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Funeral Homes: Not Just for Death Anymore

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Death is recession proof, or as Benjamin Franklin once said, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." But in the tight economy, even funeral parlors are going to some great lengths to keep business alive.

Recent news details the story of the Robinson Funeral Home in South Carolina. They'll be opening a Starbucks beginning next month. The coffee shop will be open to the general public, not just for funeral goers, and will feature all the fine accoutrements of a standard Starbucks. Not a terrible addition for a business that runs on the round-the-clock death clock! The funeral parlor, crematory, and chapel have a history linked with coffee -- the current owner says his great-grandfather originally began the home as a general store that sold coffee. Make mine a Venti! (Speaking of Venti, did you know that Walmart sells double-wide coffins online?)

The Robinson is not alone in its attempts to keep business going. The Devanny-Condron Funeral Home in Pittsfield, Massachusetts goes above and beyond to stay in the hearts and minds of its local community. They host events including an annual chili cook-off, a murder mystery show, an art walk, and even monthly birthday cakes to the Pittsfield Senor Center.

And on the subject of funeral practices, the word hearse has taken several linguistic turns: from its origins in 51 BC to its use in 16th century England to modern times. In ancient Rome, a farmer would plow his fields and then use a tool known as a hirpex to rake the land. Conquering Western Europe, the Romans introduced this agricultural tool to their new subjects and the tool commonly became known as a harrow in the British Isles. When the Normans invaded England, they called the harrow a herse. They also began the practice of inverting the herse, as it bore resemblance to their own ecclesiastical candelabra. In time, all church candelabras became known as herses, and they grew in size. The candelabras were a common part of a funeral ceremony, beginning the associate of a herse with a funeral. In time, the herse itself rested on the coffin lid, and eventually rode on the coffin as the funeral procession made its way to the burial grounds (the funeral procession needed to move slowly so the candles wouldn't go out, and that started the tradition of the slow funeral procession that continues today.) By the next century, the entire care that carried the coffin became known as thehearse.

So there you have it. More than you ever needed to know about hearses, funeral homes, and the strange things we do to succeed! Not enough for you? Check out my book Beyond Bizarre for even more freaky facts about funeral homes and other oddities galore.