Monday, March 9, 2009

"A Funeral Museum at Death’s Door," New York Times

The Museum of Funeral Customs in Springfield, Illinois, is under threat of closure, as documented in an article that ran in yesterday's New York Times.

The museum, founded in 1999 and located just outside the cemetery that houses Abraham Lincoln's much-visited tomb, features (per Wikipedia) "a re-created 1920s embalming room; coffins and funeral paraphernalia from various cultures and times; examples of post-mortem photography; and a scale model of Lincoln's funeral train" in an attempt to document the evolution of the funeral industry in America from the mid 19th century to the present.

Sadly, as the article explains, the museum has never drawn the number of visitors required for the museums survival, despite its tourist-friendly location; the recession has only made things more dire. The Museum of Funeral Customs (which is the second largest funerary history museum in America--the National Museum of Funeral History in Houston is the largest) is now facing a very real possibility of closure; it has recently ceased regular hours and is open by appointment only. The director, Duane Marsh (above, seated on the horse-drawn hearse), is determined to find a way to keep the museum afloat, but it is unclear at this moment how the museum might be saved. I have not heard about any "save the museum" efforts happening; if anyone knows of any such efforts, please let Morbid Anatomy know.

You can read the original story on the New York Times website here and view the New York Times Slideshow (from which all but the bottom image are drawn) here. Another interesting article about the museum's troubles from can be found in a local newspaper here. You can find out more about the museum on Roadside America (here) or Wikipdedia (here). The museum's website seems to have expired and is no longer operational.

Thanks, John Troyer (Death and Dying Practices Associate, Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath) and G. Swett for bringing this story to my attention.

Images: Top photos from the New York Times "Funeral Museum Struggles to Stay Alive" Slideshow, photographed by Kristen Schmid Schurter for The New York Times. Bottom image: Wikipedia Commons


Anonymous said...

Sad news. I wonder what'll happen to the collection?

Anonymous said...

The collection at the Museum of Funeral Customs is really amazing and profound. I was there last spring and met with the former Curator (John Austin) mentioned in the NYT article. The objects in the collection range from obscure texts on embalming to vintage hearses. I despair to imagine the collection being broken up. One of the most important parts of the collection is an archive on Black American funeral directors and the history of funeral directing in African-American communities. The Smithsonian should really have the entire collection in its possession but, alas, that seems far fetched. Everyone should visit the Museum of Funeral Customs.

John Troyer, Ph.D.
Death and Dying Practices Associate
RCUK Fellow
Centre for Death and Dying
University of Bath

LEE said...

I spent some time there last year and it was one of the most interesting places I had ever had the opportunity to visit.

Thanks for alerting us to this!

Back Garage said...

Oh, no! I had the distinct pleasure of visiting the museum in Houston several years ago and have ALWAYS wanted to visit this place -- just haven't had the chance. I'm going to post about this on my blog -- is there a place where people can donate? What is their deficit? I want to help in any way.

JE said...

I agree with you, Back Garage. I will see if I can find out any efforts being made to save the museum and let you know. Perhaps we can spearhead a fundraising campaign.