PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — Opening day for a new exhibit in Pensacola was set for Friday the 13th for a reason. It’s a day some fear, laced with historical tales and superstitions. A day those at the Pensacola Museum of History thought was perfect for opening the newest exhibit, “Death and Mourning: the Finery of Loss.”
It includes wooden tombstones from the Victorian era.
“These are all late 1800s,” Lori McDuffie, with the UWF Historic Trust, said. “They’re all from St. Michael’s Cemetery. The wooden ones, they’re most likely taken down by family members and replaced with marble headstones.”
Victorian mourning attire is also on display.
“They would wear the all-black for about a year and a half to two years, and then they can incorporate the black and start wearing purples and grays and darker burgundies,” McDuffie said.
Also included in the exhibit are wreaths made of human hair from the dead.
“It would be hair from the dead family members, but it would also be a family tree,” McDuffie said. “So if Grandma died, then her hair would be in the middle. But then her mother’s hair or her father’s hair or whatever would be stationed around. And then as her children passed away, their hair would go in the middle, and hers would get dispersed around the perimeter.”
People who lived during the Victorian era were said to be fixated on death, and that obsession is portrayed through the new exhibit.
“It explores the mourning practices during the Victorian era and also kind of dabbles a little bit in spiritualism,” Jessie Cragg, with the UWF Historic Trust, said.
Robert MacIntyre was once recognized in Pensacola for communicating with the dead.
“He was primarily active between 1920 and 1965 up until when he passed away,” Cragg said.
His diaries are now part of the exhibit. “Mac” as he was called, claims some journal entries were actually written by spirits.
“He would invite the spirit into his body and let the spirit kind of direct and dictate where he was going to go. And so a lot of this automatic writing looks like this where the spirit was taking over and moving his hand with the pencil,” Cragg said.
There are several diary entries where Mac is said to have channeled the reigning Queen of that era, Victoria, who mourned her husband’s death for 40 years. Some conversations even include Harry Houdini, the most well-known illusionist from that time period.
“This one was on March 30th, and they had quite a long conversation,” Cragg said. “‘Mac, this is Houdini. One of these nights I’m going to ask special permission to bring Bhagat in. Several times I’ve been around here during the day but you are always busy. But in the next day or two, I think I’ll take you out.'”
And those who lived during that time had superstitions of their own, surrounding death. Those who died were carried out of a home ‘feet first’ so they couldn’t look back and call someone else to follow them. To prevent bad luck, all clocks were stopped at the time of death. And if you saw yourself in a mirror in a home where someone recently died, it was thought, you might be next.
Because of high mortality rates in Victorian England, death was always on the minds of the living, and they found a sense of solace in their beliefs, to predict its arrival.
‘Death and Mourning: The Finery of Loss’ will be on display at the Pensacola Museum of History through August 2024. On Tuesdays at 1 p.m., you can even take a Death and Mourning in the Victorian era tour with members of the Living History Department.
Pensacola Museum of History exhibits: https://historicpensacola.org/plan-your-visit/exhibits/