Frozen Charlotte: A Cautionary Tale Baked into a Cake

Today is a holiday that goes by many names: Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. The day involves the practice of eating richer and fatty foods before Ash Wednesday when Lenten begins. It is celebrated in different ways depending on where you are. In England it is also known as Pancake Tuesday and, not surprisingly, involves eating rich pancakes. In New Orleans it is a colorful celebration with parades, dancing, eating and drinking. One of the more interesting traditions of this celebration is the King’s Cake– a cinnamon sugar dough twisted into a ring and decorated with icing and purple, green and yellow sugar. Most importantly, baked within the cake, it a small plastic or porcelain baby meant to symbolize the Jesus, and whomever gets the slice of cake with the Jesus becomes the ‘king’ or ‘queen’ for the day and gets a prize or special privileges. But this isn’t the only type of doll found in a cake…

Our Frozen Charlotte, about four inches tall

Our Frozen Charlotte, about four inches tall

This past summer, we excavated a privy to the southwest of Saints’ Rest, and found two dolls. One of those is a fairly intact bust of a larger doll, but the other is a small porcelain girl with few features. When we started looking into the history of this smaller doll, we learned that this was a very important figurine in the late 19th century, and has a slightly morbid story behind it.

Her name is Frozen Charlotte

The doll was first created in Germany in 1850 as a playmate for bath time, perfect since the doll does not have clothing in many instances. However, it quickly became associated with a dark Victorian poem by Seba Smith. In the poem, a young woman named Charlotte who takes a sleigh ride with her beau on New Years Eve. As she leaves her home, her mother warns her to bundle up against the cold weather.

“O, daughter dear,” her mother cried,
“This blanket ’round you fold;
It is a dreadful night tonight,
You’ll catch your death of cold.”

“O, nay! O, nay!” young Charlotte cried,
And she laughed like a gypsy queen;
“To ride in blankets muffled up,
I never would be seen.”

Charlotte doesn’t take her mother’s advice, and rides through the night without a blanket so that everyone can see her clothing and beauty. When Charles and Charlotte arrive to the party, he holds his hand out to her, but she isn’t responsive.

“He stripped the mantle off her brow,
And the pale stars on her shone,
And quickly into the lighted hall,
Her helpless form was born.
They tried all within their power,
Her life for to restore,
But Charlotte was a frozen corpse,
And is never to speak more.”

The poem and doll became a cautionary tale for children. The dolls sold for a penny, and were extremely popular in America. It may seem morbid, but for the time period this type of children’s story was actually quite common. Struwwelpeter was a popular book of children’s stories from this period that included children being burned alive after playing with matches, becoming sick after being naughty, and having their thumbs cut off if they sucked on them. Pretty gruesome.

What does this all have to do with King’s Cake and Fat Tuesday? Well, similar to the King’s Cake Baby, Frozen Charlottes were often baked into cakes or other desserts for children as a nice surprise during Christmastime! Perhaps our Frozen Charlotte was hidden within a cherry pie and accidentally discarded?

References

Happy Birthday! There’s a Corpse in your Cake. Nourishing Death. https://nourishingdeath.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/happy-birthday-theres-a-corpse-in-your-cake/

Frozen Charlotte. Dangerous Minds. http://dangerousminds.net/comments/frozen_charlotte_the_creepy_victorian-era_dolls_that_slept_in_coffins_and_w

Frozen Charlotte- Full Poem. Whimsical Flea Market. http://awhimsicalfleamarket.blogspot.com/p/frozen-charlotte-story_21.html

 

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