“Good Evening…” Bela Lugosi could be saying to you as he greets you in the third floor hall, “Welcome to the World’s First Necromantic Bed and Breakfast… Allow me to show you to your Cemetery Suite.”
The third floor has pretty much all matching rooms. Dubbed ‘Cemetery Suites’, these rooms have marvelous, old-school purple walls with rich black curtains over the windows. The sheets on the beds and pillow cases are black as well. The look is very funerary and ideal for vampires. If you’re a Goth fan, you might be in heaven staying anywhere on this floor. These rooms are under constant upgrade as we add to the decor. Here is a photo of our aspired goal for some of them:
A NOTE ON THESE AESTHETICS
People have asked me, “How can you possibly live in that giant old hotel with all those stories about ghosts and hauntings?” Remember too, after that first season after all the artists roommates moved out, I spent the next two winters entirely alone in the thirty-two room building, and it was very creepy in the beginning, to say the least. But actually I was a perfect host to have moved into the old Grand Midway Hotel. As a child I was raised in a large, beautiful, old funeral home. My parents were both funeral directors, and my father was also a coroner. So the large unusual Grand Midway Hotel offered a great match for me as an adult, sort of the way Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula preferred the older Carfax Abbey over a more modern London home.
(The Holl-Murphy Funeral Home where I was raised. The top left hand side was my childhood bedroom.)
from Cemetery Stories: Haunted Graveyards, Embalming Secrets, and the Life of a Corpse After Death
–by Katherine Ramsland (published by HarperCollins)
Funeral Homes Chapter
While it was great to get a tour, I wondered what it must be like to actually grow up in such a place. To my mind, it had to be strange. Blair Murphy, the son of two funeral directors, was willing to tell me something about that. “When I was a little kid,” he said, “the school asked each of us to write what our fathers did for a living. I wrote, ‘My dad paints dead people’s lips,’ and it got printed in the town paper. That was my first press quote.”
A filmmaker, he’d produced Jugular Wine and Black Pearls, in which he expressed his perspective on the attraction to spirituality and death. Since his parents were both in the death-care business and his father was the county coroner, discussions about corpses around the dinner table were commonplace. Thus, Blair was exposed early to macabre subjects. Blair, who is in his mid-thirties, has traveled extensively and now lives in California. Meeting him was rather disarming. Despite a closely shaved head that indicated a certain degree of social rebellion, his face was rather wide-eyed and cherubic. To see his films, I accompanied him to his apartment one October afternoon. I was struck right away with the museum-like aura. On every wall and in every corner I could see the evidence of Blair’s trips to places such as Egypt and New Orleans. I looked around at the exotic paintings, sphinx tapestries, and framed poster of King Tutankhamen’s golden burial mask. From his father, Blair had gotten a casket with a glass top that he used for a coffee table. His mother had given him a stuffed coyote to enhance his taxidermy collection of “low-maintenance pets.” Gesturing around the room, he smiled and asked, “Where do you think these things come from?” Before I could answer, he said, “Obviously having been raised among the dead has influenced me. And none of it’s spooky to me. I think of it all as beautiful…like the gleam of the gold by candlelight in the night.”
He invited me to sit down, and I soon learned that his father had been a funeral director for almost forty years. It was all the man had ever wanted to be, and he’d hoped that his son would follow suite. Like many an undertaker’s son before him, Blair had helped place bodies into coffins, but ultimately the funeral trade had not gripped him.
“Being raised in a funeral home never seemed odd to me as a child,” he commented. “In my early teens, it got to be a drag because it was such a conservative business. I was always being asked to smile and look nice for the cameras when, really, I was ungodly angry and rebellious. All I wanted to do was move to Los Angeles and become degenerate.”
“But you don’t seem bothered by it now,” I pointed out.
“By my late teens I thought it was actually pretty cool and even a great honor to have been raised in such a rare environment as a funeral home.”
“So what about how you lived?” I pressed. “Wasn’t it strange to know there were bodies in the same building where you were sleeping?”
“The funeral-home aspect was just a house,” he responded, “but embalming and being around dead people was interesting. I can remember being alone often with dead people and staring for long periods of time into the partially cracked eyelids. I dared myself to see how long I could stare, with the thought that if their eyes moved even for a speck, it would forever alter my sense of reality. That was kind of thrilling.”
Blair mentioned he had a sister, Donna, who was affected differently. “She doesn’t feel the same way about death that I do, but we’ve both had many dreams where dead bodies wake up and speak to us or chase us or confront us.”
Rather than tell me he story, he introduced me to her, so I was able to learn about growing up in a funeral home from both perspectives, male and female, brother and sister. Nineteen months separates them, and Donna feels that she’s “all business.” It was her father’s position as coroner that most influenced her, so after college she became a private investigator.
“The job of coroner was often high profile,” she said. “It wasn’t unusual to see my father on television or in the newspapers. As a child, I took great pride when I saw him being interviewed about a recent unattended death. When I knew that he would be called into a case, I would comb the newspapers and absorb everything I could get my hands on about the case.”
She agrees with Blair that they could not have turned out to be more different. While he ponders reincarnation and accepts a person’s demise, Donna feels that people who die have paid the ultimate price. “I cry for the dead. I honor them by attending their funerals. I feel a genuine sense of loss.”
While growing up in that environment, certain experiences made a deep impression, in particular the local murder of a child. “There was this nine-year-old girl,” Donna recalled. “She had been sexually assaulted and murdered by a twenty-something-year-old neighbor. For days, the girl’s disappearance had been a top news story, and in typical media fashion, the details of her life had been published at length. As an eight-year-old, I was so fascinated by the story that I read every account available. I remember reading about her favorite games and toys, about her family and about the time leading up to her disappearance. I read so much that I felt as if I’d actually known her. Then when her body was discovered about a week later, my father was called on as the coroner to retrieve it and then later, as funeral director. I couldn’t believe that this girl, who I knew so much about and whose death had been so publicly reported, was being brought back to our house for preparation.
“When she was finally dressed and laid out, I recall that I stood over her casket for a very long time. This was the first time that I had ever seen a small white casket and I thought it was appropriate for her. She looked beautiful in her pale pink dress and matching painted fingernails. but I was also deeply afraid. I remember thinking that I did not want to turn nine because I was scared that such a gruesome demise would happen to me.”
It’s clear Donna will continue to be fascinated with crime, while Blair expects to move more deeply into innovative projects that involve themes of death. He’s even set up his own Web site, GrandMidwayHotel.com, to put them on display. “I’m delighted to have this mortuary background naturally in me,” Blair said, “It’s created me. And now I’m just taking certain aspects of this culture in a different direction.”
For me, it was quite interesting to see how two children from the same death-care-centered environment had developed such contrasting, yet complimentary lifestyles.