One of the greatest, oddest museums in the South is *ahem* buried in the suburbs of Houston, Texas.
The National Museum of Funeral History has been offering funeral history enthusiasts the chance to learn about the difference between caskets and coffins, brush up on hearses through history, and learn about funeral rites through the ages.
The museum was opened in 1992, the culmination of founder Robert L. Waltrip’s 25-year dream to create “an institution to educate the public and preserve the heritage of death care,” according to the museum’s website. Its first major exhibition was a display of historical hearses, which can still be seen at the museum today.
These days thousands of visitors come each year to peruse the museum’s permanent collection, which includes features on the history of embalming and its importance during the Civil War, an exhibit on 19th century mourning rituals, and a look at the so-called “Rolls Royce of caskets,” created by the Marsellus Casket Company. There are also displays about the lives and, naturally, deaths of the popes, a trip down memory lane courtesy of the story of presidential funerals, and somber remembrances of fallen soldiers and the heroes who died during the attacks of 9/11.
It’s not just Southern or even American funeral history on display, either. There’s a collection of brightly-colored coffins from Ghana, stories about Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico, and lessons on Japanese funeral rites. This year, in addition to its permanent collection, visitors to the museum can see special exhibitions on both “America’s Favorite Cowboy” Roy Rogers and the history of cremation, which certainly sounds like fun for the whole family.
Like many modern museums, the NMFH also offers online resources. While the Smithsonian and the Country Music Hall of Fame have historical facts and educational resources available on their websites, the NMFH offers a plethora of “obituary and eulogy writing” tips.
The entire museum can be rented for events, too. So if you’re looking for a place to hold your next fundraiser, wedding, or Sweet Sixteen party, keep the National Museum of Funeral Homes in mind.
And, yes, they do have a gift shop. It’s full of items like books recounting the funerals of the famous, skull shot glasses, ornaments that wish you “Merry Christmas from Heaven,” and mugs emblazoned with the museum’s catchy motto: “Any day above ground is a good one.”