With October nearing a close, everyone is heading out to the local apple orchards, pumpkin patches, and haunted houses. While you’re carving pumpkins, drinking apple cider, and telling ghost stories, don’t forget to check out Tinker Swiss Cottage for a historical twist to the fall season!
What’s new (and maybe a little creepy) at Tinker Swiss Cottage for the month of October?
On September 4, 1901, Mary Tinker passed away in her home at the age of 72. The Tinker family stopped the clocks at the time of her death, and her portrait in the parlor was adorned with flowers. In the Victorian era whenever a death occurred in the family the clocks would be stopped at the time of death, as if time itself stopped with the passing of the loved one. If a portrait existed of the departed, it would be strewn with beautiful flowers. When you visit us this month you will notice that the clock in the parlor has been set to the time of Mary’s death, and her portrait is once again decorated with flowers and crape.
The most obvious difference you will find in the parlor is the authentic Victorian coffin. Don’t worry, nothing is going to pop out at you, but it does bring a creepy feel to the room. Along with the coffin, you will notice that the full-length mirror is covered in black. The Victorians covered mirrors for two purposes. First, it allowed the family to mourn without having to watch themselves cry. However, the second purpose is far more interesting – a spiritual movement in the Victorian era. During this movement, not only were Victorian families going to church every Sunday and reading their Bibles, but they also believed heavily in the spirit world. Some tried to make contact with their departed through séances and Ouija Boards, while others simply did not want their loved one’s spirits to be trapped in the home. The Victorians believed covering the mirrors stopped the departed souls from getting trapped inside of it, thereby allowing them to find their way out of the home more easily.
In the library you will find a Witch’s Ball sitting on the fireplace mantle. Legend has it that a homeowner with children would place string inside of the Witch’s Ball in order to protect their little ones from the witches who would sneak in through the windows at night. The Victorians believed that the witches would be attracted to the ball with the string inside of it. They would waste away their nights trying to pull the string out one little piece at a time until morning came and they had to flee. The children’s souls would be safe from the witches, and enough string would be left in the ball to protect the children the next night as well.
What other aspects of death were the Victorians interested in?
The Victorians had many other mourning traditions. For example, the family of the deceased would wear specific mourning garb. The style, fabric, and color varied depending on one’s relationship with the departed. Wives wore mourning clothes longer than any other member of a family. The women wore black veils covering their faces for 3 months after their husband’s death, and then the veil was moved to the back of their bonnet. Widows wore veils for approximately one year and the rest of their mourning attire for a total of two years. After two years they did not need to wear the deep black dresses, but they had to slowly transition from dark colors to lighter ones. Many widows never returned to the brightly colored dresses, choosing to remain the muted colors for the rest of their lives. Men would wear their black suits, gloves, and neck ties for a year after their wives passed. Parents would mourn the loss of their children for a year, and children would mourn their parents’ deaths for approximately a year as well. Siblings mourned for approximately six months. Be sure to stop in to see Mary Dorr Manny Tinker’s Mourning gown on display in our sitting room for yourself!
In an era before Facebook and Instagram, the Victorians did not have many images to remind them of their loved ones who had passed. Post-mortem photography became very popular, since it was possibly one of the only times a person could have their portraits taken (generally due to the high cost). During these sessions the body of the deceased would be propped up in an effort to make them seem more lifelike. It was also very common for other family members to gather around the dead in order for their picture to be taken at the same time. In the Tinker Dining Room you will get a chance to see one of these images.
Along with post-mortem photographs, the Victorians would also take pieces of their loved one’s hair to fashion into a keepsake. Some fastened locks of hair into jewelry, while others were arranged into floral shapes and framed. Many Victorian families even collected hair from every family member who passed and fashioned the strands into pieces of art. In Jessie’s bedroom, you will find a lock of Jessie’s first husband Gye Hurd’s hair next to his photo on her dresser.
Remember, these pieces are only out on display for the month of October! Hurry in to learn about mourning customs in the Victorian Era before October’s over!
It’s also not too late to join us for one of our unique Paranormal Tours! Our final tour for the season will be this Friday, October 26 at 7pm.
Some extra reading:
Victorian Funeral Customs and Superstitions