When an anonymous patron donated a Victorian casket to the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum a few years ago, officials had just the right place to put it: in the seven-room Victorian cottage replica exhibit on the museum’s third floor.
“It’s in wonderful condition and when it was offered to us, we thought very quickly that it would be appropriate for that (exhibit) and teaching the public” about mourning customs, said Eric Cale, the museum’s director, about the unused casket.
Since acquiring the casket, the museum has displayed it for a limited time in an annual special Memorial Day mourning exhibit within the cottage.
This year’s exhibit can be seen through Sunday, June 4.
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The cottage’s parlor has been turned into a funerary stateroom, with the furniture repositioned to make room for the casket and replica Victorian funerary floral sprays.
Mirrors have been draped in black cloth, just as they would have been during Victorian times to reflect a period of mourning. Mirrors were covered “to avoid any temptation toward vanity out of respect for the deceased,” Cale explained.
“In the Victorian era, sentimentality, which would rule these situations, was considered a virtue,” Cale said. “Back in those days, death was something that everyone talked about, everyone participated in and everyone knew the social mores.”
Children mortality rates were high and adult life expectancy spans were low.
When someone died, often the funeral director would deliver the casket and prepare the body in the home, Cale said. The casket would remain in the home for mourners to pay respects until it was taken to the cemetery for burial.
The museum’s Victorian cottage exhibit recreates a typical middle-class Wichita home from the late 19th century. It is considered an immersive display, allowing visitors to move through the authentically decorated rooms as if they were paying a social call.
Special Victorian mourning exhibit
When: 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday until Sunday, June 4
Where: Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum, 204 S. Main
Admission: $5 adults, $2 children ages 6-12. Museum members and children 5 and younger will be admitted free.