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Ms. Siddal’s Hair

Ms. Elizabeth Siddal, known to friends and family as Lizzie, was, if you don’t immediately recall the name, the wife of artist and poet Dante Rossetti, in addition to being an artist and poet in her own right. She is perhaps most famous, though, for serving as an artist’s model for the Pre-Raphaelites. (These were an association of writers, artists, and critics who hearkened back to the classical artistic style of Raphael—the guy one of the Ninja Turtles is named after—and his precedents. Group members were Frederic George Stephens, Thomas Woolner, John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, James Collinson, and the Rossetti brothers, Dante and William.) After she became involved with Dante he insisted she stop modeling for the other guys. Despite her poor health the two married in 1860. Siddal died in 1862 of what may have been a suicide. Here’s where it gets creepy.

Elizabeth was buried in Highgate Cemetery, and Dante placed a collection of his poetry in the coffin with her. Seven years later, apparently unable to rewrite the poems from memory, he decided he wanted them back and had Elizabeth exhumed. Reports of this desecration were known to Bram Stoker, and it is theorized that the incident inspired the exhumation of his character Lucy Westenra in DRACULA. Reports also told that Elizabeth’s hair had grown so much during the seven years that the book of poetry had become entangled in it and was retrieved with some difficulty. Rossetti was not present at the exhumation, but his agent, a shyster named Charles Augustus Howell, was, and he described Elizabeth’s body as “perfectly preserved” and stated that her hair “filled the coffin.”

Human hair does not, as is popularly believed, continue to grow after a person dies. This is what the experts tell us. Yet there are numerous written accounts suggesting otherwise. The sleazy Howell may not be a trustworthy source, but what of all those other accounts?

TheCheezman • January 5, 2020


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