EDWARDSVILLE - During the month of October, Stephenson House commemorates a pivotal event in the life of the Stephenson family—the death of Col. Benjamin Stephenson on October 10, 1822.

During this period, special exhibits in each area of the house represent the final days in Stephenson’s life and the period immediately following his death.

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Both nursing and funerary practices of that time varied greatly from what we would recognize.

Civilian hospitals as such did not exist. We believe, based on store records of medicine purchases in the weeks just before Stephenson’s death, that Stephenson was instead treated at home for an ultimately fatal case of malaria. The main bedchamber of the house is therefore set as a sick room, where and family would have cared for Stephenson in his final days.

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Immediately following his passing, Stephenson’s body would have been prepared for respectful display and burial. Modern embalming had not been invented, and no funeral businesses are known to have existed in the Edwardsville area. In the common practice of the time, family and servants would instead have prepared the body; a coffin have been made or, in this case, ordered from a local craftsman; and the deceased been laid for visitation in the home itself. The parlor of Stephenson House has been staged to show this ritual.

Deep mourning followed the death of a family member, involving both the appearance and the public behavior of the family. Items in the main bedchamber, the children’s bedroom, and the servants’ quarters show the family’s participation in this elaborate rite, parts of which could last more than a year.

Finally, as part of the harsh economic reality of Stephenson’s death, assessors intruded on the family home and conducted an exhaustive inventory of possessions, preparing for a public auction only weeks after Stephenson’s passing. The dining room is staged to show this process, which occurred November 25, 1822.

Join us during October to see this special exhibit, and commemorate the life and passing of Col. Benjamin Stephenson. Stephenson House is located at 409 S. Buchanan, Edwardsville Illinois. The museum is open for guided tours of the exhibit Thursday thru Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and Sunday, 12-3 p.m. The museum gift shop remains open until 4 p.m. Admission fees are $6 Adults, $3 children, and Free for children under 6 years old. The historic site will be closed October 6 & 7 in order to prepare for the 50/50 Antique Auction.

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