In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Post-Mortem & Mourning

Post Mortem & Mourning Slideshow
Post Mortem & Mourning SlideshowClick on image to view slideshow

In pre-Civil war Maine, death was a frequent occurrence, especially taking the lives of infants and children. If no painted or photographic image had been made of a family member, the post-mortem daguerreotype was an inexpensive and readily available means to preserve the likeness of a loved one. Macabre by today’s standards, these pictures of the dead were commonplace in mid-nineteenth century culture and were cherished as keepsakes by which to remember the deceased.

Two daguerreotypes in the Vickery-Shettleworth Collection illustrate post-mortem photography. Taken in 1843, the daguerreotype of Mrs. William H. Herbert of Bangor exhibits a surreal quality in the way the photographer has created a profile view of the subject’s head resting on a pillow, with her body completely covered by a sheet. The contrast of the white linen and the black background further serve to isolate Mrs. Herbert’s head in the picture.

The second daguerreotype recalls the brief life of John W. Crockett, born in 1850, whose poignant post-mortem picture was taken by his father Enos Crocket, an early Rockland photographer. This daguerreotype of Johnnie Crockett remained in the family until it joined the Vickery-Shettleworth Collection in 2007.

Thomas A. Foster and sons, ca. 1854
Thomas A. Foster and sons, ca. 1854
Maine Historical Society

Two daguerreotypes Sarah Sullivan Richards at age seven and age ten depict mourning through memory. Born in 1840, Sarah was the daughter of Francis and Anne Gardiner Richards, members of two of Gardiner’s most prominent families. Tragedy struck these families on September 4, 1855, when fifteen year old Sarah Richards drowned while swimming in the Kennebec River at Swan Island opposite Richmond. These daguerreotypes of young Sarah were preserved in the Richards family until they were given to the Vickery-Shettleworth Collection in 2008.

Additionally, a daguerreotype of Dr. Thomas A. Foster of Waterville with his two young sons Charles and Barzillai speaks to the death of Foster’s wife Jane in 1853. Her absence is conspicuous in this touching portrait of a young family facing the future without a wife and mother.