Venture out into the dark of a Texarkana downtown on two Saturdays, either Oct. 20 or Oct. 27, to experience macabre customs and unusual obsessions.
Both nights, the Texarkana Museums System will host an "after dark" walking tour, "Gracefully Southern: Mourning Customs of the Victorian and Edwardian South," that includes the "Mourning Customs" exhibits at both the P.J. Ahern Home and the Ace of Clubs House.
The walking tours start at 7 p.m. and go from Ahern to the Ace with a circuitous route followed in between. Pre-registration is required for both tours.
Expect to hear great stories at each location and tales about various death-related aspects of locations along the way. The exhibits bookend the walking itself.
"We'll walk through the original city historic districts, talking about points of interest and relating that back to how the Edwardians and Victorians kind of honored their dead loved ones in different ways and how that evolved into the traditions we still hold today," said Jamie Simmons, the TMS curator. In that sense, they'll start in the 20th century and work back through time.
"By the time we get to the Ace of Clubs House and see that portion of the exhibit, we will have made it back to the Victorian time period," Simmons said. It's a chance to learn something about how mourning was done in days gone by.
"We can relate sights between both of the buildings to the specifics of how funerals were conducted. We're going to be passing, obviously, several funeral homes," Simmons said. Briefly, tour-goers will be able to go inside an old funeral home building, the Reverra Funeral Home run by Paul Reverra.
"He was an early funeral director here in Texarkana. His funeral parlor actually started in the Victorian era, but the building we're going to go into is his 1926 building, which we have blueprints for in the archive," Simmons said.
In that era of the 1920s, many details of the funeral process were transferred from the home to a funeral home, she said. There's a garage built for the hearse.
"The Reverra Funeral Home also offered an ambulance service, so the hearse and the ambulance were the same vehicle," Simmons said with a laugh. That was often the case back then.
"It kind of makes sense that it naturally grew out of that," Simmons said about a connection between the two modes of transporting bodies.
The tour ends at the Ace of Clubs with the exhibit there. Light refreshments will be served after the walk.
"In between we are going to highlight the morbid stories that Zoe (Nakashian, the Ace of Clubs House curator) has found," Simmons said, noting the event will be friendly to those 13 and older.
Such morbid tales include one about a parrot, its owner, poisonous coal gas and someone's untimely demise. The parrot sniffed gas and passed out. "The parrot was beloved by his mistress. Everybody else hated the parrot," Nakashian said. What happened in this scenario? Attend the tour to find out.
Expect strange stories and explanations of odd fads related to death and mourning. Such fads included wrapping cigarettes in black crepe paper to indicate one was mourning—and smoking.
"The fear of being buried alive lead to certain types of coffins being offered, and it was a fad at that time," Simmons said. "We're actually going to speak to some of the more obscure customs of this time period."
They'll also discuss the basis of customs today. The tour provides, too, an atypical way to see familiar places.
"The purpose of the walking tour is to connect us to specific points of interest in the downtown and look at them from a different point of view, like the hospital," Simmons said.
Everyone who joins the tour will receive a souvenir booklet.
(Tickets are $15 per person, $10 for TMS members. Tickets can be purchased via TexarkanaMuseums.org at the TMS store. Tickets must be bought in advance. Only 30 tickets are available for each tour; both tours are the same. The walking tour path will be handicapped accessible; call ahead so staff can prepare for the house tour part of the night. The deadline to sign up is the Tuesday before each tour. More info: 903-793-4831)