How the deceased were honored was definitely different in the 1800s. There were practical reasons for many customs and specific etiquette to follow when someone passed away.

Queen Victoria set the tone for the late 1800s when her beloved husband Prince Albert died, continuing traditions that had begun long before. She dressed in head-to-toe black. She wore a veil called a weeping veil made of black crepe. She wore a locket containing Prince Albert’s hair, a tradition that began in the 1700s during the Georgian era, or perhaps even earlier. Social activities ended for a year, typically, but Victoria mourned for the rest of her life.

Other examples of customs of the time included formal attire for funerals. Calls of condolence were generally timed after the family reappeared at a regular church service—it was considered an imposition to call on the family too soon after the death. And visitors simply left their calling card on the first visit.

The seated figure, sculpted by George Zolnay, who spent time in St. Louis, seems to mourn for David Rowland Francis, a Missouri governor, a US Secretary of the Interior, and an ambassador to Russia. The domed mausoleum designed by architect Isaac Taylor honors A. D. Brown, an early shoe manufacturer and the older brother of the founder of the more famous Brown Shoe Company (Caleres today). Photo by Jon Dickson.

A widow would be in full mourning for a year after her husband’s death, not participating in social activities, while a widower might only spend three to six months in mourning.

Also, memorial photographs were taken of a loved one after they died. At the time, few photographs were taken, and sometimes, this might have been the only chance the family had to obtain a photograph of a loved one.

The Civil War was actually a pivotal point in both culture and mourning traditions in the United States, due to the catastrophic loss of 620,000 fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons. Grief permeated the entire country, and the number of commercially available mourning items such as clothing and mementos increased dramatically during this time. Embalming became common since so many men died far from their homes.

Mourning also varied by social class. Wealthy families were able to afford the expense of elaborate headstones or monuments, while poor widows had no choice but to find a way to support their families.

Each mourning tradition was completed for a specific purpose. The front doors of homes had black fabric draped or tied on the bell to muffle its sound. It also notified visitors, who didn’t have the luxury of phones to coordinate visiting times or pass the news, that death had occurred in the home.

Mirrors were covered so the deceased person’s soul was not trapped in a reflection. Family photographs were often turned around or covered to keep the individual’s spirit from possessing living family members.

Fresh flowers were used to mask the odor inside homes where dead bodies were kept until the funeral was held. Family members sat with the deceased to make sure the person was really dead. This is how the term “wake” became part of funeral traditions.

Today, we hold “visitations,” and flowers are still an important part of most funerals.

The inscription under this monument reads in part, “In memory of the noblest, dearest, gentlest, and most unselfish of women, Ottilie Stephan Hiemenz.”

Bellefontaine Cemetery And Arboretum

Photo courtesy Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum.

Bellefontaine is a lovely, peaceful destination and a prime example of the 1800s movement to create rural cemeteries in park-like settings outside of urban centers, where mourners and visitors could reflect and remember in quiet, natural surroundings, away from city noise and distractions. Established in 1849, it was the first such rural cemetery west of the Mississippi and was built just in time for a cholera epidemic that claimed the lives of about
7 percent of St. Louis’s population. Before this, most burials took place on family property or within churchyards. Bellefontaine is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Bellefontaine has become a destination to visit because of its art, architecture, history, horticulture, and even wildlife.

First, it is a noteworthy arboretum, with more than 5,000 trees and 1,100 shrubs of more than 200 species. It has two state champion trees, a shingle oak, and a red mulberry.

Second, it contains almost every example of western architecture, from Classic Revival, Egyptian Revival, Romanesque, and Gothic, as well as modern architecture. The elaborate Gothic Revival mausoleum for Adolphus Busch, the founder of Anheuser- Busch Company, is here, as is the domed cube that is the Wainwright Tomb, for which Frank Lloyd Wright was a draftsman.

Replicas by unnamed artists of the Angel of the Resurrection by Italian sculptor Giulio Monteverde were popular grave monuments. There is another replica, without wings, behind glass at Bellefontaine Cemetery. Photo by Jon Dickson.

Third, because the cemetery is only about twenty miles from the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, it’s right on the Mississippi Flyway, used by more than three hundred bird species. You might also spot red foxes, wild turkeys, wood ducks, and bees. In its early days, fruit, hay, and honey raised on the grounds was sold, and today, Bellefontaine horticulture staff and volunteers serve as beekeepers to help provide honeybee habitat.

Fourth, many famous Americans’ graves are located in this cemetery, and it helps tell our country’s history. Famous citizens buried there include Captain William Clark, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition; several former Missouri governors; many famous Civil War leaders from both sides; Horace Bixby, steamboat pilot and captain whose “cub pilot” was Mark Twain; Thomas Hart Benton, the US Senator; Edward Bates, US Attorney General under President Abraham Lincoln; Chris von der Ahe, entrepreneur and owner of the St. Louis Brown Stockings, which later became the St. Louis Cardinals; Albert Bond Lambert, Olympic athlete and businessman and also namesake of Lambert-St. Louis International Airport; Irma S. Rombauer, author of The Joy of Cooking; and many more.

Bellefontaine Cemetery has more than 87,000 graves in its 314-acre grounds. It is an active cemetery, and about a hundred burials take place every year.

Visit the cemetery daily from 8 am to 5 pm for a 3.5-mile self-guided walking or driving tour with map. Schedule tours with Master Guides in advance. Bus and private tours are also available. Specialty tours featuring the Civil War or notable women are occasionally offered. Visit at 4947 West Florissant Avenue, St. Louis or online at

Replicas by unnamed artists of the Angel of the Resurrection by Italian sculptor Giulio Monteverde were popular grave monuments. There is another replica, without wings, behind glass at Bellefontaine Cemetery.

Lilly Anheuser, wife of Adolphus Busch, hired a
St. Louis architectural firm to design this mausoleum. Grapevines on the mausoleum represent both Busch’s birthplace in wine country in Germany, and ironically, his favorite beverage.

The Mourning Society

Edna Dieterlie and John Mefford talk about mourning clothes and customs. Minister Tom Allen leads a funeral procession, followed by John Avery. Carrying the coffin, from left, are Umberto Umbertino and Robert Aubuchon (in uniform). They are followed by, from left, John Mefford and Steve Hampton, in the gray suit. Photo by Consolations of Memory/Jennifer Perkins.

The Mourning Society of St. Louis holds events that allow people to journey back in time and make connections between then and now.

The Mourning Society is an informal group of reenactors who started the group in 2015. Their reenactments mostly focus on nineteenth-century topics through 1920, but they sometimes branch out into other topics such as World War I and women’s suffrage. The three founding members are John Avery, Edna Dieterle, and Katherine Kozemczak, and they arrange events. Additional reenactors contribute to events.

The group participates in a few events at the cemetery each year because their work fits well with the environment. Guests might visit the chapel and then witness a somber reenactment of a nineteenth-
century funeral service, including a procession to the burial site and a graveside service.

“It’s unique,” Katherine says. “Nineteenth-century culture and how it relates to how we do things today is very interesting to me.” She has been an interpreter and researcher at St. Louis historic sites for almost twenty years and also collects memorial items.

John Avery, who plays the role of the undertaker, is a retired funeral director. He has always been fascinated with Civil War funeral practices and embalming.

Edna Dieterle is an avid collector of objects from the 1800s relating to death and mourning and medical practices. She has an extensive collection, which can be viewed at Mourning Society events. Original memorial photography is displayed at some events.

The Mourning Society also participates in events at the Missouri History Museum, Jefferson Barracks State Historic Site, and St. Louis Public Library.

“We like to branch out,” Katherine says. However, their emphasis remains on how mourning has changed from the past to modern day.

To find upcoming events or learn how to become a reenactor with the group, visit or the Facebook page.

Upcoming Mourning Society Events

Photo by Consolations of Memory/Jennifer Perkins.

October 5
Consolations of Memory: Death and Mourning in the Nineteenth Century

This annual cemetery walk and funeral reenactment is October 5 at St. Louis’s Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum and has the theme of an 1860s funeral. The guided walk at Hotchkiss Chapel also includes mid-nineteenth-century reenactments of mourning practices and funeral customs. Reenactors in period clothing share vignettes to illustrate the stories of past prominent people from the St. Louis area. The event—to be held rain or shine—is free but attendees must register on Bellefontaine’s website for one of three time slots to help with limited parking.

October 25
Twilight Tours at the Campbell House

The Mourning Society will be at the Campbell House on Locust Street in downtown St. Louis on October 25 to demonstrate a historical home in mourning. Tour the home, which will have special exhibits and reenactors in period clothing in each room. The parlor will host a wake. The Campbell House was the home of renowned fur trader and entrepreneur Robert Campbell and his family from 1854 to 1938 and is furnished with original pieces. Visitors can take part in this event for $15 per person. Call 314-421-0325 or visit to reserve tickets.

Through October 27
An online cemetery scavenger hunt

A clue has been posted every Sunday since September 1 on the Mourning Society’s website and Facebook. Participants must post a photo on Facebook or Instagram using the hashtag #msstlcsh to play.