Facebook Instagram

More Exciting Events

Sign up for email updates from Storrowton Village Museum

Home > Virtual Village > Virtual Tours > West Springfield Through the Eyes of the Day Family > Remembrance of Those Who Passed

Remembrance of Those Who Passed

Methods of memorializing lost loved ones vary significantly over history and across societies. This exhibit shows several different ways of commemorating someone that were used within a small geographical area and 50 year time span.


The Death Mask of Reverend John Lathrop

Death Mask of Reverend John Lathrop, 1820. Josiah Day House Collection.

The Day Family, despite being a prominent family within the town, was not a famous or wealthy family by any means. They are remembered today through the efforts of the Ramapogue Historical Society and the preservation of the Josiah Day House. Throughout history, the Day Family remained prominent in West Springfield and stayed connected with town and church leadership. Reverend Joseph Lathrop himself, dutiful to the First Congregational Church also on Park Street, was very friendly with the family. He visited the family often and they reserved a seat for him with their family bible.

Death masks have a long history going back to ancient times. Male family members of elite Roman men would wear their ancestors’ masks at the funeral procession, or pompa, for a multidimensional performance.[1] Non-European cultures (Egypt, China, Mesoamerica) would sometimes cover the face of a high-ranking deceased with a precious stone or metal mask that had no resemblance to the living person. Death masks could be cast out of plaster first, and then cast in the metal of choice if making a metal death mask. Depending on when the death mask was cast, certain cultures may have wanted the mask to resemble the deceased or may have made an idealized picture of the deceased.[2]

Death masks became very popular in the late 18th century onwards within the scientific community. Scientists working in ethnography, archaeology, criminology, and “race studies” were recording “variations in human physiognomy”. They were particularly interested in the facial features of famous people and notorious criminals, including but not limited to Napoleon Bonaparte, Beethoven, Oliver Cromwell and Nikola Tesla. One such scientist was Franz Joseph Gall, who collected hundreds of casts of scholars, poets, statesmen, and criminals.[3]

The Coffin Plate of John Potter

Coffin plates are decorative plaques attached to coffins with basic information on the deceased. Increased popularity of coffin plates in the late 19th century was accompanied by a trend of keeping coffin plates as mementos of loved ones.[4]

This coffin plate is from Storrowton Village Museum's collections. The plate is an octagonal sheet of tin. There is text on both sides of the plate. $1.50 is written on the back. The front of the plate reads:

Obt Oct 20th
Et 72.

Image courtesy of the Ramapogue Historical Society

Josiah Day's Headstone

Josiah Day is buried in the Union Street Cemetery, sometimes referred to as the Old Meadow Cemetery, in West Springfield.

The headstone features a carved face with angelic wings above its text. Such designs, often called a "winged cherub" or "soul effigy," were common at the time of Josiah Day's death. This evolved from a 17th century Puritan practice of featuring skulls with wings, called "death's head," on gravestones. Cherubic designs did not supplant death's heads on gravestones, rather both were widely-used through the 18th century.[5]

The headstone's inscription reads:
In Memory of
Mr. Josiah Day
who died Janry 15th
AD, : 1770
In the 69th year

[1] Taylor, L. (2015). Roman funeral rituals and social status: The Amiternum tomb and the tomb of the Haterii. Smarthistory.
[2], [3] Sedivy R. (2021) Beethoven's death mask and a short history of face masks. Wiener Medizinische Wochensschrift, 171(15-16): 391-396.
[4] Massey, B.Birth Records and Death Records on Coffin Plates. Ancestors At Rest.
[5] City of Boston (2019) Iconography of Gravestones at Burying Grounds. Parks & Recreation.

Back to