Where Did Funeral Parlors Originate?

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At funerals at funeral homes in Dayton, OH, the viewing and/or visitation and funeral service of your loved one will more than likely be held in one of the funeral parlors of the funeral home. Most funeral homes have several funeral parlors so that multiple funerals can be held at the same time.

Why are these rooms called parlors? Where did this idea of a central place for viewing the deceased, visiting with the bereaved family, and holding a funeral service start?

Funeral homes as places to hold viewings, visitations, and funeral services have a fairly recent history, dating only back about 170 years. From the earliest times since the Renaissance until the mid-1800s, tending to the dead took place in family homes.

Because multiple generations often lived in the same home, it was common for older and sick family members to be cared for – often with home visits by the town’s doctor – and to die at home. Most homes were built with a room in the front of the house that was called a parlor – the modern equivalent is the living room.

The parlor was a formal room. It often had the family’s most valued furniture, a fireplace, and formal, but uncomfortable, furniture. The parlor also often had windows that were dressed by heavy drapes that were opened during the day to allow light in but were closed at night to help insulate houses that were built without a lot of insulation.

The parlor was not used by the family except when guests came to visit. Guests never went into any other part of the house (unless they were family or very close friends). Snacks and drinks were brought into the parlor, often served in the family’s best dishes.

So, it made sense that when a family member died, they would be laid out in the parlor of the home, where mourners could view the deceased, visit with the family, and pay their respects and say goodbye.

Once a family member died, they were cleaned and dressed, usually by the women in the family. If their eyes were open when they died, the women closed their eyes and placed pennies on them (a throwback to the idea first proposed by Dante, in The Inferno, that Charon, the ferryman on the river Styx required payment to take the deceased to their designated place in the afterlife).

The body of the deceased was moved from the bedroom where they died into the family parlor. Mourners would traditionally visit for a day or two, then the body was transported to the cemetery (family or church) where it was buried.

The type of rituals that we associate with funerals were much more personal and less formal than what we typically think of now because these were family and community affairs that were part of the rhythm of life and death.

It wasn’t until the massive casualties that the Civil War brought that funeral homes came into being. There were so many deaths at once, many far away from their homes, that the tradition of holding funerals in family parlors became unfeasible.

Because funeral homes could embalm the dead and keep the body preserved for the trip home, funeral homes were the next natural step from the parlor at the family home. But funeral homes respected the idea of the family parlor and named the rooms where funerals were held as parlors.

If you’d like information about funerals at funeral homes in Dayton, OH, our compassionate and experienced staff at Glickler Funeral Home & Cremation Service can help. You can come by our funeral home at 1849 Salem Ave., Dayton, OH 45406, or you can contact us today at (937) 278-4287.

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