Queen Victoria mourned her beloved Prince Albert for 40 years after his 1861 death. Her era became known for an elaborate series of rituals associated with the death of loved ones. Clothing, jewelry, interior decoration, and artistic imagery were all affected. This fall the Pettingill-Morron House becomes the setting for a Victorian funeral, with re-enactors helping provide greater understanding of Victorian mourning traditions.
“We’re building on the program we had last year,” said DeAnn Ruggles, site manager for Pettengill-Morron House. “We want to do it one more time, so more people can attend. We’ve added Friday night, October 25, from 6 to 8 p.m. We’ll also host visitors from 6 to 8 p.m., October 26, and from 2 to 4 p.m., October 27.” Admission is $4 for adults and $2 for children.
The funeral commemorates a Civil War soldier whose casket remains closed in the parlor where his soldier friends and family gather. His widow is beginning a one-year period of close or deep mourning. She’ll be expected to dress entirely in black, with no jewelry or trimmings, and cut off social activity. After two years she can wear gold, glass or pearl jewelry, polished cotton fabric rather than crepe, and possibly deep purple garments. She’ll be able to accept social invitations, but must take care not to show too much enjoyment.
A fourth stage—known as light mourning—allows for gray, lavender, or mauve outfits with white trim. She can add more jewelry and return social calls.
The death of a parent or a child involved shorter mourning periods. The death of a wife required only a three-month mourning for the widower, who could wear a black armband or hatband in lieu of a black suit.
In various rooms of the house, visitors will see such items as mourning jewelry, including pieces made from hair, a display of photos taken at wakes, and images of mourning including weeping willows, lambs, lions, and lilies. Several items from the Flanagan House collection, including an elaborate wreath made of human hair, hair necklaces, and some funerary prints will be displayed.
In some museums you’ll even see death masks—a plaster cast of the face of the departed. Gangster John Dillinger, who died in 1934, was the subject for several. Beethoven, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Abraham Lincoln were also commemorated in this way.
Mourning traditions and funeral customs continue to change. In the last century, the wake and visitation moved from the front parlor to a funeral home. Although teammates or classmates wear black armbands following the death of a colleague, you rarely see them elsewhere. Memorials rise where lives have been lost, whether near a tunnel in Paris for Princess Diana, Strawberry Fields in New York’s Central Park for John Lennon, or on a street corner on Peoria’s East Bluff for a young child. New York City’s Ground Zero continues to evoke strong opinions on the type of permanent memorial to be erected. Religious beliefs strongly influence the services. The ways family and friends express grief, comfort the living, and honor the dead vary around the world.
At the Pettingill-Morron House, mirrors will be covered and clocks stopped, following the custom of Victorian days. Floral bouquets were even more important in the times before embalming. “Our goal is to enlighten people on this aspect of history,” Ruggles said, noting Springfield has a Museum of Funeral Customs that loaned some of the items. “We invite people to come pay their respects.” AA!