In rural communities, funeral and burial arrangements were almost “exclusively a family affair” (Mitford, 199). With the announcement of a death, friends and relatives immediately arrived to help the bereaved family with the funeral and burial arrangements. Women generally carried out the last preparations for the dead. Depending on the weather, large blocks of ice would be placed underneath and around body to help preserve the corpse a little longer. After the body was prepared, the family moved it into the parlor for the viewing, the majority of the time, without a coffin. Friends, family, and neighbors then paid their last respects to the deceased. (Habenstein, 395.)Read more
As the arrangements for the body proceeded, someone informed the furniture maker or cabinetmaker about the death. Responsible for providing the coffin, the traditional wedge-shaped container, the cabinetmaker either pulled from his limited ready-made stock, or constructed one. Once the cabinetmaker obtained or made the coffin, he delivered it to the house on the day of the funeral. There, he positioned and arranged the corpse under the direction of clergy for the service (Farrell, 147).
Taking place either in the home or in the church, the funeral ceremony lasted approximately an hour. Afterwards, the mourners viewed the body one last time in the “open air” or outside. Closing the lid, they then carried or placed the coffin on a wagon for its journey to the graveyard, where the sexton or friends of the bereaved already dug a hole (Farrell, 149). Arriving at the burial ground, the mourners watched as the men lowered the coffin into its final resting place. A short internment prayer would be recited before the covering of the grave. Nobody left the burial site until the coffin was completely covered (Mitford, 199).
Unlike their rural counterparts, who began funeral and burial arrangements almost immediately, people in the city summoned a funeral director to commence the preparations. On his first initial visit, the funeral director met with the men of the family to plan the funeral. These initial plans included death notices, telegrams, and a simple obituary. All decisions were based upon the timing of the burial. Based on this, the funeral director determined the preservative actions: embalming or “corpse preserver. (Habenstein, 394-395.)Read more
Used during the Civil War for soldiers, embalming gradually entered into mainstream burial practices. People originally considered embalming sacrilegious and feared that it damaged the body. If the family elected embalming, a relative might watch the process to ensure that the remains were not mutilated. Once the family member realized the non-invasive nature of the procedure, he either left or continued watching out of curiosity. For the “corpse preserver” method, the funeral director placed the body in an ice cooler. Prices varied little between the two methods. Initially, embalming cost slightly more, but with time, it became reasonably priced. Only during summer months did the “corpse preserver” become more expensive (Habenstein, 394-396).
After preparing the body, the director met with the family to finalize the funeral arrangements. This involved selecting a casket. Unlike rural areas, cities had a larger selection. Families choose from a catalogue, the directors’ in-shop collection, or a casket manufacturer’s collection. Casket manufacturers started appearing around 1875 and began offering customers a range of caskets in various styles, compositions, and prices (Habenstein, 400-401).
Once a casket arrived at its destination, families preceded with the funeral. Like rural areas, funerals in the city took place either in the home or at a church. The funeral director supervised the ceremony, ensuring that the funeral ran smoothly and with as few complications as possible for the family. If a funeral director’s business was successful, he hired assistants and hearse drivers to help with the ceremony (Habenstein, 404-405).
Following the funeral service, the funeral director arranged a funeral cortege, or funeral procession. While the body was placed in a hearse, the family and friends were arranged in carriages. A typical procession used the following line-up: clergymen, flower carriages, honorary pallbearers, active pallbearers, hearse, immediate family, relatives, and finally, friends. If the deceased belonged to an organization, the organization walked ahead of the entire procession. (Habenstein, 406, 408-411).
Decorated with black plumes, the hearse was the most noticeable carriage of the entire procession. In the late nineteenth century, plumes had a huge connotation in a funeral because they notified people of the deceased’s status by the number of plumes present:
Emblems and deck ornaments eventually replaced plumes, and by the early 1900’s, the hearse’s top went undecorated. If the deceased was a child, the funeral director provided a simple white miniature hearse drawn by one horse. (Habenstein, 410-411).
Once at the cemetery, the funeral director guided the pallbearers in placing the casket over the grave. After the casket was positioned, he signaled the preacher to begin the burial services. As the clergyman said, “Earth to earth . . . ,” the funeral director or the preacher sprinkled dirt over the casket. The pallbearers then lowered the casket, under the supervision of the funeral director, into the ground. The filling of the grave almost always happened after the family left (Habenstein, 411).
In 1831, the “rural” or “garden” cemetery movement swept across the nation. Replacing simple cemeteries, garden cemeteries prided themselves in their spectacular landscapes of winding paths, serene ponds, and lavish plants. Scattered amongst this picturesque scenery were soaring monuments, towering obelisks, glorious mausoleums, and elaborately decorated tombstones. The inspirational movement for the rural cemetery was the creation of Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Jackson, 18).Read more
Inspired by the Pére Lachaise cemetery in Paris, Mount Auburn sought to create a resort for the living, where they could “indulge in the dreams of hope and ambition or solace their hearts by melancholy meditation,” while visiting the dead (Meyer, 295). Mount Auburn’s founders achieved this objective by combining art and nature that appealed to every age, class, and religion. People were soon visiting the park as a form of recreation. It was not unusual to see people picnicking, taking strolls, or admiring tombstones on a Sunday afternoon or lovers taking a midnight promenades. The cemetery even provided various guidebooks that directed visitors on paths with distinguished landmarks and internments (Meyer, 302-304).
With the appeal of the picturesque scenery and encouragement from society, people flocked in numbers to Mount Auburn and other garden cemeteries. In 1860 alone, Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania counted over 140,000 visitors to their grounds (Gurda, 317.) These numbers continued to grow with the development of public transportation and the lack of public parks. In the summer of 1888, Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, saw the number of visitors on a Sunday climb to 8,000 (Gurda, 41).
To limit the number of visitors to the cemetery, many cemeteries administered tickets for entrance. These tickets were allotted to plot owners and functioned like a membership pass, which allowed them to bring their carriages full of friends and family into the cemetery. Visitors from out-of-town, who had a “respectable” appearance, could obtain these “tickets” from the cemetery office or from local hotels. Banned entirely from cemeteries, were horseback riders unless by special permission. After 1860, Mount Auburn issued a limited number of special passes to well-mannered and distinguished citizens. However, this privilege required an annual fee (Meyer, 318).
Because of the emphasis on being a recreational area, it was almost forgotten that Mount Auburn and other cemeteries interred the dead. The spacious area and lavish settings greatly appealed to the prominent and wealthy. Vying for the most impressive and desired plots, the affluent buried their dead in locations where their monuments stood out among all the others. This competition of markers between the wealthy is easily distinguishable throughout garden cemeteries. In Forest Home Cemetery, remarkable monuments sit upon hilltops that tower over simple headstones. Its “prestigious neighborhoods” for the dead are concentrated in particular sections: 9, 20, 27, 32, 33, 36, 37, and 40. The intersection between sections 36, 37, and 40 is sometimes referred to as “Brewer’s Corners,” since it quarters the deceased of brewing tycoon families of Milwaukee such as Pabst, Schlitz (Uihlein), Blatz (Gurda, 24). Those of modest means were buried in unadorned locations such near fences, stables, or sheds (Jackson, 18-19).
Although lavish monuments may be an indicator of status, it cannot be assumed that only the wealthy owned such monuments. Both the rich and the poor commemorated their loved ones by erecting tombstones. With the emergence of the middle-class, the raising of smaller-scaled monuments resembling the rich elaborate ones, was common. (Gurda, 24).Close
In the nineteenth century America the public followed a “highly ritualized and codified” practice of grief. Historians refer to this period as the “Cult of Memory.” Women in particular had strict guidelines and standards to follow when it came to mourning. Considered the “true vessels of grief,” they faced public disgrace if they did not adhere to these guidelines (DeLorme, 51). From the designs of their garments to the length of mourning time, women followed intricate rules. Many women sought clarification from magazines on proper etiquette and dress. This aided the development of the magazine industry as women demanded more advice (Brett, 86). This was needed as many women spent years mourning the loss of their friends, family and loved ones (Morley, 67).Read more
When a woman lost her husband, she entered into the longest period of mourning. Despite the nature of the marriage or the man, society required her to show respect by entering into a two-year mourning period. The first stage of mourning for a widow was heavy mourning. For the first six months, a widow dressed in garments made of dull black crape or Henrietta cloth covered with crape attached by mourning pins. If a woman could not afford to buy a mourning dress, she dyed an old dress or borrowed one from a friend. These dresses lacked decoration and were completely black. On her head, she wore a crape bonnet with a veil or a white widow’s cap. This veil covered the length of her body. If a woman entered into public, she was required to cover her face with the veil. Yet, it was considered proper etiquette for a widow to remain at home for the first months, if possible. Only receiving visits from close friends and/or family, a widow only left her home to attend church (Bartz, “Victorian Mourning Rituals”).
After the first six months, a widow entered into first mourning or full morning. She exchanged her veil for a lighter one, and a widow’s cap could be left off, if she chose. In this stage, dresses were trimmed with white crape collars and cuffs. Women who wore Henrietta dresses removed the black crape for either grenadine or copeau fringe (Brett, 87).
Once the first year of mourning ended, the widow entered into second mourning of half mourning stage. The widow weeds transitioned twice during this period. The first half of the year, the widow continued to wear the dull black crape, but removed unnecessary heavy crape. Embellishments of white crape around the neck and sleeves and simple jet black adornments were acceptable. The face veil could be removed, and bonnets decorated with ribbon and crape. After the first six months, a woman exchanged her widow’s weeds for less somber clothing. Donned in purple, mauve, and grey garments and without the decoration of crape, a widow slowly reentered into her social life. It was expected that a widow delay her reentrance for a few days after the anniversary of her husband’s death to resume social activities (DeLorme, 53).
Besides mourning the loss of her husband, a woman mourned the deaths of other relatives. Each relation had a designated mourning period: one year for a parent, nine months to a year for a child, six months to a year for a sibling, and six months for other relatives including spousal relations. Despite the relationship, a woman was not supposed to mourn another person longer than she mourned the death of her husband. Each death also had specific mourning dress. If a woman’s parent died, she wore garments made of Henrietta material trimmed with crape and black tulle on the collar and cuffs. For the latter part of the period, she exchanged the black for white tulle. In the beginning of this mourning duration, she wore a bonnet with a veil, but did not cover her face with it (Brett 86-87).
Although a woman mourned the loss of her child and her parents for equal time periods, she was urged to shed her mourning garments as soon as possible because her husband needed “a more cheerful matriarch for his remaining children and a brighter partner for himself.” Therefore, she only donned black crape for three months and then shift into second mourning fashions (Brett, 86).
Even with a happy celebration, such as marriage, a woman was required to don her mourning garments. On rare occasions when a woman remarried during the mourning of her first husband, she wore bridal attire either in muted colors or in grey. After the wedding, she resumed her mourning for her first husband. For the death of a parent, a woman followed the same guidelines. A woman in mourning attending a wedding avoided the wedding couple because it was considered bad luck if the couple saw a grieving individual (Brett, 100).
Women were not the only ones who donned mourning clothing. Men and children, even servants, dressed in bereavement attire. However, men were not as restricted in bereavement guidelines. Men’s attire was relatively simple compared to the women’s intricate fashion. Wearing their finest black suits, men relinquished any coloring in their attire and wore a visible crape band around the hat. They also could wear mourning silks, cufflinks and ties. The crape band’s width on the hat signified the relationship to the deceased; the wider the band, the closer the relationship (Brett, 86). Another option denoting a man’s mourning status was a crape band placed around the arm of a jacket. Society only approved of this custom, if a man’s daily clothing was an unalterable ensemble such as a uniform.
Unlike women, men only publicly mourned for immediate family for approximately three months to a year. When men lost their spouses, society encouraged them to remarry as soon as possible especially if they had children (Habenstein, 414.). Many men were unprepared to take care of their own children and quickly sought new wives. If a father could not take of his children and did not remarry, he may have sent his children to relatives or placed them in an orphanage (Brett, 87).
While their fathers and mothers mourned differently, children followed unique guidelines. Although not as intricate as theirs mothers or as relaxed as their fathers, they still adhered to required fashion and etiquette. Originally, children’s mourning garments and attire were miniature replicas of adults’ bereavement clothing. Even nurseries were draped in mourning decoration – crib sheets would be laced with black thread (DeLorme, 55.) Not until the late 1800’s did children’s fashion change as society began to recognize children were a culture within itself. Children’s clothing became less restrictive and more comfortable, allowing children to move and play more easily. This influenced children’s mourning dress during the nineteenth century (Taylor, 174).
The age of the child determined the colors he or she would wear. Young infants wore white dresses with either black soutache braids or black ribbons throughout the dress . If an infant’s mother died during childbirth, the child was required to dress in all black for his or her first photograph. Underneath the black outfit, the child was permitted to wear white undergarments as the black dye stained the skin. Older children dressed in white during the summer and grey in the winter. Their outfits trimmed with black adornments such as black ribbons, buttons, belts and pins. ther children, specifically girls of wealthy families, still wore replicas of their parent’s mourning attire (Brett, 87).
In addition to guidelines for mourning fashion, people also followed strict guidelines for mourning correspondence. When communicating through writing, an individual used specific stationary, decorated with black borders, to indicate their mourning status. These borders also signified the author’s phase of mourning by its width; the thicker the band, the deeper the mourning stage. It was also advised that people refrain from using colored crests, perfume and decorative handwriting (Habenstein, 415). Families used this stationary to notify distant relatives and friends of a death.
If not in mourning, a person abided by explicit guidelines for even writing a sympathy letter. Depending on the loss, sympathy letters required specific terminology. Manuals dictated this precise terminology through letter examples.
Another form of communication between mourners and society were calling cards. Edged in black, like stationary, calling cards declared the mourner’s relationship to the deceased; the wider the black edge, the closer in relationship, the thinner the more distant the relationship (Habentein, 415).
As the nineteenth century came to a close, the extravagant mourning rituals gradually diminished. Like faded photographs, the cult of memory became merely a shadowy reflection of the past.Close