Post Mortem – saving the dead in photography

At the very beginning, the question is what is Post Mortem photography ? It is a picture showing a person who is dead in such a way that on the photograph it looks like a living one. The deceased was often dressed in an elegant clothes such as a suit, placed on a frame in a sitting position, usually with some object in hand such as a book or a bouquet of flowers.

The second half of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century is the time when Post Mortem photographs are most popular. In those days taking an ordinary photo was expensive and not everyone could afford to take it. One has to remember that at that time people, especially children, often died, so death was a common event for people living in those times. An interesting phenomenon from those times is how the families of the deceased preserved the corpses of their relatives. We can imagine many situations in which there is no photographer in the place where the deceased lived. Until his arrival, families or special establishments had to take care of the proper conservation of the corpse so that it would be suitable for placing it on the photograph. The preservation of the corpse was facilitated by keeping it in ice, as well as by the cold air and generally winter climate.

Nowadays, many people are concerned about watching Post Mortem photographs. Nothing strange about it has changed a bit since the 20th century when it comes to the frequency of dying. In those days people did not live as long as today, often the flu could kill a small town, children often died shortly after birth, the view of death by those people was very different from today’s views on the subject. A picture of how the attitude of contemporary people to death has changed is the funerals. Today, when someone close to us is dying, we rather do not feel like watching his dead body or even being in one room with him. A completely opposite situation took place in the 20th century when, apart from the photographs themselves, people stayed with a deceased family member for a few more moments to say goodbye to him.

Many people believe that photographing the deceased is a lack of respect for them, but it is a mistaken belief, because Post Mortem photographs were used by people to keep those who passed away with them for a longer time and thus give them the due respect. Very often such photographs were worn in different medallions so that people who lost a loved one could always have it with them.

Today, Post Mortem’s photographs are a carrier of important information for all those who seek the genealogy of their family. Often in the search for their ancestors we find out who they were, what they did, but often we do not know what they looked like. This is an advantage because some of us may be able to see our ancestors in a single photo, which, as we know, often took place with a deceased person and thus may fill a gap in their family tree.

The Constitution of May the 3rd

The Constitution of May the 3rd is the second in the world and the first one in Europe. Nowadays – one of the most important symbols of Poland’s independence.
However, the Government Act is not only a symbol, it is a document that is a valuable historical source, an important legal text, and also a historical event that is so groundbreaking that all of Europe once proclaimed it a revolution.

So called Basic Law (Ustawa Zasadnicza), adopted on May 3, 1791, was above all a very innovative attempt to save the independence of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which was not a fully sovereign state since the end of the 17th century, it was under Russia’s protectorate (which was to guarantee its freedom and security). In the Russian country divided into supporters and opponents of the protectorate, the first partition of Poland became a breakthrough, which exposed Poland’s weakness and caused a kind of breakthrough in thinking about state reforms. A favorable situation for the introduction of reforms appeared when Russia, which was keeping a real protectorate over the Commonwealth, was embroiled in wars with Turkey and Sweden. Austria supported Russia against Turkey, and Prussia took an openly reluctant attitude towards Russia. There was a real chance to regain sovereignty.

In the first place, the Sejm took full power in the state and began an attempt to reform the system. To avoid breaking the meeting, it was transformed into a confederation headed by King Stanisław August Poniatowski himself. During the deliberations of the Great Sejm, the most important representatives of the reform camp met in secret: Stanisław Małachowski, Hugo Kołłątaj, Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, Ignacy Potocki and Tadeusz Matuszewicz. Over time, their number reached 60 people having the support of the king. During the meetings, the shape of the reform was discussed, including the analysis of the American constitution and the work of the French National Assembly. King Stanisław August Poniatowski, together with Ignacy Potocki and Hugo Kołłataj are considered the main authors of the final version of the Basic Law, so First Polish Constitution.

To finally adopt the drafted constitution, the reformers had to use a trick. On the morning of May the 3rd, 1791, after the opening of the Sejm sessions, properly selected diplomatic messages were read indicating that Poland was threatened by another partition, it was said that only far-reaching changes could save the cuuntry sovereignty. This effectively convinced the parliament members to vote and pass the Government Act. The king swore the constitution: “I swore to God, I won’t regret it.”

The adoption of the constitution was very solemn. An enthusiastic crowd gathered in front of the Royal Castle. In the evening, to the nearby cathedral of St. John deputies went through, headed by Marshal Stanisław Małachowski to swear the first Polish constitution in the presence of the king.
The Constitution of May 3 consists of a solemn preamble and 11 articles introducing in Poland the system of hereditary constitutional monarchy, which most European countries only had in the nineteenth century, retained the state social structure, spread legal protection over peasants and the bourgeoisie and gave opportunities for social advancement. Moreover, it abolished liberum veto. In the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth; it also introduced the Montesquieu 3 divisions of power: legislative, executive and judicial.

1st May – Labor Day history

1886 – Chicago workers strike was brutally suppressed by police. To commemorate this event, we celebrate Labor Day in many countries around the world on May the 1st.

At the end of the 19th century, workers in Chicago fought primarily for an eight-hour work day. The strike slogans were also fair working and pay conditions carried by thousands of employees – including emigrants from Poland. Many demonstrators were killed by bullets – all protest was bloodily suppressed by the police.

Officially – Labor Day was introduced by the Second Socialist International at the congress in Paris (1889), choosing the anniversary of the events in Chicago for the day of the celebration. The whole union movement that was emerging at that time, regardless of the differences in its views, declared this day as their holiday. The exception is only the United States, where – to avoid unpleasant associations with the events of Chicago – Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday of September.

For the first time, the celebration of this holiday in most countries, as well as in Poland, took place already in 1890. The celebrations were organized by both political parties (which introduced employee rights into their programs) and local trade unions.

In Poland, this trend was represented primarily by the Polish Socialist Party of Józef Piłsudski, and after 1918 – the Polish Trade Union.
Labor Day was particularly solemnly celebrated after the World War II, during the PRL (Polish People’s Republic). During this day marches, gatherings and rallies were being organized. Participation was most often mandatory or even premium due to the possibility of buying attractive goods. The fall of the Polish People’s Republic has made such a solemn celebration of May 1 a thing of the past.

After 1989, manifestations of leftist parties are still organized, sometimes even demonstrators clash with members of organizations representing the extreme right wing organizations.

On May 1st, the Roman Catholic Church proclaimed the feast of Józef Robotnik – the patron of working people. Nowadays, in many countries Labor Day is a day off from work and an opportunity for family trips – perhaps trips on the trail of your Polish ancestors? 😉

photo from NAC resources