During the month of October, Gallier House offers specialized tours that interpret mourning habits of the 19th century. Grief descended upon the Gallier household in October 1866, when news arrived that patriarch James Gallier, Sr. and his second wife drowned at sea aboard the S.S. Evening Star. The passenger steamship, destined for New Orleans from New York, sank in a late-season hurricane off the coast of Georgia. The Gallier Historic House Museum will be in mourning as we commemorate the death of the senior Galliers. Displays of distinctive funeral attire and many Victorian mourning articles will provide visitors to the Gallier House with an uncommon look into the past.
Mortality rates were very high in 19th century New Orleans. Yellow fever and cholera ran rampant throughout the city every summer. During what became known as the “Terrible Year” in 1832, these two diseases alone took approximately 8,000 lives or fifteen percent of the city’s population. The death rate among infants was astoundingly high and the leading cause of death for women was complications from childbirth.
Creoles of New Orleans developed elaborate mourning customs. Home decor, clothing, jewelry, and social engagement and etiquette changed throughout the period of grief. A special set of china was used solely for these sad occasions. The relationship to the deceased often dictated the length of time one spent in mourning; wives spent a longer amount of time in mourning than husbands, children, siblings, or friends.
During your visit you will explore the religious and cultural significance of death in New Orleans and see how this part of life permeated every aspect of the southern Victorian experience.