Saturday, June 6, 2015

Fun at the National Museum of Funeral History

What a fascinating place! Of course, when I tried to explain to my husband and mom where we went, they both decided our WOTS group has a streak of morbidity running through our inky veins. But seriously, where else would I get a chance to see an ornately crafted hearse or a re-cast of the Pope's ring?

1921 Rockfalls Hearse, hand-carved

re-cast of  Pope Benedict's ring--only one in existence

I didn't realize how large the museum was, but it housed several exhibits, including an impressive array of hearses and an interesting display of unusual coffins/caskets (one was covered in crushed velvet, another in coins--and one was built to accommodate a family of three. Interesting story there). But the most unusual were the ones made in South America.

Horse-drawn hearse for an infant

We started at the exhibit dedicated to the Arlington Cemetery. Our docent, Rob Parker, told us things I hadn't heard before--like did you know that even during hurricanes and other severe weather, the guard will not leave his post?

From there, we went to exhibits pertaining to funerals for Presidents Lincoln, Kennedy, and Reagan. Rob taught us the difference between a casket and a coffin and the difference between lying "in state," "in repose," and "in honor." And did you know that 105 mm canon rounds were shot for the 21-gun salute at President Ford's funeral? These kind of tidbits were priceless.

Then we did some history: Egyptian mummifying, American embalming--which became a necessity during the Civil War, when men who died during the battles were carried back to their own states--and 19th Century mourning practices.

One of the interesting things Rob told us is that the Europeans--and therefore we Americans--are the only ones in the world who mourn in black. Most nations wear white to illustrate mourning, which, he said, made him wonder what they thought of our wedding practices. 

We toured the exhibit of the Pope's funeral, also, which was simply fascinating. Well, all of it was fascinating. If you missed it, you'll just have to go sometime. Far too much to discuss in a blog post. I can't believe what all I have to leave out for the sake of brevity. You simply have to go!

The Pope and the Swiss Guard

Crystal Barnes and the Pharaoh

The attending crew in front of the Rockfalls hearse


By the way, the Storming the Short Story: Dance Edition is now open for business! Get all the information you need "here" and get to writing!


  1. I've forgotten so much of what I learned last time. The museum is a fascinating place and is most certainly not depressing. Wish I could have been there this time.

    1. We missed you, Martha. I wish you had been there.

      I'm ready to go again. I'm afraid I didn't take very good notes, and there was so much fascinating information!

  2. What a blast! Thank you for doing this write-up, Linda!