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Funerals have come a long way: From wagons to coaches

By Norris Dearmon
For the Salisbury Post
In the early years of our history, no funeral coaches were available. If someone expired, the body was carried to an open location by hand, a grave was dug, the body placed in the grave, maybe in a wooden box and it was covered. In most cases only a rock or wooden cross was placed at the site to mark it. In a lot of cases the location became a family cemetery.
As time progressed and churches were built, a grave yard was designated for burial of church members. A coffin was either homemade or purchased at a local store and a buck board or a wagon pulled by a horse was used to transport the coffin. There were no such things as funeral directors. The relatives took care of everything.
The Lowe Brothers General Store, built in 1907 on the corner at the square in early Kannapolis, eventually sold coffins and caskets as well as most any thing else the early families needed. It was the first store built in Kannapolis. By May 1911, the Lowe Brothers, along with W.L. Yost and A.J. DeMarcus, had incorporated a new undertaking business by the name of DeMarcus Undertaking Co. They purchased one of the new funeral horsedrawn coaches, a first for Kannapolis.
Eventually the funeral parlors became more prevalent and more sophisticated, and companies began produc ing an enclosed funeral coach which was horse drawn. The coaches were usually very ornate and the drivers wore tall, black hats. A picture of one of the coaches accompanies this article. The antique coach was in a Kannapolis Christmas Parade in the early 1950s.
A motorized coach produced by the Winton Coach Co. in 1918 was being used by the Wilkinson Funeral Home of Kannapolis in the ’20s. It was very ornate with glass on both sides draped with typical funeral home drapes. The body of the coach was made of solid walnut on a truck chassis.
By the time the 1930s rolled around the construction of cars, trucks and funeral coaches improved dramatically. Wilkinson Funeral Home, just called The Funeral Home then, purchased the latest version at that time. It was an extended body coach. It could be opened to remove the casket on either side and at the back. Bennett Hipp, along with W.H. Whitley, are shown with that type of coach in use in 1932. Whitley began his career much earlier in the Wilkinson Furniture and Funeral Home business. He purchased the funeral home from Wilkinson in 1938 and established a well-known funeral home business in his name, carrying on the previous owners’ expertise. He purchased the latest equipment and moved into new quarters on West Avenue because downtown Kannapolis was being converted to Wiliamsburg-style architecture.
During those times, the funeral homes also furnished the ambulance service as a community service. All kept up with the latest equipment in order to better serve the community. As the number of automobiles grew, there were more wrecks and a need for fast transportation, but no medical service. The counties took over emergency medical service in 1964.
Today the funeral coaches are modern in every way. Most are still black with a typical funeral coach design and are loaded from the rear. Many have a partial fabric top, which is quite different from the 1700s and 1800s.

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