Saturday, September 24, 2011

Funeral home estate sale - dead serious!

Friday afternoon I found myself en route to an estate sale with my Dad and his business partner, Theresa. The sale was at a FUNERAL HOME.

Dad had mentioned it earlier in the week and I immediately said I wanted to go. I was creeped out a bit, but my curiosity definitely got the better of me and I had to go. Just to be able to poke around. Plus, the Craigslist ad said high heels were not allowed to be worn in the basement, customers must bring flashlights and ratty clothes should be worn because it was a mess. Honestly, my interest was totally piqued.
It was at the Polish Czelusniak funeral home in Holyoke. Having grown up in the city, my Dad had attended a wake or two there as a child. (I really wanted the sign, so I could hack off the letters, but it was considered a fixture of the building and wasn't for sale.)
I supose I should warn you if you get the heebie-jeebies, perhaps you should skip this blog post!!
I took these photos with my iPhone because I figured I wouldn't be allowed to bring in my Canon DSLR and an iPhone is way easier to conceal. They're not the greatest, but they'll do!

Dad and Theresa ran into every room, himing and hawing over what pieces of furniture to buy for their antique shop. This wild chair was sitting in the entrance and I really, really wanted it. It was just $75, but I figured I would need to reupholster it just to calm my slight hypochondriac tendencies. I just couldn't justify investing probably more than $100, so I sadly left the chair.
Wandering around on my own, I made my way to the back of the home. In the middle of the room in which I then found myself, I saw coffins!
And then to my left - the EMBALMING ROOM. Oh my gosh.
The room looked as if someone performed their last embalming and then high-tailed it outta there. These tools were left on porcelain drawers, all askew. The black handle scissors looking things in the middle? Those are used to stretch open an incision to open the cavity and stick embalming tubes and whatnot inside.
To my left was the embalming table, that white porcelain table to the left in this photo. That anvil looking thing is what the body's head is rested on, elevating it. The table itself is angled down, for ... liquids ... to flow and along the sides are deep grooves to assist the flow of ... well .. blood. 
While I was snapping photos, a man came in and riffled through the tools. He asked if I was in the business or an enthusiast and I said no, I'm just a curious photographer. Being a reporter, combined with an insatiable need to question everything, I asked him if he was in the business, and he said yes! He practices in the city next door. So, I started asking him questions about everything in the room and he happily gave me answers!

This sink is where all of the fluids and blood is drained.  I'm assuming that residue is such liquids. The hoses are for suction (OMG, ah!). I also had no idea that the blood and chemicals and fluids are drained into CITY SEWERS. Like, where regular waste goes. Fascinating and entirely disgusting. Is this legal? 
Next, I asked him to identify bottles in this supply cabinet for me. It was chock full of chemicals I had never heard of and things with creepy names, like "skin seal" in super old bottles.
Straight out of a horror movie. Really. From the left "Skin Seal," "Skin Seal Solvent," "WOUND FILLER," and "Lip Lock." 

I learned that skin seal is used if the body is leaking. It's not like a liquid bandaid (that was the only thing I could think of to which I could compare it) and it apparently doesn't smell bad. But it keeps in body liquids. Wound filler is self explanatory (it's also injected into cheeks if the body is gaunt looking)  and lip lock keeps the body's mouth from opening during a wake and freaking everyone out.
Embalming powder and lots of make-up and make-up remover.
This is bottles of peach colorant to tint the body's skin if it's too white. I can never look at peach anything the same again. And then those are brushes and more make-up to fix up the body's face for a wake. 
I didn't ask about this box but I can only image what is inside. 
Denture replacers and mouth formers. Wow. 
The drain where leftovers leak. I accidentally stepped into in and I bleached the bottoms of my sneakers when I got home, just in case. Because, come on, that's gross. 
I thanked the guy for putting up with me pointing to things, asking "What's that?" and teaching me more than I ever thought I would know about embalming, and I headed to the back of the building, where I found myself in the garage with the hearse. AHH!
I found the stretcher where the body is placed to transport it from embalming room to coffin. That door leads back to the embalming room. I don't know exactly how the body gets into the coffin, but I don't really want to know.
I haven't a clue what this machine is or does, but being in the garage alone, with a hearse and a box of ties and mannequin heads started to freak me out, so I left! 
But not before I poked through some drawers. Yes, I opened them with my feet. Germs, man! Freaky!
Found some signs, and ...
located the last piece of evidence I needed to tell myself to get the eff out of that room! (Or you could say, the final nail in the coffin of my decision to leave! Ha, ha ... ha...)
The entryway to each waiting room was decorated with weird fake stone.
But the furniture in each room was gorgeous! 
Dad and Theresa bought these chairs, six other wingback chairs and a couch similar to the peach (ah, that color!) couch a few photos up. They also scored beautiful italian-made candle holder wall sconces, some photographs in ornate frames and lamps with chandelier-like crystals hanging off them. I thought they were joking when they said the massive pile in the waiting room was theirs!

While they were tallying up the total, I collected myself enough to brave the basement. 
On my way there, I found a baby casket. So sad!
It was dark save for a single lightbulb in the middle of the room. In front of me (and through a heavy metal door) was old wooden shelving with boxes in the cubbies. To the right, was this closet of clothes. And then ..
This wooden coffin on a beautiful porcelain table laded with CREMATION ASHES. After I snapped a photo, I went back upstairs. On my way down to the basement, an older guy warned me there were remains down there, and while I assumed I would see them in urns or in boxes in the cubbies, I didn't expect to see them one foot in front of me where someone could potentially sneeze and flake them all over me. 

Would that really happen? Probably not. But I didn't want to take any chances. So back upstairs I went!
Was this the last person to have a service held at the funeral home? I had asked the guy in the embalming room why he was so readily touching the metal, clearly used tools with his bare hands, and he said there was no way there would be any diseases or anything on them as it looked like the last embalming was about one year ago. Questions like, was Mrs. Holly Early the last person to be embalmed, plague me. Just in the sense that I'm a journalist and naturally curious, but I'm always looking for "the story." And if I can't find the details or resolution, my mind wanders until I make it up myself. Does this happen to anyone else?
Questions like, to whom did these watches belong? Did they belong to the deceased or to a loved one mourning their loss? Engrossed in their memories, they twirl the watch over and over, unknowingly loosening it until it falls off in a meaningful hug? I will never know - and that irks me, haha! 
In addition to the furniture, there were items like these - a wooden crane, salt and peppers and a tall statues of a bearded man. I had overheard customers asking the sellers if they could venture upstairs. (It was a three-story building). They had said they knew the owners and had visited a few times as children, and that the upstairs was a palace. The seller said it had been ravaged by raccoons who tore everything apart and there were no lights up there. People had permission to go up there but he would not recommend it. 

Dad had said back in the "old days" the owners of the funeral home had lived above it. So there must have been furniture and items not funeral home-related up there. He told me later some young kid climbed into the attic (without permission) and brought down a duffle bag of old metal toys and whatnot.

I would have loved to just look at that loot. I don't have an urge to own every little thing from the 30s, 40s and 50s, but I do enjoy simply looking at the items and seeing they did and still do exist, having survived decades of play. 

A lady, who I thought was one of the sellers, had mentioned jewelry from upstairs. I asked her if there was anything vintage-y because I really just like to look at relics. Terri is her name, and she was not a seller, but a customer. I had asked politely and was not encroaching on her personal space or anything. But she whipped around and snarled in my face, "These things are SOLD." And then scowled. I literally just wanted to look at the pieces.

Still assuming she was a seller, I just shrugged my shoulders and politely said, "I was just poking around." Because Theresa and my Dad really did know one of the sellers, I thought she was a partner. So I was nice! Otherwise I would have said, "Excuse me, there's no need to be rude!"  I mean, who says that to A) Anyone in the first place but B) A 25-year-old girl who is often mistaken for a TEENAGER! Sheesh. She must really be an unhappy lady. Oh well.

The adventure overall was neat and creepy at the same time. There is another funeral home estate sale in Westfield in a week or two and I'm not sure if I'll go. One may just be enough.

But! If you're from the Western Mass area and are interested in checking out the pieces my Dad and Theresa scored, visit their shop - Main Street Antiques in Belchertown!


  1. WOw, what a crazy story!!!!

  2. ahh the embalming room is SO CREEPY! *shivers*

  3. you are utterly fantastic & I absolutely love reading all your blogs! even if this one was wicked creepy, it was still really informative <3

  4. For one, your dad sounds awesome :)

    For two, I took a class during my undergrad called Death and Dying (as an elective...yes I'm weird ;) and it was the most amazing class I have EVER taken. The teacher was a former mortician which led us to touring a funeral home complete with embalming viewing. GROSS.

    But the class also covered everything from life after death, euthanasia (we actually had communication with Kevorkian(sp?)!), death rituals around the world, laws...the list goes on and on!

    Thanks for sharing all of this!! I LOVED reading it!

  5. Ahhhhh! Creepy and amazing at the same time! I got the heebiejeebies just looking. :D

  6. your fucking wierd and this is the worst written blog ever...and your information is way off base.....get a life.....and may it not be writting

    1. Clearly you cannot read well because my life is actually in writing. BAHAHA!

  7. Anyone who would take the time to read your (well written) article, only to leave a nasty comment is .. just an idiot. Ignore 'em. I love old houses and have been looking for house listings for historic homes, (the more pictures the better) when I came across a link to your site. Too bad you couldn't go up in the upstairs living quarters. Funeral directors are always so meticulous, I bet their furniture and everything was well taken care of and gorgeous prior to raccoon damage. I'm going to take a break from my "if I won the lottery I'm buying this house" search to estate auctions for a while at least lol. Thank you for the article!

  8. Kristen- I'm just read this story... cool trip & story! Thanks for sharing.

  9. Wonder how the auction went, if they sold it all or what, if anything is left.