|History of U. S. Traditions
Until the mid 1800’s most families cared for their
own dead. They prepared, dressed, and displayed
their loved ones within the confines of their own home. Early American houses
often did not have parlors, however as houses grew, and national mannerisms
became more set, proper families made sure they had front rooms filled with their
finest possessions, quality furniture, portraits, sterling silver and often a piano.
Because these rooms were usually clean, closed off, and quite formal, people often
used them when someone died as a place to lay out the body and allow funeral
visits. The body was usually displayed in a casket that was made or even
purchased at the General store.
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History of Funerals in the U.S.
In early America, home funerals were the
practice everywhere, and each community had a
group of women who came in to help with the
"laying out of the dead." Visitation was held in
the front parlor followed by a procession to the
church and cemetery.
Since home parlors, have been largely replaced by funeral homes, the formal front
room, or parlor has been turned into the modern family living room.
Caring for your own dead began to change dramatically during the Civil War.
Soldiers were dying on the battlefield, and their families would want them sent
home for burial. This is when the practice of embalming, for shipping bodies over a
long distance, first began to take place. Dr. Auguste Renouard (1839-1912), a
U.S. Physician, was one of the early leaders in the field, laying the groundwork for
present day embalming methods.
During this time period, the family graveyard was moving towards the more park
like settings of the local cemetery. Also, the United States, established a number of
national military cemeteries, where members of the armed forces were and
continue to be buried.
Soon after came the Undertakers, who undertook this duty for the families at a time
of need. It was not long before this became the normal way for families to take
care of their dead.
Over time, Undertakers become known as Morticians and Funeral Directors. In the
beginning of the 1900's, the newly formed National Funeral Directors Association
was pressing its members to consider themselves "professionals," not tradesmen as
the earlier coffin-makers had been. Regular use of embalming was encouraged, and
the new "professionals" used it to suggest they were keepers of the public health.
(see: Mortuary History)
Most grander homes of the 19th century
had a false, or "death door" placed off of
the formal room, that led to the outside
without steps to remove a deceased
family member. It was considered
improper to remove a body through the
door, the living crossed to enter, also, it
was considered bad form to carry them
out feet first. Later a grave was dug, in
the family cemetery.
| Funeral in the Home Parlor
(courtesy of Natl. Museum of Funeral History)