Victorian mourning customs to be seen at Lairdland

Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Shown in the photo are the ladies playing characters during the reenactment. From left: Bobbi Kaslow playing Mrs. Sally Polk, Bennita Rouleau playing herself, Ann Jarrett playing Nancy Laird, and Cindy Gilson playing Mrs. Wallace. Each is dressed in full mourning attire.

By Jessica Moore

Staff Writer

The Lairdland Farm House in Cornersville has recently decided to try something new. For the next two Saturdays, they will be re-enacting a Victorian wake. The Victorian tradition of having a wake for a deceased loved one was a very long and extensive process. The wake being re-enacted will be representative of an actual death that took place in the home many years ago. Robert Henderson Laird and his wife Nancy Gordon Laird lost their infant daughter at only 13 days old. She had never received a name. It was their custom to not name a child until he or she had been christened, and at the time of their baby girl's death, she had not been christened.

The child is buried in the cemetery near the Lairdland home. The Lairdland home is part of the Tennessee Civil War Trails. John Laird, an Irish immigrant, was given a 5,000-acre land grant by the state of North Carolina in appreciation for service in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Tennessee was still Indian Territory when Laird settled on Lynn Creek and raised his family. In 1857 John Laird's youngest son, Robert H. Laird, purchased this property in the Brick Church Community from Thomas J. Lane, his brother-in-law, who built the original home in 1831. From that time on it has been known as Lairdland.

By the 19th century, mourning in England had developed into a complex set of rules, particularly among the upper classes. For women, the customs involved wearing heavy, concealing black clothing and the use of heavy veils of black cr'pe. Special caps and bonnets, usually in black or other dark colors, were worn during mourning. There was special mourning jewelry, often made of jet. Jewelry was also occasionally made from the hair of the deceased. The wealthy would wear cameos or lockets designed to hold a lock of the deceased's hair.

The time allotted to mourning varied depending on who was mourning what death. Widows were expected to wear specific clothes to indicate that they were in mourning for up to four years after the death of their husband. However, a widow could choose dress that way for the rest of her life. To wear non-mourning attire earlier was considered disrespectful. If the widow was still young and attractive, it was considered suggestive of potential sexual promiscuity. Those subject to the rules were slowly allowed to re-introduce conventional clothing at specific time periods, as black gave way to purple, lavender and gray. Such stages were known as "full mourning," "half mourning," and so on.

The Lairdland Mourning re-enactment will take place between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday, March 8, and Saturday, March 15. The Civil War Museum at the house will also be open at this time. For more information or tickets call (931) 363-2205 or email info@lairdlandfarmhouse.com.