View Full Version : ?? for the Funeral guys

Walter Suiter
04-05-2017, 02:18 AM
The attached pic is of a iron/steel box rotting in the storage basement of an abandoned Cemetery Chapel.

It could have been placed there anyplace between 1912 and 1980.

Based on what I see in the pic, multiple lid securing latches particularly, I'm thinking it may be an old transport casket for people who died of contagious diseases in time gone by. There was a large Tuberculosis Hospital a mile away. There was also a poorhouse and County Hospital.

Definitely heavy, and rather odd it wasn't stolen given the Chapel has been boarded up for years.
I refuse to believe it was the toolbox or parts box for the water powered elevator that carried caskets up and down for storage when it was too cold to dig graves.
Thanks in advance for answers

Martin Harvey
04-05-2017, 07:34 AM
To me it looks more like an iron vault.

Richard Vyse
04-05-2017, 05:47 PM
I've got to go with a burial vault as well. We just ran across one similar to that one here when I first arrived. Remember in the old days things were far more gothic than today.

Paul Steinberg
04-05-2017, 07:31 PM
Might you have a picture of the inside?

Walter Suiter
04-05-2017, 08:17 PM
Sorry guys, I can't go with a cast iron vault because of the 8 carry handles.

I only have 1 picture of the box Paul, but I'll toss in a couple pics of the chapel/ warehouse. Check out the elevator that brought the deceased down from the chapel. It was operated by water pressure from the city water mains.

1 minute the deceased is the center of attention on that little stage with a pipe organ playing, then the Cemetery employee turns a valve and the box goes down. Pretty much the entire basement was racks to stack caskets 3 or 4 high waiting for Spring thaw.

Place opened in 1912, and lighting was originally either candles or oil lamps, note the ropes to the fixtures.

Kent Dorsey
04-05-2017, 09:00 PM
My first reaction when I saw was than it was an early Ziegler case...

Kurt Arends
04-05-2017, 09:06 PM
Wouldn't that be somewhat odd to have Winter storage in the basement of a building? There would be Winters where it may never freeze down there.

Are you sure that there isn't/wasn't an old retort in that basement?? There is a crematory in the Quad Cities(oldest crematory west of the Mississippi) that still has a lowering device in the center of the chapel that lowered the decedent from a platform in the chapel down to the basement where it would be transferred to the original retort in the basement.

I am with Kent on this one. There are scads of old "Ziegler" type shipping containers still out there in the basements/garages of old funeral homes.

Walter Suiter
04-05-2017, 09:07 PM
Maybe I should mention until 1951 Rochester was the home of National Casket.

Kurt & I were typing at the same time.
That's definitely winter storage, quite common in this area. Figure if it was too cold to dig a grave that basement was pretty cold too. Heat, such as it was, was only in the chapel itself, and only when needed. By the time the City put automatic heat in there the pipe organ was already ruined according to organists.

Kent Dorsey
04-05-2017, 09:16 PM
I sent out the photo and have several answers:
Greensboro, NC replies: "It was for temporary storage for a casket with a body, 1940's vintage"
Cottonwood,Arizona replies: "My guess is definitely Ziegler. The handles are from Ziegler not a vault, not big enough for a vault..."
Forest City, NC: replies: "I say a Ziegler case. The handles look more in line with casket liner than vault to me"...
Some of it, can be solved by the SIZE... I can't tell the depth from the photo, so there's the litmus test, IF it will go in a fully stripped casket, you have a Ziegler case, if it is big enough to hold the casket, then "temporary storage" idea floats pretty well...
So, size matters...

Paul Steinberg
04-05-2017, 10:11 PM
Does this funeral chapel still exist? It looks like a beautiful old structure that with some modernization could be used again, except for the water lift. Are the pictures something that you took, or are they from a historical site?

John ED Renstrom
04-05-2017, 11:34 PM
How do you get the water lift to work in the winter in a unheated basement?

Walter Suiter
04-06-2017, 12:41 AM
The Chapel is in Mt Hope Cemetery in Rochester, municipal property and was declared obsolete in the 70s. Since then it has deteriorated with the only maintenance being boarding up to keep kids and winos out. Been many problems over there, including the Director & one of her helpers stealing bronze markers wholesale. They eventually got busted when another worker blew the whistle loud to TV Stations. The politicians had told the cops to keep their noses out of the theft.

It's a very old cemetery, and the area around the Chapel is pretty full, so logistics aren't favorable to re-use. The Mount part of the name is no joke, that land area is very hilly and steep.

The pics I posted are from college kids who call themselves urban archeologists. That translates to kids who enter vacant structures and photograph everything in site in the hope they will eventually understand what they have a picture of. Unfortunately, the nature of their effort causes pictures to come and go from various places on the web. It also occasionally causes Firemen and Rescue crews to go pull the Jr Archeologist out of their entrapped situation.

Water elevators, with the exception of the Eiffel Tower as originally built, were quite common prior to the 20th Century. Freezing was not a problem for most. Eiffel shut down its elevators in Winter because the cylinders could freeze. The majority were similar in structure to the old gas station in ground lift where the piston came up from the floor.

When the piston is in the down position there is very little water in the cylinder, and that is all at the bottom where temperature will generally be between 40 and 50 degrees f. Also factor in that flowing water doesn't easily freeze, so a weep drain is installed to maintain sufficient flow through the valve body to prevent freezing. The City had an unlimited supply of water at no cost from the reservoir one hill over. When you look at the piston diameter under the platform you realize it has to be that large because it works on low pressure, and that is a function of the vertical relationship to the reservoir a mile away.

Add to that, frost forms on top of the ground first and travels horizontally before it goes down into the ground. The old Krauts who built this town had a good understanding of that, and how to work with Nature rather than against. When the old Bausch & Lomb buildings from the 1850s were demolished 6" thick cork walls were found surrounding the cellars to a depth of 6 feet. The cork insulated the wall and prevented frost force from acting against the cellar wall. Given that the Chapel was designed by Warner, I'd not be surprised to find wall insulation there, particularly given the topography.

This pic of the cut sandstone building pretty well says a large part of the design was based on storage capacity. It sits on about a 1 acre meadow that is sort of flat.

Paul Steinberg
04-06-2017, 12:53 AM
Thank you for the explanation. If you have more pictures, please post them to this thread. We can keep history alive and interesting one thread at a time. Thanks again... Paul

Walter Suiter
04-06-2017, 03:02 AM
Paul I sure hope you have some weight around here because you just asked a history lover to post pictures.
Ask and you will receive.

I am fascinated by the detail of the machine produced woodwork of the time and the understanding of the men who produced it that the wood had to survive in an unheated building.
The bottom pic shows the entire cellar was set up to rack caskets 3 high from floor to ceiling. My rough estimate is over 100 could be stored.

Location: 1133 Mt. Hope Avenue Rochester, NY 14620

Constructed: Ground broken August 1909; Handed over to the city in September 1910.

Decommissioned: Late 70s, early 80s

Builders: Gorsline & Swan Construction Company. Office was located in the Powers building, downtown Rochester.

Architect: John Foster Warner; Rochester

Materials: Berea, Ohio sandstone; Concrete; white-pressed brick; Italian marble; Old English oak.

Cost: $75,000 [$1,845,477.27 2017 money]

Accessibility: Closed off limits.

Walter Suiter
04-06-2017, 03:31 AM
If Paul got me in trouble, I might as well be in to my neck.

The contractor who built it had built himself an 8 story industrial building in the 1850s, watched it burn, and rebuilt it. The Architect, Warner, designed many of downtown Rochester's buildings, and was way out front when it came to integrating new mechanical devices.

Note the 1930s vintage wiring to the chandeliers indicating the Chapel was wired when electricity became available there.

The cable system on the water valve is the speed governor for the elevator. If the operator standing next to the coping on the Chapel floor turned the valve too far, the governor prevented the elevator from overspeeding.

The bottom picture on the left is one I love using to teach kids. The "explorers" who shot this group of pics wandered aimlessly wondering what the strange device was and what it did. They are all PostGrad kids and fairly smart in the narrow field they study. They are also completely incapable of analyzing what they see. A couple hours of coaching, after they came to understand WHY they need to carry some basic First Aid gear, they were able to figure out where a similar dial with numbers in that range is often seen with a cover over most of the device.

Yup, it's a thermostat, and no, history didn't begin when you were born. I freely admit I'm a very ignorant man, the body of knowledge is too large for me to know much. I can still learn, and I will fight to do so.

John ED Renstrom
04-06-2017, 11:53 AM
What always gets me is these structure are always abandoned for a more "modern" building. Mainly because some progressive personality just wants new. Then it stands for another 100 years empty sound as the stone they built it from. We have a town full of them.

Wayne Krakowski
04-06-2017, 01:53 PM
You are so right Ed, buildings built 50 years ago are being demolished for newer better ones,yet these older buildings are deserted and still won't fall down.

Walter Suiter
04-06-2017, 02:53 PM
A friend of mine over the last 50 years often asks; "What's the prize for the generation that looses the most knowledge?".

A "Learned Professor" not long ago expounded that "Google has rendered the need to know information obsolete." My buds and I smiled at him and suggested he go play with his all knowing phone. We live today in a dangerous time for the scribes who write of history. It's become the fashion in publishing to make it up to fit your theory of what might have happened. I live in a town where a fat obnoxious woman has inserted herself into 4 major rescues of History, and seriously hampered the preservation of objects that can't be replaced. She got 4 books of misinformation out of her effort, and has done 50 "presentations" further slopping up the trail. She is revered for her 30 pages of crap, as is the retired "reporter" who writes from the Library, and grabs $250 checks for his 2 hour Presentation, while men who lived the event are reviled and blocked from documentation.

Such is the nature of a Homogonized society of mediocrity.
Today we live in a time when in exchange for large long term debt a young person can get a piece of paper declaring them an expert in History from a legitimate college, without having taken a single course in American History.
They'll crap themselves when they find there is a BIG hole in google from 1950 through 1980, because nobody wrote about it.

Entropy appears to be a stronger force than gravity. Knowledge holds no value though.

Kurt Arends
04-06-2017, 09:59 PM
We are now starting to see many of these architectural travesties here in the Midwest where 130+ year old church congregations are beginning to merge as their membership dwindles. Neither congregation wants to go to the other congregation's church, so they basically abandon 2 gorgeous, historic structures and build a huge new "pole barn" on the outskirts of town where they can have a 10-acre parking lot. The 2 structures that they walked away from subsequently fall into disrepair under the ownership of an individual or smaller non-denominational church that lacks the ability(or desire) to maintain the structure as it has been for the past 100 years.

The same is true of our historic "Main Streets" as those buildings fall into disrepair and collapse or burn to the ground.

Paul Steinberg
04-07-2017, 12:09 AM
Paul I sure hope you have some weight around here because you just asked a history lover to post pictures.
Ask and you will receive.

My request to you has got me BANNED!!! It was fun while it lasted.

Walter Suiter
04-07-2017, 02:36 AM
Ummmm, guys, I think I'm gonna be real quiet and not make any more posts for a while.

Wayne Krakowski
04-07-2017, 06:52 AM
And I was really starting to enjoy the pictures and stories,

Attila Bethlenfalvy
04-09-2017, 12:18 PM
Container in original question is a transfer case frequently used for transporting body via train. Two similar examples are represented in my collection, made by National Casket Co, one having reinforced glass portal. (Glass wasn't used for 'viewing' in traditional sense, merely ID in cases of contagion or advanced decomposition.) Dating is straightforward, as they are in numerous catalogs (also in collection) from 1912-1926. This 1921 catalog has largest images:

One is on display loan to Simpson Funeral Museum. Although not frequenting this site much any more, I am happy continually providing definitive facts for 1850s-1950s funerary objects, relieving burden from those who continually guess just to fluff up post counts.


The term Ziegler was not popularized until '50s, Korean War era, which are first references in catalogs.

Walter Suiter
04-09-2017, 01:23 PM
Thank you from the depth of my Historical Correctness heart.

Once again, 2 pieces of local Rochester history tie neatly together. National Casket was located here at the corner of Exchange and Court until 1951 when the building was demolished for the Rochester War Memorial auditorium.

Another bit of History, National Caskets were first manufactured in Rochester with water power driven machinery.

Kent Dorsey
04-10-2017, 12:11 PM
"Although not frequenting this site much any more, I am happy continually providing definitive facts for 1850s-1950s funerary objects, relieving burden from those who continually guess just to fluff up post counts."

Beneficial information provided on an interesting discussion, shame it couldn't be provided without this above quote...

Richard Vyse
04-10-2017, 02:34 PM
Beneficial information provided on an interesting discussion, shame it couldn't be provided without this above quote...

He got the reaction he was hoping for Kent in that everyone is an idiot except him. Always good for a laugh.