The Porterville Historical Museum was host to a fascinating event on Saturday evening, where over 30 people sat outside to listen to Dallas Pattee give a lecture on the mourning rituals of the Victorian Era. Pattee has researched and visited nearly every cemetery in Tulare County, and collects antique mourning memorabilia, some of which she had on display during her lecture.
Pattee, who is also a part of the Tulare County Historical Society, was excited to be at the museum on Saturday night and was welcomed with a round of applause. She explained that normally during this time of year she hosts “Tales from the Tomb,” an event in which she goes to local cemeteries and research interesting people buried there, before writing a script about their lives and having actors perform her scripts. She also hosted walking tours in the cemeteries in which she would feature the grave sites of those people she wrote scripts about.
“There are, I think, seven cemeteries in the Porterville cemetery district,” said Pattee. “So there is a whole lot to choose from. I hope to get that started once we can get going again after we get out of this pandemic we’re stuck in at the moment.”
Pattee then began her lecture and stated that Momento Mori, the theme for the lecture, simply means remember death, and those in the Victorian Era would often remember death, and the dead, in very different ways than we do now.
One way that mourning rituals differed from what is common now, is that in the Victorian Era, people would take locks of hair from their recently deceased loved ones and have that hair put into jewelry which would be worn during the grieving process and, oftentimes, after the socially accepted grieving period was over.
“Hair with jewelry was really a big thing back in the Victorian times,” said Pattee. “We have evolved now in the 21st century. I don’t think any one is doing the braided hair into jewelry, but what we’ve got is so much better.”
She explained that cremated remains of loved ones can now be made into diamonds and set into jewelry, and displayed a locket in which the cremated remains of a loved one can be stored inside the locket and worn.
As her lecture continued, Pattee stated that pictures were often taken of deceased relatives, postmortem, and hung in houses.
“It was very important that they take those pictures,” said Pattee. “It’s not like today. They didn’t have cell phones with cameras, they didn’t even have an instamatic in those days. Oftentimes they didn’t have a picture of their loved ones who died, so they had to get the picture in postmortem because that was the only photo they would have of that loved one.”
A highlight piece that was displayed during Pattee’s lecture was the memorial photo and book for President William McKinley, who was assassinated in 1901. She also displayed an 1863 copyrighted edition of the sheet music for “Requiem” which was written in mourning for Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.
“Death had a lot of meaning and significance to these people,” said Pattee. “It was such a big part of their lives.”