Hunter says that most funerals of that time were held in the home with the body present, and all the deceased’s friends and relatives were invited for a wake to celebrate the person’s life.
That was also true, says Stacey Olfe, when William Blount himself died, in his house in 1800.
As a deputy clerk with the Knox County Criminal Court, Olfe has a lifelong interest in the paranormal, and as a three-year volunteer at Blount Mansion, she especially enjoys the Halloween programs. She’ll be leading these tours, and can tell visitors all about Blount’s wake, funeral and eventual cortege and interment up the street at First Presbyterian Church.
She’ll also give extensive commentary on the display planned for the Craighead-Jackson House featuring two Victorian practices: hair wreaths and postmortem photography.
Making wreaths, ornaments and jewelry out of hair, says Olfe, was hugely popular. She holds up a large shadow box, lent by the East Tennessee Historical Society, featuring an elaborate wreath and photograph of the living person. “She collected her hair and had this made. She wasn’t necessarily dead when this was made; she wanted to make sure that her loved ones would have a memorial of her. The how-to would have been published in a ladies’ magazine.”
Also on display for Olfe’s “show and tell” will be Victorian postmortem photography, in which the recently deceased person is photographed with other family members and made to look lifelike. Modern-day viewers find these photos unsettling, but Olfe says that the Victorians were very different from us.
“They didn’t think about death the same way that we do,” she says. “They were very close to it.” With photography in its infancy, and photographers scarce and pricey, “you wouldn’t necessarily get a photo during life. But in order to remember your loved one you wanted to make sure to get a photo of them in death.”
“Gone To Rest” happens 8-9:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29 and Friday, Oct. 30, and 8-10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 31 at the Blount Mansion National Historic Site, 200 W. Hill Avenue. Tours begin every half hour. Crowd size is limited and reservations are required.