Who Were They?

Lost and forgotten photos from the past

Funeral Card of Mrs Nina Dobb

For a Sepia Saturday prompt, Alan gave us a photo of a man sleeping in a chair. Of course, that took my mind to the eternal slumber of death. Yes, morbid, but having had such a rousing discussion about the possible memento mori photo last week (survey said ‘no’ btw), I suppose it was on my mind. I wanted to stay with this theme, as I am positive I have no photos of people in actual slumber, and death was such a fascination to our Victorian ancestors after all.

This cabinet card is one I have posted before, when I introduced the Dobb Long Book earlier this year. I have a couple other memorial or death cards, but neither of them have the added benefit of the photograph. Based on the text on this particular card, we can surmise that Mrs. Nina Dobb died on June 27, 1898 and that this card was made a year later in 1899. Cabinet cards were still in use at that time, which is the cusp of the new century and new photographic processes and styles. Some time in the early 20th century, cabinet cards gave way to smaller cards, embossed cards, and the “sandwich” cards that look like the fancy mattes you find in modern framers galleries.

In some ways, this is also a memento mori, in that it is a memento of the death of a loved one. Thankfully it is not a photo of the loved one in death, which are most commonly associated with the term memento mori. In my research I learned that memento mori translates as “remember you must die,” and the objects associated with mourning have taken on the appellation as a category. These objects can range from hair jewelry to photographs and photographic jewelry. The Victorian relationship with death was much different than our modern one, because death was simply another part of life. They did not have the medical technology or understanding we have today, nor did they have the vaccines and antibiotics that help us prolong life. A death from the flu was not surprising and the Victorians in general took it as something out of their control of life. The greater reliance on faith and religion also may have helped them through the numerous instances of death that must have touched their lives.

Even today we have memento mori, except they are called memorial keepsakes, and often come in the form of a charm or pendant with the deceased’s name, and frequently are found as bumper stickers or tee shirts stating “in loving memory of…” and including the photo of the departed and their dates of birth and death. Tell us, are the tee shirts and stickers an American phenomenon or do they pop up in other countries?

Please click through to Sepia Saturday to see how others were inspired by the prompt of a sleeping man. You never really know what you’re going to get after all!

19 thoughts on “Rest in eternal slumber

  1. Bob Scotney says:

    I’ve never see a sticker or T-shirt in the UK. If it’s an American phenomenon please keep it over there. I know of no-one who has a memorial keepsake – old photographs yes and perhaps some belongings handed down but that’s all.


  2. Little Nell says:

    I agree with Bob, the stickers and tee-shirts are a step too far. I’m not entirely taken with the habit of placing flowers at the spot where a person met their end either. These roadside shrines were common on the continent and seem to have crept into UK; even moreso, since Diana, Princess of Wales died. There seems to be an unfortunate trend, encouraged by the media, for everyone to ‘feel’ everyone else’s pain. The community ‘is in mourning’ or ‘coming to terms with their grief’. I don’t think they are really. Now I’ve had my rant, I will also say that that this is a very interesting post, and as usual you have added to some interesting details. Thank you.


  3. IntenseGuy says:

    I too, dislike the roadside “memorials” which usually end up looking pretty threadbare and trashy.

    I still feel bad that I could never figure out who this woman was….


  4. Liz Stratton says:

    Oh my! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a memento mori t-shirt and agree that I’m just as happy for it to stay that way. Funeral cards are still prevalent keep-sakes in some families – usually with a favorite memorial poem. I’ve even received a few that were book marks … I suspect to be used in a bible as I can’t imagine using a memento mori bookmark in “Kill Me if You Can.”

    Fun, informative post!


  5. MAYBELLINE says:

    The worst. Decals on the rear car window…”In Loving Memory”. I call them tombstone cars. Have you noticed how many “funeral” car washes that spring up? While paying for my father’s headstone, the attendent told me that a great many of those “funeral” car washes are scams.


  6. postcardy says:

    I’m in the U.S. and had never heard of memorial t-shirts or bumper stickers. I never heard of a funeral car wash either. Roadside memorials are not uncommon here, though I think it is mainly younger people who make them.


  7. Karen S. says:

    Yes that idea of the photos of those passed is a bit different, one of the historical in Minneapolis collections displayed photos taken of those that passed on but the family wanted pictures of their beloved family members (often never even had one of them alive) so they used to take pictures after they passed away….it was quite the thing in some places.


  8. gluepot says:

    You hit the nail on the head, Little Nell, but I doubt that’s the last nail in the coffin of the mania for memorials and sharing grief – OK I’ll desist from the metaphors now.

    I’ve seen several of these cabinet card sized memorials from the late 1800s, very often printed with gold ink on dark green glossy card, funnily enough, but I haven’t seen many with photographs on them.


  9. Marilyn says:

    The idea of a memorial sticker or tee-shirt is dreadful! Your post is very interesting.


  10. Pat says:

    well I confess I have not heard of death themed t-shirts??? I have heard of jewelry enclosing a bit of ashes from those cremated and items like that and of course in my family they did take photos of the bodies in coffins. I have none of those in my collection that I know of. Just as well. I don’t recall any death cards such as you have described here, very interesting reading for me. There are many mortuary or church cards with date of birth and death though but none with photos of any of my ancestry.


  11. Mrs Marvel says:

    The tee shirts are horrible. I have seen them in the South and East, but not here in the West…yet. I too dislike the roadside memorials; they seem well intended but become shabby remnants all too quickly.


  12. This reminds me of the “In Memory” ads I see in the newspaper’s obit section. Almost always fascinating. In the case of this one it’s a shame the photo of the deceased is so small. All the other nonsense is given so much space.


  13. I’ve never seen any memento mori t-shirts or stickers, I’m happy to say. I see plenty of these roadside shrines driving through France though. You can always tell a dangerous stretch of road by the numbers. ….


  14. I went to a Victorian Home tour and saw the hair art, which seems creepy at first, but these were the types of things they saved, and made beautiful pieces of art out of hair which were framed and hung. I admit to being creeped out at first, but with time I know appreciate it a little more. I was trying to understand the sticker thing then it clicked, Like the wording on the back windows of someones car, those newer stickers, that say “Loving Son or something similar and their name and dates” those dont trouble me, we had a firefighter die here and his relative carries his name in this fashion. I see these more of things immediate relatives and close loved ones may do. Not a mass production of the stickers. The roadside things are common out here, the concern is many are distracting and on busy roads, there was an accident not long ago where some relatives went to a spot along a road in memorial and as a result were hit, double death at the same spot. Terribly sad. So I guess we all have our own, you may call, odd ways of grieving.


  15. Interesting posts! I’ve never seen these shirts in Holland, but I like the roadside shrines because they remind me to keep my speed down.


  16. Christine says:

    I have never seen the tee- shorts or bumper stickers here in the US either. The tee-shirt seems an unfortunate way to remember someone, especially when it’s worn over a big belly and gets food stains on it.


  17. Here in the south, death memorials from t-shirts, car window stickers, and roadside crosses are quite common. Even tattoos of photographs of departed friends and relations! But a new interesting photo memorial is the photo engraved into the granite of a tombstone. This is very common in eastern Europe and I’ve seen it now in America too. When done with skill it is actually a nice way of connecting to ancestors. But what photo and at what age?


  18. TICKLEBEAR says:

    the only memorials i have/do is of my mom and my first cat, and i choose good pics, not death scenes for my blogs. even did a memorial book for my cat. mom’s, still in progress. but i would not display these in public, for the exception of my blogs… roadside memorials are common here in Quebec. i even came across some floers on my way back home last monday. don’t have a clue what they were doing there. seemed a bit odd…

    we each find our own way to mourn.


  19. Jo says:

    I’m quite spooked by the “roadside shrines” as they usually appear on bad corners where no one needs a distraction, but I’ve never seen a sticker or a T shirt (I’m in Scotland) however, if you take it back a few generatiions I AM enthusiastic about Victorian memento mori jewellery and hair jewellery. Perhaps just being a few generations removed makes it a bit more acceptable. Your Victorian card would have been sent to many relatives, lots of whom would have been unable to attend the funeral (due to distance or expense) and they would then have had something to focus on, which is important. Jo


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