Monday Afternoon Club met Nov. 4 at the Daviess County Museum. Following a brief business meeting board member Jim Pirkle gave a historical tour of the museum’s mortuary collection.
Beginning in an 1872 recreated Main Street scene, complete with plan sidewalks, stepping stones and a trolley line from Eastside Park to Oak Grove, members passed through a screen door to enter the office of Gill’s Mortuary, the oldest continually operating business in Daviess County.
Originally Bonham Brother’s, the business became Bonham and Gill’s when Joseph Gill bought half the business in 1871. Gill, an ex-Civil War veteran, went to work for Bonham in 1864.
Bonham and Gill’s was located at 422 E. Main and was three stories high with 15-feet tall ceilings. Three generations of the Gill family maintained the business until 1974 when Pirkle assumed ownership, having worked there since 1957.
Pirkle point out a slate board that hung on Main Street to announce death and funeral service notices for residents with delayed rural mail deliveries. Black crepe bows marked the front doors at the time of home services, held the day following a death. Early caskets were built by furniture builders and placed in home parlors in front of a window.
Even though President Abraham Lincoln hired Dr. Thomas Holmes to develop an injection which preserved bodies in order to ship fallen soldiers back to their home communities, embalming was not desired by families who regarded the process as a surgical procedure on a dead body. Embalming became more common in the 1900s, but was done at home, not in a hospital or mortuary. Not until 1929 was a law passed that required embalming to be done in a licensed facility, although the first embalming school opened in Cincinnati in 1882. The custom of sending flowers started in the 1930s.
The museum houses an array of model hearses, fans, gowns and furniture that were the custom over the years.
Attending were Martha Corn, Sue Garrett, Kitty Lawson, Bonnie Miles, Katie Myers, Betty Norris, De Odell, Maggie Tuggle, Flo Cavanaugh, Laurinda Walker, Mary Lou Gotwald, Mary Jane Wirts and guest Julie Bassler.