Coffins once sold at the hardware store

Funeral business has changed dramatically since the early days of life in the village

Series: Hinsdale 150 | Story 44

Hinsdaleans today would be surprised, to say the least, to see coffins in stock at Fuller's Home and Hardware.

But in the 1870s in Hinsdale, they were sold at John Bohlander and Charles Pfeifer's hardware store, according to Timothy Bakken's history of the village, titled "Hinsdale."

"In those days, embalming was not practiced, nor was there any business about the funeral; the family, or whomever, merely came in, selected a coffin, carried it off, and buried the body themselves," he wrote.

Pfeifer left Bohlander in 1889 and continued selling coffins. His son, George Pfeifer, joined him in business in 1903 to learn the art of embalming, after new embalming laws were passed.

"By this time, services had grown somewhat," Bakken wrote. "Pfeifers would pick up the body and take it the grave, in addition to selling the coffin and doing the embalming. Wakes were held in the home, and black armbands and door badges or wreaths were still in fashion.

"Because of the village's deplorable muddy streets, an untimely death in bad weather could result in a body being 'held over' for as much as a week, until the hearse could make it to the cemetery," he wrote.

The price for a funeral at this time? About $20.

George Pfeifer and a partner later took over his father's business, which eventually became Pfeifer-Elliston and then Elliston Funeral Home.

The village's only burial ground in the early days was Fullersburg Cemetery at the north end of Garfield Avenue. As the village grew and plots were filled, land on the west side of North Madison Street a few blocks south of spring road was purchased by Gabriel Wright and named Oak Forest Cemetery. Wright advertised the site as "The Most Beautiful Cemetery in Illinois," according to Bakken. The first recorded interment was in 1886.

Oak Forest became Bronswood in 1914 after a patent attorney and bank director named Charles Brown bought most of the stock of Wright's Hinsdale Cemetery Co. and reorganized it. When Brown died in 1938, the cemetery was bought by Philip R. Clarke. The land on which the cemetery sits became part of the village of Oak Brook, which was incorporated in 1958.

"A great many of Hinsdale's oldest families and best-know people have plots at Bronswood, and many of the pioneers mentioned in these pages are buried there," Bakken wrote.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean