Trolley companies, mortuaries worked together

Direct spur line added to serve Bellingham’s brand new Bay View cemetery

Whatcom County Railway & Light Co.’s new funeral trolley waits in front of the Mock & Hill mortuary on Elk Street in 1912.

Jeff Jewel
   Early undertakers were furniture makers whose skill in crafting tables and chairs worked equally well in manufacturing caskets. W. Reilly, a Whatcom dealer in furniture and picture frames, added coffins to his inventory in 1883. The Whatcom Furniture Co. in 1887 stocked "a fine line of burial cases and coffin trimmings." The proprietors simply asked that when "ordering by telegraph, give length, glass top or no glass."
   In the pioneer days folks often buried deceased loved ones at the back of their property, but as the population grew the need for an official cemetery became apparent. A hill in Fairhaven at the west end of Harris Ave., known as Dead Man’s Point, had served as a burial ground since earliest times. Yet industrial development along the waterfront would require its removal.

Gate to Bay View Cemetery on Woburn Street, between sections J and B, as it appeared circa 1909. The name of Bellingham’s cemetery has since been changed to the compound "Bayview."

    The original 10 acres of what became Bay View Cemetery were purchased in September 1887 by the city of Whatcom for $250. "First occupant of the Silent City" was Rev. John Dobbs, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, laid to rest in the "Whatcom Cemetery" a few days after his death on June 7, 1888. That same month, H. M. Wright’s Washington Marble Works, out of Seattle, began advertising in Whatcom its selection of "monuments, headstones, tablets and tombs."
   With an established graveyard, the Bellingham Bay towns attracted businesses that offered the accoutrements for interment and remembrance. Over the next three years, Whatcom had the small cemetery properly cleared, fenced and laid out into lots.
   Converse G. Cole, a 13th (W. Holly) Street furniture store owner, went into coffin making as a side venture in the late 1880s. Cole introduced hearse service to Bay View with a wagon and team that already earned their oats delivering chests of drawers. Much to Cole’s chagrin his new undertaking soon eclipsed his finely crafted cupboards and, in January 1890, he sold the mortuary side of his business to William H. Brackett, a recent arrival from Portland, OR.
   W. H. Brackett dealt in all kinds of "undertaking goods, burial robes, metallic and wood caskets" with "Preserving bodies for shipment a specialty." He was Whatcom’s first true mortician, his "work done in most approved and scientific manner." Brackett’s coffins were made "of the native wood, cedar, which is better than anything else to lay away friends in."
   John M. Warriner, a skilled embalmer, came to Fairhaven during the railroad boom and set up his funeral parlor on the "east side of Fourteenth Street near Harris Avenue." In 1890, Warriner was elected Whatcom County coroner. He would oversee removal of human remains from Dead Man’s Point, which were re-interred at Bay View.
   Inauguration of the Lake (Whatcom) Line in February 1892 made Bay View accessible by trolley and streetcar service was soon offered for funerals. The coffin rode on the front platform with the motorman all the way to the cemetery’s gate on Woburn Street. Extra trolleys could be rented for larger corteges.
   Brackett became Bay View’s first sexton and was elected, on the Republican ticket, as Whatcom County coroner in 1892 and 1894. He joined with W.C. Judson in July 1899 and the two "gentlemen of strict integrity and sobriety" started the Brackett-Judson Undertaking Co. with parlors in the Oakland Block at 316-18 W. Holly. They had a branch in Fairhaven as well.

In 1905, undertaker Albert Maulsby stands with May Sisco, his "Lady Assistant" (in charge of female clients), outside Maulsby’s Funeral Parlors in the Oakland Block.

    Brackett sold his half-interest to Judson in January 1900. A year later, Judson’s firm was bought out by Herbert S. Noice, who changed the name to Bellingham Bay Undertaking Co. In 1903, Noice sold to Albert R. Maulsby, who had just moved to town from Fort Dodge, Iowa. Maulsby’s Funeral Parlors was the fourth name in as many years for the Oakland Block mortuary.
   William H. Mock, a Methodist minister, "Licensed Embalmer and Funeral Director," opened his parlors and chapel in May 1902 at 1202-1206 Elk St. in the Slade Block. Two years later, the firm moved into the new Maple Block as "Mock & Son" with William’s son, George, taking over as manager.
   W. H. Mock spent much of 1904 researching the records of Civil War veterans whose burials were unmarked in Bay View Cemetery. His work resulted in more than 30 tombstones being shipped from Washington, D.C., and placed over the appropriate graves in 1905.
   In Fairhaven, Ralph N. Gifford bought out Warriner’s funeral parlor in 1902, which by the late 1890s had taken up luxurious digs in the Knights of Pythias Hall on 11th Street. By year’s end, however, Gifford moved his headquarters to 507 W. Holly St. on the viaduct. He purchased an ornate horse-drawn hearse manufactured by Sayers & Scovill of Cincinnati and, in 1903, started his own casket factory.

Whatcom Marble & Granite Works at 404 W. Holly St., with proprietors James Turner (center) and Harley Moon (left), in 1905. Later in the year the firm was renamed Bellingham Marble & Granite as Frank Wyman became Turner’s new business partner.

    James Turner’s Whatcom Marble & Granite Works erected a frame building in 1902 at 404 W. Holly St., midway between Maulsby’s Funeral Parlors and Gifford’s coffin warehouse. A rival, the Northwestern Granite & Marble Works, was started by Thomas Hooker at 1002-04 Elk (State) St. in 1907. Together, the two firms created many of the early stone memorials decorating Bay View to this day.
   The intermittent work of removing Dead Man’s Point on the Fairhaven waterfront resumed in spring 1904. While washing the hill away with powerful hydraulic hoses, several skulls and parts of human skeletons were unearthed. A coffin tumbled down the bluff and another was partially exposed. Apparently not all the graves had been moved to Bay View.
   Meanwhile, Ralph Gifford continued to enlarge his Bellingham undertaking empire and garnered the coveted county coroner title. In 1904 he expanded into spacious new parlors at 1234-1236-1238 Elk St. on the main north-south thoroughfare. On Aug. 16, 1904, Gifford’s private funeral trolley made its stunning debut on the streets of Bellingham. Built on Railroad Ave. in the B.B. & B.C. car shops, the specialized streetcar was 42 feet long and seated 40.
   Painted brilliant white and with graceful lines, Gifford’s funeral trolley attracted a great deal of attention. The interior was finished "very beautifully with hemlock." At the front of the car was a casket alcove with glass front into which the beloved could be slid from either side. The charge for use of Gifford’s trolley was ten $10, "no greater than the rate charged by the streetcar company for its cars.”
   But everything changed in the Bellingham mortuary world on Jan. 27, 1905, when Ralph Gifford fell into the Nooksack River while out hunting with a buddy. Wearing knee-high boots and an ammunition belt, he was weighed down and disappeared beneath the water. His body was never found.
   By spring it was concluded that Gifford wasn’t coming back and Maulsby bought the white funeral trolley. It proved well worth the investment and, in 1907, Maulsby built his own coffin factory at C and Astor streets.
   Maulsby relocated his funeral parlors up town in 1908 to 1319 Dock St. (Cornwall Avenue). The following year he moved to Everett, where he started a new funeral home and the Sound Casket Co. He sold his Bellingham mortuary to Harry Bingham and left his trolley here leased to the streetcar company.
   In November 1909, George Mock joined with Robert F. Hill to form "Mock & Hill" and by the following year their mortuary took up the entire ground floor of the Maple Block. That same year, William P. Bergin bought out Hooker’s Northwestern Granite & Marble. In July 1912, Bergin purchased the remaining stock of James Turner’s Bellingham Marble & Granite "from the creditors" and cleared more than $5,000 worth of stone monuments in a "Monster Marble Sale."
   By 1912, Maulsby was doing well in Everett and had his funeral trolley shipped to him for use in serving that city’s Evergreen Cemetery. To replace the loss of Maulsby’s streetcar, Whatcom County Railway & Light had "one of the finest funeral cars in the West" built in the company’s barns on Kentucky Street. The new funeral trolley had coffin-loading doors at the front and a mourners’ compartment, with center-entrance, finished in mahogany and "green plush upholstering."
   Harry Bingham was the director for Bellingham’s largest trolley funeral, that of Albert Mead on March 23, 1913. The procession to Bay View that day featured seven attending streetcars besides the new funeral trolley. Mead had been Washington’s fifth governor (1905-1909) and still the state’s only chief executive from Whatcom County.
   In 1914, Puget Sound Traction, Light & Power Co. built a 1,000-foot-long spur through the south end of the cemetery to the spot chosen for a new mausoleum. The track was used for transporting construction materials to the site and, once the building was completed, allowed the funeral trolley to pull right up at the front door of the 350-crypt Bay View Abbey.
   With introduction of automotive hearses following World War I, the funeral trolley service to Bay View was discontinued. The 1912 funeral trolley was remodeled in 1921 and given a second career by Pacific Northwest Traction as car No. 79 on the interurban run between Burlington and Sedro-Woolley.



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