A Winter Funeral in Umeå

Umeå Church and Vicarage. Painting by Pastor Anders Abraham Grafström.

Umeå Church and Vicarage. Painting by Pastor Anders Abraham Grafström.

In my last blog, I wrote about Augusta’s friend Lotten and her family. I mentioned that her grandfather, the famous pharmacist, Carl Johan Fredrik (CJF) Plageman, had moved to northern Sweden with his second wife, Eva Sofia. On a wintry day in 1853, she died. Letters from CJF Plagemann to his daughter, Dorothea, who lived in Stockholm, describe all the details of the funeral and the period of mourning. It is an interesting description of a winter funeral in northern Sweden. The following are translations of a few excerpts of those letters, which were compiled by Carl Johan Lamm and published in 1947.

Umeå, 5 February 1853

…The funeral will be in the church and then the body will be taken to the Södermark’s crypt where it will stay until spring when the ground will be bare and our family grave in the cemetery will be accessible. Now it is covered by 12 feet of snow.

Umeå, 18 February 1853

All afternoon, I have been busy writing invitation cards which our friend, pharmacist Johan Olof Asplund, will deliver tomorrow; that is, an invitation to our beloved and lamented mother’s funeral next Tuesday. The invitation is for 11 am. At around noon, when the guests have gathered, there will be coffee and pretzels, then wine and Bischoff, sweets, jam, cake, sugar cookies, gingerbread cookies – all according to local tradition – and then, lastly, bouillon and paté.

Once the church-ringing has started, around 3 pm, the men, after being called, will line up and the body will be carried by friends from the room to the gate, and from there in a wagon to the church and, likewise, be carried to the altar. The funeral will be performed by Pastor Jonas Åberg; then it will be carried out and put in the wagon. Some of the men will leave while others, including the grieving, will follow out to the cemetery where the casket will be put in the Södermark’s crypt. Those who have been the officiants and some of my closest friends will then come back to the house, around 30 people, and eat a dinner while standing. Oh! If it was just over! It will be a difficult and trying day for me…

…Miss Nordin and Carin Sjöström will give Dedé (Dorothea) a complete description of the beloved mother’s last weeks. I have kept her small hair braids. The Flower Room has been divided in half, covered in white, and with 4 chandeliers, 4-arm candle-holders, and 12 wax candles, it will, during the day, shine a light on the sad coffin. The coffin is black-lacquered and decorated with plates, handles, silver feet, and 132 north stars made of tin. The portraits of the Royals, mirrors, tables, and chairs are covered in white. In the innermost room, a corner sofa is placed and chairs are removed from all rooms. In this innermost room, we 3 grieving will be sitting, as well as others, and over the sofa is my beloved Dedé’s portrait dressed in a black crape. Everything will be well arranged for an honorable funeral.

Umeå, 26 February 1853

White morning curtains, that we have borrowed from Mrs. Anna Maria Meuller, will, according to local custom, hang over the windows that face the street for 6 weeks. Oh! Long weeks!

Umeå, 23 March 1853

Another death has occurred, that of young Mrs. Lindberg, who died in childbirth, 36 years and 3 months old, leaving her husband and child. Now my morning curtains, which I borrowed from Mrs. Meuller, have to be taken down and washed so that she can lend them to the family Lindberg. At least it looks a little happier and nicer in my rooms now that these covers have been removed.

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