Museum of Mourning Art
2900 State Rd.
Drexel, PA 19026
(610) 259-5800

Places Nearby:
Harriton House
American College Arboretum
Shofuso: The Pine Breeze Villa
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Scott Arboretum
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The very name of this museum speaks immediately of exhibits the likes of which will not likely be seen elsewhere. Exhibits that explore the history and the culture of grief and the symbolic forms with which grief has been expressed over the centuries.

Located at Arlington Cemetery in a replica of Mount Vernon -- George Washington's Virginia home -- the Museum of Mourning Art displays original objects that tell the story of death in emblems. The skull, the skeleton, crossed bones, the Lamb. angel, wreath, urn, and the stages of life are all familiar designs. They are found on engravings, books, clocks, bells, gates, jewelry, ceramics, and a variety of other objects, all art forms produced between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. The images illustrate what people believed about death, heaven, and hell. Indeed, many of these images have survived today, to be engraved on tombstones.

One exhibit features a beautiful horse-drawn Hearse. It symbolizes the journey of the soul from here to eternity. The hearse on display supports a painted, board hatchment or coat of arms in a diamond-shaped frame. The exhibit is bordered by an original Willow and Lamb Iron Gate, recalling God and the Resurrection.

Another exhibit includes more than seventy pieces of Mourning Jewelry. These items were ordered by the deceased in their wills to be given to selected individuals as mementos. Most are made of gold and include rings, bracelets, pins and pendants. The Anglican-Methodist Reverend George Whitefield ordered three rings for his executioners. And George Washington ordered five rings " . . . as mementos of my esteem and regard." A ring from each of these gentlemen is displayed.

Other items include a variety of clothing articles, each designed specifically to be worn during mourning. Because Washington's death spurred the arts and crafts of mourning, a special exhibit is dedicated to him. Among the items to be seen here are a bust of Washington created by Josiah Wedgewood, English Liverpool pitchers depicting mourning scenes commemorating Washington, books describing his funeral procession, and a print of Washington's deathbed scene.

One of the most unusual items to be found is a Cemetery Gun. It was created to thwart physicians and artists who stole bodies from their new graves. The gun was rigged to fire when someone tripped over it! Apparently, too many people who triggered the device were not grave robbers at all. The gun was eventually outlawed.

The Museum of Mourning Art addresses history from an unusual aspect to be sure. The tour, available for both individuals and groups, is fascinating and educational. Reservations are required for individuals as well as groups, though individual reservations can likely be made just a day or so ahead.

Hours: Open Weekdays 9:30am - 1pm. Individuals and families should call ahead -- an appointment is required. Group Tours by appointment.
Group Reservations: At least 2 weeks in advance.
Lunch: Nearby restaurants.
Handicapped Access: Accessible.
Directions: From Rt. 3, Southwest on South State St. approximately 1½ miles to Arlington Cemetery. Less than 30 minutes west of Philadelphia.

Copyright © 1996-2014 by Patrick Tadeushuk. All Rights Reserved.