EDWARDSVILLE — During October, the 1820 Col. Benjamin Stephenson House, 409 S. Buchanan, offers visitors the opportunity to experience the stark reality of medicine and mourning in the early 19th century.
A special monthlong exhibit, Mourning Col. Stephenson, commemorates the untimely passing of the historic home’s patriarch on Oct. 10, 1822. Exhibits in each room of the house represent the final days in Stephenson’s life and the period immediately following his death.
Probate records of medicine purchased days before Stephenson’s death indicate the colonel was treated for malaria. The main bedchamber of the house is set as a sick room, where the attending physician 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 at the time. In the common practice of the day, family and servants would have prepared the body for visitation in the home. The house’s parlor 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 his possessions, preparing for a public auction only weeks after Stephenson’s passing. The dining room is staged to show this process, which occurred Nov. 25, 1822.
The exhibit is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and noon to 3 p.m. Sunday (gift shop is open until 4 p.m.). Admission fees are $6 for adults, $3 for children, and free for children younger than 6.