Today my story “Our Dearly Departed” went live on Coffee House Writers. Thank you so much to my friend Seth for all of his help on the fact-checking and historical research for this story. He’s actually the inspiration for writing a western and has been a huge encouragement to me breaking out of writing in the American Gothic genres in more regions across the United States.
This story focuses on the subject of post-mortem photography and how it was used in the era of westward expansion and Manifest Destiny. For those that could afford photography sessions in the territories, a luxury service not afforded to most people unlike in eastern states, it was all about creating a facade of preserved standard of living to share with the family back home. This involved false windows, painted backdrops, and curating a scene that matched what people wanted their families to believe, even in death. Given the expense, the photographer was called out to a home for births, deaths, and marriages only if they didn’t have a studio set up yet. Most photographers traveled until the 1890s – 1900s when the railroads allowed town populations to grow enough to sustain studio spaces, as opposed to the photographer traveling to each individual business request. These areas would later become “the flyover states.”
I will write more on the subjects of western cabinet card era photography (post-mortem, momento mori, mourning, etc), as well as how it differed across various regions of the United States, and how it intersected with American Spiritualism and legal fraud in the future. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this short story inspired by my research so far with cultural and historic details assisted by a dear friend and someone I would consider extremely knowledgable on the West. Hopefully my skills at writing American Gothic style period pieces pertaining to this region of the United States improves.
Thank you for reading and I hope you have a great day! Remember to breathe 🙂
Just in time for Halloween we have “Spirit Intercourse” by J. Hewat McKenzie from 1917. But actually it was by his wife (?) and he wrote it down and got it published. It is very difficult to find information on her and it seems he fraternized with a number of mediums during his career as a businessman in parapsychology. His book was immensely popular in the United States during and in the aftermath of World War I. He even published pamphlets about what would happen to the spirits of soldiers attempting to make their way home to loved ones.
Who was his wife? We may never know.
Before we go any further, I need to thank the book seller that helped me find and acquire this book. Remember to support your small book stores this year!
Allen was a pleasure to work with, and so helpful. I highly recommend Burkeyme Books for finding rare and unusual books like this one! They’re very talented at acquiring unique special interest items, especially in regards to primary and period literature. Be sure to check them out 🙂
I don’t mean anything lewd. What the title means is communicating with and documenting interactions with the dead: aka Mediumship.
In 1917 this book would have gained popularity as Spiritualism began to have a resurgence with the rise of The Great War In Europe. With primarily young men and husbands being sent overseas from the United States with many uncertain how to communicate with their loved ones to confirm their living status, spiritualism was an option to turn to, much like earlier versions had been for seamen for a millennia before. This helped this book gain popularity, especially during and after the 1918 Influenza.
The American Spiritualism movement is complicated. I argue that reactions to Southern Religious Spiritism movements, westward expansion, the introduction of new technologies, and the Civil War had a major role to play with its rise in inland America during the 19th century, but that’s just me and an argument for another time. The main thing is it provided comfort and studies show talking to a deceased loved one do help people feel better. This book, though related, is from a Scottish parapsychologist and should not be confused too deeply with the American movement.
It’s important to note that “spiritualism” as a broad category with many forms is an internationally present form of traditional religious belief dating back farther than anyone really knows. There’s extensive crossover with indigenous cultures of all continents, including those conquered by the romans in Europe. The concepts of this differs from Animism and can be considered similar in philosophical concepts.
Anyways, for this Halloween special edition we are going to try out a few of these methods of communicating with the dead. We have some interesting dead people in Missoula, and I have some interesting dead family members and a number of other potential people to talk to since we live between two cemeteries (quiet neighbors!).
The hardest part was choosing what to do! plus, I can’t just leave all these explanations out, can I? So I’ll be doing a special Halloween Twitch stream reading aloud from this book tomorrow, 31 October 2020. We might even do a laser show (we’ll see how our uploading goes).
For today’s post and following instructions we are going to be focusing on chapter 6: First Steps To Spirit Intercourse. For more on the other chapters be sure to check out the Halloween Twitch stream tomorrow!
Chapter VI: First Steps To Spirit Intercourse
For each of these early preparatory sections from this chapter Jacob and I are going to share our comments on what we found most interesting.
Advice To Beginners
A recurring meme of antique how to books is how they are all “at considerable expense” – Jacob and I have both noted this in other antique how to books, regardless of their quality of information.
The author is salty (Jacob: very) at many people. Especially those in the fields of theology and psychology. But this is a safe thing for skeptics to do. He ain’t afraid of no ghosts.
Be polite – being too skeptical directly towards a medium is rude and causes problems…
“This doesn’t actually say anything about what the dangers are” – I don’t disagree with Jacob on this.
Thoughts cause difficulties (Big Mood)
“Claiming to be spirits”
On To The How To!
Similar to the planchette used for the Ouija board, this was a toy that took a pencil and drew on a piece of paper. First, one must “magnetize” the paper by having all participants rub their hands over it. Because we do not yet have one of the original style planchettes, we balanced the pencil between our fingers with hands flattened and asked a few questions. The suggested questions in the book were about relatives in Australia or the Pacific (New Zealand?), but we opted for Boston and Florida.
“Does anyone have new warts?”
I believe we can take that as maybe a “no” or “try again”
Sit alternating male and female around an uncovered table and engage in pleasant but not frivolous conversation. Place hands upon the table and after a time the table will start to move and someone will need to take charge as the spirits get rowdy and begin moving things around. No minimum group size is recommended, so we decided to try with two.
With attention otherwise otherwise occupied, hold a pencil and let it do its own thing on a piece of paper and see what happens.
I hope you enjoyed this fun jaunt through and antique how to book on Mediumship. Join me tomorrow on twitch.tv/dreaminventor for a livestream of more of the book being read aloud. Happy Halloween Everyone!
“Hattie” Reams Vande Riet sat still in an ornate wicker chair at New York Art Gallery at 305 E. Broad St. in Richmond VA approximately one hundred years ago. This posed cabinet card captured her green, light hazel, or dark blue eyes and brown hair rolled into an ornate nest Gibson Girl above her head. Her neck scarf collar and broach with necklace and pinky ring are all carefully selected indications of her class. She was stunning and when I found her at Luxor in 2010 and fell in love.
What I know so far is that Hattie is a nickname for Harriet, Henrietta, Henriette, Helen, or many other traditional female names. Based on the type of cabinet card, photography chemicals used (gelatin bromide over Baryta I think – cannot confirm without damaging the photograph), and the style of attire, the photograph is from the 1890s – 1910s. Hattie appears to be at least 16, placing her year of birth to be in the 1880s – 1900s if she is exceptionally young looking and in her 20s. Given her lack of pierced ears, her jewelry, and her ring placement, she is educated and affluent or hoping to appear as such. It is unclear whether the photograph is pre or during World War I given the hairstyle, though the Gibson Girl fell out of fashion after World War I and during the Influenza Epidemic placing the photograph as no later than the 1910s.
One possible option I tracked down is here. There is some conflicting information between the name on the card and the name listed here. The cursive on the back of the card lacks the spaces and capitalization. So far this is my best lead, but unfortunately, all of the relatives listed on this family tree are deceased.
Do any of those names look familiar to you? Are they your parents, great grandparents, or great great grandparents? Is Hattie your family member?
I collect cabinet cards, but Hattie is special. Whenever I obtain a cabinet card with more information than a face, I can’t help but try to find out who these pictures captured. Early photography was a synergistic art form between timing, chemistry, and the capturing of minutes as opposed to hours in time in a way that was lifelike and included human flaws, and thus souls in the opinions of some, unlike portrait painting where commissioned manipulations by the upper-classes were more common (a study of the portraits of Queen Elizabeth I is one of the most famous on this topic).
At the time I purchased her photograph, I also found one of an unnamed blond-haired post-mortem (the 1860s – 1880s based on photography method) toddler boy forever alone in his Christening clothes and forgotten by the family that knew him so briefly. I find it important that he never be alone again. I will never digitize his photo for ethical reasons. (I have a love of Hidden Mother Photography and other early child portrait methods. They fill me with warm fuzzies. I will go into these in another post dedicated to early child portrait photography.)
The Cabinet Card Descendants Project
The first cabinet card that is part of this project is Hattie. She was the first cabinet card I purchased with this level of detailed information and therefore I will focus on her first.
Very few cabinet cards have enough information to connect them with their families once they’re separated. My mom’s family is lucky enough that every cabinet card we’ve ever had taken is still in our family’s possession (that we know of) – including the (sometimes broken) glass negatives. Photography became related to spirituality in the South, particularly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as family members died farther and farther away from home without the constant love and contact they once had. Families dispersed across the United States, mailing cabinet cards through the United States Postal Service to loved ones back home with the superstition that each one of these cards contained a small piece of their soul – a gift to be cherished. This bit of superstition was one relayed to me through family legend and is not one I can put much stock in (hope you enjoy the pun there), but many did at the time the photos were created.
I do not fault families for giving these away. Superstitions die over time and are entirely relative to where you are from. The belief in a soul and the afterlife is questionable in the face of modern skepticism. That said, I am making an effort to digitize every cabinet card I get that has names associated with the faces. I will then provide research to attempt to reconnect to the original portrait studios to see if I can start adding names to the other cabinet cards. This way they can be digitized and added to other genealogy websites.
A Note On Cultural Differences
For readers in the UK, please note there are cultural and chemical differences in cabinet card photography between our continents. I have run into the issue previously with discussing old photographs where readers from the UK (and for some reason only the UK) try to impose assumptions on antique photographs from the US based on cultural history and expectations associated with the Edwardian and Victorian eras elsewhere in the world and argue this without doing their research and fact checking. Please do not do this. This is not how history works. At all. Seriously.
The United States experienced a massive social upheaval from the 1840s through the 1940s in a very different way than that of the UK and rest of the world. Every culture and even subgroup has its unique history that can be contributed and needs to be exposed as opposed to erased. This project is about exposing what is objective. I cannot work based on incorrect cultural assumptions here and I need to be able to make corrections so I can reconnect individuals. Some of the unique experiences in the United States had to do with the size of our country and how its population spread out with the rise of the railroad and westward expansion. The rise of the Spiritualism movement (very different from Spiritualism in the UK) also had a role to play in photography at the time, but likely had to less to do with this particular photograph.
How You Can Help
If you have information that can help track down Hattie’s living family members, either by knowing someone that shares a name or if you recognize her face as a relative of yours, please feel free to share any leads you may have. I will take my time to check out each one and provide updates on this website. If anyone wants, I may even start a YouTube series dedicated to this project and tracking down the descendants so they can meet their long lost great grandparents through photographs.
You can send tips to lopotterwrites at gmail dot com. You can also help by liking, sharing, and talking about Hattie! Let’s help find Hattie together.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this today.I look forward to helping Hattie find her family and moving on to the next cabinet card in my collection with information and will continue to post information on cabinet cards and the history of portrait photography and how it relates to superstition and spirituality in the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
What is a wedding anniversary? Beyond being the day each year that the event of a wedding occurred, it is so much more! It is a day to reflect on the past, the present, and the future to come with your spouse and the communities joined by the union of marriage.
On September 2, 2018 I walked toward the rocky cliffs of the Maine coastline where my best friend waited for me, standing next to his father (our officiant) between our friends and chosen family. As they processed down the aisle, this instrumental version of A Thousand Years played. Amanda pulled me aside and reminded me that this was what I should pay attention to – this is what I will remember – the moment before everything begins. It’s important to have close, lifelong friends like this in our lives. Thank God I am blessed to have a friend like that.
Before us a community brought together through our lifetimes guided us through a ceremony of our own design (based loosely on old Norwegian and New England heritage waterman traditions. My father had to bow out of his role as a fiddler due to surgery on his wrist years ago).
I recently read an article that remarked a concern that I’ve seen repeated my whole life: is marriage dying? As long as there is love and there are humans falling into it – no. Marriage is not dying. I promise 2020 is not going to kill it.
Our marriage was not about legal benefit, it was not about a big party, and the ceremony could have proceeded without any legally binding contract or even the <50 people that were present. Marriage is about something much deeper. Marriage is about community and the joining of communities – the chosen families we accumulate through our lifetimes. And though we don’t plan to have biological children, we plan to raise children within these joined communities.
Marriage is valid even when children are not involved. Communities can be joined simply for love and to join families that are meant to be together. That may sound trite, but it is a beautiful, valid, amazing thing I will need to go into more detail on at some point. Marriages “of the soul” are valid, if not more so, than any legal contract – if two individuals remain together even though they are free to leave does that not make their union more valid than those who remain together out of legal obligation? I think specifically of a widow friend. Though never legally married, I will always view her as the rightful widow and the one and only true love of a late friend.
Every year we are faced with the opportunity to reexamine our union, and 2020 is no different. We are blessed to have joined our two families and to spend the rest of our lives with each other, and I promise there is nothing more healing than finding a friendship that sows seeds of love wherever it touches your life.
And so, without further ado, on this second anniversary, I share the proof of the design project I’ve been working on with our vows. Consider creative ways to celebrate love. I decided to take our vows and re-write them into the shape of a lighthouse.
The shape of the lighthouse is based on the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse (without the keeper’s house) in Bristol, Maine where we held our ceremony. There’s still room for improvement – I’m aware! For those using assisted readers, I have included our vows in the alt text.
Part of planning our ceremony was bringing a community together. Jacob’s mother’s wedding dress became the stole for Jacob’s father’s officiant robes.
My mother and Nana wove the knots and did all of the floral arrangements for the wedding, including my bouquet. As per family tradition, these knots were saved and are displayed at holidays around our home.
The bridesmaids and groomsmen carried lanterns that were an arts and crafts project labor of love between Becky, Kate, Heather, and myself. These beautiful lanterns were constructed using LED lanterns that can be purchased at a craft supply store like Michaels and bulk loose wooden flowers in the colors sage, sky blue, dusty rose, natural wood, and ivory. Those wooden flowers were used for decorating throughout the weekend, including on the cake.
After our ceremony, we proceeded back to the Bradley Inn. They provided an inclusive wedding package at a reasonable cost compared to other similar venues (that did not have on-site lodging) with gluten free and allergy conscious catering with menu options that acknowledged all of our heritage traditions. It was a truly remarkable experience. We were even able to set up a dance floor!
One guest made the comment about how they worried they were at the “gay table.” The hardest/most awkward thing we had to disclose later was that we actually had to put together a “straight table.” Welcome to the 21st century! As a reader may be able to tell our accent metallic colors were in the copper to rose gold range with some aged bronze thrown in.
We kept the invitation list very small. We invited fewer than 50 people and still have spare invitations for future memories to share. I guess in 2020 it’s valuable to share our experiences with planning a small wedding such as this.
It would be an absolute shame if I failed to mention our cake by Hippie Chick Bakery (pictured below). This champagne, ginger, raspberry cake was gluten free, dairy free, and 100% divine. The top layer kept in Jacob’s parents’ freezer for a year and a half with minimal freezer burn, so we were able to fulfill that tradition as well! It turns out gluten and dairy are not required.
Our very first dance as a couple was to a special duet version of Broken Road by Rascal Flatts. This was followed by the realization during the planning stage that we had both chosen Paul Simon songs as our Father/Daughter and Mother/Son dances. The song chosen for that first dance with my father was Father And Daughter with each lyric carefully examined. This song captures my relationship with my father in a way I could have never predicted until I did that.
One unusual bit of our wedding compared to others people may have experienced in America is that we had a dance that brings the community together as a singing/dancing hymn after the “first dances.” This hymn is called “Lord Of The Dance” and is a Shaker hymn. It’s important to note that Shakers do not traditionally believe in marriage and this is part of why they’re dying out.
But back to the lanterns really fast – we don’t have pictures of this part of the event sadly. As the wedding party lined up and we walked out of the reception, the lanterns were lit to guide our path into the future through the darkness. As we walked out, our wedding DJ (Bob Wilson – Maine) conspired with us to play Pachelbel Canon in D as played on rubber chickens as our exit song. Because this is Us.
As I look back on that day, and all of the work that went into making it happen, I do have one regret. My eldest sister had a speech prepared and the person hired to make sure microphones got into the correct hands and things went smoothly handed the microphone to the wrong person. As in, the exceptionally wrong person. Things did not go smoothly. Feelings were very hurt. Two years later, this still hurts. My sister still hasn’t shared those special words with us and I can only hope that someday we will be gifted with the honor of hearing them.
But given we planned a wedding from over 2,000 miles (3,220 kilometers) away and that’s the hardest lasting hiccup, even though I purchased a used dress that needed extensive alterations, left a toxic PhD program, and started a whole new journey focusing on my art and writing… The truth? It’s all better than my wildest dreams could have ever imagined.
At the end of the day, through all of the stress, we joined two communities: one from the North and one from the South. We did this through the efforts of everyone involved in making the day happen. And we did end up signing a legal contract because it’s America.
We still ended up married and many more people will continue to get married. For this, we give thanks.
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Thank you for joining me in honoring our 2nd wedding anniversary.I hope that this inspires those looking for ways to celebrate their love in a time of social distancing and more intimate celebration restrictions. If you enjoy this post, please like, comment, and/or share. It helps me know which posts my readers enjoy most.