Bring it back: Ghost Nannies

by Chelsea Hughes

Yeesh, things certainly have become rather serious on The Ruminator.  Other writers have been talking about racism, sexism, anxiety disorders, and techno-annoyance (of this and this).  It’s enough to cramp your furrowed brows.

While I’d like to bring a bit of levity to the blog, I feel compelled to keep things serious.  So for this week’s Bring it back installment, I will focus on Ghost Nannies.

If you’re asking yourself, “What the hell is a ghost nanny?” then you should also be asking yourself “Why am I so ignorant about NZ history?”.

Ghost nannies aren’t like regular nannies.  First of all, they’re dead.  Second of all, they don’t do anything a normal nanny would do except for one very important thing: they protect children who have been precariously positioned atop something very dangerous by their careless parents.  It’s a little known fact* that the movie Ghost Dad is directly inspired by historical photographs of ghost nannies.

*I made that up.

Here’s proof these wonderful, helpful dead old ladies actually existed:

Exhibit A

This is the classic pedestal position.  A careless parent has plopped her beautiful child on a tower of death, only to be rescued by a dead Mrs. Doubtfire.  The child is clearly not impressed.  Talk about furrowed brows!  You’ll notice the caption says this is a photo of the ‘Brooking baby, supported by mother’.  That is obviously wrong.  There is no way that’s the mother hiding behind a curtain.  The only logical explanation is that it’s a ghost nanny.

Brooking baby, supported by mother

Brooking baby, supported by mother. Harding, William James, 1826-1899 :Negatives of Wanganui district. Ref: 1/4-008223-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23078503

Exhibit B

This is a baby of the Quinn family.  He is precariously perched on the armrest of a couch.  In yonder times, couches were option du jour for parents keen to teeter their young.  The child wears a general look of confusion which looks eerily similar to the one on your face right now as you question why on earth someone would do this to their child.  And oh yeah, there’s a ghost nanny there holding him up.

Baby of the Quinn family

Baby of the Quinn family. Harding, William James, 1826-1899 :Negatives of Wanganui district. Ref: 1/4-005107-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22695362

Exhibit C

Even children who looked like George Washington needed ghost nannies. No baby is entirely self-reliant, no matter who their doppelganger is.  See how popular those couches are?  I have to say, as a mother to a 2 1/2 year old, I have never once thought, “Let’s balance our child on the edge of a couch and pray she can hold her gigantic head up long enough to take the most perfect photo ever in the history of the world”.  It’s never happened.  What HAS actually happened is this.

Baby of the Dunn family

Baby of the Dunn family. Harding, William James, 1826-1899 :Negatives of Wanganui district. Ref: 1/4-005147-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23093165

Exhibit D

While this kid’s parents were more concerned with getting the perfect picture, his ghost nanny was making sure he didn’t crack his head open.

James Taylor famously sang “When you’re down and troubled, and you need a helping hand … blahblah .. you’ve got a friend [ghost nanny]”.

Baby of the Jamieson family

Baby of the Jamieson family. Harding, William James, 1826-1899 :Negatives of Wanganui district. Ref: 1/4-005110-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23102233

Exhibit E

This is one of the only known photographs that clearly shows the face of a ghost nanny.  Like regular ghosts, ghost nannies can make themselves seen by the living, but it is generally discouraged.  Obviously this ghost nanny did not read The Handbook for the Recently Deceased.

John Hair's baby

John Hair’s baby. Harding, William James, 1826-1899 :Negatives of Wanganui district. Ref: 1/4-008305-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22778809

Exhibit F

The caption tells us this is James Hair’s baby.  Well, James Hair’s baby, you have every right to look a little bit creeped out.  Your ghost nanny has no face.

James Hair's baby

James Hair’s baby. Harding, William James, 1826-1899 :Negatives of Wanganui district. Ref: 1/4-008218-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22372026

Exhibit G

In the olden olden days (before the olden days when there were ghost nannies), there were no ghost nannies.  Kids were forced to balance themselves on poorly constructed wooden tripod-chair-thingies.  This young child looks hopeful but sure could use the help of a ghost nanny.  Note: ghost nannies weren’t invented until the late 1800s.

Studio portrait of unidentified child sitting on a carved wooden chair, probably Christchurch district, child is wearing a dress

Studio portrait of unidentified child sitting on a carved wooden chair, probably Christchurch district, child is wearing a dress. Maclay, Adam Henry Pearson, 1873-1955 :Negatives. Ref: 1/2-118292-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/29943341

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The Ruminator :: Bring It Back: Useful Dogs August 9, 2013 - 9:23 am

[…] tiny chairs were invented in the late 1970s, parents relied on dogs and ghost nannies to hold their children upright. For those who couldn’t afford a ghost nanny, dogs became the […]

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