Friday, April 25, 2014

Going Out in Style: Hearses Through History

Funeral Coach
In the funeral industry, a hearse is known as a funeral coach. The term hearse (herse) is actually from the 13th century and referred to a type of plow. The word was also used for the triangular form that held candles during religious ceremonies. These “candelabras” were also placed on the top of the coffin as the body was taken to its burial place.

Early History

A bier was the first type of carrying device used to move remains. Made up of a flat wooden form, the body, wrapped in a shroud, or the coffin box was placed upon this framework and carried by hand to the burial place. This framework became known as a hearse: a way to transport the body or coffin.

Bier with Pope John Paul
Biers are still used today but are made of aluminum and have wheels for ease of movement. Also known as a church truck, it is used to move the casket to and from the church or funeral home.  Dignitaries and heads of state are also placed on biers to lie in state before funeral services are held. These hand-carried hearses evolved into horse-drawn wagons during the 17th century.

 19th Century
By the 19th century, wooden hearses were becoming more elaborate with intricately carved flowers, doves and scrolls, and heavy velvet draperies hung on both sides of the carriage.

Crane & Breed Hearse Carriage
Hearses were usually crafted from mahogany wood. In 1850, Crane, Breed & Company of Cincinnati began producing metal caskets. Four years later the company was also building horse-drawn hearses.

Electric Trolleys
In the 1880s, the cities of Baltimore and Chicago each designed trolley funeral cars, which ran on the electric trolley railways. These special trolleys were used to transport a casket, and the mourners out to the cemeteries located at the edge of town.

Early 20th Century
Crane & Breed Auto Hearse
It was not until the beginning of the 20th century and the invention of the motorized vehicle that hearses received a tremendous updating. On May 1, 1908 the General Vehicle Company of New York rolled out the first electric hearse. But by 1909, Crane and Breed had introduced the first motorized mass produced funeral coach called the Auto Hearse.

A Ludlow Hearse
This was also the first year that a totally motorized funeral was held. When Chicago resident Wilfrid A. Pruyn died, H.D. Ludlow, a local ambulance and funeral service, agreed to furnish a motorized hearse. Since Ludlow did not have one, he had one built by the C.A. Coey Auto Livery Company. Coey adapted a horse drawn hearse by placing the framework on the chassis of an opera bus.

1920 Hearse
The 1920’s brought about several changes and adaptions to the motorized hearse. In 1920, hearses were beginning to resemble the passenger limousine that was popular with the well to do.

Side Loading Cadillac
Three-way coaches were introduced near the end of the Roaring 20s. This allowed the casket table to move in order to be loaded and unloaded from either side of the hearse, or through the back door. Since streets were still unpaved, people liked the convenience of being able to load and unload the casket out of the mud.

The 1930’s
Art Carved Hearse
During the Art Deco Movement of the 1930s, art-carved hearses became popular. These hearses featured hand-carved wooden panels that resembled heavily draped curtains and were placed on the side windows for privacy. This style of hearse was made until the late 1940’s.

Landau Style Hearse
In 1938, Sayers and Scovill introduced the landau style of hearse. Landau is a term from the Victorian era, which meant carriage bars that could fold and unfold, opening up part of the carriage to the elements. It was adapted to the motorized vehicle creating a semi-convertible where the rear quarter of the car could be opened up by folding the cover at the landau joints.

Landau S Bar
The funeral industry embraced the look and the leather-backed hearse with its faux landau bar became popular.  Today, the S-shaped landau bars are still visible on many hearses.

World War II
Converted Factory
Funeral coach production was on the increase when WWII broke out and factories were converted for wartime production. By the end of the war, many funeral coach companies had experienced financial losses and were forced to close.

Mid-Twentieth Century
1975 Hearse
After the war, landau and limousine style hearses were both popular. Draperies lost some of their intricate draping and became sleeker and straighter based on the look of airline drapes. During the 1970’S, hearses were downsized due to the gasoline crisis.

Rear Compartment
Until the end of the ‘70s, it was typical for a hearse to be built on combination a chassis, (usually Cadillac) meaning that the professional framework was constructed for use as a hearse or an ambulance. The rear compartment was then fitted to carry either a gurney or casket.  

Van Hearse
Funeral coaches were downsized again at the end of the 1990’s and today some modern fleets, especially in Europe include medium sized vans that have been converted into funeral hearses.

Open Windows
In Europe, the limousine style is preferred with lots of glass and few draperies allowing the windows to be unobscured.

Interior with Features
Landau Style
In the U.S, the landau style is still popular, bearing the trademark leather or vinyl roof with the faux S-shaped bars, and curtains at the windows. The windows may also be frosted or opaque without curtains. Some hearses have skylights, sidewall decorations and track lighting. Current versions are boxy in the rear, resembling a car and van in the styling. The current cost of a hearse is around $100,000.

For more information on hearses, visit Coach Built at and Hearse Works at

So, if you're choosing, what style of hearse would you prefer to take you on for your final ride?

~ Joy

Friday, April 18, 2014

Plans On Track for Lincoln Train and Funeral Re-Enactments

The Funeral Train
Abraham Lincoln
On  April 21, 1865, the train carrying the body of President Abraham Lincoln left Washington in-route to Springfield, Illinois where the president was to be interred. Over 180 stops were made along the way and over 3-million people paid their respects.

The Lincoln Special, as the train was called, took 12 days to reach Illinois’ capitol city covering over 1,600 miles before reaching the end of its journey.

Lincoln's Hat
Next year marks the 150th Anniversary of Lincoln’s death and the running of the Funeral Train. To commemorate the event, a devoted group of Lincolnites from Illinois are planning to re-enactment the train trip, along with a re-enactment of his funeral in the city of Springfield.

Train Plans
The 2015 Lincoln Funeral Train group plans to travel the original train route as part of this tribute tour, in replicas of the steam engine and the Lincoln funeral car. Both are being built from scratch to look just as they did in 1865, complete with accurate car body, interior and exterior finishes and trims, and furniture. (The original car was destroyed by fire in 1911.)

David Klole
David Kloke, a master mechanic and owner of Locomotive Works, LLC in Elgin, Illinois, has built an operating 19th century steam locomotive, which will make the journey from Washington D.C. to Springfield, Illinois.

Building Train
Kloke sees this as a labor of love and has been inspired by Lincoln since he was a child. About 10 years ago, Kloke came up with the idea to reconstruct the funeral route and the funeral train for the 150th Anniversary. Kloke has built the train using his own money.

The first official ride on the reconstructed steam engine, the Leviathan 63, will be in Wellington, Ohio this weekend - April 18 -20, 2014. This fundraiser is the first of several to secure donations for the completion of the Lincoln Funeral Car by next April. If you can't ride the rails but would still like to help, donations may be made to The Historic Railroad Equipment Association and are tax deductible. Visit or mail contributions to:

The Historic Railroad Equipment Association
1325 Spaulding Road
Elgin, IL  60120

Funeral Train Arrives
But the re-enactment is not over once the train pulls into the station on May 2, 2015. Far from it! From there, members of the 2015 Lincoln Funeral Coalition will began a re-enactment of the funeral procession held in that city.

Funeral Hearse
It was May 4, 1865 when Lincoln’s body was taken to Oak Ridge Cemetery and placed in the reception vault to await the construction of his cemetery monument.

Next year, there will be a 3-week event to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of Lincoln’s final arrival back home in Springfield. Beginning on April 14, the day Lincoln was shot while attending the play, “Our American Cousin,”  the program will once again be performed, this time at the Hoogland Center for the Arts in Springfield.

The Lincoln Home
Rees Carillon
A scholarly symposium will begin April 15 with talks being held at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, the Executive Mansion, and the University of Illinois at Springfield.

On Wednesday, April 29, a special concert will be performed on the Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon in Washington Park. And on Friday, May 1st, Civil War military and civilian re-enactors will open their encampments to the pubic.

Lincoln's Funeral
Then on Saturday the 2nd  the funeral train will arrive in town. Once the replicated coffin is unloaded from the train, a hearse procession will travel the same route to 6th and Washington Streets for the opening ceremonies. The day will conclude with civil war-era band concerts and a candlelight vigil to be held throughout the night at Washington and 6th Streets.

The historic procession to the cemetery will be held on Sunday, May 3
Lincoln's Interment
accompanied by re-enactors from around the country. The same eulogy, speeches and salutes will be given once again in Oak Ridge Cemetery, along with the original music played at the ceremony in 1865.

If you would like more information about the events, to take part, or donate, visit the 2015 Lincoln Funeral Coalition’s web page at

What fitting tributes for the man who once said “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”

~ Joy

Friday, April 11, 2014

Remembering the Pets On The Titanic

Today is National Pet Day, and Monday will be the 102nd Anniversary of the Titanic Disaster, which made me wonder: How many pets were on board the Titanic when she sank on April 14, 1912 during her maiden voyage?  The answer, unfortunately, were many …

The Breakup
It was a Sunday night, 11:40 P.M. when the largest and most luxurious ocean liner in the world struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic.  Less than 3 hours later the massive ship disappeared under the icy waters.  Just over a third of the 2,200 passengers and crew were still alive and aboard the half filled lifeboats, or trying to stay alive in the frigid waters. When the Carpathia arrived the next morning to rescue survivors, only 700 remained alive. So what happened to the pets?

Traveling with his dog
At the turn of the 20th century, it was in vogue to travel with a pet – or two, and those well to do traveling on the Titanic were no exception. The fare price for a dog was about half the cost of an adult ticket: about the same amount as for a child’s ticket. Rosters indicated that there were several pets on board when the ship set sail including 12 dogs, the ship’s cat, several roosters and hens, and a canary.

Cat and Kitten
It is interesting to note that the ship’s cat, Jenny had just had kittens on board –but when the ship docked at Southampton before heading out into the Atlantic, Jenny was seen carrying each kitten off the ship. She was then seen leading them away into the city. The sight was enough to make one seaman refuse to set foot on the Titanic, believing that the cat “knew something,” and that the ship was doomed. 

Pet's of the Titanic
Those pets known to have been on board and lost included John Jacob Astor’s Airedale, a King Charles Spaniel, a French Bulldog, a Toy Poodle, a Fox Terrier, an elderly Airedale, and a Chow.

Dogs on the Titanic
Many pets were not taken on deck when the alarm sounded that fateful night because passengers thought it was a drill. Some of the pets were sleeping in their master’s quarters; others were being cared for in the kennel area. Few passengers had the foresight to retrieve their pets before the sinking. Unfortunately, most of the animals were left below board to fend for themselves. It was said that as the ship began to sink, someone went to the kennels and released all of the animals in an attempt to allow them to save themselves.

Permit to Inter William Dulles
Crossing records indicated that attorney William Crothers Dulles was traveling with his dog. Both went down with the ship.

Ann Isham
There was also a rumor that Ann Isham was traveling with a large dog, possibly a Great Dane. When she was told she could not get in the lifeboat with her dog because he was too big, she refused to go. A German liner later reported seeing the bodies of a woman and a large dog floating together after the disaster.

Sun-Yat Sen
Three dogs and the canary were said to have survived the sinking. One was a Pekingese named Sun-Yat Sen owned by Henry Sleeper Harper of the Harper and Row Publishing Company. Harper and Sun-Yat survived, along with his wife, Myra by getting into Lifeboat 3.

Margaret B Hays
Lady, a Pomeranian pup survived along with her owner, Margaret Bechstein Hays in Lifeboat 7. Hays had purchased Lady in Paris and was taking her home to New York City. Lady was wrapped in a blanket and the crew allowed Hays to board the lifeboat with her, thinking it was a baby. From then on, Hays took Lady everywhere with her, even the opera. Lady died in 1920 and was cremated.

Elizabeth B. Rothschild
The third dog to survive was another Pomeranian owned by Elizabeth Barrett Rothschild who hid the dog in her coat when she boarded Lifeboat 6. When the captain of the Carpathia refused to allow the dogs to board his ship, Mrs. Rothschild refused to leave the lifeboat. The captain acquiesced and both were hauled on board. Unfortunately the dog was attacked and killed by a larger dog only a few weeks later.

Rigel ?
And there was the story of a Newfoundland named Rigel, supposedly the pet of First Officer William Murdoch (who went down with the ship) that managed to survive in the water and alerted the crew of the Carpathia where some of the lifeboats were by barking.  Rigel was taken aboard the rescuing ship and adopted by a crewman.

Newspaper Article About Rigel
The story was told by Carpathia crew member Jonas Briggs to a news reporter in New York, but the problem was that there was no Jonas Briggs on the Carpathia’s crew roster, and no survivors reported seeing or hearing the black New Foundland that supposedly saved them. But readers took the story to heart, regardless of the facts, because it provided a ray of hope that those surviving, and those reading about it needed in the face of such a tragedy.

Remembering Those Lost at Sea
Recovering Remains
Recovery ships found 340 bodies floating on the ocean, but only 209 remains could be delivered to Halifax. The other 128 were too badly decomposed to be retrieved. They were buried at sea. Of all the animals that had died, none were taken back to shore for burial.

~ Joy