Friday, May 28, 2010

Hearse Evolution

The hearse has evolved from the simple hand-cart or ox-cart which moved bodies to the graveyard or charnel house in centuries past. It was not originally used in a ceremonial fashion, but was a necessary function of cleaning up the city, especially during the Great Plague.

The hearse eventually evolved into an elaborately decorated carriage which gave a funeral procession some gravity and the deceased some sense of notoriety. In most cases it was the most luxurious vehicle that the deceased would have ever traveled in. Of course, the early versions were horse drawn carriages with decorations that migrated from the carriage to the horses and drivers themselves.


When the automobile entered the scene, the carriage style remained the same, but with a driver and engine stuck on the front. This 1919 Sayers and Scovill Hearse was built by the S&S Coach Company. This company has a history that dates back to 1876 and continues into modern times as a manufacturer of hearses and limousines. This 1919 Sayers & Scovill Hearse has a carrying compartment that is completely hand carved. This car has been restored to its original condition after having traveled only 19,000 miles while the car was in service.

Luxury and style were paramount. Many were over the top when it came to making an impression on the attending mourners.

Here's an odd one. This 1941 Cadillac cathedral window hearse is one of the ONLY surviving J.C. Little built hearses in existence. John Little built his coaches out of a small shop in Ontario, Canada.

From my own archive, I have some old copy negatives from a funeral home in central Canada. The hearses in the photos evolved as did the family cars of the day.

 ca 1910 -- Winnipeg, Manitoba
ca 1940's  -- Winnipeg, Manitoba
ca 1954  --  Winnipeg, Manitoba

I also bought a pair of great car models of the classic North American designs of the 20th century. A Cadillac hearse from 1938 and another Caddie from around 1950. Lots of fun. Complete with little empty caskets and the folding casket truck they ride on. The hood and all doors open. From a low camera angle, the car can be made to look fairly convincing.

A contemporary British funeral coach fleet may look like this:

....but may still offer a traditional horse drawn hearse like this:

In Japan, the Tokyo-style hearse with a Buddhist-style temple-back is one of the many local types of funeral coaches used today.

A fun website which shows how a horse-drawn carriage hearse is built as a working and accurate Halloween prop, is HERE.  Other great Hearse sites include: The Classic Hearse Register, Bennett Funeral Coaches (photo album), and a seven page article on How Stuff Works.  A good collection of hearse photos can be found HERE.

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