The Year of Lanier

Lanier Mansion to celebrate life
and times of the 1840s in Madison

Costumed re-enactors, carriages to highlight
funeral re-enactment, 1841 presidential visit

By Don Ward

MADISON, Ind. (March 2000) – The majestic Lanier Mansion and its expansive sunken gardens hold an impressive presence on Madison’s riverfront.

J.F.D. Lanier

Photo by provided

James Franklin
Doughty Lanier

And this year, the solemn, state-owned historic site will come alive with the sights and sounds and colors of life in 1840s as part of the year-long 200th celebration of J.F.D. Lanier’s birth. Perhaps the most unusual in a series of events will be a re-enactment in April of the funeral and graveside burial of Lanier's wife, Elizabeth, who died of tuberculosis in 1846.
The funeral will be staged at 2 p.m. in the double parlor and conclude in Madison's Springhill Cemetery on Elizabeth's actual grave. The public is invited to attend, and visitors will be greeted at the door as if they were stepping back in time to the real funeral of Mrs. Lanier.
A funeral may seem to be an unusual way of celebrating one’s life and times. But organizers believe the event will provide a fun and unique way to educate the public on a variety of levels about life – and death – during the period.
“A lot of people may have issues with us staging a funeral, but it is still presenting a part of life, and it helps us tell a story about what life was like in the 1840s,” said Melanie Maxwell, a consultant from Greensburg, Ind., hired to organize the numerous special events for the Lanier celebration.
Madison's Linda Limer, who works as an interpreter at the mansion, will play the deceased. The Rev. Mark Porter of the Madison Presbyterian Church will officiate the funeral.
Afterward, a restored, 1914 horse-drawn funeral hearse, owned by Dove-Sharp & Rudicel Funeral home in North Vernon, Ind., will be used in the funeral to transport the fictional deceased Mrs. Lanier to the cemetery. Aboard the carriage will be Bill Bruggen, who has recently completed a historical novel about J.F.D. Lanier that is scheduled for release in May. Bruggen is the assistant director of the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites in Indianapolis.
The mansion, meanwhile, will be prepared for mourning using traditional 1840s rituals: black drapes on the pillars and picture frames throughout the house, portraits turned against the wall, clocks stopped at the hour of death, mirrors covered and straw scattered on the sidewalks to help muffle the sound of footsteps to avoid intruding on the family's mourning.
Two men, called "glums," will stand outside the door wearing dark suits and inform visitors that the house is in mourning. A recently purchased piano forte, circa 1824, that sits in the front parlor will be used to provide funeral music.
"We've had a lot of people interested in the funeral re-enactment," Maxwell said. "We're still working on the funeral route (with local officials). Mt. Vernon (Va.) recently had a re-enactment of George Washington's funeral, and it attracted a lot of people."
Kevin Hereford, who works part-time at the mansion, has been busy making additional costumes for extra volunteers who will be playing bit roles in the various events this year.
For example, Madison's Kim Franklin and John Nyberg will play William McKee Dunn and his wife, Elizabeth Lanier Dunn, who was Mr. Lanier's oldest daughter. Steve Kennedy of Indianapolis will play Judge XX Cravens, husband of Drusilla, the second-oldest daughter. Drusilla will be portrayed by Katie Beaver, a Lanier descendant from Louisville.
J.F.D. and Elizabeth Lanier still had four of their seven children living at home in April 1846: Louisa, Margaret, Charles and the oldest son, Alexander. Another son, John James, drowned in the Ohio River in 1836 at age 7.
Alexander Lanier will be played by the mansion's acting curator, John Clerkin of North Vernon.
These re-enactors will join the mansion's usual group of costumed greeters and tour guides, which includes Kevin's mother, Anna Hereford, Luis and Judy Buckendorf, Sue Ellen Voris, Betty Copeland and Mary Clapham.
"I usually only have to make costumes for four people, but we've got eight more volunteers to take care of this year," said Kevin Hereford, 42, who has handled the costuming work at the mansion since 1985.
In all, there could up up to 30 people in costume for these special events. To prepare, a seamstress in Greensburg, Ind., has been hired to make some of them.
The year-long list of free special events began in February with an unveiling of new portraits of President George and Martha Washington. The two families were related. The event was held in part to mark President's Day as well as kick off the Lanier celebration.
Several Lanier descendants attended the February event and plan to return to Madison to take part in other activities.
This month, re-enactors will stage the 1841 visit to Madison by president-elect William Henry Harrison. Harrison spent one night at Lanier's first home, located across the street from the mansion, on his way to Washington, D.C, for his presidential inauguration.
Richard Day of Vincennes, Ind., will play the president, a role he has played before. He works as a seasonal interpreter at the Vincennes State Historic Site.
Harrison is scheduled to arrive at the mansion, as he did back then. The Highland Chamber Players will provide campaign music, and a display of Harrison presidential memorabilia will be on display in the hallway.
Harrison and Mr. Lanier will then take a carriage ride to the Broadway Hotel and Tavern, where they will have a business lunch with other "local businessmen." The public is invited to participate and dine with the group.
"We're still working on the menu," Maxwell said. "We want it to be as authentic as possible."
After lunch, the men will return by carriage to the mansion and retire to the study to "talk politics."
In May, a special Lanier family reunion is being planned in conjunction with the mansion's annual Lanier Days Social. This popular event features Civil War re-enactments, period craft demonstrations and music. This year, the weekend will also feature a three-hour Ohio River cruise on the Belle of Lousiville.
In June, the mansion will be dressed for an 1840s-era wedding. In September, the mansion's front lawn will be transformed into a concert hall for the Louisville Orchestra, which performs Sept. 10 as part of the Madison Main Street Program's "Music in the Park" series. The mansion also will take part in the city's annual Chautauqua of the Arts festival in late September.
The year-long celebration will culminate with a celebration of Mr. Lanier's actual 200th birthday on Nov. 18. Festivities, which are still being planned, will begin at noon.
"These special events will be great fun for visitors who come to Madison and offer local residents who have never been to the mansion an excellent opportunity to come down and see what it's all about," Maxwell said.

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