Sunday, January 08, 2006

hennepin history museum

the sun made a brief appearance on saturday. people didn't know what it was and they were frightened. fortunately it quickly vanished again.

it was just starting to snow when i got to the hennepin history museum -- a dark, gothic building that smells of very old things. upstairs the post mortem photo room is even darker.

it's a perfect setting for the current collection called A SEMBLANCE OF LIFE -- THE ART AND CULTURE OF THE POST MORTEM PHOTOGRAPH. 1850s - 1940s.

i've seen a lot of post mortem photos, but i don't believe i've seen ones in which the children are posed with live siblings in an attempt to make the dead child look awake and alive. i guess so the family could hang the image on the wall and pretend it had been taken before death.

a sad delusion.

so many post mortem photos were taken with the dead child appearing to be asleep that it actually became taboo to take a photo of a sleeping child. that taboo wasn't broken until cameras became a household item.

notice anything odd about this photo?

if you guessed the mother is dead, you're right. it's a chillingly strange twist on the more common construction of live mother and dead infant.

i stared at this photo until i started to feel dizzy. a mannequin in a black mourning dress startled me and for a moment i thought i wasn't alone. it was at least eighty-five degrees in there, and i was wearing a winter coat. all easily explained. really.

if you live in the minneapolis area, the show closes in about a week and a half. two bucks to get in.



Anonymous said...

Such an eerie photograph. How on Earth did they get her to sit like that?

Post mortem photographs are so foreign to us, but I think your point about household cameras is well taken. Since studio cameras were the order of the day, no photograph might exist for a young child. The post mortem would have been the only photographic record. Not sure about adults. Maybe photographs were so few and far between, the post mortem was an important record there too.

anne frasier said...

jason, they must have gotten her posed before rigor set in. or maybe she died sitting up. hey, this looks like just the place to put a baby!

apparently a large percentage of post mortem photos were later destroyed by people who found them sick and disturbing.

Jeff said...

That is a creepy photo. Bizarre might be a better word. I noticed the caption doesn't specify that the woman is the child's mother. It says "deceased woman posed with a baby."
Looks like a good exhibition. Thanks for sharing this. :)

Jer said...

I love your ghoulish self, anne. Jer

Kelly Parra said...

That is weird. It looks like she's asleep until you really notice her hands are pretty dark.

I had no idea about this, this disturbingly interesting. =D

emeraldcite said...

Poor kid.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

That photo gives me chills.

Anonymous said...

As an aside, but a related topic, I'm fascinated by the spiritualism movement during this period. Have you ever heard of Mr. Splitfoot? Now that's a funny story (and a sad commentary on humanity).

anne frasier said...

jeff, maybe it isn't the mother. hmmm. i don't know if i just made that assumption, or if the photo description in the museum said something about it.
jer: thanks. :D sometimes i worry about myself.
emeraldcite: i thought the same thing. all those kids who had to have photos taken with dead people. wow. that could mess you up!
rob: it is chilling. i really did start feeling dizzy when i was looking at that photo. i think it was a combination of the heat and the image.
jason: mr. splitfoot? gotta google that...

Tribe said...

Anne, that is so effin' creepy! One of the things that creeped me out about Wisconsin Death Trap were all the pics with the dead babies...but this beats that by a long shot.

Hmmm, I betcha you gotta story in the works with this one....

Allen said...

Now Im all weirded out...

emeraldcite said...

Mr. Splitfoot as in the Devil, right? Than split hooves? Pan-like feet?

Actually, I read two really good books a couple of years ago. One was A History of God and the other was A History of the Devil. They're historical looks at how both figures came to be in a religious-historical context (ie. no assumption that they exist, but a critical look at texts and history).

Sorry, got carried away on that aside. Must be catching the flu (my daughter has it now, so I'm doomed).

anne frasier said...

tribe, you're right about a story in the works. :D
allen, we're all weirded out! now SOMEbody just told me there's a ghostly image in the photo. i might have to sleep with all the lights on.

emeraldcite: thanks for the links!

Anonymous said...

emeraldcite, no, the Mr. Splitfoot I'm referring to is different. The beginning of the spiritualism movement has been traced back to a haunting in a rural farmhouse, where two daughters communed with a ghost they called Mr. Splitfoot. The ghost would answer questions by making rapping sounds to indicate yes or no.

Any luck googling, Anne? I don't want to give the "secret" away just yet.

anne frasier said...

yep, i found it. very strange and interesting....

emeraldcite said...

Wonder how they kept the baby from falling over?

I also wonder how long the exposure needed to be for the photo...

Jer said...

Creepy, ookie, yuckie, i can't stop looking at it.... ugh... make me turn my head.

anne frasier said...

i looked up mr. splitfoot and was going to post a new thread for it, but have been out of the house all day. anyway, here is a brief description i found online. pretty interesting stuff.

Back in the mid-nineteenth century, the Fox sisters (Margaretta, Catherine, and Katie) said that they were able to communicate with a spirit in
their Hydesville, New York home. They called him Mr. Splitfoot, the spirit of a peddler who had been murdered and buried in the basement by the
previous occupants of the house.

The girls claimed that they could communicate with him through a series of rapping's. Katie, eleven years old in 17, worked out a code for talking
with her mysterious friend. Over a period of time other manifestations of the haunting occurred. Furniture moved unassisted across the floors,
beds rocked and doors slammed shut by themselves. In the most grisly scenario of all, the murder of the peddler was re-enacted, including the
screams, falling bodies, and the sound of a corpse being dragged down the basement stairs.

The eldest daughter, Catherine, decided to exploit the mysterious haunting and the belief in spiritualism was born. During the girls lifetimes, they
were subject to a great deal of ridicule. Until 1904, when the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle wrote that a front page story of the discovery of
the body, or the bones of one, was found beneath the foundation of the Fox sisters home. Rain had weakened one of the basement's stone walls.
Sections of the granite had fallen away, revealing a false wall. In the space between the false wall and the original foundation a human skeleton
was found.

The Fox sisters home was eventually moved to Lily Dale, a town situated in north-central Chautauqua County near Lake Erie, southwest of

Anonymous said...

Whoa. Anne, my understanding is that one of the Fox sisters later admitted that the sisters were making the noise themselves by cracking the bones in their feet, hence "Mr. Splitfoot." The information you posted seems to suggest that the haunting was real. Seems like I better do some googling myself!

anne frasier said...

jason, i didn't search very deeply. i really expected to find some article about fraud because it seems like that always comes up when i read about the spiritualist movement. i think i found 4 or 5 articles. none mentioned the cracking bones! :D