Wednesday, September 1, 2010

From Fantasy Coffins to Funerals of the Famous

Greetings LIFEers! This week's class was a grave history in funeral and burial history. Our instructor was Lucy Gonzales, from the National Museum of Funeral History here in Houston. Our parking situation is crazy here at the college, due to the start of the semester and all the construction, so she was a little late, but fortunatly not late....get it? Late. Just a little funeral humor to get you going. Not funny? Hmm, usually knocks them dead at the funeral da bum. Anyone, anyone? Man, this crowd is a bunch of stiffs.......okay, I'll stop.

So, burial history. Fascintating subject. Did you know back in the 1800s and 1900s that many funerals were held in the home? The funeral director would come to your house, clear out your living room and bring all the necessary furniture to display the body. A family member sat with the body day and night until the burial. Families were required to wear mourning colors (usually black, although white is also a traditional color worn to funerals) for 2 years after the death of a loved one. After 2 years they could wear a little beige color around the cuffs and collar. They could return to regular clothes after 4 years. Imagine that, 4 years of wearing mostly black. While very slimming, it seems like it would become depressing, especially with higher mortality rates in those days. Some folks could wear black for decades. Queen Victoria, so distraught over her husband Prince Albert's death, wore black for the rest of her life (40 years), although she disliked black funerals, so for her funeral London was decorated in purple and white.

Now the ancient Egyptians embalmbed their dead, and we still do today, but we use modern(ish) techniques. Embalming is mostly a Christian/western practice today. Traditional Jewish law and Islamic law forbids embalming and encourages burial within 24 hours of the death, if possible, and Hinduism discourages embalming. As we learn more about the toxicity of formaldehyde (probable carcinogin), more and more people are choosing not to be embalmed. The embalming process is really for the living, to better present the deceased to loved ones, who can more easily grieve for the deceased if they appear more life like. The last decade has seen the rise of green funerals; deceased not being embalmed, and being burried in biodegradable caskets under trees instead of tombstones.

For more information on the history of funerals, including presidential and papal memorabilia, visit the National Museum of Funeral History, off I-45 between Airtex and Richie.

Check out this SlideShare Presentation:

No comments: