Some mourning rituals are different in modern times

Posted: Oct. 20, 2011 8:56 am Updated: Oct. 15, 2014 10:15 am


To The Herald-Whig:

I certainly enjoyed the kickoff celebration of the Quincy Public Library's latest Big Read program, and Lenny Bart, who played Edgar Allan Poe reminiscing about his long ago funeral, was a pure delight. The only other similar incident that presently comes to mind is that of Tom and Huck appearing at their own funeral in Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer."

I also enjoyed my tour of the John Wood Mansion on that mild, sunny Thursday in early October. While gazing with rapt attention at a replica of Edgar Allan Poe lying in his coffin, a young man close by handed me a sheet of paper with an interesting account of Victorian mourning rituals.

Although obviously I'm not ancient enough to remember the Victorian Age, I do recall that many of the routine funeral rituals during my childhood years were quite different from what they are today.

When my grandmother Alice Sullivan died in 1932, funeral services in my hometown of Mobile, Ala., were often conducted in the house where the deceased lived. Once an old lady in my neighborhood died at home and I can still recall the black crepe wreath on the front door which indicated that someone in the house was dead.

My grandmother also died at home and her body never left her residence until the day of her funeral. She was embalmed by a local undertaker in her bathroom, and a morning visitation was held in her front parlor before she was taken to Mobile's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for a requiem Mass.

Moreover, for several nights before the funeral, my grandmother's brother, Johnny Graham sat by the coffin after everyone else had gone to bed. This quaint custom of keeping watch over a dead person's body until the day of the funeral is an ancient one, but it was still current during the early years of the Great Depression.

For a year after my grandmother's death, my mother and aunt wore mourning apparel, which included black coats, dresses, hats, shoes and gloves. Although black arm bands for men were also commonplace, I can't recall my mother's two brothers ever wore any.

However, I do remember that when Franklin D. Roosevelt's mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, died in the early 1940s, for a number of months afterwards the president, then close to 60 and serving his third term in the White House, wore the traditional arm band signifying mourning.

These mourning rituals were still ubiquitous in my childhood, but have long been discarded in the bustling, ever changing world of the 21st century.


Joe Dacovich



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