Family in single coffin – post mortem / memento mori


victorian post mortem photography skull illusion thanatos family coffin


Although I found this strange post mortem photograph on Tumblr, the faint watermark tells me that it is actually from the fabulous Thanatos Archives.

I’ve seen several post mortem photos of siblings in coffins, but I think this is the first time I’ve found one that shows an entire family.

Logically I would assume that there must have been some sort of accident, for both parents and child to have died simultaneously. What do you think?



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21 Responses to Family in single coffin – post mortem / memento mori

  1. Damama says:

    That is beautiful and very touching. I love the way that the mother has a protecting hand over the baby’s hands. What a lovely looking family they were too. Poor things, I wonder what happened to them? They all look very peaceful.

    • Syd Brauer says:

      My husband’s family has a coffin picture of his father’s parents, who died in the flu epidemic in Philadelphia. He was only 2 or 3 when he was shipped off to family in Michigan. His widowed adopted mother lived with him after he married. Neither my husband nor his sisters knew she wasn’t their natural grandmother until after she died; just wasn’t mentioned. So, it’s possible this family in the coffin passed in this way. The flu epidemic was huge, many people died.

      • Syd Brauer says:

        Woops; I just saw the historical reference to this family, that the mother killed them and herself. While that wasn’t common, it was common to bury families together due to costs. With the flu epidemic it was also quicker due to death volume.

  2. Ajaxkid says:

    That is beautiful.
    If it was an accident, what could it have been? Smoke inhalation? Poisoning? They appear untouched from any sort of physical trauma (but, perhaps, we just can’t see it).
    Maybe they had an illness sweep through the household?

  3. This is really touching. I usually look with a disconnected historical interest but this one made me think about my own families mortality. Sad.

  4. Siberian says:

    I guess it was quite a heavy coffin.

  5. I found this on Pinterest about the family “Saddest postmortem I have ever seen! The Keller Family: Emil, Mary, and 9-month old Anna Keller. Mary shot Emil through the heart, mortally wounded Anna, and then committed suicide. Gelatin silver print. Auburn, New York, January 25, 1894.” so sad

  6. darlarosa says:

    Hi I found this old copy of this newspaper that concedes with the family in the picture. Truly a sad and violent tale. It sounds as though Mrs. Keller had severe emotional problems that were probably worsened with the birth of her child. The terms the paper uses sound like common terms to refer to postpartum depression coupled with another mental illness.

  7. Violet says:

    Oh my word. Ohhhh :(

    Thank you so much for the link, that’s amazing. So tragic.

  8. Cathy says:

    Possibly she had a type of schizophrenia, as she did not only seem depressed, but was experiencing delusions.

  9. Johanna says:

    It feels so wrong that she should be buried with them, if she killed them.

    Yes, I don’t know what caused it and so, but sitting here with my 3 year old son sleeping in the next room and my 4 month old baby girl beside me, I just feel that she doesn’t deserve it after what she did. Laying there, next to the man she killed, holding the baby she (probably) shot and then killed herself while the child was fighting for its life, probably crying and being in so much pain, after her mother (!!) shot her father and then her and abandoning her by shoting herself in her head.

    Sorry, it’s my mommy-heart speaking and I just had to get it out or else I’ll be crying all day, thinking of the fate of that poor baby.
    Once again, sorry.

    • Violet says:

      Aaw, you don’t have to apologise! I’m a mum as well (two boys) and I can totally understand why you feel the way you do. But I’ve also known people have real, full-on postnatal depression, and there is a distinct lack of perspective and sanity involved in some cases which leads good people to do bad things.

      Please don’t torment yourself with imagining what might have happened – the honest reality is that the baby almost certainly had no idea what was happening. Obviously we can’t know that for certain, but sometimes it’s the only way to cope with these things.

      Violet xxx

    • Marie says:

      It’s alright, it’s understandable why you feel that way since you’re a mother. But maybe she committed suicide for the same reason: she felt guilty about what she did in a moment of sanity and preferred to die with them rather than live without them. Mental illnesses are very complex things and most people who suffer them are innocent people who don’t know what’s going on, worst of all in a time like the Victorian Era.
      I’m sorry you’re suffering over this picture. u.u

  10. Marsha Holden says:

    Violet, thanks so much for your thoughtful and understanding explanation to the previous young mother. It can be very hard for people to understand things like that happening. As well as the mental illness that is the precursor to what happens. It is a terrible thing, not something the average person can put together in her head. Especially something a mother doing to her husband and baby.

    • Violet says:

      Thanks Marsha, I’m glad it came across as intended. Situations like the one depicted in the photograph are so very, very rarely as simple as the surface appearances might imply.

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