DuPage County Historical Museum’s Latest Exhibit Deals With Death

CONTACT: Gina Catalano
Wheaton Park District


September 28, 2017

Wheaton, Ill.— The way modern American society chooses to deal with death is often by avoiding the topic altogether. Death in DuPage is the thrilling, upcoming exhibit at the DuPage County Historical Museum (102 E. Wesley St., Wheaton, IL) that will attempt to pull the curtain back on America’s death rituals and practices – something long considered to be a private affair – only to be known by undertakers and to be hidden from the public.

Museum assistant Morgan Valenzuela explains, “The exhibit explores historical culture, materials and beliefs around death in the county. For many, it’s difficult to talk about… My hope is that this exhibit offers visitors an opportunity for thought and conversation.”

Thanks to modern medicine and the increased popularity of hospitals, death and illness is something that can be concealed and suspended. It is easy to forget that in the time of the DuPage settlers, fewer than 15% of the deaths occurred away from the home. Dying in one’s home was paired to other death rites, such as the family being there to witness and record last words.

Furthermore, Victorians observed stricter expectations for the family of the deceased. There were guidelines in place for how long someone should mourn or how they should deal with the body. This structure stems from the Victorian fear of death being compared to a contagious illness. Today, most people die away from home, and an increasing amount (a projected 54.3% by 2020) opt for cremation, over the more traditional open casket and burial of yesteryear.
“Looking back is fascinating but sometimes uncomfortable. To think about how we, as a community, used to handle mortality and mourning might inspire some visitors to consider how we handle them today,” Valenzuela said.

Death in DuPage will be on display from October 14, 2017 to June 4, 2018. Admission to the exhibit opening is free.

For those dying for more, the Museum and the Wheaton Public Library will be co-hosting a related presentation on October 11 from 7 – 8:30P at the Library (225 N Cross St, Wheaton, IL). Traveling While Dead features Funeral Director Mark Hayes of Bolingbrook’s Hayes Funeral and Cremation Service, who will be exploring how the dead were transported during colonial times, through the Civil War and to the present day. The program will peak the interest of not only history buffs, but those interested in genealogy as well. The event is free to the public, but seating is limited. Register today at the Library’s reference desk, or call at 630-868-7520.

death in dupage

Photo © DuPage County Historical Museum 2017