“Your cold body lies quiet in our parlour,” wrote General Gabriel Wharton in 1890 about his beloved wife Nannie Radford Wharton who had died just the day before at the Glencoe Mansion in the City of Radford.
Struck down in the prime of her life, at only 46 years old, she was carried from her deathbed to the mansion’s elegant front room where her funeral was held two days later. An exhibit, “Quiet in Our Parlour,” will run Oct. 3 through Nov. 3 at the museum in the City’s west end.
The Whartons were prominent business people and major landowners who helped develop the municipality. Mrs. Wharton was the daughter of Dr. John Blair Radford, one of the city’s founders.
“We wanted to give our visitors an opportunity to explore the funerary and mourning customs of the late 1800s,” said Scott Gardner, the mansion’s executive director. “There will be a funerary scene depicting Nannie Wharton’s coffin lying in the parlor in addition to Wharton family objects related to her tragic death,” he added. The exhibit will also feature items from the period, including coffins, early embalming tools, hair jewelry and postmortem photographs.
The exhibit is seen through the prism of the Wharton family because of the amazing level of detail the family recorded about their lives. Gardner notes that General Wharton filled his journal with the desperation he felt at the loss of his wife. “The emotional series of entries records the final breath of Nannie, his inability to leave her side and his final goodbye as she was buried,” Gardner added.
A special opening will be held Tuesday, Oct. 10, beginning at 5:30 pm. Guests will have the chance to explore the exhibit and meet with interpreters in period mourning attire. There will be a reading of General Wharton’s heartbreaking words followed by the talk, “The Soul Shall Find Itself Alone: Exploring Victorian Ways of Death and Mourning,” by B. Scott Crawford, an art education expert who is on the faculty of The Studio School in Roanoke.
The exhibit has been made possible by generous support from McCoy Funeral Home, Mullins Funeral Home, Original Frameworks of Blacksburg and Wharton Family Descendants.
Glencoe Mansion, Museum & Gallery is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays, 1 to 4 p.m. For additional information, call 731-5031.