They've been part of Dodge City's life, and death, since 1874.
The first undertaker or, as we call them today, funeral director, was Jacob Collar with his "Blue Front" Store which sat on Front Street.
Hungarian Jacob along with his brother Morris were among those who organized Ford County on April 5, 1873.
In addition to undertaker's supplies, Jacob's store offered fancy groceries, cigars, tobacco, carpeting, confectionery, California fruits and furniture. The store offered a special service: if a patron left an order for fresh vegetables in the evening, the staff delivered them to his or her home early the next morning without extra charge.
In May 1878, Collar installed a soda fountain in his store.
Jacob Collar was the primary supplier of household furnishings to Dodge City in the 1870's. In those days it was common for furniture stores to offer coffins and undertaking equipment. After all, the skills needed to construct furniture greatly overlapped with those required to make coffins.
Back then, most people died at home. The undertaker often came into to home, placed the deceased in a large coffin-shaped wicker basket and took the body to his shop for embalming and other preparations for viewing. The person was brought back to the home in the burial coffin for viewing.
Embalming kept the deceased from decomposing which enabled loved ones to spend time viewing the person before the funeral. The practice of embalming was not common until the Civil War, when most soldiers died far from home. In many cases, military surgeons embalmed the fallen to preserve them long enough to be shipped home rather than to inter them near the battlefield.
When someone died, their home was entered only by those friends and family in mourning, and signs and sights of normal daily activity were kept out. The windows were blacked out and draped with black crepe. Ringing of the doorbell was forbidden and clocks were stopped showing the time of death. Often the family covered the mirrors to prevent the spirit from seeing their reflection.
Servants, friends and non-immediate family members kept a constant vigil as the deceased laid in the home's parlor. Flowers around the coffin provided a pleasant visual and olfactory presence but, more importantly, they masked the odors of decomposition and embalming chemicals.
The vigil ended with a funeral conducted after one to four days of viewing. Spouses of the departed and close family spent time in "deep mourning." Both men and women in deep mourning wore black clothing with black buttons with the plainest of jewelry. Women wore a black veil which hung from the bonnet to the shoulder or mid-calf. Men wore a black crepe armband. During this period, little contact was allowed with the outside world, especially for the women. Ideally, this mourning lasted a year, but this was economically impractical for all except the wealthy.
Queen Victoria of England set the bar very high when it came to mourning periods. She spent the last forty years of her life in mourning after her husband Prince Albert died in 1861.
Today there are two funeral homes in Dodge City. One is Ziegler on North 14th and the other is Swaim which has sat on Sixth Avenue since 1943. Swaim's traces its roots back to Jacob Collar's 1874 Blue Front Store.