A Mourning Event

The last time I blogged, I told you about my visit to the Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion in St. Louis. Two weeks after my first visit to the mansion, I returned to attend A Mourning Event. You can never be sure if these historical “reenactments” of the period and/or event will meet expectations, but this one was very well done.

Bear in mind that mourning customs and length of mourning period depended upon social status, wealth, and geographic location. So, if you’ve read some different customs or time periods, I’m not surprised. I’ve seen differing customs, as well, but the information given at this event was for a wealthy family with servants living in St. Louis, Missouri after the Civil War.

Of course, black was the color of the day. Black bunting draped the front of the house, a black wreath stood on a wire stand near the door, and the butler was, of course, dressed in black and greeted us with the somber countenance of an employee mourning the death of his beloved employer.

Deep mourning was the first stage of mourning for a woman, and it immediately followed the death of a husband, wife, or child. Mourning clothes were generally plain with little or no adornment. A widow in deep mourning would wear all black clothing and jewelry. If out in public, she wore gloves and a black veil covered her face. Hats were not to be worn for mourning. Instead, bonnets covered in crape were worn by the grieving widow. She did not speak with anyone but her family or closest friends. She did not attend parties or gatherings and would basically seclude herself from the public in general. She would stay in this deep mourning for at least a year and a day. The hankies pictured at left depict those used during different stages of mourning.

Second stage mourning followed deep mourning and lasted around 9 to 12 months. Full mourning collars and cuffs were replaced by white, veils were taken off, crape was discarded, and jewelry of a wider variety was worn. By this second year the woman could add lace. The veil was of black crape, and very long, but by the second year it could be shortened.

Half mourning was the last stage of a woman’s mourning ritual. It was during these last 6 months that the widow could include the addition of lilac, lavender, violet, mauve, and gray. She was no longer limited to just black with a touch of white. She would use black and white ornaments for evening wear, bonnets were white, lavender silk or straw. Dresses with bold prints were also acceptable fashion. The dress at right would be for half mourning and the woman is shown with an infant casket.

For specific periods of time, depending on their community mores, a widow would not leave her home and did not receive any visitors. After a respectable time, she would then send out black edged cards advising friends and family that her time of heavy mourning had passed and she could now receive visitors. In general it took about two and a half years for a woman to complete the mourning process over her deceased husband. With each stage she slowly became part of society again. The picture above is the type of stationery that would have been used by the widow.

For a man, mourning was quite different. Men were needed to take care of the family and the business, therefore he was needed to return to his occupation as soon as the deceased was buried. A male’s mourning garb was his best dark suit with a weeper (made of crape) wrapped around the hatband of his hat. A man might wear a black cockade on his lapel and possibly a black armband as well.

Once a widower’s wife was buried, he may look for a new wife soon after – especially if he had young children at home or if she died giving birth to a living child. Here’s the most unique twist—if he re-married shortly after his deceased wife was buried, his new wife would then mourn for the first wife, wearing all the mourning clothing and going through the stages as described above! Now that would be a very difficult and strange way to begin a marriage, don’t you think?

May you find joy as you explore the past. ~Judy

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