A Lasting Memory

Infants were often photographed when they died.

In the early 1930s the process of capturing images known as the daguerreotype was invented in Europe. That creation was followed by the advent of photography in 1839. The ability to capture images led to the popular concept of having a final image of a loved one. The most common photographs of the dead were those of infants and children. In New Mexico there was a high rate of infant mortality during the mid-nineteenth century. With these deaths the proliferation of photographing the dead infants grew in popularity. It was a a new tradition that allowed families to possess a lasting image of a loved one. It was a keepsake of their child who would never grow up.

A New Mexico family is photographed with their child.

When death occurred the parents would dress the child in satin. A floral crown was arranged on the child’s head prior to being placed in the coffin. Siblings and other family members were often photographed with the dead child. The photographs of deceased family members were prominently displayed next to photos of the living. These photos held a place of honor in the home and served as a vital part of the grieving process. In remembering their dead through conversation and sharing pleasant accounts about their lives at family gatherings people believed that it kept the departed spiritually alive.

Infant of Prague

The loss of a child was a devastating experience. Parents who lost a child had the consolation in believing that the death of a child resulted in a direct path to heaven. With their death they automatically became angels. The bodies of their dead children were kept at home in the “living room.” The little angels remained at home for a couple of nights. Friends and relatives would come to the home of the bereaved. As they visited with the family they would pray to the Infant of Prague. If their prayers were heard the saint would carry the soul of the child directly to heaven. The angels would be there to greet the lost child.

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