A few weeks ago, I saw a picture of a tiny bottle on Pinterest called a “tear catcher” and the caption said that women during the Civil War caught their tears in a bottle while they prayed for the safe return of their menfolk or mourned for those who would never come home.
I have to admit that I had never heard of tear catchers and this intrigued me enough to do a bit of research.
The official name of these tear catchers/bottles/bowls is lachrymal and there is a lachrymatory website, with some fascinating reading, and some beautiful pictures of tear catchers.
The earliest reference I found is recorded in the Holy Bible. I’ve read the passage many times, but really never noticed what David said. “Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?” (Psalms 56:8) (Here’s a lovely Tear Catcher poem by Mary Dreisbach.)
In the Roman era, mourners cried tears into bottle or bowl as they walked along with the burial procession. In some cases, mourners were paid to mourn. So, the amount of tears might depend on how much the deceased was loved and/or how deep the family coffers. Excavations of Roman tombs revealed some of the small bottles and while archaeologists aren’t in agreement that they held tears, it is feasible given the passage in scripture that was written many years before.
Tear catchers made another appearance in the Victorian age with elaborately ornate bottles. It is said that during this time, the bottles were used to catch the tears of those in mourning, and that special stoppers allowed the tears to evaporate. Once all the tears were gone, the mourning period ended.
But the Civil War tear catchers were designed to hold the tears (without evaporation) until their men returned from war. The amount of tears in the bottle showed the devotion of the woman who’d cried for her loved one.
Can you imagine holding an antique tear catcher in your hands and trying to fathom what grief, what love, and in some cases, reunited joy it was privy to?
So, let’s chat. Have you ever heard of tear catchers? And if so, what’s your opinion: romanticized notion or fact?
Now, so as not to end on a sad note, here’s a little poem I wrote just for today to lift your spirits. Well, I don’t know. It might make you cry, but in a good way, I hope!
Pam Hillman was born and raised on a dairy farm in
and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In
those days, her daddy couldn’t afford two cab tractors with air conditioning
and a radio, so Pam drove the Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her
if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn’t mind raking. Raking hay
doesn’t take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making
up stories in her head. Now, that’s the kind of life every girl should dream
Mariah is her second novel. www.pamhillman.com Mississippi
Wow Pam! That was so interesting! Thanks for sharing. Have to run to church but wanted to say how much I enjoyed this post.ReplyDelete
Thanks Debbie Lynne. Same here...I'll be getting ready for church soon, and hope all our friends spend some time in the Lord's house today. :)Delete
Have a great day in the Lord, CFHS friends.
Pam, I don't think I have ever heard of tear bottles. and like you I have read Psalm 56:8 and never noticed it.ReplyDelete
I found the history of them fascinating and the bottle pictured here is very pretty.
I personally don't know if I find them romantic or not but I wonder if they found comfort in collecting them.
Thank you .
Jackie, thanks for stopping by. In my research on the bottles, some people are arguing that it's just a newfangled commercialized fad that's come around again.Delete
Some comments were saying how hard it would be to cry so that your tears went into the bottle. If I was having a melt-down, I'd probably not even know where my bottle was! So the detractors do have a point! lol
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May I try again? :) Pam, when I read your poem I could only imagine when our Lord Jesus returns for us. Or when we enter heaven. We will drop our bottle of sorrows from living on earth and run to Him in awe and joy.ReplyDelete
Oh, Kathy, your comment gave me chills!!! Yes, yes, yes, we will. No more tear bottles in Heaven! No siree! :)Delete
Hi, Pam! I had never heard of tear catchers and find them most interesting. I have enjoyed visiting the links you included. I love your beautiful poem and thank you so much for sharing it, as well as this fascinating post!ReplyDelete
texaggs2000 at gmail dot com
Fascinating, isn't it, Britney? I just scratched the surface of the history, blogs, stories, and poems about the topic. I'd love to find more real documentation about them, instead of just conjecture.Delete
I'd never heard or tear catchers, either. I asked my husband and he knew about them. I think they were real. Love your books Pam. Thanks for the post and research. sharon wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)comReplyDelete
Oh, Sharon! Do tell? Is he a historian? I wonder what he's heard? With the plethora of information on the internet, I'm just amazed that I'd never heard of them.Delete
I must be slipping...
I had never heard of tear catchers. Very interesting. Thanks for the post.ReplyDelete
You're welcome! Now we both will be informed at our next dinner party . ;)Delete
Wow! I'd never heard of these either, even with all the research I did for my Civil War novel. I was familiar with the Scripture about storing our tears in a bottle, but don't remember reading anything else about tear bottles. Thanks for posting.ReplyDelete
It is now the mission of all historians to find more proof about these little bottles, Golden. We'll just have to get to the bottom of it.Delete
Like Golden, I did a lot of research for my Civil War novel and didn't find anything about tear catchers. This is very interesting, and the one pictured is beautiful. Thanks for posting.ReplyDelete
Martha, maybe there is something to the naysayers or this was a rare occurrence indeed. It just seems like there should be more documentation in letters and such. Hmmm....curiouser and curiouser.Delete
I love the poem you wrote, Pam. It made me tear up! Fun topic. :)ReplyDelete
Ah, thanks, Ane. I wanted a picture a Civil War soldier returning home, but didn't have anything and didn't want to risk copyright infringement. The picture is of my son and his wife... one of their engagement pictures. :)Delete
Nope, I've never heard of this. Very fascinating!ReplyDelete
Vickie, we'll all keep our eyes peeled for authentic proof of this lost bit of history. Supposedly, a poem called "The Tear Catcher" by Frank Dempster Sherman was published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1896. So far I haven't found the original documentation where it appeared back in 1896 though. So, hmmm...Delete
Pam, what an interesting piece of history that apparently, many of us have never heard of. Thank you for enlightening us with your post. And what a wonderful detail to include in my Civil War novel. Thanks!ReplyDelete
You're welcome, Marilyn. Hopefully, you can find more details, but even if you don't, a tear catcher can be a special event between your hero and your heroine even if it's not a common one, yes? :)Delete
Very interesting, Pam! Thanks for sharing your lovely poem and this historical detail!ReplyDelete
Janet, so glad you stopped by. I can picture a bunch of tear catchers showing up in novels in the near future. Editors will be saying, "What brought this on?" ha!Delete
This was fascinating, Pam. Loved the history behind the tear catchers. Never heard of them either.ReplyDelete
Thanks for stopping by, Kathryn. The idea certainly caught my attention as well! :)Delete
Love this post! Thanks for sharing the information. My husband always tells me my tears won't fit into a bottle, I probably have a Lake Cynthia in Heaven : ) I cry easily, Hallmark commercials get me every time.ReplyDelete