‘To the solemn graves, near a lonely cemetery,
my heart like a muffled drum is beating funeral marches’
– Charles Baudelaire
I found a Cemetery trivia quiz during a Google search for something else. It is called Cemeteries Can Be Fun. Sheldon – did we miss a trick? Should we have come up with a quiz ages ago? I took it (it turns out to have quite a sense of humour) and scored 80% which is quite respectable given that most of my answers were guesses. My favourite new facts are that Cemetery visiting is apparently called ‘graving’ (who knew? Sheldon, did you??) and that if you find a ‘Zinker’, you have found a gravestone made from zinc. The quiz is clearly American – it states that Zinkers were manufactured between 1873 and 1920, largely in Connecticut. They were designed to look like expensive granite and marble, but had a bluish colour.
There’s more things that are used to store a corpse in for interment than just coffins. While a coffin is a receptacle that is wider at the shoulders and narrower at the feet, a casket is completely rectangular and a sarcophagus is molded to the shape of the human body and often has a portrait of the deceased on the lid. Think: Ancient Egyptians. The word ‘sarcophagus’ comes from two Greek words: ‘sarx’ meaning flesh and ‘phagein’ meaning to eat. Yummy.
There was once a belief that ghosts and spirits could be weighed down. I never gave much thought to why tombstones are made out of heavy stone materials, assuming it was an endurance sort of thing. But actually, the idea that a spirit may rise up from the dead and follow you home is something that goes back a long way – mazes were sometimes constructed at the entrance to ancient tombs as it was believed that spirits could only travel in a straight line.
Victorians, led by Queen Victoria when she was grieving for Prince Albert, took the idea of mourning to a whole new, macabre level. The Victorians truly were the Kings and Queens of bizarre death customs. Here are a couple:
There were several stages of mourning, and each one called for a different fashion statement. During the first stage, a woman was to wear jewellery made only of jet, a fossilized form of coal. During the second stage she would progress to wearing lockets containing hair from the deceased, or sometimes jewellery MADE OUT OF hair from the deceased. Restrictive widow’s dress, known as ‘widows weeds’ would then be worn for 2 years in total. Some women never wore colour again once their husband had died.
Postmortem Portraits were a thing. Especially after 1839, and once the daguerreotype photograph had been invented, because it became more affordable, so every man and his dog could have a picture of his loved one, taken AFTER their death (or indeed a picture of their dog). Many were posed and sometimes open eyes were painted onto the faces of the deceased.
‘The fence around a cemetery is foolish, for those inside can’t get out and those inside don’t want to get in’
– Arthur Brisbane
All photographs taken by Christina Owen, Copyright 2014