Tuesday, September 1, 2015

City Daily Photo Theme Day: Curiosities

The first day of each month is a theme day for members of City Daily Photo. For the first of September, the theme is coming to us from a sarcastic rascal in the Great White North who insults idiot ex-brothers-in-law, marketing chimps, crack smoking ex-mayors, and fans of the Maple Leafs on a regular basis. Between us, he's a complete scoundrel, and... oh, wait, I'm the one who came up with this theme. Well now that's different. You can check out other interpretations of this theme here.

My choice was already in mind when I decided on this theme. For those who aren't regular readers, the Bytown Museum is a local museum along the Rideau Canal here in the city, where the Canal meets its start at the shores of the Ottawa River. I did several posts from around and inside the Museum earlier in August. The building dates back to 1827, having had been built as a storehouse for the work of the building of the Canal in the late 1820s-1830s.

One of the exhibits is my curiousity. It concerns itself with the assassination of Thomas D'Arcy McGee, a prominent Member of Parliament and Father of Confederation, in April 1868. You can read more about him here.

McGee was a friend of our first Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald. In younger days he'd been a radical in the Irish nationalist movement. Moving to Canada, however, he ended up becoming a fiery and eloquent orator and writer, and a defender of constitutional monarchy. It was a political transformation that made him enemies.

One of them shot him in the street as he came home late at night from a session in the House of Commons to his boarding house on Sparks Street. Fenians- radical Irishmen eager to drive the British out of Ireland- were suspected. At the time a number of raids by Irish American veterans of the Civil War were being made, with the intention of using Canada as ransom to force the British out. McGee, having had changed his outlook, was seen as the enemy.

A man named Patrick James Whelan was arrested, put on trial, and convicted- later hung at the old jail here in the city. There's always been some doubt as to if he was the assassin. There's a rather good novel recently written by Gordon Henderson, called Man In The Shadows, which uses the case as its backdrop. Items about the McGee assassination reside here in the Bytown Museum, which may be a local museum, but being in a capital city, the story of the nation influences its collection.

One of those items is this plaster cast. It is the death hand of McGee. In the Victorian era, it was common to create a death mask of the deceased. McGee, who was shot in the head from behind, had facial damage that rendered that impossible, and so this was the solution. Having it around as an artifact seems to be a curiousity to me. Strangely, I took around ten shots of the hand directly- this was the only one of them that came out decently enough to use in a post. This is the first time I have ever had this happen with photos- perhaps there is something to the story that the Museum is haunted.

At least the display description directly above it came out clear. Odd that photographing the hand itself would be such a problem.


  1. Thank you for sharing Canada's history in such an engaging way, William

  2. A very detailed and knowledgeable post, and wonderful photos.

  3. The hand is quite odd---a very curious thing.

  4. Throughout the month we hope to know some curiosities of Canada.


  5. A sad end for the poor man, but it happens often in politics that one is assacinated by enemies.

  6. Learned a new word, "Fenians."
    Interesting tidbits from history!


  7. From revolutionary to monarchist. Whew! What a transition.

  8. I got very curious with the hand. Enjoyed reading about it and learning history.

    Thank you for your kind words at passing our Kit xoxo

  9. Great post, so interesting and I enjoyed my history lesson :)

  10. Death masks and dead hand casts... a museum of the 'strange' , I'd say. Interesting text though.

  11. Today I learned i bit more of Canada's history, thanks, William !

  12. A strange and very interesting story...

  13. That hand cast is as curiously weird as my Banksia men William :)

  14. Very strange it was the custom to make death masks and, in this case, a death hand! Creepy!

  15. D'arcy Mcgee was not an important player in our history but left a mark by his mysterious murder. His death pulled in many other aspects of society at that time as for example the cast of his hand. Interesting post.

  16. @Cloudia: you're welcome.

    @Linda: thank you!

    @MB: that hand's what inspired pretty much the entire theme for me when I selected it months back.

    @Tomas: I hope so!

    @Marianne: cut down in the prime of his life. The more I know about him, the more the loss seems that much harder for the country.

    @Janis: the Fenian Raids, as they were called, is one of the consequences of the Civil War that really aren't talked about on either side of the border.

    @Revrunner: it was quite a transformation.

    @Tamago: you're most welcome.

    @Janey: I've heard the ghost stories about the museum. I do wonder if it had an effect, because that's one of the only two times I've ever had something odd turn up with pictures- the other time involved unexplained objects in a courtroom.

  17. @Denise: I sometimes think I could make a good historical ambassador for the city.

    @Blogoratti: you're welcome.

    @Birdman: it was such a peculiar thing in the Victorian era, but apparently quite common.

    @Karl: you're welcome.

    @VP: thank you!

    @Grace: definitely!

    @EG: I wish I could get a photograph of a life mask up at the Laurier House- Lincoln's face from 1860- but there's no photographs allowed there.

    @Sharon: indeed.

    @Red: Well, he's important enough to merit a statue on Parliament Hill! I should photograph the old jail where Whelan was hung. I've never photographed the place.

  18. The death mask and plaster cast of death hand sound eerie....

  19. I've never heard of making a cast of someone's hand. What a very interesting story. I've read a book about him before. Thanks for the links, I enjoyed it!

  20. A death hand is very curious! I know David Wilson who has written 2 books on McGee - it is such a fascinating story!

  21. I've read a little about the Fenians in Manchester but was not aware of their Canadian connections.

  22. What a fabulous post, I had all but forgotten about Fenians...

    Now how do you get chosen to come up with a Theme?

  23. Better be careful about the x mayors. On Joanna's blog a singer lost his job over a Harper (your favorite) song.
    Wonderful post today.

    cheers, parsnip

    1. He's only been suspended, with pay, until they decide! Funny because one of my sons is a gov't employee, another is working the election in BC, my SIL is running for election! The latte is totally into the election, the other two cannot be!

  24. Fascinating story! And I got goose bumps from what you said about taking the photos!

  25. @Nancy: appropriate though for a museum that's apparently haunted!

    @Beth: thank you!

    @Halcyon: it was new to me the first time I saw this exhibit, but I remembered the hand well.

    @RedPat: if he'd lived, who knows what he might have accomplished.

    @Gerald: the Fenian Raids are not a part of our history that gets a lot of exposure either, but it's crucial to the Confederation era as an influence.

    @Ciel: Jack asked before the New Year if I'd like to do a theme for this year, and this is the one I came up with!

    @Marleen; thank you!

    @Tex: very much so!

    @Parsnip: I've heard about that story.

    @Meradeth: it's only the second time in my life I've ever had something odd turn up on film- the other time involved a courtroom wedding and strange spheres of light.

  26. and an excellent choice of theme is it..that museum sound very worth a visit..

  27. Fascinating history. My daughter would agree that something is interfering with your camera shots. She says something white keeps her from photographing me. Well, she doesn't say something, but you don't need to know who she names.

  28. Now that is interesting. Nice choice for the theme and thank you for choosing it by the way. I have really enjoyed everyone's posts!

  29. So you're the sarcastic rascal in the Great White North! I think I'd agree with you about most things, from our current dictator to Maple Leaf fans (can't believe there still are any)!

  30. A death hand? Museums often display odd objects and curiosities--great selections!

  31. William, you really selected a doozie of a theme for this month. And I was thinking that all the good themes had already been selected. Bravo!

    I made (with other artists' assistance) a pottery death mask of myself about ten years ago. It will really be creepy when it starts looking better than the real me!


  32. Thanks for today's theme!
    Interesting bit of history from Ottawa.

  33. How gruesome that they could not make a death mask because the front of his head was blown off from behind. Yes, yaking indoor shote through glass is a challenge, and one the=at I have yet to master. Thanks for this intruiging theme, William. As I go from blog to blog, I am learning such a lot.

  34. @Geoff: it is well worth the visit!

    @Norma: most definitely.

    @Mari: I've heard strange stories about spectral interference in shots.

    @Lois: I've enjoyed the ones I've seen thus far. I'll have to look for more of the posts.

    @Furry Gnome: hopefully the dictator's days are at an end and he's relegated back to the dustbin of history.

    @Kate: it's quite unexpected if you don't know it's up there.

    @Genie: I've been enjoying seeing what others have done with this theme!

    @Kay: thank you!

    @Julie: you're welcome!

  35. Nicely done, William! Curious piece of history reported to the full. Fun reading the comments too.