Why, it’s Nellie Tallman! Her 1870 portrait is arguably the most well-known individual artifact in our Museum; when people recall their visits, they usually remember “the model trains, and the haunted painting of the girl.” Yes, “haunted”. Some believe that Nellie’s ghost inhabits the painting and has caused it to fall off the wall multiple times, both before and after it came into our collection. Sadly, Nellie fell off her stool while sitting for the painting and her injuries caused her death. The artist – her father, John – finished the portrait as a memorial to her.
A painting as a memorial is not too unusual, but there was another common way to remember loved ones 100+ years ago that might strike us as a little different. Often, a person’s hair was used to create a hair wreath or “floral” display like the one shown here. The names below are Ida, Sallie, and Mary, so this was presumably their hair. It was donated by Miss Mary E. Riddell about fifty years ago, but unfortunately the story behind it has not survived (though Ida may be Ida Henninger). Displays like these were also made to honor living persons, so it could have been done for sisters or friends to commemorate their bond.
Hair as a memorial device was very versatile – it was also used to make jewelry for women, or pocket watch chains for men. The pictured watch and chain belonged to none other than Peter Herdic, the “founding father” of Williamsport’s Millionaires’ Row. The hair in this chain is from his first wife, Amanda Taylor Herdic, who passed away in 1856, only seven years after their marriage. Her photograph portrait is also shown here – no sign yet that it’s haunted, as well.