Modern Funerals in 1896

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It is popularly supposed that sextons and undertakers object to those old fashioned titles and prefer to be termed funeral directors. According to several of the best known undertakers in this city with whom an Eagle reporter talked yesterday, this popular supposition is an error. it is only the sextons and undertakers of small towns, alluded to by their city cousins rather slightingly as countrymen, who insist on the dignity of the term funeral director. The business of conducting a funeral in up to date style becomes more and more complicated every day.

It is expected by the afflicted family that the man who is to take charge of the last rites shall not intrude himself, that he shall have an intuition of the wishes of the family, however singular they may be, and that every part of the function shall be smoothly performed. He is often the recipient of family secrets and in this particular he ranks next to the family physician. The practice of embalming is, the undertakers say, growing more in favor daily, and this has led to a growing demand that a bill shall be introduced in the legislature requiring examinations to be held in order to learn who are best fitted to properly embalm. There is in some states such a law, but there is none having this requisite in New York. It is a common complaint among undertakers that coachman can learn the process of embalming scientifically and start in business to the detriment of those who have spent much time and money to fit themselves for the service.

It is an old saying that it costs less to live than it does to die, and in these luxurious days the axiom is more in evidence than ever before. not many years ago cherry coffins were used to encase the dead; now coffins are very largely done away with and caskets are used. The former is tapered at the head and foot, while the latter has straight lines. More than the shape, however, is the way in which the caskets are made. Some are of solid oak and others are of mahogany and they are hand carved, sand papered and varnished. Antique designs in carving are most favored. Then there are caskets covered with cloth or silk plush. It was not so long ago that the covering of a casket was uniformly of black, now it is preferably of some rich, solid color. The tints most selected are coachman's drab, Steel gray, silver gray and ashes of roses. As a matter of fact there are many other shades used. When the casket is to be covered with plush or cloth the body of the coffin is made of red cedar or solid oak.

As to expense in the selection of a casket it may be bought for any price from $75 to $400. Probably $150 is the price most frequently paid.

The band carved caskets range from $150 to $400 and the cloth covered ones from $75 to $350. Then there is to be reckoned in, in estimating for the cost of a modern funeral, the carriage hire. This has, in this city of cemeteries, a fixed rate. For one carriage to Greenwood cemetery from any part of the city the rate is $5, to the cemetery of the Evergreens, $5.50, and to Calvary cemetery, $6. Funeral plots in the cemetery vary in price. A thousand dollars is often paid, but for the average family, that buys one grave, the price in Greenwood is $31, in other cemeteries from $10 to $20. There is usually a steady rise in price as the cemetery grows in years, owing largely to the improvements made and the consequent growing demand for space.

An expense not often thought of by the inexperienced in the matter of funerals is the singing at the services. It is often supposed, when the matter is thought of at all, that those who sing at the church or at the private residence of afflicted families, volunteer their services. That is true in small communities, but it is not true in such a large city as Brooklyn. If the deceased person has been a member of a church it is the choir or some of the members of that choir, who are present at the last services. That is one of the reasons why funeral services are more rarely held on a Sunday than was formerly the case. The singers receive various prices for their services, but it seldom falls below $10 for each singer and sometimes each receives $75. The singers, in fact, expect to be paid just as does the undertaker.

Taken altogether a modern funeral, therefore, may cost $1,000 and it may cost a great deal less than that. Undertakers, like doctors, do not always get rich. They often bury bodies for poor persons and charge barely the cost. Such acts of charity are seldom mentioned by them and never in a spirit of boasting.



Website: The History
Article Name: Modern Funerals in 1896
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


The Brooklyn Eagle October 11, 1896
Time & Date Stamp: