Dan Meinwald

A memento mori is a form of image that urged a European person of the late Middle Ages to "remember thy death." To do this, a memento mori might represent death as a human skeleton--perhaps as the Grim Reaper gathering his harvest--or it might depict human bodies in an advanced state of decay.1 Its purpose is to remind the viewer that death is an unavoidable part of life, something to be prepared for at all times. Memento mori images are graphic demonstrations of the fact that death was not only a more frequent, but a far more familiar occurrence in medieval Europe than it is today. They express a concept of death that is characteristic of a specific time and place. The subject of this essay is an imagery of death characteristic of another time and place: nineteenth century America. Although the nineteenth century is much closer to our own era, these photographs and other images represent a concept of death that is in many ways as different from ours as that of the Europe of the Middle Ages.

Purchase a copy of the printed publication, CMP Bulletin, vol. 9, No. 4.