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The Eerie Story Behind Victorian Mourning Dolls

These life-like dolls were used to mourn the loss of a child.

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  • Photo Credit: Macabre History - Mourning Dolls / YouTube

Though dolls continue to make an appearance in horror films and television shows, Victorian mourning dolls are a feature of a bygone era. As funeral customs have shifted and evolved with time, Victorian mourning dolls have become more of a creepy historical artifact.  

Notable in the Victorian period, when death was an all too common part of daily life, mourning dolls were modeled after an infant or young child who had passed away, and began to be incorporated into the grieving process of those who could afford it.

Realistic in their representation, Victorian mourning dolls were characterized by their startlingly accurate depiction of the deceased. These life-sized effigies were traditionally made from wax, sculpted around sand weights that gave the small bodies the proper heft and feel. Further personalized with the infant’s actual hair and their real clothes, the mourning dolls were meant to directly mirror the infant or child that had passed away.

Related: 5 Terrifying Encounters with Real-Life Haunted Dolls  

As the small and lifelike dolls were frequently displayed lying down, the back of their heads were flattened to rest more easily on hard surfaces. Their faces were left vacant of emotion and their eyelids were shut to mimic a body serene and at rest. 

Families would often display the effigies of their lost infant during their wake and then lay the dolls on their grave, following their burial. 

However, in rare circumstances, the family would take the doll home with them following the burial, leaving the mourning doll to rest in the infant's crib, changing it, and caring for it as one might an actual child. 

victorian mourning dolls woman and doll
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  • Photo Credit: Caitlin Doughty – Ask A Mortician / YouTube

Just as in other cultures, the Victorian period was marked by its own unique ideas and customs. Recognized as the period of Queen Victoria’s reign in England, from 1837 to 1901, the era brought new practices to honoring the dead. 

Though death had previously been considered a punishment for sin, in more rigid periods, the Victorian era saw a shift in attitudes and an opening up of religious, moral, and social views. As perspectives on a variety of topics became more tolerant, so too did the general attitude towards death. Some sources, such as literature, began to romanticize death. 

Related: 4 Creepy Victorian Mourning Rituals 

Through the Victorian era, death among infants also became less of an accepted reality. Instead of viewing death among infants as inevitable, people began to view it as a tragedy to be prevented– a shift that coincided with the falling rates of infant mortality in the West through the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. 

With the changing views on death, came new practices. People began to dress in somber clothes. They held ceremonies outside of the home and laid bodies to rest in cemeteries. Instead of spartan markers, families began to leave their children's grave sites with more elaborate headstones. 

While ceremonies and practices varied greatly by class and between groups, the Victorian period seemed to see a more open acknowledgement of death and grief. Against this backdrop, Victorian mourning dolls emerged. 

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  • Photo Credit: Caitlin Doughty – Ask A Mortician / YouTube

While Victorian mourning dolls have fallen out of popular use, reborn dolls– that share many of the same qualities– have become more widespread. In the early 1990s, many doll makers began making these more challenging and realistic reborn dolls. While Victorian mourning dolls are now marked for their antiquity, reborn dolls are modern and even more like-life. Also similar to Victorian mourning dolls, these newer reborn dolls, share their association with death, as some use reborn dolls to cope with the lose of an infant or child. 

Related: 7 Creepy Haunted Dolls You Can Actually Buy on eBay 

Although Victorian mourning dolls and reborn dolls are meant to offer comfort, their more haunting and disturbing elements have become the focus of horror movies and series. New takes on Victorian mourning dolls, like the reborn doll, Jericho, in the series Servant, join the ranks of all sorts of other infamous horror dolls. While not as viscous as Annabelle in the Conjuring Universe or Chucky in Child’s Play, Jericho most definitely brings an eerie and sinister feel to the series. So while those in the Victorian period may not have viewed their dolls as creepy, horror fans everywhere still give dolls of all types a wide berth. 

Related: The 7 Scariest Dolls from Horror Movies 

victorian mourning dolls children and dolls
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  • Photo Credit: Caitlin Doughty – Ask A Mortician / YouTube

[Via: Faqs.org]

Featured photo: Macabre History - Mourning Dolls / YouTube