Saturday, May 24, 2014

HOW WE MOURN: THE 19TH CENTURY VS. TODAY

While in Richmond, Virginia, a few weeks ago, I visited the Museum of the Confederacy. I found the “woman’s section” of the museum especially fascinating. Many Civil War battles were fought on Virginia soil. The picture below depicts a woman in mourning perhaps for her husband, her father, her son or any number of relatives. The black veil and long black dress are frightening, like death.  

Woman in mourning
exhibit at
Museum of the Confederacy
Richmond, Virginia


Years ago women would wear mourning jewelry—locks of hair, black brooches, dark earrings, etc. Below is an image showing mourning jewelry at the Museum of the Confederacy.

Mourning jewelry
at
The Museum of the Confederacy

In Victorian America, the departed person would often be on view in the family home. (1) Blinds and shutters were closed, and mirrors were covered. (2) I have found newspapers articles about some of my ancestors who had the deceased on display at their home. Generally, that is not the case nowadays. People who have passed away are taken to funeral homes or places of worship. And I rarely see mourners wearing dark clothes for months after their loved one’s departure. I have never seen anyone wearing a hair locket.

For a wonderful description of nineteenth century death practices, see:

Revised Widow’s Weeds and Weeping Veils: Mourning Rituals in 19th Century America” by Bernadette Loeffel-Atkins, 2012.
If you type “Civil War mourning” into ebay.com, you will see dresses, hair lockets, hats, bonnets, vulcanite pendants, black petticoats, capes, ribbons, pins and more. I imagine that reenactors purchase these items.

Although they differ by location and religion, mourning practices today are much different than in the nineteenth century. There are online funeral websites such as Online-Funeral (http://www.online-funeral.com). Many funeral homes also have online viewing of funerals as well as message boards where you can leave condolences.  For example, I learned about the death of one of my doctors a few months after he died. I was able to log onto The Ira Kaufman Chapel’s website (http://www.irakaufman.com/online-funeral-viewing.cfm) and watch the funeral.  Social media is now a fairly accepted way of remembering our loved ones.  For further reading see:

“How We Mourn in the Age of Social Media” by Lia Zneimer, May 6, 2014

“For Funerals Too Far, Mourners Gather on the Web” by Laura M. Holson, January 24, 2011
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/25/fashion/25death.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0





ILLUSTRATION BY:

Dover Publications, Inc., Mineola, New York, Electronic Clip Art, 1268 Old-Time Cuts and Ornaments, 2006.

CITATION SOURCES:

(1) Loefel-Atkins, Bernadete. "Wakes and Funerals." In Revised Widow's Weeds and Weeping Veils. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: Gettysburg Publishing LLC, 2012, p. 6.

(2) Ibid.

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