The Mark A. Anderson collection of post-mortem photography contains approximately 1068 items including photographs, ephemeral items, documents, manuscripts, printed items, and realia pertaining to the visual history of death and bereavement between the 1840s and the 1970s. Photographs make up the bulk of the collection.
The Mark A. Anderson collection of post-mortem photography contains approximately 1068 photographs, ephemeral items, documents, manuscripts, printed items, and realia pertaining to the visual history of death and bereavement between the 1840s and the 1970s. Photographs make up the bulk of the collection. Mr. Anderson assembled this collection from dealers, antique shops, and individuals. His motivation stemmed from a desire to document and to provide historical perspective on various end-of-life practices which, in the 20th century, fell into taboo and disfavor.
The majority portion of the photographic items in the collection are neither dated, nor attributed, although approximate dates can often be determined by when particular photographic formats were in use (see timeline at www.graphicatlas.org.). Consequently, the materials have been organized first to accommodate their sizes, formats, and preservation needs, and second to reflect major subject themes present, though scattered, throughout the entire collection. These non-mutually exclusive subjects are as follows:
- Post-mortem portraits
- Post-mortem scenes
- Funeral tableaux
- Funerals and funeral processions
- Floral arrangements and displays
- Memorial cards and sentimental imagery
- Cemeteries and monuments
- Funeral industry
- Mourning attire
- Unnatural death
The first three subjects - post-mortem portraits, scenes, and funeral tableaux - all depict the recently deceased, and so fall into the narrowest definition of a post-mortem photograph. Their distinction into three separate subjects is a partly arbitrary decision, made to break up what would otherwise be a large and unwieldy grouping of photos, but also to roughly shape the order of the collection (post-mortem portraits without décor tended to date earlier chronologically than broader, beautifying scenes).
The post-mortem portrait photographs, comprising 251 items in the collection, depict the bodies of dead family members and friends. These images show the deceased, sometimes posed with living family members, and for the most part do not include elements of a larger scene, such as floral arrangements, banners, or other décor.
These portraits include the earliest photographic images in the collection, including 28 cased daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes. 78 cabinet card photographs date from the late 1860s to around the turn of the century. Among many notable cabinet cards are two images of Frances Radke, taken and retouched by R. C. Houser, showing her image before and after Houser's post-capture work (3.1 and 3.2). Also of note is a framed crayon enlargement of infant Adelaide Banks by photographer/artist Edward Stuart Tray (26) and a post-mortem carte de visite of an unidentified African American infant taken by photographer S. P. Davis of Danielsonville, Connecticut (4.282u).
The post-mortem scene photographs, numbering 155 items in total, are similar to the portraits described above, except that they show the deceased as part of a larger environment, whether in a private home, a funeral home, or out-of-doors. Most of these views are mounted photographic prints from the 1880s to the early decades of the 20th century, frequently centering on the corpse, lying in a casket or coffin, amidst an abundance of floral arrangements, banners or flags, family members or friends, and/or personal belongings. Their caskets are often lined with white cloth.
Many of these images have unique qualities; several examples illustrate the variety of postmortem scenes in the collection. Six photographs by W. Jakubowski and Co. and Jos. Ziawinski, of Detroit, Michigan, include five wedding photographs (of the bride and groom, bridesmaids, and family members) and one post-mortem scene of the wife. She appears to have died within a short time following the marriage; the funeral home scene image contains one of the wedding photographs and a banner marked "Dearest Wife" (18.5-18.10). One mounted photograph depicts a dog, laid on linen, in a homemade casket (14:17). The collection also contains examples of different persons on display in the same funeral home/parlor (e.g. 18.1-18.4). A set of two cabinet card photos of a child in a buggy is accompanied by one of the buggy's metal lanterns (23.1-23.3). Also of note is a photogravure of the 1888 painting "Requiescat" by British artist Briton Rivière showing a dog seated next to its deceased owner (25.2).
The collection's 35 funeral tableaux photographs show the deceased in an open casket or coffin, typically in front of a church or homestead, with a posed assembly of funeral attendees or mourners. They often show a large group of family and friends, and so are frequently large format prints. Group portraits of this sort were occasionally framed and displayed in the home. Most of the examples in this collection are large prints (many of them mounted), with smaller examples, including a real photo postcard, two snapshots, and one cabinet card. Particular items of note include a framed tableau on the steps of the Church of The Descent of The Holy Ghost in Detroit by Thomas Hoffman (27), a photomontage image of a nun's funeral (28), two tableaux scenes by F. A. Drukteinis taken outside of the same church in Detroit during different seasons and involving the same family (20.12 and 20.15), and three related tableaux scenes (two mounted and one unmounted) involving a presumably Hungarian family that were taken outside of what appears to be a Catholic church in Cleveland, Ohio, during three different funerals (20.16a-20.16c).
Funerals and funeral processions:
The 70 items depicting or pertaining to funeral gatherings show various aspects of the movement of the deceased from the home or funeral home to the cemetery and funeral and burial ceremonies. This group is comprised of real photo postcards (22 items), snapshots (13 items), and a variety of other formats. Examples include an albumen print depicting the Plymouth Church decorated for Henry Ward Beecher's funeral in 1887, and snapshot and postcard photographs of a burial at sea.
Floral arrangements and displays:
Additional documentation of funeral decoration may be found in the collection's 176 still life portraits of floral arrangements and other decorations. A portion of the floral display photographs include pre- or post-mortem photos of the deceased either incorporated into the display or added to the image after printing. One particularly fine example is a large format photograph of a floral arrangement for the funeral of Joshua Turner Mulls; the display included a cabinet card photo of Mr. Mulls and a modified enlargement of the cabinet card. Accompanying the floral arrangement photograph is the cabinet card depicted in the display, with artist's instructions for coloring the enlargement (22.1-22.2).
Memorial cards and sentimental imagery:
The collection includes 105 memorial cards and ephemeral items bearing sentimental imagery. Memorial cards were created as tributes, often displaying birth dates, death dates, and other information about the deceased. Many of these cards include border designs and some bear photographs of the departed. Black-fronted memorial cards gained popularity from 1880 to 1905. Of many interesting examples, the collection includes two examples of memorial cards which haven't yet been personalized (4.306-4.307) and two reflecting World War I-related deaths (4.316 and 4.317). Materials with sentimental imagery include items such as a photograph of an illustration entitled "Momma is in Heaven," a memorial book dedicated to Olive C. Partridge in 1897, and other items.
Note: an advertisement for the Memorial Card Company of Philadelphia is located in the 'Funeral Industry' section of the collection (14.35).
Cemeteries and monuments:
61 photographs, printed items, and realia explicitly pertain to cemeteries, burial markers, or monuments. Some of the cemeteries and monuments are identified, such as the Garfield Memorial at Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio (4.1-4.3). The collection includes examples of cemetery-related realia, including an ovular, porcelain headstone photograph (pre-mortem) of the deceased.
Note: cemeteries may be seen as background for many photographs throughout the collection.
The funeral industry:
The Mark A. Anderson collection of post-mortem photography holds a diverse selection of photographs, ephemera, and printed materials related to the business aspects of death, dying, and bereavement. This group contains around 153 items overall, including receipts (1896-1956); various types of advertising materials (including an undertaker's advertising card, a cabinet photograph of the Arbenz & Co. storefront advertising undertaking as a service, fans from a church and the A. C. Cheney funeral home, a thermometer, and other items); and 118 coffin sales photographs (illustrating a massive selection of different casket models offered by the Boyertown Burial Casket Company of Pennsylvania).
Two photograph albums, that of Clarence E. Mapes' furniture store and funeral home and that of the Algoe-Gundry Company funeral home, provide visual documentation of a rural and an urban funeral home (respectively) in Michigan in the first half of the 20th century:
The photo album and scrapbook of Clarence E. Mapes' furniture store and funeral home in Durand, Michigan, dating from ca. 1903-1930, contains interior and exterior photographs of the furniture and undertaker portions of the shop. The album includes photographs of casket showroom display mechanisms; an example of a "burglar proof" metallic vault; a posed photo of the embalmer standing over a man on the embalming table; images of carriage and motorized hearses; business-related newspaper clippings; and various family and vacation photographs. Several prints, dated August 1903, appear to depict the aftermath of the Wallace Brothers Circus train wreck on the Grand Trunk railroad at Durand. Among these photographs are carriage hearses, a horse-drawn cart carrying ten or more oblong boxes (for transportation and perhaps burial of victims of the wreck), a man standing in an alleyway near three stacked boxes, and a large group of persons standing in a largely unearthed section of a cemetery. The Mapes album is accompanied by a C. E. Mapes Furniture advertising fly-swatter.
The Algoe-Gundry Company album dates from ca. 1924 to 1960 and contains (almost exclusively) 8"x10" photographs of this Flint, Michigan, funeral business. The album includes images of the exterior and interior of Algoe-Gundry buildings, hearses, ambulances, and billboard advertisements.
One album was produced ca. 1939 by the Central Metallic Casket Co. of Chicago, Illinois. Titled "Caskets of Character," the album contains images of patented (or soon to be patented) casket designs as well as a printed cross-sectional view detailing the company's "Leak-Proof" Separate Inner Sealer.
Also of interest is funeral director's license granted by the Michigan State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors to Vincent J. George of Fowler, Michigan, in 1938. (25.1)
In America, mourning attire tended to follow trends set in Europe. The bereaved wore mourning clothing according to current fashion trends and societal expectations. Mourning clothing styles, often dark-colored and somber, depended on how close the mourner was to the deceased and local societal expectations. Seventeen portrait photographs show men and women wearing mourning attire without the deceased present. This group includes cabinet cards, a 1/9 plate ambrotype of an adult woman, two tintypes, and one carte-de-visite.
Note: persons wearing mourning attire may also be found scattered throughout the other sections of the Mark A. Anderson collection. While most are concentrated in the funeral photographs, mourners are also present in postmortem portraits, postmortem scenes, and cemetery photos.
43 photographs (mostly snapshots) depict "unnatural deaths," deaths not caused by age or naturally occurring disease, such as suicides, accidents, murders, and war. The larger portions of the snapshots are mid-20th century police photographs of crime or accident scenes.
Nine Indiana State Police photographs show a train-automobile accident; a group of eight unmarked photos depict the body of woman, apparently violently murdered, at the location of her death and in a morgue; 14 are of a man struck down, beneath a train; two are of a rifle suicide; and the others are of varying accidents. One World War I-era real photo postcard appears to show a man who was shot dead in a foxhole. A stereoscopic card by photographer B. W. Kilburn shows the burial of Filipino soldiers after the Battle of Malolos, Philippine Islands [ca. 1899].
Note: The photograph album/scrapbook of the Clarence E. Mapes furniture and undertakers shop contains several photographs of what appear to be the aftermath of the Wallace Brothers Circus train wreck, Durand, Michigan 1903 (see above description in the 'Funeral Industry' section of this scope and content note).