In Victorian England a family outing might include a public hanging. According to Judith Flanders “The Invention of Murder” Harper Press, pp.556 20 “Courtrooms became theatres and executions were a family day out, catered by roving snack-vendors selling biscuits and peppermints named after the condemned.”
It would seem that we have always been attracted to murder and mayhem. Today it maybe gruesome television series back then the Gothic novel comes to mind. Man is what he is.
There was another practice in America as well as Britain during the Victorian era that seems rather macabre. (This may shock some.)
The other day while watching a PBS special about Robert Leroy Parker, better known as the “Butch Cassidy”, the practice was again brought to my attention whether the photo was staged or not.
At the very end of the broadcast there is a picture of the posse with the propped up body of Parker, much like a trophy kill. While possibly not so shocking due to the nature of the subject (he was a criminal), it still is a human being paraded for all to see after he has left this life. A message to those who would chose to break the law.
Post Mortem Photography
The invention of the daguerreotype photograph by Louis Daguerre in 1839 made it possible for not only the wealthy families to have family portraits. This type was seen mainly during the 1840's and 50's. These should not be confused with ambrotypes and tintypes. The ambrotype done on glass was the predecessor to the tintype which would probably be more commonly used. Tintypes were most actively used during the years between 1860 and 1870.
These new means of photography made it possible for families to capture their loved ones and therefore preserve their memory in perpetuity. Should a family member die suddenly they could still be captured and appear with the rest of the family members. This way they would be forever remembered.
The practice was still somewhat expensive as the body had to be staged and posed. Time was also of the essence. Sometimes the eyes were painted on the closed eyelids to give the appearance that the person was still alive. These tend to be the most disturbing.
Most popular seem to be those of children, perhaps as the rate of child mortality was quite high in those days.
While one would think this custom was bordering on morbid, there were those who found it comforting to have something to remember the loved one. Even today in some places pictures of the deceased are taken in their coffin and cards distributed to family members as a remembrance of that person. While still disturbing they are not as much so as the ones that portray the victim as still alive.
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