Frozen Charlotte’s Epiphany
The tale of Frozen Charlotte, a morbid take on what happens when you disobey your parents, was my first story written in my first book about female ghosts in the Cape Fear area. In today’s world, Frozen Charlotte is an antique porcelain doll from the mid-1800s and a Mexican holiday reminder to choose your dessert carefully.
The Reader’s Digest version of Charlotte’s tale is she disobeys her parents taking a cart and horse to reach a Cape Fear area antebellum ball despite a freak snow storm. Dying of hypothermia she is found standing ram rod straight with bent elbows where she held the horse’s rein.
That image of a girl with bent elbows becomes a popular mid-19th century doll used to teach girls how to give a baby a bath and, on a deeper level, to listen to her parents. Frozen Charlotte featured piled up hair, red lips and skin as white as snow. Frozen Charlotte even spawned a then popular ditty by Maine’s Seba Smith on the error of her ways.
Halloween in 1878 a ship, The City of Houston, from New York to New Orleans, struck a shoal at Cape Fear and sunk. All eighty crew and passengers were saved but hundreds of Frozen Charlotte dolls in the cargo hold drown. To this day, an eagle eyed beach comber can retrieve a Frozen Charlotte doll. I’ve two of them from my time living on Cape Fear.
What I didn’t know until recently was that this image of the child with bent arms became the inspiration for the Baby Jesus doll hidden in bread for Three Kings’ Day, January 6th.
To this day, if you receive the baby Jesus in your Three Kings’ Day bread served you on January sixth then you are expected to host the atole and tamales to celebrate the upcoming Candelaria on February second. Candelaria marks the first time Jesus goes to church as Mary, as a Jewess, needed to wait 40 days after birth to take him to temple.
Among a small crowd of holiday revelers hosting the Candelaria party seems like no big deal. However, if you are my age, your father, uncles, grandfather all worked at the factory making the white muslin for tennis sneakers. Today the factory is the Fabrica Auroa hosting high end galleries and restaurants.
Imagine if you were the lad that got the Baby Jesus in your bread on Three Kings’ Day! You now had to pay for all you co-workers, and bosses, to celebrate the upcoming Candelaria . That was a lot of stress and likely resulted in more than one baby Jesus simply being swallowed!
When the Baby Jesus for Three Kings’ Day could be factory produced in the late 19th century his image was based upon the then popular Frozen Charlotte’s.
So, when celebrating the Epiphany (Three King’s Day) notice if the Baby Jesus, where ever he hides in the bread, and note how this image is based upon a long ago, chilly, spoiled Southerner who didn’t know when to come in from the cold.