Honoring Judge Riddick

Published 10:44 pm Thursday, October 30, 2008

At noon Saturday, activity on Main Street from Constance Road to Cedar Hill Cemetery will come to a stop, and church bells in the city will toll in remembrance of Judge Nathaniel Riddick.

The public is invited to attend the last day of the mourning period at Riddick’s Folly today from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is especially invited to line up along Main Street to participate in the funeral procession from the Riddick home to Cedar Hill Cemetery.

Mourners, either visiting the house or attending the procession, are asked to wear black. A horse-drawn hearse and a horse-drawn surrey will carry Riddick and his mourners to the cemetery. Pallbearers will be chosen from the audience. Members of local Masonic lodges — Riddick was a Mason — have been invited to march in the procession.

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Riddick’s family has reported that he passed away from “congestion of the brain.” Riddick was found lying on a lounge in his law office, the small white building in front of and to the side of the main house at Riddick’s Folly. He reportedly had a newspaper lying on his chest and is thought to have simply passed away in his sleep, family members who found him said.

Riddick was a lawyer, a delegate to the Virginia House of Delegates and a judge in the courthouse next door to his home. He was the son of Mills Riddick, who built Riddick’s Folly in 1837.

At the time of his death, Dec. 30, 1882, he was 63. His funeral procession was held Jan. 1, 1883.

On Saturday, re-enactors wearing clothing authentic to the late 19th-century period will recreate a historically accurate funeral procession. It was one of the largest ever held in Suffolk, with nearly everyone in Suffolk and Nansemond County in attendance.

At the time of his death, few in Suffolk knew Riddick was in poor health. He had served as a judge until the previous year and had just recently lost a bid for reelection to the Virginia House of Delegates. “Congestion of the brain” was a 19th-century phrase describing what would often be referred to today as a stroke. Riddick’s passing was a sudden shock to his family, to his friends and to Suffolk.

Having 19th century exhibits and events is nothing new to Riddick’s Folly, but most of those have been about the Civil War era.

“It’s important to us that we don’t get stuck in the same general time period,” said Phillip Staten, director of Riddick’s Folly.

“This was a unique opportunity to push beyond what we have usually been able to do. We don’t go into the Victorian Period very often, so this really is a first for us.”

Those attending will see that the customs, sights and culture of Victorian-era funerals are more similar to modern customs and practices than many they might expect.

“Much of what we do comes directly from, or is a direct reaction against, what people began to do as far as funerals in this period.

Prior to the Civil War, it was common for people to die in the comfort of their homes, surrounded by family. The family handled nearly everything concerning the mourning period and the funeral.

During the war, countless men died in places far away from home and without proper funerals. The Civil War changed many aspects and customs of how Americans mourned.

In England in 1861, Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, died at the age of 42. Victoria had a mourning period and a procession and funeral ceremony that were elaborate even for British Royal traditions. Victoria’s customs became the new popular standard in the United States.

“We are also able to feature women heavily,” Staten said of the Riddick reenactment. “Women, especially in the wealthy class, generally did not work. They had a lot of leisure time; therefore, women who had the means to do so learned things from overseas. Women became the guardians of fashion and what was thought of as proper.”

In the Victorian Era, it was common for men to mourn for three to six months after the passing of a family member. Women often remained in black clothing and in mourning for as long as 18 months, or even through the rest of their lives. Queen Victoria remained in mourning of Edward’s death for 40 years, until her death in 1901.

“We’re hoping it will be easy for someone who comes on Saturday to see the similarities,” said Staten. “We think people will see things they recognize, and they’ll understand that we have the customs and traditions we do now because of what people did 120 years ago.”