 'chocolate-colored worsted' is a necessary feature of these 'peculiar homemade' stockings -- that is, I can't tell if the style of the stockings was what was distinctively German, and they just happened to be made of chocolate-coloured worsted, or if the chocolate colour was something that only German women would use. I suspect it's the former; the stockings are the only item for which a colour is given at all, which suggests that it might have been distinctive.

One wonders what, other than colour, made them so peculiar. Pattern stitches? Fancy clocks? Length? Googling "German Stockings" is (of course) no help; one gets an approximately equal number of hits for a modern knitting pattern and sites not safe for work. My weak German doesn't get me much farther, though I did try combinations of 'strumpf,' 'stricken,' and 'historiche.'

My library on nineteenth-century dress (German, German-American, or otherwise) is practically non-existent, so no help there. And no copy of No Idle Hands in my library either. Hmm. Must correct that at some point.

Further digging around in the Times Archive hasn't advanced the search much, either. Plenty of worsted stockings, some white cotton stockings, an assortment of chocolate-colored items, from charity ball tickets, to men's suits, to a mongrel dog, and Germans and German items galore. Nothing to shed any more light on the peculiarly German homemade stockings, however, and also nothing to indicate if the young woman who wore them was ever identified.

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