Friday, July 25, 2014

Traveling West Virginia: The Mortuary Museum Hearses

Maybe it sounds morbid, but when I stumbled on a mention of the Peoples Mortuary Museum in Marietta, OH, I was fascinated. Really? What might they have on display? Would they have the answer to my burning question about the use of formaldehyde for embalming in 1906? I found the number, called, and set up an appointment to visit within a few minutes.

The museum is run by Bill Peoples of the Cawley & Peoples Funeral Home in Marietta, right on historic Front Street. An appointment is necessary because Mr. Peoples conducts the tours himself, so the time needs to fit with his work schedule. It is really his private collection that he has opened for public viewing, and what a collection it is.

Before going inside, we had a picnic lunch in a little park on the banks of the Muskingum River, directly across from the funeral home. It was perfect day for it. We'd packed my vintage wood picnic basket in the morning with ham, tomatoes, bread, peaches, lemonade and bananas. You know, I got the basket out early in the spring, anticipating opportunities for picnics this season but we've never taken time to pack it. That needs to change; it was a far better lunch than any fast food place could provide, a lot less expensive and to be able to eat in such lovely surroundings...well, it can't be beat.

We met Mr. Peoples at our scheduled time and he led us to a building located behind the funeral home. Inside, one of the first things we saw was a movie poster and promotional materials for the movie "Get Low", starring Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray. Bill explained that one of his antique hearses was the main vehicle in the movie--

and then there it was, right in front of us, a 1927 Henney hearse, built on a Packard.

Director's chairs, scrolling poster and other memorabilia given
to Mr. Peoples by the studio.
In the movie, this hearse is seen in scene after scene; one of the best is when Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, and Lucas Black are all three packed into the front seat. The hearse in earlier times was also used as an ambulance, as was this one. It has a built-in siren, and Mr. Peoples said that several scenes had to be re-shot because Bill Murray could not resist blowing the siren. I can just imagine it! The movie company had Bill Peoples on site for 6 weeks while the movie was being filmed and some of his family played as extras. Mr. Peoples had copies of the movie for sale so we bought one and watched it last night. It was excellent, great story line, strong acting, and the car!

There were two other hearses in the museum, both Packards and both incredibly beautiful. I thought what a shame it was that those who got to ride in it were in no condition to enjoy the luxury of their surroundings.

This vehicle is one-of-a-kind, a Packard with a custom windshield, 3 roof options, and a finely detailed interior. It was a prototype designed by a funeral director who took it to a hearse manufacturer in hopes that it would become one of their model line. The manufacturer was under contract with Cadillac, I believe, and could not take on this design. Mr. Peoples became its owner through an odd series of events, and it is certainly a showpiece.
 The interior even had cathedral windows!
 And of course, prior to the automobile there was the horse-drawn hearse. I wish I had some photos of the intricately carved wood panels on this and on some of the other hearses. The workmanship is remarkable.

More from the museum in my next post.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.
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