Nineteenth-century Coffins and Funeral Practices | Arts & Culture

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Nineteenth-century Coffins and Funeral Practices

The Bridgton Historical Society’s “Third Tuesday” Series will be held at Narramissic, the historic Peabody-Fitch Farm on Tuesday, October 19, at 7:00 pm.  As the final phase of the society’s “Cradle to Grave” programming theme, made possible by a grant from the Davis Family Foundation, a reproduction nineteenth-century coffin will be exhibited in the parlor of the house.  Chuck Lakin, from Waterville, who made the coffin, will be on hand to join Ned Allen and Margaret Reimer for a panel discussion of home funerals and 19th-century funerary practices.  Mr. Lakin, who became interested in home funerals after the death of his father, makes simple wooden coffins, many of which are designed to be used as furniture until they are needed for their final use.  There is a $5.00 admission fee for the event, but it is free for Bridgton Historical Society members.

Around the middle of the 1800s professional undertakers began to take over the job of preparing the body for burial, although, in many rural areas women in the household, or neighbors, continued to perform these duties.  Viewing the deceased was an important part of the mourning and grieving process.  Prominent individuals were sometimes even propped up in their coffin outside so people could come from far and wide to pay respects. Such attitudes help explain the practice of taking photographs of the deceased, which started with the introduction of daguerreotypes around 1850.  Since photographs were “painted by light,” they seemed to have a direct relation to the deceased.

Naramissic, the Peabody-Fitch House, was built in 1797, but it is presented for the most part as it was in the 1850s, on the eve of the Civil War.  The parlor, in mourning, is much as it might have been after the death of George Fitch, then the head of the household, in 1856.   The Bridgton Historical Society also operates an archives and museum in the former fire station on Gibbs Avenue in downtown Bridgton. The museum and archives are open in September on Wednesday and Friday from 9:00 am to noon, and by appointment. Narramissic, located on Ingalls Road, off route 107 in South Bridgton, is an historic house museum and a venue for events and workshops that further an appreciation of early American life. With over 20 acres of fields, it sits on one of the highest points of land in town, with spectacular views to the north and west. Narramissic is open for tours by appointment this fall. For further information contact the Bridgton Historical Society at PO box 44, Bridgton, ME 04009, (207) 647-3699, visit http://www.bridgtonhistory.org/, or email info@bridgtonhistory.org.

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