Halloween Double Feature: Victorian Death & Mourning Rituals and the Spiritualist Movement

October 31, 2019


Traditional haunted houses, the Addams Family, Dracula, a crow sitting atop a gravestone, a widow wearing a black veil—there is no denying that Halloween has a distinctive aesthetic, and that aesthetic is distinctly Victorian.

In this spook-tacular Halloween special, we treat you to two episodes on the Victorian age (no tricks from our dear listeners required).

In the first episode, our hosts Keely and Robin look at Victorian death and mourning rituals. Then the tables turn, and the ghosts begin to play as Robin is joined by her fellow Notice History producer Emily Cuggy to explore Victorian spiritualism and the origins of the wider spiritualist movement.

With science, exploration, and discovery on the rise while the superstitions of the past were not yet laid to rest, the Victorians created a unique relationship with death and dying. This is a relationship that continues to influence us today. So, join us as we notice these spooky histories.


Abbot. Karen. October 30 2012. The Fox Sisters and the Rap on Spiritualism. Smithsonian.com: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-fox-sisters-and-the-rap-on-spiritualism-99663697/

Conliff, Ciaran. December 15 2016. The Fox Sisters and the Birth of Spiritualism. Headstuff.com: https://www.headstuff.org/culture/history/fox-sisters-birth-spiritualism/

Fraser, Blair. December 15 1951. The Secret Life of Mackenzie King, Spiritualist. MacLean’s: https://archive.macleans.ca/article/1951/12/15/the-secret-life-of-mackenzie-king-spiritualist

Geary, Aidan. October 28 2018. Ectoplasm on the Prairies. CBC News: https://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/longform/ectoplasm-on-the-prairies

Jackson, Lee. Death in the city: the grisly secrets of dealing with Victorian London’s dead. Accessed October 17th,2019.https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/jan/22/death-city-grisly-secrets-victorian-london-dead.

Jalland, Patricia. 1996. Death in the Victorian Family. Oxford University Press

Love, Robert. October 31 2013. Houdini’s Greatest Trick: Debunking Medium Mina Crandon. Mentalfloss.com: http://mentalfloss.com/article/53424/houdinis-greatest-trick-debunking-medium-mina-crandon

Lutz, D. 2011. The Dead Still among us: Victorian Secular Relics, Hair Jewelry and Death Culture. Victorian Literature and Culture 39 (01): 127–142.

Martin, Ged. 1989. MacKenzie King, The Medium and the Messages. British Journal of Canadian Studies, iv (1989), 109-35

Meier, Allison. October 28 2016. A History of Photographing Ghosts. Hyperallergic: https://hyperallergic.com/332625/with-you-always-a-history-of-photographing-ghosts/

Mitchell, Rebecca. 2013. Death Becomes Her: On the Progressive Potential of Victorian Mourning. Victorian Literature and Culture Vol. 41, No. 4, pp. 595-620

Neatby, H. Blair. October 15 2008.  William Lyon Mackenzie King. The Canadian Encyclopedia: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/william-lyon-mackenzie-king

Schwarcz, Joe. March 20 2017. How Did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Trick Houdini?. McGill Office for Science and Society: http://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/history-you-asked/how-did-sir-arthur-conan-doyle-trick-houdini

Sweeney, Shelley. 2014. “Moved by the Spirit” in Outreach: Innovative Practices for Archives and Special Collections ed. Kate Theimer.

White, Frances. July 21 2014. 5 Wacky Victorian Superstitions about Deathhttps://www.historyanswers.co.uk/news/who-discovered-america/

Williams, Tate. In the Garden Cemetery: The Revival of America’s First Urban Parks:https://www.americanforests.org/magazine/article/in-the-garden-cemetery-the-revival-of-americas-first-urban-parks/

Memory of the World Register: The Hamilton Family fonds: http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/CI/CI/pdf/mow/nomination_forms/canada_hamilton_family_fonds.pdf


Hosts: Robin Mullins, Keely McCavitt, Emily Cuggy

Producers: Robin Mullins and Emily Cuggy

Researchers: MacKenzie Brash, Samantha Clark, Emily Cuggy, Skylee-Storm Hogan, Keely McCavitt, Casandra Masse, Beth Sollis

Audio Editing: Keely McCavitt and Emily Cuggy

Web Content: Casandra Masse

Image Credit:  D & E Lake Ltd. / Library and Archives Canada / Four Views in Peterboro[sic], Ontario. Canada: The Cemetery with peep of the Lake 1873-1874.