In Victorian America, the news of a
loved one's death sent the household into immediate mourning. Funeral
arrangements were made and death and funeral announcements were placed in local
newspapers. In small communities, personal invitations were delivered to family
There were many different signs of a home in mourning. In urban areas and affluent homes, the windows would be draped in black. Doorways were decorated with flower covered black wreaths. Black crepe hanging outside a home was an open announcement to neighbors that there was a death in the family. Neighbors would respond with food and offer help and condolences.
Deceased immediate family members would be laid out in the parlor of the home. In many European and southern homes, the body would be kept in the bedroom and a 24 hour around the clock vigil was kept. Family members and servants would keep watch over the deceased, with the servants taking the late night vigil.
During the vigil, candles burned throughout the room. Flowers were brought in, not only as a gift of remembrance, but to mask the odor of the decaying corpse. The wake carried on for one to four days until the funeral or burial service was held in either a public or private cemetery.
Funerals could be simplistic or elaborate depending on the family's finances and social class. No funeral was too elaborate or ornate, although some etiquette books would remind those of the middle class to have a less lavish ceremony. A funeral held with tasteful decorum was considered a sign of good breeding. Mourning rules varied, the English rules of etiquette were more intense than those practiced in the United States.
Funeral services were often held at the home of the deceased or in a church. A family member, friend or undertaker would lead the ceremony. Following the ceremony, a funeral procession would be assembled. The deceased would be taken to the cemetery for a final viewing and a few brief words of prayer. Women were permitted to attend the burial service, but were not required to if they chose not to participate.