At Death’s Door

Our mailbox today has an interesting comment from Jackie:

“Can you tell me what they call the window/door that was used to move the dead body from the home? I have heard it called “death’s door” hence the expression of one being at death’s door. There is some superstition about moving the dead through the front door.”

REPLY

I am aware of some superstitions surrounding the removal of a body from the home. The deceased was always taken out feet first in the coffin so that the dead could not look back at its home and the spirit remain inside the house.  Many houses of the mid-to-late Victorian period have a special niche called a “coffin corner” cut into the stairwell so that the coffin could make the turn in the flight of stairs by fitting the head of the coffin into this little niche shelf.  Some old homes also have a showcase window in the front of the house, a sort of bay window where the deceased could lie in state for people to pass by on the street and pay their respects.

The expression “at death’s door” is applied to someone so ill as to be at the very brink of death. In funeral statuary in cemeteries, a door is often used as the symbol for passing through the portal from Life to another state.  Arches, windows, and portals carry the same meaning.  Sometimes in remote rural homes, a door was used to lay the body upon when carrying it downstairs (as most died in upstairs bedrooms).  Boards made of wide planks of wood or caned surfaces were used as “cooling boards” to lay out the body during autopsy or embalming before placing the deceased in a casket or coffin. Please write and tell us if you have more information on this expression!

Advertisements

Oak Grove Facebook Quiz Tonight!

 

Need more excitement in your life?  Nothing good on T.V.?

Tune in tonight,( September 15th) at 10 p.m. for the first ever (but not the last) So you think you know Oak Grove Cemetery? Jeopardy-style online quiz.

Questions and photo identifications will be posted in rapid fire, each going up after the previous one has been correctly answered.  There will be one winner, with difficult brainbusters in case of a tie. Join us at Friends of Oak Grove Fall River tonight. A prize will be awarded to the winner- and the competition will be fierce! How well do YOU know Oak Grove?

Arches, gates and doors

arch

This particularly beautiful tall arch is to be found in the central west end of Oak Grove and is a familiar symbol of passing through from one state to another- from earthly to celestial, from life to the hereafter.

There are smaller arches, gateways and doors to be found in Oak Grove, some found carved onto tabular monuments and others carved completely as the symbol itself. This one has an Egyptian inspiration- complete with canopic jar.

portal

Victorian mourning in art

 A popular epitaph

As you are now, so once was I.

As I am now, so you must be.

Prepare for death and follow me.”

                            

youngwidow_johnson

The Young Widow 1877, exchanging the wedding gown for mourning

The Victorian preoccupation with death is reflected in the art of the period.  Photographs, paintings, death portraits, steel engravings, lithographs, etchings, and other art forms embraced the most sentimental and heartrending portrayals of loss and bereavement.

These works by both amateurs and the great artists such as Landseer and the Pre-Raphaelites were displayed in the parlor or sometimes in the bedchamber as a perpetual reminder that death is always with us.

oldshepherd_landseer

The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner by Landseer

Animals and children were especially popular as subjects to portray pathos and grieving.

Death of a Young Child

bramley1

The 1894 sketch above is called For Such is the Kingdom by Frank Bramley and illustrates the custom of little children dressed in white walking in procession in front of a small white coffin containing a young person.  Often four young maidens, also dressed in white attire served as pall bearers for the departed child.  The custom of children wearing white to funerals continued well into the twentieth century.

 

Oak Grove in Winter

(Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep sung by Ben Crawley, with Boys Choir Libera, text below)
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints in snow,
I am the sunlight and ripened grain.
I am the gentle Autumn rain.Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
When you awake in the morning hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.

Zinc Monuments

One type of monument especially popular from the Civil War through 1900 is the white bronze or zinc monument.   White bronze is a misnomer, for the monument is not made of bronze, but rather zinc or more rarely, iron.  The final patina is whitish to pale blue to darker blue, and the great benefit of this type of monument is that the embossed metal panels and ornaments hold epitaphs and images in sharp relief for a very long time. They seem to take the weather, moss and lichen growth and acid rain exceptionally well.  The only drawback is that attached elements, such as a top urn, can be easily snapped off, and seams, especially at the base, can separate.  With the proper method of repair, however, this is not much of a problem, but trouble results when concrete is used as a filler.  The zinc monument offers a good crisp image for monument rubbing using rice paper and soft heelball wax. For more information on zinc monuments, visit these two links below.  Oak Grove has many beautiful examples of this monument type.

http://www.si.edu/mci/english/research/conservation/zinc_sculptures.html

http://www.tngenweb.org/darkside/white.html