Odd, a little strange, and verging on just plain weird, Houston's National Museum of Funeral History offers plenty to see -- and plenty to talk about...
It's one of the last places you want to visit - the funeral home that is. But there is a rather odd and special museum in Houston that offers an interesting look into the past history of a profession that rarely gets the credit it deserves for the public service it provides.
Okay, perhaps it does seem a little strange at face value, perhaps a little dark or morbid. But one visit to the National Museum of Funeral History in the Space City and you'll understand this institution is serious about honoring those in the funeral industry who have paved the way for our proper burials - past and future. After all, where we would be without them?
With a national slogan like "Every day above ground is a good day," you can appreciate the rather odd sense of humor traditionally associated with the generally stoic individuals of the funeral industry. We have portrayed them in the movies as carrying around tape measures and sizing up just about everyone in town for future business. We honor them in our communities as rather quiet, caring individuals who are always available, night or day, to lend a hand at a difficult family time.
But in truth, most of us know very little about the rich history of the industry and how it has evolved from wrapping mummies in the Egyptian desert to the sophistication of modern day funeral services.
With over 20,000 square feet of exhibition space, the National Museum of Funeral History is the largest educational center on funeral heritage in the United States - perhaps the world.
Where else could you see an exhibit on Civil War embalming, or view a circa 1900 exhibit that shows how caskets were once made? The museum even sports a Hall of Fame section honoring the individuals who have significantly contributed to the industry down through the years.
A 1921 Rock Falls motorized hearse graces the museum exhibit area, an intricately made 19-foot hearse made of several types of fine woods. The historic hearse looks more like a piece of art than a last ride to the cemetery. This restored hearse exemplifies the elegance of craftsmanship among hearse builders of the 1900's.
On display at the Museum are 12 coffins carved to resemble forms ranging from animals to objects representative of the life of the deceased. The exhibition, presented in "A Life Well Lived: Fantasy Coffins of Kane Quaye" are coffins of a KLM Airliner, a Mercedes Benz, a Fish, a Fishing Canoe, a Leopard, a Chicken, a Bull, a Crab, a fish Eagle, a Lobster, a Shallot, and a Yamaha Outboard Motor.
These brightly colored and intricately designed wooden coffins were crafted by the Ghanaian sculptor Kane Quaye, also known as Seth Kane Kwe, in his homeland and by members of his workshop in Accra, Ghana. Each of the coffins is designed to capture the essence of the departed - be it a character trait, an occupation, or a symbol of one's standing in the community.
Quaye began crafting these "Fantasy Coffins" more than 30 years ago at his dying uncle's request for a special coffin. Because his uncle was a fisherman, Kane built him a coffin in the shape of a fishing canoe. Following the highly favorable response of the local community to his coffins, Kane opened his own workshop to produce personalized coffins, a craft he elevated into high art.
Pictured on the right are examples of the finely crafted caskets made in Africa. The unique designs are limited only by the imagination of those having them made. Coffins carved like wild animals, airliners, cars, footballs, tools, etc., and have been made and shipped worldwide.
The National Museum of Funeral History
415 Barren Springs Drive
Houston, TX 77090