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Saint Floradora was the name given to a woman's remains found in the rubble of Pompeii (Saint Fidgeta and Other Parodies, 77-84).

Background

Summer of 79

Following the August 79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius, a young woman perishes in the ashen-covered city of Pompeii.

Discovery

In 1880 the remains of lettered tiles in Pompeii were found and "magically arrange[d] themselves" to form the word FLORADORA. Local priests assumed a martyr's tomb had been discovered and this was seemingly verified when a female skeleton was found nearby clutching a "moldered leather bag of coins". Father Tumpline wrote his account of the woman's life in Floradora: Lines Writ in Lava, coming up with the notion that the woman was the Christian daughter of a vacationing Roman senator, scattering coins in the streets for the poor but forced to take cover during the eruption.

Celebration

Over the next 60 years "convents, churches, grade schools, and nuns" had been renamed for Floradora, including the Sister M. Floradora of Shoat, Iowa, a poet whose "Lament for Saint Floradora" celebrated the life of the so-called "Pompeiian Rose".

Turning of the Tide

In 1940, Professor T. Oates Frostauger questioned her validity in his article "Some Calm Observations on a Few Lettered Tiles and Old Bones" and said Floradora was found in what was really a brothel and the tiled letters were only part of a larger Latin inscription reading "Flavivs Orgvlvs Adorat Pvellam".  A series of articles from various scholars were exchanged in the forthcoming years until the Secretariat on Saintliness met to decide on the matter once and for all.

Revocation of the Saint

The name Floradora was removed from the list of saints in 1959, causing quick reaction from those that had celebrated her. A church in Ireland was razed and twelve churches in Chicago named for her were hastily renamed for Saint Nymphadota. Sister M. Floradora changed her name to Dido and briefly followed in her heroine's purported calling.

Inspiration

Evelyn Nesbit

Evelyn Nesbit, Florodora girl

The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing

The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (1955)

Joan Collins

Joan Collins

Floradora was a code used by the German during WWII[1].  Bellairs had in mind Florodora, a turn-of-the-century British musical that was popular on both sides of the Atlantic. The musical was the story of a young woman seeking romance and the restoration of a stolen inheritance, and featured a sextet of chorus girls, all an identical 5-foot-4 and 130 pounds, and the hit song, “Tell Me, Pretty Maiden.” The chorus girls, not surprisingly, became known as the Florodora Girls[2].

Evelyn Nesbit (1884-1967) was one such girl and it was her fate to be involved in what was perhaps the most famous celebrity murder of the first half of the century.  Nesbit became the mistress of the famous society architect, Stanford White, but was eventually discarded by White and wound up marrying Pittsburgh millionaire, Harry K. Thaw.  In 1906, Thaw and Nesbit encountered White at an elegant rooftop dining plaza and Thaw fatally shot White in the head[3].

"And now the scene shifts to another exotic locale: South Bend, Indiana. In 1955 Hollywood released a movie loosely based on the Nesbit-Thaw-White affair called The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, very possibly the first movie Bellairs and I attended together off-campus. It stared Ray Milland as Stanford White, Farley Granger as Harry Thaw, and, as Evelyn Nesbit, none other than the very young, very dazzling Joan Collins – who even today, supported by botox, plastic surgery, skin grafts, plaster of Paris, wigs, paints, and cantilever struts, still looks pretty good. Without the aid of any of that stuff she was a total dish and John and I both drooled over her then and even more so over another of her movies released later in the same year, that immortal masterpiece of William Faulkner's, Land of the Pharaohs, in which he wrote her a juicy role as an evil Egyptian Queen but forgot to provide her with much in the way of clothing. This then is the intellectual baggage that Bellairs had to draw on for his Saint Floradora. Whether he actually used any of it, I of course do not know.[4]

For what its worth, Bellairs wold later named Collins as his favorite actress[5].

Reference

  1. Wikipedia: Floradora
  2. Wikipedia: Florodora
  3. Wikipedia: Evelyn Nesbit
  4. Correspondence with Alfred Myers.
  5. "John Bellairs's Favorites."  Haverhill Gazette (Dec. 28, 1985).
8. The Story of Floradora

FloradoraT. Oates Frostauger

Flavivs Orgvlvs Adorat Pvellam

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