Monday, August 4, 2014

Frozen Charlotte

Here’s a story that will give you chills even on the hottest summer day. The story of Frozen Charlotte is a Maine folktale. A short notice in the New York Observer on February 8, 1840, told about a girl who froze to death on her way to a New Year’s ball. This was the beginning of a folk tradition that eventually included poems, a ballad, a doll, and even a dessert. The original poem, attributed to well-known editor Seba Smith, recounts in verse how it was New Year’s Eve and Charlotte was to attend a dance some miles away. It was a bitter cold night, and Charlotte, dressed in a beautiful gown, did not want to cover her dress with a heavy blanket that would wrinkle it. Instead, she wore a light cape and ignored her mother’s warnings that she would catch her death of cold. Charlotte and her beau drove off into the night. Several times on the journey the young man asked Charlotte if she was cold, and she, shivering, answered yes. The last time he asked, however, she said she was feeling warmer. When they arrived at the dance:

He took her hand in his—O, God! 'Twas cold and hard as stone,
He tore the mantle from her face, cold stars upon it shone;
Then quickly to the glowing hall, her lifeless form he bore,
Fair Charlotte's eyes were closed in death, her voice was heard no more.

From this tale, several other poems and ballads emerged. Little girls played with Frozen Charlotte dolls, and in 1896, Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking-School Cook Book published the recipe for Frozen Charlotte. Even today Martha Stewart has recipes for this popular dessert.

Frozen Charlottes made their way to Montana. On the flat plateau of First People’s Buffalo Jump, where one family tried unsuccessfully to make a go of homesteading, a Frozen Charlotte doll was discovered in the ruins.

You can read Seba Smith’s entire poem, “Young Charlotte,” here.