Tuesday, August 24, 2010

National Museum of Funeral History

This morning I visited the National Museum of Funeral History. I viewed many caskets, coffins, funerary vehicles, and mourning objects.

It was a treat to see some hair jewelry and hair wreaths and to learn about door badges. The experience of the many objects especially those from the Egyptian and Mexican funeral traditions were very beautiful in their relation to death whether as a life-long process or celebration.

Victorian-era home with the parlor set for mourning. Note the covered mirror above the mantel and the black fabric draped over the picture on the wall indicating the deceased. Mirrors are covered so the spirit of the deceased does not get trapped within and so mourners do not see their reflections and become the next to pass.

Victorian mourning dresses made especially to be worn during burial. Behind the dresses are photographs of a live woman modeling the dresses to be worn after death.

Hair shadow box (above). The hair shadow box is a mourning device. Unlike the body, hair does not rot. In the 19th century, mourners would often save hair and have it fashioned into an object/keepsake.

A highlight was the Funeral Bus. Here is my recollection of the story of the bus: The Funeral Bus was on the road in San Francisco in the 1920's. The driver sat up front with the deceased behind him and the pall bearers and mourners in the back of the bus. During a trip up a steep hill, the back-heavy bus tipped and sent all the passengers including the deceased on a roll. The embarrassed funeral home owner retired the bus. For about a year it was the home of a ranch hand, then it was renovated and is now in the Museum.

A frilly casket.

Frilly casket detail (above). The caskets at the Museum are for display purposes only. Some of them were unused and/or unsold at one time. I don’t know about all of them though. For example, there is a casket for three at the Museum. A couple commissioned it whose child had passed away. They planned to kill themselves and all three be buried together. They decided to not kill themselves and years later wanted their money back from the casket maker. Needless to say, he did not return their money as it was already made, and he had been storing it for years. (above)

Colorful, almost cake-like grave sites from Mexico.

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