In continuing with my addenda project, I’d like to highlight an advertisement from the 1900 Utah State Gazetteer and Business Directory: (1)
Related to advertisements like this, I wrote in the Last Rites article (p. 110):
By this time , beyond families and coreligionists, professionals took charge of an increasing percentage of the dead. Undertakers like celebrated “pioneer undertaker” Joseph E. Taylor had advertised regularly in the local papers for decades. Additionally, hospitals became increasingly common (75) and as one Salt Lake City news story wrote in 1911, “There is a very noticeable growing tendency on the part of people of means to be removed to hospitals in the case of serious illness.” (76) By this time, death was generally no longer a private or family affair, becoming increasingly professionalized. As historian Charles Rosenberg described this period, families came “increasingly to depend on strangers for care at times of sickness and approaching death.” (77) And while the organization of local burial committees did increase the number of bodies prepared for burial by the Relief Society for a few years, like other Americans, strangers increasingly cared for the Mormon dead (see chart 1).
Now, James Farrell has written extensively about the shift in death culture in American, and Mormons followed along the major transitions he outlines, albeit with some comparative latency. However, while Joseph E. Taylor’s advertisement above isn’t that different than other ads I had when I wrote the article, it also gets at something that I was too quick to brush by in the interest of simplified narrative. A counselor in the Salt Lake Stake Presidency (essentially a lifetime calling back in the day), and intimately involved with the burial preparations of prominent church leaders, it appears that Taylor was near the forefront of funereal technology in the late nineteenth century. With this ad placing him in a position of prominence in Western America, it forces to the front of my mind a thought that has been nagging at me in the recesses: beyond the folk/formal tension in Mormon lived religion, I also think that there is a rural/urban divide.
In the nineteenth century, how wealthy Mormons in Salt Lake City experienced death was vastly different than colonists in Southern Utah, for example. This disparity dramatically altered the liturgical experience at death. Maybe the wealthy city folks simply led in the shifts that everyone later experienced. However, the next step in such a line of thinking for me is to wonder if other aspects of ritual and belief were similarly demographically bifurcated. Moreover, with church leaders often of the more prominent, urban group, perhaps the urban experience had a more significant influence on liturgical evolution generally.
I think I need to think about this a lot more.
- R. L. Polk & Co., Utah State Gazetteer and Business Directory (Salt Lake City: Tribune Job Printing Co., 1900), 239.