Funeral Flowers for Young Helen: c. 1880


Just as the dead were photographed post-mortem, funerary flower arrangements, such as this poignant floral offering to the memory of a young girl named Helen, were also documented by the photographer and cherished by families.

Mrs Daffodil, despite her eponymous name, is not a gardener. She relies on the staff to provide cut flowers for the House and vegetables for the kitchen without any tiresome discussion of loams, mulches, or insects. And despite growing up in the country, she never had the leisure to make a study of decorative botany, complete with those albums of pressed ferns and watercolor studies of wildflowers which seem to form so necessary a part of the education of young ladies. Handicapped as she is by her lack of botanical knowledge, Mrs Daffodil can only hazard a guess as to some of the species of flowers included in this display and whether they are real or artificial. This is of interest because frequently the “language of flowers” was used to reinforce the sentiments of the bereaved. Forget-me-nots are an obvious example. Pansies/pensees for “thoughts,” are another. It would be an interesting exercise to unravel the puzzle, if puzzle there is: rather like working a funereal-themed crossword or acrostic.

Mrs Daffodil does recognize carnations, lilies, forget-me-nots, and pansies in the photograph. It is possible there are dahlias and anemones as well.  The garland of white roses and leaves, bleeding hearts, and ivy seems obviously artificial.  If any of gardeners among you can identify these blossoms, Mrs Daffodil would be delighted to bow to your superior knowledge.  A click on the photograph will enlarge it. The back of the photograph is marked S.P. Tresize, Photographer, Granville, Ohio. [Granville is a town in Licking County, just over 30 miles from Columbus, Ohio. It is home to Denison University.]

While Mrs. Daffodil has seen photographs of floral arrangements in symbolic and sentimental shapes such as anchors and crosses, sometimes labeled with a word (“MAMA”) or a motto (“AT REST”) spelled out in flowers, this is the first time she has seen the entire name written in foliage. Mrs Daffodil will not make the expected and vulgar pun about corpses being “planted.”

This is a traditional weekend for the dressing of graves. Mrs Daffodil invites you to see more comments on funeral flowers on her “Facebook” page and in tomorrow’s Saturday Snippets.

This photograph is included in The Victorian Book of the Dead, by Chris Woodyard, a collection of primary sources about the popular culture of Victorian death and mourning, available at the website in the link or at online retailers.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



3 thoughts on “Funeral Flowers for Young Helen: c. 1880

  1. Pingback: Corsets and Beer Wagons: Floral Vulgarities: 1891, 1904 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s