Arlington Cemetery established a permanent Museum of Mourning Art dedicated to the study of beliefs and rituals that surround the arts of dying and grieving. The collection, located in the Mount Vernon office, belongs to a cemetery where death has been regarded as both spiritual and historical. The Mount Vernon office, modeled after George Washington's beloved Virginia home, has historical significance since it was Washington's death that inspired early American settlers to create and invest in mourning art.
The Museum of Mourning Art houses original objects that tell the story of death in emblems. These are familiar symbols such as an angel, the Lamb of God, wreath, urn and stages of life. Appearing on various art forms most popular between the 17th and 19th centuries, they adorn books, paintings, jewelry, gates, and clocks.
One of the more unusual artifacts in the Museum is a cemetery gun. At the time, physicians and artists stole bodies from new graves for their studies. Acting as a night watchman, the cemetery gun was rigged to go off if someone tripped over it in the graveyard. It was eventually outlawed in England due to the innocent people it shot.
The distinctiveness of the Museum exhibit has wide appeal. From the variety of works you can observe what people from the artist's era believed about death, heaven, and hell. The symbols are clear and easily understood with or without words. Many symbols continue today with the same messages on tombstones.
Tours are available by appointment. Please call 610-259-5800 for more information.