Tag Archives: The Collectors

The National Museum of Funeral History Where They Put the Fun Back In Funeral


Authentic mourning clothing on display illustrates the strict rules that governed the life of a woman following her husband's death;  as shown here.

Authentic mourning clothing on display illustrates the strict rules that governed the life of a woman following her husband’s death; as shown here.

This week on The Collectors Show we learn about collecting funeral and mortuary items. To listen to the Collectors Show, go to www.webtalkradio.net or iTunes.

You may recall a few weeks ago I mentioned in the news segment that there were a number of museums that were, non-traditional. The National Museum of Funeral History was one of them and their president is who we will be talking with today. I like to talk with people from museums because most started with a collection that belonged to someone or was inspired by someone and that is again the case this week. We will be talking with Genevieve Keeney who is the president of the National Museum of Funeral History, which is located in Houston, Texas.

When I first read about the museum, I thought it was a Halloween attraction. After all the word, “funeral” has a lot of baggage attached to it. Genevieve said it was like climbing a mountain to get people to recognize that the museum was about honoring deceased loved ones and their memories and not a seasonal attraction. This was and is an ancient tradition. She felt like this was an association she did not want, until about 3 years ago.

The museum did attract more attention during October, so she decided it was O.K. to be associated with Halloween as a way to raise money for charity. So in the name of good works and generosity they now have an annual “haunted house”. According to Genevieve they put the “fun” back in funeral.

The collection started with a Mr. R.L. Waltrip who was the founder and chairman of Service Corporation of America. Service Corp is in the funeral home and cemetery business on a very big scale. While building up his business and buying privately owned funeral homes, their equipment was being discarded. What do you do with an old embalming machine? Mr. Waltrip saw that so much of his industry’s history was literally being thrown out and he was not happy about it. He wanted a place to tell the story about the tradition, science and advancement of his trade. So he founded the museum. Funerals reflect culture and how people celebrate and commemorate the life of their family and friends. We share memories and honor the fact that there is a void left in our lives with the person who is gone. While this is not a traditional collection (like stamps or coins) it is still one that is culturally significant.


So much of the science associated with funerals deals with chemistry and that chemistry with embalming. The goal is to present loved ones in a way that makes their appearance such that it is a good and last memory for the loved ones. It is part science and part art with little room for error as Genevieve explains.

Two of the most interesting exhibits at the museum deal with the evolution of embalming, starting with the Egyptians. Later, hand pumps, gravity bottles and now machinery inject embalming chemicals into the deceased. Progress marches on.

Hearses, they are not just cars

The hearse collection at the museum starts with the horse drawn hearse, through to the hand cranked first automobiles through to the hearses of today. And big engines? Yes, the engines from the mid-twentieth century were enormous. They have the hoods up so car enthusiasts can look at the motors.

Caskets or Coffins and What is the Difference?

There is a difference and it deals with the shape of the lid. Coffins are contour to the body, wide at the top and narrower at the bottom. Caskets are square and the lid is a single piece that comes off in one piece. Of course now there are combinations or hybrids (my word) of the classic coffin/casket design.

Fantasy from Ghana

These are caskets made to reflect what the person achieved in this life and what they hope to achieve in the next. They look like garden sculptures or part of a ride at an amusement park. They are nothing like what we in the U.S. expect to see at a funeral, but that is not a bad thing, just a culturally different thing. These style caskets are not allowed in churches but are still popular, though services with them have to be outside. There are several of these in the collection.

Saved by the Bells Inside the Coffin

During the 14th and 15th century there was the realization that, whoops, we buried someone alive. Lacking the technology and skill to know that someone was still alive prior to burial, inventors did the next best thing and tied a string was tied to the finger of the deceased. The string was attached to a series of pulleys that rang a bell, when or if the deceased started to move. Hence, the expression “saved by the bell”. No records about how many people were saved exist but it is safe to say enough were mistakenly buried to make it worthwhile.


In addition to the haunted house, there is a fall Dracula event. I do not know about anyone else, but me dressed as Dracula at the museum is going to look really good on my Face Book page. In June, 2015 the Professional Car Society will be there with fire trucks, ambulances, hearses and the ambulance/hearse combination. I’m not sure how I feel about the ambulance hearse combo. I picture someone changing the sign on the car while en-route to the hospital when their passenger does not make it. Yikes.

Stay up to date with everything going on by visiting their page at www.NMSH.org


Lego Collecting With Will Reed of The Brick Blogger.com

This week on The Collectors Show (www.webtalkradio.net) we meet Will Reed of The Brick Blogger.

Collecting Lego with Will Reed of Brick Blogger

I’ve never seen a group of people more engaged or passionate about their collections than people who collect Lego. They are in a league by themselves. The hobby transcends age groups and other demographics. So this week on The Collectors Show we welcome Will Reed from Brick Blogger

Lego connects with collectors and fans in an interesting way as we learn this week on The Collectors Show.

Lego connects with collectors and fans in an interesting way as we learn this week on The Collectors Show.


Will says he is never too busy to talk about Lego! Brick Blogger has volumes of material on Lego though Will says his is one of the smaller sites. There are entire web sites with much more material posted than Brick Blogger. Brick Blogger is a great entry into the hobby for the beginner.

Where To Start With Lego?

So to get started with Lego, first decide what are you interested in? What captivates your interest? There are plenty of opportunities with Lego and if not you can invent one. He and his wife started with Castles because they liked the medieval genre. They went on to Ninjas and super heroes. But the advice remains that starting with what you like is the way to go, because once you start the hobby will take on a life of its own.

It was also interesting that his wife participates with him in the Lego hobby as I would not have thought there were many women interested. Boy was I wrong.  The only other things that come close to this level of hobby and collecting involvement is remote control vehicles, science fairs and board games, which Will and Mrs. Reed also collect and design. Will, is a freelance writer often gets paid in Lego sets that he gets to play with and write about. What a cool job!

Lego Ideas

But what is so appealing about Lego? Is it building? Maybe. Lots of people gravitate to the end product. Fans can submit ideas for others to vote on for Lego sets the company will make and sell. According to Will these always sell out.  The latest Ghostbusters Lego set is an example of an idea that was submitted by a collector, voted on by fans and accepted by the company. The winner gets 1% of the take from the company which is probably a lot. I’m thinking of a way to enter the competition. Will also says you have to market your ideas to other Lego enthusiasts as a way to get them to buy in. Creativity, ideation and marketing all from a single, collectible hobby!

Lego works very hard to engage with fans. For example, Local Lego User Groups (LUGS) are invited by Lego to go online and talk directly with the company. The Ideas are but one way.

The Red Darth Vader

Plumbers are the best source of lost Lego parts. But that seems a little random. Finding a specific part for Lego is not. Brick Blogger can help, but Brick Link (http://www.bricklink.com) is a better site for finding stray Lego stuff. Will characterized the site as the eBay of Lego. “It’s a world market,” he said. “Parts, instructions, boxes are all available from Brick Link.”


There are other businesses that make Lego parts that the company will not. For example, Lego will not make anything that is not what they deem “family friendly”. So these companies make military uniforms, weapons, etc. that the Lego company itself will not make. There is a whole industry that has grown up around Lego. So there is no real need for fakes, someone will make it for you.

Movie Tie-Ins and Cross Marketing

There were very few cross market tie ins for Lego until the mid-1990’s. The company was not doing well and decided to try a Star Wars tie-in. Since the Star Wars movies were reissued in the ‘90’s it was good timing. Will says that most recent Lego devotees started because of the Star Wars sets. Lego is also making sets based on the cartoon shows and are very excited about the next movies that will be coming from Disney.


Certified master builders are artists who have an agreement with Lego to make museum type displays from Lego. Some have toured the world as parts of art museum displays. Some “civilians” have made battleships, skyscrapers, and the tower from Lord of The Rings that was 8 feet tall. These take tens of thousands of pieces and hundreds of hours to build. Some of these people use their vacation to do this work. A Seattle woman is on record for making the worlds largest Harry Potter structure at 10 feet tall. Wow!

Relationship Challenges

There are lots of couples who pursue the Lego hobby together. But the hobby can also strain relationships when one half of the couple is way into the hobby and the other not. Will says that those couples drift apart naturally. He was not aware of any divorces that occurred because of Lego, but I am betting there are!

Brick Blogger encourages fans of all ages to come to the site and write about their creations. They have engineers that write about just the basic brick. One factory worker writes about clutch power, stamping process, colors that were tried, etc. and he is only one of the contributors to the site. “We want people to start a conversation about what they like about Lego,” Will said. Brick Blogger manages the flow of information about Lego as well.

They only post one news story per day, so the audience can keep up with the news. “Some sites post dozens of stories a day, but we think that is too much for anyone to keep up with,” he said. They target teens for their site, who are ignored by so many others.

Whose Idea?

The founder was encouraged by her husband to start a blog about Lego so he did not have to hear about it all the time(not a fan). She took a course on blogging and the rest is history. By targeting teens and younger adults they have a nice blog site that is a great entry point for collectors and for a demographic ignored by so many others. Brick Blogger is an affiliate of Lego and gets a percentage of sales from the company. Brick Blogger also shares information with Lego about traffic and interest in the site from users that the company pays for. Sweet! “The best way to connect with collectors and users is by starting and participating in the conversation with Lego collectors, Will concluded.”