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!

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Tour of Fairhaven’s Riverside Cemetery

 

With the crisp October breeze and Halloween in the air, many historic cemeteries are featuring lantern light evening and afternoon tours of famous graves.  This is the time of year for pumpkins and cider, tales from the Past, and crunching through the falling leaves.  On Sunday, October 9, at 2:00 p.m. the Fairhaven Office of Tourism will be guiding a free, 90-minute walk at Riverside Cemetery, a beautiful rural-style cemetery created in 1850 by Warren Delano II, the grandfather of President FDR.  Riverside is easily located at 274 Main St. Coming over the Rt. 6 (Huttleston St.)  bridge from New Bedford, you will turn left just before the Henry H. Rogers High School, an impressive edifice which is hard to miss.

Many famous and notable graves are on the tour, including Eli Bence, the Fall River pharmacist who claimed Lizzie Borden tried to purchase Prussic acid the day before the Borden homicides.

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?

1890 Photos

The following two photographs appeared in Century magazine, in an article which described Oak Grove Cemetery as a memorial park setting and mentioned several famous people buried here. The first is of the arch as it appeared in 1890, showing the ivy.  The second is the Hargrave crypt, which is built into a ridge, also dated 1890. The Hargrave family were operators of a large soap manufacturing business in the city.


A trade card and 1883 image of the Hargrave Soap Manufacturing Co.

Who’s Famous in Oak Grove? Dr. Lewis Latimer!

 WORDS OF WISDOM:

“Like the light of the sun, it beautifies all things on which it shines, and is no less welcome in the palace than in the humblest homes”
 Lewis Latimer 1891, describing the quality of the electric lamp

Often people visiting the cemtery want to know about all the famous people buried in Oak Grove. There are big monuments to the mill barons, and of course everybody knows about the Bordens.  They even have a series of arrows painted on the ground to help you find the Borden plot.  There are politicians, artists, actors, servicemen, Civil War notables, and beloved city residents. The name of Lewis Latimer is largely unknown.  He has been placed in the catagory of top ten African-American inventors in the country! This link will take you to an excellent biography of Dr. Latimer and his accomplishments. If you see a young student today- tell them about Dr. Latimer! His museum, which was a house where he once lived, has been moved from Flushing, N.Y. to Queens. He was born in Chelsea. Massachusetts.

http://www.ideafinder.com/history/inventors/latimer.htm

Latimer Museum in Queens, photo courtesy of Discover Queens! web site.

34-41 137th St.
Flushing, NY 11354

 
The Lewis H. Latimer House is a modest Queen Anne-style, wood-frame suburban residence constructed between 1887 and 1889 by the Sexton family.  Lewis Howard Latimer, an African-American inventor and electrical pioneer and the son of fugitive slaves, lived in the house from 1903 until his death in 1928.  The house remained in the Latimer family until 1963.  Threatened with demolition, the house was moved from Holly Avenue to its present location in 1988. 
 
Two Poems by Lewis Latimer

Friends

Friend of my childhood,

Of life’s early days

When together we wandered

Through bright sunny ways

Each true to the other,

Till full manhood came,

And found the old friendship

As ever the same.

Came summer and winter,

Years waxed and waned.

Youth it had left us

But friendship remained

And now as with white locks

I bend o’er life’s page,

The friend of my childhood

Is the friend of my age.

 

Ebon Venus

Let others boast of maidens fair,

Of eyes of blue and golden hair;

My heart like needles ever true

Turns to the maid of ebon hue.

I love her form of matchless grace,

The dark brown beauty of her face,

Her lips that speak of love’s delight,

Her eyes that gleam as stars at night.

O’er marble Venus let them rage,

Who sets the fashions of the age;

Each to his taste, but as for me,

My Venus shall be ebony.

Alexander Lawson & T. Richard Kessell

 

Fall River rose granite

F.O.G. received an email from a relative of Nicholas Kessell, a Fall River stone cutter who worked with the T. Richard Kessell & Alexander Lawson monument company.  Lawson’s was located just outside the gates of Oak Grove Cemetery for many years and produced wonderful monuments of granite quarried from local sites. The rosy Fall River granite was especially fine. The quarry was filled in many years ago.  An excellent article appeared in The Spirit recently http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20110714/PUB03/107140358

The Tragic Case of Sarah Cornell

The sad story of mill girl Sarah Cornell is a well-known Fall River tragedy. Found hanging by the neck in a tree, she had written a note saying if anything happened to her, see the Reverend Avery! Here is her stone in Oak Grove which is in the third section over in front of the door of the brick outbuilding in the north- central part of the cemetery. Her stone is wearing very thin and is nearly illegible. For more about poor Sarah’s story http://www.brown.edu/Facilitie​s/University_Library/exhibits/​RLCexhibit/avery/averyms.html  The site of her hanging is now the westernmost part of Kennedy Park.