Post-mortem photography (also known as memorial portraiture or a mourning portrait) is the practice of photographing the recently deceased. These photographs of deceased love ones were a normal part of American and European culture in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Commissioned by grieving families, postmortem photographs not only helped in the grieving process, but often represented the only visual remembrance of the deceased and were among a family’s most precious possessions
The girl who is standing in the photo is the one who is dead. This is a classic example of photographic art. Notice the hands. For people wondering how the corpse is standing up, there is a posing stand supporting the body it’s very hard to see but the stand is supporting the neck, arms and back.
Double suicide 1890
Upon his request in a detailed letter attached to his will, the body of British philosopher Jeremy Bentham was dissected and preserved after his death in 1832 by his disciple Thomas Southwood Smith. The head and skeleton were placed in a wooden cabinet Bentham called the “Auto-icon.” The skeleton was dressed in Bentham’s clothes and padded with hay.
The Auto-icon was intended to incorporate Bentham’s actual head, mummified to resemble its appearance in life. However, Southwood Smith’s experimental efforts at mummification, based on practices of the indigenous people of New Zealand, left the head looking distastefully macabre with dried and darkened skin stretched tautly over the skull. The Auto-icon was therefore given a wax head fitted with some of Bentham’s own hair.
The real head was displayed in the same case as the Auto-icon for many years, but was locked away after it became the target of repeated student pranks at the University College London, who acquired the Auto-icon in 1850.
Elmer McCurdy (January 1880 – October 7th 1911) was an outlaw killed in a gunfight in the Osage Hills in Oklahoma. A newspaper account gave Elmer’s last words as “You’ll never take me alive!” His body was taken to a funeral home in Oklahoma. When no one claimed the corpse, the undertaker embalmed it with an arsenic-based preservative and allowed people to see “The Bandit Who Wouldn’t Give Up” for a nickel, placed in Elmer’s mouth, which the undertaker would collect later. Five years later, a man showed up from a nearby traveling carnival claiming to be Elmer’s long-lost brother wanting to give the corpse a proper burial. Within two weeks, however, Elmer was a featured exhibit with the carnival. For the next 60 years, Elmer’s body was sold to wax museums, carnivals, and haunted houses.
The owner of a haunted house near Mount Rushmore refused to purchase him because he thought that Elmer’s body was actually a mannequin and not lifelike enough. Eventually, the corpse wound up in “The Laff in the Dark” funhouse at the Long Beach Pike amusement park in California. During filming of the The Six Million Dollar Man shot in December 1976, a crew member was moving what was thought to be a wax mannequin that was hanging from a gallows. When the mannequin’s arm broke off, it was discovered that it was in fact the mummified remains of Elmer McCurdy, who was finally buried in the Boot Hill section of the Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie, Oklahoma on April 22nd 1977, with 2 cubic yards of concrete over his casket so his remains would never be disturbed again.
A particularly beautiful young girl laid out in the parlor, circa 1910. It was not uncommon to dress dead young girls in what looked like a wedding veil and dress to symbolize their purity as they go to ‘meet God’.
Circa 1884.This poignant third view depicts her bereaved father clutching his daughter for her last family photograph. He was photographed alone with his daughter possibly because the picture was taken as a personal statement of love and loss. However, it is also possible that his wife is deceased, or was unable to bear the prospect of being photographed with dead daughter. Memorial Photography Stanley B. Burns.
The boy in a sailors middy, positioned on a bed with flowers strewn about him. There doesn’t appear to be any effort to make him look like he is just resting.
In the Victorian era, when people died, their family would have their dead body posed for a picture to remember them by. The boy in this picture was the girl’s brother’s dead body, held up straight with clamps.
Before their burial, the deceased would be photographed in their best clothes and ‘posing’ (propped up) with their living relatives. In some instances, eyes were painted onto the closed eyelids of the deceased to make them appear alive. In Victorian times when photographs were rare, this might be the only photo the family had of their dearly departed.
An example of the stands they would use to hold up the dead people while they took the photo.
Francois Aubert (1829-1906) Emperor Maximilian’s Embalmed Body in His Coffin. albumin print, 1867 The medical Dr. Vicente Licea of Queritaro was responsible for the procedure, which involved fitting the corpse with blue glass eyes.
Alejandromathe: Ioana Constantinescu passed away in the autumn of 1909. Cause of death: Suicide by ‘purposeful ingesting large quantities of her own blood.’ – Stated by and concluded the official autopsy and coroners reports.Timișoara, Romania.
Victorian death photos. The photos served less as a reminder of mortality than as a keepsake to remember the deceased. This was especially common with infants and young children; Victorian era childhood mortality rates were extremely high, and a post-mortem photograph might have been the only image of the child the family ever had. The later invention of the carte de visite, which allowed multiple prints to be made from a single negative.
“Greek murder.” July 1920. Two victims of a bloody altercation involving a hatchet and revolver that left three people dead in a rooming house at 809 Ninth Street in Washington. National Photo Company glass negative.
The deceased is lying on the floor of the parlor surrounded by family members.
Deceased baby whose eyes are likely painted open.
Reminds me of Robin Williams.
A photo postcard showing a dead nun in Palermo, Sicily.
Mrs. Della Powell, died 1894.
The 1880 census shows a Della Powell living in Friendship, Crockett County, Tennessee, close to the Arkansas border. Born in 1840, at the time of the census she was working on a farm. She was unmarried, but had at least 6 children.
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