Hearses and funeral cars are probably the most storied vehicles in the history of our culture. Even before the modern-day hearses, the mystique of death and the horse-drawn carriage has always grabbed peoples’ attention. That’s why there are so many legends about hearses and funeral cars in our society. We would like to explore some of those legends of funerals cars in a multi-part blog series. We hope you will enjoy this and learn something new at the same time.
The Haunted Mansion Hearse
One of the most common legends concerning a hearse takes us to Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride. Before entering the ride, an old-fashioned horse-drawn hearse provides an ominous feeling to those wanting a thrill. According to legend and rumors, this is the same carriage that transported the body of Brigham Young, the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. His funeral took place in 1877, making this hearse more than a century old.
It’s a detail passed around Disney fans for years and is often accepted at face value. After all, there are dozens of stories passed around about Disney history. The fact that this one involves a hearse has made it especially appealing to generations of visitors. The blend of Disneyworld whole fun with the macabre is simply too good to pass up. Although this is one of the most prominent hearse legends, it is not true.
Glen M. Leonard, director of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Museum of Church History and Art, went on the record in an attempt to dispel the myth once and for all. He confirmed that “historical evidence shows no hearse was used,” before going on to tell the story of Brigham Young’s real funeral transportation.
Brigham Young had set out a specific set of instruction he expected to be carried out long before his death in August of 1877. When Young passed away, those explicit directions were carried out by his staff. Among the directions had been the naming of pall bearers taken from his pool of clerks and employees. These men were selected to carry Young’s body from its death bed to the Tabernacle in preparation for his funeral. After the funeral, those same pall bearers carried Young’s body to a nearby private cemetery. Simply put, there were no wheeled vehicles of any kind, horse-drawn or otherwise, used in the funeral of Brigham Young.
Exposing this urban legend doesn’t dispel the mystery around the hearse however. The lineage of the Haunted Mansion hearse can only be traced back to its purchase by Disney from Dale Rickards, a collector in Malibu. Earlier records for the hearse had disappeared and the manufacturer’s plate had been removed. This makes it impossible to trace the hearse’s history any further and, as a result, ripe for speculation. So while it certainly wasn’t used in the funeral of Brigham Young, that doesn’t mean it’s history is any less intriguing.