The Grackle

Observations, Reflections and Miscellany from the Wacoan

Caskets, Hearses & Wakes, Oh My!

How the Historic Waco Foundation creates a ghoulish good time

8 years ago

By Kaila Lancaster

October always conjures thoughts of ghosts and ghouls, spooks and spirits. With Halloween just around the corner, we naturally begin to crave experiences that amplify the atmosphere of this unique time of year.

Here’s the thing — I’m a chicken. Completely and wholeheartedly. I’ve always wanted to attend an event that captured the creepy essence of the season without losing sleep for an entire week.

Cue the Historic Waco Foundation’s “Sitting Up With the Dead: Victorian Funeral and Spiritualism Exhibit.” This tour through the historic East Terrace House was not a normal, run-of-the-mill tour — guests entered the house as if they were Victorians in mourning. Each section of the house featured various Victorian funeral customs. Some customs were comforting and familiar. Others were delightfully morbid.

Built in 1872, East Terrace House was in its prime during the Victorian age, a time marked by the importance of proper societal traditions and expectations. The house proved to be the perfect venue for this eerie event. I was enthralled with the creaky wood floors, glittering antique chandeliers and old bookcases filled with dusty volumes.

Historic Waco Foundation members added touches throughout the house that would have been prevalent for mourning during that time. Black crepe hung over mirrors and portraits as it was believed that Death would steal the soul of anyone whose image appeared in a mirror or portrait. An elaborate piece of embroidery called a momento mori (“remember your mortality”) that used the deceased’s hair as thread was hung above the sitting room’s mantle. A replica of Abraham Lincoln’s casket sat in the parlor. Fun fact: the practice of holding a wake — or sitting up with the dead — began because families feared accidentally burying someone alive. Flowers would surround the casket in order to mask the smell of decomposition.

It’s funny how today’s seemingly normal traditions emerged from somber traditions of necessity.


The tour was filled with more facts and discussions on funerals and spiritualism. We’re talking embalming, photography, Tarot cards and spirit slates.

So cool. So creepy. So worth it.

My hat goes off to you, Historic Waco Foundation. You transformed my ho-hum Saturday night into an evening fit for the spooky month of October. I thoroughly enjoyed my time learning about the customs of Victorian mourners and look forward to attending more Historic Waco Foundation events in the future.

You are in luck, fellow Wacoans. This exhibit continues every Saturday evening through November 5, and there will be a special midnight tour on October 29. I can’t think of a better way to welcome the Halloween weekend. To learn more about this event and the Historic Waco Foundation, visit