Synopses & Reviews
When George Washington died in 1799, towns throughout the country commemorated the event with solemn processions featuring empty coffins. In contrast, after Abraham Lincoln's death in 1865, his body was transported around the North and displayed for more than two weeks, for by then corpses could be autopsied, drained of their blood, and beautified for the benefit of mourners. This absorbing book explores the changing attitudes toward death and the dead in northern Protestant communities during the nineteenth century. Gary Laderman offers insights into the construction of an "American way of death," illuminating the central role of the Civil War and tracing the birth of the funeral industry in the decades following the war.
Drawing on medical histories, religious documents, personal diaries and letters, literature, painting, and photography, Laderman examines the cultural transformations that led to nationally organized death specialists, the practice of embalming, and the commodification of the corpse. These cultural changes included the development of liberal theology, which provided more spiritual views of heaven and the afterlife; the concern for health, which turned those who managed death toward more scientific treatment of bodies; and growing sentimentalism, which produced an increased desire to gaze upon the corpse or to take and keep death photographs. In particular Laderman focuses on the transforming effect of the Civil War, which presented so many Americans with dead relatives who needed to be recovered, viewed, and given a "proper burial."
This fascinating book explores the changing attitudes toward death and the dead in northern Protestant communities during the nineteenth century. Gary Laderman offers insights into the construction of an "American way of death," illuminating the central role of the Civil War and tracing the birth of the funeral industry in the decades following the war. "Laderman's work is indispensable for understanding the impact of the Civil War on ideas of death-a subject practically ignored in previous studies of death in the United States. Using photographs, diaries, medical histories, art, and literature, he has produced an indispensable work for understanding the nineteenth-century nation."-Phillip Shaw Paludan, Journal of American History "A persuasive and highly readable discussion of how northern Protestants managed death from the early nineteenth century through the Civil War. An excellent book on an important topic, it marks a new high point in the study of death in American history."-Bruce Baird, H-SHEAR Book Review "A compelling portrait of the dramatic changes in the ways that Americans managed death from the late eighteenth century to the Civil War. An excellent, exciting book."-Jon Butler, Yale University "This is an invaluable work for the family historian to understand the roots of the unique American view on death and the funeral industry that still continues to puzzle, if not horrify, most of the western world "-National Genealogical Society News Magazine