Local residents got a living lesson in history by visiting the graves of the dead. Tour guides dressed entirely in black – traditional of Victorian mourners – lead a group of more than 30 residents through Naper Settlement and the nearby cemetery. They learned of 19th century mourning customs. One such custom – widows had to wear a black veil over their face for a year to mourn the loss of their deceased husband. Though it was meant for privacy, the custom also brought about some superstition.
“If she looked you directly in the eye, she’d have the power to pull your spirit out & give it to her deceased husband,” said Barbara Rimmer, Museum Educator. “So you did not want to look a widow in the eye!”
The group also took a look at the tombstones of some of the town’s earliest settlers, including town founder Joseph Naper.
“He settled here [and] built some things within the first year of being here, a trading post, a one room log schoolhouse, a sawmill – things that were important to the survival of that earliest settlement,” said Museum Educator at the Settlement Cindy Lackore.
Nearby, Martin Mitchell also rests in peace. The Mitchell family emigrated from Scotland to Naperville and bought some farm land from Joseph Naper.
“In 1971, he and Mr. Van Oven started that brick and tile company. Both men became very wealthy and ten years later then, Mr. Martin built that mansion that we have at the settlement.”
Other movers and shakers buried at the cemetery include the sleight family, who donated eight acres of land to what is now North Central College, and Robert Murray, a well-known sheriff, lawyer, and judge during Naperville’s early days.
Naper Settlement staff will also lead a cemetery walk focusing on local Civil War soldiers on June 26th.
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