A Victorian Era Funeral, History, Food, and Facts: All in One Event

Victorian era casket and handler with Wayne County Historical Society. Source: Thomas Bailey
Victorian era casket and handler with Wayne County Historical Society. Source: Thomas Bailey

“Victorian Mourning Practices” Presentation and Social Scheduled for Oct. 27

Forget vampires and monsters. In advance of Halloween, immerse yourself in a real, unusual, and slightly creepy part of the Victorian Era by attending a unique, historical funeral.

Victorian era people were obsessed with death and burial.  On Saturday, October 27, 2018, 6:30-11pm, the “Victorian Mourning Practices” event will be held at the Weil House, 200 W Chestnut Street, Goldsboro, North Carolina — a home built during that unique era in history. Presented by the Wayne County Historical Association, the evening presentation offers immersion in a historical home, complete with Victorian era-appropriate furnishings, demonstrations, and displays.

Enjoy Victorian era food and drinks, and learn the facts of death, rituals, and grieving in the 1880s. Unlike haunted houses, corn mazes, and other attractions, this event offers factual information and representative artifacts from the late 1800s.

Funeral Demonstration

The funeral, ahem, “guest to be honored”, will arrive at 7pm. Attendees are asked to arrive early to be there to see him “placed” for the evening. (Doors will open at 6:30pm.)

Victorian era casket used for Wayne County Historical Society event. Source: Thomas Bailey
Victorian era casket used for Wayne County Historical Society event. Source: Thomas Bailey

Weil House “Tour” and Exhibits

Tour the downstairs of the 1897 Gertrude Weil house at the corner of James and Chestnut. The couple who now privately-own the Weil House are moving out their modern furniture, and the Wayne County Historical Society will be moving in antiques and Victorian-appropriate furniture and displays.

There will be displays of items that were a part of this era’s death-related weird practices, which included tarot, seances, and other ways that people of the Victorian era found for connecting to the deceased. People of the era felt that the veil between the dead and the living was very thin, they sought to somehow connect with the deceased. Tarot, bells, feathers and other items from the era will be on display, and will be explained, however there will be no demonstration, no performing of rituals, no reading of tarot cards, but just facts and explanation of how they were used.

On display will be mourning jewelry, too. In this period of time, people would save hair from deceased loved ones. The hair would be used to make jewelry, even wreaths, to preserve the hair. Come and hear more explanation of the reasoning and methods behind this.

Also popular in this time, when photography was becoming more prevalent in the world, postmortem photography became part of the death-related rituals. Dead bodies were propped up or sat in chairs and their “final” photograph taken, showing them in death.

In addition to the indoor displays, expect to see an 1880s hearse on the lawn, Victorian-era tombstones, and (shudder) antique caskets.

What Did Mourners Eat?

During this event, then-traditional funeral foods will be served, using recipes gleaned from 1800s cookbooks, including “funeral cookies” made from recipes that the historical society has gleaned from old cookbooks. (Funeral cookies = sugar cookies decorated with crosses.)

In a more modern twist, adult beverages will be available for those who’d like a nip or bunker while learning the facts of Victorian “sensibilities” and death rituals. (Must be 21+.)

What Did Mourners Wear?

While not necessary, attendees are encouraged to “Wear your best black outfits to protect yourself.” This is optional, and hearkens back to the Victorian practice of wearing black to funerals as protection from the grim reaper. Wearing black was thought to make mourners invisible to the specter of death.

Another clothing-related tradition that will be explained includes the tying of black ribbons around the wrists of people as they entered a home for a funeral. Household pets were also adorned with ribbons.

The event will cover related mourning behaviors, such as the draping of mirrors and photographs with black crepe. Attend and learn more about mourners’ experiences way back when.

Presentation at Event

The presentation on mourning practices will cover the above items in more detail, and delve into Victorian era terms that you, yourself, may have used without understanding their origins. These include:

“Saved by the bell” — From the olden days when doctors might not truly know if you’re dead or not, and a coffin included a string and bell, in case you woke up underground and needed to be dug up.

“Graveyard shift” — Because of the above, one of your loved ones would sit near your grave on the first night you were buried, to listen in case your bell began to ring.

“Dead ringer” — A person who awoke in their grave, pulled the string from inside their coffin, and rang the bell so they could be exhumed before they really died.

The presentation may also cover odd Victorian practices, such as people who considered themselves important hiring professional mourners for their funerals so that the crowd would be larger and they might appear to have been more beloved.

While there will be modern conveniences like restrooms, most of the event focuses on immersing its participants in 1880s life. In addition to food and displays, there will be violin players entertaining with Victorian era music.

Skull and bones. Source: Thomas Bailey of Wayne County Historical Society
Skull and bones. Source: Thomas Bailey of Wayne County Historical Society

Tickets

Do Not let this unique event “pass” you by. Tickets may be purchased at the Wayne County Museum, located at 116 N William Street, Goldsboro NC. Tickets are available for individuals or couples:

  • $20 per Soul
  • $35 for Two Souls

Note that those ticket prices will increase by $5 at the door, and the event may sell out in advance; don’t get left out; buy tickets today.

Each ticket for this event includes two free-drink tickets (beer or wine), for those of legal age.

With questions, call 919.734.5023.

Historical Society Information

Membership in the Wayne County Historical Society, which oversees the Wayne County Museum, start with a basic/individual rate of $35; family membership is $50 per year. See more on the Museum’s website membership page, which includes descriptions of benefits.

Other events coming up with the historical society, and at the museum, are not death-oriented… This funeral event is a special history event for a more upbeat, educational offering near the Halloween season — but without the witches and vampires.

The Mission of the historical society is: “To discover, preserve, document, display, and disseminate historical knowledge and artifacts of Wayne County. Wayne County Museum also seeks to increase public awareness of the heritage of Wayne County and its environs through exhibits, events, and traditional and digital information sources.”

 

Victorian Mourning Practices event is Oct. 27, 2018. Source: Wayne County Museum, Goldsboro NC
Victorian Mourning Practices event is Oct. 27, 2018. Source: Wayne County Museum, Goldsboro NC

 

The Wayne County Museum is online at www.waynemuseum.org.

The Weil House, Goldsboro NC

The Weil house, built in the 1875, is named for the original owner, Henry Weil, who along with his wife, Mina, made a home in Goldsboro NC. The home was inherited by their daughter, Gertrude Weil (1879-1971).  Gertrude was a reformer who focused on social welfare and equality for all. She is the subject of a book, Gertrude Weil: Jewish Progressive in the New South by Leonard Rogoff, published in 2017. The book is available on Amazon.com, and includes photographs of the family — some in Victorian dress — and the historic home in Goldsboro NC. The Weil house, on the national historical register, is now owned privately.

Gertrude Weil NC Highway Historical Marker and Weil House. Source: NC Department of Cultural Resources, NCmarkers.com
Gertrude Weil NC Highway Historical Marker and Weil House. Source: NC Department of Cultural Resources, NCmarkers.com

 

The NCSU Libraries digital collection includes blueprints of the Weil House here.

 

Source: Jennifer Kuykendall, Wayne County Historical Society

About Kay Whatley 1968 Articles
Kay Whatley serves as Editor and Reporter with The Grey Area News. Kay is a published author with over 20 years of experience in the publishing industry. Kay Whatley is wife to Frank Whatley, founder of The Grey Area™ newspaper and The Grey Area News online news website.