Kristina and I went to Oakleigh the Friday before last for their Mourning in Victorian period event. It focused on Corinne Irwin, one of the previous inhabitants of the house. She passed away from typhoid fever two weeks before her wedding in 1856.
The tour focused on the topic of mourning during the Victorian period. Mourning became an art form during the Victorian period in part due to Queen Victoria who continued to mourn her husband decades after his death. While funeral houses existed, the Victorian period saw the rise of funeral 'warehouses' where you could order mourning attire, wreaths, stationery, etc.
Lion outside entrance of Oakleigh
Staircase to second story
Handmade lace doily
Downstairs they had a small exhibition of mourning attire, announcements, articles, jewelry, and a mourning wreath.
Mourning wreath made of human hair of two families
Once we got upstairs we were greeted by one of the Oakleigh docents dressed up in mourning attire. She spoke of how a household would be during the mourning period.
Doorbells would be muffled, the door of the house would be left ajar to let guests inside without disturbing the family. A wreath would be put on the door, mirrors would be covered, and portraits of the recently deceased and those who have already passed away were covered.
This was due to a superstition that if the deceased saw their portrait or looked in the mirror, they would become trapped and possess the mirror or portrait.
Interior of Corrine Irwin's bedroom
In the parlor, chairs were set out for the 'funeral' around a fabric covered coffin.
Our guide told us that during a funeral, guests were seated according to their relationship to the deceased. The family would be seated in a room adjacent to the parlor so guests would not witness their grief.
In the case of Corinne Irwin's fiance, he would have been in a separate room from the guests as well.
The mourning period would last up to two and half years for women depending on the relationship to the deceased. The period for men was extremely short, three months.
Keep in mind that this was mourning for the middle and upper classes. I would think the mourning period would be different for the lower class. Time and circumstances would not allow the family to grieve for long. (Someone correct me if I'm wrong on that!!)
After the ' funeral', we were allowed to wander the house. Kristina and I saw this lovely writing desk that was inlayed with mother of pearl and other shells. It belonged to Madame Le Vert (Octavia Walton Le Vert), a Mobile socialite and writer.
Overall, it was a wonderful experience and an interesting way to view Oakleigh house. The docents were lovely and eager to talk about the house and other sites around Mobile.
Kristina and I might have to plan a trip to Oakleigh during December for their Christmas events!!
Until next time >___<