It’s a bit hard to take a museum seriously when its new exhibit is called “the History of Cremation”. It’s a bit weird to be a big fan of a museum called the National Museum of Funeral History. However, the fact is that I am. NMFH is a bit hidden among the many attractions in the Houston, TX area but exists in a rather residential area north of the city at 415 Barren Springs Drive. On our 2nd visit to an attraction that doesn’t take itself all that seriously, Ruth & I spent much of our time trying to interest a curator in exhibiting the re-created hearse used in the commemoration of Abraham Lincoln’s burial in Springfield, Il a few years ago. It would be very appropriate in a museum that advertises itself as “the place to visit when you are dying to do something different”.
This time our tour of the National Museum of Funeral History began with Presidential burials. There was a lot of information and artifacts about the funerals of famous Presidents like Ronald Reagan and Franklin Delano Roosevelt but also coverage of the final ceremonies for some not-so-famous Presidents like William McKinley and Woodrow Wilson. This area was quite well done but a real time killer. While we browsed it, Ruth and I began talking about our involvement in the remaking of the Lincoln hearse that we have not seen for a few years. Ruth went to get a curator while I revisited this museum’s patented Money Casket and read about the Marsellus casket factory in Syracuse, NY that closed in 2003. I vividly remembered seeing the former but not the latter during our first visit. Both were quite interesting. There were several Marsellus’ caskets to study for those who are curious about this seldom-thought-about-business until something like a coronavirus scare hits. Ruth returned with a woman from the office who showed us a small model of Lincoln’s hearse that was already on display. We had not discovered it, and I was amazed at how accurate it was. This employee seemed interested in possibly displaying the huge re-created Lincoln hearse and promised to look into it.
I headed into a display of many recent celebrity funerals like Valerie Harper’s and was soon playing a game that challenged me to choose the actual words on Mel Blanc’s tombstone. I got it right that the voice of Bugs Bunny has “That’s All Folks” as his epitaph. I enjoyed re-seeing the classic cars used as hearses in the past and the displays of funerals from ancient Egyptian to the present. I was studying a Japanese funeral carriage and being reminded of my favorite exhibit from the past visit when I had learned that this Asian culture holds the most elaborate and expensive funerals in the world. Ruth came by to see if I had found the papal funerals that had not been there the first time we visited. She led me to them, and this exhibit was pretty fascinating.
I later met a man in another tourist spot whose wife had been to the National Museum of Funeral History a couple of times without him. He said he was tempted to go but had not. I assured him that it was worthwhile, and he seemed ready to try it. I hope he did. I’m really glad that I went back to see this unusual museum sponsored by the funeral services industry and dedicated to enlightening us about humanity’s oldest cultural rituals. It’s a soberly run enterprise with lots of new and evolving displays like the one that just opened about George H. W. Bush, who lived in Houston. I can see why this offbeat museum receives awards.