Post-mortem photographs served less as a reminder of mortality than as a keepsake to remember the deceased. This was especially common with infants and young children; Victorian era childhood mortality rates were extremely high, and a post-mortem photograph might be the only image of the child the family ever had.
The earliest post-mortem photographs are usually close-ups of the face or shots of the full body and rarely include the coffin. The subject is usually depicted so as to seem in a deep sleep, or else arranged to appear more lifelike. Children were often shown in repose on a couch or in a crib, sometimes posed with a favorite toy or other plaything. It was not uncommon to photograph very young children with a family member, most frequently the mother. Adults were more commonly posed in chairs or even braced on specially-designed frames. Flowers were also a common prop in post-mortem photography of all types.
The effect of life was sometimes enhanced by either propping the subject’s eyes open or painting pupils onto the photographic print, and many early images have a rosy tint added to the cheeks of the corpse.
This is a photograph of Carrie L. Parsons, wife and three children murdered by Joseph Hamilton about two miles east of Success, MO on Friday October the 12, 1906. Parsons had sold his crop to young Hamilton. On the day of the murder Parsons loaded his family in his wagon and started for Miller Co, MO when about two miles east of Success at what is known as the old Vance Place, he was murdered. The wagon was then driven into thicket of brush and left until about midnight that night when young Hamilton returned and drove to Piney River. There he threw all the bodies into the water , and two of the children were found by a fishing party within one hour after they were thrown in. Hamilton was arrested two days later trying to make his escape. He made a full confession of his crime and was hanged.
This poor child looks like she had been ill for a long time before her demise.