The Long Way Home

Memento Mori
November 2, 2011, 6:40 AM
Filed under: Vintage Photo Album | Tags: , ,

funeral home advertisement, 1920s

If death is just a natural part of life, then why are we so afraid to talk about it? Jeff and my interest in pre-1930s American mourning culture may stem from our own fears of death. I used to get panic attacks thinking of my mortality, and now, through reading about funeral practices, and my own grieving, I am learning to accept the inevitable. Part of the fascination, too, is the “ordinary” treatment of death, to the point of  kitsch, like the advertisement above for Wilfred F. Reeves Funeral Home. The little girl appears sweet, if somewhat sinister, in representing the “# 1” funeral home where “distance is not too great for our services.” The funeral business was a bustling industry for photographers producing cabinet cards and portraits of the dearly departed, for the bereaved to save their tears in glass vials to pour over the graves of a loved one on the first anniversary of his or her death. It was disrespectful to avoid public displays of grief, unlike today, where there is pressure to keep grief a private matter.

19th Century Art of Mourning – Online museum of Victorian mourning culture and practice.

Teardrop Memories – Antique store with an exhaustive collection of mourning jewelry, windows’ weeds, coffins, skulls, grave markers and post-mortem photography.

german mourning RPPC, 1911


cabinet card of funeral flower arrangements, 1896


Memento Mori
November 2, 2010, 7:08 AM
Filed under: Vintage Photo Album | Tags: , ,

During the 1800s, it was common practice for families to have pictures taken of their dearly departed. This may seem gruesome to us today, but back in a time when the mortality rate was high, especially among children, a photo was one way the family could keep the memory of a loved one. I am fascinated with the history of post-mortem photography ever since I first read about the practice, and have acquired a few photographs for our vintage photography collection. The more I learn about each photo I study, the less freaked out I am about this part of photographic history and my mortality.

The Art of Mourning has detailed information on vintage funeral ephemera, such as mourning cards, as well as hair jewelry — another way the Victorians kept mementos of the dead.

The Burns Archive is a great place to search for historic medical, post-mortem and crime photography. Read this Morbid Anatomy post about the latest memento mori exhibit in NYC.

The Thanatos collection has hundreds of post-mortem photos in their archives, some available to view online.

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep is an organization dedicated to the healing powers of post-mortem photography.

Russian funeral, early 1900s

at rest, early 1900s

mourning cards

%d bloggers like this: