Thursday, October 16, 2003

Museum to chronicle history of funerals

The Associated Press

FLETCHER, Ohio - When Bart and Roxanne Shively bought a funeral home two years ago, the purchase included hundreds of casket handles, burial garments and other items previous owners collected over the past century.

So the couple decided to open a museum devoted to the history of funerals.

"We just thought it would be interesting for some people in the area to reflect back on how the funeral service has evolved," Bart Shively said.

The museum will be housed in the Suber-Shively Funeral Home in this western Ohio village about 35 miles north of Dayton. Admission will be free, and the couple hope to open it by the end of next summer.

While such a museum is unusual, it is not unique.

The operator of Lafferty Funeral Home in West Union, Ohio, opened a similar museum in 1994.

The museum, which sits next to the funeral home, houses items collected over the past 155 years, including funeral carriages, caskets and old embalming equipment.

Funeral home owner John Lafferty said the museum is an educational tool often visited by history classes.

The National Museum of Funeral History in Houston, founded in 1992, houses funeral-related artifacts from around the world.

The Shivelys plan to display a wicker body basket used to transport corpses and a child's coffin with a viewing window.

Decorative casket handles, fraternal emblems, casket linings, burial clothing and personalized silver-plated coffin plaques with endearments such as "Mother," "Father" and "Our Darling" are also in the collection.

Roxanne Shively said there are hundreds of items.

"We are just beginning to find all of the things," she said.

Bart Shively said 100 years ago undertakers often had other jobs, such as selling furniture or making cabinets.

Shively said he hopes the museum will help educate the public that funerals can be more personalized.

"We've sterilized the funeral service to save on the grieving process of the family," he said. "And what we've done is take away from the grieving process."

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