Momento Mori and Post-mortem Photography · Wisconsin

Momento mori: quintuplet brothers

February 13, 1875
Watertown, Wisconsin
America’s first set of quintuplets are born, though the children, all boys, die within hours of birth

The five boys had shared a single placenta and collectively weighed roughly 10 pounds. They all seemed fully developed despite each living no more than a few hours and one being stillborn. The mourning parents secured a studio to secretly take a momento mori (literally “remember that you have to die,” a souvenir, in this case a post-mortem photograph, to remember a lost loved one). The studio never made the photograph public though they did receive a copyright for the image. It resurfaced in the 1940s.

Word spread quickly of the unique birth with rumors flying the bodies would be stolen by grave robbers and even the circus mastermind P.T. Barnum had offered to buy the tiny remains from the grieving parents. Edna and Edward Kanouse, afraid their babies would be stolen, exhumed the bodies to put in the care of Edward’s father and brother. They were later reburied but the exact location of their graves remains a mystery.

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