Victorian Postmortem Photography
Painting the dead was a common occurrence for centuries, so it’s no surprise that in the Victorian era, postmortem photography became standard practice.
The beginnings of memento mori photography can be traced back to the invention of photography. During the 19th century, postmortem portraits were used to announce and mourn the death of a loved one, especially a baby or child. All social classes engaged in the practice, which became more widespread after the introduction of the daguerreotype photo in 1839. The subjects of the photos were generally arranged to appear as if asleep or even in standing positions.
For the poor during this era, many peoples only photograph was taken after they died. Families would scrape together enough money to have a memorial photo of the deceased family member with surviving members. For many, these staged photos were the only family portraits ever taken. These photos were kept in the family’s memorial album.
During Christmas in the 1870s, when he wasn’t sending horse-led sleighs piled high with food and toys to his less fortunate neighbours, the inimitable Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) could usually be found at the family home with his wife and young children, often pretending to be Santa Claus. On Christmas morning of 1875, Twain’s 3-year-old daughter, Susie, awoke to find the following charming letter on her bed.
My dear Susie Clemens:
I have received and read all the letters which you and your little sister have written me by the hand of your mother and your nurses; I have also read those which you little people have written me with your own hands—for although you did not use any characters that are in grown peoples’ alphabet, you used the characters that all children in all lands on earth and in the twinkling stars use; and as all my subjects in the moon are children and use no character but that, you will easily understand that I can read your and your baby sister’s jagged and fantastic marks without any trouble at all. But I had trouble with those letters which you dictated through your mother and the nurses, for I am a foreigner and cannot read English writing well. You will find that I made no mistakes about the things which you and the baby ordered in your own letters—I went down your chimney at midnight when you were asleep and delivered them all myself—and kissed both of you, too, because you are good children, well trained, nice mannered, and about the most obedient little people I ever saw.
To read the rest of the letter, click here.
Also known as Mary Fields, Stagecoach Mary was one of the toughest ladies of the Old West. Born as a slave on a Tennessee plantation in 1832, she gained her freedom after the Civil War and the resulting abolition of slavery. After the Civil War Mary made her way West where she eventually settled in Cascade County, Montana.
In Montana, Mary would gain a reputation as one of the toughest characters in the territory. Unlike most women of the Victorian era, Mary had a penchant for whiskey, cheap cigars, and brawling. It was not uncommon for men to harass her because of her race or her gender. Those who earned her disfavor did so at their own risk, as the six foot tall, two hundred pound woman served up a mean knuckle sandwich. According to her obituary in Great Falls Examiner, “she broke more noses than any other woman in Central Montana”.
In Montana, Mary made a living doing heavy labor for a Roman Catholic convent. She did work such as carpentry, chopping wood and stone work. However, it was her job of transporting supplies to the convent by wagon that would earn her the name “Stagecoach Mary”. The job was certainly dangerous as she braved fierce weather, bandits, robbers and wild animals. In one instance her wagon was attacked by wolves, causing the horses to panic and overturn the wagon. Throughout the night Stagecoach Mary fought off several wolf attacks with a rifle, a ten gauge shotgun, and a pair of revolvers.
Mary’s job with the convent ended when another hired hand complained it was not fair that she made more money than him to the townspeople and the local bishop. When the bishop dismissed his claims, he went to a local saloon, saying that it was not fair that he should have to work with a black woman (he said something much more obscene). In response, Mary shot him in the bum. The bishop fired Mary, and she was out of a job.
After a failed attempt at running a restaurant, Stagecoach Mary was hired to run freight for the US Postal Service. Today she holds the distinction of being the first African American postal employee. Despite delivering parcels to some of the most remote and rugged areas of Montana, Mary gained a reputation for always delivering on time regardless of the weather or terrain.
At the age of seventy, Stagecoach Mary retired from the parcel business and opened a laundry. In one incident when a customer refused to pay, the 72-year-old woman knocked out one of his teeth. For the remainder of her life, Mary settled down to peace and quiet, drinking whiskey and smoking cheap cigars. She passed away in 1914 at the age of 82.
The electric lamp shown here came from the catholic church. The assistant curator says: “Mantin wanted to have comfort—he was very interested in modernization.”Mantin was interested in all sorts of eclectic things, and in his house you could find not only the stuffed wolf but also a diorama of real dead frogs fighting a duel in a glass globe. There is also a rat playing a violin and a stuffed blowfish.
Amazing Long Term Exposure Photos of Ferris Wheels
The original Ferris Wheel was designed and constructed by George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. as a landmark for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The term Ferris wheel later came to be used generically for all such structures, and Ferris wheels are now the most common type of carnival ride at state fairs in the United States.
Since the original 1893 Chicago Ferris Wheel, there have been eight subsequent world’s tallest-ever Ferris wheels. The current record holder is the 165-metre (541 ft) Singapore Flyer, which opened to the public in March 2008.
In the gallery below (most taken at local fairs and carnivals), we see what Ferris wheels look like when captured using a longer exposure (i.e., shutter left open, typically 2 seconds or more). The lights that adorn the Ferris Wheels blend and blur, creating brilliant patterns and beautiful photos.