Skip to comments.Haunting photographs of the dead taken in Victorian age shows fad for relatives posing alongside....
Posted on 10/09/2013 6:29:42 AM PDT by C19fan
Lined up for a family photo these Victorian children look miserable as they stare sternly at the camera. But their grim expressions may be understandable after it becomes clear they are posing for a macabre photo with their dead younger sibling who is laid out on a chair. These remarkable pictures show the morbid way that the deceased were remembered in the late 19th century.
(Excerpt) Read more at dailymail.co.uk ...
When I was young I had relatives of my Great grandfather’s generation who would take pictures of the dead laid out at the funeral home. I never understood why they would want that picture but the older people never questioned it.
I saw a television show called “1900 House” in which a family lived in a row house in England under the exact conditions a family would have in 1900.
The most interesting takeway for me was the vat of boiling water they used to wash clothes and the quoted stat that in 1900 approximately 10,000 children in London died from burns suffered by falling into them.
“Life’ll kill ya.” - Warren Zevon
A Ping for vaccine mention.
A woman I used to work with got a lot of grief from her family when she had her dead brother photoshopped into a recent family photo.
People are kinda weird about death. By “people”, I mean all of us. My take, basically, is that they are great for the garden*.
*See what I mean? ;-)
I immediately thought of the movie “The Others.”
I once worked with a woman who took a photo of someone’s father at his funeral (viewing). This was about 25 years ago. I had never heard of such a thing in the modern era and was totally repulsed. Not sure if the family asked her to or if she did it on her own. She was a little... unusual anyway.
Thanks to youtube, you can see this custom is still practiced, updated with modern technology. I’m not sure why I always end up on the “dark side” of youtube, but I have seen entire montages of scenes where family members pose with dead babies. Usually, these are entitled “In memory of ___” or “We will miss you, ___.”
I actually watched one of these all the way through. It was rather morbid, to say the least.
My own mother ordered me not to take a photo of my sleeping baby with flowers in the background because it would look like one of these memorial photos.
These days many hospitals encourage mothers of stillborns to hold their baby and the staff often take photos, in case it would help the mother process her grief.
I wonder if it might simply be that, due to cost or other factors, many people had never had a photo taken of or with the deceased (certainly in the case of the infants this would be likely), so they took this as their last opportunity to capture an image of the departed.
As pointed out at the original site, often there were no pictures that had been made of the deceased in life. Photographs were expensive then and home photography had not yet come about.
It is not macabre that the grieving family would want a photograph to remember their loved one by, or that they would want it to look lifelike.
Death is as much a part of life as life itself, everyone goes through the process. Words like grim, macabre, morbid, haunting attempt to make death something other than a passage to the next LIFE or the continuation of life. Pleasant memories of the departed brought to life by a picture? Don’t really see wrong or bad associated with the desire to remember those who have passed to a life we will all graduate to.
I have a friend who gave birth to a child with anencephaly. The child died that day in the hospital, but the family took MANY photos in the short time the baby lived, had footprints and handprints made, THEN had some portraiture done after the baby passed. My friend is so glad she had all this done, it is very difficult when you know your child won’t live long. I suppose to those of us who haven’t gone through it, it seems macabre.
You hit the money right on the head (pun intended) and though the article implies this by saying the practice died out after cameras were built which could take “snapshots,” I wonder why they didn’t mention the obvious. Photos in those days were VERY expensive for the average person.
I wonder if it might simply be that, due to cost or other factors, many people had never had a photo taken of or with the deceased (certainly in the case of the infants this would be likely), so they took this as their last opportunity to capture an image of the departed.Yes, I think you're probably right. And I don't find the images haunting; most are tastefully/lovingly done.
Wow they are just beautiful. Those children to me are not dead but asleep just like Jesus said. Looking at the photos reminds me that they are now God’s little angels. There is nothing morbid about taking a photo of a dead person.
When my mother passed away someone took pictures of my mother in her coffin and Thank God for that. That is the last image I will see of her on this Earth. As with my father I did the same, I took photos of him in his coffin. Their last image of them on Earth before they are buried under feet of dirt never to be seen.
The funeral taker stated to me and my brother that when father arrived they were surprised to see how he looked so serene and looked as if was sleeping not “dead”.
The young man was shocked to say the least and quickly removed them off the wall of his bedroom.
I'm one that hates going to funerals and prefer to remember the loved-one as they were alive (just like most people). We all have plenty of photos to help us remember. Back in those days there were no photos like there are today.
Wow! as I type this something had just come to me.
My dad's brother died in the early 1970s. My dad was dumb-founded to see one of the nephews snapping a photo of his dad in the casket. My dad thought that was somewhat morbid.
That branch of the family lived in another state so we never really knew the family as well as we would have if they had lived in the same city. I recently found my cousins on Facebook and became friends. Never mentioned to them the taking of the photo of their dad in the casket but did learn that their father hated to have his photo taken so there no photos of him. Now I'm putting two and two together. They must have snapped that photo for the same reason these old photos were taken. To remember what their dad looked like.
In a way, it makes sense.
Early photography was very slow.. exposure times lasted minutes.
Naturally you would want a subject that could keep still.
I see nothing wrong with this. It was a different time, and with the advent of crude photography, this was the best they could do to remember their loved ones, and their interconnectedness with them.
Big cholera outbreak in London in the 1850’s - entire families wiped out overnight.
“Most photos of people from the 1800s seemed to show ‘stern’ subjects.”
Two years ago I “stayed” at an old church in Minneapolis during a youth mission trip. They had all the old church photos up on the wall. One was of a women’s group, it appeared to date from around 1890-1900. All of the women had that “stern” expression. Two of them looked absolutely demented. And then I remembered that most of these women probably had nine kids running around their house.
Personally, I would not want to see the baby if it was still-born, or after it passed if it died soon after birth. I would rather keep my memories of the living, even if the only time I shared in that life was while it resided in my womb.
I do not want to see dead family members. We had a closed casket funeral for my grandma for precisely that reason. My memories are of my living grandmother, not of a lifeless body.
I wonder how many weren't accidental?
I asked my grandfather many years ago why people looked so stern in olden days. He said the photos weren’t snapped in an instant. You had to sit very still for quite a while. It was too hard to “hold” a smile.
My grandmother loved to tell the story (guessing 1910’s) of the funeral of her uncle. The family all gathered around for a picture with uncle in the casket. They had to keep propping the casket up higher to get him in the shot until he tumbled out onto the floor. To her, in her old age, it was really funny but not when it happened.
One interesting thing. To me anyway. With the exception of a couple of the photographs the subjects look “healthy”, other than being dead of course. Looked like they died quickly. I would think the children and infants would look more wasted away.
A big reason for the stern faces, which people often don’t think of, is the state of dentistry at the time. You don’t give a big wide smile in an expensive, once-a-decade photograph if you don’t have a full set of pearly whites.
The underlying reason for this was the tuberculosis epidemic, which traumatized much of Europe, though was less pronounced in the US.
Generally called Consumption, phthisis, scrofula, Pott’s disease, and the White Plague, tuberculosis was peculiar because it behaved so differently from most other diseases.
Its closest commonly known relative is leprosy. Unlike other bacteria, that reproduce on average about each half hour, they reproduce slowly, only once or twice a day. Even today, this means that treatment for those diseases can last from six months (for just infection that is not active) to years.
In any event, tuberculosis terrified people for several reasons. First because it could kill quickly, with very few obvious symptoms, or it could drag on for years or decades. A person could be infected yet not show symptoms for years, either.
Second, it could attack any organ in body, with very different results. When it hit the brain, a person could become wildly creative (which resulted in some calling it “the artists disease”), or they could become hyper-sexual, or they could become demented or insane.
Often people became very pale and gaunt as their body wasted away, which was actually adopted as a fashion, “the Victorian look”. Many had their spinal cords damaged by the disease, forcing them to use wheelchairs.
What we think of today as morbid and Gothic fashion sense was because of the fascination with death and dying and fatalism found at that time. The horror genre became very popular, with themes such as premature burial. Many novels would have characters suddenly vanish from the plot because they just up and died.
At the end of the 19th Century and in the first part of the 20th Century, effective treatments were finally developed. Then with the development of antibiotics the disease was almost eradicated in the US. The last tuberculosis sanitariums were finally closed in the 1960s, having run out of patients. They were distinguishable by their smokestacks, since they always burned their mattresses and linens.
Unfortunately, tuberculosis is coming back. At first, the disease developed drug resistance to some of the more common antibiotics. So it is identified as DR-TB.
The real problem began with multiple drug resistant, or MDR-TB. Because people with MDR-TB were given ordinary antibiotics to treat it, it would progress further before effective treatment, and in some cases it was too late, so the mortality rate increased.
Even worse is extensively drug resistant XDR-TB, which if you catch it, you must be quarantined, and you have at least a 50% chance of death. In the United States, 63 cases of XDR TB have been reported between 1993 and 2011.
There has now been two reports of totally drug resistant TDR-TB outbreaks, but they were so fast and lethal that everyone infected has died, stopping the disease from spreading.
Importantly, each of these varieties of TB coexist, so the vast majority of infections are not drug resistant.
TB is second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest killer worldwide due to a single infectious agent. In 2011, 8.7 million people fell ill with TB and 1.4 million died from TB. Over 95% of TB deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, and it is among the top three causes of death for women aged 15 to 44.
TB is a leading killer of people living with HIV causing one quarter of all deaths. Multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) is present in virtually all countries.
They also made “hair remembrances”. They would weave the deceased’s hair into the shape of a ring to wear or make “flowers” out of it to hang on a wall.
In the second photo..which one is the departed? Not sure.
Sounds very high to me.
BTW, boiling (cotton) clothes is still an excellent way to get out certain types of stains. I've saved quite a number of dress shirts this way.
Haven't tried it, but I suspect a pressure cooker would be even more effective.
I lost my best friend in 09 - he was 39 - Im 52 - little brother I never had - His parents were destroyed with grief, their only comfort being their Faith, and that of their son.
I ministered for a number of years, and always took ghost stories with a grain of salt....but not long after his passing I had a dream in which I was sobbing while speaking to him. Now, to know him - you knew his inflections and demeanor and you could tell when he was up or down. In the dream I told him I was sorry to lose him, and without hesitation, he said "dude, I have no idea what happened".......how many ghosts speak with inflection and humor? - Right then, I knew he was in a good place...
My grandmother had photos of relatives in coffins in the 60’s so I think it was still commonplace at least in the south through the 60’s.
During one week, two of the children died from diphtheria. Another once deadly disease, now largely eradicated by vaccines.
They lived in Vermillion, South Dakota.
In some cases, these might’ve been the only opportunity for these families to immortalize their loved ones...
It’s clear it was all done out of love... Good God, that must have been difficult...
There is a book called Wisconsin Death Trip that contains many photos like these.
My first thought too was that they’re with Jesus in heaven at least. I don’t know what the magical cutoff age is when a person is old enough to make a conscience decision, but I’m sure those little ones are with Jesus. That being said, it’s still heartbreaking to see them.
Some today would view the practice as gruesome, but I can understand it:
Yeah, this stuff is all over YouTube. It is fascinating - and sad to think of some many young dead. Makes you grateful for penicillin.
There are examples of photos of deceased persons with the eyes painted open (on the negative) for remembrance purposes.
they both look like dead guys walking to me
Gee. Some of them looked like Democrat voters.
In early modern Europe ... the 1500s or so ... family portraits would include deceased children in their shrouds along with the living family members. Babies who had died within the first days would be in the swaddling bands that were wrapped immediately after birth.
Death is just a materialist obfuscation.
Novels written in the 18th and 19th centuries are pervaded by the fear or the experience of tuberculosis. Historical novels written in the anti-biotics era, no matter how well-researched otherwise, rarely mention it.
It’s amazing how the reaction of people to the tragic, irretrievable loss of a child is only something to be critiqued, eh? Reminds me of the obnoxious sign in the local museum, in a room containing a sort-of reproduction of the first museum — “what do these exhibits tell us about the people of that time?”
That is a great idea for a reality show, and *this* is a sentence I’d never expected to utter or type. :’o
It would be even better to have a show taking the same family to a different time period each week — just hearing (obviously not watching) their reaction to the bathroom (which were only found in the homes of the rich) would be great.
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