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An Arizona woman turned her love of spooky Victorian artifacts into a traveling museum

Sarah Kennard of Glendale has always loved what people might consider weird or spooky. She has spent years collecting items and replicas of items from the Victorian era.

It was a time when doctors didn’t believe in germs, Ouija boards were a fun pastime, and it was fashionable to wear lockets with human hair in them. And it all fascinates Kennard, who recently turned her collection into a traveling museum. 

"My mom likes to tell the story of how when I was 10 years old, we went to visit relatives, and there was a Kennard Cemetery. And I found a gravestone there with my full name on it, and I kind of became obsessed with cemeteries," said Kennard. "I just really enjoy learning about what people did before us."

Earlier this year, Kennard started Flitter Mouse, a traveling Victorian museum and book press with her wife, Jen Jensen.

"The Victorians called bats flitter mice," said Kennard.

Kennard carts her collection of Victorian photos, jewelry, art and more around the state for private showings and public presentations. Recently, over 180 people came to Glendale Public Library to listen to Kennard discuss Victorian spiritualism, seances and medicine. She says the Victorians had some interesting mourning traditions.

"This is hair art. So the Victorians loved their arts and crafts, and it went into their mourning as well," she said. "This piece here is actually made out of hair. You have a weeping willow tree, which is very common mourning imagery, and this would be a gravestone, and there’s some letters on there, which is probably the letters of the deceased person.

The Victorians were very superstitious, according to Kennard.

"When somebody would pass away, you would put a black wreath on your door, and that would show the whole neighborhood that you were in mourning, and not to bother you. And you would also cover all the mirrors in your house with black fabric because they were afraid that the spirit of the dead person might get trapped in the mirrors," she said. "They had this idea that they had —  when they took the body out of the home, the feet had to go first so they couldn’t hang on. The spirit couldn’t hang on after."

People in mourning even wrote letters on special mourning stationery with a black border. Many trends of the Victorian era were set by Queen Victoria herself.

"We always like to say she was kind of like the first social influencer or like the first Kardashian," said Kennard. "When Prince Albert died she went into full mourning until the end of her life. So 40 years she mourned Prince Albert, and because she was the ultimate influencer, it spread all through the world that mourning was the thing to do. And there were all these rules about how to mourn, how long to mourn, it was all just social etiquette.

Part of full mourning for women meant dressing in all black, including jewelry, clothing pins and fans.

"They were the ultimate goths — the original goths, I like to say."

Women were expected to mourn their husbands for two years. After about a year of full mourning, they were allowed to incorporate small bits of color into their black garb.

"And a man who was mourning his wife passing would only have to mourn for six months. And the only thing he would have to do is wear a black band around his arm," she said.

The next Flitter Mouse Traveling Victorian Museum showing will be in January at Curious Nature in Phoenix. 

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Amber Victoria Singer is a producer for KJZZ's The Show. Singer is a graduate of the Water Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.