“Dead: Unearthing the Shift in Funerary Practices from Home to Mortuary”

In years gone by, most people died in their own homes attended by family members. At death, their bodies were washed and dressed by their loved ones and laid out in the parlor where friends and relatives could pay their respects. When you visit this exhibit you can trace the changes in our attitudes and practices related to death from Victorian times until now.

The Museum provides us with an array of items associated with death: Victorian mourning clothes, photos, floral arrangements, crepe, caskets, and even early embalming tools. You’ll learn what had to be done during the Civil War when soldiers died far from home and families wanted the bodies returned to them. This war plus the impact of the Industrial Revolution and the growing middle class brought changes to our death rituals.

Today it’s the funeral director who does everything. We have distanced ourselves from death. We refer to it with euphemisms like “gone to his reward” or ‘kicked the bucket.” This tasteful and fascinating exhibition tells much about the concept of death and its relationship to social history.

Check out my full review in The Seattle Times, NWSaturday section of August 27.

Through Nov. 6 at White River Valley Museum, 918 H St. S.E., Auburn (253 288-7433 or www.wrvmuseum.org).

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