Part of my new tour guide position is writing out a script for the cemetery. I’ve read numerous books about the actual cemetery, about the Civil War, and about Richmond, VA itself. Today, I decided I would “tackle” some light reading… as in, a mere booklet of 70 pages of Rachel Weeping III: Mourning in Nineteenth Century America, (2012), Revised 3rd Edition, by Karen Rae Mehaffey. I actually couldn’t even find a picture or notation of the actual book so the picture included in this post is one that I snapped of the front cover, along with the picture of some of the copyright information if you’re interested in purchasing the text. This is quite an interesting little book and I was all like yeah, yeah, yeah black crape and mourning jewelry I know, I know until I started reading the section "Slave Burials and African American Rituals" which is completely fascinating! African-Americans believed white was the color of mourning. Graves would be decorated with white shells based on Central Congo believes in bakulu, or the realm of the dead. Other items left on graves were pipes that were driven into the burial mounds known as "speaking tubes", statues of roosters to symbolize the sacrifices for the deceased, and MIRRORS weren't covered but placed in the cemetery to hold the spirit there. There were even Black affiliate chapters of the Masons so individuals could obtain insurance for burial services (p. 39). The booklet even includes a “Glossary of Victorian Mourning Terms”.
After finishing the book, I started working on my tour notes and then was completely distracted when I saw that the MET announced their fall exhibit: Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire October 21, 2014-February 1, 2015. Talk about serendipity! This also falls into the category of planets aligning since I’m on sabbatical this fall and can actually sneak away for a day trip to NYC. Well, I mean a day trip up and probably spending the night and then… well, you get my drift.
My little black heart couldn’t be happier! And here’s how I connect mourning attire with my “gardening” theme. I have been really tending to my own personal gardening. I have been nourishing and in many ways healing myself. After all, isn’t that what winter is all about? Now that I’m in my own personal spring, I can see all these wonderful aspects of my life come together—I took back New Orleans (a long story for another day but it involved having only been to the city with two ex’s… finally in May, I traveled alone and it was the best trip ever!); I finally was hired as a tour guide to one of my all-time favorite places; and, I’ve finally earned a sabbatical which includes time for me to both write and focus on my research, and also reflect about what I want to pursue next. Right now, everything is feeling perfectly timed. Bat Fit started yesterday and just as I walked for an hour yesterday and again today (and also no alcohol), I’m also focusing on the emotional wellness. I need this. I really need all of this right now and here it is. Thank you Universe!