Friday, June 27, 2014

Deadly Fascinations: Funeral & Death-Care Museums (Part One)

I love museums: Those places where objects of historical, scientific or cultural importance are preserved and exhibited. There are over 35,000 in the U.S. with the world’s largest museum, the Smithsonian, home to 19 museums, located in Washington, D.C. Worldwide there are an estimated 55,000 museums.

Deathly Exhibits
And in that number, there are several museums that deal with death and the death-care industry. This week we’ll take a look at museums dealing directly with death; some are located, quite fittingly, in funeral homes. 

Horse-drawn Funeral Carriage
Ferguson Funeral Home
The Ferguson Funeral Home Museum will mark its 135th anniversary next year, making it the oldest business in Scottsdale, Pennsylvania. The museum is located in the funeral home and houses a 19th century horse-drawn hearse along with several examples of American Folk Art. The museum is open Monday through Friday during normal business hours.

Herr Funeral Home
Fisk Child's Casket
Another museum of death can be found at the Herr Funeral Home’s Funeral Service Memorabilia Museum in Collinsville, Illinois. The museum has a 1918 Sayers and Scoville hearse, antique burial shroud, mourning jewelry and ribbons, and a child’s Fisk casket. The casket is made of cast-iron, and was claimed to be airtight. It was designed like an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus with a viewing window at the top, making it easy to see the body inside and deterring grave robbers. For tour information, contact the funeral home.

Funeral Hearse
Redinger Funeral Home and Museum
Redinger Funeral Home in Seiling, Oklahoma has been in business for 100 years. The museum has several displays of funeral memorabilia and houses a horse-drawn hearse. Tours are offered by appointment and are usually given by Ron Redinger, the grandson of Sam Redinger who started a hardware store in town, and found himself in the funeral business …

Child's Casket
Ohio is a state that takes its death care museums seriously boasting three museums of interest. The Peoples Mortuary Museum
A Sampling of the Hearse Collection
is located in Marietta, Ohio and is part of an operating funeral home. The museum is named for Bill Peoples who owns the collection. Displays include hearses, caskets and funeral memorabilia from the early 1900s displayed tastefully in a building behind the chapel. There is no admission charged but scheduling a tour is requested.

Lafferty Funeral Home
Part of the Lafferty Carriage Collection
The William Lafferty Memorial Funeral and Carriage Collection is located in West Union, Ohio and has a nice collection of memorabilia that dates back to 1848. If it’s hearses you want to see; this is the place, which only makes sense when you consider that the Buckeye State was one of the largest producers of hearses in the country. The museum collection is dedicated to James William Lafferty, the fourth generation of the family to work in the funeral industry. Lafferty preserved artifacts that his family had used in the funeral business and purchased other items to create a sizable collection of funeral memorabilia.

Toland-Herzig Funeral Home
Funeral Ephemera
At Toland-Herzig Funeral Home in Dover, Ohio you will find the Famous Endings Museum. The museum has over 1,500 pieces of funeral ephemera (the largest known collection), which include photos, folders and documents from celebrities, presidents, sports figures and other famous people. The museum also has audio recordings from the funerals of famous people and photos of celebrity gravesides. The museum is open Monday through Friday during normal business hours with no admission charged.

Head of Henri Desire Landru
The Museum of Death is exactly what it says: a museum that focuses on death and related topics with graphic, sometime grisly actual items and footage on display. (This is best for mature audiences.)  The museum offers a 45-minute self-guided tour through a world of coffins, body bags, execution devices, and letters and artwork from murderers and serial killers; you can even view the head of Henri Desire Landru, the Bluebeard of France, who killed over 200 women in the early 20th century. The museum has themed rooms: the California Death Room focuses on famous deaths that have occurred in the state like that of the Black Dahlia and the Charles Manson murders. The museum is located in Hollywood, California and is open daily. Admission is charged.

Money Casket
Hearses on Display
The mother of all funeral museums is located in Houston Texas. The National Museum of Funeral History houses the largest collection of funeral artifacts in the country. From 19th Century Mourning Customs, to Coffins and Caskets of the Past, Historical Hearses, and the History of Embalming, the museum offers 12 historic and informative displays, and continually keeps things fresh with changing funeral industry exhibits. The museum is open seven days a week and admission is charged.

And we lament the passing of one funeral museum –

Replica of Lincoln's Coffin
Embalming Display
The Museum of Funeral Customs was located in Springfield, Illinois for several years before closing in 2009. Adjacent to Oak Ridge Cemetery, the site of President Abraham Lincoln’s Tomb, the museum had a collection of coffins, funeral carriages, and a re-crated 1920s embalming room. Sadly the museum’s trust fund was mismanaged and closure was imminent. After the museum’s closing, its contents were transferred to the Kibbe Hancock Heritage Museum in Carthage Illinois in February 2011 where a Funeral Customs exhibit is on permanent display.

Caskets on Display
There is a new museum expected to open later this year: The Simpson Funeral Museum will be located in Chatham, Virginia. Displays will include an 1876 Horse-drawn hearse and a 1941 Packard hearse, along with replicas of caskets for President John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Other celebrity casket replicas include one for John Wayne and Elvis Presley.

National Funeral Museum in London
Vienna Funeral Museum
There are also numerous museums of death scattered around the world. A few to check out are the Vienna Funeral Museum in Vienna, Austria; the National Funeral Museum in London, England; the Museum of Piety located in Budapest, Hungary; the Museum for Sepulchral Culture in Kassel, Germany; the Museum of Hearses in Barcelona, Spain; the Dutch Funeral Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands. There are also two cemetery museums in Europe to visit, Hoernli Cemetery near Basel, Switzerland, and the Museum of Ohlsdorf Cemetery in Hamburg, Germany.

Next week, we’ll take a look at museums dealing more with the medical-side of death.

As they say at the National Museum of Funeral History, "Any day above ground is a good one."

~ Joy

Friday, June 20, 2014

Hair Wreaths: A Victorian Mourning Custom

Crafting Hair
Hair is one of the most unique and personal mementos people can give of themselves. Although taking hair and weaving it into memorial pieces has been done for hundreds of years as a way to remember a loved one, it was the Victorians who took the idea and crafted it into an art form.

Bracelet Band Made from Hair
Victorian Women
The Victorians had elaborate customs for any life event encountered; but this is one tradition that could take different shapes and forms. Hair jewelry allowed Victorians to carry a part of their loved ones with them in the form of bracelets, rings, brooches, watch fobs, even buttons: It was similar to putting a piece of hair in a locket. Hair from a deceased family member was usually made into a mourning wreath for remembrance.

Hair Receiver
Shaping Instructions
A mourning wreath could be made up of one member’s hair or a composite of an entire family. As family members died, hair was saved in a “hair receiver.” When enough was accumulated, the hair was fashioned into flowers and leaves by twisting and sewing it around shaped wire forms.

Godey’s Lady’s Book provided some patterns and advice on how to shape and create a hair wreath, but detailed works included the Self-Instructor in the Art of Hair Work published in 1867, and a catalog from the National Artistic Hairwork Company. Shapes were then combined into a U-shaped wreath with the most recently deceased’s hair having a place of honor in the middle of the wreath. This is why wreaths may have a difference in hair colors and textures.

Family with Different Hair Colors
Different Colored "Petals"
A family hair wreath was a way of telling about the family and its history; the same way a family tree indicates who members of a certain family are and their relationships, today.

Smaller Hair Wreath
The open-end at the top of the wreath symbolized the deceased’s ascent to heaven. Wreaths were then placed in shadow boxes and displayed with the open end up, like a horseshoe.
Large Hair Wreath

Not all hair wreaths were for mourning. Churches, schools and other groups might make a hair wreath from the current congregation or school. Everyone would contribute hair to be woven into the wreath shape.

Hair Memento
Bell Jar Sculpture
Hair could be made into small shapes and sent to families who lived far away as a memento of a recently deceased loved one.

It also could be crafted into three-dimensional sculpture and covered with a glass dome to set upon a parlor table.

In the early 1900s hair jewelry could be purchased through Sears and Roebuck Catalog. Today, hair wreaths can be found at auctions and estate sales. The value of hair wreaths continues to increase, with prices anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars depending on the size and condition.

Tony Kendall, Owner
In the small resort town of French Lick, Indiana there is a very unique museum: Body Reflections and Antique Hair Museum This collection of antique hair items, including hair wreaths, were collected by salon owner Tony Kendall who started displaying his collection of vintage razors, permanent-wave machines and hair art in his beauty salon - Body Reflections.

Displays at Leila's Hair Museum
Leila’s Hair Museum in Independence, Missouri is the only official hair museum in the world. 
Leila Cohoom

Owner Leila Cohoon, a hairdresser,  bought her first piece in 1952, and that's how the collection began. Today, the museum boasts of over 600 hair wreaths and over 2,000 pieces of jewelry, all crafted from hair.

Hair Loops
Intricate Details
Regardless of how we view the art of mourning hair wreaths and hair jewelry today, it was a way for our ancestors to keep a piece of their loved ones close in an era when remembering was all that mattered because You are never really gone, as long as you are remembered”.

~ Joy

Friday, June 13, 2014

In Memory of Anne Frank - 85 Years After Her BIrth

Anne Frank
Eighty-five years ago yesterday, Annelies Marie "Anne" Frank was born.
Anne won our hearts through the teenage journal she kept during WW II that was later made into a book, The Diary of a Young Girl.

Anne was born June 12, 1929 in Frankfurt, Germany to a Jewish couple, Otto Frank and his wife Edith. In 1933, Ann’s family moved to Amsterdam; the same year the Nazis took over Germany.

Nazi Germany
Adolph Hitler
By 1940 Europe had changed: Adolph Hitler was dictator and Jews were being “removed” from society. Anne and her family were trapped in the Netherlands along with thousands of other Jewish families. In 1942 when Anne’s older sister Margot received orders to report to a work camp, the Franks went into hiding.

Bookcase The Hid Doorway to Annex
Inside Secret Annex
The family hid in what was called the “Secret Annex” with another family, the Van Pels; two small rooms located on the second floor of a building that had housed her father’s former business. A ladder to the attic offered them a chance to get up on the roof and take in fresh air at night.

Nazis Occupation
As a teenager during the war years, Anne wrote about her life, her family’s struggles, and their experiences while hiding from the Nazis during the German occupation.

Peter van Pels
She shared her problems about dealing with her mother, the gradual understanding that developed between her and her older sister, her feelings of irritation toward the other family sharing their secret rooms, and her infatuation, and first kiss with Peter van Pels.

Anne Writing
It was during this time that Anne realized she wanted to be a journalist. Her entry on Wednesday, April 5, 1944 stated in part: “When I write I can shake off all my cares. My sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived! But, and that's a big question, will I ever be able to write something great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer?”


Concentration Camp
Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp
In August 1944, the Frank family was betrayed to the Nazis, taken to a concentration camp and sentenced to hard labor. After arriving at the camp, half the passengers were taken directly to the gas chambers. Anne and her sister were spared because they were young and could work. The Frank sisters were forced to haul rocks and dig holes along with hundreds of other women and girls.

Anne Frank
Margot Frank
Anne, and her sister Margot, died of typhus in March 1945 at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp; victims of the Holocaust. Anne was 15-years-old. Just a few weeks later, on April 15, the camp was liberated by Allied troops.

Otto Frank
1st Edition in Dutch
The story could have ended there but Anne’s father, Otto Frank, (the only member of the family to survive) was given her notes retrieved by family friends from the secret annex. Moved by her wishes to become a published journalist, her father used her original diary and her edited version to create her book. The diary, and book, chronicles her life from June 12, 1942 (her 13th birthday) to August 1, 1944.

Due to Otto Frank’s devoted efforts, Anne’s diary was published in the Netherlands in 1947. Soon after, the book was released in Germany and France, with publication in Britain and the U.S. in 1952. The world learned of what had happened to so many millions of people – through the voice of one young girl.

Anne’s personal thoughts and unguarded words about life, war, suffering, and social persecution under the Nazis regime has touched generations and made those injustices come alive as few others could.

In a passage in Anne’s diary she states, “I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I've never met. I want to go on living even after my death!”

And, indeed she has. Her words and her legacy live on - 69 years later …

~ Joy