The topics of death and mourning in the 19th century are featured during Hearthside House Museum’s annual exhibit, Gone But Not Forgotten, when this majestic stone mansion gets draped in black and the whole house replicates the experience a family went through when a loved one passed away. There are four dates for viewing the exhibit: October 14, 20, 27, and 28.
Five owners of Hearthside died at their home over the past 200 years. This exhibit showcases the farewell to a former Hearthside owner, Simon E. Thornton, who died on May 2, 1873.
Victorian American mourning and funerary traditions and practices are explored in this extensive exhibit and re-creation of Mr. Thornton’s wake, which includes displays throughout the house and attic. As the somber funeral music plays in the background, volunteer docents dressed in mourning attire explain the rituals a family would undertake upon a loved one’s passing. The mirrors are covered in black, and the sweet smell of flowers pervade the waking room. The undertaker has come to set up in the master bedroom to prepare the body for its final resting place. A photographer has been hired to capture one last image of the deceased. Special stationery and memorials have been created to notify friends and relatives and to memorialize the deceased. Funeral biscuits are wrapped and sealed with black wax, ready to give to those who come to pay their respects.
During the Victorian era, superstitions were prevalent with just about every aspect of life, as well as death. Visitors learn about the various superstitions surrounding death, the elaborate mourning practices, and funerals as they make their journey through the house. The topics of 119th-century spiritualism, belief in vampires, and fear of being buried alive are also covered. Post-mortem photographs and even some which appear to show a few spirits are displayed.
Also on display during this unusual exhibit are antique coffins, a collection of various Victorian mourning dresses, bonnets, veils, and other accessories, mourning jewelry made of jet and woven human hair, funeral receipts from local families, and 19th century embalming tools. The undertaker’s journal in which Mr. Thornton’s death was recorded and the actual embalming table that his body was prepared on is on display in the spot in the bedroom where he died in 1873.
“This is a well-researched, extensive exhibit about how families dealt with loss during the late 19th century, all presented by docents in their black mourning attire so it really is impactful,” states Kathy Hartley, President of the Museum.
The exhibit opens on Sunday, October 14th and closes on Sunday, October 28th, at which a mock funeral service is recreated according to 1870s practices. Other openings include Saturday, October 20th and Saturday, October 27th.
Space is limited for each tour which last up to 90 minutes. Reservations are advised and can be made by calling (401) 726-0597 or emailing email@example.com.
Saturday tours begin every half hour between 5:00 - 7:00 PM. Sunday tours begin every half hour between 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. except for October 28th, when the last guided tour will take place at 2:00 p.m. due to the funeral service scheduled for 3:15 p.m.
All proceeds benefit the restoration efforts of this historic landmark by the all-volunteer organization, Friends of Hearthside.