This fascinating and entertaining article by Nene Adams about things Victorians did for entertainment lists activities ranging from amusing to mindboggling to horrifying. I sometimes think about what it would be like to live without our modern entertainment devices that we take for granted. I have to admit that none of the Victorians’ popular choices ever occurred to me.

I can fairly easily imagine rabid fern collecting, because I once read an article in The Smithsonian Magazine about a tulip collecting craze that overtook people at one time. It seems that, up until some obscure tipping point, tulips had only been of interest for their bulbs…which people ate…like onions! Once the beauty of their flowers was noticed, people went wild over them. Wild ferns being so prevalent, once they became all the rage it must have been quite exciting to venture forth on expeditions for these living collectibles. Some types of ferns are edible, which causes me to imagine the moments when fern collecting expeditions and fern foraging parties converged on the same desirable specimen. How do the genteel do battle over a patch of delicate greenery? I have no idea, but I would pay good money to time travel and find out. Pity, though that in their eagerness the collectors rendered some species extinct.

As someone who has visited homes of hunting enthusiasts and been startled speechless by veritable herds of taxidermied animal heads (lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my time) crowding the walls of rooms and halls, I can say with great certainty that I would not have been into anthropomorphic taxidermy. At all. I love museums, but filing past lovingly dressed and posed tableaux of cricket playing guinea pigs or marrying kittens is so not my cup of tea. Even if said tea were offered by a glassy eyed hedgehog wearing a frilly dress. Especially then.

Now, a cabinet of curiosities would be more to my liking. I had heard of this idea of filling a special room with treasures of the macabre, bizarre, and fascinating kind when I read of a possible TV series about one from my favorite showrunners Glenn Morgan and James Wong. It was to have starred James Morrison, who so wonderfully played Colonel McQueen, Space: Above and Beyond’s angriest angel. I looked forward to it until discovering it wasn’t picked up and the pilot never aired. I still wish it had run and become a hit, because the very idea of it intrigues me still.

Mourning seems an unlikely form of entertainment, but once you read about it becoming its own industry after Queen Victoria practically went into a permanent state of mourning it does make sense of a sort. People love to emulate beloved celebrities and which one was more beloved than Her Majesty? The entire kingdom mourned with her and apparently couldn’t decide just when to stop. Maybe at the time it was actually a good thing, spawning products and creating jobs. I’ll pass though. Celebrating life is a much more fun way to pass the time.

My jaw dropping favorite of them all is so bizarre it seems it must be made up, but apparently it was the grandaddy of all the entertainment Victorians devised to fill their computerless, smartphoneless, DVRless days. Mummy unrolling. Of all things, I did not see that coming. Not only did “experts” bring Egyptian remains back home and hold elaborate unrollings, but regular people would bring back real mummies from vacations in Egypt so they could entertain their friends with authentic mummy unrollings. Not surprisingly, with such enthusiasm running rampant, homemade mummies were not out of the question. And here I was thinking only Frankenstein types were into graverobbing. Now, I have mental footage of Marty Feldmanesque I-gors digging up random Abbie Normals, to take home to mommy as ersatz mummies ripe for the unrolling. I’ve read that people really, really liked poppies back then, and not for their outward beauty. One person spending a few years too long in opium dens is the only explanation I can come up with for anybody waking up one day and deciding what great fun it would be to unroll an ancient Egyptian mummy.

Oddly enough, as I write this, I’m also watching a Downtown Abbey rerun. The two have collided in my brain, and now I keep wondering whether the Dowager Countess preferred fern collecting or viewing anthropomorphic taxidermy tableaux in her youth. Maybe she kept a cabinet of curiosities. Some of her expressions leave it in the realm of possibility that she may have once or twice imagined Cousin Isobel as a shrunken head!

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