Viewing the dead through a vintage lens

In the spirit of Halloween, why not have fun by being spooked and educated at the same time?


This past weekend, the Heritage Square Museum near downtown L.A. had their 7th annual "Halloween and Mourning Tours," mainly centering on life and death customs of the Victorian Era from 1840 to 1919.


A self-guided tour at the cost of $10, visitors learned about matters surrounding the spiritual world. Walking around in vintage Victorian wardrobe, volunteers helped make the time period seem all the more real. Heritage Square Museum consists of a semblance of old homes, which were constructed during the Victorian Age.


Guests were welcome to receive a dose of the practice of Spiritualism, a component of the Victorian Period in the Perry Mansion. A practice like this includes palm and tarot card readings. When having your palm read, non-split lines on your palm are promising a nice, happy marriage according to Madame Tammy Levitt, the ‘palm reader' of the exhibit.


The grieving of the dead was taken seriously in Victorian times, evidenced by a display in Hale House. Michael Ontiveros, one of the main guides, relayed the symbolism surrounding death in Victorian times. After a household lost a member in their home, they covered mirrors or any reflective surface with black crepe material. This was due to the superstition that "if you look in the mirror of a place where someone has just died, you might be the next one to die," Ontiveros explained.


Households decorated their homes with mementos, symbolizing life versus death. Examples included a sheath of wheat, which represented the re-emergence of life.

"Like wheat harvested in the fall, it grows again in the springtime. Life does come again after death," Ontiveros said.


In the Octagon House, guests learned that it depended on one's social standing in Victorian times regarding the basis of mourning etiquette, clothing and duration of mourning phases.


Museum volunteers also enacted a skit of a Victorian-style funeral outside. Solemn-faced and all clad in black, the "mourners" put on a sad, but very impressive show. This was definitely an interesting contrast to other festivities partaking in the museum, such as laughter and clapping coming from kids listening to spooky, yet humor-infused stories in Ford House.


More spooky fun was brought on by members of the International Community for Paranormal Investigation and Research who let visitors take a peek at their work. David Berck, associate director, shared some of his insight on the paranormal and what ghosts are about. "I think a misconception is that ghosts are only stuck in one place. They can come and go as they want," Berck said.


Berck and his co-investigators in fact did a paranormal investigation here at The Heritage Square last January. Some audio was on display for guests to take a listen of what Berck and his guys caught from the Perry Mansion. They left a device to record and capture any sounds while the house was empty, in what came to be an "audio anomaly." As you listened to the audio, first you'd hear silence, and then soon enough what sounded to be swift steps and noise coming forward in the background, then the sound of a door shutting.


"We have a protocol when on duty. The project of course was to leave the house empty without people while the recording was going on. But if one of us were to walk in to adjust something for whatever reason, we have to shout out our name and presence as a rule," Berck pointed out.


This leaves the very chilling, open-ended question of paranormal activity here left to the listener's own interpretation; depending on how they view the dead amongst the living.