Student Museum Musings: Death to Rest: The Story of the Coffin

By Lauren R., High School Co-op Student

When undertaking was first introduced it wasn’t a popular business; in fact furniture makers used undertaking as a side job. Undertaking wasn’t a popular enterprise because people believed that the deceased loved ones were being separated and taken away from the rest of the family; it was depersonalizing the death. For this reason most undertakers actually went to the house and prepared the body there- they would take the flowers, a coffin, stands for the coffin, and any accessories or back drops the family may want. All of the equipment that could be used again was collapsible and could be put into boxes and suit cases to be taken with the undertaker once the person had been buried.

Mourning After
Mourning After

The body would be held in the house for a few days before the burial at this time the family would come and say good bye to the deceased loved one. This period is known as a wake (in North America it is synonymous with a viewing- which now takes place at a funeral home) during this time family members would stay with the body and attempt to wake it up to return the loved ones to them. The body would lay in either a coffin or a casket; a coffin is in a hexagonal shape to mirror the human body, while a casket was in a rectangular shape, surrounded by flowers and family. These coffins would be rather plain wooden boxes; unless, the family purchased coffin jewelry, little metal ornaments which would adorn the coffin and make it unique. When the body was moved from the house to be buried the coffin would face so that the person was looking away from the house, this way they were always looking forward, do as not to disturb the spirit.

The body would then be carried, or taken by hearse to the cemetery. The coffin would sometimes be covered in a cloth known as a pall; this is where the name pallbearer comes from. After this the body would be laid to rest.

Mourning After: The Victorian Celebration of Death is on display now through to November! Be sure to visit and see this exhibition

May is Museum Month!

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

My co-workers often roll their eyes at me, but I absolutely adore alliteration (see what I did there?).  So when there’s an event like May is Museum Month, I get a wee bit excited about it! The alliteration is only a small part of my excitement; I do have to give mad respect to whoever thought that one up!

May also means the return of daffodils at Robinson House!
May also means the return of daffodils at Robinson House!

Truly, Museum Month is a wonderful celebration.  Museums are so much more than stoic places of learning; we are places of creativity, of community, of belonging, and of fun! If there is ever any doubt of this, head over to, a humorous Tumblr site which reflects on what it’s like to be a museum professional and the host of the epic Museum Dance Off!  We were honoured to be a participant this year, and we will continue to be a champion for the Canadian sites still in the running.

Museums tell stories.  At the Oshawa Museum, we do this in a number of different ways, whether it’s the Throwback Thursday we share on Instagram, the monthly Podcast Series that can be found on YouTube, or through this weekly blog.  Many, many thanks to the growing number of those who follow and support us.

We also tell stories as most museums do, through our feature exhibitions.  In honour of May is Museum Month, we traditionally open our feature exhibitions before the Victoria Day long weekend.  Our visitors in 2015 will have the chance to view Mourning After: The Victorian Celebration of Death.  From furniture to mourning dress, and everything in between, this exhibit looks at how the Victorians mourned and celebrated their departed loved ones.  This exhibit will be on display from May through November – our amazingly creative curator, Melissa, has been hard to work on her latest exhibit, and it is one not to miss!

Capture copy

At the end of May is Museum Month, we are excited to be offer a never-before-seen tour! On May 31, we invite you to Accessioned! Behind the Scenes of the Oshawa Museum. Guests will choose an artifact from the Museum’s education collection and follow it on the journey through accessioning, digitizing, conservation, writing a text panel, and finally, display.  You will truly appreciate everything that goes into preparing the exhibits!

Poster copyAt Accessioned, guests get to see what is behind our closed doors, viewing our collection storage areas, and try your best at assembling pottery shards, just like archaeologists and museum conservators.  Timed tickets are required for Accessioned!  Call 905-436-7624 to book your ticket.

Museums truly are inspirational places.  This month, visit your local museum and discover something new about your community!

Hope we see you soon!

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