I'm attending an interesting event this week at the Merchant's House Museum called From Parlor to Grave: 1865 Funeral Reenactment.
The parlors will be draped in black crape as we recreate the 1865 funeral of Seabury Tredwell. After the service, mourners are invited to follow the coffin to nearby New York City Marble Cemetery – rarely open to the public – for a tour. 19th-century mourning attire encouraged; black crape armbands will be provided. $15, MHM Members $10.
I went several years ago and thoroughly enjoyed myself: there is a fake corpse of Mr Seabury Tredwell; visitors are asked to participate in the period appropriate funeral ceremony; and then (my favorite part) the casket is carried from the from door of the museum, down the Bowery to the cemetery. The juxtaposition of the 1860s funeral processionand the hustle and bustle of modern day New York is mind-blowing.
Thinking about the funeral got me interested in doing some research on Funeral Cakes. Also known as Doed Kokes, funeral cakes were a large, hard cookie that was given out as a memento of a funeral (Zanger, 45). The cookies were molded much like a Springerle cookie and were flavored with caraway seeds. Although they were largely a Colonial Dutch tradition (Zanger, 45), their recipe appears under the name "seed cakes" in many 19th century cookbooks.
I had one of these cookies at a funeral reenactment in Ohio and remember it tasting awful. The caraway seeds gave it a taste distinctly reminiscent of pepperoni. Then again, the cookies probably weren't ever intended to be eaten, but rather preserved for years as a testament to the memory of a loved one.
On a similar note, I wanted to share with you a little treasure my Mom found at a flea market over the summer: a collection of funeral cards for the 1850s and 60s. They were a memento distributed in the same way as a doed koke. I've scanned these cards and made them available on Flickr. Take the time to browse them: each one is unique and different, and several of them are truly beautiful in their level of detail and intricacy.
UPDATE 10/25/2009: I took a bunch of photos at the reenactment today, take a look!