HOT LACQUER IS APPLIED to a coffin shell by John Zeller, an employee of Sheboygan Casket Mfg. Co. Inc.  Two coats of the spray are needed before interior linings can be installed.  John is a brother of Richard Zeller, superintendent and treasurer of the company. - (Sheboygan Press Photo)


Sheboygan Casket Mfg. Co., Inc . . . .


Custom Caskets: Orders

Are Sometimes Unusual


As the fat lady from Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, her death hardly was routine.  Funeral arrangements for the 600-pound performer posed innumerable problems for her circus family.


Removal of the body from the mobile home she occupied near Baraboo, a difficult task in itself according to those who recall the circumstances, was only the first obstacle.  A more perplexing problem was finding a coffin large enough to accommodate the woman.


Friends turned eventually to Sheboygan Casket Mfg. Co. Inc., 1214 N. 9th St., one of the few custom builders of coffins in the United States.  But the order proved formidable, even for a firm accustomed to supplying oversized products.


Workmen selected an ordinary coffin, measuring six feet, six inches long, which is suitable for the vast majority of people, and quartered it, according to Richard Zeller, plant superintendent and treasurer of the company.  They then added plywood to extend it in all directions and two-by-fours for reinforcement.


Wouldn't Fit Through The Door


The end product truly was unique, but by no means did it solve all of the problems confronting mourners.  For while the casket now could accommodate the circus performer, it no longer fit through the funeral home door.


To all for visitation, a large bay window had to be removed to provide access and egress for the coffin.


A platoon of pallbearers accompanied the body to its final resting spot; burial required two adjoining cemetery plots.


The Ringling Brothers fat lady, remembered 25 years hence, was one of several special orders received by Sheboygan Casket Co. over the years.



A Little History


On another occasion a California man asked the firm to build him a coffin which would allow him to be buried in a standing position. Although he gave no reason for his bronze; the cheapest are made of low-grade wood with cloth covering.  The latter are purchased elsewhere and resold, but no longer manufactured here.


Exact retail prices vary since funeral homes traditionally combine their services into a package deal, a trend that is losing ground, however, in favor of itemized expenses.


Sheboygan Casket Co. also manufactures cremation boxes, but is not engaged in the sale of urns.  Anderson explained that sometimes the entire casket, after visitation and final rites is cremated.


In Christian countries, cremation was outlawed for many centuries because it allegedly ran counter to the doctrine of bodily resurrection.  That was the reason medieval witches were burned at the sake - to destroy both their bodies and their souls.



Cremation Ruled Legal A Century Ago


In Britain, cremation began to gain acceptance fewer than 100 years ago, when Dr. William Price, an eccentric Welshman, cremated his son.  Price was prosecuted in Cardiff in 1884, and his acquittal - the judge ruled the practice was legal, provided it caused no nuisance to others - paved the way for modern crematoriums.


Ballhorn Funeral Chapels, 1205 N. 8th St., is equipped with a crematory, Anderson noted, and has been for many years.


Caskets are built according to funeral directors' specifications.  With 35 full-time employees working in the five story factory, the company can turn out 15 completed coffins a day and fill an emergency order within 24 hours, Zeller stated.


Normal working hours are 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, unless a special request must be net.


In addition to the shells, hardware and bolts of silk for the interiors are bought from other sources.  All of the caskets produced here are custom-tailored and cotton-filled.

"Many Companies are going to snap-in, cardboard interiors," said Zeller, who has served the company in various capacities for 42 years. "We don't use and of that."


When shells arrive at the factory, workers take out grinding marks, sand them inside and outside and check for flaws.  They then apply a color coat and different types of shading - as many as three - before they are covered with a clear, hot lacquer (180 degrees). When the lacquer dries, a second coat is applied and the shell is allowed to stand overnight.


The caskets are water-sanded, then buffed at a high speed the next day.


Average 190 Pounds In Weight


Many of the coffins are made of 18 gauge steel and average 190 pounds in weight.  Smaller ones are available for children.


Funeral home order forms, stating the type of shell, finish, hardware and interior desired, stay with each casket until it is completed.  Because of the wide variety of combinations possible from a custom builder, the orders can get rather complicated, Zeller pointed out.


"We're a smaller operation that some but we're still in business while many other have fallen by the wayside," Anderson said.


Sheboygan Press, Thursday November 29th 1979

All stories are the property of Sideshow World & their respective authors.  Any republication in part or in whole is strictly prohibited.  For more information please contact us here.



Back to the Good Old Days      Back to Main


All photos are the property of their respective owners whether titled or marked anonymous.

"Sideshow WorldTM" is the sole property of John Robinson All rights reserved.

is the sole property of John Robinson All rights reserved.

E-Mail Sideshow World     E-Mail The Webmaster