This installment of our ‘tour’ of the Lincoln Room at Hansen-Spear will focus on memorial cards and mourning badges that George acquired while pursuing his hobby of stamp collecting. The mourning badge in the room was a very early example of what is now a popular practice in our culture. It is very common when a member of a group (police/fire/sports team) passes away that the surviving members of the team honor the memory with a black band on the uniform or badge. The practice of wearing some sort of black following one’s death hearkens back to the Roman Empire when dark togas were worn as a sign of mourning.
It was only several years prior to Lincoln’s assassination that the practice of wearing black was re-popularized to the fullest extent by Queen Victoria in England following the death in 1861 of her husband, Prince Albert. She donned ‘widow’s weeds’, full black crepe clothing, until her own death 40 years later in 1901. While many followed her example of wearing black for a mourning period, that period was usually determined to be a year followed by a gradual shift to grays and purples before transitioning to brighter, less mournful colors.
In an article entitled, The Strange History of Funeral Fashion Conventions, the year 1865 was shown as the beginning of fashion magazines focusing on black funeral and mourning attire, just in time for the outpouring of grief that surrounded Lincoln’s death. This and the practice of having a wealthy family’s household also don black garb or at least armbands following one’s death brought out the concept of wearing a mourning badge like the one shown. It was something a man could wear where women had other items they could choose. Women many times had lockets with a photograph, a relatively new invention, that they could wear close to their heart. Jewelry with lockets of hair were also popular. The mourning badge has a locket sized picture of Lincoln bordered with a gold frame, a simple tribute to one’s love of the President. This could be worn by anyone of any social stratus, turning even a farmer’s work garb into proper mourning wear as the Lincoln funeral train passed by his field.
One of the more recent trends in our industry today is a return to keepsake jewelry. For some folks it may consist of a fingerprint engraved onto a gold or silver charm, or it might be a small vial in the form of a cross or heart to hold a minute portion of a loved one’s cremated remains.
The memorial card was likewise a new phenomenon. As with lockets and mourning badges, it owed its development to the now more widespread availability of photography. Lincoln’s picture is in a black ringed oval with his birth and death dates printed below. The entire card is bordered in black, which was to become the norm with future mourning announcement envelopes. The memorial cards have continued to be distributed at funerals to this day. Some are very similar to the Lincoln card with the picture of the deceased and life dates on the front. Many Roman Catholic families prefer a picture of Jesus, Mary or other saints on the cover with a prayer on the back. All these cards serve the same purpose, having a small card that can be taken home, kept in a pocket or drawer and easily brought forth to recall the person who had died.
Several other ‘takeaway souvenirs’ on display include a card printed to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of Lincoln’s birth in 1879 and a patriotic cloth bookmark with embroidered flag, crest and part of his second inauguration speech, “With malice toward none, with charity for all.” This phrase is also included on the anniversary card. Unfortunately, I was not able to determine the age of the bookmark.