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Historical Society to host The Mourning of Ellen

On Oct. 29, The Stanly County Historical Society will host The Mourning of Ellen, a candlelight tour of the 1852 Isaiah W. Snuggs House.

In this exhibit, each room in the seven-room house is transformed to recreate the scene of a typical wake and funeral of the 19th century. The solemn occasion is a depiction of a household in mourning, in this case, for the death of Isaiah’s wife, Ellen Milton Snuggs, who died there during childbirth in 1886.

“If you ever wondered why we wear black for funerals, the displays and guided tours in this exhibit explain how these mourning customs and rituals came about from the influence of Queen Victoria’s loss of her husband in 1861,” says Kent Harkey, president of the Stanly County Historical Society. “Queen Victoria set in motion a strict set of rules that upper and middle-class families followed, among those being the clothing that was worn through several stages of mourning.”

As somber funeral music plays in the background, volunteer docents dressed in mourning attire will lead visitors on a 20-minute candlelight tour through the house as they hear about early funerary customs and view the exhibits in each room.

Homes were also decorated in times of mourning, with black coverings draped on mirrors, windows and even outdoors. A mourning wreath on the front door was a solemn symbol that the household was mourning the loss of a loved one.

Funeral gatherings typically took place in the residence of the deceased where the casket was displayed and mourners gathered until the trip to the cemetery.

“During the latter part of the 1800s, families were preoccupied with death,” Harkey says, “especially since infant mortality rates were high, death in childbirth was common and the Civil War took an extraordinary toll.”

Featured in the exhibit will be a black mourning gown and a framed hair wreath. At the conclusion of the tour, visitors will be offered a “funeral biscuit” wrapped and sealed with black seal wax, a common gesture by the family during a wake.

The 1852 Isaiah W. Snuggs House is at 112 N. Third St. and tour hours will be 6:30-9:30 p.m.

A $5 donation to the Stanly County Historical Society will be accepted at the door. Free admission will be extended to ages 12 and under and to members of the Stanly County Historical Society.

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