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Scribners June 1892, Collection of Maggie Land Blanck, artist, C Broughton. From http://www.maggieblanck.com/NewYork/Life.html

A wake at home. Scribners June 1892, Collection of Maggie Land Blanck, artist, C Broughton. From http://www.maggieblanck.com/NewYork/Life.html

Thanks to a Facebook friend, I came across the Avenidas Funeral Chapel‘s information page on the social networking site.

This post caught my eye:

“DID YOU KNOW! – You can have a visitation at home if you like? Yes you can. Many in the Hispanic tradition remember back to the time when the visitation was set up in the livingroom and friends and family came the night. The men usually stood out back around the fire and the ladies were in the kitchen and once every hour or two a rosary was done. NOW! this is still a VERY acceptable practice in the Hispanic community. We have done MANY home velorios (visitations) for our families. Unfortunatly many have been lead to believe that this was now illegal because the funeral home was losing the charges it would apply to use the chapel. Also, The delivery charge for the deceased should be minimal and there is no reason to use the hearse for delivery. Consider a home visitation if you are trying to follow your customs and traditions or families wishes. Oh, and if you are being charged to use YOUR OWN HOUSE for a visitation by the funeral home, move on to another location.”

Up until the early 20th century (and even mid-20th century around here, in rural parts of Minnesota), wakes were always held at home. The reasons for the transition to the funeral “home” are long and complex, touching on issues of health, sociology, and changing attitudes toward death. An entire book could be written about this alone. (Hmmmm, maybe my next project?!).

In We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down, I write about the story of one family waked at a home in rural Waseca in 1959. It’s an amazing story, and I can vividly picture that scene. This was one of the first stories I wrote for the book, probably around 2001 or 2002, and even after proofing my galley pages recently, it still brought tears to my eyes.

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