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Mortuary museum offers unique glimpse into the past

May 25, 2012
By Ashley Rittenhouse ( , The Marietta Times

There are very few places a person can go to learn about the history of funerals through artifacts like ice caskets and 19th century embalming equipment, but these items and more line the walls at the Mortuary Museum at Cawley & Peoples Funeral Home in Marietta.

The museum, opened to the public about eight years ago, is set up inside a building tucked behind the funeral home on Front Street.

The building once served as a garage for the funeral home's hearses, according to Bill Peoples, owner of the Cawley & Peoples Funeral Homes in Barlow, Lowell and Marietta.

Article Photos

Bill Peoples, owner of Cawley & Peoples Funeral Home, opens the door of a hearse in the Mortuary Museum located behind the funeral home in Marietta Thursday. Besides several hearses, there is also embalming equipment, caskets and other funeral-related items displayed in the museum.

Peoples grew up in the funeral home business, with his late father Robert having been a funeral director.

Bill Peoples has been licensed as a funeral director since 1970.

"It's mainly a collection of things from our funeral homes and other ones in the area," Peoples said of the museum. "We pride ourselves on displaying things in a positive fashion and in an informative and educational setting."

Fact Box

Mortuary Museum:

Located at 408 Front St., Marietta, behind the funeral home.

Features hearses, embalming equipment, caskets and other funeral-related items dating back to the 1800s.

Guided tours are given free of charge. Call 373-1111 to make an appointment.

Anyone can go on a guided tour through the museum free of charge, but reservations must be made first by calling 373-1111. Peoples said he doesn't advertise the museum much, but the Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau does spread the word about it. He said there are about three to four requests for tours every week.

"It's great because it's actually a really unique thing. Not every community has something like this," said Lyndsay Offenberger, communications and public relations coordinator at the convention and visitors bureau. "We've had people skeptical about it and once they go they call back and say it was a great experience."

Those who visit the museum are greeted by life-size horse statues in front of an 1895 Sayers & Scovill horse-drawn hearse. Peoples explained that funerals used to be held in the parlor of a family's home and at the conclusion of the funeral an undertaker took the deceased in a horse-drawn hearse to be buried.

Other hearses at the museum include a 1940 Packard, a 1938 Packard and a 1927 Henney.

"I've got two other Packards you see me driving around town a lot - a 1947 and 1948," Peoples noted.

He added that the 1938 Packard is the only one of its kind and was at one time on display at the National Packard Museum in Warren, Ohio.

To go along with the 1927 Henney, there are scripts in the museum autographed by actors Bill Murray and Robert Duvall and actress Sissy Spacek, who starred in the 2010 movie "Get Low." The car was used throughout the movie.

"My wife (Patricia) and I were extras," Peoples said.

Besides the hearses, there are a few different types of caskets in the museum, including ice caskets that include a metal box to hold ice. They were used to display the deceased before embalming became a widespread practice.

There is also a basket-like casket displayed, in which Peoples said a deceased person was placed if he or she could not be properly preserved.

"That's where the phrase basket case comes from," Peoples said.

Other interesting items he has obtained for the museum include smelling salts, once waved under the noses of those who fainted during funerals and a giant hair dryer once used in the embalming process.

"It's just a hobby of mine and I enjoy showing the things I've collected over the years," he said. "The comment we get from people is that they're pleased with how tastefully the things are displayed."



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