About eight years ago, Bill Duval sold his monster truck and bought a hearse. Duval isn't an undertaker and doesn't have anything to do with corpses; he just like hearses. Today the Warminster Heights, Pennsylvania, resident drives a 1997 Krystal Koach Lincoln, complete with a 250-pound, solid-oak casket in its expansive rear. He finds it great for grocery shopping and particularly handy for frequenting yard sales.
Last Saturday, Duval's car, garnished with zombie heads, won the award for Best Display at the Eighth Annual Hearse and Professional Vehicle Show in Philadelphia, an auto show for funerary vehicles held, appropriately, in the cemetery of Laurel Hill. Hosted by the Mohnton Professional Car Club (MPCC), the show this year drew nearly two dozen hearses owned by hobbyists like Duval. ("Professional car" is a term used to describe hearses and some other vehicles like limos and ambulances.)
"We do it just to show off our cars and show people hearses are neat, how they're made, and that you can have all kinds of fun with them," MPCC's director Shawn Koenig told me. Koenig, who had two hearses and one flower car (a vehicle that transports flowers for a funeral) present, started the club eight years ago simply to meet other hearse owners. Today it boasts 44 members mostly spread across Pennsylvania and New Jersey, who own a total of 57 cars among them.
All over America, there are a surprising number of people who just like hearses. The Professional Car Society (PCS), which boasts a nationwide membership of over 1,000, will hold its own annual show this Saturday in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; in May, hearse owners gathered in Asheville, North Carolina for an annual meet-up hosted by the National Hearse and Ambulance Association.
Everyone I met at Laurel Hill spoke in the enthusiastic, technical way of hobbyists about their cars' distinct styles, elegant interiors, and huge potential for customization. They're just car people who happen to enjoy the unique look of the long, sleek coaches—particularly those manufactured before the 2000s—and savor any opportunity to show them off.
"I got into it because it makes you feel different from the rest," Ron Errickson, who traveled from New Jersey with his '77 Superior Cadillac, told me. "You don't fit in. It gives you the attention that you've always wanted." His is a white-on-white hearse, rusted, but apparently a pretty rare find. It's one of five cars he owns, but the only one that has a fake skeleton in its passenger seat and another lying in a casket, which do accompany him during drives. Many of the hearse owners at the convention owned their own caskets, which they decorated both inside and out.
"Most hearse owners have a dark sense of humor, and the idea to shock people is very much in the forefront," John Hoffert, who owns a red-curtained, '82 Cadillac S&S Fleetwood Brougham, told me. "They may not admit it, but it's there."
Gatherings like the one in Laurel Hill are a chance to show off that humor to people who really get it and let a very specific variety of freak flag fly. Clearly holding nothing back was Gary Schnabel of Colmar, Pennsylvania, who adorned his white Cadillac with pro-Trump decals and laid a Hillary Clinton effigy in his casket. He's dubbed it his "Trump Train," and has been driving it throughout the election year to express his political views.
Others prefer subtler accessories like witty license plates or flags emblazoned with the word "FUNERAL," and some prefer to not pimp their rides whatsoever. Nikki Maurer, for instance—at 24, the club's youngest member—kept her '84 Superior Sovereign Three-Way in the same condition as when she acquired it, letting its lavish, steel-blue cushioned interior speak for itself. It houses a rare feature: an electric table that slides caskets in and out of its back, which replaces the rollers typically built into the floor to ease the task of manual loading. It's one of two hearses she owns, the other being a '88 Cadillac Eureka. While she aspires to be a funeral director, she says the car's associations with death have little relation to her love of hearses.
"It's just a unique car to have—when people see it, they're like, why?" she said. "I like to surprise and confuse people, to be weird. I'm a weird person, and I like weird things. This is just the big shebang of the whole weirdness."
Below, see more photos of the hearse owners and their souped-up whips.
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