Funerals at the beginning of the 1900s

At the time the Woodland Cemetery opened, most funerals were traditional.

At home

A room would be prepared for a wake. Windows and furniture were dressed with white cloth. Clocks in the room were stopped until after the funeral. Mirrors were covered and fir branches spread on the floor. Candles were lit. For those who could afford to pay, church bells were tolled.

The corpse was washed and dressed — a young woman in her confirmation or wedding dress, older people in linen with lace collars. A man would be dressed in shirt and collar and socks. The body would be wrapped in white cloth set aside for the occasion — silk for celebrities. The coffin was fitted with a mattress and quilt. Black coffins were for the working class, white were for the young, and oak for families that could pay. Copper coins were sometimes placed in the coffin — to pay for the ferry to the Other Side.

Deaths were announced publicly and quickly. Letters, preferably handwritten, were send by messenger to all who needed to be informed. A farewell to the deceased was important, not only for close friends and family. People gathered around the open casket and speeches were made. Perhaps with a toast to the deceased or coffee and cakes as a last meal together.

The funeral

When the wake was over the lid would be nailed down and the coffin taken to the church for the funeral. Transport was by coach and horse, wagon or a fancy hearse decorated with fir branches. In the countryside the route was lined with fir sheaves. For the prosperous or prominent, a procession for coffin and mourners was standard.

It was decorous to have a dignified, public funeral with many guests. Burials ‘in peace’ were for criminals, suicides and the unbaptised - a short ceremony with only a priest and gravediggers present.

Funeral attire was black. Black mourning bands were worn on arm or collar. Widows wore long veils, other women had short veils that were raised after the burial.

Church funerals took place on Sundays after the normal service, unless there was money to hire the church privately. Funeral chapels gained popularity. Their ceremony rooms were decorated with flowers and candles, and psalms were sung to organ accompaniment.

Interment was immediately after the ceremony. The few people cremated were inurned a few days later at a modest ceremony at the urn gravesite.

Gravölet — ‘the funeral beer’

Funerals were ceremonial. In the countryside, gravölet (the funeral beer), meant a reception, often a party with cakes or food brought by guests. In towns a simple meal was served or coffee and sandwiches. Handmade funeral confectionaries came in handsome wrapping that was saved as memorabilia. Speeches had only kind words — everyone was entitled to a positive eulogy.