It is my opinion that the little girl is not dead.
So what could be the reason for why she looks as if she's sleeping other than that she is dead?
Sleeping, yes, but I believe it is illness. I believe she may be suffering from the disease Encephalitis lethargica, often called sleeping sickness, or a similar disease of the time. There was an epidemic of Encephalitis lethargica from around 1917 until 1928. Those who survived sank into a semi-conscious state. I also think I see signs of pain in her face, not the smooth face of death.
The clothing would place the photograph at about 1911. There is an electric chandelier, electric lights were common in homes after 1905. The child has a Teddy bear. They were introduced in 1903 and were mass produced by 1906.
So why is she the center of attention in the photograph? This may be a celebration. Perhaps it's the child's birthday. Even though she is ill, her parents may have dressed her in her best clothes, bought presents for her and placed them around her, and commemorated the occasion with a photograph. To me the toys look new and I'd love to know what's in the boxes. Chocolate?
All this is pure speculation.
Many children were removed from their coffins and placed in very peculiar situations to obtain a photograph. Often they were surrounded by family and their favorite toys. It was not unusual. But I still believe she is not dead and that this is an unusual photograph.
The following are the reasons why I think this is not a post-mortem photograph.
Although we can't see the entire table, the fruit is less than the substantial meal you would have expected friends and relatives to have brought to a viewing or funeral. Fruit was often difficult to acquire and signified celebrations. ie. The Christmas orange.
I find the cat in the photograph a little unsettling if the child is dead. Were my child alive, although ill, I would allow the cat to run around and might even find it a comfort. If my child were dead, I would remove the cat to another part of the house.
The poses of the people in the photograph are far too casual for something so serious as a family photograph commemorating a dead child.
The young woman pictured below is wearing a dress with a satin-like finish. The conventions of funeral dress would have precluded fabric of this sort being worn to a viewing or funeral. Even for families that were not wealthy certain customs were followed and I believe this would have been one of them. It is the type of dress that would be worn to a celebration.
It has been suggested that the man casually posed above is wearing a mourning ribbon. I do not have a scan of a high enough resolution to really see the ribbon. The scan below looks more like a campaign ribbon, but there is no way to be sure.
My research into funeral customs found that a mourning ribbon for a child would have been white. This is not. Also, the other men in the photograph should have been wearing mourning ribbons as well. Particularly the man who appears to be the father; the man next to the flowers and directly behind the child. No other man is wearing a ribbon.
Also by convention, the flowers should have been white or light colored carnations if this was a viewing or funeral for a child. It is of course possible that white could not be found and any flowers were better than none.
There are far too many people smiling for this to be a post-mortem photograph. While those who appear to be the parents are serious, they are not sorrowful. It is not a sorrowful group. None of the smiles appear to be attributable to the flash.
What is on the piano? It looks like a guitar case and a violin and the piano has sheet music at the ready. More a celebration than a viewing.
So I am relying on the impression the photograph gives me, as many post-mortem photographs are staged very similarly to this one.
I sent these impressions on to Jack and here is what he replied:
"Thank you very much for taking the time to give your feedback on this photo. When I first purchased this, I had serious doubts about it being a post-mortem, and for obvious reasons, (the smiles being the main one)… but then, the more people I showed it to, the more I was getting the opinion that it was. In fact, I would say that out of the 20 or so comments I have received so far, 17 think it’s a post-mortem, which was very surprising to me. Now, after hearing your valued opinion, I am swayed once again to think that it is not.
You made some great observations. The thought of it being a sleeping sickness crossed my mind as well, actually, though I kept that to myself because I hadn’t taken any time to research it. The lack of the coffin did not factor much into my decision, as I own many “no doubt” post-mortem photos of children and adults posed as if sleeping, and many others of children posed with their favorite toys, much like the girl in this photo."
So what did you decide? Don't forge to leave your comment.