Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 01 November 2011 15:18
Motorists who saw a horse-drawn hearse and a procession of mourners in funeral attire—heading slowly down Hillsboro’s D Street Saturday, Oct. 22, may have thought they had slipped through a time warp into the 1880s.
In a sense they had. The burial procession for longtime cattleman and rancher James Peters had a distinctive old-time look to it, thanks to the horse-drawn hearse that transported his casket the three blocks from Jost Funeral Home on Washington Street to the Hillsboro MB Church?Cemetery across from Tabor College.
Jared Jost, owner of the funeral home, said the event was as dignified as any traditional processional he’s directed—considering how excited he was to see it unfolding so smoothly.
This was the first time Jost was able to use the 1876 horse-drawn hearse for a funeral since purchasing it two years ago.
“It’s just really special to be able to offer something that was done back in the late 1800s,” Jost said. “It’s a way of recognizing the rich heritage of the funeral profession through the years.”
Journey to ownership
Jost’s connection with the historic hearse goes back to his days at mortuary school, when he worked for the Amos Family Funeral Home in Shawnee.
Owner Gene Amos, the patriarch of the family, had acquired the hearse and about 40 coffins that were made between 1871 and 1885, following the death of the farmer/woodworker near St. Joseph, Mo., who made them.
“Gene Amos had since died and his son has done some renovating and cleaning up and didn’t want the old coffins anymore,” Jost said. “I said I would sure be interested in anything like that just to continue to promote the legacy of the funeral profession.”
Jost acquired about 30 of the old coffins, plus some antique embalming equipment. But the museum in Old Shawnee Town wanted to put the old hearse on display and use it for a variety of public presentations.
About two years ago, Jost got a call from Gregg Amos, the current director.
“He said Old Shawnee Town wanted to update their museum and get rid of all the 1800 stuff and upgrade into the early 1900s,” Jost said. “They no longer wanted to have the hearse on display there.
“Gregg told me, ‘I know you’re interested in preserving the rich heritage of the funeral industry. So, if you’d like to have the hearse, come get it.’
“I high-tailed it down there before the museum changed its mind,” he added with a chuckle.
Having the hearse and being able to use it were two different things, though.
“I knew before I got (the hearse) and now after I’ve gotten it, the dilemma is, who do you find to pull it? Who has a team of horses to do this kind of thing?” Jost said. “I’m not going to go out and buy horses because I have no knowledge of taking care of horses.”
When a member of the Peters family came into the funeral home and needed a pen to write some things down, Jost handed him one that had the outline of the old hearse embossed on it.
“He looked at the pen and that’s what made us talk about the horse-drawn hearse,” Jost said.
About an hour after the man left, Van Peters, James Peters’ son, was on the phone.
“Van called and said, ‘I’ve got a guy that can pull that hearse for my dad’s funeral,’” Jost recalled. “I said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
The man was Winston Sommerfeld of Newton, who, with wife Jan, operate Country Boys Carriage, a business that uses the team of horses for weddings and various history-related reenactments.
Jost said even though he now had access to a team of horses, he still wasn’t sure they could pull off the procession for the Peters funeral.
“I had no idea what to expect as far as the time frame—I’d never done this before,” Jost said. “I was fully prepared to start the funeral late, actually, because when I got the hearse, I got some items that came with it that supposedly would work to hitch it to a team of horses.
“I had no idea if I had the right equipment, but Winston came and everything just worked out in a perfect, timely way. Everything went like it would have if I had used the actual car hearse.”
Adding to the old-time ambience of the burial service, the old hearse was parked near the Historic Church that sits adjacent to the cemetery on the Tabor College campus.
“It was just like we had gone back in time to the late 1800s,” Jost said.
Feedback and plans
Since the event, Jost has received a lot of comments from family members and others.
“The response from the family has been that they felt an overwhelming sense of honor and respect,” Jost said. “It was just a dignified time, and they felt an overwhelming sense of pride in the way they were able to honor their dad.”
Jost said he’s willing to use the horse-drawn hearse for future funerals, but circumstances will need to allow for it.
“It kind of depends on the weather, the distance (the procession would travel) and the availability of Winston,” he said.
Circumstances came together perfectly for the Peters family.
“It’s not a dream of mine to have somebody pass away and be able to use it, but it was always my desire to use it at least once in a funeral setting because I think it’s just a real special ceremonial event for the family,” Jost said.
“And what a way to honor a loved one.”