of the North Manchester Historical Society, Inc.

Volume XX Number 4 November 2003

The History of North Manchester Undertakers

Mike McKee

Early Traditions.

Since the earliest beginnings of man, humans have buried their dead. Archeologists have found shallow graves dug by hand or with crude tools, flowers placed carefully on the deceased's grave, tools, hunting weapons and food baskets with the body. For thousands of years humans have believed that a human body deserves decent and respectful treatment. In 17th century Europe care of the deceased was undertaken by the family. They washed and dressed the body and laid out the body for a period of time in the home. They dug the grave and conducted a service acknowledging the life that had been lived and finally buried their loved one. This European tradition came to America with the original Pilgrims and became the foundation for an American funeral tradition.

By the late 18th century the care of the dead began to be handed over to persons outside the family: cabinetmakers or church sextons or owners of livery stables. Each profession had something special to offer. The cabinetmakers crafted coffins, church sextons located graves and managed cemeteries and livery operators had wagons in which to transport the deceased to the cemetery. Furniture stores sold the coffins and funeral related merchandise. It is from these four professions that many family owned funeral home businesses began.


In France, Dr Gannal introduced a method of embalming using the arterial system of the body and a concoction of chemicals that provided some form of preservation. By mid 19th century, chemical embalming methods were being researched in the medical schools and large city hospitals. Although not widely accepted, or used, the idea caught the attention of enough practitioners that it was kept alive until the Civil War.

During the Civil War, Dr. Thomas H. Holmes, regarded as the father of modern embalming, advanced the concept and improved the preserving chemicals. His career began in the 1840s as an assistant to a New York county coroner. By 1861 he was a captain in the Union army stationed in Washington, D. C. His talents were put to use embalming Union soldiers so they could be returned home to their families. During the war the vocation, embalmer-surgeon, was born; they cared for the injured and embalmed the dead. Following the war, embalming remained an accepted and requested service and became widely used. Epidemics in large communities, often due to contaminated water supplies because of unembalmed bodies buried in nearby cemeteries, prompted communities and states to require embalming.

Virginia was the first state to pass embalming laws in 1894. Following the Civil War and up to about 1930, embalming was done in the home of the deceased. The undertaker and his assistant brought a portable wooden table, known as a cooling board; necessary instrument, gravity bottle, hose, and formaldehyde. After the embalming operation, usually done in the bedroom, the body was dressed, placed in a coffin and taken to the front parlor of the home for visitation. Some funerals were held in the home but most were in churches.


In the mid-19th century those persons offering funeral merchandise began to undertake additional services. They became known as undertakers. Beyond handling coffins, they provided laying out services, funeral direction and transportation. Coffins were made of wood in the shape of a human body - wide at the shoulders, narrowing toward the feet. These coffins were purchased at a local furniture store. At this time they were considered another piece of furniture or cabinetry. If you examine a photograph of the inside of a 19th century furniture store you will likely see coffins standing on end at the back of the store, ready for purchase like any other piece of furniture. These stores also offered door badges and rental chairs. Embalmers left over from the Civil War joined with these furniture store operators and established "furniture and undertaking parlors". Undertakers also became associated with livery stables, upholsterers and lumber dealers.

Funeral Homes and Parlors.

By the beginning of the 20th century many family homes, and even the store front undertaking parlors, were not able to accommodate visitations and funeral services. In response, undertakers began to move their establishments to large home in the community. Many of these homes were large enough to create a preparation room where the embalming was done, thus eliminating the need to embalm in the decedent's home. Locally, funeral homes came into use in the mid-1920s. Spacious in their time, they offered arrangement offices, casket selection rooms and visitation parlors. However, some visitation in family homes continued until the 1940s and, occasionally, still today. With the birth of these full service funeral homes, funeral directors took responsibility for all details of the service for the deceased and family.

Today most funeral homes offer handicapped accessible facilities, lighted off street parking, dining areas for family meals, as well as hearses and flower delivery vans. When motorized hearses were introduced in North Manchester around 1906, undertakers had to keep their horse drawn coaches for families who refused to have their loved one transported to the cemetery in "one of those new motor machines". In the late 1920s funeral homes also offered

ambulance service. By attaching a red flashing light to a hearse, the funeral director provided a means of transporting the sick and injured. North Manchester funeral directors offered this service for some 60 years until state regulations for emergency medical care could no longer be maintained. Ambulance services across the state were taken over by fire departments, hospitals and private businesses.

Let's step back to about 1875 and follow the early undertakers in our town to the funeral directors of today.

Stewart and Ellwood - Augustus E. Stewart (1855 - before 1926) opens an undertaking parlor at 216 E. Main Street in North Manchester about 1875. The 1880 census lists his occupation as cabinet maker. Mr. Stewart has likely come to North Manchester sooner as several publications refer to him as one of the pioneers. He is active about the town and serves as town trustee in 1892. Stewart is joined by John C. Ellwood, (1848 - 1918) who comes to North Manchester from Ohio in 1876. He is a cabinetmaker and a Civil War veteran, possibly part of an embalming team. This business is sold to Gara and Wise in January, 1900. Mr. Ellwood retires and Mr. Stewart remains with Gara and Wise as a salesman until August of 1902. He will be absent from the community for several years, but returns and establishes another undertaking parlor which operates until about 1920 (possibly in the area of 227 E. Main St).

Jacob Meisner - Very little is known except that he is listed in Helms' 1884 History of Wabash County, as being an undertaker in North Manchester in 1879.

Gara and Wise Furniture and Undertaking - Willis A. Gara (1863 - ?) and John K Wise are described by the News Journal as very pleasant appearing gentlemen from Cerro Gordo, Illinois. They purchase the Stewart and Ellwood establishment at 216 E. Main Street (or the south side of Main St. 4 doors west of Mill) in January, 1900. A. E. Stewart stays in their employ as he is listed as a salesman for Gara and Wise in the 1901-02 telephone directory. Mr. Gara is involved in the business for a short time, and sells his half interest to S. S. Gump in June of 1906. Evidence of this business has been preserved by the owners of 216 E. Main Street, with the word "Undertaking" painted in the alley. It can still be seen in 2003. "Gara and Wise Furniture and" was painted over in the early 1990s. This building is sold to Abram Burkhart in 1909 and was not used as an undertaking parlor after that time. S. S. Gump purchases 231 E. Main Street that same year.

Haines & Son - Ca. 1898. Open an undertaking parlor at 224 E. Main Street. Melvin O Haines (1876 - ?) is the son and local contact as Alfred Haines (1847 - ) is from Middlebury, but never actually lives in North Manchester. They sell to A. E. Stewart in August of 1902. Melvin Haines stays in the employ of Mr. Stewart, where he trains a young George Bender. Although this location will be the site of several undertaking parlors until about 1922, it is never owned by any of the business owners. (The 1901 - 02 phone directory lists Haines and Son on the south side of Main St., 4 doors west of Mill.)

Fogel & Walters - Furniture and undertaking. Jacob Fogel and Charles M. Walters (1867 - 1945), formerly of Kewanna, Indiana, form this business in 1901. In July 1903 they purchase Gara and Wise and operate from their location. M. Fogel sells his interest to S. S. Gump in 1905

Gump & Walters Furniture and Undertaking firm formed by Samuel S. Gump (1869 - 1940 and Charles M. Walters in 1905, probably at the site of the former Gara & Wise and Fogel & Walters, 216 E. Main Street. By 1912 J. W. Dewey (1875 - 1948), who is a cashier with the Lawrence National Bank, joins the firm to form Gump - Walter &Dewey. Mr. Dewey is an inactive member of the firm. In February, 1906, Gump & Walters invest in their first motorized hearse. It is black in color and cost $1800.00. This business is dissolved in October, 1918 when S. S. Gump purchases the interest of Mr. Walters. Mr. Dewey pursues his banking interests and serves as vice-president of Indiana, Lawrence Bank until his retirement in 1945. Apparently bitterness exists between Gump and Walters and an injunction is filed by Gump against Walters. Walters is restrained from practice for a short time. In 1919 Arthur C. Paulus, from Sidney, Indiana, joins S. S. Gump and Ohmer Gump to establish Gump Bros. & Paulus. This business dissolves the next year and S. S Gump & Co., operates until August l920. A farmer, Mr. Gump attends Bridgewater College and graduates from Manchester College's three year Bible Course in 1903. In 1893 he is elected to the ministry of the Hickory Grove German Baptist Brethren church (Ohio). After leaving North Manchester around 1920, he resides in Riverside, California, where he is a real estate broker. He died July 2, 1940 in San Bernardino, Ca.

O. A. Gottschall & Son. - Owen A. Gottschall (1870 - 1961), his son, Ralph E. (1895 - 1973) and daughter-in-law, Alpha (1895 - 1973), open an undertaking parlor at the B. F. Shilts residence on the northeast corner of Mill and Main Streets. Their opening is March l6, 1920 and by March 29 they relocate over the Oppenheim store, opposite Dr. Wright's dental parlor. Charles M. Walters is employed with the Gottschall's and possibly purchases part interest for in the February 24, 1921 News Journal, the firm is advertised as Gottschall & Walters. But then, by April it is once again called O. A. Gottschall & Son. The Gottschall family relocate to Ladoga, Indiana later in 1921, where they operated a funeral home until about 1948. Walters operates from their former location for a short time in 1922. Ralph and Alpha Gottschall retire to Deerfield Beach, Florida, where they are tragically killed in an auto accident in 1973.

L. Turner & Son operate from January to December, 1921. They purchase the stock and building from Gump Bros. The son's name is Mack and they have operated parlors in Mentone, Bourbon, Argos and Rochester. Arthur Paulus is an undertaker with the firm at its founding but later moves to Chicago. He is replaced by Charles M. Walters. Allen L. Turner has been in the banking business for quite some time. They are purchased by George N. Bender December 14, 1921. On March 23, 1922 Turner & Son purchase the Naftzger hardware. Later, in May 1925, A. L. Turner trades the Naber farm for the Sidney Hardware. (Turner owns 231 E. Main Street from 1920 - 28 and may have operated from there.)

Joseph H. Bonner & Sons - Furniture and undertaking, is established in 1875 in the area of 231 E. Main Street. Joseph H. Bonner (1842-1906) settles in North Manchester in the late 1860s. By 1883 he has established himself in the lumber, saw mill, and livery business. From 1872-1881 he is in the hardware business with L. J. Noftzger. By 1905 the Bonner family have business interests in Arkansas, and J. H. Bonner's sons, Blaine H. Bonner (l881-1942), John C. Bonner (1884-1974), Will Bonner ( ) and Harry W. Bonner ( - 1940) carry on their father's business interests after his death on Nov. 15, 1906. In December 1916 they purchase an auto hearse. By 1918, John C. Conner is the resident manager of the establishment when they sell the furniture and undertaking parlor and relocate to Memphis, Tennessee. They have large timber and sawmill interests at Heth, Arkansas across the Mississippi River from Memphis. A forest fire destroys their timber and saw mill in November 1924.

Bender Funeral Home - Founded by George N. Bender (1882-1950) in February, 1918. A 1907 graduate of Chicago School for Embalmers, he is employed as a licensed undertaker for A. E. Stewart and J. H. Bonner. His funeral home is a consolidation of J. H. Bonner, which he purchases in January 1918; A. E. Stewart in 1920, and A. L. Turner in December 1921. With his purchase of A. L. Turner, Bender separates the musical instruments and phonographs from the furniture and undertaking business. He moves the musical stock to his own store located next to the Indiana State Bank, and the furniture and undertaking operates from the Turner store, as it is better suited for such an operation. Charles M. Walters and Paul Landis, experienced undertakers, will be retained. Landis will later establish his own funeral home in Warsaw, Indiana in 1925. On May 12, 1919 Bender announces the addition of an "auto ambulance" and in 1926, son Todd B. Bender (1906 -1975) joins the family business. In 1929 George Bender moves his business to 205-07 W. Main Street which he purchased in a 1925 sheriff's sale. It had been the Bonner family residence since their purchase of it in a 1904 delinquent tax sale. This building was a project of George Lawrence that began in 1883 and was completed in 1886. An addition of the library room is added to the residence around 1900.

Sometime before 1935 Bender adds to the brick carriage house; offices, preparation room, and casket selection. The Bender family operates from this location for the next 56 years. George and Todd Bender both serve as Wabash County Coroner from 1928 to 1936 and 1936 to 1944 respectively. It should be noted that Audra P. Tilman (1884 - 1977) served as the Bender Funeral Home secretary for 34 years from 1930 to 1964, Although never a licensed mortician, she was indeed a very active member of the firm and did the records and bookkeeping until the age of 80.

Another notable name in the history of Bender's is Aubrey X. DeLaughter (1909 -1970), who though never a licensed mortician, spent 31 years in service as an employee of the Bender family from 1939 until his death in 1970. George Bender dies in 1950 and his widow, Nina P. Bender (1882 - 1963) assists her son with the funeral home until her death. In 1969 Todd Bender sells the funeral home to James B. Finley (1924 - 1981), an employee since 1948, and Michael E. Snyder (1936 -1996), a son-in-law who joined the funeral home in 1961. Jim Finley's retirement in 1976 leaves Mike Snyder sole owner until he sells Bender Funeral Home to Mike Garrett & Gary Sloane Mortuary of Wabash, Indiana in 1985. Garrett & Sloane dissolve in 1992 and the business is then purchased by Ken & Kathie Grandstaff and Steve & Jane Hentgen, of Wabash, Indiana. In 2003 it operates as Grandstaff-Hentgen Funeral Service.

E. P. Paul - (1878-1936) First name Earl, he opens an undertaking parlor and furniture store at 224 E. Main Street in 1924. This has been the location for A. Haines, and A. L. Turner. He is one of the first undertakers to advertise in the local News-Journal. "Rendering Conscientious and Unstinted Service" proclaims his ad, along with phone numbers Eel River 641 and Rex 104. Ambulance service and a lady assistant are also offered. He is advertised as a funeral director rather than an undertaker, which is about the period of time that this term changed. E. P. Paul closes his business in 1929. This will be the last of the old store front undertaking parlors in North Manchester. He relocates to Bourbon, Indiana, where he operated an undertaking parlor until his death in 1936.

Wright Funeral Home - Founded by Walter Wright (1897 - 1967) at 405 N. Mill Street on May l, 1929. This is the former residence of J. W. Dewey and family. He is assisted by a relative, Dr. Glenn E. Wright, a local dentist. Like Mr. Bender, he has purchased a large residential home just blocks from downtown. Funeral homes are now replacing undertaking parlors. Wright closes the business in 1934, and he is employed by George Bender for several years, retiring from Eddingfield Mortuary, at Wabash, Indiana about 1965.

Burgess Funeral Home - Founded at 313 N. Mill Street by Lewis P. Burgess (1889 - 1964) on February 9, 1935. In October 1943 he acquires the former Wright Funeral Home at 405 N. Mill Street and relocates. Burgess Funeral Home will operate from this location for the next 21 years. The business was closed with his death on March 26, 1964

Dickerson Wayside Funeral Chapel - Founded by Rev. & Mrs. Leonard Custer. They have a vision of a newly constructed, one level funeral chapel on State Road 114 at the west edge of town. Well known to the community through their service in the Church of the Brethren, the Custers introduce their new facility with an open house held November 16 and 17, 1963. It has been built to serve specifically as a funeral chapel, offering large visitation rooms; the opposite of the numerous small rooms found in renovated old homes. Off street parking is also a feature of the new chapel, which was built by Frantz Lumber Co. Eldo Renicker, Noah Yoder and Walter Coning do the carpentry. The Custers are truly pioneers of the contemporary funeral homes we know today. Mr. Neville Dickerson, who manages the firm relocates his funeral practice to Connersville, Indiana in December, 1967 and his portion of the business is purchased by Darwin Delaughter.

DeLaughter Mortuary - Founded in January, 1968 by Darwin & Valeria DeLaughter; they operate from the former Dickerson location at 1401 W. State Road 114. Construction of additional off-street parking is added in 1972. A longtime ambulance provider, DeLaughter discontinued the last funeral home ambulance service in Wabash County in 1988. He serves as Wabash County Coroner for 12 years. On February l, 1992 Michael & Kelly McKee become partners in the firm. Mike is a great-nephew to Ralph E. & Alpha (McKee) Gottschall, undertakers who operated in North Manchester during the 1920s. In 1992 reconstruction is done to the interior and a third off street parking area is added. In 1998 a major addition begins that adds a third visitation chapel, handicapped accessible restrooms and a dining room for family dinners. The home operates in 2003 as DeLaughter-McKee Mortuary


Loren O Wertenberger (1875 - 1966) operated L. O. Wertenberger Undertaking and later his son-in-law , Ralph Vories joined him in Wertenberger-Vories Funeral Home from about 1919-1951. The business is in downtown Laketon and in 1923 was moved to Lake and Potawatomie streets in Laketon. Ralph Vories entered military service in July 1944, and business was temporarily suspended until 1947. Mr. Wertenberger was more fondly known as "Kernie" about the town of Laketon, was said to be a kind and courteous man. He was said to have also been a partner with Howard W. Rager in the Laketon Hardware and in March 1926 sells the hardware to Robert Fulton & Howard W. Rager.

A musician, along with his wife Mae, and three daughters, Deloris, Maxine and Marjorie, performed with their small orchestra in the local churches. For many years he served as the conductor of the Laketon Band. He also was a dog trainer and had several terriers that put on shows for the local citizens in Laketon. His undertaking parlor was equipped with a small living quarters, preparation room, and later he added a larger room to the south of the building for casket display. His parlor was used very little, as viewings were still held in the homes at this time period. He had a black hearse which he kept for many years. The Wertenberger residence was the first house east of the funeral parlor which Mr. Wertenberger had built new. Laketon native, Charles Moyer worked under Wertenberger and late opened his own funeral home in Akron, In. They remained good friends over the years for when Mr. Wertenberger died, in 1966 at the age of 91, Charlie Moyer was called to have charge of the funeral.

Henry Ogden (1823-1911) Son of pioneer Elihu Ogden, he is said to have been a cabinet maker, and later handled coffins and funeral furnishings. He came to Wabash County in 1839, and settled in Laketon in 1850. His coffins were said to have been made of walnut and he bought velvet in North Manchester to line them. He died on May 27, 1911 and is buried in Laketon Cemetery.

Fort Wayne Again Upsets Standard Time Schedule

Fort Wayne is now on what is foolishly called daylight saving time, having set her clocks an hour ahead yesterday morning in the effort to kid her people into thinking they can start the day's work an hour sooner without getting up any earlier. Fort Wayne has clung to this idea since it was started in the war time days when we were trying almost anything once. With most of other towns one experience was enough. Columbia City, Berne, Wabash, Bluffton, Huntington, Warsaw and many others in this part of the state, after one or two trials were glad to stay with standard time, for the other led to too much confusion.

North Manchester tried it only during war days, and was glad to quit as soon as the national rule was lifted. Instead of changing the clocks people who could do so and wanted to do so have simply gone to work an hour earlier and quit an hour earlier in the afternoon. This afforded all of the conveniences of daylight saving time and occasioned none of the inconveniences.

But because some places persist in their foolishness it will be necessary all through the summer to designate what kind of time is considered. It's simply a theory taking us back to the days of time chaos when we had sun time, fast time, and any old time. We had just about got that confusion straightened out with standard time when along came this fool idea of changing our clocks for another kind of time and upsetting our calculations for five months of the year.

The News-Journal April 30, 1934

Dust Storm Sweeps over Indiana Fields

Probably the worst dust storm this section of the country ever experienced came Thursday, starting early in the forenoon and continuing to increase in severity until after nightfall. While it was not quite as bad as the storm told about a couple of weeks ago in Oakes, North Dakota where they claimed they could not see a building 200 feet away, yet it was plenty bad and worse than we ever want to see again. A part of the dust may have come from North Dakota but there was lots of Indiana dust mixed in the clouds.

In the field, on the roads and in the open street the clouds of dust made life disagreeable. It filtered through the most tiny crevices in the houses, spread itself over the nicely polished surfaces left by the spring house cleaning. The old timer shook his head and admitted he had never seen anything like it before - and hoped he would never see anything like it again. Friday morning the air was clear but at times during the afternoon there were dust clouds again in the air, but nothing like as bad as on the afternoon before.

News-Journal May 14, 1934

Collamer Grist Mill Falls Down

The old grist mill at Collamer collapsed with a loud crash Saturday afternoon when the supporting beams gave way. Much of the debris of the building fell in the mill race. Isaac Snyder and his son had been in the building a short time before, removing some machinery. Also the old building was used by boys as a dressing room when they went swimming but no one was in the building when it collapsed.

It was a five story structure erected in 1845 by Elias Miller. For many years it was a distinct asset to that community for grist mills were scarce and many of the earlier pioneers were two or three days journey from flour mills. Henry Wolfe operated the mill for a time and later Sam Cummins and John Roush. In later years, Henry Hauptmeyer acquired the property and is the present owner. He discontinued milling a number of years ago and turned the water power to generating electricity. He extended a line to Sidney and operated it for a few years, but with little success for the water power was not sufficient to meet the demands for electricity, and the business was discontinued.

News-Journal May 24, 1934

Big Demand for Local Postmarks

Fame comes sometimes in an unusual way, and sometimes it is slow in coming. Eighty years ago Friday morning saw the start for North Manchester's fame ---in one way. Thomas R. Marshall was born here on that morning --- March 15, 1854 [sic: March 14, 1854]. The house in which he was born stands on the corner of Walnut and Ninth streets, having been moved twice since he first saw it. On the day of his birth it was where the old Lawrence bank building now stands now marked by a bronze tablet. Then it was moved to the corner of Market and Third street, and was occupied for a time by John Shively, later to be moved when he erected what is now the Dr. G. L. Shoemaker house.

But that is not the story [we] set out to tell. Friday morning there came to the postoffice seven "catchets," each addressed to the postmaster, and each bearing 21 cents in postage, and each containing 35 stamped and addressed envelopes; all empty. The request was for Postmaster Olinger to cancel these stamps with the North Manchester date of March 15 [sic: March 14], and send them to the parties addressed. There were in all 245 of these envelopes. The bunch was sent to North Manchester by an agency in New York that makes a specialty of getting cancelled stamps and post marks for collectors.

The News-Journal March 19, 1934