Hello to all those faithfully reading and hopefully enjoying this effort to make even the worst horror movie more watcha... aw, screw that - I'm not that good. If a movie makes you cringe because yet another batch of unlikable teens that are pushing 30 are inching toward their deaths, having a party no one does anywhere ever, a paranormal movie is boring you to tears with unending pans of empty rooms, or thanks to CGI technology when people finally bite it, their blood squirts everywhere except on the victim, the ground, the people next to them... you're in good company and this is the right place for you.

Saturday, July 20, 2013



Post-Mortem Photography

I know I've mentioned this subject before but unfortunately my mind is mush and my body is not taking any commands so I'll be down a bit - in the meanwhile, here's a little of the practices of the past:

The invention of the daguerreotype in 1839 made portraiture much more commonplace, as many of those who were unable to afford the commission of a painted portrait could afford to sit for a photography session. This cheaper and quicker method also provided the middle class with a means for memorializing dead loved ones.These photographs served as keepsakes to remember the deceased. This was especially common with infants and young children; Victorian era childhood mortality rates were extremely high, and a post-mortem photograph might have been the only image of the child the family ever had. The later invention of the carte de visite, which allowed multiple prints to be made from a single negative, meant that copies of the image could be mailed to relatives.

The practice eventually peaked in popularity around the end of the 19th century and died out as "snapshot" photography became more commonplace, although a few examples of formal memorial portraits were still being produced well into the 20th century.

The earliest post-mortem photographs are usually close-ups of the face or shots of the full body and rarely include the coffin. The subject is usually depicted so as to seem in a deep sleep, or else arranged to appear more lifelike. Children were often shown in repose on a couch or in a crib, sometimes posed with a favorite toy or other plaything. It was not uncommon to photograph very young children with a family member, most frequently the mother. Adults were more commonly posed in chairs. Flowers were also a common prop in post-mortem photography of all types.

The effect of life was sometimes enhanced by either propping the subject's eyes open or painting pupils onto the photographic print, and many early images (especially tintypes and ambrotypes) have a rosy tint added to the cheeks of the corpse. Later examples show less effort at a lifelike appearance, and often show the subject in a coffin. Some very late examples show the deceased in a coffin with a large group of funeral attendees; this type of photograph was especially popular in Europe and less common in the United States.

An excellent book on the subject is Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Photography in America by Stanley B. Burns. Getting a copy will cost you however, the price range for used to new is anywhere from over $200 all the way to almost $700 dollars. 

Rather than being a horrible or morbid subject, it is actually a kind of beautiful way for those whose lives were often short to keep the memory of their families alive.

Updated 5/23/14: A reader had asked about the picture on top of this blog entry - in some places the picture was backward - I hadn't seen that but thought that the negative might have been turned - not sure. But I did find out their tragic story:

I had wondered, looking at this photo and the, uh, rough condition of the bodies if they were not all in some sort of accident, one that took the whole family at once. The story is actually much sadder (and more violent):

In Houston, Missouri, Carney Parsons and his wife, Minnie (Strange) Parsons and their three children were murdered in 1906 by Jody Hamilton. Jody Hamilton worked as a share cropper with the Parsons and lived with them. Parsons sold his crop to Hamilton, but the two men got into an argument as Jodie was seeing the family off. The Parsons had a sale of their household goods and were killed for the proceeds of this sale - $150.00.

Hamilton became more and more convinced that he had been cheated, and he started in pursuit of Parsons to try to make things right. The argument escalated when Jodie caught up with the family north of Houston on the Success Road just west of the Big Piney River, and Jodie ended up shooting Parsons with a shotgun blast and finishing him off by beating him with the barrel of the gun. 

Parsons's wife came to her husband's aid as he was struggling for his life, and Jodie also bludgeoned her to death with the gun barrel. He slit the throats of the six-year-old and three-year-old sons before finishing them off with the gun barrel to keep them from identifying him and finally beat in the brains of their one-year-old child to stop it from crying. 

After the family was murdered they were thrown in the Piney River. Someone fishing found their bodies. Hamilton went to church wearing the suit he had taken from Mr. Parsons, also his ring. Announcement was made at Church of the discovery of the slaying. Hamilton left, riding a mule taken from the Parsons family. 

Hamilton was readily captured, convicted of murder, and sentenced to hang in late December of 1906. Although the killings of the five members of the Parsons family was one of the largest and most gruesome mass murders in Missouri history, Jodie elicited sympathy from some observers when he started professing religion from his jail cell.

The convict went to the scaffold on December 21 and was hung without a whimper. The post-mortem photo must have been particularly difficult, to make the family look as good as possible after such a brutal murder AND being in the water.

As to why the photograph is shown two ways - that I'm still working on. Did they take two photographs with the boys on each side, or did the negative somehow become reversed? Both ways, the boys are kind of off to the side of the bed. If anyone has an idea, let me know...