Momento Mori: Expressions of Death in Vermillion, South Dakota

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Thanatology, or the anthropology of death is a field which demonstrates that our rituals concerning death are not static, rather they are fluid and subject to change overtime. Within the American culture, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was common for Americans to take artifacts of Momento Mori from the deceased. Momento Mori literally translated as 'remember you must die', served as a way to remind people of the 'afterlife', but also served as way of grieving and venerating the dead. At the W.H. Over Museum artifacts from this era-specifically a hair wreath-provide an insight into historic practices of grief in the United States, and in the Midwest in particular. This research examines artistic expressions of Memento Mori within local historical contexts of Clay County, South Dakota, and through systematic study reconstruct their symbolic meaning as a reflection on intimate interpersonal relationships with the dead, as well as larger themes of the Victorian era. In addition, this paper uses the Momento Mori to highlight the positive partnerships between the local community and the W.H. Over Museum which by preserving the past, enable us to better understand the present, and ourselves.

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Saige Kelmelis

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