Death houses at Sago Lane (Images from the Past)

The below pictures taken in 1941 were caption under "Dying House, Nursing Home" and indeed to some people viewing, they might be labeled as  morbid or disturbing but this pictures also captures very intimately what happens inside a "death house" that we often read about when Sago Lane of past is mentioned and from what i have noticed so far, pictures of what happened inside are very rare. Such "death houses" were in the past regarded as "sick receiving houses" or homes for the aged or hospice. I was initially shocked to see so many photos taken by Harrison Forman and many of it features close-up of the elderly people who stay in such "dying houses" or "nursing houses". It also shows pictures of relatives mourning for those who have passed on. It is very heart-wrenching to see the faces of the people spending their twilight years here and i must say for some can be quite scary as well when the same space where the elderly are living is also a funeral parlor as well. The location of this place seem to be taken at No.27 Sago Lane during a period when "macabre visit" for foreigners (today we call it dark tourism) was probably starting to become popular but indeed as stated earlier, it is rare to come by such pictures of within the death house itself.  

The recently deceased and the family members mourning 
(source: Harrison Forman Collection, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries)

Deceased placed in coffin
(source: Harrison Forman Collection, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries)

Elderly residents
(source: Harrison Forman Collection, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries) 

27 Sago Lane
(source: Harrison Forman Collection, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries) 

(source: Harrison Forman Collection, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries)

The "death houses" became a popular to tourist and photographers who for the novelty experience visited such death houses when in Chinatown, Singapore. Not everyone was however happy with this situation and indeed this was heavily debated. In 1962, it was reported that Singapore's world-famous death houses in Sago Lane will stop accepting the living and only the dead can be taken there. By 1970, urban renewal plans spell the end of this place and the final nail in the coffin for Sago Lane. 

Sago lane funeral parlours moved to Geylang Bahru


Harrison Forman Collection of the American Geographical Society Library of the University Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries
NewspaperSG. (website). National Library Board, Singapore.
BiblioAsia. Volume 8 Issue 4. Jan-March 2013. National Library (Available online). 

About Harrison Forman and his Collection

Harrison Forman (1904-1978) was an American photographer and journalist. He wrote for The New York Times and National Geographic. During World War II he reported from China and interviewed Mao Zedong. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in Oriental Philosophy. His collection of diaries and fifty thousand photographs are now at American Geographical Society Library at University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. The Harrison Forman Photo Collection contains over 3,800 prints and over 300 negatives. This is a fraction of the total Forman collection, sized at 98,000 images, most of which are in 35mm slide format. While the geographical coverage between the slides and photo collections is similar, the photo collection contains Forman’s early work including his Tibet imagery, the Sino-Japanese War, Chinese Civil War, the Henan Famine, and the Blitzkrieg of Poland.



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