Museum of Mourning Art
A cemetery uncovers the history and culture of grief
Housed in a modern building modeled after Mount Vernon, the museum shows us how people have coped with death through the ages. The death of America’s first hero, George Washington, is illustrated with mourning pictures, ceramics and jewelry, including a valuable souvenir ring containing a lock of the president’s hair. A horse-drawn hearse, a 400-year-old instruction book on how to get to heaven, and objects engraved with emblems of death, such as angels, crossed bones and lambs, are on display. Mannequins in mourning clothes and jewelry adorned with pictures of the dead demonstrate how the rich and the common folk mourned and how much time and money they spent on honoring the dead. Don’t be afraid to bring the children to this small museum; the experience is not eerie but edifying.
Because of their interest in Colonial America, the owners of the Arlington Cemetery in Drexel Hill started collecting art and objects related to funerals and mourning, mostly from the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 1980s, they built a replica of George Washington’s Virginia home for their office and filled it with their intriguing collection.
On the grounds is a mausoleum inspired by Jefferson’s Monticello home; it contains an original cast brass bell made by the Paul Revere family.
Some Kids’ stuff
The 1710 cemetery gun was mounted with trip wires to ward off grave robbers, who were often physicians and artists.