By Curt Yeomans
If it were not for dead people, a "living room" would still be a "parlor."
In the 19th Century, southern homes had "parlors" where family members and guests gathered in the house to socialize with each other. At the time, there was no television or radio, but the room was still used for entertainment.
The parlor also happened to be where coffins, which held dead people, were briefly put on display, right after someone died.
"That's where we get the name 'funeral parlor,'" said Kay Dreyer, a tour guide at Stately Oaks Plantation in Jonesboro. "In the early 20th Century, the name of the room was changed to 'living room' because of that connotation."
Throughout August, Stately Oaks is holding its annual "Victorian Mourning Tours" so visitors can see how "Jonesborough" residents mourned the dead in the 1860s.
"We do this to talk with visitors about the customs and traditions of mourning in the Victorian era," Dreyer said. "We're telling them about rural life in Georgia, and death was certainly a part of that culture."
Black "crape" (19th Century spelling) hangs over the porch of Stately Oaks. "The saying was 'There's crape on the door,' which meant there is a death in the family," said Martha Wilson, a member of Historical Jonesboro's Living History Guild.
A child-sized coffin sits in the plantation house's parlor, resting on a table draped in black cloth. The mirrors in the foyer are also covered with sheets of black cloth.
Mourning apparel: veils, jewelry, fans, parasols, stationary, and a wreath for a grave are on display throughout the house. The tour guides, like Dreyer, wear black outfits throughout the month to illustrate how a person in mourning would grieve for the dead.
"It's a subject that is interesting in history, and you don't realize how interesting it is until you see it, and learn about it," Wilson said.
Stately Oaks, located at 100 Carriage Lane in Jonesboro, is open Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m., to 4 p.m. The price of admission is $12 for adults; $9 for senior citizens, $6 for children between the ages of 6 and 11. Discounts are available for AAA and military members.