Stately Oaks docent Ashleigh Roell plays the part of a mourning family member during the plantation house’s Victorian Mourning Tours. The tours, which feature the mourning practices of the late 19th century, run through the end of this month. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)
The Stages of Victorian Mourning
• Deep Mourning — Women could not wear jewelry or shiny buttons. They had to be draped in black crape and wear weeping veils in public. They could not socialize outside of church or their family. This lasts for the first year and one day following the death of a loved one.
• Second Mourning — The widow must still wear black, but they can use less crape and remove the weeping veil in public. Some jewelry made with black and white gemstones were allowed. This lasts for the first nine months of the second year.
• Ordinary Mourning — Women can lose the crape and begin wearing black silk and lace, with a white collar and under-sleeves during the last three months of the second year. Jewelry that has some sparkle is now allowed and mourners can slowly begin re-entering social circles.
• Half-Mourning — Women can switch to wearing grey, lavender, purple or black and white clothing, and attend social activities. Jewelry is allowed to sparkle as an indication that they will soon be available to re-marry. This lasts for the first six months of the third year.
JONESBORO — Stately Oaks Plantation is in a deep Victorian-style state of “mourning” this month.
The mirrors and musical instruments are covered with black drapes. Crape, also black, is hung around door frames and the railings on the house’s porch.
Inside, the small flame of a candle offered the only light in the parlor as a storm raged outside Friday afternoon. It created a golden glow around the small coffin that sat in the parlor as docents and visitors “mourned” the loss of a child.
A white rose sat atop the coffin. Its stem was broken to symbolize “a life cut short,” said docent Ashleigh Roell, who was dressed in a dour black dress.
But it’s all an illusion.
There is no child in the coffin. It’s just a demonstrative piece used as part of Stately Oaks’ annual Victorian Mourning Tours, which will run through the end of this month.
“The whole month of August, we do these tours to talk about the funeral customs and the mourning traditions of the Victorian Era,” Roell said. “It was a big part of daily life, especially during the [Civil War].”
Stately Oaks has been doing the mourning tours for years. Each year, it is done during August, leading up to the anniversary of the Battle of Jonesborough at the end of the month. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the battle.
Visitors to the house will get to learn about the mourning customs, which originated with Queen Victoria and her mourning of the death of her husband, Prince Albert, said docent George Peterson.
Docents explained the various stages of mourning a person would typically go through over a period of two-and-a-half years. During the first year of mourning, for example, a widow could not participate in social functions or allow the playing of music in her house until one year and one day had passed since her husband’s death, said Peterson.
“No merriment was allowed,” he said.
The covering of the mirrors in a house of mourning also had a purpose.
“The belief was that if a living person saw their reflection in a mirror, it might be their turn to die next,” Peterson said. “And if the dead saw their reflection in the mirror, they could lose their way to heaven.”
Items on display throughout the house include mourning jewelry, mourning attire and stationary and post-mortem photos, which Roell said were popular in the Victorian Era as a way to remember the dead.
African-American funeral traditions are also featured in an upstairs room. Among the items in that display are seashells, which Roell said played an important part in African-American funeral traditions after the Civil War.
“African-Americans believed seashells held the immortal soul,” she said.
This year’s tours are sponsored by Watkins Funeral Home and Ford Stewart Funeral Home.
Each year, the tours are also done in memory of someone close to Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County Inc. who has died in the previous year. This year, tours are in memory of “Gone With The Wind” collector Herb Bridges, said Roell. Bridge’s collection of memorabilia is on display at the Road To Tara Museum in Jonesboro.
Stately Oaks is at 100 Carriage Lane in Jonesboro and is open for tours Mondays through Saturdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Admission is $12 for adults, $9 for members of the military and seniors over 55, and $6 for children ages 5-11. There is a $10 rate for AAA members.