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Our Darling: 1914

Washington, D.C. "J.J. Eaglen." A death notice in the May 18, 1914, Washington Post records the passing of one "John A. Eaglen, 3 years, 1000 8th st. nw." National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.

Washington, D.C. "J.J. Eaglen." A death notice in the May 18, 1914, Washington Post records the passing of one "John A. Eaglen, 3 years, 1000 8th st. nw." National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.


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One of my aunts had German measles when pregnant in 1941. The doc told her the baby would be blind or deaf, and thank God he was born "only" with diminished hearing. He died in 2006. He was probably the best person I ever knew. RIP

Sad Loss

There have been a few hard hitting photos posted but this one hit the hardest. Very sad.

In the weeds

>> Then in 1943, for whatever reason, an application was filed to reinter the remains in Woodlawn Cemetery in Washington.

Woodlawn went into decline in the 1970s and was a ruin for many years - it's still in terrible shape (many stones down and broken, sections totally overgrown, etc.) but some efforts have been made to restore it in the last five years by a small nonprofit.

The Times They Are a-Changin'

The type of casket seen here is a full couch model, meaning the entire body is seen, as opposed to just the upper portion. It also has a drop front, which could be positioned to allow more of the body to be seen. The casket itself would be made of metal or wood, and is covered with a textured or flocked fabric. Some families would remove the plaque (in this case inscribed, “Our Darling”) as a keepsake from the funeral.

It is interesting to read children’s poetry from this era and note the number of references to death they include. At this time, as ironic as it may sound, death was a part of living. Today, for the most part, we have institutionalized death with people dying away from home, hooked up to numerous machines, and in a drug-induced state. Rare, indeed, are the last words of the dying.

In this age of online communication and impersonalization, it is intriguing that a resurgence in home funerals is occurring, as noted by contributor Crystal’s own personal experience. Before the advent of embalming – which was a by-product of the Civil War – it was normal for the family to be deeply involved in the preparation and burial of their loved ones. Today we look at it as a morbid, perhaps even backwards or bizarre thing to do, but who to better care for a family member than the ones who love them the most? And what better place to lie in state than the home they were so much a part of?

Postmortem Photography

It seems that taking pictures of deceased children was a common practice in years past. Vintage photo collections show many such photos. It is perhaps less common a practice today now that most of us have and use cameras frequently and have taken pictures of the children before their now less frequent early death.

A darling boy

I can feel the parents' grief all these years later. God bless, darling John. Rest in peace, precious one.

Measles and vaccination

I nearly died as a child from either German or red measles (I had both in one year). I recently had occasion to face off against one of these "childhood diseases don't kill" people. They can. they can also cause deafness and blindness in the unborn and in infants. In the case of chickenpox, which despite this idiot's assertion to the contrary, does not render you immune to shingles but is the direct cause of it.

The anti-immunization zealots have had no personal experience with these disease and fail to realize that they were eradicated for a reason. Because epidemics killed thousands of children (and many adults) and were the cause of subsidiary medical conditions like deafness. It is because of them that we are seeing a resurgence of measles again.

[Part of this stems from the erroneous notion that vaccinations somehow lead to autism. - Dave]

"Sanitation, clean water, and immunization"

Careful, Gary. Your triad of benefits that have ensured healthier living conditions could be viewed by many as "creeping nanny-state big government."

Right up there with child labor laws, meat quality inspections, and railroad safety.

Object Lesson

I hope that this ineffably sad photograph might serve as an object lesson for those fringe elements of our society who are opposed to vaccination. I have visited and photographed 19th Century children's graves in the West. One can notice evidence on the headstones of typhus epidemics and other preventable diseases, all within a short range of death dates.

Home Funeral

My mom died six weeks ago of complications from Alzheimer's disease after living with my husband and me for three years.

With the help of a home funeral guide, we washed Mom's body and prepared it for visitation. She died on a Wednesday, and visitation was at our home one Thursday and Friday. Mom was in her bed in her bedroom.

We used dry ice to keep the body cool.

On Saturday morning the funeral director came to take Mom's body away for cremation.

Now that we have "done" one home funeral, I wouldn't want it any other way.

On dying young

In 1913 a typhoid fever epidemic in Central Pennsylvania took the lives of my mother's sister, Rose, at age 6, and their mother, age 29. Rose died 10 days after their mother. My Mom was four. Her father and stepbrother contracted the disease but survived. In any photo of my Mom before that, she appeared quite happy, but in every subsequent photo throughout her childhood, she looked very sad. Here she is at about 15, looking reflective but ready for adulthood.

Color lines, even in death

Woodlawn is an African-American cemetery established in 1892. For whatever reason, that could explain the boy's 1943 disinterment and re-interment.

It would be nice if a Shorpyite living in the DC area could locate his grave there, to see if he is buried among other Eaglens. Who knows, maybe some of his African-American relatives wanted his remains moved there, to be close to family.

"Living room" vs. "parlour"

Thanks, Dave, for debunking a common urban legend. So many American urban legends about language are based on the assumption that every phrase in English arose in the US.


I can't imagine the grief that comes with losing a child; this one spent over 3 years on earth. He had already developed a personality, had likes and dislikes, and his parents no doubt had visions of what he would be when he was older. There is no sense to be found in such a loss.

His manner of death make me so grateful for public health and vaccines.

The "good old days" weren't that great

Whenever we feel inclined to gripe about how hard life is, we should take a look at pictures like this. This is a poignant reminder of how good we have things today.

In 1914, there were no immunizations for many of the childhood diseases that we seldom think about now. Even when I was a child in the 1950s, the risk of death from measles, smallpox, polio and other diseases was still a big concern for parents. The flu outbreak of 1918 claimed millions of people around the world. Now, you can get a flu shot just by walking into your local Walgreen's.

Adequate sanitary systems were not in place in many communities, either, resulting in cholera and typhus outbreaks.

From a purely technological perspective, this photo reminds us of the wealth of technology we have at our fingertips. Back then, most people did not have cameras and could not afford to go to a portrait studio. This may be one of the few photos this family had of their child. Post-mortem photography was not uncommon in the Victorian Age through the first part of the 20th century, even to the point of posing parents and siblings with the deceased.

On a side note, judging by the unusual construction of the casket--it looks to be made of plaster or plaster-covered wood--I am wondering if this was a display casket provided by the funeral home just for wakes.

Thanks to all the contributors to Shorpy that help to provide interesting--and sometimes sobering--glimpses into the past.

Childhood Mortality

It's sobering to remember that the average American lifespan at that time was under 50 years. That didn't mean that people didn't live to ripe old age, they did. It means that many many more infants and children died then. Measles was often fatal, so was whooping cough, diphtheria, and a myriad of other "childhood diseases."

Thank goodness for sanitation, clean water, and immunization.

All the years

It's especially sad to think that this child we see deceased here in 1914 could conceivably still be alive if he'd been fortunate enough to live into old age. All those years he did not get to see.

My son is 3

This makes me cry.

That tiny sprig

In little John's right hand, the slightly wilting flowers suggest he had been placed there probably that morning. His mother very likely brushed his hair one last time. Did she say, "My Johnny, my dear sweet Johnny"?

Although I hate to imagine it, his final days could not have been without suffering, made all the sadder by his total innocence. In some way the fact that we, strangers all, have gathered here to talk about him, with respect, is a memorial in some sense to his existence, a century later. Thank you, Dave, for making it possible.

John Alphonse Eaglen, son of J.J. Eaglen

The Familysearch database returns records for the death certificate, permit for disinterment and reinterment of one John Alphonse (Alphonso) Eaglen. Like puzzle pieces, these records tell the story of a child born in 1911 that succumbed on May 16, 1914, at the age of 3 years, 5 months and 16 days. The cause of death was measles, complicated by a heart condition. He was buried in Sligo, Maryland. Then in 1943, for whatever reason, an application was filed to reinter the remains in Woodlawn Cemetery in Washington. One of the records describes a John Alphonse Eaglen that seemed to fit the scenario described here in every way, except for his being labeled as "black." Then I found the Census record for his father, J.J. Eaglen, which lists him as Mulatto.

The Way It Was

It was the common practice to "wake the deceased" at home in the parlor. The advent of funeral "homes" or "parlors" gave rise to the term "living room" in houses.

[The notion that the dead were laid out in parlors while the bereaved congregated in the "living room" is a sort of etymological urban legend debunked here and here and many other places. - Dave]

Escape Hatch

I am glad to see there is a drop-down egress provided: just in case.

Viewings at home

The father of a close friend died about 1961 when my friend was about 12 years old. There was an open-casket wake held in the parlor of the family's farmhouse in Galena, Illinois, the local custom of the time. My friend said that after that profoundly sad experience, he never passed through the room again without recalling that final view of his beloved father.


My ex and I often ride our bicycles past a cemetery out in the local Texas countryside. When we stopped to have a look around we were shocked to see how many graves (circa late 1800s) were the final resting place of small children. I guess today we just take for granted that our children will have a long life. Rest in peace little J.J. Eaglen.

Inconsolable Grief

There is nothing sadder or more heartbreaking than losing a blameless young child. His loved ones can never be the same people they were in the past as they are permanently, irreparably injured. This photo reminds me of a sweet male cousin of mine, an only child and grandchild who was fatally hit by a car at age 7. Anyone who has been touched by such a loss will never understand it or get over it. This viewing appears to be in the boy's own home, which was the custom when I was young. Even today, my heart aches for the people involved here. My mom's mom had eight children but it was before vaccinations and penicillin and only four lived to adulthood. Good night sweet prince. R.I.P.

Melancholy Prince

Another of those pictures that speak volumes.


I wonder what carried off the poor child? The open casket is compelling, somehow, sharing the loss the parents must have suffered.

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