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January 28, 2010

The solemn procession to the grave reaches its greatest expression of sorrow and respect through the dignity of horse-drawn carriages.



Ride the History Hare

The Horse Drawn Hearse In History From The Beginning To “The Very End.� Today, the word hearse conjures up a vision of a long black automobile used to deliver the newly departed to the service and then on to the final resting place. But, it has not always been so. The word hearse is derived from the Latin term Hirpex meaning rake. Ancient rakes were triangular objects, having three bars running across, into which the tynes or teeth were fixed. The ecclesiastical use of the term rake, or hearse, was applied to a temporary canopy of timber, decorated with a profusion of tapers, and draped with hangings and banners bearing heraldic and religious ornaments placed over the body while the funeral rites were being performed.


As burying grounds moved further away from the church, this hearse was fitted with wheels. It was a natural progression that the hearse became large enough to bear the coffin or body as well.

It was, and is still by the people of the glens, considered derogatory for a highlander to be carried in a hearse. It is by the hands of "his people," "shoulder high," that they feel a sad pride and consolation to render their last services to the dead. Colonial Americans were most often transported to their final resting places in carts and farm wagons. Mourners, dressed in black, walked behind the horse drawn cart. This procession to the place of internment moved slowly, deliberately so. Some colonial communities acquired a black painted wagon specifically for the purpose of burial transportation. The wagon was shared by all. It was plain, devoid of ornamentation and utilitarian in purpose. The typical hearse of the late 1700s had open sides trimmed in black and was pulled by a single horse. The coffin was visible through fringed drapes. The hearse was usually owned by the local livery stable and rented to the local undertakers, along with the drivers and carriages for the bereaved.

Left: Among the variety of carriages offered by A. J. Young for hire was a variety of carriages for the funeral trade. Hearses, Mourning Coaches, Shillabiers, or Coach Hearses and the obligatory team of black horses.

Right: H. B. Buffinton could attend to all your carriage needs at short notice.


About 1850, the appearance of the horse drawn hearse began to change. They were larger and considerably more ornate. They had glass side and rear windows, often in the shape of an oval, as seen in the W. H. Harris advertisement on the opposite page. No well appointed hearse was complete without the black plumes that graced the top of the carriage. A persons始 station in life was reflected in the number of plumes that waved in the wind from the crown of the hearse upon their death. Eight plumes were the mark of a wealthy person. The processionals of the poor were marked by a single plume or perhaps none at all.


The hearse of President Abraham Lincoln

This procession to the cemetery was marked by certain rules of etiquette. Exactly one hour after the time set for the funeral the funeral procession was to leave the home of the deceased. Young male and female friends generally walked behind the hearse and coffin to its final resting place. The carriage containing the clergyman preceded the hearse. The carriage immediately following the hearse contained the nearest relatives, the following carriages were those more remote in relationship. Sometimes the private carriage of the deceased was placed in the procession, empty, immediately behind the hearse.

The hearse in advertising.

The Funeral Coach in the Advertising Procession Following in the procession of advertising of undertakers, cemeteries and vault owners comes that of the funeral coach. In New York newspapers a cooperative advertising campaign has been started for the funeral coach by the New York Coach Owners' Association. The general appeal that is being made in this latest of funeral advertising can be readily perceived from a reading of one of the first advertisements, which was as follows: "The Last Tribute a Cortege of Coaches "The solemn procession to the grave reaches its greatest expression of sorrow and respect through the dignity of horse-drawn carriages. "One thousand superior coaches are available at short notice, whose drivers you can rely on for trustworthy attentiveness and understanding. "Your Undertaker can supply this exclusive equipment on request at a nominal charge consistent with good service." New York : Printers' Ink Pub. Co., 1888. Edition/Format: Journal, magazine : Periodical : English


Following the Civil War, there were significant changes to the style of the hearse about every fifteen years. "The up-to-date hearse of the 1870s had a rather delicate ovalshaped body with curved glass, called a 'Clarence front' at both the front and rear. The driver's seat was now separate from the body, set on a gooseneck frame, with tall carriage lamps on each side. The roof was ornamented with decorative rails and carved wooden urns. The driver, in his stovepipe hat and swallowtail coat, drove a matched team of black horses draped with black netting for maximum depressing effect. It was the age of gloom, in American funeral practices." In the mid-1880s a new larger rectangular hearse with ornamented roofs appeared. The 1890s found the hearse devoid of roof ornamentation. The center windows were framed with wood imitation drapery panels or heavy fringed tasseled drapes. These carriages rolled on dignified rubber tires and were now called funeral cars. Horse drawn hearses changed little from the 1890s through the first ten years of the new century. In the Automotive Industries Magazine of 1915 the following obituary was written for the horse drawn hearse. Grand Rapids Michigan, July 24 The Michigan Hearse & Motor Company has been organized to succeed the Michigan Hearse & Carriage Company, which has been in business during the last twelve years. As the name indicates the new concern has done away with carriages and horses and will now build motor-driven hearses.



Andrews, William. Curious Church Gleanings. London: Hull, W. Andrews and Company, 1896. “Hearses and Ambulances.” Automotive Industries, July 1915, 215. May, Trevor. The Victorian Undertaker. Oxford: Shire Publishing, 2008. McCall, Robert. American Funeral Vehicles 1883-2003: An Illustrated History. Hudson, Wisconsin: Iconografix, 2003. McKay, John. The Celtic Monthly. Glasgow: Celtic Monthly, 1905. The Mechanics Magazine. London: W. A. Robertson, 1837. The Mechanics Magazine. London: W. A. Robertson, 1860. Stratton, E. M. The New York Coach Makers’ Magazine. 1859-1860. Young, John H. Our Deportment. St. Louis: F. B. Dickerson & Company, 1882.


The Last Ride  
The Last Ride  

The History Of The Horse Drawn Hearse