Funeral home now displays antique hearse

Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Funeral home owner Jerry Rost shows off the antique hearse he has put on display.

Jerry Rost has a sense of history -- and not just in a general sense -- about his profession as a funeral director.

And the end of fall, Rost acquired a rare 1897 Sayers and Scovill horse-drawn hearse.

Originally made in Cincinnati (the company still exists but makes more modern hearses today), it had been through several hands in the Boise area for the last 15-20 years before a funeral director there acquired it about four years ago.

When Rost found out it was for sale this fall, he quickly cut a deal on the beautifully restored black wood-and-leather hearse with etched-glass windows on the side.

Although the original steel band around the wheels has been replaced with hard rubber for today's roads, in all other aspects the hearse has been perfectly restored to virtual mint condition.

But Rost wanted more than to just own it. He wanted it on display, where everyone could see it.

So he built a special glass-case room just off the entrance to his funeral home on North 18th Street.

"It's a nice accent to the funeral home, and goes well with the Miller and Mashburn mural in our chapel," which also depicts a 19th-century hearse, he noted.

Since he's installed it, he can't count the number of times someone has asked if they could use it. But despite the fact the hearse is in excellent condition, there are some problems. For one, it's getting rarer to find drivers and horses trained in "the lost art" of operating multi-horse teams.

But most importantly, "at the turn of the century," Rost said, "we were a smaller people" in 1900. He pointed to the three-quarter-size casket that fills the back of the hearse. "Today, a modern casket wouldn't fit in there."

In addition, he said, "it's so delicate, just running it over the road would vibrate it to death."

If anyone wants a horse-drawn hearse, Rost can make arrangements with a man he knows in Utah to provide the service, but it's not cheap. It is, however, one of the options he has available for families.

The room where the hearse is located is open to the public, and some time this year, when the weather gets better, Rost plans on having an open house for the historic hearse.

"It's just a little piece of history that's going to stay in Mountain Home," he said.