Death's Door

The Victorian Mourning event at the DeMenil Mansion is goth-tastic!

Goths have had a rough go lately. A Current Affair has identified a new public menace: the screwed-up teenager, dressed in black, with an ax to grind. Several episodes have focused on killer kids, most deemed "goths," and their sensational tales of murdered parents, peers and pets -- with the occasional "attempt-to-blow-school-to-kingdom-come" story tossed in for good measure.

Over the past few years, the media has used the term "goth" to describe a broad group of kids -- just about any teen who wears black and/or has a Marilyn Manson poster qualifies. Elder goths are quick to point out that these are not true goths at all. The most insufferable of these poseurs are simply nü-metal losers, while trendy kids hopping on the bandwagon are deemed "mallgoths." Those exhibiting potential toward growth into a true goth are called "baby bats," a more complimentary moniker.

So with all that in mind, baby bats/aspiring elder goths would do well to attend the Victorian Mourning event this Sunday, October 23, from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion. There, they'll find "an afternoon of quiet contemplation" as the house observes Victorian mourning customs. The fashions, rituals and morbid outlook of the Victorian era are an excellent primer for the disillusioned teen seeking to move up a notch in the goth pecking order.

Throughout October the mansion is adorned as it would be during a Victorian state of mourning. And on Sunday retired mortician John Avery and his wife, Peggy, will give a presentation on burial customs and how widows would observe a husband's passing. Mr. Avery explains, "Mourning in the Victorian era had two distinct stages: deep mourning and half mourning. Each stage carried its own rules of decorum, and one's societal class played a large part in how strictly these customs were followed."

Victorian society's code of behavior was extremely regimented. At the time of death, clocks were stopped, mirrors were covered, curtains were drawn and all members of the household would begin deep mourning. According to Avery, even if a widow was happy to be rid of the guy, she was required to mourn her deceased husband for a minimum of two years. The first year -- spent in deep, or full, mourning -- necessitated an all-black wardrobe, and participation in even the most rudimentary of social functions was not allowed.

Once the first year had passed, the woman would advance to half mourning. Some jewelry was permitted to augment her attire, and color, such as a hint of lavender, was gradually reintroduced to the wardrobe. Avery also says that while a spouse's passing required the longest period of grieving, the death of any relative necessitated a degree of public mourning. In other words, if one had a large, unhealthy family, one could expect to be in full goth regalia for a good part of waking life.

In addition to the Averys' presentation on Sunday, the DeMenil Mansion offers a demonstration on the art of tombstone rubbing and an extensive display of mourning garments and jewelry from the collections of Carol Ann Miller and Cynde Ahrens.

Compared to other goth rites of passage, admission to this special day of mourning is a bargain. For $10 -- less than the cost of The Crow DVD -- you're in. Baby bats younger than twelve get in for $3. For more information visit www.demenil.org or call 314-771-5828. The Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion is located at 3352 DeMenil Place. You can't miss it -- just look for the nineteenth-century hearse parked out front.

 
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