Friday, November 13, 2015

The NYC Halloween Event - Guest Post

Here are some notes on the NYC Halloween event that took place on October 28th, 2015: "Living with the Dead in Early Modern England, an Illustrated Lecture with Deborah Harkness" at the Morbid Anatomy Museum.  Thank you, Colleen Sabino, for being our eyes and ears on the ground at this event!  All photos of the event slides were taken by Colleen.

•    It was a really interesting talk. She explained many aspects of how close the living and the dead were. Highlights were about the funeral clothes. When a person died, they left money for the people who were to attend their funerals, so that they could buy a funeral outfit.(Deb made a joke about this: it was how you got new clothes, you attended funerals & then traded them). They also left money to pay for the pallbearers. Wealthy people actually had "invitations" made up for their funerals, and some were only allowed to attend if they had a ticket.

•    Wooden effigies of the royal-class were made and placed atop the coffins as they were paraded through the towns. They even dressed them right down to the corsets. (Some have been recently recovered in a locked closet at Westminster Abbey.)

•     She covered a lot about how life and death were measured against each other in parish logs as Christenings & Burials. She also made a point about midwives being the "hinges" for seeing people into the mortal life and out as well. (Some wealthy people paid for midwives to attend them at bedside while they were dying.)

•     There was a piece about ghosts and how they were not thought to be spirits of your departed, but instead angels or devils in disguise as your loved ones.

•     There were interesting facts about causes of death: in the early years before the plague, infant mortality was the highest, but other causes were worms, teeth, rising of the spirits (which Deb explained meant kidneys). Deb said people started to question that belief and Shakespeare's Hamlet was one of the first examples of someone believing that it was their actual loved one. When she talked about disease, the Plague was of course a main cause. Many believe the Great Fire of London helped to wipe out the plague because it killed all the rats that were carrying it.

•    She spoke about people with epilepsy.  They were often placed in the front rows at beheadings because it was thought that drinking the blood would cure them. There was also a black market for "mummies" because it was believed that the bodies could be cures - boiled fat, powdered skull, mimia, etc.

•     When we went back upstairs for the book signing, I did ask if she had anything to reveal or any snippets about the Serpent's Mirror, but she just smiled and said. "well, I have to write it first." She was gracious and wonderful as always.  She is so accommodating to her fans.

•    The dead were buried inside the churches, in the walls, and in the floors. Bodies were put in without caskets so that would take up less room. They were only wrapped in funeral shrouds. Caskets were only for the wealthy. There were also no grave markers or headstones, and when they ran out of room, some bodies would be dug up and put into mass graves in buildings on the church grounds.

As much as we'd love it, limited resources (and a thankful amount of basic sense) will keep us from being full-fledged Deb-head roadies, but we love it when our friends can help us out and make us all feel like we were there!  Thank you again, Colleen!

Until next time, 

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