Funeral Factoids

Last week we had a Chamber Coffee hosted by Boman Funeral Homes.  A quiz was given, answers were turned in and this week the winner was announced.  Mary Lou Gordon answered most of the questions correctly and won $25 in Webster City Bucks.  I’d like to share a few of those questions and answers with you today.

What event in American History increased the desire for embalming?

The War between the States.  Many service men died far from home and their families wanted them buried at home. According to Wikipedia “Dr. Thomas Holmes received a commission from the Army Medical Corps to embalm the corpses of dead Union officers to return to their families. Military authorities also permitted private embalmers to work in military-controlled areas. The passage of Abraham Lincoln’s body home for burial was made possible by embalming and it brought the possibilities and potential of embalming to a wider public notice.”

What chemical cannot be used in embalming anymore?

Arsenic! “From the Civil War until about 1910, arsenic was the main ingredient in the embalming fluids used widely throughout the country. Although effective, arsenic is toxic and persistent, and elemental arsenic will never degrade into harmless by- products.” Read a fascinating article about arsenic and embalming here.

 What is a pall? 

Cloth some churches use to the cover the casket. According to,   “Centuries ago, when the pall was first used, it was generally black, the color of death and mourning. In Scotland the black pall was called a “mort-cloth”; it was used to cover the bodies of the poor who could not afford caskets. In the Netherlands, even the horses that drew the hearse were draped with a black pall.”

Why in the past (and still today in some places in Chicago) did they call a visitation a wake?  

In the past they did not use embalming fluid so they would wait to bury a person who was “dead drunk” and see if they could wake them.

These were just a few of the questions on the quiz.  The historian in me went down a rabbit hole to look up answers you would enjoy!

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