Recently, the Writers on the Storm chapter of ACFW went on a field trip to the National Museum of Funeral History in Houston. Yes, you read that right–a funeral museum. Once you get over the morbidity of the idea, you realize just how many wonderful things you can discover in such a museum. But just in case you can’t see the value, let me fill you in on the story potential, or at least the research potential:
Did you know that the only ones who can lie “in state” are people of a certain stature–like politicians and such? And the only place they can be “in state” is in a capital building, like the White House, or some state capitol. A politician can be “in repose” in any another building, but “in state” only in a capital. However, someone who isn’t of such stature–another hero, perhaps–can lie in a capital, like the capitol rotunda, but he won’t be “in state.” In such a case, the deceased is called to be resting “in honor.”
Want to know what a 19th Century funeral is like? Welcome to the parlor:
Notice in the parlor, above, the black covering over the mirror and the black drape behind the portrait of the deceased.
Rob Parker, our docent at the museum, told us that once “funeral parlors” came into being, the “parlor” of a person’s house became the “living room.” He also told us that only Europeans and Americans wear black for mourning. Other countries wear white. “Makes me wonder what they think of our wedding traditions,” he quipped.
Hey–what are the chances you’ll get to go to the funeral of a Pope? Or learn much of anything about him? Well, here’s something interesting for you:
I’m amazed by how much history was housed in that museum. It covered virtually everything, from mummifying practices of Egypt to the reason embalming became necessary during the American civil war; the difference between caskets and coffins, and the making of them; an incredible array of hearses from all eras; exhibits of the funerals of presidents, actors, and athletes; personal stories of people in mourning–like this one, which required a super-large casket:
The story behind this one is heart-breaking, but I’m not sure I can remember all the details. Basically, a couple went on a ski vacation with their daughter, and somehow, the daughter died. The parents were so traumatized, they requested a casket that would hold the entire family. Of course, that raised some eyebrows, because the parents were in excellent health, but the father explained how he and his wife planned to commit a murder-suicide once the casket was built so they could all be buried together. The builders complied, but once the casket was built, the owners had left town with no forwarding address. So–what we have here is the unused casket with an interesting story behind it.
One thing that really struck me about it was how short the people must’ve been. I’d noticed that in other places, too–tours of 19th century homes hold beds that seem to be made for people who never grew beyond 5’3 or so. There’s a story behind that, too, but we’ll save it for later.
The museum pieces weren’t limited to America, Rome, or Egypt. Check these out:
Forgive me for sounding morbid, but I did like seeing the hearses. Some were incredibly ornate:
I don’t know that I’ll ever use much of what I learned in this museum, but it’s in my head if I ever need it. I can be specific in details about whatever funeral scene I draw because of this experience. And details help give life and authenticity to our novels.