Merrill-Grinnell will celebrate 100th anniversary

Posted 5 June 2014 at 12:00 am

Replica of Lincoln’s coffin will be on display in Albion

Photos by Sue Cook – Funeral Director Rebekah Karls stands outside the Merrill-Grinnell Funeral Home, formerly the residence of Sanford Church, the New York State Lieutenant Governor in 1842.

By Sue Cook, staff reporter

ALBION – This year the Merrill-Grinnell Funeral Home celebrates its 100th year in the funeral business with special events planned for the Strawberry Festival on June 13-14.

In 1914, J.B. Merrill established his funeral business and later merged and formed J.B. Merrill & Son with Leon Grinnell’s business.

Rebekah Karls has served as Merrill-Grinnell’s manager and a funeral director since 2002. She times the funeral home’s 100th anniversary with the Albion Strawberry Festival next weekend. She welcomes the community to learn, explore and get a taste of history.

“Sometimes after a funeral, when everything’s done and everyone’s leaving, the most frequent thing I hear is ‘I hope we don’t meet like this again’ or ‘I hope we meet somewhere else,’” Karls said. “So this is kind of a nice occasion for people to come where they don’t have the lingering grief following them.”

Before its current location, located at the corner of East State and Ingersoll in Albion, the funeral home used to be in the building across State Street. It was purchased by Merrill-Grinnell during the 1930s. Merrill’s original location was in Kendall.

This ad states the date for grand opening in the current location on Sept. 17-18, 1955.

The funeral home will be open to the public during the festival. Exhibits will be set up with death and funeral related items, old advertisements, antique equipment, funeral furniture, a glass trike hearse, the rosewood ice chest coffin from the Cobblestone museum and more. Tours will also be available.

“It’s basically a community event,” Karls explained. “Come on down and meet me. I want to meet you. I want to talk to you. I want you to see what we’re about. I don’t want anybody to feel pressured about anything.”

Karls expects the big draw for the weekend to be Abraham Lincoln’s coffin provided by Batesville Casket Company.

It is authentic to Lincoln’s original custom-built coffin (except for an internal lead lining and silver plate).

The original coffin spent three weeks in 1865 making several stops on its way from Washington, D.C., to Springfield, Ill. Lincoln had the largest funeral ever until the death of President Kennedy.

A replica of Abraham Lincoln’s coffin will be on display during the Strawberry Festival.

The Batesville Company’s four replica coffins have been to over 100 cities and are on a waiting list into 2016.

On June 14, the funeral home will also host several vendors who are available to answer questions. Karls wants the vendors there to make people more comfortable without feeling overwhelmed.

“I don’t want people to be afraid of this place,” she said. “Everybody’s got questions, but they don’t want to ask. I figure if I have different people there to answer the questions, they’ll feel more at ease to ask and learn.”

“A lot of the older generation is going to have a traditional service, but a lot of people are going modern now and personalizing a lot more,” Karls said. “It’s all about what that person would have wanted. When I get to know the person that’s passed through their family, through stories, then I can say ‘let’s do this to memorialize dad or mom.’”

Karls stands among the casket and vault options that the funeral home offers. She welcomes curious visitors to ask questions in a comfortable atmosphere.

“It takes a little bit of edge off the family,” she said. “It’s not such a sad, solemn thing. It’s going to be a celebration of their life and that’s what we like to do.”

She hopes the weekend of the Strawberry Festival will open people’s minds about funeral services, but also as an opportunity to meet her under enjoyable circumstances.

“I felt this was a good weekend. People were already going to be out here, so come on a couple steps farther and visit us,” said Karls.

The funeral home will be open Friday June 13 from noon until 6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. The vendors will be there mostly during the afternoon.