If you’ve ever worked in the funeral industry, you know exactly who Bob Waltrip is. Waltrip is the John Rockefeller of funerals. He’s the godfather of the funeral industry.
Drive north of downtown Houston and you’ll find the National Museum of Funeral History. The museum’s main benefactor is Service Corporation International, the largest funeral home conglomerate in the world.
Museum director Genevive Keeney says the site is home to the burial plots of some of the world’s most influential entertainment figures.
“So I have just a little of everything in here, I mean there’s just like I say a century overload we pay tribute to cowboys, cowgirls that were in the film industry,” Keeney says. “Of course we have Marilyn Monroe…”
The museum is massive – some 35,500 square feet, featuring a dozen interactive exhibits. And it’s actually not as morbid as you’d think.
“This is a living, breathing kind of museum, I mean exhibit within the museum, that we consistently keep it updated as more people in the entertainment industry pass away,” Keeney says.
So why would the largest funeral company and the National Museum of Funeral History be in Houston and not New York or Los Angeles? Service Corporation International spokesperson Phil Jacobs says it’s all about personal preference
“Well, you know, those are all nice cities and they’re good markets for us, but Mr. Waltrip was born and raised in Houston, Texas, and this is his home and this is where it is,” Jacobs says.
Waltrip revolutionized the funeral industry by doing something no mom-and-pop shop had ever done before– he started buying as many funeral homes and cemeteries as he could. Now SCI is a publicly-traded company worth three billion dollars.
“So, Mr. Waltrip grew up in a family that had one funeral home here, in Houston, Texas, and he just grew up in his family’s funeral business, and overtime, assumed the management of this location in the 1950’s,” Jacobs says. “He worked with his mom and dad, and then he began to buy additional funeral homes in the 60’s.”
To train employees to work in his 1,500 funeral homes, Waltrip founded one of the top mortician schools in the country, also based in Houston. At the museum, Keeny says people don’t know that Houston dominates the funeral industry because we don’t like to talk about death.
“We tend to sweep the subject under the rug. We don’t really want to deal with it or think about it.”
But if you do think about it, Keeney says, you could have the best funeral ever.
“Your casket, your urn, your tribute video, your memorial folder, what you’re going to wear. The sky is the limit.”
Actually, the sky isn’t the limit. There’s a company called Celestis Memorial that will shoot your ashes up to space. Guess where it’s based.