Weird Wednesday: An Exploration of Our Quirky World

Strange Traditions and Practices of the Victorians

We are delighted to welcome you to “Weird Wednesday,” a joint series, partnered with our friends at before the second sleep, that explores the quirky side of our universe.

We live in an extraordinary quirky world that often times we forget to pause in our busy lives to notice. During these times many cannot venture outside-another great reason to pick up a book-so we are bringing our explorations to you. Today, I’m exploring a bit about the strange traditions, and practices of the Victorians.

(Image courtesy of Wikimedia)

During the Victorian era, how a person died was important to them. Especially one’s last words on this earth. Those words were thought to be believed because they were about to meet their maker. A “truth-detector” of the heart-if you will. This was a lesson for the living and for the love one’s gathered around the death bed. Afterall, why would the dying bear false witness? Those last moments were critical for the persons spiritual state. Still applies today, really.

It was important for the dying to be surrounded by their love ones in the last moments of their life. Imagine a soldier dying on the battle fields without that opportunity. How alone and scared they must have felt.  Many of the soldiers during the American Civil War were young boys crying out to their mothers.

In general, Victorians had a high mortality rate. Not only due to war but the spread of disease, living in poor conditions and lack of proper hygiene and sanitation, one might say. Also, arsenic and white lead were used in many Victorian papers as dyes which lead to widespread health issues for the workers in the industry and possibly for people in the homes.

(Image courtesy of Wikimedia)

One of the remaining artifacts from Victorians is photographs of their dead. It may sound morbid to us in today’s society but it brought their love ones’ comfort and it gave them a sense of closeness to their deceased love ones. During the first half of the 19th century, photography was a new medium, and it was an exciting way to capture life’s moments. Alas, many did not have immediate access to photography or the money, so they had to make it count. Usually during that time, only people with means could afford such luxury. I can’t imagine the task of staging a deceased person’s body for such an event of taking a photo. Especially because child mortality rates were so high during the Victorian age. This led to the practice of post-mortem photography and I’ve come across a lot of this subject. Though sad, and at times seen as morbid, these photos were the only way to record a love one’s existence. However, I hear it was easier because in those times, a person had to remain very still due to the slow shutter speed of the cameras.

Did you know that the Victorians also made “death mask” to remember the dead? They took death very seriously if they wanted to be surrounded by such mementos. According to the 19th-century collector Laurence Hutton, a death mask “must, of necessity, be absolutely true to nature.” The Victorians were not the first to use this practice of remembering people. Ancient civilizations made mask as well. The Egyptian masks are a prime example.

(Image courtesy of Wikimedia)

I don’t think I will go into how the Victorians made their mask, at the moment. My stomach can’t take it. Let’s take a quick look at other strange-like practices the Victorians did. You’ll notice that many of them are still done in today’s world.

One of my favorite things to do living in the South is to tour Victorian Homes, Plantations and Halls. I’ve learned about so much history and how people lived, through this experience. One of the things I’ve noticed is that you’ll see picture frames with hair. The hair is often arranged in a wreath style manner. The first time I ever saw one, I was intrigued and wanted to find out more about this practice. This was another way to commemorate the deceased. Women would also keep clippings of their friend’s hair in scrapbooks and men would wear “watch fobs” made of their wives’ hair. Victorians made all sorts of decorative pieces often from their love ones.

Other examples:

Hats made from taxidermied birds and other animals.

Obsession with stuffing animals.

Hosting mummy unwrapping parties. Okay…

Made and sent strange Christmas cards. (Check out Pinterest for card images)

Body Snatching-In the name of science? This practice became so wide spread that relatives would watch over the graves of the recently deceased.

And so on…

Thank you for exploring this interesting time in history with me!

Stephanie Hopkins

Other Weird Wednesday Posts:  

Weird Wednesday: An Exploration of Our Quirky World

Weird Wednesday: Butterflies

Weird Wednesday: Facts of Daily Life in the 19th-Century England.

And check out Lisl’s  WW at before the Second Sleep!

Sources:

This republic of Suffering (Death and the American Civil War) by Drew Gilpin Faust

Category:Post-mortem photography

and other independent research…

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