Presque Isle Historical Society: Frozen Charlotte

Published: May. 10, 2023 at 1:07 PM EDT
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PRESQUE ISLE, Maine (WAGM) - “Today we are here looking at a very unusual piece of history that took place from the 1850s to 1920. And that is a weird doll. And these are some of the dolls, you notice that they range in size from an inch. These are authentic, these are very old. This is a new version, so it wouldn’t normally have been this big. But these were made in Germany starting in the 1850s. They’re made out of china or porcelain and they were originally meant to serve as bathtub toys. Now why any parent would give their child a piece of glass to play in the tub with, I don’t know. But that didn’t last long. It soon morphed into a more macabre purpose if you will. In 1839, a young lady by the name of Charlotte went to a ball on New Years Eve with her boyfriend by sleigh. And like many young teenagers, she wanted to be seen and she wanted her beautiful outfit to be seen and her mother said it’s really cold out, you need to wear more clothes and the mother said, no, if I do no one with see me and she ended up freezing to death on the trip to the ball. Someone wrote a poem about that and that poem was then published in a Maine newspaper by an author by the name of Seba Smith who was from Maine. In fact, he is, so to speak, the predecessor of the satirist Will Rogers. And he wrote about this and it caught on like crazy. And he called it a corpse, went to the ball or died on the way to the ball, but it ended up catching on. There was a folk ballad written for it. The folk ballad is called Fair Charlotte and the dolls became known as Frozen Charlottes and you know the Victorians were very odd people and they would take this little small one inch version and they would place it in a silver coffin they then wore on a necklace around their neck and they even would put dirt in the little coffin. So, these differ slightly. You’ll notice that this one has gold feet and she has like stockings painted on. These others do not, but they are all ridged, the arms and legs don’t move. They are one solid piece of china or porcelain. And some are just plain white with no decoration at all and the others have the painted on hair and such on them. But depending on the size and how old these are, these can run up to 300 dollars a piece if you were going to collect them today. So, there are several versions out on the internet of the ballad if anyone is interested and in our particular exhibit of it we actually have a QR code that takes you to one of the ballads so you can listen to it. It’s 3 to 5 minutes long, but it tells the whole story of how she wanted to go to the ball and her mother told her to put more clothes on and she didn’t want to do that and the boyfriend said are you ok? And she didn’t answer and just the whole story.” Kim Smith, Presque Isle Historical Society