#30 National Museum of Funeral History

My name is Caitlin Lill and I would like to adopt the National Museum of Funeral History.

Hearse at the National Museum of Funeral History (Photograph courtesy of Nancy York)

Hearse at the National Museum of Funeral History (Photograph courtesy of Nancy York)

Tell us a bit more about yourself

I currently live in Champaign, IL with my husband, two cats, St. Bernard, and lizard. I was recently hired as the Associate Director at the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum here in town, where I assist in managing education and fundraising efforts. I’ve worked in and out of museums for almost a decade now, and just finished my MA in museum studies at San Francisco State University.

Tell us a bit more about your adopted museum
The National Museum of Funeral History is located in Houston, Texas, USA. The museum focuses on what they describe as “one of man’s oldest cultural rituals,” and has exhibits about the history of elbalming, presidential funerals, historical coffins and hearses, and a 5,000 sq. ft. exhibit about the lives and deaths of the Popes funded by the Vatican. The museum is open year round (except major holidays), and costs $10 for adults, $9 for seniors and veterans, $7 for children 3-12, and free for kids under 3.

Why have you chosen to adopt this museum?
I visited the NMoFH during a museum conference in Houston. They were hosting a special visit just for conference attendees, and this was the one thing I did just for myself (call it morbid curiosity). The Director talked to us for a while, telling us that only about 10,000 visitors come the museum each year, and despite being a national museum they don’t receive much attention outside of Texas (especially when compared to the other Houston museums). Walking onto the museum floor for the first time was like visiting another world. The collections are incredible, and include things like the hearse that carried Princess Grace, another that carried Presidents Ford and Reagan, and a dozen Ghanan Fantasy Coffins. As the Director said, being the primary collecting museum for a ritual that nearly everyone in the country undertakes at some point means that donations are often of a very high calibre.

Why would you recommend people visit?
When the Director talked to us, she highlighted the fact that death and funeral practices are a taboo subject in the US. We don’t tend to talk about it openly, and certainly not about how funeral practices can be joyous or beautiful. The exhibits and collections of this museum showed that this doesn’t have to be true, and that open discourse about a topic is almost always the most mature approach. Admission to the museum is fairly cheap, especially considering everything that’s included in a visit. The pope exhibit is bilingual in Spanish and English. And more than that, the museum really makes you feel like part of an international community as you explore how your own and other cultures handle death and funerals.

How would you sum up your museum in three words?
Unbelievable collections: Popemobile!

Tags: , ,