I developed a morbid fascination with post-mortem photographs of children a few days ago. It started out because of this blog post by Lorinne McGinnis Shultz on the subject. Then I kept searching the web for more images. There are several boards on Pinterest dedicated to the subject, though I have found that errors and misinformation abound. For instance, some of these sites state that when one can see the stand behind the subject, it means that the subject was dead and being propped up by the stand. This is an error. The stand was actually used by photographers to keep their living subjects still for the long exposure time photographs took back then. That is not to say that some photographers did pose their deceased subjects as this vintage photograph appears to illustrate. One cannot use just the appearance of a stand as evidence of a post-mortem photograph any more than one can use the appearance of hidden mothers holding their infant children (such as those found here) as evidence that the photograph is a post-mortem of the infant. What better way to keep a live infant from squirming than to have it held by its mother?
After several hours of looking at these photos, I had to stop; though it seems I can still see the images of their haunting faces when I close my eyes. And haunting is what this one photograph shown below has done for me since I saw it when I was a young girl. (It must have also haunted my daughter as she wrote a poem about it which I highlighted here.) It is obvious that there is something wrong with this infant but I knew nothing of post-mortem photographs back then. This was among my grandfather Watts’ photographs and is identified on the back as “Harold Lynn Hall 2 mos, 9 days old, wt. 5 lb 2 oz.” This is a RPPC and bears a date of Dec 23, 1946 stamped on the back. I knew that my grandfather’s cousin Mildred married a Hall and figured this was part of her family.
In 2001, I called cousin Mildred on the phone to ask about her family in preparation for the Watts book I was getting ready to self-publish. During that interview she mentioned her twin sons who were born in 1946 and died when they were two or three months old. She said they were deformed.
Later cousin Mildred sent more complete information that included the twins’ full names and complete birth and death dates. When putting that information together, I realized that the photograph I had of the one twin Harold was actually a post-mortem photograph.
Harold Lynn Hall, born 11 October 1946; died 13 December 1946
(ten days before the date stamped on the photograph of him)
Howard Glenn Hall born 11 October 1946; died 18 January 1947.