Saturday, May 3, 2014

Victorian Era Mourning and Death Practices

Queen Victoria, who could never get over her own loss, began a very strict social etiquette for mourning.  The death of a spouse was a minimum of 2 years of mourning. Mourning had staged, as well. The first stage of mourning was one year and one day and the woman had to wear black crepe or black fabric with no sheen. Black was chosen because it lacked life. Just in case the petticoat was seen, the hem of it was to be woven with black ribbons. No detail was missed, even handkerchiefs were trimmed in black. They had caps, veils and bonnets. For one year, the woman was not to leave home without full mourning garb and weeping veil. Many elderly women just remained in the garb the rest of their lives.

(Above- photo closeup from my childhood home, Aspen Grove, 1860s after Civil War and war widow)

The second phase of mourning was 9 months when the women wore drab fabric still, but some fabric trim was allowed, mourning jewelry, and the mourning veil could be lifted back over the head. 

Women then went into half mourning which was about 3 to 6 months with a gradual shift to nicer fabrics again and colors, as well as any jewelry. 

Men had it much easier, wearing a black hat band or black arm band. They could also go out and about as if nothing happened.

Besides the fashions of mourning, there were a great amount of superstitions. People were expected to cover their mirrors.  Cemeteries were turned into shrines and gardens, mausoleums, statues, and lots of expense and drama.  Even the mourning veils were to protect people from spirits attaching.

I covered earlier in the week, the spiritualists' fascination with the dead, death themes, postmortem family photos, and even graveyard emergency bells in case someone is buried still alive.

Memento Mori - remember mortality - it is the practice of photographing the dead or as we call them, postmortem photographs.

They also kept mementos in the form of art made with the hair of the deceased - 

It was a superstitious time - here's just some of the death-related superstitions:

It is bad luck to meet a funeral procession head on. If you see one approaching, turn around. If this is unavoidable, hold on to a button until the funeral cortege passes.
Stop the clock in a death room or you will have bad luck.

If you hear a clap of thunder following a burial it indicates that the soul of the departed has reached heaven.

If you don’t hold your breath while going by a graveyard you will not be buried.

If the deceased has lived a good life, flowers would bloom on his grave; but if he has been evil, only weeds would grow.

If you smell roses when no one is around, someone is going to die.

If you see yourself in a dream, your death will follow.

If a sparrow lands on a piano, someone in the home will die.

If a picture falls off a wall, there will be a death of someone you know.

A single snowdrop growing in the garden foretells death.

Mort safes were placed over graves to keep people from stealing body parts or valuable possessions.

Mary Shelley, author of "Frankenstein," lost her husband in a sailing accident. He was cremated and his aashes were buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome but upon his return to England, Hunt delivered Shelley’s heart home. Mary kept her fallen lover’s ticker in the top drawer of her desk until her death in 1851 upon which the heart was wrapped in an early manuscript of Adona├»s: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats, Author of Endymion, Hyperion, etc. (to give it its full title) and placed in the coffin alongside Mary. Being buried with body parts seems somewhat fitting for the creator of Frankenstein, don’t you think?

As for burying attire - there were rules

Men were dressed in the clothing they wore usually. Women were dressed in white robe and cap. Children were dressed in white cashmere robes. 

Victorian graves were a show of ostentatious love for those who passed on. Many cemeteries were at capacity and sanitation and burial practices were miserable and unethical, but those who could afford it, went over the top with their memorials. 

On the up-side, Victorian Paris had many nightclubs that celebrated death, with food and drinks served atop of coffins, death-related names, some even taking on satanic and dark themes for excitement and thrills.

No matter how you cut it, the Victorian Era was one dark depressing time and they set some standards about grief and mourning, how to treat death and even decorate graves, that last until even today. And, as you can tell, our goth youths are pulling from an era that seriously went to philosophically dark places.

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