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funhistory
10-29-2007, 04:10 PM
Gentlemen:

As suggested last week, I've posted several photos from the past season's events. The images can be viewed at http://usera.imagecave.com/funhistory. I included the "kid friendly" notation just to reassure the timid that the images are safe for viewing.

NoahBriggs
10-29-2007, 06:20 PM
I like the ol' "Coin In the Eyes To pay Charon" detail.

As a mortuary surgeon, would you be wearing a military uniform? I would think they were independent citizen contractors or operators. Not criticizing your impression, just curious.

It would be real cool if we could see all your chemicals and tools.

funhistory
10-29-2007, 07:49 PM
Noah,

While the coins on the eyes figure into the folklore of death as you've identified with the connection to Charon, they served the real purpose of being the right diameter and weight to hold the eyelids closed until the delicate tissues and muscles could fix into place. Suturing wasn't an acceptable option to close the eyelids; other methods are used in modern funeral service to avoid the problem of open eyelids. Many people are very familiar with the folklore without any knowledge of the practical application.

As to the employment of embalming surgeons, they were private citizens/contractors who followed the progress of battle until quite late in the War. In our case, we don't wear military uniforms. The trousers are dark green, and yes, the waistcoat is a high button military one; you've got me there. I bought them on sutler row at an event because I ran out of time needed to make them myself as I did with the rest of the wardrobe. I knew that we could dare to appear without sack coats (in progress) but that we dare not appear in public without waistcoats. Mine has hand-sewn buttonholes and details quite different from others that the sutler had for sale. I recognized the high quality of the garment; so I bought it with the intention of later adjustment. I haven't been able to bear ripping the brass buttons off of it, and I haven't found buttons that would be correct. I may make my own to correct that detail. I've also acquired a grey civilian waistcoat with lapels and fabric-covered buttons. I've concluded that if asked and in the navy one, I'm wearing a dead officer's waistcoat taken in payment for services.

I haven't taken photos of our instruments and chemical display. Admittedly, they are basic. I'll try to take photos at our next set-up.

NoahBriggs
10-29-2007, 08:44 PM
Gotcha.

I have played a dead guy, aka "corpus delicious", complete with the makeup, the essence of decomp, and proper rigor. My toes got tied together to keep the legs from spreading, and a cloth was tied around my chin to keep the "rigor" from wrenching the jaw open.

I also played a dead guy taken directly from the hospital tent to a mortuary surgeon, who proceeded to demonstrate the eight-hour process to drain the blood, only he did a CSI style "speed up" of the process. (Since the blood no longer moves you have to massage the body to force it out through the big needle in the aorta.) He then demonstrated the insertion via gravity-fed bottle the preservative du jour.

So - hold a rigor mortis pose for about an hour and a half, and sneak a breath when no one's looking. Those d**ned keep careful track.

Oh, fun. :rolleyes:

by the way, you can appear in public with just a shirt on. I'd recommend it, along with an apron; I don't think embalming was a tidy job.

Jas. Cox
10-29-2007, 09:47 PM
Just today I was looking at a LOC image of an embalmer at work. Their images are a fantastic resource for research. One can download for free high resolution (often 500 dpi of scanned glass plate negatives) images on a variety of subjects. I've downloaded a number of surgeons, medical related, Indiana (my home state) and infantry in general images.

This should link one to the embalmer image:

http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/I?ils:3:./temp/~pp_4vZ3::displayType=1:m856sd=cwpb:m856sf=01887:@ @@

funhistory
10-29-2007, 10:50 PM
I can't imagine what other members of the Forum may be thinking when the Medical "section" turns to a discussion of embalming!

Noah, your embalmer got many of the details correct; however, rigor mortis is another of the great myths of funeral service. Rigor isn't always present in every body. Its onset can be strong, mild, or not present at all. Rigor is caused by a buildup of lactic acid in the muscles, and it can be relieved through flexion and/or massage through the embalming process itself. Rigor generally relaxes after a few hours. The stiffness that one might notice in modern cases is a direct result of the embalming fluid doing its job to firm the tissues. The other "mortis" that isn't reversable is "livor mortis", or lividity. It is a purplish-red discoloration of the body caused by the settling of blood in the tissues through gravity. If a body dies on its back, lividity appears on the backside. Modern embalmers observe that it can be difficult to mask if the individual dies face down.

The alternative to binding the jaw is to sew it closed. That would have been fun! We sew through the ligament at the upper jaw below the septum and through the ligament at the base of the jaw below the gum line. Some jaws fix in place without binding or sewing.

Drainage of the blood was rarely performed, and it would be impossible if the body had been lying around due to coagulation. From our research, the preservative chemicals were simply injected directly into the arterial system, and one would hope for the best. A cylindrical hand pump and a cannula was the preferred method of delivery.

Gravity injection didn't come onto the scene until later in the century, and direct cardiac injection was rare. Generally during the period from 1840 to around 1880, arterial injection was achieved through the primary points of injection that are still used today: the carotid, the brachial, or the femoral. If your demonstrator performed an aeortic injection, I hope that he didn't leave a mark! I prefer the carotid or the brachial. Our volunteers aren't too crazy about messing with the femoral! Talk about having to lie still. One slip of the scalpel, and well... Suffice to say that femoral injection wouldn't be kid friendly.

You asked earlier about chemicals: the compound of choice was usually arsenic based (along with some alum, creosote, some glycerine, and a touch of thymol), or zinc chloride (used straight or with a few additives). The goal was to achieve dessication and disinfection. Even though formaldehyde was to be discovered by a German chemist in the late 1860s, it wasn't used in funeral service until mid 1890s.

As to the photo from the LC web site, it is one of a pair of Brady images of Dr. (Richard?) Burr. The one that Jas. Cox shared is the most commonly seen; however, there is a second image of Burr taken with the embalmer facing the camera and without his hat. This variant image appears on page 38 of Juanita Leisch's Civil War Civilians The other photo of Burr appears on page 257 of the Kunhardt's Matthew Brady and His World. Bill Frassaanito illustrates Chamberlain and Lyford on page 363 of Early Photography at Gettysburg. Great stuff!

NoahBriggs
10-30-2007, 07:49 AM
Thank you for clarifying. I don't remember that much of his lecture; it was at the infamous "Bull Run Bake" of August 2001. I got tired of holding the rigor pose, so through the course of his lecture the "cadaver" finally relaxed.

He laid his wicked chemical needle next to the side of my neck away from the crowd. I never got stripped and covered with a sheet, either.

I'd guess that I was too "fresh" a cadaver for the livor mortis to set in. (If you realy want to look for reasons to stretch the plausibility factor.)

Morbid as it may sound to us today: there is a correllation between the funerary and medical businesses. Obviously, one keeps the other in business, and they use similar sciences - bio chemistry and general chemistry. We think of funerary and death as morbid; the Victorians lavished in it, ergo a discussion of serious embalming practices of the era makes perfect sense. I don't have a problem with it! :)

Apologies for i-jacking your thread.

bizzilizzit
10-30-2007, 08:59 AM
Gentlemen:

As suggested last week, I've posted several photos from the past season's events. The images can be viewed at http://usera.imagecave.com/funhistory. I included the "kid friendly" notation just to reassure the timid that the images are safe for viewing.

I have a bizarre question - were limbs broken to fit in caskets that weren't custom made?

funhistory
10-30-2007, 10:39 AM
Elizabeth and others,

Aha, another of the great myths of funeral practice. The funeral directors with whom I've spoken, assure me that they never break limbs in order to place or fit a body in a casket, and they go on to report that they never heard that it was done by their fathers and grandfathers in the profession. It's certainly not a "secret" that is revealed in any of the funeral and embalming texts that started to appear in the late 1870s. Nor are there references to this practice as no longer necessary or appropriate in a maturing profession.

One current funeral director admitted that the most radical treatment that he ever performed in over thirty years' work was to cut an Achilles tendon in order to relax a leg that was misshapen. A body can be placed in a casket in a variety of ways in order to ensure that it fits. For example, bodies aren't laid fully flat in the casket. They're generally propped up at the shoulders, which would reduce the overall height. Legs can be shortened by flexing at the knees and by rotating them to the sides at the hips (as long as only the upper torso is being viewed), and this would also reduce the overall height. The interior padding can be rearranged to create hollows.

Unilke a modern burial casket, nineteenth century coffins and caskets came in six inch increments from infant size (at about 24") up to adult size (at 72"); so, it would unlikely that anyone would need a custom made coffin, which is another of the great myths. There were factories in the East that were producing coffins made of various materials as early as 1850; so, it wasn't necessary for the undertaker to also be a cabinetmaker. Coffins and caskets were shipped express by rail, and we have heard numerous stories from the trade that it was not uncommon for a funeral director to meet a 2:00 a.m. freight train at the station to pick up a casket that had been shipped from the nearest factory. Most urban areas had a casket factory by the 1870s. The undertaker would, however, upholster the interior of the rough box, finish or cover the exterior, and attach handles and hardware that had been selected by the survivors depending upon their means and tastes.

bizzilizzit
10-30-2007, 12:22 PM
Aha, another of the great myths of funeral practice. Unilke a modern burial casket, nineteenth century coffins and caskets came in six inch increments from infant size (at about 24") up to adult size (at 72"); so, it would unlikely that anyone would need a custom made coffin, which is another of the great myths. There were factories in the East that were producing coffins made of various materials as early as 1850; so, it wasn't necessary for the undertaker to also be a cabinetmaker.

Thanks for all the info - just more myths the historical society I volunteer for insist on perpetuating, against my protestations. Seems "thrilling" visitors with lurid tales wins out over actual historical facts.

funhistory
10-30-2007, 01:49 PM
Noah,

Think nothing of hijacking the original thread. I figure that it comes with the territory: new kid in the neighborhood with new and different toys and from a different school; people want to learn more. Invariably, everyone has a funeral-related question or story that they want to share or a myth that needs to be debunked; so, I'm used to it: church, grocery store, cocktail parties, etc. Once people learn what I do (and that I'm not a funeral director), the questions begin to flow.

funhistory
10-30-2007, 02:00 PM
Elizabeth,

As long as I'm angering the docents at the local historical society or historic house museum, I figured that I should debunk another myth. Are you ready? Hold on... The niche at the top of a long flight of stairs in many grand homes isn't there so that it becomes easier to move a coffin downstairs from the bedroom. Oh, no! That would be completely impractical. Most undertakers were sole practitioners; so, who'd carry the other end? Why add to the weight and ungainliness of a body in a box and a long, steep flight of stairs? The embalming texts that we have in the Museum's collection suggest that the body was first carried downstairs and that preparation work wasn't done in a second-floor bedroom where jostling down the stairs could lead to a mess. Instead, a lot of embalming was done in the kitchen (no expensive carpet to damage, close to a source of water for bathing and mixing chemicals, and a rear exit to dispose of any fluids or drainage in the privy outdoors). After preparation, the body was removed to the parlor for laying out. The coffin or casket would them be ordered from a factory and shipped in. It would usually be delivered to the house the morning of the funeral service. Feel free to share this but do so at your own risk.

hanktrent
10-30-2007, 02:15 PM
Interesting topic! What kinds of people or circumstances were most apt to have a body embalmed? For long transportation, of course, but what were other tyipcal reasons or situations for embalming, and how common overall was it in the 1860s?

Hank Trent
hanktrent@voyager.net

NoahBriggs
10-30-2007, 02:19 PM
All right, following the suggestion of the first quote under my signature, let's continue to debunk -

T or F: the term "living room" was created to differentiate from the parlor, because the parlor was where the remains lay in state? Supposedly led to the term "funeral parlor". People associated parlors with the dead; too morbid, hence a new term: "Living room". No, I did not get that one from those insidious internet "FW: Fw: RE: FW: FW:fw: Re: Did you know??" e-mails.

T or F: The term "wake" - was it left over from the practice of watching over a decedent on the off chance they might "wake up", and rigor/livor/decay setting in was confirmation s/he was truly dead? I understand there was paranoia about premature burial, to the point where author Hans Christen Andersen always left a note on his bedside table - "I am not dead; I am in a state of suspended animation."

T or F: Flowers surrounding the remains and placed on the coffin (and later the filled-in grave) did double duty - kept the stink of decomp down, and originally used to scare off vampires because of their bright colors and beauty?

bizzilizzit
10-30-2007, 02:46 PM
T or F: The term "wake" - was it left over from the practice of watching over a decedent on the off chance they might "wake up", and rigor/livor/decay setting in was confirmation s/he was truly dead? I understand there was paranoia about premature burial, to the point where author Hans Christen Andersen always left a note on his bedside table - "I am not dead; I am in a state of suspended animation."

TRUE! Mary Lincoln was so afraid of being buried alive one of her "last requests" was that the nails in her coffin were not to be hammered in until 3(?) days after she was declared dead.
There were "saftey" coffins made with various devices so one could escape or warn others they were alive.
Ropes wrapped around the dead's fingers attached to a rope above ground to a bell to warn those above that the dead was alive!
There are a myriad of stories, mostly from the pre-civil war period, of people trying to avoid the unthinkable - being buried alive with no way out!

funhistory
10-30-2007, 04:42 PM
Interesting topic! What kinds of people or circumstances were most apt to have a body embalmed? For long transportation, of course, but what were other tyipcal reasons or situations for embalming, and how common overall was it in the 1860s?

Hank Trent
hanktrent@voyager.net

Based upon our research, embalming would have been uncommon for local folks and for those on the lowest end of the social spectrum. Families were accustomed to burying the dead quickly (24 hours or so after death) due to decomposition. Embalming was ideal for shipping remains over great distances. Embalming was also useful in order to lengthen the time between death and the need to bury before things got unpleasant. During the War, we know that embalming was most commonly applied to officers because they were the most quickly identified as casualties, and the fresh bodies were the ones that hadn't yet deteriorated to the point that the embalming chemicals could no longer be distributed through the body via the arterial system. The families of officers were also more likely to be able to afford the cost, and the costs varied considerably. I've seen some reports of embalming at $15 and others ranging up to $75 or more, exclusive of the charge for the coffin and the freight charge via the nearest railroad. We do know that some of the embalming surgeons offered a pre-paid service for which the soldier carried a card so that if the body was found, the appropriate "contractor" would be called to handle the remains and oversee shipment home for burial. Of all deaths during the War, I've not seen a total, but one embalmer claimed to have embalmed about 4,000 bodies. Given the number of casualties and the fact thta many bodies lay exposed to the elements for months, there would be little that could be done once the stages of decomposition had advanced beyond the first 24 - 36 hours after death.

funhistory
10-30-2007, 04:56 PM
All right, following the suggestion of the first quote under my signature, let's continue to debunk -

T or F: the term "living room" was created to differentiate from the parlor, because the parlor was where the remains lay in state? Supposedly led to the term "funeral parlor". People associated parlors with the dead; too morbid, hence a new term: "Living room". No, I did not get that one from those insidious internet "FW: Fw: RE: FW: FW:fw: Re: Did you know??" e-mails.

T or F: The term "wake" - was it left over from the practice of watching over a decedent on the off chance they might "wake up", and rigor/livor/decay setting in was confirmation s/he was truly dead? I understand there was paranoia about premature burial, to the point where author Hans Christen Andersen always left a note on his bedside table - "I am not dead; I am in a state of suspended animation."

T or F: Flowers surrounding the remains and placed on the coffin (and later the filled-in grave) did double duty - kept the stink of decomp down, and originally used to scare off vampires because of their bright colors and beauty?

Number 1 is True: The change in terminology from "parlor" to "living room" occurred as the result of an article in Ladies Home Journal dating from around World War I. The former term was seen as old-fashioned and macabre, especially because the funeral profession had appled the term in the early 20th century as in "funeral parlor" or "home for funerals" for their business locations.

Number 2 is also True: Wakes are ancient, dating back to pre-Christianity, but the term is derived from "awake", in which the living sat with the dead to watch for any latent signs of life so that premature burial could be avoided. The current concept of the wake dates from the Middle Ages during which time it became popular for survivors to view the body to confirm that the death was from natural causes and not suicide or homicide, whichin thecase of the latter would require retribution. Families were expected to provide hospitality to the visiting mourners, hence we have a funeral repast or meal that continues to this day as part of the ceremonies.

Number 3 is Partly True and Partly False: We believe that while the fragrance of flowers could hide some odor, they were also objects of beauty. They've been presented as tokens of esteem and affection since ancient Egypt; however, the traditional color of funeral flowers up until WW I was exclusively white. Thus, the concept that the bright colors would scare off vampires is a myth, I'm afraid. The scent of the flowers would also attract insects to them and away from the body.

Noah, you deserve some sort of prize! Perhaps a bouquet?!

Parault
10-30-2007, 10:24 PM
Jon

I am very impressed with your knowledge of the history of funeral practices. There is a differance between a casket and a coffin. A casket is what they use today. Does anyone know what they call those coffins? They are called Toe pinchers. The old timers called them heel squeezers. You can still order a heel squeezer. In two months I will be taking the test for my funeral director license. I was asked if I would ever consider doing an embalmer impression, I haven't decided. You have debunked many myths that people think really happened and many still think happen. I am still learning everything I can about the modern part of this industry,and once I get comfortable with that then I can work on the 1860's funeral impression.

bizzilizzit
10-31-2007, 08:22 AM
Jon

There is a difference between a casket and a coffin. A casket is what they use today. Does anyone know what they call those coffins? They are called Toe pinchers. The old timers called them heel squeezers. You can still order a heel squeezer.

The term "casket" was used to describe something that held someone's treasure(s). In the 19th century, jewelry and trinket boxes were called caskets. Coffins later became known as caskets, as they held something we treasured most - our dear departed loved one.

jthlmnn
10-31-2007, 08:23 AM
Jon,

The vest was not an "issued item", meaning not part of the official uniform. Many soldiers wore civilian-style vests and some civilian contractors wore the military style, so don't worry about it as part of your impression. For comfort's sake, you may prefer the civilian style at the warmer events and the military cut at cooler ones.

As to casket manufacture, I note that you have qualified the factory system by stating that they existed in most urban areas. I have worked with funeral directors in several small towns in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois. In several of these towns, the local funeral home, as a business, also had a history of being the town's furniture manufacturer. In one town, the same family was involved in both the funeral home and furniture business (albeit strictly retail and no longer manufacturing) into the late 1980s.

This does not, of course, contradict what you have related above. It merely fills out the picture a bit for those areas where keeping caskets on hand would not have been practical, shipping of one would have taken too long, and dedication of a business exclusively to care for the dead would not have been sufficiently profitable.

funhistory
10-31-2007, 09:59 AM
Sir:

Thanks for your comments; I really appreciate your observations from within the funeral profession. I'm actually the exceutive director of the funeral museum in Springfield, IL, which was created by the IL Funeral Directors Assn. You may have read about us in the funeral trade press or seen me at the National convention. I'm a historian who's been studying your profession full-time for the past seven years.

I'd strongly encourage you to consider creating a CW field embalmer impression. There are too few out there today, which led us to create our personas as a component of our educational programming efforts. By combining your inside knowledge of modern practices and human physiology along with historical practices, you could become one of the best in reenacting. If I can assist, please let me know. We could save you years of research time and guide you to watch for the proper instruments and equipment.

funhistory
10-31-2007, 10:21 AM
John,

Thanks for the information. I've incorrectly assumed that waistcoats were "issued" garments for the officer class especially when adorned with brass, eagle and shield buttons. I was aware that the high-button style could be civilian. When I saw it in a sutler's tent, I recognized the quality wool, full lining, careful detailling, and hand-sewn button holes as signs of a high quality garment. It spoke to me, and the price was a bargain compared to the other waistcoats hanging beside it that were clearly of lower quality and marked at a higher cost. I reasoned that in portraying a Philadelphia-educated MD who'd likely spent time in NY and now lives in DC, my clothing should be well-tailored, which is why I constructed the rest of the wardrobe for me and my embalming partner so that I could control the quality and be as accurate as possible. I figured that the buttons could be exchanged when I found others that would be appropriate. I'll re-think this.

NoahBriggs
10-31-2007, 11:36 AM
"DC" should be referred to as "Washington City" if you are doing any first-person.

funhistory
10-31-2007, 01:53 PM
Noah,

You're too good! Keeping us on our toes... We have that covered already. Rest assured that "Washington City, D. C." is on the repro business cards--copied from an embalmer's card in the Museum's collection. It never hurts to remind, though!

NoahBriggs
10-31-2007, 02:31 PM
Since you are portraying an officer you are allowed leeway in your clothing. Officers were required to purchase their own uniforms. Many of them got finely tailored garments while in town. Others simply drew enlisted men's uniforms straight from the QM, or a combination of both. Hence you see wide variations in uniform styles and quality as you crank through the LOC galleries.

By Chancellorsville many officers had switched to regular enlisted uniforms or custom-pimped fatigue blouses (erroneously called "sack coats" by most reenactors). They also started wearing what we would call today "subdued insignia", ie, insignia which is smaller and has to be seen up close in order to determine the rank. Officers did this in an effort to cut down on the possibility of being targeted to disrupt the regiment's chain of command. The subdued insignia was officially allowed by Gettysburg.

Thus, you seeing the fine quality waistcoat amidst the dreck and wearing variations of officer's uniforms is perfectly "legal" for your impression. I think you could incorporate the "Origins of My Waistcoat" story into your impression by modifying the wordage - not necessarily "sutlers"; instead "at the ready-made store".

We are having too much fun this afternoon. :rolleyes:

NoahBriggs
10-31-2007, 02:35 PM
This is probably a long shot, but perhaps you and your companion could put together some sort of Power Point presntation of a "by-the-book" field embalming procedure. That would give those of us not in the know a good idea of how it was done, especially since the medical staff sent a lot of business your way.

funhistory
10-31-2007, 05:05 PM
Noah,

You're not far off the mark. A CW reenactor who portrays Grant also happens to be a licensed funeral director here in IL. I believe that it was he who this past Summer casually suggested that we create a video for the funeral directors to demonstrate the process from the early years of the modern profession. I'm thinking a sort of "Your Are There" type production, definitely not in the style of "The Blair Witch Project" but something with a bit more polish that we could produce ourselves. Well, I see another Winter project on the horizon.

Before proceeding, I'd be curious to know whether others with medical impressions would also be interested in viewing such a video (or sequence of closely-spaced stills) of the preparation process. What say?

Jas. Cox
10-31-2007, 05:47 PM
Gentlemen:

As suggested last week, I've posted several photos from the past season's events. The images can be viewed at http://usera.imagecave.com/funhistory. I included the "kid friendly" notation just to reassure the timid that the images are safe for viewing.

Who'd of thunk that from the above, we would have developed such an interesting and complicated thread (or web)? If it were available, I'd like a copy of a word .doc that outlines civil war embalming, misconceptions of the Victorian and present era and the like for my ever increasing note binder. I could piece together some things from this thread I suppose. I just like things orderly. :) If there is no such animal, however, I certainly don't want to put one through the work of organizing such a thing.

I think we all appreciate the information that has been imparted to us thus far.

jthlmnn
10-31-2007, 08:40 PM
The term "casket" was used to describe something that held someone's treasure(s). In the 19th century, jewelry and trinket boxes were called caskets. Coffins later became known as caskets, as they held something we treasured most - our dear departed loved one.


"Look at the coffin,
With golden handles.
Isn't it grand, boys,
To be bloody well dead?

Let's not have a sniffle.
Let's have a bloody good cry,
And always remember the longer you live,
The sooner you'll bloody well die."

-Isn't It Grand, Boys: Traditional : popularized by The Clancy Brothers & (the late)Tommy Makem

I couldn't resist. Its one of my favorite sing-along (with a beverage in hand) tunes. For the other verses, see http://www.irish-song-lyrics.com/Isnt_It_Grand_Boys.shtml

Parault
11-01-2007, 11:46 AM
Sir:

Thanks for your comments; I really appreciate your observations from within the funeral profession. I'm actually the exceutive director of the funeral museum in Springfield, IL, which was created by the IL Funeral Directors Assn. You may have read about us in the funeral trade press or seen me at the National convention. I'm a historian who's been studying your profession full-time for the past seven years.

I'd strongly encourage you to consider creating a CW field embalmer impression. There are too few out there today, which led us to create our personas as a component of our educational programming efforts. By combining your inside knowledge of modern practices and human physiology along with historical practices, you could become one of the best in reenacting. If I can assist, please let me know. We could save you years of research time and guide you to watch for the proper instruments and equipment.
Thank you Jon for your encouragement and offer to help me on this impression. I am not getting any younger as a soldier,so this might be a venture to challenge. The other part of this is expenses. I would have to make slight changes to my clothing. I would have to purchase items pertaining to this impression,which by the way you just don't find at any old sutler tent. I do though have something that others that have protrayed this impression don't have. My cousin and his family owns the funeral home here in my hometown. They still have the horse drawn hearse. I have years of experience with horses and teams (I grew up out in the country with every conceivable farm animal at one time or another,including horses all the time and wagon mules). People wonder why I don't do cavalry.Wouldn't that be something to show up with that?
I will definitely be in contact with you very soon on equipment questions.

jthlmnn
11-01-2007, 02:04 PM
My cousin and his family owns the funeral home here in my hometown. They still have the horse drawn hearse. I have years of experience with horses and teams (I grew up out in the country with every conceivable farm animal at one time or another,including horses all the time and wagon mules). People wonder why I don't do cavalry.Wouldn't that be something to show up with that?

It definitely would be something special. Adults and children would be drawn to the rig like a magnet, even without horses attached. As stated earlier, it would be a great combo of your expertise and love of history. (And you could still do military, as a change of pace.)

Ocaliman
11-02-2007, 10:58 AM
Sir:

Thanks for your comments; I really appreciate your observations from within the funeral profession. I'm actually the exceutive director of the funeral museum in Springfield, IL, which was created by the IL Funeral Directors Assn. You may have read about us in the funeral trade press or seen me at the National convention. I'm a historian who's been studying your profession full-time for the past seven years.

I'd strongly encourage you to consider creating a CW field embalmer impression. There are too few out there today, which led us to create our personas as a component of our educational programming efforts. By combining your inside knowledge of modern practices and human physiology along with historical practices, you could become one of the best in reenacting. If I can assist, please let me know. We could save you years of research time and guide you to watch for the proper instruments and equipment.

Jon,

Just wanted to take a moment, (and hijack the thread for a sec.) to let you know that my wife and I recently visited the museum when we were in Springfield last. Kudos to you and your staff for a very informative and well laid out (no pun intended) museum. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and learned quite a bit at our visit. To any of you out there who make it into Springfield, IL., it is well worth the price of admission to visit, and conveniently located outside the main gate of Oak Ridge Cemetery where President Lincoln is interred.

funhistory
11-02-2007, 03:50 PM
Ben,

Thanks for the kind words. We truly appreciate them. Stay tuned because there's more coming from the Museum and from our interest in Lincoln's funeral, his Tomb, and the War. We're trying to organize an event for Lincoln 200 anniversary in 2009.

willeichler
11-04-2007, 03:53 PM
Mr. Austin,

I'll chime in here. I'm a professional film and video cameraman with access to gear (camera and lights). This sounds like it might be an excellent opportunity to help educate. I'm all for that. If you'd like to chat, either for advise or to collaborate, please feel free to PM me.

Very interesting thread. Thanks to all for the mythbusting! It only helps our hobby.

Best regards,

Will

Parault
11-22-2007, 04:37 PM
I have found some intresting information that has been passed after inquiring minds wanted to know.

If you click on this link http://www.forensicgenealogy.info/images/drs_and_tent.jpg

You will notice the greenery hanging out in front of the tent. This had a purpose other than decorations. At first I thought is was to mask the odoriferous scent at the establishment. I found out that the real reason was for insect control. The greenery attracted the insects,in order to keep the pests away from the bodies.

There were many species of greenery used. Some of which included: Evergreen,Spruce,Balsam & White Pine.

Would someone please let me know how to post photos. I tried but when I did it took up the whole forum page. I know that there is a way to make it smaller or post it like other people post theirs.

Jas. Cox
11-22-2007, 07:50 PM
... Would someone please let me know how to post photos. I tried but when I did it took up the whole forum page. I know that there is a way to make it smaller or post it like other people post theirs.

In a previous posting from Noah:

You can go to www.Imagecave.com , register, set up your folder, and load pictures there. Each picture will have next to something to paste into your message for a webpage, a box like what we use to post messages., HTML and one other. Simply copy one of appropriate links and paste into your message, ad ta da, your picture is posted.

In other words, one first needs a host for the photos to be stored online. Image Cave, Photo Bucket .... For my photography, I have my own website and can store them there.

The public ones apparently give one a link to the photo's location. This would be a guess, but something like http://www.imagecave.com/sgtyork/images/007jpg Just pasting that might bring up the image, but for me it brought a link. So, once I know my path (grasshopper), within this writing area where one posts a reply, one will notice a small icon with what looks like two mountains on it. It is located just under an arrow that points counterclockwise. Click on that icon and put one's image path there and it should post as an image and not just a link to an image.

Ah and to make it fit the page, make sure the image size is an appropriate size. Like 5 x 7.5 at 72 dpi.

Hopefully that is clear.

hanktrent
11-22-2007, 09:55 PM
You will notice the greenery hanging out in front of the tent. This had a purpose other than decorations. At first I thought is was to mask the odoriferous scent at the establishment. I found out that the real reason was for insect control. The greenery attracted the insects,in order to keep the pests away from the bodies.

I'm curious how you found that out. Were most embalmers of the period specifically aware they were hanging greenery to keep the insects away, and chose that method for insect control over any other? Were private citizens also aware that was why they hung wreaths for mourning?

It just seems like an explanation where the tail's wagging the dog, because for someone in the 1860s, there were more than enough reasons to hang greenery.

The trees you mentioned were traditional symbols of mourning, in many cases for centuries and across continents, including for example the cypress in ancient Rome, and whatever the Romans did was of course hot stuff. Period sources generally talk about the various trees' dark gloomy appearance, their "ever green" symbolism, and simply the tradition behind them. They were also considered picturesque in graveyards, where the insect problem was hopefully long gone. In the song The Vacant Chair, for example, there's the line, "Dirges from the pine and cypress mingle with the tears we shed," and when at the Gettysburg National Cemetery lately, I noticed a pine and cypress fittingly planted many generations ago.

For example, an article in the Southern Literary Messenger, 1843, discusses several traditional mourning trees including the cypress and other evergreens, and mentions that the yew "was originally planted in grave-yards, because it is an evergreen and a symbol of immortality. Its dark foliage, long duration and outspreading branches render it a fit companion for the mouldering dead and give solemnity to grave-yard scenes."

Add to the power of symbolism, the period inclination to drape things with evergreens regardless of mourning (okay so these engineers may have gone a little overboard: http://www.confederateengineers.org/images/enghq-LG.jpg), plus the obsession with mourning art and decorations that was still going strong even after a decade or two, and all that seems more than enough to be the "real reason" for having greenery and a wreath on an embalmer's tent.

That would be my case for the real reason (or perhaps I should say "primary reason") being that it was simply a social custom. They did it because "everyone else was doing it," or "that's just what you do," like we display poinsettias at Christmas or lilies at Easter.

Now admittedly, I haven't researched mourning decorations from an embalmer's viewpoint. How would you make a case that the real reason embalmers (and private citizens too?) hung boughs was to attract insects away from the bodies?

Don't mean to be argumentative, it just surprised me that there needed to be another reason, and I'm curious about the mindset behind the practice.

Hank Trent
hanktrent@voyager.net

Parault
11-23-2007, 05:23 PM
Let me go back and look. I have been reading many differant books including "The History of Funeral Directing" by Habenstine & Laners. It is like studying for that college final that is coming out of several books,and not remembering which book some subject came from.
I haven't studied like this since college which was many years ago, so the brain is saying" I thought you were done with this stuff"
I apologize for the narrow oversite of subject matter.
I read your post on another forum,and tried to respond,but was unable to get the computer to do right,anyway,in response to you answering a question to persons intrested in your protrayal of a Surgeon. I realize the open ended answer that you could give pertaining to my post. I found out that "one" of the reasons for the greenery hanging was so that the greenery would attract the insects instead to the bodies,was because the amount of time the bodies would be out while pre prep, preparation and in the cantainers waiting to be shipped. While I am sure you will find more questions than I have answers at this time,I hope this will be a start. I will be in touch with the Museum in Springfield this next week for further information.

Parault
11-24-2007, 05:09 PM
I'm curious how you found that out. Were most embalmers of the period specifically aware they were hanging greenery to keep the insects away, and chose that method for insect control over any other? Were private citizens also aware that was why they hung wreaths for mourning?[...]

Add to the power of symbolism, the period inclination to drape things with evergreens regardless of mourning (okay so these engineers may have gone a little overboard: http://www.confederateengineers.org/images/enghq-LG.jpg), plus the obsession with mourning art and decorations that was still going strong even after a decade or two, and all that seems more than enough to be the "real reason" for having greenery and a wreath on an embalmer's tent.

That would be my case for the real reason (or perhaps I should say "primary reason") being that it was simply a social custom. They did it because "everyone else was doing it," or "that's just what you do," like we display poinsettias at Christmas or lilies at Easter.

Now admittedly, I haven't researched mourning decorations from an embalmer's viewpoint. How would you make a case that the real reason embalmers (and private citizens too?) hung boughs was to attract insects away from the bodies?

Don't mean to be argumentative, it just surprised me that there needed to be another reason, and I'm curious about the mindset behind the practice.

Hank Trent
hanktrent@voyager.net

My source for the information regarding the hanging of greenery to attrack insects away from the dead body is Jon Alston, Assistant Curator, The Museum of Funeral Customs, Springfield, Illinois.

I make a case for the reason behind the practice, first, by asking to what "other" methods of keeping insects off the bodies are you referring? Since the use of borates as a method of pest control did not occur until the 1870's (http://www.abcpest.com/houston/pestborate.html) and because, after hours of searching online I can only find references to agricultural practices of pest control (not to say other references do no exist) I am curious to know what other methods of pest contol there were at the time.

Next, I make the case by pointing out that many of the social customs we follow today are rooted in a utilitarian purpose. A perfect example is the custom of funeral flowers. "The history of funeral flowers dates back to ancient times where scented flowers were used to mask the odour of a dead body." (http://www.obits.com.au/content/Funeral-Flowers) Another would be the use of a casket net or casket veil. This custom orginated as a means of keeping insects off the body, but exists in some areas even today, though the need for it is obviously long gone. (http://www.funeralnet.com/info_guide/fun_glossary.html) Given the aromatic nature of evergreens, their abundance, and the need to mask odors of various origins, one could argue that while the intial purpose may have been different, once the effectiveness of the evergreen in attracting insects away from the body became evident, the purpose of hanging them probably changed, or at the very least, became two-fold.

undertaker78
10-10-2008, 09:42 AM
Greetings Jon,


Just wanted to let you know that I am able to post here now. Already the reading has been very interesting and I am looking foward to being able to interact.

Regards,
James

funhistory
10-13-2008, 02:10 PM
James,

Welcome to the Forum. I believe that you'll find our fellow reenactors to be quite helpful as you develop your impression and head to the field. Experience tells me that the topics above are considered fascinating by our colleagues here; so, be prepared for many questions. Please feel free to weigh in with any corrections and clarifications as needed in the interest of setting the record straight. Despite eight years of study devoted to your profession, I continue to amazed at how much more there is to learn.

mmartin4600
10-16-2008, 12:39 PM
What a fascinating subject. Thank you. Mike

undertaker78
11-01-2008, 11:46 AM
I make a case for the reason behind the practice, first, by asking to what "other" methods of keeping insects off the bodies are you referring? Since the use of borates as a method of pest control did not occur until the 1870's (http://www.abcpest.com/houston/pestborate.html) and because, after hours of searching online I can only find references to agricultural practices of pest control (not to say other references do no exist) I am curious to know what other methods of pest contol there were at the time.

For what it is worth I have also read that the use of greenery was to mask the odor of decomposing bodies and/or to draw insects away much like flowers were. Jon Austin and I have discussed the use of an insecticide called Thymol that was added to embalming fluids with the thoughts that it would find its way to the surface and ward off insects. Maybe Jon can share some more in depth information, he is very knowledgable about the chemicals and their uses.