Victorians and the Dearly Departed

Welcome to your bi-weekly newsletter from Connecticut Explored with the latest stories, the newest Grating the Nutmeg podcast, programs and exhibitions from our partners to see/watch this month, and more! 

Share it!


Fall 2021: We’re not in Puritan Connecticut anymore

Victorians’ Memories Captured in Hair

Strands of three Beecher sisters’ hair (Catherine, Mary, and Harriet), intricately braided, connect to a clasp encasing the locks of their father, Rev. Lyman Beecher. The bracelet, a wedding gift to the fourth sister, Isabella, is in the collection of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. It’s one example of the Victorian phenomenon of making jewelry from human hair—often that of dearly departed family members. Why was this form of remembrance so popular in the Victorian era?

Expert Helen Sheumaker, history professor at Miami University in Ohio, answers the question in her Fall 2021 story, illustrated by spectacular examples from Connecticut collections—including Connecticut Landmarks, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, and Connecticut Historical Society. Sheumaker is author of Love Entwined: The Curious History of Hairwork in America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007.)

The Beecher bracelet is just the beginning of the creativity expressed through hair, Sheumaker reports. “Elaborate hair-flower wreaths in heavy wood-cased frames; albums of hair looped and braided and sewn onto the bound pages; finely-worked jewelry including necklaces, brooches, earrings, rings, and bracelets; and watch chains and fobs are just some of the more common forms of hairwork,” she writes.

“They were made of human hair because hair was indeed everlasting, resistant to decay and wear,” she continues. “To both the owner and the observer it served as a constant reminder of the loved one and a marker of the experience of grieving. Even decades after photographic images were readily available to consumers, hairwork remained a popular expression of grief and remembrance.” Visit the Fall 2021 issue to learn more and see other examples.

The Height of Fashion in Funerary Art

Another Victorian form of remembrance was elaborate monuments and the beautiful garden-like settings of the era’s cemeteries.

In her photo essay in the Fall 2021 issue, Beverly Lucas, director of Cedar Hill Cemetery Foundation in Hartford, showcases spectacular examples of funerary art created for prominent Hartfordites.

But “in the Victorian era,” Lucas writes, “cemeteries began to serve a larger purpose—to not only meet the needs of the deceased, but to satisfy the living through their peace and beauty.” She features six of her favorites in the fall issue.

Cedar Hill isn’t the only example of this type of cemetery in the state. Waterbury, Stonington, and Bridgeport, to name just a few, also have outstanding examples.

Read these stories in the Fall 2021 issue with your print subscription, or a CTExplored/Inbox PREMIUM subscription.

Fall SALE!

Through 12/31/21, get 6 print issues for the price of 4 (one year) or 10 print issues for the price of 8 (2 years). That’s 2 FREE issues (a $15 value) added to any NEW or GIFT subscription! Use coupon code HOLIDAY21 at CTExplored.org/Shop.

OR, subscribe to CTExplored/Inbox PREMIUM for the first time and SAVE! Receive 15% off a one-year Inbox PREMIUM subscription through 12/31/21.

Or try us our with our First One Free offer at CTExplored.org/Shop.

The Latest from Grating the Nutmeg

127. Telling Your Family Story with Jill Marie Snyder and Orice Jenkins

Are you your family’s historian? If so, this episode is for you! In celebration of National Archives Month, we’re talking to two accomplished family historians.

Mary Donohue, Asst. Publisher of Connecticut Explored, interviews Jill Marie Snyder, author of Dear Mary, Dear Luther, winner of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society Award for Nonfiction Romance/history in 2020. Snyder will be teaching a workshop, “Telling Your Family Story, Putting It All Together,” on October 20, 2021 for the Ancient Burying Ground Association and Hartford Public Library. Register for the workshop on the Ancient Burying Ground Association’s Facebook page under events.

Our second guest is well-known Hartford Jazz musician and recording artist Orice Jenkins. He teaches in his hometown of Hartford and tours nationally with the Afro-Semitic Experience. His website features his family history blog Chesta’s Children: a Collection of Stories, People, History, Records and Research.

Programs and Exhibitions to Enjoy This Month

Lift Your Spirits

As COVID precautions continue, why not follow the Victorian sensibility and enjoy a walk or picnic in one of Connecticut’s rural cemeteries? Rural cemeteries feature park-like settings, undulating landscape features, exotic and cultivated flora, and grave markers that can only be described as works of art. Rural cemeteries were designed to be for the living as much as for the dead, allowing families to spend the day visiting their relatives while enjoying fresh air. Visit nps.gov to view cemeteries in Connecticut listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Most large cemeteries are open to the public, but check for visiting hours.

State Historic Preservation Office, State of Connecticut. portal.ct.gov/DECD/Services/Historic-Preservation

Haunted for Halloween

West Hartford Hauntings, the spooky theatrical tour of Old North Cemetery, returns on Fridays and Saturdays, October 22, 23, 29 & 30. You won’t want to miss this outdoor theater experience, perfect for the Halloween season!

Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, noahwebsterhouse.org

Historical Barriers Explored

Many people take the ability to move easily and freely for granted. But the United States created barriers by law and prejudice for African Americans in travel, housing, education, and excessive policing. Inspired by Dr. Gretchen Sullivan Sorin’s book Driving While Black, The Amistad Center for Art & Culture’s Crossing Barriers: Mobility in Connecticut, opening October 14, explores the successes and struggles of activists fighting for racial equality in Connecticut. But the question remains: what barriers still exist, and what can we do to eliminate them?

The Amistad Center for Art & Culture, AmistadCenter.org

New Spaces at Hill-Stead

Soon to celebrate its 75th Anniversary, Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington has unveiled  a beautiful 1,300- square-foot exhibition gallery, a state-of-the-art media space, a terrace for public and private gatherings, a more welcoming public entrance, and an expanded museum shop. Visitors will enjoy year-round exhibitions and public programming for generations to come. 

Hill-Stead Museum, Hillstead.org

The Art of Automotive Design

Featuring dazzling paintings that portray a spectrum of vehicles from the mid-20th century to the present, LUSTER: Realism and Hyperrealism in Contemporary Automobile and Motorcycle Painting, on view October 23, 2021 – January 2, 2022 at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London, is a celebration of mechanical and artistic design and style that will delight viewers of all ages.

Lyman Allyn Art Museum, lymanallyn.org

Editors’ Picks

Stories we love from back issues to read now. 

Communicating with the Spirits,” Winter 2020-2021

The Spirits of Reform,” Winter 2008-2009

Beauty in a Gravestone,” Winter 2010-2011

Fall SALE!

Through 12/31/21, get 6 print issues for the price of 4 (one year) or 10 print issues for the price of 8 (2 years). That’s 2 FREE issues (a $15 value) added to any NEW or GIFT subscription! Use coupon code HOLIDAY21 at CTExplored.org/Shop.

OR, subscribe to CTExplored/Inbox PREMIUM for the first time and SAVE! Receive 15% off a one-year Inbox PREMIUM subscription through 12/31/21.

Give a gift subscription

Share this issue of CTExplored/Inbox