- The week before last several members of my widows' group joined a tour to the National Museum of Funeral History. Funeral history? A field trip for widows? Yep, and it was a great experience. The only museum in the country devoted to funerals, this place isn't depressing or ghoulish; it's fascinating.
To start with, we watched a video from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The military men and women who guard the tomb day and night perform a precise ritual--21 steps, stand for 21 seconds, meet and transfer rifles. Those chosen for this prestigious post must promise not to smoke, drink or curse FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES! We learned that during Hurricane Sandy, the guards were dismissed from duty, but refused to leave, standing guard through the storm.
The museum has an amazing collection of hearses. Below is the one used for Princess Diana. We also saw the one that carried both Presidents Ford and Reagan.
There was a Japanese hearse that could have doubled as a carnival wagon, it was so extravagantly decorated. There was a child's hearse (see below) and a funeral "bus" large enough to carry the casket and all the mourners. Unfortunately, something was wrong with the axles and it overturned so it was a once-in-a-lifetime (or death-time) experience.
We saw elaborate caskets, some with bizarre stories. One was a casket made for three. The family's only child died and the parents planed that when the casket was ready, the father would shoot the mother and then kill himself so they could all be buried together. By the time the casket was done, they had changed their minds, never claimed it, and even tried to get their money back. We saw a glass casket (!) and one constructed for a trade show and plastered with coins and bills to get customers' attention--not so they would purchase a casket but so they would pay attention to the finish on it.
We learned about Victorian mourning practices. When a husband died, the widow was supposed to, mourn for three years. The first year she was to wear nothing but black, no color at all; the next two years she could gradually add a little color, but not much. If a wife died, however, the widower was supposed to mourn for only three months!
We saw an exhibit about the life and death of a Pope, one about Egyptian burial practices and one about Lincoln's funeral. On the train carrying his body to Illinois was also the body of his beloved son, Willie, who was removed from his crypt and buried next to his father.
If you're in Houston for the Super Bowl, take an afternoon off and visit the museum. It's fascinating. And if you live in Houston, be sure to drive out to see it. It's one of Houston's unexpected treasures.