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History of Funerals

Couple sitting at table at home, reviewing an itemized statement

Know Your Rights: The FTC Funeral Rule

By Explore Options, History of Funerals

In every industry you can think of – funeral care, telemarketing, advertising, healthcare – the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has set certain protections in place. In other words, every industry must follow specific rules and regulations to protect you – the consumer – from unjust business practices. The question is – what is the FTC Funeral Rule, and what does it mean for you?

What is the Federal Trade Commission?

Photo of Federal Trade Commission Building in Washington, D.C.

Established in 1914 during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, the FTC was tasked with ensuring businesses acted in the public’s best interest. The FTC investigates fraud, false advertising, unlawful activities, and unfair business practices, to name a few of its functions.

In the early 1980s, the FTC created the Funeral Rule to better regulate pricing and practices in the funeral industry. However, the Funeral Rule does not apply to third-party sellers, such as casket and monument dealers or standalone cemeteries.

Each year, the FTC conducts undercover inspections to ensure that funeral homes comply with the Funeral Rule. Since 2012, there have only been 8 cases where the FTC prosecuted a funeral home for non-compliance.

Close-up of Lady Justice, a blindfolded woman holding scales in her left hand

What Are Your Rights According to the Funeral Rule?

The Funeral Rule gives you certain benefits when you do business with a funeral home. Let’s review each one.

You have the right to purchase only the funeral arrangements you want.

In other words, you do not have to purchase a package deal. You can pick and choose the merchandise or services you want. The only things you MUST pay for are the non-declinable basic services fee and any items required by your specific state.

You have the right to get price information over the phone.

While it’s best to stop by the funeral home to pick up a General Price List (GPL), you can ask for price information over the phone. You don’t have to give your name or contact details to receive this information.

Person in white shirt, sitting at desk, with pen in hand as they review paperwork

You have the right to request a General Price List.

By law, every funeral home must keep an updated GPL available. If you request a GPL, the funeral home must provide one that is updated and current, showing all the services and merchandise they offer.

You have the right to review a written casket list before seeing the physical caskets.

Though casket prices are sometimes included in the GPL, many funeral homes have a separate Casket Price List. If you wish, you can review the Casket Price List first (to get a sense of the available selection) before you look at any caskets in person.

Middle-aged woman in gray suit jacket touching and inspecting a casket

You have the right to see a written outer burial container list.

Similarly, you can review the Outer Burial Container Price List before seeing the containers in person. Outer burial containers are not required by state law, but many cemeteries require them to keep the ground from caving in on itself. If the funeral home sells outer burial containers, they will have a price list available.

You have the right to receive an itemized statement before you pay.

After talking with the funeral home and deciding which services and merchandise you’d like to purchase, you have the right to review an itemized list before you pay. The statement should specifically outline what you are buying, the cost of each item, and the total cost. Additionally, this written statement must also disclose any state or local requirements regarding cemeteries or crematories.

Couple sitting at table at home, reviewing an itemized statement

You have the right to use an “alternative container” for cremation.

When a body is cremated, it must be placed in a container, but it doesn’t have to be a casket. Instead, you can purchase an alternative container. Less expensive than a casket, the alternative container is often made of unfinished wood, fiberboard, or even cardboard. If you’d prefer to use a casket, you certainly can, but it’s not required.

You have the right to purchase a casket or urn elsewhere.

While purchasing a casket or urn from the funeral home is easiest and most convenient, you don’t have to. You can purchase a casket or urn yourself, but it is your responsibility to ensure that the funeral home has access to it before any services. The funeral home cannot refuse, or charge a fee, to handle a casket or urn bought elsewhere.

Blue urn surrounded by yellow flowers with three different people reaching out to the touch top gently in remembrance

You have the right to refuse embalming.

No state requires embalming for every death. However, in some states, embalming or refrigeration is required if the body is not buried or cremated within a certain timeframe. Many funeral homes strongly suggest embalming if you’re planning a public viewing, but you can ask for a private viewing without embalming. If you decide against embalming, discuss your options with the funeral director. To learn more about embalming, click here.

Does the Funeral Rule Apply to Funeral Preplanning?

Yes, your rights under the Funeral Rule still apply in a preplanning situation. Funeral preplanning is a practice that is gaining popularity. Basically, you choose a reputable funeral home, discuss your funeral wishes with them, record those wishes, and then set aside funds to pay for your funeral wishes. By doing so, you remove the financial and emotional burden from your family, so they can grieve when the time comes. There’s no age requirement for funeral preplanning, but it’s best done when you are still healthy.

Person in white jacket using a key to open a mailbox

Can You Request a GPL Over the Phone or Through the Mail?

It varies from state to state. For some states, funeral homes are not required to send a GPL to those submitting phone or mail inquiries. However, some funeral homes may mail you a copy of the GPL regardless of how you request the information. In general, your best bet is to request a GPL in person.

Did you learn anything new? Hopefully, you feel better informed and can confidently interact with your chosen funeral home when needed. If you have questions, visit the Federal Trade Commission website or speak with a local funeral director. All funeral directors are fully aware of the Funeral Rule and will happily answer any questions you may have.

Source: Federal Trade Commission

10 of America’s Oldest Cemeteries You Should Visit

By Cemeteries, History of Funerals

After a loved one dies, it’s normal to fear losing your connection to them. That’s one reason why cemeteries are an excellent place to connect with lost loved ones, to remember the past, and to learn from what has gone before. Professor of Anthropology Richard Veit says that cemeteries are “worth visiting and they’re worth studying. If we take the time to listen to what the stories might tell us, we have a lot to learn.” So, today, let’s look at 10 of America’s oldest cemeteries and burial places and see what stories they tell and what we can learn about our history and ourselves.  

1. Ernest Witte Site (2700 BCE)

Shows archeologists using brushes and tools to excavate a historical site

Believe it or not, one of the oldest burial sites discovered in the United States is in Austin County, Texas, not far from Houston. In the 1930s, youngster Ernest Witte and his brother dug a hole looking for buried treasure. However, instead of gold and silver, they uncovered human remains.

It wasn’t until 1974 that Witte shared this discovery with archeologists at the University of Texas. At that time, researchers investigated the area and discovered the skeletal remains of 238 people. They determined that prehistoric burials had taken place in the area over a period of 4,000 years (from 2700 BCE to 1500 CE)! While no grave markers exist in this cemetery, it’s definitely considered the oldest discovered burial ground in the United States. (Learn more here!)

2. Grave Creek Mound (250 BCE)

Grave Creek Mound, a green hill with a paved path heading toward it

Another ancient burial site in the United States rests at the northwestern border of West Virginia, near Moundsville. It is called Grave Creek Mound, and archeologists believe it dates back to the Adena culture in 250 BCE. One of the funeral customs of the group was to bury their dead in raised mounds.

The mound is both physically and scientifically stunning because it required ancient members of the group to move nearly 57,000 tons of soil to create the hill. There are smaller mounds nearby, which contained trinkets, jewelry, and other religious items, no doubt part of the funeral ritual. Sadly, looters raided the mounds over the years, and much of the history is lost to time. You can still visit Grave Creek Mound today, which has been registered with the National Register of Historic Places.

3. Cahokia Mounds (800 CE)

Cahokia Mound in the distance, a large, grass-covered hill below blue sky

To round out ancient burial sites you can visit, we can’t forget the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. Found northeast of St. Louis, Cahokia was once the largest indigenous settlement in what we now call the United States. At its peak (circa 600 – 1350 CE), it is estimated that more than 15,000 people lived there.

In addition to neighborhoods and marketplaces, the settlement also boasted a series of notable mounds. These mounds had many purposes, one of which was burial of the dead. Archeologists began working at the site in the 1960s and have preserved the remains of 270 people. The area is now registered as a National Historic Site and is protected and preserved for future generations. (More info here!)

4. Jamestown Original Burying Ground (1619)

Image of James Fort, part of the recreation of Jamestown, Virginia

Now, we’re going to jump forward quite a few centuries until we get to Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. When 104 English colonists arrived in April 1607, they encountered many challenges, and according to Captain John Smith, 50 of them died by September.

At the time, the colonists were buried inside James Fort to avoid attracting the attention of the local Native American tribes. Eventually, the bodies were moved to the Jamestown Original Burying Ground, which was established in 1619. Today, you can visit the historic site of Jamestown, and archeologists are still at work excavating the original 1607 burial ground.

5. King’s Chapel Burying Ground (1630)

King's Chapel Burying Ground at a distance, with dark and weathered grave markers in the foreground

Following the settlement at Jamestown, more European colonists came to the shores of the New World. Because of that, more cemeteries began to appear on public registries. In Boston, Massachusetts, King’s Chapel Burying Ground was created in 1630. It is Boston’s oldest cemetery and was established by Isaac Johnson, who originally owned the land.

In 1688, an Anglican Church was constructed near the cemetery and became known as King’s Chapel. Several notable residents of the cemetery are John Winthrop, Massachusetts’s first governor; Hezekiah Usher, the colony’s first printer and publisher; and Mary Chilton, who is believed to be the first woman to disembark the Mayflower. If you walk the Freedom Trail in Boston, you will stop by King’s Chapel Burying Ground on your trek.

6. Charter Street Cemetery (1637)

Charter Street Cemetery, many weathered tombstones in a green open space

Originally a private cemetery owned by the Wade family, Charter Street Cemetery was established in 1637 in Salem, Massachusetts. The earliest gravestones date to 1683, and there are roughly 485 marked graves. The cemetery became public in 1717 and is known for some famous (and infamous) residents.

The Salem Witch Trials occurred in the city between 1692-93, and while none of its victims are buried in the cemetery, some other people involved in the trials are. (You can find a list of notable graves here.) For those interested in this contentious period of Salem’s history, a stop at the cemetery is a must.

7. Standish Burial Grounds (1638)

Plymouth Rock, where Myles Standish and other Mayflower passengers stepped onto land

While the Plymouth Colony was established before Boston, its oldest cemetery dates to 1638 (versus Boston’s 1630). Named for military leader Myles Standish, the cemetery is located in current day Duxbury. Used for more than a century, the cemetery includes the final resting place of many original Mayflower pilgrims, like Myles Standish himself.

Abandoned in 1789, the cemetery was reclaimed by the Duxbury Rural Society in 1887. Since then, the grounds have been well-maintained and named a National Historic Site. There are approximately 130 gravestones, the oldest belonging to Captain Jonathan Alden. If you are at all interested in America’s early history, this cemetery is a great addition to your itinerary.

8. African Burial Ground (1630s)

Map that focuses on New York City

Though there’s no confirmed date of establishment for New York City’s African Burial Ground, we do know that it began sometime in the 1630s. Up until 1795, the grounds became the final resting place for both enslaved and free Black people. Unfortunately, the site was then forgotten until 1991. At that time, it was uncovered during the construction of an office tower.

Now a protected place, it’s estimated that more than 15,000 people are buried at the African Burial Ground, making it America’s earliest known and largest rediscovered African burial ground. Today, guests can visit an outdoor memorial, interpretive center, and research library commemorated to honoring the contributions of enslaved Africans to colonial New York.

9. Old Gravesend Cemetery (1643)

Nestled in the New York city borough of Brooklyn, Old Gravesend Cemetery dates back to 1643 and New York’s early Dutch settlers. At its establishment, New York was known as New Amsterdam, and Gravesend was a small settlement nearby.

First mentioned in a last will and testament from 1658, Old Gravesend Cemetery was likely established not long after Gravesend’s settlement in 1643. The cemetery contains 379 stones, and a restoration project is currently underway. Historians are particularly interested in finding the grave site of Lady Deborah Moody because she founded Gravesend and was the first woman to establish a settlement in the region. So far, her final resting place remains a mystery.

10. Granary Burying Ground (1660)

Paul Revere's grave as it stands in Granary Burying Ground with an American flag next to it

Lastly, let’s go back to Boston for the final entry of oldest cemeteries! In the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city you will find a place of stillness and calm: the Granary Burying Ground. Between 1660 and 1880, roughly 5,000 people were interred in the cemetery. However, only about 2,300 grave markers still remain today.

For any visitor to Boston, the Granary Burying Ground is a worthy inclusion, as it is the final resting place of many notable figures. These figures include Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, as well as Crispus Attucks and the other victims of the 1770 Boston Massacre.

Before we go, here are a few other cemeteries worth an honorable mention:

Are there any other locations that should have made this oldest cemeteries list? If so, please know that their exclusion was unintentional.

Heart-shaped funeral wreath of white flowers

Gifting Sympathy Flowers: A Practice that Goes Back Millennia

By Grief/Loss, History of Funerals

If you’ve attended a funeral or memorial service, you’ve likely seen a cascade of beautiful sympathy flowers gracing the front of the chapel, church, or venue. Whether burial or cremation is chosen, flowers are arranged in a vibrant display of care, love, and support. But why do we give sympathy flowers? How long has humankind been taking part in this practice? Let’s take a deeper look.

Green urn placed on pedestal surrounded by red and yellow flower garland

A Practice that Goes Back Millennia

Every culture on the planet, going back as far as we can, records some form of funeral ritual. From the Ancient Greeks and Egyptians to the Neanderthals, every people group has found some way to honor their dead. With sympathy flowers, two archeological finds have given us insight into how flowers were used in millennia past.

Raqefet Cave

In 2013, a five-chambered grotto, now called Raqefet Cave, was found on the slopes of Mount Carmel in modern-day Israel. Dated to 14,000 years ago, researchers unearthed the final resting place of four individuals. Upon further study, the team discovered that the four had been buried on a literal bed of flowers. The flowers were pressed into a thin layer of mud coating the limestone floor, and they included Judean sage and members of the mint and figwort families. But there is evidence that goes back even further!

Shanidar Cave

First discovered in the 1950s, Shanidar Cave housed the remains of 10 people (identified as Neanderthals), who were found near clusters of flower pollen. At the time, the concept that flowers were left on the grave was dismissed. Researchers decided the pollen’s presence must be from modern contamination or from burrowing rodents and insects.

HOWEVER, in late 2019, excavators unearthed a new skeleton in the same area, dating to 70,000 years ago. This one was discovered in sediment that contained ancient pollen and other mineralized plant remains. As a result, the idea of flower burials so early in humankind’s history was revived! While testing is still underway, the research team expects confirmation of early flower burial practices.

But Why Do We Give Sympathy Flowers?

Casket spray of red roses resting on a silver casket

Historically, to cover unpleasant scents

Before embalming became common practice, flowers were used to cover up unpleasant smells. Mourners wanted to pay their respects, but without a way to slow decay, flowers were used to mask any odors. Former President Andrew Jackson provides a famous example. By the time his funeral was complete (thousands of people came), his casket didn’t smell good. The undertaker surrounded Jackson with flowers to alleviate the smell. Also, side note, someone (likely the undertaker) removed Jackson’s swearing pet parrot from the service for disturbing the proceedings – who knew?!

To show love, care, and support

Today, sympathy flowers show love to the deceased person and support to the grieving family. Just as we give flowers at anniversaries, weddings, graduations, and other special days, flowers universally represent our love, our care, and our deep-seated support.

Woman in black coat leaving a red rose of remembrance on a grave marker

To create a warm and vibrant atmosphere

For some of us, a funeral or memorial service would look incomplete without flowers. The casket or urn might look quite alone with no flowers or embellishments. For many funerals, sympathy flowers create a lovely canvas and show that people deeply care about the person who has died. When there are no flowers, people may unconsciously wonder why – sympathy flowers are that ingrained in our cultural understanding of funerals.

(NOTE: In some religions, flowers are taboo or not expected. If you aren’t sure whether flowers are appropriate, respectfully ask the family.)

To express feeling and sentiment

Traditionally, flowers have meaning and convey a message. By choosing specific flowers, you can send a special letter of love. For example, white lilies symbolize purity, sympathy, and restored innocence. Carnations are a popular choice. White carnations symbolize pure love and innocence; red carnations represent admiration and deep love; while pink carnations stand for eternal remembrance. To learn more about the meanings of flowers, go to 7 Popular Sympathy Flowers and Their Meanings.

Heart-shaped funeral wreath of white flowers

What Kind of Floral Arrangement Should I Give?

If you choose to give sympathy flowers, you will likely not buy the casket spray (the arrangement that lies on top of the casket). The most common types of arrangements to gift are:

  • Standing sprays – a hand-designed arrangement of mixed flowers on a wire stand
  • Floor bouquet – an arrangement placed on the floor near the urn or casket
  • Funeral basket – a smaller arrangement that sits in a basket or large plastic container
  • Funeral wreath – a wreath of flowers placed on a standing easel
  • Funeral garland – a strand of flowers that can lay across a casket or encircle an urn

Arrangements come in all sizes, colors, and costs. Either the funeral home or your local florist can give you insight into your options. In fact, some funeral homes partner with local florists, allowing you to order an arrangement through the funeral home’s website. You can speak to the funeral home about this service or reach out to your go-to florist.

Family of four wearing black, each holding a white or red flower of remembrance

What if the Family Indicates a Charity “In Lieu of Flowers”?

If the deceased’s family has selected a charity in lieu of flowers, it’s your choice what you would like to do. Giving a sympathy gift is up to the discretion of the gift giver. If you prefer to give flowers rather than a donation, do so. If you would like to support the charitable organization, do so. Or, if you’d like to do both, that’s fine, too. Ultimately, the goal of a sympathy gift is to convey love, care, and support. We all do that in different ways – find the one that best communicates your personal feelings.

For more ideas on sympathy gifts, check out these resources:

10 Caring and Creative Sympathy Gifts

Sympathy Gifts You Can Mail

7 Popular Sympathy Flowers and Their Meanings

Sympathy Cards: What to Write & Examples

8 Simple Tips for Writing a Meaningful Condolence Letter

Image of the Hadrian Mausoleum, also called Castel Sant'Angelo

10 Famous & Inspiring Tombs Around the World

By Cemeteries, History of Funerals, Memorial

While the practical purpose of a tomb is to protect the dead, there are examples around the world that prove a tomb can be so much more than that. In some cases, tombs are a testament to human ingenuity, a beautiful declaration of love, a site for reflection and faith, or a place of reverence and remembrance. Today, let’s look at 10 famous tombs around the world and reflect together on the impact a single life can have and how long memories can last.

Image of the Great Pyramids at Giza

#1 – The Pyramids at Giza (Cairo, Egypt)

More than likely, you’ve heard of the Pyramids at Giza, but did you know that they were built as tombs for Pharaohs Khufu (father), Khafre (son), and Menkaure (grandson)? Long considered a wonder of the Ancient World, the pyramids not only housed the mummified bodies of the pharaohs but also any worldly goods the Ancient Egyptians considered helpful for the afterlife. It took an estimated 20,000 workers more than 20 years to construct the largest of the three pyramids. To this day, scholars still aren’t quite sure how the pyramids were constructed. Regardless, the three pyramids stood as the tallest man-made structures for more than 4,000 years. That’s pretty impressive for a tomb!

Image of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

#2 – The Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Jerusalem, Israel)

In many Christian circles, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a place of reverence. When Constantine became emperor of Rome in 306 CE, he unearthed what was thought to be Jesus Christ’s tomb. After excavating it, he then built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre around the tomb. While the building has seen its fair share of damage, various Christian communities have restored it through the centuries. Today, six different Christian communities control the church, and they each have their own designated chapel inside it. With such strong ties to Christianity, it’s no wonder this particular tomb is important to so many around the world.

Image of the Taj Mahal

#3 – Taj Mahal (Agra, India)

The Taj Mahal is perhaps the most romantic of the tombs we will discuss today. Completed in 1648, the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal as a breathtaking final burial place for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. With extensive grounds, the complex includes a mausoleum, a garden, and a mosque. Gorgeous in its detail, the all-marble building celebrates the love story between these two historical figures. A royal historian from Shah Jahan’s time described the relationship in his records. He stated that the two were close confidantes and possessed extraordinary physical and spiritual compatibility. When Mumtaz died in childbirth (with their 14th child!), Jahan built the Taj Mahal as an enduring tribute to her. At his death, he was laid to rest beside her, and to this day, they lay together – forever.

Image of the Terracotta Army found in Qin's Mausoleum

#4 – Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (Xi’an, Shaanxi province, China)

Next up is the mausoleum for the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (c. 259–210 BCE), who unified China into a single political entity. He standardized scripts, weights, measures, and coins, while also improving roads and fortifications. However, perhaps what he’s most remembered for is his impressive burial complex with its famous Terracotta Army. With more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, 520 horses, and 150 cavalry horses, the Army is stunning from an archeological perspective. Every soldier has a unique facial expression, and each one has authentic clothes, weapons, and hairstyles (different from each other!). No doubt intended to protect the emperor in the afterlife, archeologists believe there are still more soldiers, horses, and chariots to uncover in the years to come.

Image of the Tomb of Jahangir

#5 – Tomb of Jahangir (near Lahore, Pakistan)

Colorful and intricately tiled inside and out, the Tomb of Jahangir commemorates the life of Mughal emperor Jahangir. His son, Shah Jahan (remember him from the Taj Mahal?), built the mausoleum 10 years after Jahangir’s death. At the time of his rule (1605-1627), Jahangir was popular amongst his people, though a bit infamous for marrying 12 times and indulging in alcohol. With a walled garden and 98-foot-high minarets, the impressive structure also includes two entry gates and a white marble sarcophagus covered in its own delicate mosaics. For many, the Tomb of Jahangir is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in Pakistan!

Image of the Lenin Mausoleum

#6 – Lenin Mausoleum (Moscow, Russia)

Located in the heart of Moscow, the Lenin Mausoleum commands attention in Russia’s historic Red Square. Inside rests the mummified body of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin. What’s perhaps most interesting (and disturbing) about Lenin’s final resting place is that his sarcophagus is made of glass and is kept at a temperature of 61 °F (16 °C) and a humidity of 80 – 90%. Why? In order to ensure that Lenin’s body remains as lifelike as possible. In fact, a team of dedicated embalmers maintain the body, and his suit is typically changed every three years. While Lenin wanted a traditional burial beside his mother, Joseph Stalin ordered the display of Lenin’s body. Today, however, many Russians believe Lenin’s wishes should be honored and his body re-interred.

Image of the Hadrian Mausoleum, also called Castel Sant'Angelo

#7 – Mausoleum of Hadrian (Rome, Italy)

If you’ve ever visited Rome, you’re probably familiar with the Mausoleum of Hadrian (also called Castel Sant’Angelo). Both a castle and a fortress, the mausoleum houses the remains of many Roman emperors, including Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, and most emperors from the High Empire. Built as a burial place for Hadrian and his family, the castle was once the tallest building in Rome! Situated on the Tiber River, Castel Sant’Angelo is made of brick and stone with a majestic statue of the Archangel Michael at its peak. Today, it stands as a remarkable addition to Rome’s collection of ancient and historic buildings.

Image of the Pantheon in Paris

#8 – The Pantheon (Paris, France)

Much like Westminster Abbey (also worthy of this list), the Paris Pantheon is both a church and a mausoleum. Commissioned by King Louis XV, its design combines the simplicity of gothic architecture with classical Greek elements. Inside, paintings depict the life of St. Genevieve (the patron saint of Paris) and the history of the French monarchy. Today, the Pantheon mainly serves as a final resting place for French heroes. Those laid to rest include Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Pierre and Marie Curie, Louis Braille, and Alexandre Dumas. Situated atop the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, the Pantheon is a striking addition to the Paris skyline.

Image of Grant's Tomb in New York City

#9 – Grant’s Tomb (New York City, New York, United States)

As the largest mausoleum in North America, Grant’s Tomb testifies to the gratitude people felt for the man who ended the American Civil War. As the Commanding General of the Union Army and later President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant endeared himself to the American people. After his death, approximately 90,000 people from around the world donated over $600,000 (roughly $18.4 million in 2023 money) toward the construction of Grant’s Tomb. It was the largest public fundraising effort of the time. With mosaics depicting key events of the American Civil War, the granite and marble tomb was completed in 1897. Over a million people attended its dedication ceremony. Today, the US National Park Service maintains the memorial and ensures that it is well-preserved.

Image of Tomb of Agamemnon, also called Treasury of Atreus

#10 – The Tomb of Agamemnon (near Argos, Mycenae, Greece)

Have you heard of the Tomb of Agamemnon (also called the Treasury of Atreus)? It’s perhaps the finest surviving example of a tholos or beehive tomb we still have from Mycenaean Greece. Built around 1250 BCE, it’s unknown whom the tomb was intended for or if it ever housed treasures. However, legend says that it was the final resting place of King Agamemnon. One of nine beehive tombs in the area, the doorway is 18 feet high (5.4 m) and tapers at the top (like a beehive). Inside, the tomb consists of two rooms, and the stonework throughout is decorated with bronze rosettes. The architectural skill and craftsmanship needed to build the tomb is impressive, and the tomb remains an important part of our historical narrative for Ancient Greece.

While such large tombs are now typically out of style, the need to honor and commemorate a loved one’s life still remains. That’s why it’s so important to consider a permanent memorial for yourself or a loved one. Whether it’s a headstone in a cemetery or a simple plaque on a cremation niche, it’s important to remember, to honor, to reflect. People matter, and we can keep their memory alive with loving physical tributes. To learn more about the value of permanent memorials, take a moment to read 5 Reasons to Establish a Permanent Memorial.

Anatomy of a Man by Leonardo da Vinci who studied the body in Middle Ages Europe

The Strange & Unusual History of Embalming

By History of Funerals

It’s always fascinating to delve into the history of a particular practice, event, or even where certain phrases and idioms originated. The same is true of embalming, where you definitely find the strange and unusual lurking amidst the intriguing. Let’s take a look!

Ancient Origins

Perhaps the most famous ancient example of embalming comes from Egypt. With so many artifacts and written records, historians have a strong understanding of the role of embalming in the ancient civilization’s funeral rituals. Closely tied to beliefs about the afterlife, embalming was a must for just about everyone, though we really only hear about it in relation to royalty and the wealthy.

Ancient Egyptian tomb and sarcophagus

However, preservation of the dead also occurred in other areas of the ancient world. Ethiopia, Peru, China, Tibet, and the Canary Islands all practiced various forms of mummification. The Persians and Babylonians, among others, preserved the body by immersing it in honey or wax. Each culture had different reasons for embracing embalming, but for many, it related to cultural or religious beliefs.

Scientific Advancements in Europe

While many civilizations practiced embalming around the world, many of the significant scientific advances that affected modern embalming occurred in Europe. Let’s look at a few key breakthroughs.

With its largely Christian population, embalming in Europe wasn’t practiced for religious reasons. In fact, it was mainly attempted for scientific and medical research. More people were interested in understanding the body’s anatomy and how it functioned, so early scientists worked to perfect embalming as a means of preserving the body for study.

Anatomy of a Man by Leonardo da Vinci who studied the body in Middle Ages Europe

There were varying degrees of success. Eventually, through the independent work of Frederick Ruysch, William Harvey, Jean Gannal, and William Hunter, scientists discovered a successful way to adopt arterial injection as a means of preservation. This practice continues to this day.

In the early days, arsenic was used as a preservation agent. However, in 1859, Russian chemist Alexander Butlerov first synthesized formaldehyde, which eventually replaced arsenic as the main preservation chemical.

Embalming’s Role in the End of the Body Snatching Era

A strange moment in embalming’s history relates to the body snatching era, commonly associated with the UK because of two infamous body snatchers, William Burke and William Hare. In the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a shortage of legally acquired bodies to dissect and study. At the time, anatomists could only use the bodies of convicted criminals for study, and without proper preservation, the bodies became unusable after a short period of time. Thus, the body snatching era was born!

Because there weren’t enough legal bodies to supply all of the doctors and medical schools working on understanding anatomy, a black market opportunity arose. “Resurrectionists” or “body snatchers” began to steal newly buried bodies and sell them. It was a lucrative business, though it caused much pain and suffering for surviving family members. To combat against body snatching, some families even hired guards or installed metal crates or gates to protect the grave of a loved one. To learn more about Victorian funeral customs, click here.

At the time, a dead body was not considered anyone’s “property,” which is why its removal was often only a misdemeanor. However, dissecting an illegally acquired corpse came with heavier consequences. This meant that both the body snatchers and the medical professionals would face consequences if discovered.

Image of London's Old Ben in an aged yellow color

Where does embalming fit in?

Well, two things occurred to end the reign of body snatching.

First, the Anatomy Act of 1832 allowed for the legal donation of unclaimed bodies as well as donating your own body to medical research. This meant that hospitals and medical schools had better access to subjects. Additionally, doctors and anatomy teachers were required to obtain a license that allowed them to dissect donated cadavers.

Second, in the 1880s, embalming was introduced as a method for preserving bodies for medical research. This had a huge impact because it meant that a cadaver could be studied for months rather than mere days. Together, these two changes effectively ended the body snatching era.

The Rise of Embalming in the United States

While embalming for medical study did exist, it wasn’t until Abraham Lincoln’s death that it became a widely accepted practice for funerals. Following his assassination, Abraham Lincoln’s body was embalmed, and he laid in state in several key cities before journeying to his final resting place. During this period, he was viewed by thousands of citizens who remarked on his lifelike appearance. For many, it was the first time they’d seen an embalmed body, and not long after, the practice gained popularity.

Even before Lincoln’s death, embalming was used during the American Civil War. Many soldiers on both sides of the conflict died far from home. For those who could afford it, embalming provided a way to bring a loved one’s body home in decent shape for burial. It wasn’t widely used – estimates state that only about 40,000 soldiers were embalmed out of the 600,000+ who died.

close-up of Abraham Lincoln's sculpture at Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

With embalming’s sudden popularity, laws were enacted to ensure that only properly licensed embalmers could offer their services. Additionally, because embalming was regulated, families who wanted to use embalming could not do it themselves. Now, funeral professionals were needed to complete embalming, and thus, the role of the funeral professional changed drastically.

Embalming Today

Perhaps the most impactful result of embalming was the birth of the funeral industry as we know it. At first, surgeons completed the embalming process. However, when embalming grew in prominence, the need for skilled workers grew, creating new professional jobs like embalmers, funeral directors, morticians, and more. Many family-owned funeral homes got their start as furniture makers, having built coffins for the community, and when funerals changed, they changed with it.

As for embalming itself, the technique has not changed much since the 1860s. However, the type of preservative fluid used has changed over time. In the 1860s, arsenic was used in embalming fluid. It was eventually replaced with formaldehyde (still the most common today). In addition to formaldehyde, some funeral homes now offer green embalming, which involves using an embalming fluid made from non-toxic chemicals and essential oils.

"Did You Know" image

Interesting History Facts

Before you go, here are some interesting facts about embalming and its unusual history. Fact is often stranger than fiction, right?

  • Before modern embalming, various preservatives were used to minimize decomposition. For example, some would pickle the body in vinegar, wine, brandy, or other strong spirits. Honey, wax, and spices were also utilized.
  • Originating with the Egyptians around 2600 BCE, embalming is considered “one of humankind’s longest practiced arts.”
  • Over a 3,000-year period, it is estimated that Egypt mummified at least 70 million bodies.
  • Leonardo da Vinci produced hundreds of anatomical plates. More than likely, he used some form of arterial injection to preserve his subjects. His notes indicate that he tried embalming fluid recipes that included camphor, turpentine, lavender oil, vermilion, rosin, wine, potassium nitrate, and sodium nitrate.
  • Body snatching occurred in the United States, with Baltimore serving as a kind of center for the activity.
  • Until the 20th century, arsenic was used in embalming fluid. It was later replaced after the discovery of formaldehyde.
  • Abraham Lincoln was the first president to be embalmed.
  • Thomas Holmes is considered the father of modern-day embalming. After Abraham Lincoln’s close friend, Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, was killed in Virginia, Dr. Holmes embalmed his body at the president’s request. Holmes would later go on to embalm both Lincoln’s 12-year-old son Willie and the president himself.
View of ruins of Ancient Greece with beautiful, dark cloudy sky

5 Ancient Greek Funeral Customs You May (or May Not) Recognize

By History of Funerals

The funeral ritual…is a public, traditional, and symbolic means of expressing our beliefs, thoughts, and feelings about the death of someone loved. – Dr. Alan Wolfelt

Since the beginning of time, human beings have honored the lives of people they love and respect. From RIP social media posts to attending a visitation or funeral service, we all feel the need to acknowledge the lives of others in a meaningful way. Unsurprisingly, the ancient Greeks felt the same. But what IS surprising is how similar some of their funeral customs are to what we practice today. Let’s take a look!

5 Ancient Greek Funeral Customs You May (or May Not) Recognize

While some funeral customs evolved and changed over their long history, the Ancient Greeks were consistent in their desire to ensure that every human being received proper burial rites. In fact, to deny someone the dignity of a final tribute was an intentional insult and could affect their ability to make a peaceful transition to the afterlife. While we no longer hold the same cultural or religious beliefs as the Ancient Greeks, we do still honor the dead in similar ways.

View of ruins of Ancient Greece with beautiful, dark cloudy sky

#1 – Prothesis (Preparation of the Body and Viewing)

Immediately after death, the first step in the process was to prepare the deceased’s body for viewing. Today, this process is completed by funeral professionals, but in Ancient Greece, female relatives prepared the body. These women:

  • Washed the body
  • Anointed it with oil
  • Placed a wreath on the chest
  • Sealed a coin in the mouth or placed them on the eyes (to pay for passage to the afterlife)
  • Dressed the person in clothing appropriate to their status (armor for a soldier, wedding dress for a newlywed, etc.)
  • Sang songs of mourning and lament as they prepared the body

Preparation was typically completed in one day. On the second day, the body was placed on a bed in the home and covered with a funeral shroud. Then, family and friends were allowed to stop by to mourn and pay their respects. During the viewing, either female relatives or professional mourners led a formalized lament.

Top of a white column in a Grecian style

#2 – Ekphora (Funeral Procession)

Before dawn on the third day, the body was removed from its place of honor in the home and either placed in a horse-drawn carriage or carried by pallbearers to the final resting place. Along the way to the cemetery, the ekphora (funeral procession) grew in number as more and more people joined the line of mourners. Often, singers and musicians walked alongside friends and family. Together, they expressed themselves through mournful songs and physical expressions of grief (like tearing of the clothing).

Once the procession reached the cemetery, the body was placed in an elaborately carved box, which was then either buried or burned on a funeral pyre. At this time, a eulogy was usually given to commemorate the person’s life.

Funeral processions are still a common practice today. In many places, drivers stop their vehicles to allow the funeral procession to pass without difficulty – a small way to honor life and pay respects to the person who has died.

#3 Perideipnon (Post-Funeral Gathering)

After the death of a loved one, it’s important to spend time together, share stories, reminisce, and draw comfort from each other. As human beings, we often do this around food.

In Ancient Greece, following the burial, it was customary for the women to return home and prepare a banquet in honor of the deceased. The men would stay behind at the gravesite and place a stele (monument) over the grave. The feast not only honored the person who died, it was also a way to bring people together and to thank those who came to pay their respects.

At many funeral or memorial services today, a meal is included – often called a gathering – where people are encouraged to talk, laugh, and share. It’s a time to support each other, to listen, and to remember the person who has died through the sharing of cherished memories.

Statues of women acting as columns on an Ancient Greek structure

#4 Acts of Remembrance

It’s so important to take part in acts of remembrance after a loved one dies. These acts give you a way to physically engage with your feelings, which in turn, helps you express them, rather than bottle them up.

In Ancient Greece, they:

  • Erected tombs, installed grave markers, or created marble statues
  • Included an epitaph in memory of the deceased
  • Visited the graveside on the 3rd, 9th, 13th, and 30th day after death
  • Conducted memorial services at 40 days as well as at 3, 6, 9, and 12 months
  • Prayed at the grave or sang songs of lament
  • Decorated the grave with ribbons or flowers and some even left offerings of oil, wine, or food
  • Placed mementos around the grave that were important to the deceased

Do some of these sound familiar to you?

While statues and tombs are less common now, grave markers and meaningful epitaphs are still widespread. We conduct services to honor a loved one’s life, though the practice has become more concentrated rather than spread over time. It’s not uncommon to see coins, flowers, or stuffed animals left at a graveside in remembrance. And some families or cultures participate in decorating the grave (a famous example is the Day of the Dead).

Ruins of an Ancient Greek temple against a blue sky

#5 A Mix of Burial and Cremation

While pop culture and movies often associate cremation with Ancient Greece, burial was just as prevalent, if not more so. Beginning around 3000 B.C, burial was the chosen final disposition (except in Athens), but around 1100 B.C., cremation on a funeral pyre began to appear. Eventually, the two existed together as options for families until the rise of Christianity made burial more popular again.

Today, we see this same paradigm in our own world. Some families choose burial and others choose cremation. Both are great options, depending on the family’s needs and wants. Thankfully, no matter which option is chosen, the family can still honor and celebrate life with a personalized service.

Looking back at Ancient Greek funeral customs just reinforces the importance of a final tribute. No matter what culture or year you look at, honoring life and individual people is valuable and important.

The History Behind Pallbearers

By History of Funerals

More than likely, we’ve had pallbearers since mankind started having funerals. In other words, from the beginning of time. Certainly, they have not always been called “pallbearers,” but the function of carrying the mortal body of a person who has died to their final resting place? That duty has existed for all time. But just for curiosity’s sake, let’s talk about our modern word “pallbearer” and how it came to be.

Today’s Definition of “Pallbearer”

Today, a “pallbearer” is a person who carries the casket during a funeral service. Depending on the family’s choices and religious background, this could mean:

  • Carrying in and out of the church
  • Taking out of the church only (to the funeral car)
  • Carrying to the graveside
  • A combination of the above

Most often, there are between six and eight pallbearers. Depending on tradition or preference, the casket is either carried at the waist or hoisted to the shoulder. Both men and women can perform this meaningful responsibility as they accompany a person to their final resting place.

The Term is a Portmanteau

“Pallbearer” is actually a portmanteau. In other words, it’s the combination of two words into one. In this case, “casket bearer” and “pall” were merged into one to create “pallbearer.” The earliest use of the word in print was around 1710. But what is a pall, you may ask?

What is a Pall?

While you may not be familiar with the term “pall,” you’ve most likely seen one, whether in person or in a movie or TV show. The pall is a heavy, usually white, and sometimes ornate cloth that is draped over the casket. The use of palls still occurs today, usually with specific ethnic, religious, or fraternal backgrounds, but anyone can decide to use one. In fact, the American flag acts as a pall when it is draped over the casket of a deceased veteran or service member.

The word “pall” likely comes from the Roman word “pallium,” which referred to a person’s cape or cloak, often used in relation to a soldier. When the person died, they were covered with the cloak. Around the Middle Ages, the word “pallium” was shorted to “pall” and began to refer to a heavy cloth (rather than a cloak).

And Where Do Casket Bearers Come In?

It used to be that two sets of people participated in carrying the casket. First, there were those who carried the casket itself (casket bearers). Second, there were those who carried the pall (if there was one) and placed it over the casket. Today, because both duties have generally merged into one (the pall and the casket are carried by the same people), we now use the term “pallbearer.” Interestingly, the term has become so common that even if there is no pall, the term “pallbearer” is still used.

So, there you have it! Our modern term finds its roots in a long-held tradition of carrying a loved one to their final resting place. In some religious and family traditions, the pall is still carried separately from the casket, but for many, the two duties have been merged into one under the name “pallbearer.”

Explore the 4 Building Blocks of Ancient Egyptian Funeral Customs

By History of Funerals

Egypt has a long and well-documented history. If you’re like many people, Ancient Egypt brings to mind sandy deserts,  grand pyramids, powerful pharaohs, creepy mummies, and priceless antiquitiesAs you envision the Great Pyramids of Giza, it’s impossible to forget a well-publicized and intriguing Ancient Egyptian funeral custom – mummification. While we don’t practice mummification anymore, it still holds a certain fascination for us.  

It’s often the Old KingdomMiddle Kingdom, and New Kingdom periods that we most closely associate with Egyptian history. These Kingdom periods include:

  • the height of mummification practices
  • the creation of the Valley of the Kings
  • the rule of pharaohs like Tutankhamun
  • the expansion of Egypt’s territories and wealth

Let’s take a walk through history and learn about a few Ancient Egyptian funeral customs that dominated their long history. Let’s go! 

The Role of the Afterlife 

Every aspect of Ancient Egyptian funeral customs revolved around the afterlife. They believed that carrying out funeral practices specifically and fully was necessary to ensuring immortality after death. For them, the afterlife was a place called The Field of Reedsand you could only enter this place if you were deemed worthy in the Hall of Truth. Essentially, a person’s heart was weighed against the goddess Ma’at’s white feather, and if the heart was lighter than her feather, the soul would continue to The Field of Reeds.  

However, there was a caveat. If a person’s body had not been properly buried and all the funerary rites followed, then that person would be unable to reach paradise. This is why Ancient Egyptians placed such a high regard on completing each aspect of their complex funeral customs. While funeral practices started out simple with shallow graves and minimal (if any) mummification in the early days, the practices became more complex over time. By the time of the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms, funeral practices had become quite elaborate and widespread. 

The 4 Building Blocks of Ancient Egyptian Funeral Customs 

Mummifying the Body 

While mummification has ceased as a practice in most countries of the world, we do regularly practice other forms of preservation, like embalming. In Ancient Egypt, mummification was the way to go. Because the preservation of the body was essential to the afterlife, they did not practice any form of cremation.  

The full mummification process took 70 days and was very intricate. For a detailed account of mummification, click hereWhile mummification was most common amongst the wealthy – like kings, priests, and nobility – a simplified form was available to the poor. Where the wealthy would use linen bandages to wrap the body and place it in a stone sarcophagus, the poor would use their own old clothes to wrap the body and place it in the simplest of graves.  

Also, interestingly, archeologists have recently discovered evidence that funeral homes (of a sort) existed in Ancient Egypt. They focused on mummification and burial. You can learn more about this new discovery by clicking here

Including Spiritual Elements and Remembrance Service  

After mummification was complete, a great procession was gathered to escort the body to the tomb. Today, we still take part in the practice of accompanying the body to its final resting place. However, back then, it was a more elaborate event and often included professional mourners called the Kites of NephthysPerhaps the most important part of the graveside service was the Opening of the Mouth CeremonyvUsing spells and incantations from the Book of the Dead, a priest would ceremonially touch different areas of the body. Without this ritual, the person would be unable to breathe, eat, drink, talk, or move freely in the afterlife. 

Following the Opening of the Mouth Ceremony, priests recited a few more prayers and sealed the tomb. At this time, the mourners took time to celebrate the life of the departed with a feast, often held right beside the grave. Even the poorest Egyptian was given some kind of ceremony because it was believed that an improperly buried person would return as a ghost to haunt the living. Gives you shivers, doesn’t it? They certainly took things very seriously!  

It’s also worth noting that Ancient Egyptians understood the importance of remembrance activities. They would regularly visit the family tomb, write letters to loved ones and leave them at the tomb, or keep busts of loved ones in the home to encourage their spirits to visit. 

Providing Grave Goods  

In preparation for the afterlife, people were buried with grave goods. Besides your body and the ability to eat, drink, breathe, talk, and move, what else do you need to set up a home in the afterlife? Household goods and treasures, of course! This meant including pots, combs, stone vessels, figurines, beads, amulets, and much more in the tombOne of the most famous finds was King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. Sadly, most tombs were looted by grave robbers long before any modern-day archeologists could explore them, but despite that, we’ve still learned a great deal about Ancient Egyptian funeral practices. The grave goods included were dependent on the wealth of the person who died.  

Preparing a Final Resting Place 

 Ancient Egypt gave humanity some of the most spectacular and memorable final resting places, like the Great Pyramids and the Valley of the KingsFilled with grave goods, hieroglyphics, and even mummies sometimes, Egyptian tombs have long been an archeologist’s dream and have given us a glimpse in what life was like in Ancient Egypt. While the tombs did not remain undisturbed for long due to grave robbers, the tombs do provide a long-lasting memorial. After all, thousands of years later, we are still talking about Tutankhamun, Ramses, and Nefertiti, amongst others 

Cemeteries provide the same function for us today, though thankfully, we don’t have to worry about grave robbing anymore. Instead, a cemetery provides a quiet, tranquil place to remember the person we love and feel close to them once more. To learn more about the benefits of a permanent memorial, click here. 

As you can see, for millennia, humanity has felt the need to mourn and remember loved ones while also participating in healing rituals. We definitely do things differently now – definitely no more spells or secret incantations – but the purpose of the funeral remains the same. We want to honor those we love. Remember their lives. Celebrate them. And look forward to seeing them again someday. 

8 Intriguing Funeral Customs from the Victorian Era

By History of Funerals

Have you ever found yourself wondering where some of our funeral traditions come from? The Victorian Era (1837-1901) introduced some of our current funeral traditions as well as a few customs that have fallen out of memory and practice. Some of the following customs will feel familiar while others will surprise you. Let’s take a look at a few funeral traditions from the past.

A Shift in Funeral Customs

The Victorian Era directly aligns with the reign of Queen Victoria of England. Crowned on June 20, 1837, Victoria reigned until her death on January 22, 1901. While she is the second-longest reigning monarch in England’s history, she is also notably known for her deep love for her husband, Prince Albert, and her 40 years of mourning following his death in 1861.

In response to her husband’s death, Queen Victoria went into mourning, and her very public practices influenced many nations, creating a shift in funeral customs and how grief and mourning were expressed.

8 Intriguing Funeral Customs from the Victorian Era

1. Mourning Clothes Were a Must

Following Albert’s death, Victoria dressed in full mourning for the first three years. To her death, it was unusual to see her in anything but black. Her example led to the population copying her style of dress, and certain expectations were set in place.

Mourning clothes were considered an outward expression of a person’s inner feelings. Societal rules were especially specific for women. In “deep mourning,” women’s clothing was deep black and non-reflective, often trimmed in black crepe, and worn with minimal or no jewelry. Additionally, widows were expected to wear a black silk “weeping veil” or “widow’s cap.” After a specified time, a woman moved into “half mourning” where colors like gray and lavender were permitted with minimal ornamentation.

For men, fashion was much easier – they simply wore dark suits with black gloves, hatbands, and cravats. Children were not expected to wear mourning clothes, and for those who were wealthy, servants even wore mourning clothes. Thankfully for the Victorians, if you were ever in doubt as to what to wear, you could consult Cassell’s Household Guide.

2. There Was a Set Mourning Period

In the Victorian era, society observed a specified “mourning period.” The length of time depended on the type of loss: spouse, sibling, parent, child, cousin, etc. For example, widows were expected to wear mourning clothes for two years (one year in full mourning, one year in half mourning). In addition to wearing only black during deep mourning, a widow could not go out in society except to attend church.

Societal rules for men who lost a wife were less rigorous, mainly because men were expected to remarry relatively quickly. For children mourning parents (or vice versa), the mourning period was one year; for grandparents and siblings, six months; mourning aunts and uncles, two months; for great uncles and aunts, six weeks; for first cousins, four weeks. Again, if you were ever in doubt, you could consult Cassell’s for guidance.

While there were set rules on how long you must outwardly mourn, there was no set end date. Queen Victoria is an excellent example – she mourned Prince Albert for the remainder of her days. In the Victorian era, there was no hurry to end a period of grief. People took the time they needed, and those around them respected the necessity of mourning.

3. Superstitions Were Prevalent

During this time, humanity was still learning a lot about the natural world. People were spiritual and believed in the supernatural. Because of this viewpoint, there were a number of superstitions surrounding death:

  • Victorians carried the deceased out of the home feet first so they couldn’t look back and call someone else to follow them.
  • Curtains were closed and mirrors covered until after the funeral so that the deceased’s image wouldn’t get trapped in a looking glass.
  • It was thought that you might be next if you saw yourself in a mirror at a house where someone had recently died.
  • To prevent bad luck, all clocks were stopped at the time of death.
  • And somewhat creepily, Victorians turned family photographs face-down to protect family and friends from possession by a spirit of the dead.

4. They Feared Final Rest Disturbances

The Victorian period was a time of medical advances, but in many ways, its people were still in the dark. In fact, they really did have reason to fear that their final rest might not be as peaceful. At the time, it was difficult for medical professionals to procure bodies for study, so grave robbers became a concern for everyone. Additionally, because medical conditions weren’t as well understood, a doctor might mistakenly declare someone dead. In these cases, the person was often in a coma.

To combat grave robbers and premature burial due to lack of medical understanding, the Victorians put a few safeguards into place. Some families buried a loved one with a rope in their hand, attached to a bell outside the grave. If the person in the grave awoke, they could ring the bell, signaling their need for help. Other burial options included bricking over a grave, covering it with a protective gate, or purchasing a coffin with a series of tubes and mirrors to allow the gravediggers to peer inside for movement.

5. Victorians Contributed to the Rise of Photography

With the invention of the daguerreotype in 1839, some people began to take family photos. However, the cost was prohibitive for the average family. Many only took photographs at big life events, like the death of a loved one. Thus, the custom of taking a photograph with a loved one after death became a popular trend. The photograph gave the family a lasting visual reminder of their loved one.

Often called “death photography,” this practice continued throughout the Victorian era. It was especially common to photograph children since they had the highest mortality rates. Though the practice has died out, we do still take postmortem photographs. Now it’s more often in the context of forensics and pathology.

6. Personal Mementos Were Common

In addition to a photograph, some families also created mementos using a loved one’s hair. They artfully arranged their loved one’s hair in shadow boxes, wreaths, fabrics, corsages, and particularly in jewelry. Though a woman was not allowed to wear jewelry (other than jet black gemstones) during deep mourning, they often wore a jewelry memento afterward. Queen Victoria was known to wear a locket that contained a picture of Prince Albert and a lock of his hair.

This may seem like an unusual practice, but actually, we do something quite similar – memorial or cremation jewelry. Instead of hair, we place a portion of a loved one’s ashes in jewelry and wear it in their memory. Although the method of memorialization has changed over time, the basic idea is the same.

7. Stately Monuments Came into Prominence

Before the Victorian era, burial plots near home and churchyards were most common. With the advent of public cemeteries, the desire to memorialize and grandly mark a grave came into fashion. While grave markers had been more simplistic, during the Victorian era, they became much more elaborate. While some markers were still simple, others could be large – almost like a private mausoleum – and might include urns, wreaths, columns, or carved figures. Today, we still see large cemetery monuments, though we have toned down the opulence in exchange for something simple and personal.

8. Families Planned Ahead

The Victorians had no illusions about death. Mortality rates for children were high, and even if you survived childhood, many adults didn’t live past 50 years. In this era, death was so certain and people prized an elaborate funeral service. Because of this, many families saved for years to pay for a funeral service. In fact, women frequently made their own shrouds and included them in their wedding trousseau.

Today, we shy away from talking or even thinking about death. In reality, we could learn something from the Victorians: it’s okay to talk about and plan for death. The Victorians didn’t focus on death, but they accepted it as a reality and planned for it. While their methods seem strange to us today, the Victorians did understand the value of celebrating a loved one’s life and honoring their memory. We could greatly benefit from more openness, less fear, and a willingness to have these important conversations with our families.

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