Heritage Square's Victorian mansions and hearses on display from
Last weekend I visited Heritage Square Museum
, a collection of preserved, renovated and currently being renovated Victorian homes tucked away in a nondescript cul-de-sac of Los Angeles. Every year around Halloween they hold a weekend of Halloween Mourning tours, where they bring alive Halloween celebrations and mourning customs from the Victorian age to the '30s and '40s with re-enactments, costumes, decorations, and traditions.
Heritage Square's Halloween Mourning Tours weekend
I have always wanted to attend one of their Halloween Mourning tours, but before this year never quite got around to it. Well, this year I finally made it! They offer self-guided tours all day Saturday and Sunday one October weekend a year. I attended Saturday's tour, arriving around noon and parked on the narrow street (warning: this is a residential neighborhood so parking is a little tight, but there is also a dirt track you can park on), then headed through the wrought-iron gates, paid my $20, and entered yesteryear!
Beautiful hearse with the Shaw House in the background
The first thing I noticed is that all their docents were dressed in Victorian mourning clothing, and it was gorgeous! And then the stately Victorian houses themselves were stunning! The Coffin Cartel Hearse Club
was also in attendance with their sleek (mostly) black hearses lined up on the grass. I set about to wander the grounds and explore the Victorian houses, each of which was decorated in a different theme to show off either Victorian mourning customs or traditional Halloween celebrations. While photography was encouraged outside, there was no photography allowed inside the historic structures. However, I'll provide a description of what was inside each house I visited.
The stately Perry Mansion
The first stop was Perry Mansion, which was decked out for an elegant Victorian fall party, There were demonstrations of parlor games, vintage decor, a dining room laid out with beautiful old magazines that you could flip through and read about how they celebrated Halloween back then. The docents throughout the rooms were so knowledgeable and told us how fashionable ladies and gentlemen of society held fall or harvest parties.
The gorgeous Hale House
Next was the Hale House (1885), which was set up for the mock funeral of Col. John Franklin Godfrey. There were Civil War soldiers and family adorned in black mourning his loss, all the mirrors had been covered up with black cloth, and a collection of post-mortem photography was set up for us to view. At around 1 PM (and again at 3PM), a funeral procession was held from the house to the church on the grounds. It was really neat to see everything I read about Victorian mourning practices come alive in front of me!
Re-enactment of a Victorian funeral at Heritage Square's Halloween
The Shaw House, also known as the Valley Knudsen Garden Residence
The Shaw House's vintage Halloween decorations
The third stop was the Shaw House (aka the Valley Knudsen Garden Residence), which was hosting a 1930s Halloween party! A hostess decked out in a 1930's costume and mask was throwing a Halloween party for the neighborhood kids, who were also wearing adorable vintage costumes. The kids told visitors all about Mischief Night and how during that time Halloween parties were held as a way to get kids off the street and out of making mischief.
Two dapper young gentlemen stroll past the Octagon House and Ford House
In the Octagon House, a seance was being held. Before watching the medium in action, I was delighted to hear the docent speak about the Fox Sisters (the most popular mediums of the age, even when they admitted it was all fake) and how popular seances were back then, even after they were debunked! It was fun to learn about all the different ways mediums tricked people into believing the spirits were communicating with them!
They didn't seem to mind us taking photos in the Ford House, which is currently
being renovated, so here are some neat masks!
And an adorable bat (maybe black cat?) costume
The Ford House showcased some examples of historic Halloween costumes and masks and taught how our modern Halloween traditions have evolved from these. They had a really cute bat costume and a Halloween-inspired dress (not sure if it was a costume or not) that I loved!
This witchy black and orange dress was super-cute, too!
The Colonial Drugstore
In the Colonial Drugstore I browsed shelves and cases of old tinctures, creams, salves, medical and beauty treatments from days of old. It was fascinating looking at some of the stuff and how many of the ingredients used back then are considered poisonous or toxic now. Makes you wonder about all the medicine and cosmetics we use now and if the ingredients in these will be considered unhealthy in the future!
Lincoln Avenue Church was gorgeous, but wasn't open for this tour
Little graveyard they set up beside the church
Heritage Square's Halloween Mourning Tour was a frightfully fun experience! If you haven't been, I highly recommend you seek it out, especially if you are fascinated with the Victorian era and traditional Halloween customs!
photographic process! For a fee you could have a tin-type photo taken!
Coffin Cartel Hearse Club
Scarecrow in the Ford House garden
There are no further Halloween Mourning Tours this year, but Heritage Square is open year-round and offers regular tours of its beautiful buildings. If you are in the Southern California area, I highly recommend checking out this hidden gem!
You can learn more about Heritage Square Museum via their website
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