The Kibbe Hancock Heritage Museum in Carthage received an immeasurable gift.
A gift that will mean hours of work and sorting.
The gift can mean a significant boost in tourism and historic research.
The Kibbe Museum was selected to receive the entire contents of the Illinois Funeral Directors' Associ-ation's Museum of Funeral Customs in Springfield. Included in the displays are valuable artifacts and replicas from the funeral of Abraham Lincoln.
Kim Nettles, Kibbe Museum board president, along with board members and volunteers, John and Jackie Adkins, Dick Reed and former funeral director, Bruce Leathem, spent Thursday and Friday last week in Springfield sorting, cataloging and packing the materials.
“We have four horse-drawn hearses. There is a replica of Lincoln's coffin, a miniature of Lincoln's funeral train and the Lincoln monument,” said Nettles.
“We have the contents of a mobile museum of funeral customs from Wisconsin, embalming tables, and even a replica of King Tut's sarcophagus. But we really didn't know what all was involved in this until we started sorting and boxing things this week,” said Nettles.
The displays were delivered to Carthage in two semi-trailer trucks donated by SO-il Service Inc. and Arnold Boyer, a large cargo truck and 15-passenger van from Rob Carson, and pick up trucks or vans from Dick Reed, Tim Tomlinson, Jason Lamporte, Donna Walker, Mike Tracy and Jim Printy.
Word went out that the trucks would be unloaded in a Methode Electronics building Sunday afternoon. Volunteers from Lions Club, Kiwanis, Key Club, many churches and the museum made a crew of over 50 to unload the trucks and vans.
“We put quite a bit of effort into planning this move to ensure that it went as smoothly as possible. One of the main goals was to minimize the number of times that objects had to be picked up and moved, particularly the heavy items,” said Nettles.
“We achieved that goal yesterday and there will be very little shifting around necessary. A lot of the credit goes to Mike Tracy, who was in charge of loading the trailers as efficiently as possible and ensuring that the unloading order would get the storage cabinets and racks off the trucks first.”
The museum received far more than funerary artifacts. There were tables, chairs, large glass-shelved display cases. About 20 other display cases of varying sizes were valued from $1,000 to $3,000 each, depending on the size.
“We have an entire computer record system. We never could have afforded that,” Nettles said. “In those file cabinets there is an amazing collection of research information, unique and well organized. They had a good curator. There is information on embalming products, funeral homes of the area, photographs and research.”
She hopes it can become a place that students can use for research in many areas.
Carthage Community Development director, Charlie Bair, sees an important draw for tourism in the collection.
“The major focus is tourism development in so many ways. We are in the part of the nation that has been identified as the National Abraham Lincoln Historic Area,” said Bair. “Until now we had a small part of that with the Looking for Lincoln rails in the county. Now we have one of the major attractions. The history of Lincoln's funeral and funeral customs will be an important draw.”
The museum board learned about the possibility of getting the displays last fall, when the Illinois Funeral Directors Association announced they would be closing their Museum of Funeral Customs.
“The museum was right outside the gates of the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield. In closing, they contacted people who had donated to it. Bruce (Leathem) had loaned them some items, which are now set up in our museum,” said Jackie Adkins. “There were people from all over who wanted parts of the displays, especially the Lincoln items.”
The IFDA wanted to find one group that would be willing to take everything, rather distributing it in a piecemeal fashion. As a 501C3 non-profit group, the IFDA had to transfer its assets to another 501C3 group. There was no cost to the Kibbe Museum for the wealth of material it received.
“The president of the IFDA came to visit us at the museum. She said that while there might not be a great interest in a museum of only funeral customs, she could see interest in those items, in the scope of a general museum such as ours,” said Adkins.
Leathem and funeral director, Jim Printy, have been valuable to the museum board in explaining and working with the material.
Getting the material to Carthage was the first, large task; the real work now begins. The next step is “triage” to verify and assess the inventory.
“Once that's complete, we'll be designing the new Lincoln exhibit, expanding our new funerary exhibit, and possibily developing exhibits for other institutions,” said Nettles. “There's also a great deal of printed and photographic material that I hope to turn into an online archive/exhibit.”
It will be a little more than a year before the Lincoln display is ready.
“Most of the Lincoln displays will be completed when we open for the season in March 2012,” Nettles said.
When Kibbe opens this spring, there will be two new exhibits. The first is the funerary exhibit, designed by Leathem. This exhibit includes unusual caskets, an example of a home visitation/ funeral, and a reproduction of an embalming room.
“The exhibit is very informative and designed with great sensitivity — it is educational without being morbid. Early visitors, including children, have responded very positively to this exhibit,” said Nettles.
The second exhibit is a temporary exhibit about the history of the Shay family in Hancock County. This is still in the design phase.