It used to be a custom to pose the dead and take pictures of them. Little Things has the scoop, and some pictures:

Turns out Victorians were actually massive weirdos by today’s standards. They stampeded over one of our most sacred taboos nowadays – our rituals when it comes to death and dying. These days, we have pretty traditional funerals replete with church services, hymns, and visitors of all times – but you wouldn’t be caught dead with a camera in a funeral.

Victorian times were a bit different. In this dark era, people didn’t call for the coroner after a loved one died. THEY CALLED FOR THE PHOTOGRAPHER FIRST.

Welcome to the creepy yet fascinating world of Victorian Post Mortem photography – and, yes – it’s EXACTLY what it sounds like:

It is a bit cringe-inducing for a moment, but for me it only lasts a moment. Past that, it mostly seems kind of sad to me. We are blessed to live in an age where photography is ubiquitous* and so there doesn’t seem like there’s much point in taking pictures of the dead. But back then, having your picture taken was more of a special event, and you needed something to remember them by. Particularly, as in the case of a lot of these pictures, when the deaths were young.

A lot of things that seem weird make more sense in the proper context. It’s cliche to say that things that seem normal now will be viewed as strange. But in some ways, it’s the why that matters. It’s not necessarily that our great-great-great-grandchildren will be more evolved (thought they might). It’s more that social advancement will make things we do now seem weird because whatever the thing is that makes us do it now won’t be an issue anymore.

Beyond that, it’s not like what we do today with dead bodies isn’t pretty icky, when you think about it:

The eyes are closed, often using skin glue and/or plastic flesh-colored oval-shaped “eye caps” that sit on the eye and secure the eyelid in place. The mouth is closed and the lower jaw is secured, either by sewing or wires. If the jaw is sewn shut, suture string is threaded through the lower jaw below the gums, up and through the gums of the top front teeth, into the right or left nostril, through the septum, into the other nostril, and back down into the mouth. Then the two ends of suture string are tied together. If the jaw is wired shut, a tool called a needle injector is often used to insert a piece of wire anchored to a needle into the upper and lower jaws. The wires are tied together to securely close the mouth. Once the jaw has been secured, the mouth can be manipulated into the desired arrangement.

The body isn’t particularly made to be presentable after death. But whether we’re propping them up for a photograph or draining their blood and replacing it with formaldehyde, it’s all a part of the same effort.

My father expressed a wish a long time ago to be cremated. Which I didn’t understand at the time. The more I learn about the alternative (and the more I think about it generally), the more I want to go that route myself.

* – Seriously, thank the good heavens that Lain was born in the age of the digital camera. I have pictures of her for just about every week she’s been alive. It’s amazing, when you think about it.


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