I used to love Halloween. When I was little it was the costume selection/creation, school party, and trick-or-treating. When my kids were young, I had a great collection of decorations and loved to take them trick-or-treating with their friends. When they didn’t need my company any longer, I sat on the porch with plastic pumpkins brimming with candy and waited for the little ones to come around. Now I live in a neighborhood where children rarely come by, so I am less enthusiastic.
Maybe it’s the pageantry that attracted me because I am not a fan of horror. Mystery cozies, yes. True crime shows, yes. Disaster movies, yes. But not actual horror. And it’s surprising how many horror movies are always showing up on my TV screen. If the gardener wants to watch, I try to read, but it’s hard to look away from true horror. Still, I’m not a fan, just like I’m not a fan of vampires.
But I do like photos of dead people. For “postmortem photos,” check out my Pinterest board: Still Life After Death. I don’t know why I find these so fascinating. I didn’t even know this stuff existed until I studied Huckleberry Finn and met the character, Emmeline Grangerford, who is dead, but lives on in her family’s stories about her–and in her own maudlin poetry and art. She is obsessed with death and the macabre. My teacher theorized that Emmeline might represent the Victorian obsession with death, when postmortem photos and brooches made of the hair of the dead had a secure place in pop culture. I found that pretty darn interesting.
On my family history blog, I post a lot of antique and vintage photos that belong to my family. I have quite a collection since I’ve been the recipient of photos from several branches of the family. My family didn’t seem to go in for postmortem photos, but there is one photo I’ve always wondered about, especially since the Victorian flower sign for death was an upside down rose and sometimes the freshly-dead body was propped up amongst family members as if she/he were still alive.
On another note, the memoir writing lessons have done their job; I am working on my memoir 30 minutes a day (except for one day), and while that is not a lot, it is much better than not at all. There are still tons of lessons left in Goldberg’s book, so think of picking up a copy. I might be back with more exercise results–or not–in the future.
53 responses to “I See Dead People”
My MIL photographs her deceased family members at funerals and I find it incredibly disturbing. I hope I outlive her and that no one allows this sorta thing when I pass.
I can see why you wonder about the photo you’ve shown us. There is something eerie about it.
Some people do that, I know. But looking at the photos has not been part of our general culture for a long time, I think. At my dad’s funeral I noticed something that might be related to how comfortable someone feels taking pix. I wonder what you think. My dad had an open casket. In GENERAL, Protestants just accepted that as normal and didn’t go too close, Catholics went right up to my father’s body and honored him or briefly wept, and Jews kept their heads averted (closed caskets at Jewish funerals). Of course, I would be the one noticing this haha.
I find truth in your GENERAL observation. As a pagan heathen Unitarian Universalist, I prefer not to gaze upon the dead. Personally, I’m glad we no longer keep them on the dining table and eat as we mull around them.
LOL. My dad told me that when his grandmother died (around 1932) she was kept in the dining or living room, not sure which, and while her body was there they had a thunderstorm and the kids were TERRIFIED and hid under the kitchen table and wouldn’t come out.
I believe that completely.
Oops, also, about that photo, see how her body is turned a bit and seems propped against him? Looking a different way COULD mean she’s blind, I suppose, but then why is she wearing glasses?
I concur. I think it’s eerie.
I don’t like seeing bodies at funerals, and I also find those Victorian photos of dead bodies disturbing. But I can also see why you find them fascinating. The memento mori stuff started before the Victorians, but of course, there was no photography then. I wonder if there’s also a connection to spiritualism–there are those “ghost” photos at that time, too.
I like some horror, but I often find true crime scarier and more disturbing–because it’s real.
Yes, I agree that there was memento mori as part of human cultures for a long time, but the Victorians made it such a fad, maybe because people had more leisure time to dwell on these things haha?
Some true crime is TOO scary for me, although I get hooked easily haha.
Yes, perhaps. Leisure time plus new technology and new ideas–science and pseudo-science may have all led to it.
Speak of that, I love how science and the conflicted view of it show up in 19th literature. One of my favorites is Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark” hahaha.
Hawthorne was a strange one–all that guilt. 🙂
I think of him as, at the very least, questioning the guilt and shame heaped on those that are innocents or victims and coming down hard on hypocrisy. You can see I love me some Nate.
I do, too, actually, though I haven’t read any of his stuff in a long time. I think he felt really guilty about being related to the Salem witch trial judge. But I was at a conference on sex and sexuality (years ago) in early America where one of the papers discussed masturbation in a Hawthorne story, and now that’s in my head.
Oh, that’s a hoot. You don’t remember which one?
I’d have to look it up. I’ll see if I can find the paper/article when I have a chance, too.
Also, cute title. 🙂
I was never one much for Halloween, although I’m sure I went trick or treating when I was a child … or not because I really don’t remember. As a young adult, it was fun to dress in costume and go to parties. The introvert in me enjoyed pretending to be someone else 🙂 Now that I’m (much) older, I enjoy seeing the little kids going around, but we have very few of those these days. We have fewer young families in my neighborhood plus I think most parents now take their kids to community centers rather than drive them around town. I find photographs of the dead to be interesting and if you can make familial connections, well, that adds a whole other layer of fascination. My oldest sister has a photo of her standing next to her husband’s open casket. That I have never understood. Her husband died suddenly and unexpectedly from a heart attack, and in the photo it looks like she is still in shock.
Thank you for identifying why I like costumes! I am sure you are right. Oh for the days of masquerade balls hahaha. Oh, the photo of your sister sounds very tragic and disturbing, Marie. I don’t think I could understand that either. In fact, I really don’t like contemporary photos of dead people. I like the old ones. I guess it’s enough distance that they don’t bother me?
Yes, I think with old photos (especially those old black-and-white photos), we feel enough of a distance that we don’t feel like voyeurs. And I don’t believe our interests are prurient, but the photo of my sister by her husband’s casket … totally creeped me out the first time I saw it.
I don’t blame you!!!!
That last picture is just weird when you realize he’s dead. Of course as they say at funerals, “he looks so natural.”
Wait, the last one? You think HE looks dead? I think SHE looks dead!
He’s got the upside down flower!
Hahahaha, but I figured that would that he is the one in mourning. She’s got on kind of goofily on her head as if a man put it there.
We never celebrated Halloween in Australia until a few years ago, so I don’t have childhood memories of it. Now it’s very popular. I like horror movies that are intense and ‘edge of the seat’ stuff, I don’t like violent bloody ones because they just seem gory to me. Real life crime also intrigues me as long as it’s sanitised. America does this well, but I don’t watch real life crime Aussie shows because they go into too much of the hideous detail of the crime instead of how it was solved (which is far more interesting from a writer’s perspective) 😉
Do you think it’s more suspense movies you like than actual horror? I always think horror is the blood and gore and the ones that prey on your mind the suspense? SOOOOOOO interesting about the diff between American and Australian real crime shows. I have enjoyed a few Australian TV shows that have come my way. They are so similar to American, but with a twist, a sense of humor or something that I find more appealing.
That’s such a scary photo!! Whoa, someone is breaking into my house — oh, no, it’s just Phil. Glad you are writing. Gotta go!
You kind of scared me there for a second!!! Say hi to Phil!
Wait, which photo scares you?
The one with the dead person. Okay. Who’s dead? The man or the woman? I think it’s the woman.
I have no proof that either person is dead, but she sure looks dead to me. And then his rose is upside down in the manner of mourning.
What an interesting photo! So, you are thinking that she is actually dead, and they put her glasses on her, propped her up beside him for the photo? Incredible! I had not heard of the upside down rose before. Was that a cultural thing, a standard thing, or just a family thing?
Yes, she looks dead to me. Unside down rose is just one of many ways the Victorians spoke to each other with flowers. Here is just one website: http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/homeowners/040214.html
And congratulations on getting into the “zone” with your memoir!
Thanks, Carla. Hmm, not sure it’s the zone, but at least I’m going there, wherever there is.
Glad the exercises have done the trick Luanne, I’m fascinated by your fascination with photos of the dead – I didn’t know about the rose, great photo!
It’s amazing how the Victorians conversed with flowers!
Great post! We have much in common here as I am fascinated by my ancestor’s photographs too. I admire your dedication to your memoir. Goldberg’s book is my favorite! 😊
It’s a fabulous help. I’m so glad I have it to dip into. I have hundreds and hundreds of old family photos, including one gorgeous hand-painted tintype. I feel a real responsibility for identifying as many as possible!
So lucky to have these treasures. A tintype? I’ve seen them at estate sales. They are amazing. My family has many photographs too, sitting in boxes. You’ve motivated me to claim them. Thank you! 🙂
I would love to hear how it goes!
With the holidays coming up, I’ll have a chance to bring some home. 😊
I am thinking that you may be correct about one or both of those people may be dead, Luanne.
I think haunted houses and movies with ghosts are not too bad. I don’t like demons, monsters or too many vampires.
I laughed at Shaun of the Dead and admired the “Z” movie. Maybe zombies aren’t as bad to me, since they are less “real.”
Haha, zombies are so creepy. I saw a weird movie last night. 400 days. Have you seen it? Yes, ghosts don’t bother me like vampires do. I think it’s that idea of blood sucking and destruction.
I don’t think I have seen “400 Days” although space movies are popular in my family. I liked The Martian and the last Star Trek prequel since they gave a tribute to both Spock and the man who died who played Chechov.
Today, I went to see “Dr. Strange” with a friend. If anyone plans to go watch all the credits. There’s a small joke when the credits start to roll, but the final moment is a clue to the next one. 🙂 I like Benedict Cumberbatch, ever since “The Imitation Game” and his “Sherlock” on PBS.
I’ve just started watching Sherlock! Do you think he’s playing Sherlock as an autistic person? It seems that way to me.
400 Days technically was a pretty bad movie, but I admit the suspense kept me hanging on!
I realize this is not your primary point, but I’m so happy to hear the memoir is moving forward. I truly can’t wait to read it.
Very very slow but every step is a step forward. Thanks, Ellen!
It looks eerie to me and he looks sad. I know they had to sit very still, but he looks sad to me, not serious like most old photos. Intersting historical information that I didn’t know before!
That’s what I think, too: that he looks sad. Thanks for stopping by!