Funeral Parlors / Homes
Compiled and Edited by Michael R. Reilly
Last Revised 03/02/2015
A Shared Hearse
August Schraudenbach kept caskets in the south wing of the Merton General Store. This was not a funeral parlor as we think of funeral parlors today.
Funerals used to be conducted from the home. It was not until about 1930 that funeral parlors were used as they are today, for places of service. Sometimes funeral services were held in the church, but just as often the service was said in the home, but never, never in a public place like a furniture store.
When someone died, the family used to prepare the body for burial--embalming was not common until after 1900. Some member of the family went to the furniture store and picked out a casket they wanted to use. Before furniture dealers doubled as undertakers, a local carpenter would build coffins for sale, and all preparation for the funeral was made by the family.
As furniture dealers began supplying the caskets, they also began to help to furnish a hearse for the funerals; to help with arrangements and gradually supplied all of the preparations. Schraudenbach was not an undertaker in the sense of the word. However, he had caskets and one black horse and a friend, Willie Mayhew, of Merton, who had a hearse and a driver for funerals in the area. (Mr. Mayhew did the driving.)
Children stood spellbound with awe and respect, as well they should, when the hearse rolled by. Mr. Mayhew, (Leland's grandfather) commanded respect in his very appearance as he drove the hearse for he wore a high hat and long black coat. He was tall, erect in stature and upheld every inch of respect due the funeral cortege.
There is no record of why this service was discontinued. Evidently Schraudenbach abandoned the casket business before 1900, as Mr. Beckman said when he bought the store in 1904, the "funeral parlor" was filled with outdated inventory, and was used as a storeroom. Mr. Mayhew's diary records: "Apr. 8, 1902 sold the hearse for $125.00. A hearse was really an awesome vehicle--it always reminded me of a king's coach or Cinderella's carriage--gilded, fringed, draped in velvet, with glass sides. What a pity it could be used only for such sad occasions. I can't imagine anyone buying a hearse for any purpose but a funeral cortege, so perhaps there was a funeral business nearby that bought the shared hearse."
Information by Florence Mayhew; printed in "Merton-Lake Keesus Area - A History in Story and Text", published by the Lake Keesus Woman's Club, 1976.
Note: From the above source: Introduction - Did You Know or Do You Remember, How It All Began
6. Before there was bus service in the lake area, Dorothy Carrera used an old hearse to collect the children around Lake Keesus.