During the month of October, the 1820 Col. Benjamin Stephenson House commemorates a pivotal event in the life of the Stephenson family—the death of Col. Stephenson on October 10, 1822. Special exhibits set up in each room of the house represent the final days of Stephenson’s life and the period immediately following his death.
Nursing and funerary practices of that time varied greatly from what we would recognize today. Civilian hospitals as such did not exist. We believe, based on store records of medicine purchased just days before Stephenson’s death, that Stephenson was treated at home for malaria. The main bedchamber of the house is therefore set as a sick room, where and family would have cared for Stephenson in his final days.
Immediately following his passing, Stephenson’s body would have been prepared for respectful display and burial. Modern embalming had not been invented, and no funeral businesses are known to have existed in the Edwardsville area. In the common practice of the time, family and servants would instead have prepared the body; a coffin made or, in this case, ordered from a local craftsman; and the deceased laid out for visitation in the home itself. The parlor of Stephenson House has been staged to show this ritual.
Deep mourning followed the death of a family member, involving both the appearance and the public behavior of the family. Items in the main bedchamber, the children’s bedroom, and the servants’ quarters show the family’s participation in this elaborate rite, parts of which could last more than a year.
Finally, as part of the harsh economic reality of Stephenson’s death, assessors intruded on the family home and conducted an exhaustive inventory of possessions, preparing for a public auction only weeks after Stephenson’s passing. The dining room is staged to show this process, which occurred on November 25, 1822.
Join us in commemorating the life and passing of Col. Benjamin Stephenson. The exhibit runs from October 5-29. Tours of the exhibit are available Thursday thru Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and Sunday, 12-3 p.m.