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 Living Historians

Each year Mrs. Avery and I have the opportunity to be docents at Faust Park, St. Louis County.  Two or three weekends during the summer we docent in the Conway House which was built between 1957 and 1860. On Halloween weekend Halloween Haunting is held at the Historic Village.  Mrs. Avery and I are at Thornhill, which was built in the 1820s..  This is the residence of Missouri's second governor, Frederic Bates.  Mrs. Avery in in the bedroom talking about the early practices that took place immediately following a death in he home.  I am in the parlor explaining what would take place curing the wake, funeral and burial.  We participate in other Village events as our schedule permits.

Mr. & Mrs. Avery in the Thornhill parlor


Mrs. Avery in the Thornhill bedroom


The Undertaker & Widow Avery are pictured here at the "Halloween Haunting" Educational & Entertaining Event, Faust Park, Chesterfield, Missouri. Thornhill was the estate of Frederick Bates who was elected the second governor of the State of Missouri in 1824.  In the early 1800's, the Capital of Missouri was in St. Charles, Missouri, which is just across the Missouri River from Thornhill.  During the "Haunting," Mr. Avery portrays an Undertaker as he explains Victorian funeral practices. The Widow Avery talks about the ridged mourning practices of the time. 


In 2005 we had the opportunity of being present at the Chatillon - DeMenil Mansion. 

Mrs. Avery and I gave a continual afternoon program of Victorian Mourning practices. I also had my 1860s hears on display near the front of the Mansion. 



                                                                                                                         During the Christmas season, at which time the Mansion
was exquisitely decorated, We provided seasonal music in the parlor.



May 2005, saw the final interment of Civil War Veteran, Cpl. John Payton Byrne.  He cremate remain  where discovered resting in a mausoleum in California by a distant relative.  They were brought back to Memphis, Missouri, where John live during his childhood.  Along with the Sons of Union Veterans and the ladies organizations, reenacting  groups took part in the final visitation and graveside burial of Cpl. Bryne. I was privileged in leading the funeral procession to the cemetery with my 1860s hearse.



As preparation for the burial of Cpl. Bryne, many of those participating took the opportunity while at Keokuk, Iowa, to practice standing guard and becoming acoustomed to placing and retrieving the coffin from the hearse.



At Keokuk, Iowa, April 2005.  I found a beautiful area to set up my embalming surgeons tent.  What I didn't know was that it was supposed to rain that night.  It poured with me at the lower side of a hill.  I spent much of the night recovering and resetting my tent poles along with freezing in the rain.


The Battle of Corinth was the National event for 2005.  The site was the best I have had a an event as far as being about to see the battles.  Unfortunately,  the event followed the Hurricane Katrina.  Many of the "southern boy." were not able to attend.  Many of them lost everything in the devastation.  Our prayers continually go out to our reenacting brother and sisters.



The undertaker participated in the event at Col. William Fultkerson Farm, "Hazel Dell,"   




It is on of the mandates of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War that we should searcb out the graves of Civil War Veterans and be sure their graves are marked and in good order.  As a member of the U.S. Grant Camp #68, SUVCW, he participates in ceremonies to mark our Veterans.  There were marked in 2005.  They are Cpl. John Payton Bryne,  Major William C., Inks, Col. Edward M. Paine and Sgt. Chris Hinterberger

Col. Edward M. Paine's marker, Bellefontaine Cemetery, St. Louis, MO



Dedication Service for Sgt. Chris Hinterberger, Mt. Hope Cemetery, Belleville, IL


Each year there is a ceremony ton April 15th., to remember President Abraham Lincoln on the day he died from an assassins bullet..  the Ceremony takes place at the Lincoln Memorial, Oak Grove Cemetery, Springfield, IL.




School programs are very important to many of us in the SUVCW.  This is the Embalming Surgeon's setup in readiness for the 400 Rockwood School District middle school student.  This is a two day event designed to inform and pass on to the next generation the history of the Civil War.


Whoat A Rig!  Mr. Avery purchased this 1860's horse drawn hearse in 1999.  During the next year he dismantled it down to the last bolt and restored and repainted it.  As best as can be determined, the undercarriage and box were made in Quebec, Canada (of that we are sure), in the mid-1860's.   The hand made and carved top were added not long after.  This was a "poor man's" hearse, or possibly a second hearse in a fleet or livery.  It is smaller than most hearses and has curtains rather than glass at its openings.  

The Undertaker & Widow (John & Peggie Avery), taken in 2000 at the Manchester Days Parade.  This was the first parade I
n which we appeared with the hearse.  We participate in a number of parades in the St. Louis, MO area each year.  I drive my 1860's hearse and Widow Avery respectfully follows behind.  Here you see the Undertaker, his 1860's Hearse and Cheval.  The second photo is of the Undertaker and the Widow Avery taken the same day.  


The Undertaker & Widow at Fort Davidson Battle Field, Pilot Knob, Missouri.  We participate in many reenactments and living histories  at various historic sites.  




Here, Confederate soldiers are assisting the Undertaker in removing a coffin from the hearse.  This was taken at Vicksburg II, Raymond, Mississippi.


The Undertaker, the Widow and the 1860's Hearse.  Mr. & Mrs. Avery, with the help of many others produced an event in Manchester, Missouri called Victorian Days 2000.  The event consisted of period crafters, musicians, and The Illinois Funeral Directors Traveling Funeral Museum.  Also featured was a late 1800's fashion show and a Civil War era Worship Service.  The event was centered around a mock funeral for a Civil War Union Veteran.

The Widow Avery praying at her husband's grave at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, St. Louis Missouri. This Veteran's Cemetery is the final resting place for approximately 12,000 Union Veterans and 1140 Confederate Veterans.  The Avery's with their hearse lead the Memorial Day Parade and Observance at the Barracks each year. 

The Undertaker at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri, Memorial Day, 2001.  This is an annual commemoration attended by 1500 - 2000 people.  Most all of the Veteran's Organizations participate in this annual event.   We are proud to be asked to lead the parade through the Cemetery to the central parade grounds where the honors are given to all of America's fallen heroes.

North and South Together! Members of Co. A, 2nd MO, Sons of Veterans Reserve, U.S. Grant Camp #68, and Sons of Confederate Veterans, Sterling Price Camp #145, join together to provide the Honor Guard at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, Memorial Day, 2001. 

North & South marching to the graves of their fallen at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, Memorial Day, 2001.  Members of the 4th Missouri Calvary provide an escort for the hearse carrying the fallen Union soldier.

Mr. & Mrs. Avery are privileged each year to give programs to fifth grade classes in a number of suburban elementary schools.  Both John And Peggie are former teachers, so this gives them an opportunity to feed the teaching craving which is in a teacher for life.  Towards the end of the fifth grade year, students study the Civil War in Social Studies.  It is an honor for us to be able to bring that portion of our history to life for the students.  They always have interesting and sometimes very insightful questions.

The Widow Avery teaching a class of fifth graders about life and death during the Civil War.  The girls particularly have questions about the costumes which the proper Victorian lady would wear.  They cannot imagine having to wear seven layers of clothing when it is often 80-90 degrees outside when we visit their school.

Private Avery & James in his fifth grade class.  The student enjoys trying on the uniform and finding out what he might carry in his haversack.  Learning about a soldiers life in these ways brings the written history alive for them.   

The Undertaker's Tent at the 140th. Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, near Hagerstown, Maryland, August 2002.


J.D. Avery, Undertaker, Embalming a soldier at his field embalming tent.  Notice the simple hand pump and the drain tube going down in front of the body.  The embalming fluid was pumped into the carotid artery and drained from the carotid vein  This was one of three methods used for embalming during and right after the Civil War.  Another method was  using the gravity bottle, which was hung eight to twelve feet above the body for a period of up to eight hours.  The third method, and probably most used was that of arterial embalming without draining the body fluids.

At the Undertaker's tent of shed, would see the embalming board or table, there may or may not be a fly for weather protection, and often there would be a stack of coffins.  these may have been made from possibly barn wood that had been savaged or they may have been secured from a local town undertaker.  The enlisted soldier would simply be placed in a common box. However, an officer would probably have a coffin of traditional shape.  Not the one in the picture.


Civil War Military Reenactors

Private & Mrs. Avery dressed for a Military Ball.  We enjoy attending dress balls and other social events for the Civil War Reenactors in our area.


The gown Mrs. Avery is wearing was made from a silk sari which was given to her Mother by her Aunt who was a Missionary in India for many years.  We are most fortunate to have as our seamstress, Miss Holly Turner.  She has made all of our costumes in accurate 1860's style.

Mr. & Mrs. Avery are seen here in formal dress at the Millennium Ball which was held in St. Louis, Missouri, over the 2000 New Year Holiday.





Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War

Mr. Avery is a direct descendant of at least three Michigan Union Veterans.  It is through this lineage that he is eligible to join the Sons of Union Veteran of the Civil War.  He now is serving his second term as Commander of U.S. Grant Camp #68, St. Louis County, Missouri.  He is also Patriotic Instructor for the Department (State) of Missouri. 

As one of the mandates of the Sons is Civil War Graves Registration and Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Post identification and preservation.  Mr. and Mrs. Avery are pictured here at the re-dedication of cemetery and marker for Private Wilhelm Horstmann in Wildwood, Missouri.


The Grant Camp also dedicated a marker at the historic site of the D.N. Keeler G.A.R. Post in 2001,  This site is also in Wildwood, Missouri.


Historic Site Docents

Mr. & Mrs. Avery volunteer as docents for St. Louis County Parks and are members of Old Trails Historical Society of the Manchester, Missouri community.

The Avery's at Bacon Cabin, Manchester, Missouri.  This is a mid to late 1800's log cabin named after one of its earliest owners.  It is presently owned and maintained by the Old Trails Historical Society. 


Mrs. Avery is seen here in the Parlor of the Gen. Bissell Historic Home in North St. Louis County.  Mr. & Mrs. Avery have given programs on Victorian funeral and mourning practices here and at other venues in St. Louis and surrounding areas.


The Avery's volunteer as docents at Faust Park, a St. Louis County Park, in Chesterfield, Missouri.  They are seen here in the parlor of the -Conway Home in which they conduct tours during the summer and fall.  Mrs. Avery is seen in both her day dress and an evening gown and Mr. Avery is in his dress frock suit.



Christmas in the Conway Home is very festive as can be seen here.  Mr. & Mrs. Avery are in the decorated entry hall of the home.  Notice the American Flag which was present in memory of 911, in the year 2001.

Mr. & Mrs. Avery are strolling in the garden just outside of the Conway Home at Faust Park, Chesterfield, Missouri.  Behind Mrs. Avery you see the Mertz Cabin and behind Mr. Avery is the summer kitchen for the Conway Home.


Mrs. Avery seated in the dinning room of the Conway House at Faust Park.


The Avery's at the Wildwood Festival, Wildwood, Missouri, September 2002.  The U.S. Gant Camp #68, SUV and the Sterling Price Camp, SCV, dedicated two Confederate Markers on graves of unknowns and two GAR Stars on Union Veteran's graves.




This page last modified on October 12, 2005