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Mourning display was traditional to Victorian times

By Staff | Jul 17, 2017

CAROL SHETLER/The Luminary A wrought iron fence, symbolically separating loved ones due to death, is part of the rare and unique collection by Galen Betzer of Muncy that is currently on display at the Taber Museum in Williamsport.

WILLIAMSPORT – A rare and unique display can be seen at the Thomas T. Taber Museum in Williamsport now through Sunday, August 27.

The collection of articles in the ‘Victorian Death and Mourning’ display not only covers the floor surrounding the forty-foot square community room, it covers the walls as well.

Galen Betzer, owner and director of homes for funerals in Muncy and Montgomery, exquisitely arranged his magnificent collection. It must be viewed in person to truly appreciate its beauty and detail.

In one area, a woman in black mourning garb stands on the outside of a wrought iron fence. The symbolism is that her loved one has passed to the other side and they are now separated for the remainder of their earthly life.

Additional items include human hair wound into wreaths and placed in frames. One frame contains photos of the three assassinated U.S. Presidents; Lincoln, McKinley and Garfield. These deaths sparked a period of national mourning resulting in the production of memorial items available to the public.

Alongside displays of coffins, seats of antique folding chairs were made of richly designed carpeting. On the chairs, reed fans for handholding are stamped with the name of funeral homes.

Gary Parks, the museum’s executive director, chronicled the following: “Perhaps due to the mourning of Queen Victoria, etiquette dictated strict behavior. Wed in 1840 and after parenting nine children, the husband’s death ended 21 years of marriage.”

At the time, the custom was to gradually emerge from mourning after a respectful two years. However, Queen Victoria wore black for her remaining forty years. For ten of those years, she was rarely seen in public.

Charles Luppert, board president of Lycoming County’s Taber Museum said the following about the exhibit: “I have been visiting the Taber Museum for many years and have always enjoyed viewing the temporary exhibits displayed in the Community Room. The exhibits have included a wide variety of artifacts, and I’ve found all to be worth viewing. However, if I were asked to describe the theme of an exhibit that was on display a year or more ago, I would be unable to do so.”

The current exhibit is entitled ‘Gone, But Not Forgotten’ and it illustrates the death and mourning customs in Victorian America. “At first you may think of this theme as morbid, and perhaps it is to a degree. However, I found it to be a fascinating look into the customs of a bygone era and one which we can all relate to in the present. Of the many exhibits I’ve had the privilege of viewing at the Taber ‘Gone, But Not Forgotten’ is the only one which I would describe as being unforgettable,” Luppert added.

The Taber museum is located at 848 W. Fourth Street in Williamsport. Touring hours are Tuesday through Friday 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m., Saturdays 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sundays 1 to 4 p.m. Ample parking is available.