The National Museum of Funeral History Where They Put the Fun Back In Funeral


 

Authentic mourning clothing on display illustrates the strict rules that governed the life of a woman following her husband's death;  as shown here.

Authentic mourning clothing on display illustrates the strict rules that governed the life of a woman following her husband’s death; as shown here.

This week on The Collectors Show we learn about collecting funeral and mortuary items. To listen to the Collectors Show, go to www.webtalkradio.net or iTunes.

You may recall a few weeks ago I mentioned in the news segment that there were a number of museums that were, non-traditional. The National Museum of Funeral History was one of them and their president is who we will be talking with today. I like to talk with people from museums because most started with a collection that belonged to someone or was inspired by someone and that is again the case this week. We will be talking with Genevieve Keeney who is the president of the National Museum of Funeral History, which is located in Houston, Texas.

When I first read about the museum, I thought it was a Halloween attraction. After all the word, “funeral” has a lot of baggage attached to it. Genevieve said it was like climbing a mountain to get people to recognize that the museum was about honoring deceased loved ones and their memories and not a seasonal attraction. This was and is an ancient tradition. She felt like this was an association she did not want, until about 3 years ago.

The museum did attract more attention during October, so she decided it was O.K. to be associated with Halloween as a way to raise money for charity. So in the name of good works and generosity they now have an annual “haunted house”. According to Genevieve they put the “fun” back in funeral.

The collection started with a Mr. R.L. Waltrip who was the founder and chairman of Service Corporation of America. Service Corp is in the funeral home and cemetery business on a very big scale. While building up his business and buying privately owned funeral homes, their equipment was being discarded. What do you do with an old embalming machine? Mr. Waltrip saw that so much of his industry’s history was literally being thrown out and he was not happy about it. He wanted a place to tell the story about the tradition, science and advancement of his trade. So he founded the museum. Funerals reflect culture and how people celebrate and commemorate the life of their family and friends. We share memories and honor the fact that there is a void left in our lives with the person who is gone. While this is not a traditional collection (like stamps or coins) it is still one that is culturally significant.

Science!

So much of the science associated with funerals deals with chemistry and that chemistry with embalming. The goal is to present loved ones in a way that makes their appearance such that it is a good and last memory for the loved ones. It is part science and part art with little room for error as Genevieve explains.

Two of the most interesting exhibits at the museum deal with the evolution of embalming, starting with the Egyptians. Later, hand pumps, gravity bottles and now machinery inject embalming chemicals into the deceased. Progress marches on.

Hearses, they are not just cars

The hearse collection at the museum starts with the horse drawn hearse, through to the hand cranked first automobiles through to the hearses of today. And big engines? Yes, the engines from the mid-twentieth century were enormous. They have the hoods up so car enthusiasts can look at the motors.

Caskets or Coffins and What is the Difference?

There is a difference and it deals with the shape of the lid. Coffins are contour to the body, wide at the top and narrower at the bottom. Caskets are square and the lid is a single piece that comes off in one piece. Of course now there are combinations or hybrids (my word) of the classic coffin/casket design.

Fantasy from Ghana

These are caskets made to reflect what the person achieved in this life and what they hope to achieve in the next. They look like garden sculptures or part of a ride at an amusement park. They are nothing like what we in the U.S. expect to see at a funeral, but that is not a bad thing, just a culturally different thing. These style caskets are not allowed in churches but are still popular, though services with them have to be outside. There are several of these in the collection.

Saved by the Bells Inside the Coffin

During the 14th and 15th century there was the realization that, whoops, we buried someone alive. Lacking the technology and skill to know that someone was still alive prior to burial, inventors did the next best thing and tied a string was tied to the finger of the deceased. The string was attached to a series of pulleys that rang a bell, when or if the deceased started to move. Hence, the expression “saved by the bell”. No records about how many people were saved exist but it is safe to say enough were mistakenly buried to make it worthwhile.

Events

In addition to the haunted house, there is a fall Dracula event. I do not know about anyone else, but me dressed as Dracula at the museum is going to look really good on my Face Book page. In June, 2015 the Professional Car Society will be there with fire trucks, ambulances, hearses and the ambulance/hearse combination. I’m not sure how I feel about the ambulance hearse combo. I picture someone changing the sign on the car while en-route to the hospital when their passenger does not make it. Yikes.

Stay up to date with everything going on by visiting their page at www.NMSH.org

 

A Collection of Lost Grateful Dead Recordings Are Found


Losing Then Grateful for Finding the Dead

 2015 will mark 50 years of The Grateful Dead. During their 30 year career, the Grateful Dead played 2,300 live shows. Of those about 1,700 were recorded and archived. So who cares, right?

It’s not like the Dead were ever huge chart toppers or hit makers. Name a hit song by the group. See? But the number of top ten hits is not what makes this group special. What does make them more noteworthy than anything else was and is the loyalty of their fans and the groups’ devotion to them in turn. David Meerman Scott wrote a whole book about this, “Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn from the Most Iconic Band in History.”

So in 2013 when Carolyn Garcia (Jerry’s former wife) mentioned that she’d found a small box of reels among Garcia’s belongings, and she read off the labels. David Lemieux, archivist who knows the Dead’s collection better than anyone, instantly recognized that they had struck audio gold. Lemieux had Garcia send the reels to sound engineer Jeffrey Norman, who eventually gave him the good news: these were indeed recordings they didn’t know existed, and better yet, they were from very important eras. Despite the fact that the reel sat for 43 years in less than optimal storage conditions, Lemieux says the sound quality is great — it’s an Owsley Stanley soundboard recording. Even more important, the performance quality is outstanding.

“It’s a show of incredible historical significance,” Lemieux told Rolling Stone, “because it’s the Grateful Dead, but they weren’t billed as the Dead.” The show was promoted as Mickey Hart and the Heartbeats and Bobby Ace and the Cards from the Bottom of the Deck, giving the Dead an extraordinary amount of freedom to do whatever they wanted.

“So they didn’t perform a full three- or four-hour electric psychedelic Grateful Dead concert,” Lemieux said. “They played an acoustic set, and it was a long one.”

The 80-minute show ends with Ron “Pigpen” McKernan playing six songs solo acoustic, sitting on a stool and building his legacy as not only an incredible bluesman, but also an especially adept guitar player.

April of 1970 was what Lemieux – who hates the terms “crossroads” and “reinventing” – describes as a “transitional” time for the Dead. A month before this particular show the band had been in the studio recording Workingman’s Dead, and a little later in the spring and early summer they went back to record American Beauty. Widely considered the Dead’s two classic acoustic albums, those records were a departure from their Sixties sound. “[This is] massively transitional Dead,” he emphasized. Lemieux said that they’ve got a host of new stuff planned for the 50th year Grateful Dead anniversary in 2015, and for the 2014 releases due out this spring. He said there was a show from 1971 in Garcia’s box that’s “really hot” and has no known set list and hinted that he’s been immersed in 1983 and 1984 Dead.

“People are going to be pretty shocked by what’s to come,” he promised. A self-described “vinyl-head,” Lemieux considers the Family Dog show the perfect Record Store Day Release. According to Norman, who still does all the Grateful Dead mastering, the vinyl versions of the shows are “like listening to them in color for the first time.” As an archivist, though, this show is particularly exciting for Lemieux, because it means that come Black Friday fans will be able to hear something no one knew existed six months ago. “It’s very rare, it’s unique, and collectors are going to flip out on it,” he said.

In October, 2013 Rhino Records issued 7,500 vinyl copies of the lost show. A notice on the album cover says, “This rare recording was made on a non-professional machine at low level and contains some tape hiss and other undesirable stuff. Several procedures were employed to clarify the sound, but artifacts may still be heard. However, the music shines through, and the performance is too good not to bring to you.”

 

 

 

Wooden Ski Collection Attracts Global Attention


This story comes from The Minneapolis Star Tribune.

As a collector and historian of wooden skis, Greg Fangel attracts interest from all over the world.

When Greg Fangel started collecting wooden skis, he’d find pairs at garage sales, in thrift stores, in friends’ garages.

His discoveries prompted a horrifying thought.

Greg Fangel stores his extensive ski collection on a wooden rack in his garage.Above: Some of the older skis in Fangel’s collection were manufactured in Norway. These skis date from about 1926.

Greg Fangel stores his extensive ski collection on a wooden rack in his garage.Above: Some of the older skis in Fangel’s collection were manufactured in Norway. These skis date from about 1926.

“What if they get thrown in the garbage?” Fangel said. “I couldn’t let that happen.”

Today, Fangel has roughly 80 pairs of wooden skis, most from the 1960s and 1980s, but some from the 1900s through the 1950s.

The skis are stored in his garage on a specially made wooden rack, 1 foot deep by 18 feet long.

“I would say about 10 pairs are my vintage collectables, another 10 pairs are my cream of the crop that I intend to keep, and the other 60 I’ll sell,” he said. “At my peak, I was selling about 80 pairs a season. Now it’s about 30 to 40 pairs.”

Fangel buys, sells and collects his vintage wooden cross-country skis through his website, http://www.woodenskis.com, which he started in 2002. It’s a hub of information, including wooden ski care, ski-making, ski news (races and other events) and the silent sport’s rich, though largely unknown, history.

“Even before I started the website, I had the urge to preserve the wooden ski era, which, as an avid cross-country skier and someone who likes history, appealed to me very much,” said Fangel, who is also the director of operations for a large construction company. “So I began to acquire pairs of wooden skis here and there.”

In the late 1990s, Fangel was on the board of directors for the North Star Ski Touring Club, the popular Twin Cities-based recreational ski club founded in 1967. One of his duties was overseeing the club’s website. “When I became webmaster, I started to post certain things about wooden skis, because I wanted to preserve the heritage of cross-country skiing,” said Fangel, 63, of White Bear Lake. “Almost like magic, people started e-mailing me from all over the United States and around the world to inquire more about taking care of their wooden skis. It was gradual, but the e-mails kept coming in, and that’s when I eventually got the idea of starting my own site devoted to wooden cross-country skis.”

Setting his own price

When Fangel first started selling wooden skis on his website, he had no idea what to charge for them. “There was no established market, so I had to set the price myself, which was eventually copied by other sellers,” he said, adding that all sale proceeds either go to buying other skis or to skiing charities. “I went by feel early on. People started buying them, so I’d raise the price a little. It sort of went on from there.”

Today a pair of wooden skis cost between $95 and $150, far less than modern fiberglass skis. “The higher-end skis may cost $175, give or take,” said Fangel. “That price is pretty low because the demand just isn’t there to justify a higher price. Fiberglass skis cost way more. For higher quality models you’re talking between $400 and $500.”

Fangel’s affinity for wooden cross-country skis began in 1974, when in his 20s, he purchased his first pair for recreational skiing. In the 1980s, he eventually bought his first pair of fiberglass skis. The differences, he said, were stark. “I was amazed at the difference between the two,” he said. “My wood skis seemed to hold wax better while the fiberglass skis were very fast. I kept my wooden skis even though I started to ski fiberglass more often.”

Beginning in the early 1990s, Fangel’s cross-country skiing morphed from the recreational into the competitive. That’s when he started to train for and routinely participate in marathon events like the annual American Birkebeiner in Hayward, Wis. “I skied my first race, my first Birkie, in 1991,” he said. “That’s when cross-country skiing really became my passion.”

Throughout the years, using both fiberglass and wood, Fangel has skied in more than two dozen competitive long-distance races, including an arduous 90K event in Sweden.

“I did a lot of the competitive stuff in my 40s and early 50s, but now I ski just for the enjoyment of being out there,” he said. “Cross-country skiing is similar to biking for me. I feel free when I’m doing it, totally unencumbered. I can go wherever I want to go and breathe in the fresh, clean air. I love the exercise, but being outside is the main attraction.”

Fangel, who skis with his wife most weekends near Tofte on the North Shore, said it’s gratifying when fellow cross-country skiers ask him about his wooden skis. “People seem to love the beauty of wooden skis,” he said. “They’re definitely conversation starters. There’s that element of being different — and people ask a lot of questions about them. They definitely turn a lot of heads.”

And, as something of a wooden cross-country ski historian, Fangel loves to talk about them. “Every pair has a story,” he said. “I’ve done hours of research on wooden skis. The subject, at least to me, is fascinating.”

Asked if he plans to write a book, Fangel said he isn’t sure. “It’s hard for me to be on a long project that seems almost endless,” he said. “I would love to do it, though. Maybe in the future.”

As for now, Fangel said he’s happy skiing recreationally and running his website, which he calls his labor of love. In fact, word of Fangel’s impressive wooden ski collection has spread outside of cross-country skiing circles, which, he says, occasionally brings him some surprising requests.

“The other day I got a request for a pair of wooden skis, poles and boots from the 1950s, as a prop for an Agatha Christie play at a college in Brainerd,” he said. “I get all kinds of requests, and have for years. I’ve even got one from Ralph Lauren for a window display in New York. Who knew?”

This Week on The Collectors Show Ventriloquist Dummies


This week on The Collectors Show (www.webtalkradio.net) Ventriloquist Dummies is our topics with Lisa Sweasy. Lisa is the curator and director of the Vent Haven Museum (www.venthavenmuseum.com).

With over 800 ventriloquist dummies, and other related items, the Vent Haven is one of the most unique collections and/or museums we have ever spoken to.

Achmed is a dead puppet skeleton terrorist animated by Jeff Dunham, a ventriloquist.

Founder and First Collector

William Shakespeare Burger was the founder of the museum who collected dummies for 50 years. He collected his first in 1910. He retired from his job at a tile company in 1947 and devoted full time to the hobby. How did he get his name? After all the handle “William Shakespeare” is a lot to live up to.

Burger’s father was an actor who did Shakespearean plays. The younger Burger was not a performer or actor but certainly spent a lot of time around the theater. He was a collector to the bones. He kept good records and archives, which so often separates the casual collector from the more serious.

W.S. Burger became friends with a ventriloquist named, “The Great Lester”, who was a successful vent performer. No doubt their friendship did much to fuel the interest in the collecting hobby of Burger.

Burger bought his first dummy, Tommy Baloney, during a business trip to New York in 1910, and the collection took off from there. He was also interested in magic, which another type of performance art, which is solitary, though done for an audience. Sort of like a comedian. Lisa did not think he was a frustrated actor. And there plenty of other collectors like Burger.

Burger was fortunate to collect during a time when so many others could not afford to. And was one of the collectors who documented his items, which really separates people who acquire stuff to those who are really devoted to a hobby.

Contemporary Vent Performers

Jeff Dunham is probably the best known today. He has lots of characters including “Akmed The Dead Terrorist”.

Artists Who Fashion Dummies

There are companies who make puppets who also dummies. Most of the older dummies range in price. But there are no dummies made just to collect. There is no mass produced or “dummy of the month club”.

Annual Convention

Since 1975, Vent Haven has hosted a convention. Over 600 people show up every July for 3 days. Workshops, lectures, open mike and dealers. Classes taught to even people under 18. Of course there is a show for the general public on the last day. The Vent Museum is open May 1 – Sept 30 with tours by appointment only.

Over 800 Dummies Is A Whole Lot of Dummy


This week on The Collector’s Show we meet Lisa Sweasy, Curator/Director of the Vent Haven Museum. Many museums start based on the collection of a single person and that is the case this week.

The Vent (short for ventriloquism) Haven Museum is the only museum of its kind in the world.  It houses more than 800 figures, thousands of photographs, playbills, letters, and an extensive library of vent-related books, some of which date back to the 1700’s.

To hear The Collectors Show go to http://www.webtalkradio.net or iTunes.

Dummies, Funerals, Cryptography, Games and Moist Towelettes In Upcoming Shows


In the next several week we will some incredibly interesting collecting topics on The Collectors Show (www.webtalkradio.net).

The week of January 19, 2015 will feature a collection of ventriliquist dummies, and lot of them. Over 800 dummies in this collection and that is a lot of dummy.

The following week we will meet the president of the National Funeral Museum and learn about the collection of caskets, coffins and what the difference between the two are.

John French from The Moist Towelette Museum will be on The Collectors Show this coming March.

John French from The Moist Towelette Museum will be on The Collectors Show this coming March.

The curator of the National Cryptographic Museum (associated with The National Security Agency) will be with us in mid-February. Followed by a representative from The National Kidney Museum.

Our game inventor friends will be back to discuss collecting prototype board games and then in early March we will be joined by John French who is the Curator of the Moist Towelette Museum in Lansing, Michigan.

Make The Collectors Show on Web Talk Radio appointment podcast listening.

More About Collecting Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments from The Collectors Show


A Hallmark Keepsake replica of the original 12 inch G.I. Joe.

 

This week on The Collectors Show (www.webtalkradio.net) we meet Kevin Dilmore of Hallmark. Kevin was a collector of Hallmark Keepsake ornaments before he was an employee. He is one of so many people we have on the program who take their collecting passion and make it into a full time career.

The thing I really like about these ornaments is that they leverage other collectibles that remind us of a time when we were younger, or a time that was from what we can remember, better. Yoda in a Santa hat or a replica of the original G.I. Joe are just two examples. It looks like this trend will continue as on January 7, 2015 Hallmark and Mattel announced a renewed licensing agreement. According to their press release, the deal, which includes Mattel’s Hot Wheels, Monster High and Ever After High brands, also gives Hallmark the right to make ornaments and plush products with wider distribution in the United States and Canada. Cool!

Nothing really says Merry Christmas quite like Yoda in a Santa Suit.

Nothing really says Merry Christmas quite like Yoda in a Santa Suit.

And unlike so many other manufactured collectibles, these seem to (in some cases) have retained or increased their value. For example, on the Hooked On Hallmark website, (www.hookedonhallmark.com) there are ornaments for sale that list at $599.99 and dozens more that are priced at over $200.00 each. Like with all collectibles, I recommend collecting what you like and leave the profit taking to others or for a time when you REALLY need the money. At our house we own a number of the pricier/older/rare ornaments but they are strictly not for sale.

Background

In 1973, when Hallmark introduced six glass ball ornaments and 12 yarn figures as the first collection of Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments, a new tradition of Christmas decorating was started and a new collectible industry was born. When the first line was introduced, they were unique in design, year-dated and available only for a limited time – innovations in the world of ornaments. Since 1973, Hallmark has introduced more than 8,000 different Keepsake Ornaments and more than 100 ornament series (groups of ornaments that share a specific theme).

Today’s Keepsake Ornaments reflect the way styles, materials, formats and technology have expanded since they first appeared in Hallmark stores. Once a collection of decorated glass balls and yarn figures, Keepsake Ornaments are now made in an array of wood, glass, metal, porcelain, and handcrafted formats, and many feature licensed properties. Technology has also been incorporated into the world of Keepsake Ornaments through light, sound and motion. The one thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the superior craftsmanship and high quality that ensures Keepsake Ornaments will become family heirlooms and cherished collectibles.