Health & Wellness, Reviews

Little Weekend Adventures in the Face-Melting Sun

3 Jun , 2018  

If the mere idea of death makes you queasy, just skip this post. There’s really nothing morbid about the National Museum of Funeral History, but I know people who shudder at the thought and refuse to go explore it, despite death being a natural, inevitable part of life. Before I tell you about that, then, I’m going to share some photos from my walking adventures around the neighborhood, as I explore the many little parks that have sprung up in recent years, and are new to me. People who have never been to Texas often marvel over the fact that it is green – not brown and littered with tumbleweeds. Houston’s in the tropics, not the desert. Most of the steer horns you’ll see here are mounted on the grill of supersized trucks, and not everyone wears cowboy hats and boots, though no one’s going to look at you funny if you do.

This weekend, I got an early start and strolled over to Mandolin Gardens. It’s less than two miles and my goal was to walk at least five or six, so I had to get creative. The best thing about getting up and out early, walking five or six miles at 84°F is that it beats doing it when the temperature climbs above 96°! By mid-afternoon, the temperature had soared to 101°, but Finngelo said it felt like 117° and I won’t quibble with that!

The first stop along the way was this historic marker – it’s nearby, but I’d never been there on foot and so could not pause to see what it was about:

I found another little park, if you can even call it a “park,” along the way, and walked a lap around it. It’s basically a sidewalk around a flood control ditch. It’s a grassy, man-made valley dotted by wildflowers. The roads in the area have only a small percentage of the sidewalks they need to be considered “walking friendly,” and the roads often have no safe area to walk on – just a thin strip of grass and a deep ditch. So safe paths nearby are always welcome, though this one could use some shade when the hot Houston sun comes out!

There’s a picnic table near the back, and residential neighborhoods on all sides.

From there, it was a quick trip across a busy street, with a brief stop at the convenience store for a bottle of Powerade. By the time I got there, temps were in the 80s. I passed a tiny, neighborhood park dedicated to Deputy Goforth:

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It’s meant only for residents of the neighborhood, but it’s a bright little peaceful spot along the way to the park. The sidewalk winds up close to the garden, away from the street, and there’s plenty of shade. You saw the pictures of Mandolin Gardens, last week, so on to the latest “discovery” – the Gourley Nature Trail connecting Collins and Meyer Parks, a few more miles away (not easy walking distance, but not that far):

Eventually, “maybe not in our lifetimes,” all these little parks along Cypress Creek will be connected with hike and bike trails. I really hope they plant lots of trees for shade, too! Somehow, I managed to park right next to the trailhead. I’ve been to both Meyer and Collins Parks, but did not realize there was a trail, running below Steubner-Airline Rd.,  connecting the two. It’s an easement granted through private property, and provides a safe, convenient way to get those steps in while walking from one park to the other. My daughter and I used to go to Meyer Park, sometimes venturing to the dirt paths along Cypress Creek and through the woods. The paths led nowhere and didn’t feel like a place we were meant to be. I was never really sure they were part of the park. Now, they clearly are!

As the trail passes under the road, I took a moment to look at the underside of the bridge. During Hurricane Harvey, there was talk about erosion around the bridge footing. I don’t know if this should make anyone nervous or not.

At the end of the Gourley Nature Trail, starting from Collins Park, there’s a pretty little lake.

Rather than Die in the Heat of a Thousand Suns…

I spent yesterday afternoon at the National Museum of Funeral History. My husband and son took a pass; W said he didn’t see the “Fun” in “Funeral.” Spoilsports.

First, it’s surprising how big it is. And how extensive and informative the collection is. First, there is a section on Presidential and Military funerals. Did you know that the Unknown Soldier from the Vietnam War is unknown no more? Or that there’s an account of the assassination of President Lincoln that claims John Wilkes booth was not caught and executed as the public believed him to be? Did you know that little “mementos” were given out after Lincoln’s death, including strands of his hair that were taken from his head as he lay dying? (That’s a bit grisly.)

I totally found my next car. So much for that Rolls Royce Silver Cloud I’ve been drooling and fantasizing over half my life… I know, you think I wouldn’t really want to drive this around town, but isn’t the wood siding on the Rockfalls Hearse gorgeous? I would not only drive it, I’d use it as a mobile home for short camping trips. Maybe I’d tell fortunes, and they’d all be some chipper variant of, “Live a little! We’re all going to die, some day!” The rest of them just look like mafia cars.

This next one’s heartbreaking. Can you imagine two parents so grief-stricken over the death of their child that they not only plan their murder-suicide, but go first to a custom casket maker and order a coffin built for three? They confided their plan, apparently – which was to get the custom coffin, after which, the husband would kill his wife, then himself, then someone was to exhume the child’s body and…

Well, anyway, they changed their minds. It’s good that they had time to do that. Of course, the custom coffin maker was stuck with this oddity (for which no refund was ever made, understandably) and it is now located at the National Museum of Funeral History in Houston, TX. The white carriage is not a posthumous Pope-mobile or Cinderella’s postmortem pumpkin carriage. It is a carriage-hearse for a child’s funeral. To me, these were the saddest parts of the museum.

Speaking posthumously of Popes…

There’s also an exhibit on celebrating the lives and deaths and canonization of past Popes. It’s a fascinating glimpse into all three, and the exhibit was blessed by Cardinal DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

There’s a section on Hollywood entertainers (human and animals), and another section on the history of embalming, from ancient Egypt through the battlefields of the Civil War to modern day medicine. Apparently, morticians concocted their own formulas for embalming fluid – there were many variations shown. One even came up with a recipe for root beer, and I couldn’t help hoping he never mixed up the two.

If you write an online review, or complete a series of trivia questions as you go, you can earn yourself a nice discount in the gift shop. I left with a mug: “Any day above ground is a good one” and a pen with a dangly coffin on it. I also picked up a four pack of assorted “Death Sauce” – hot, spicy pepper sauces that went well with dinner that night!

By the time I left the museum, it was 101º (“Feels like 117º”) and I was doubly glad I’d done the walk early and spent the afternoon in this intriguing, well-appointed museum – it’s fully air-conditioned, of course.

Otherwise, poor President Lincoln’s face would have melted.

Holly Jahangiri

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; and A New Leaf for Lyle. She draws inspiration from her family, from her own childhood adventures (some of which only happened in her overactive imagination), and from readers both young and young at heart. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, J.J., whose love and encouragement make writing books twice the fun.

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7 Responses

  1. Fascinating read. But I’m with W. I don’t see the fun in it. As a matter of fact, I don’t see fun in most museums, so I simply avoid them.

    • This was actually scheduled to post a month ago. I wondered why no one was visiting my blog or commenting on it.

      *sigh* Well, I may never be able to rebuild readership at the rate I’m killing this zombie of a blog.

      But I always have fun trying!

    • I don’t enjoy ALL museums, but I like history, natural science, and art. So if they’re done well, and I learn something, it’s time well spent.

      My favorite is the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Second favorite (I cringe to call it that – but I think it’s important and it’s exceedingly well organized) is the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. After that, most of the larger museums in either of those two cities are fascinating and worth seeing at least once.

      I also love old cathedrals, especially when they include historical exhibits.

  2. rummuser says:

    I enjoyed reading about the visit to the museum. During my bachelor days, in an Indian town of rather puritanical attitudes, it was difficult to find places to meet my then flame. We eventually found an abandoned colonial cemetery of English men and women rather well maintained with many shade giving trees. I recall with affection the company of those souls on many lazy afternoons.

    • How sweet! Perhaps they enjoyed yours, as well – so full of life and young love. (I’m feeling a story coming on, after a long drought – may I borrow this kernel of an idea, if it blossoms?)

  3. I usually like museums but I’d have passed on this one. However, I did hear the story about Booth escaping and being found some years later, though I don’t remember all the “details”.

    Was there any information on why the couple changed their minds at the last moment?

  4. I think a lot of people pass on what they think is going to be “morbid,” but really, there’s nothing about this place that struck me as being that way. They don’t really dwell on anything lurid – the most morbid bit might be something like the old tradition of giving locks of hair or jewelry made of hair to grieving relatives and friends as mementos. (Well, we can have our loved ones made into diamonds, now, or buried in an eco-friendly sapling kit. Whatever floats your boat, eh? I won’t care when I’m dead, so the living may do what gives them closure and makes them happy.)

    There was no info on why the couple changed their minds, but it sounds as though maybe – just maybe – going through their process gave them time to think and change their minds. People should be allowed to do that, I think, provided they’re not harming innocent people. It sounds as though the couple remained married until the husband’s death, years later, and that the wife lived on for some time. I doubt any of them are still alive, and perhaps the oversized coffin was just a painful reminder – she probably could have used the refund to support her in a retirement home. I think the coffin-maker was right not to give her the refund, mind you – they did their part, and possibly saved lives in the process.

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