Superstition Sustained Mourning Tradition

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), October 26, 2003 | Go to article overview

Superstition Sustained Mourning Tradition


Byline: Diana Dretske

Halloween has become the second most popular holiday for Americans next to Christmas. The fact that the macabre sells should come as no surprise since our ancestors, the Victorians, were obsessed with death.

The Victorians are so named for Queen Victoria of Great Britain, who ruled from 1837-1901. When Victoria's beloved husband, Prince Albert, died of typhoid fever in 1861, the queen went into a self- imposed seclusion, wearing black, and mourning her husband the rest of her life. This example inspired elaborate mourning rituals on both sides of the Atlantic.

The same year as Prince Albert's death, the American Civil War began and death became a major fact of life for Americans. Since most people were waked at home, all mirrors in the house had to be covered because of a superstition that the spirit of the deceased could become trapped in the reflective glass. When the body was taken from the house, it had to be carried out feet first, because if it was carried out head first, it could look back and beckon others to follow it into death.

Of course, clothing became the most public symbol of mourning. Women wore black crepe dresses, men wore black suits and armbands, and even little babies had black ribbons sewn onto their white dresses. Women wore black veils in public to conceal their tears, but also because they believed that the spirit of the departed hovered around those they loved. …

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