Horror Artifacts of Ferry Farm: Myth, Disease, Vampires, and Dolls

With Halloween just around the corner, we thought we would take our readers behind the scenes to look at some of the creepiest and macabre artifacts we have uncovered at Ferry Farm. Some may seem like obvious choices, but others have hidden connections and meanings. Be sure to let us know your favorite in the poll at the end.

Bartmann Jug: The Wild Man and Witchcraft

            This jug may look familiar to those who enjoy visiting Colonial sites. Made predominantly in Germany during the 16th and 17th centuries, these pieces of salt-glazed stoneware proved incredibly popular. Known as Bartmann Jugs, all pieces share the presence of a bearded face on the neck of the vessel. Some have additional designs, such as crests, on the body. The face lends the name to the jug as “Bartmann” translates from German to “bearded man.” Still, this begs the question of who the face belongs to?

Bartmann Jugs
Remnants of Bartmann Jug

            The bearded face depicts a figure known as the Wild Man. A character from Northern European folklore of the 14th-16th centuries, Wild Men reportedly flourished in remote, alpine regions. In characterization, Wild Men are similar to the satyrs and fauns of Greco-Roman tradition. They are covered in hair, hence the bearded face, and wear no clothes. The popular depiction of Wild Men began in the late Middle Ages when the figure became secular. They thus appeared in all art forms with males and females being depicted. The somewhat exaggerated face on the Bartmann Jug speaks the Wild Man’s untamed nature.

Wild Man by Martin Schongauer, 1480s

            Aside from Wild Men, Bartmann Jugs have a role in witchcraft. At a time of religious turmoil and witch hunts, England saw a rise in the use of witch bottles in the 1600s. These bottles were white magic in nature and supposedly protected against black magic. Bartmann Jugs account for most witch bottles from this period and the abnormal face may have factored in to its use. To make a witch bottle, one filled the vessel with items such as nails, human hair, fingernail clippings, heart-shaped pieces of cloth, pins, and urine before sealing it. The bottle was then buried or submerged near the area it protected. No Bartmann witch bottles have been found in the America, but the Mathers of Massachusetts wrote about witch bottles in the late 1600s. Could ours have served such a purpose?

X-Ray of Bartmann Witch Bottle

Civil War Medicine

            Just the thought of Civil War medicine is typically enough to conjure scenes of horror, so this simple glass bottle may seem a bit disappointing. However, things are rarely what they seem. We recovered this artifact from a Civil War trench and quickly became interested in what it originally held. Scientific analysis of the remaining residue revealed that the bottle served a medicinal role and once contained liquid mercury. As mercury is known as extremely dangerous, this may come as a shock. Why would anyone have mercury on their person and how could it be medicinal? Believe it or not, mercury once served as a cure-all in the medical world and it was only in 20th century that its dangers were fully accepted. Those who used mercury medicinally viewed the topical burning, sweating, excess saliva, and diarrhea it produced as signs of successfully purging their body of their affliction. In reality, it was their body trying to rid itself of the mercury.

Mercury Bottle

As a cure all, people utilized mercury for all sorts of afflictions and pest control. Common uses in a Civil War camp may have included treatment for head lice, bed bugs, skin sores and lacerations, as well as parasitic infections. The most terrifying of all, however, would have been syphilis. The dominant strain of this disease is sexually transmitted, and was often ripe in military camps. A disease that did not kill quickly, a person could live with syphilis for years as it slowly ate away at the body. As it progressed, the afflicted would note rashes, open sores, and growths or bumps on their body. Neurological problems could occur and the loss of your nose was not uncommon. As the disease stayed with you until death, it had time to impact the skeleton, most notably leaving pitting on the skull, potentially an eaten away nose cavity, and other signs of deterioration. Overall, a horrible way to go and a wicked good topic for this blog.

For further reading on this artifact and the scientific analysis, you can read a previous blog on it here.

Dracula’s Jewelry

            Mourning jewelry became extremely popular during the mid to late 1800s. While pieces came in many forms, they mainly reflected somber colors, like black, or carried something of the deceased’s, such as hair. The rise in this trend first derived from Queen Victoria’s endless mourning for her husband Prince Albert in the United Kingdom. Her mourning set a fashion trend and, with the number of deaths that occurred in the American Civil War, Americans had a reason to adopt it. Alongside the somber tone of jewelry, the period approached the topic of death with a rise in the macabre, séances, and horror.

Mourning Jewelry

            At Ferry Farm, we have uncovered a single piece of mourning jewelry, which connects to one of the most famous Gothic novels and literary monsters of all time, DRACULA! This small piece may have once been set in a necklace or bracelet and belonged to someone who inhabited the property or visited after the war. While that is all very interesting, I am sure you want to know where the King of Horror fits in. The answer lies in the material. The pendant is made of jet, which accounted for much of the 1800s’ mourning jewelry. Sources of jet exist in various parts of Europe and the American Southwest, but the most prosperous jet production existed in Whitby, England during Victorian times.

A seaside, port town in the north of England, Whitby is noted for the ruins of an impressive abbey that dominate the landscape. Fans of Bram Stoker’s novel will recognize the town as the location where Count Dracula first arrives in England, and Whitby Abbey even appears in the novel. Stoker wrote much of the book in Whitby, and he reportedly first came across the story of Vlad the Impaler in the local library. Today, Whitby embraces its vampiric legacy (they currently hold the record for the largest gathering of vampires at 1,369 people) and the jet business has seen a resurgence in popularity by aligning itself with this tourist draw. So what do you think of our piece? We highly recommend it for lovers of death, horror, and literature. Please note: Vampire not included.

Whitby Abbey

Creepy Dolls

            It goes without saying the most people find dolls creepy. They frequently feature in ghost stories and many serve as the malevolent force in horror movies. Here at Ferry Farm, I am not sure which is worse, finding a full doll or severed doll parts.

            With people living on the property through the 1990s, we have plenty of potential to uncover dolls. In fact, we found a severed doll hand this summer that we previously featured as a #FridayFind. Other parts include ceramic legs, broken arms, heads, and faces. Perhaps this is the most obvious choice for a scary artifact blog, but, then again, dolls will never stop being creepy.

Creepy Doll Parts

Emma Schlauder (she/her/hers)

Research Archaeologist