Utah State University Library Exhibit Promotes 'Death Is Inevitable' Message

Nov 3, 2017

The Memento Mori exhibit attempts to normalize death

In celebrating a time of year that features the topic of death, a Utah State University employee is exhibiting works that honors the dead and death rituals.


Dylan Burns, a digital scholarship librarian and creator of the exhibit, says the project aims to spread a message that death should be honored, instead of feared.

“It hearkens back to days when the funeral was in the home, and it’s this last moment as a family,” he said.

White walls are covered with black drapes. Funeral pictures and photographs of gravestones hang on the wall along with printed versions of legends about death.

Burns inspiration for the display came while he was looking through the library’s archives. That’s where he saw the photographs of funerals, a tradition of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“Especially for the death of young children, this was a moment when parents and family members could get a momento. To get a reminder of the child who had passed,” Burns said.

And although death is often seen as taboo, USU Folklore professor Lynne McNeil says this exhibit helps normalize the inevitable.

“This is the one time a year we really get to embrace this topic that has sort of become verboten at other times," she said. "We don’t like to think about death, we don’t like to be close to death, we don’t like to have that intimate connection that these photographs show that we had at one time, and yet we need to on some level.”


The exhibit at the USU Merrill-Cazier Library continues through December.