Lairdland Hosts A House In Mourning Each Spring
Each spring Lairdland Farm House hosts its presentation of A House in Mourning. The antebellum home is prepared for mourning it would have been in June of 1847 when the families associated with this tranquil farm were visited by death not once but twice.
On June 2, 1847, Robert Gordon, the father of Lairdland’s first owner, Nancy Jane Gordon Lane, died at age 85. A Revolutionary soldier and early settler to the community, Robert Gordon had numerous children and grandchildren living nearby. On the day following his death, his 22-year-old granddaughter, Nancy Gordon Laird, the nice of Lairdland’s owner, gave birth to her second daughter. Twelve days later, the baby died.
Robert Gordon and his great granddaughter were laid to rest in the cemetery at the Presbyterian Church just North of Lairdland. In time, many other members of the family would join them there.
By 1857, Mrs. Lane, her husband, Thomas J. Lane, and children had moved to Texas, and her niece, Mrs. Laird, and her husband, Robert H. Laird, were owners of Lairdland. The Lairds greatly expanded the farm and home, living there until their own deaths some half a century later.
Though the home was never to see again the degree of grief experienced there in June 1847, visitors to A House in Mourning this March will understand the extent of the family’s mourning over their losses when they explore 19th century death, mourning and burial practices. Visitors will see authentic accouterments and artifacts, such as mourning jewelry and hair wreathes. Hostesses attired in period appropriate mourning clothing will conduct a guided tour of magnificent Lairdland Farm House, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and included on the Tennessee Civil War Trail.
In addition to the home and museum, the owners open the Traveler’s Cottage, which houses period tools and implements similar to those used to build Lairdland more than 185 years ago.
Victorian Southerners believed that they could communicate with the dead. Tarot Cards and Ouija Boards were a part of the tradition of mourning a loved one. The deceased lived in an afterlife and could speak to loved ones in this life.
Ladies Mourning Attire Reflects Relationship to the Deceased
Mothers of a deceased child would wear mourning attire covering from the top of the head to the hands to the floor.
Hair wreaths were a common arrangement for household staff and others closes to the family. The more practical hats with black netting would be worn by those travelling to console the family.
While limited jewelry was worn during a period of mourning, special pieces – sometimes with mementos of the deceased were worn – such as a locket with a lock of hair of the deceased.
Men could continue working following a family death, but women were to be in isolation for a ‘suitable time of mourning’. Women were thought to be the vessels of sorrow.
Mirrors and Pictures Draped in Black
The Wake Begins in the Home
Mourners close to the deceased would sit with the corpse through the night in case the deceased were to wake. The long night would end with a formal breakfast in the dining room for family and friends with a breakfast in the home’s kitchen for servants. Vigils for a deceased generally would be kept for 3-4 nights to allow family to learn of the death and arrange to attend the funeral, but without modern methods to detect heart and brain activity, the Wake was to insure that the deceased was not actually in a coma and would not awaken.
Mirrors and portraits would be draped in black. A quick look in a Mirror was thought to bring death to the viewer. Clocks would be stopped at the time of a person’s death. Doorknobs would be draped and wreaths on the front doors would alert people to a recent death. When it was time for a burial, a casket left the home feet first so as not to turn and beckon another family member to join in death.