Saturday, April 24, 2010

Remember, Jesus Leads: A Family Buries a Son, 1894


This compelling image of mourning, love, and hope depicts a family gathered at the grave of a loved one who was recently buried. A sign at the head of the grave underneath a floral arrangement says “Remember Jesus Leads”. Each family member has their face cast down, gazing at the mound that covers their beloved.

This standard-sized cabinet card photograph was done by H. B. Cady of Waitsfield, Washington County, Vermont. Written in pencil on the back, in period handwriting, is “Ernie W. Colby / Died Sep 4=1894 / Aged 20”. Based on a review of the 1880 census of Addison County, Vermont and the 1900 census of Washington County, Vermont, I believe the parents are George and Francis C. Colby, the oldest daughter standing next to them is Lydia Colby (born c1868), the younger man next to her is Albert Colby (born c1876) and the girl is Lou Colby (born c1884). The 1880 census identifies the deceased as "Westly E. Colby" born c1874.

I have to thank my new friend, Dee Akard Welborn, for giving me this wonderful cabinet card. Be sure to visit Dee’s Funeral Cards & Genealogy blog, as well as our Facebook group, Funeral Cards & Genealogy, when you have a chance.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Victorian Home Memorial Shrines

I love these elaborate images of what I refer to as “home memorial shrines”. This reflects a different way of thinking about funeral flowers than the one we have today. It appears from the number of these images I’ve run across that many times some of the funeral arrangements were not left at the cemetery, but kept at home to assist in the mourning process. These wonderful displays were probably maintained in the deceased’s home for a few days or weeks after the burial. This first image, by H. T. Biel of Terre Haute, Indiana could have been done in the studio or at home – it’s hard to tell. The deceased’s name, Anna, appears on the arrangement directly below her photograph. Representations of the cross, the anchor, and the lyre are included, as well as the gates of heaven, crowned with a dove.

The image below was clearly taken in the parlor of a home and it pays tribute to a man with many friends and connections. The floral representation of the gates of heaven and the dove is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Several of these arrangements are from organizations, such as the S.U.N.A. (Switchmen’s Union of North America) and the K.O.T.M.M. No. 56 (Knights of the Modern Maccabees). I did a little research on that one and learned that the KOTMM, a benevolent and fraternal organization, was organized into local chapters known as Tents, and that Tent No. 56 was located in Muskegon, Michigan. It’s probably safe to assume this image is from Muskegon or nearby.

Upon close inspection with a loupe, the dove is holding a rose in its mouth. I must say the dove looks remarkably real and I have to wonder if it’s stuffed. That would not be unheard of for this era.

© 2010, copyright Stephen Mills

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Funeral Flowers Cabinet Card Photographs

For those who preferred not to photograph their deceased loved one, a nice alternative was to photograph the beautiful floral arrangements that were sent by friends and relatives. As I’ve collected these images over the years, I’ve noticed a couple of distinct styles of the funeral flowers photograph. In today’s post, I’m featuring photographs that appear to be made in the studio and which, with one exception, feature a cabinet card photograph of the deceased within the funeral flowers display. In future posts, I’ll feature funeral flowers photographs of what I call “home memorial shrines” which can be wonderfully elaborate.

This great cabinet card was made by Gustav Dahms of Davenport, Iowa. It looks like the funeral arrangements, which include common Christian symbols such as the anchor and cross, were hung on the wall. The card also bears a highly decorated backstamp which is most interesting.


This is a beautifully preserved image of the tributes for Ida, done by McDowell of Nelsonville, Ohio. Ida’s name can be seen on the pillow-shaped arrangement in the center, just below her photograph. Again, the cross, and some wonderful glass vases.

This artistic image, also by McDowell of Nelsonville, Ohio, is striking in its simplicity and unusual composition. The cabinet photo of a young lady is tucked away within the anchor, symbolizing the assurance that she awaits safely in heaven. This card also has a wonderful backstamp with a design that is copyrighted 1889.


The last card is by McDonnell of Erie, Pennsylvania. It shows many floral tributes with the sender’s cards attached and a cabinet photo of a young man within the “C” shaped arrangement at top that says “Brother”. I assume “C” was the first initial of the deceased.


Regrettably, none of the images are identified on the back with names or dates. Each is a standard size cabinet card measuring 6 ½ by 4 ¼ inches on heavy stock.

© 2010, copyright Stephen Mills

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Death Memorabilia, Part 4: Funeral Notices

As I mentioned in my first Death Memorabilia post, this series will examine the different categories, characteristics, and purposes of paper funeral collectibles. My earlier posts focused on memorial cabinet cards, and I expect I’ll be returning to those wonderful cards again in future posts, but I think it’s time to move on and talk about funeral notices.

To recap, memorial cabinet cards were commercially-produced mourning products that were manufactured and marketed by a number of American companies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They were ordered from catalogs and produced after the funeral was over. They were intended to be decorative keepsakes memorializing the deceased. In contrast, funeral notices served an entirely different purpose and they are a unique category of paper funeral memorabilia. Below is the earliest funeral notice in my collection:

The funeral notice was produced locally, as soon as practical after death occurred and funeral arrangements were finalized. Many times they were printed the same day the death occurred. The funeral notice performed a dual function, to notify friends and neighbors of the death and to invite them to the funeral. Typically, funeral notices were printed by local newspaper offices or handwritten by family members on blank forms. The means of distribution was usually by placing a stack of them in a public place, such as a general store or post office, where interested persons were likely to see them. Some funeral notices were mailed and, I feel sure, some were hand-delivered.

Invariably, funeral notices were kept as keepsakes, as were memorial cards, but that was not their primary function. They were not highly decorated or printed on durable stock suitable for framing or display. (There are exceptions, as the first funeral notice I purchased has a beautiful lily on the front of a cardstock folder.) They were primarily intended to inform persons of a death and invite them to the funeral.

Funeral notices typically include language inviting persons to attend the funeral; the name and death date of the deceased; and the date, time, and place of the funeral and/or burial. Many notices provide additional information such as the location and date published, names of family members, and transportation details necessary for those attending the funeral.

The funeral notices in my collection are usually black-bordered and they range from postcard size up to 8 by 6 inches. If mailed, the envelopes are also black-bordered, giving the recipient a “heads-up” on the news to be found inside.

The earliest funeral notice in my collection is from 1882 and the most recent is from 1956. I understand they are still used in some rural areas. In fact, I saw them in country stores in Lee and Fayette counties of Texas in the late 1980s. By that time, they had evolved into photocopies on standard 8 ½ by 11 paper. Below are two examples of funeral notices that were mailed.




© 2010, copyright Stephen Mills

Sunday, April 11, 2010

For Clara Finger - When I’m Gone


Here’s another great example of a dear lady laid out in the parlor of her home, most likely about 1910-1920. She’s not identified, but there’s an inscription on the back that says “For Clara Finger – When I’m Gone – H.E.H.” The original owner apparently took care to ensure the photograph would go to a person who would appreciate it, and of course I’m curious to know if Clara Finger ever received it and, if so, why it ended up for sale in 2002.

The peacefully posed subject is resting in a beautiful drop-front casket, which sits atop an ornate wooden stand. The floral decorations spill out from the casket interior onto the floor. One of the large arrangements has letters on it, which I can’t fully make out, but it could read “Lette”. No doubt this lady was greatly loved and mourned.

The photographer’s embossed imprint in the lower right corner says “G. W. Delling, Madelia, Minn.” Madelia is in Watonwan County, MN. Mr. Delling shows up there in the 1900 census, with his occupation listed as “Artist”. In the 1910 and 1920 censuses, he’s still living in Madelia, with occupation shown as “Photographer”. He was 67 years old in the 1920 census and isn’t listed in the Minnesota 1930 census, so I assume he died in the 1920s or moved elsewhere. This photograph, which is in excellent condition, measures 11 by 13 inches including the mounting board, and the image comes in at 8 ½ by 9 inches.

© 2010, copyright Stephen Mills