Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Peoples Mortuary Museum--Get Low Movie

Fairlea, West Virginia
West Virginia State Fairgrounds
Site #28

This morning we debated on whether to stay an additional day or head down the highway.  We both decided we had enough things left to see that we'd need a couple of days. Since it was a beautiful day we'd head down the road and when we come back, we'll still have a lot to do and see.  

We left the banks of the Muskingun River and headed down Ohio Route 7 only to see a policeman in the middle of the road.  He made everyone u-turn because there was a plant explosion ahead.  No problem, we'll cross the Ohio River and just do the interstates today.  We took I 77 (the West Virginia turnpike) to I 64. This was our first toll road and cost us $5.00.  Normally we enjoy taking the red map roads (back roads) but the back roads of West Virginia aren't like other state back roads. This state has some real mountain paths aka roads.  

We are currently at the State Fairgrounds outside of Lewisburg, WV.  There are three other RV's here, but we have to be out before the weekend, due to a large group coming in.  $25.00 per night for full hook ups and wi fi.  It's strange because it's very quiet and we haven't heard any planes or trains.  We didn't realize that they also had 50 amp service along the fences, but it's not that hot so we decided to stay where we are rather than move.

Enough about today......I can't wait to tell you about our visit to the Peoples Mortuary Museum yesterday in Marietta, Ohio.

According to a brochure "Behind the stately Marietta Chapel of Cawley & Peoples Funeral Home, and tucked away in an unassuming building along the alley-way is a museum which exhibits one of the most interesting of cultural rituals.  The Peoples Mortuary Museum highlights the history around honoring the passing of a loved one."
This is the outside of the museum, but wait until you go inside.  

Bill Peoples introduced himself and we signed the guest book before entering.  Did you notice I didn't mention anything about an admission fee?  It was free, not even a donation jar.  
Bill is standing next to a photo of Don Knotts who is from Morgantown, WV and is his cousin.  

When we stepped through the threshold I couldn't believe the place.  Bill had told us about being involved with the movie, Get Low, as we were walking across the alley but I didn't think too much about it since we'd never heard about it.  
These photos were moving vertically resembling movie film.  The largest photo is Bill Murray and Bill Peoples.  It was difficult to get photos of it with it moving.  
Here's some more movie photos from Get Low with Robert Duvall and Bill Murray.
This was a portable embalming table that was folded up when the funerals were held at home.  I'm sorry I forgot the dates it was used, but it was very old.  They put the netting over the body to keep the flies off. 
This was another old table that also folded up.  
This was a death mask. Now, this is what you expected to see in this museum, right?  Do you recognize the person in the photo?
Well, would you expect to see this 1895 horse drawn hearse?  This hearse was hand carved and completely restored.  It had curved ends which could accomodate a present day casket.
And here is the movie star.....a 1927 Henney Hearse which was used in the movie.  Bill told us they filmed in Atlanta, Georgia over a period of about 6 weeks.  As part of his contract to use the hearse in the movie, he was required to be with the car the whole time they were filming, but after seeing the love in his eyes when he talked about the car, I'm sure that wasn't a problem.  

Bill said they put red clay on the car to make it look dirty. He said Robert Duval didn't know how to double clutch so Bill rode in the back on the floor telling him when to shift. When the car was returned there were  some scratches on it.  The movie company paid $49,000 to restore the Henney to it's pre-movie condition.  

Sissy Spacek was also in the movie and Bill learned that she was a special lady and that they have the same birthday.  We must find a copy of that movie.
Bill also told us that Robert Duvall and Bill Murray had to wear heavy coats for a scene and it was all they could do to get both in the front seat while they were wearing them. 

 Bill mentioned that when they were restoring the car, it had many coats of paint but when all the paint was removed from the steering wheel it had a beautiful wooden grain.  
Needless to say, this car has also won awards at car shows.
This hearse would also have been used as an ambulance/funeral car.  The top rack is for the flowers and the casket would be on the bottom.  
This is a Packard which I believe is a 1940 Hearse.  
It had a cathedral interior which was beautiful. 
 Now back to some funeral memorabilia which are more embalming tables and some signage.
Bill also told us about all the historically different ways they embalmed.  The infant casket to the left was ordered in 1941 and never paid for.  The casket company donated it to Bill.  
This was another small child casket that would be reused and the body removed for burial.

This must be the 1938 Packard Art-Carved Hearse.

This is what I expected to see in the museum.
Here's a basket style infant casket used for display at home.
I think this is the 1940 Packard Hearse.  My Bill, was taking the photos, so not sure what order he was taking them in. 
Bill did say that they use these Packard Hearse's for funerals at no addition charge if the family has a love of these old cars.  
This section was the embalming memorabilia.
Bill showed Bill the engine and there wasn't a speck of dust on it.
Here's Bill Peoples and I by the horses that actually have sound.  An Amish couple from Ohio made the leather harness.
They use shells of cars in the background for these kind of movie scenes.

I thought we had more photos of this man's collection but Bill was so interesting we spent the time talking with him and we neglected to get more photos.  You'll just have to see this place yourself.   

I asked if he had a professional museum company put the his personal collection together and he said no.  I mentioned the tin ceiling and he said he bought ceiling tiles from Lowe's and spray painted them silver.  

This personal collection dating back to the late 1800's along with the 1938 Packard Art-Carved Hearse, 1940 Packard Hearse, 1948 Packard Deluxe Sedan, 1927 Henney Hearse, 1947 Packard Limousine and the 1895 Horse Drawn Hearse made for a very interesting visit made better by having Bill Peoples explaining the stories behind the artifacts.  

After we left, we proceeded to the Ohio River Museum.  When we walked in the docents asked us if we were the people who visited the Mortuary Museum.  We told them yes, and we really enjoyed it.  The docent said she sees Bill driving the cars all the time through town but she'd never been to the museum.  I asked how they knew about us going there and she said they had a meeting with the Campius Martius docents and they told her they had called for a private tour.  

Turtle Safely......


  1. We saw the movie just s while ago. Worth a look.

  2. I have got to get out the map and get Marietta, Oh into our trip planning. This place is just fascinating. I really really want to visit it. We need to get through WV to get to Fredricksburg, VA. I want to avoid DC so any suggestions are appreciated.

  3. We're heading over to visit friends in Altavista, VA but I think I'd take the same route as we did. I 77 to I 64. I 68 has a lot more steep grades, sharp turns and traffic. There aren't a lot of RV parks but the fairground is fine for the price. Stay on the major roads in WV!

  4. I am so glad Sandie is so excited about this museum. Even though I have enjoyed this post, I am not really sure I could visit here :)

    1. I'm sure most anyone would enjoy it. I'd take the grandchildren to see it as long as Bill was there to explain everything. He has such compassion. Most of the old items were from the 1800 period and it's just history.

  5. Oh dear, I think I just sent a message rather than a comment. SIGH.........it's late, that's my only excuse. Anyway. This post surprised me at how interesting I found it. What a great collection and what interesting things he's done with it. I would love to see it now that you've introduced me to it with such great information and pictures. I'm shocked it's in Ohio. I grew up in Ohio and thought nothing was there. LOL. My father was even born in Marietta and I've never even been there. Really enjoyed this. A private tour - so cool!


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