Memento Mori: Spooky Post Mortem Photography

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During the Victorian Era, people honored and immortalized their dearly departed in a unique and rather eerie way--by photographing them moments after death. Take a look at some interesting post-mortem photographs that will make your hairs stand on end.

It’s fascinating how people all over the world have many different ways and concepts for mourning. Perhaps, one such interesting practice is post-mortem photography, which peaked during the Victorian Era.

Also called memento mori or memorial portraiture, this hair-raising photography usually involved both close-up and full body shots of the deceased, but rarely with the coffin. The subject was made to look as if in a deep, peaceful slumber or even posed to appear more lifelike. While the Latin term “memento mori” connotes the remembrance of man’s mortality, post-mortem photographs served more as family keepsakes to remember their dearly departed by. This was especially the case for infants and young children, as the mortality rate among children during the Victorian Era was remarkably high. Families often had no other photograph or images of their deceased children but the post-mortem photograph.

Deceased children and infants were often photographed on cribs and couches, some with their favorite toys, and some accompanied by their parents (often the mother). Deceased adults were usually photographed while seated on chairs, and some even posed using special frames and braces. Flowers, elaborate dresses, and candles were used as props. The “staged” mourning of the living beside their dearly departed was also common.

Efforts to make the departed subjects appear lifelike, such as propping the eyes open, often resulted in some of the most gripping yet spine-tingling memorial portraits ever taken. Why don’t we take a look at some more of them now?

Post-mortem portrait of a deceased lady with her parents. (Photo via Wikipedia)

Photos from Wikipedia and Documenting Reality

Sources and additional readings:

Post-mortem photography on Wikipedia
Memento mori on Wikipedia
Only the Creepiest Photos Ever Taken on Mental Floss

What do you think of post-mortem photography during the Victorian Era? Let us know with a comment below!

written by plasticpopsicle on 2011-06-21 in #lifestyle

16 Comments

  1. mr-korn
    mr-korn ·

    I have been intrigued with post-mortem photography since the movie "The others". Thanks for posting this article!

  2. zoezo
    zoezo ·

    This is going to give me nightmares!

  3. jet
    jet ·

    I think this are good pictures, at least most of them appear to be sleeping and not death.

  4. plasticpopsicle
    plasticpopsicle ·

    @mr-korn When I stumbled across some of these memento mori photographs, I found them really interesting. I was most disturbed by the photos of the children though!

    @zoezo Oh no!

    @jet Yes, I think so too. Some of them I would mistake for sleeping people and not dead people!

  5. stouf
    stouf ·

    Terrifying !

  6. renenob
    renenob ·

    How am I supposed to sleep now!?

  7. plasticpopsicle
    plasticpopsicle ·

    Oops, sorry @stouf and @renenob!

  8. ashdinosaur
    ashdinosaur ·

    I think I find the baby the most creepy.

  9. jackpumpkinhead
    jackpumpkinhead ·

    Not scary, just really sad. Great article though.

  10. misskerosene
    misskerosene ·

    I think this tradition was beautiful, although to us in modern times appears dark. For many families I imagine this would be the only photo they would ever have of their loved one.

  11. mafiosa
    mafiosa ·

    This is interesting. The baby photos are so sad.

  12. atria007
    atria007 ·

    ufffff...interesting but just really sad...

  13. tiranapermata
    tiranapermata ·

    well, it's interesting in a spooky way

  14. sophia_lo
    sophia_lo ·

    interesting but sad. great memory for their family =)

  15. laurasulilly
    laurasulilly ·

    "The Others" was on German tv the other night and I remembered your interesting article when I watched it (again)!
    I think that back in the Victorian era, death was much more "common" (in the sense of visible) in society than it is today in our highly "machine-operated" world where death has become something "un-natural" (which it surely isn't) to be hidden and stored away in hospitals and the like- so today taking a picture of a dead person might seem rather creepy, but back then it might have been perfectly reasonable as this might have been the only picture ever taken of a person...still a little sad to look at all the dead people (particularly the children), though

  16. jeff1727
    jeff1727 ·

    shouldn't have looked at these pics! creepy

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