Victorian Ephemera and Other Morbid and Melancholy Forays

Lactated Food sounds pretty gross, but it’s simply an early form of baby formula made from powdered lactose (milk sugar) and various grains.  Infant mortality was about 25% in Victorian times for a number of reasons, many of which are preventable today.  If a mother wasn’t able to adequately breast feed her child this was one of the alternatives.  If you’ve ever tried a taste of modern baby formula, or even smelled the stuff, it couldn’t taste much worse.  Today’s baby formulas are majorly nasty tasting,  but if you don’t know any better and that’s all you get, well that’s all you get.  Unfortunately Lactated Food, while it may have served as a emergency baby formula, it couldn’t do much to prevent the epidemics or correct the sanitation issues of that era which likely caused most of the infant mortality.

The Victorians are especially known for their sense of drama in matters involving death.  Death was not something that was shoved off into hospitals and nursing homes, far away from the rhythm of daily life.  Death was part of daily life.  The guy who built your furniture was the same guy who built your coffin.  They also called it a coffin, not a “casket,” or  “receptacle for remains.”  Mortality wasn’t something reserved for the catastrophically injured, terminally ill, or the aged who are normally shoved off into some sort of facility for months or years before they die- mortality was an equal opportunity proposition.  Death usually wasn’t a lingering thing back then. One day you might be doing your daily business and the next you could just plain drop dead.  I think that’s the reason why there were so many post-mortems taken.  You didn’t have a chance to have so and so’s pic taken when he/she was alive, so now you have to do it before he/she starts to rot.

Was it winter? Did they put her out on the porch to chill until the photographer could make it? ‘Cause she looks pretty well preserved for being dead over a week.

I don’t know why I find post-mortem photography to be fascinating.  It’s creepy to take pics of dead people and even creepier to gawk at them, but I guess it’s more morbid curiosity.  The Victorians raised post-mortem photography to a high science, even developing a sort of guitar stand for the dead so they could be maneuvered into a more lifelike pose:

Now I can explain Keith Richards.

Should I have had the misfortune to have been born in Victorian times, I likely would not have survived much more than a day or two- I was born with pneumonia and had to spend a week in the hospital from the beginning.  Sickly infants were the first to go. The Victorian world made 1000 Ways to Die appear comparatively tame.  If the contagions and bad nutrition and having to wander around in horse shit didn’t kill you, the odds of death by accident or misadventure were pretty good too.

I still admire the artwork of the Victorian era though.  The drawings are stunning and ornate.  The clothing, while beautiful, would have had to have been something wicked to clean and maintain, and I don’t see how any of that stuff, especially corsets, could have been comfortable.  I balk at underwire bras and pantyhose.

I have no idea how these poor women could breathe- but they were probably already rail-thin from always having Montezuma’s Revenge.

 Another hallmark of the Victorian era was maudlin sentiment, which was sort of understandable when you didn’t know from one day to the next who would be alive and who would be dead.  The next birthday you remember might be the last, so yuk it up good.  The cards- and I admit I don’t spend much time or money on paper cards these days- are awesome.  Even the ads are so much more artistic than the ones we are treated to today:

Of course the stuff in the ad probably had lead and arsenic and heroin and cocaine in it, but what a pretty ad!

Patent medicines- basically anything someone could put in a bottle or a tin and market creatively- intrigue me also.  A lot of that stuff proved to be more deadly than anything.  I have to wonder how many people died because the “cure” was worse than the disease.

This looks like someone’s acid trip- and it might just be acid- but if it does something about my lumbago, I might just try it!

I like the little demon drilling on the top of the dude’s head  (center frame on the left.)  That’s a nice touch.

Victorian Death and Post-Mortem Photography, and Reworking the Wiring

I don’t know why, but I find post-mortem photography intriguing.  I know such a curiosity can be considered somewhat macabre- taking pictures of dead people is rather morbid and viewing them is even more so, but there is so much written in those pictures that is unsaid. 

Babies and children seem to be so over-represented in post-mortem pics, but the sad fact is that young children and infants routinely died of diseases that we either vaccinate against or that can be treated with antibiotics.  I’ve seen so many pics of bewildered looking mothers holding their dead babies for that final portrait.  It’s haunting even when one considers the high infant mortality rate of the time.  I’m sure the fact that it was a major accomplishment to get a child to live until his or her fifth birthday in those times did not make it any easier when infants died.

Today it is not as common to take pictures of dead people.  I took pics at Grandma’s funeral pretty much at Mom’s insistence (I will not post them) and more or less to remind myself why I do not want either the bad pink nightie treatment or an open casket funeral. Cremate my happy ass and put up a picture taken when I was still alive.  If anyone shows up, let them speculate on how nasty I looked at the hour of death or whether or not I looked better dead than alive.  Grandma, in spite of the funeral director’s art, did not “look good.”  Very few people do look good when they are laid out in a coffin getting ready to be sent off for the Big Sleep.  She died of either pancreatic cancer, liver failure, or congestive heart failure, or more likely, a combination of the effects of all three (she was 93, after all) and it was all the mortician could do to tone down the sick bright yellow glow of her skin.  They did a better job with Grandma than the funeral home who dolled up poor Aunt Ellen (I will never forget the Day-Glo orange lipstick,) but the restorative arts can only do so much.

I had to wonder about post-mortems where the dead dude (or chick) is standing.  The Victorians had a way around that too:

Sort of like a guitar stand for the dead.  This explains Keith Richards.  Screw the guitar, how about a stand to keep the guitarist vertical? Especially since he must be about 90 years old, and has probably been dead since 1980.

Now I know I am overworked and sleep deprived, but I like it like that.  I know better in a way, but today is the first day in a very long time that I actually came to work and wasn’t completely buried in more stuff than I can possibly get done.  Tomorrow will be different.  I should have asked to go home this PM since I really don’t have much to do, but the minute I do that, a.) I set a bad precedent for others, and b.) some sort of crisis will materialize that will turn into a full-blown cluster f— tomorrow.  Murphy’s Law is alive and well.

In all seriousness, I really do need to get a bit more balanced.  I have a really bad tendency to get focused on one thing and then I don’t really bother with anything else.  I’ve done that with overwork before and it wasn’t very good for my health.  Lately I’ve been living on Monsters and Subway and heavy metal which couldn’t be terribly good for a young kid, let alone a distressed old fossil such as me.  On the bright side, I am enjoying Metallica and Billy Squier and Queensryche and Led Zeppelin, so it can’t be all bad.

I’d like to get that EVO phone that Steve-o has been raving about that not only is Android-based, but has a camera in the front so you can have phone conversations and actually see who you’re talking to.  For the life of me I don’t know why anyone in their right mind would want to look at me on a phone screen, but to each his own.  I do want to be able to see my grandchild, which I think is the reason behind this logic.

The creepiest post-mortems are those where either the eyes are still open or the photographer paints them on later.  It’s pretty clear she’s dead, so what’s up with the open eyes and blank stare?

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, but this year I really haven’t had time to do anything fun.  I haven’t really had time to do anything fun all summer either, and now that winter is pretty much here I have to wonder where the time has gone.  I did get some time in the cougar pool and a couple of good road trips, so I should be satisfied with that.  However, I don’t see myself getting all hyped up for Christmas and all that as much as I would like to enjoy the season this year. 

I need to slow down, take a moment to simply be, and to repair the wiring, but I don’t see it happening any time soon.

Too bad I had to take down the cougar pool.