The public is invited to the Roff Home in Watseka during select dates in October for an exhibit of post-mortem photography from the Victorian Age.
the Roff Home will be open to the public from 8-11 p.m. Oct. 19, Oct. 25, Oct. 26 and Oct. 31. Tickets are available at the door,.
John Whitman, the homes’ owner, said he has been studying this aspect of Victorian Age life for about five years.
The Roff Home is part of the Watseka Wonder story from that time period. According to the story, which has been written about and made into a movie, the Watseka Wonder is about spiritual possession that is said to have happened to Lurancy Vennum in the late 1800s. Lurancy is said to have been been possessed by the daughter of Asa Roff, Mary, who had died several years before.
Whitman says the Victorian Age post-mortem exhibit fits in with the Watseka Wonder story as it shows how people at that time mourned, which is quite differently than today.
“Photographs of loved ones taken after they died may seem morbid to modern sensibilities. But in the Victorian Era, they became a way of commemorating the dead and blunting the sharpness of grief,” he said in a news release.
Those who attend the exhibit on the selected dates will be able to see the home where the Watseka Wonder took place and view the exhibit. The upstairs bedrooms, the parlor where the Spiritualists once did seances and the basement will all be open.
“In images that are both unsettling and strangely poignant, families pose with the dead, and infants appear asleep. Victorian life was suffused with death. Epidemics such as diphtheria, typhus and cholera scarred the country. Victorian nurseries were plagued by measles, scarlet fever and rubella — — all of which could be fatal. It was often the first time families thought of having a photograph taken. It was the last chance to have a permanent likeness of a beloved child,” he said.
Also on display will be poems written by some grieving families and published in local newspapers, as was another common part of mourning at the time.
Poems that will be displayed for this exhibit are from a collection of a grieving mother, who made a scrapbook for her son Jack, who died at three from scarlet fever.
Whitman said while he has been studying the post-mortem photography for a while and also collecting some of the photos from that era, there are several parts of the exhibit that are from the private collection of another person.
“Beyond photographs, trinkets of memento mori — literally meaning “remember you must die” — took several forms and existed long before Victorian times,” he said.
Some of these trinkets will also be on display, including locks of hair that were cut from the deceased and made into wreaths, lockets or other jewelry; tear catchers, which are small decorated vials used to catch the tears of those who mourned, crosses and plaques that were on the coffins, and masks that were made as mementos of the dead or used to create portraits.
More information can be found at https://www.facebook.com/roffhomewatseka.