Share your National Museum of Funeral History experience with peers and reflect on the ways that we honor the lives of others when we say goodbye. Discover moments in history, ancient and international cultures, and ponder important topics with a group of friends or members of your organization/club. The Museum’s 15 extensive exhibits feature topics that appeal to a wide variety of interests and age ranges. Click here to see a map of the museum layout.
For History Buffs
- Presidential History: The Presidential Funerals exhibit covers all presidents from George Washington through Gerald R. Ford. A 30-45-minute presentation that provides a behind the scenes look into the planning of Presidential state funerals is available to groups, with at least four weeks advanced notice, based on availability of the presenters. The Abraham Lincoln displays within the exhibit, including a full scale recreation of President Lincoln lying in repose, an authentic mourning badge worn by a guest at his funeral in 1865, an exact replica of the Derringer pistol used by John Wilkes Booth in the president’s assassination and more, are of particular note, as 2015 marks the 150th Anniversary of Lincoln’s death.
- Military History: The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier exhibit and the Reflections on the Wall exhibit, which features the dedication of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., offer opportunities to connect with important eras in our nation’s history and remember our fallen heroes. Did you know there will never be another soldier buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? Come to the Museum to learn why.
- History of Embalming: Explore the Ancient Egyptians’ early methods of preparing the dead for the afterlife and learn the origins of modern embalming as developed on the battlefields of the Civil War by Dr. Thomas Holmes, the “father of American Embalming,” within the History of Embalming exhibit.
For the Ones Who are Always in the Garage
- Evolution of the Vehicle: The Historical Hearses exhibit spans from horse-drawn carriages to hand-cranked models to gleaming vintage models from the heyday of motorized vehicles. Visitors will marvel the funeral cars manufactured by Cadillac, S&S Scoville, Ford, Mercedes, Rolls Royce, Henney and more, as well as the unique funeral bus designed for streets of San Francisco, the hearse used in Princess Grace of Monaco’s funeral, a flower car like the one used in the “Godfather” movies and more.
- Craftsmanship: The Coffins and Caskets of the Past exhibit features historic methods of working with wood and metals, including a recreation of a casket-building shop and a casket for three. Visitors can marvel the artistry of the Fantasy Coffins from Ghana exhibit, which features coffins from Ghana, West Africa, handcrafted into elaborate shapes and figures, as well as admire the delicate details of the hand carved wooden panels of several historic hearses throughout the Museum.
For Science Lovers
- Chemistry/Biology/Anatomy: History of Embalming exhibit explains early embalming techniques as well as modern methods and introduces visitors to Dr. Thomas Holmes, the “father of American embalming,” and how he introduced embalming to our culture. The exhibit also covers Egyptian customs and the biological and chemical processes the body goes through immediately following the cessation of life.
For Pop Culture Aficionados, Social Butterflies, Travel Bugs & Wordsmiths
- Memorabilia from Past Leaders, Heroes and Celebrities: The Thanks for the Memories exhibit features iconic personalities and figures, highlighting the unifying bonds of popular culture. Visitors can take in tributes to celebrities, sports figures, world leaders, astronauts and historical events that still impact our lives today such as the Space Shuttle Challenger, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, Steve Jobs and many more.
- Customs and Traditions from Around the World: Throughout the Museum, a variety of world cultures are highlighted, including the role of Rome and The Vatican throughout history within the extensive Celebrating the Lives & Deaths of the Popes exhibit, the meaning behind Dia de los Muertos traditions from Latin America, a rare horse-drawn carriage hearse from Germany, the spiritual beliefs of West Africa through the Fantasy Coffins from Ghana exhibit, embalming practices of Ancient Egypt in the History of Embalming exhibit, an elaborate funeral car from Japan and more.
- Social Customs: Visitors can discover the extensive rules of mourning etiquette practiced during the 1800s in the 19th Century Mourning exhibit, as well as why this is known as the Victorian age, even in American history. A Downton Abby fan’s delight!
- Vocabulary Enrichment: Boost your trivia knowledge! The Museum experience offers impactful comprehension of countless vocabulary words. Many exhibits offer insight into the origin of common phrases and how various objects got their names.
- Catholic Traditions and History: In the Celebrating the Lives & Deaths of the Popes exhibit, visitors can gain perspective on Catholic traditions through the centuries and get a pictorial and three-dimensional view of the customs and rituals of burying a pope, as well as details on Vatican City, the sovereign city-state within the Italian city of Rome. Currently, the Museum is working on an expansion of the papal exhibit, in collaboration with the Vatican, to feature the “Making of a Saint,” which follows the beatification and canonization of John Paul II and Paul XXIII and includes new artifacts from the April 2014 canonization ceremony in Rome. Stay tuned for information on the grand opening of this new section of the papal exhibit. Text within the exhibit appears in both English and Spanish. You may feel like you’ve traveled to Italy – no passport required!
Explore our Exhibits page and our Image Gallery for more insights and ideas.