Mr. Mackin discusses the ins and outs of working at a funeral home. Included in this interview are discussions on denominational differences, what the job consists of, and the various funerary rituals observed by different cultures that he has had to take into account.
Mackin, Ken (interviewee)
Partlow, Amy (interviewer)
"Ken Mackin Interview, 2006" (2006). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 319002.
Mark Souther [00:00:00] Have to hit record, I'm sorry.
Amy Partlow [00:00:01] All right. That's OK. My name is Amy Partlow. I am conducting oral history interview with Ken Mackin in the communications building sound booth at Cleveland State University. The time is 1:30 p.m. and the date is May 9, 2006. Could you please state your name?
Ken Mackin [00:00:15] Kenneth Mackin.
Amy Partlow [00:00:18] This interview is in connection with the Euclid Corridor Project. Do you mind if we're recording this interview today?
Ken Mackin [00:00:22] No.
Amy Partlow [00:00:23] We'll get started. I understand that you are involved in the funeral business.
Ken Mackin [00:00:27] Yes.
Amy Partlow [00:00:29] I'm going to ask you a few questions about yourself. And then we'll talk about your profession. All right? I'd like to start by asking you to tell me a little bit about yourself.
Ken Mackin [00:00:38] Okay, I am 65 years old. I started out as a commercial artist in the city of Cleveland, I was 10 years in that business and went to a vocational school, taught commercial art and advertising for 25 years, retired in 1997 and the following fall got involved in the funeral business and I've been there for almost nine years.
Amy Partlow [00:01:07] Okay, where were you born?
Ken Mackin [00:01:08] Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
Amy Partlow [00:01:08] Did you grow up in Cleveland or there?
Ken Mackin [00:01:11] In Johnstown? Yes.
Amy Partlow [00:01:13] Okay and tell me about your family.
Ken Mackin [00:01:15] My wife is Karen. She's a nurse practitioner, retired for two years. We have six children, eight grandchildren. I've got one living brother in Nashville, Tennessee.
Amy Partlow [00:01:30] Did your family originate in Pennsylvania?
Ken Mackin [00:01:33] Yes. And just outside of Johnstown.
Amy Partlow [00:01:36] What is your favorite childhood memory?
Ken Mackin [00:01:41] I believe probably camping with my parents in Bedford, Pennsylvania.
Amy Partlow [00:01:47] Was it your whole family that went?
Ken Mackin [00:01:50] Yes, we all went there once a year on our old '35 Dodge panel truck and camped in either a cabin if it was available. If not, we used the tent, you know.
Amy Partlow [00:02:01] What sorts of things did you do when you where there?
Ken Mackin [00:02:04] Well, we obviously swam. We caught turtles, did some fishing, played with other folks at the campsite. You know this... Those type things when we did that till I was probably about 10 or 11 years old. So, you know, you did typical that age sort of things.
Amy Partlow [00:02:28] If you had to choose a story to tell about a member of your family that's been passed on from generation to generation, what would you choose?
Ken Mackin [00:02:43] The one I can think of is my mother was one of nine children. And of course, when it comes to holidays, it was very exciting around the house. And my mom and uncles used to always talk about my youngest uncle, always wanted to get up early and come back, catch the Easter Bunny. Well, they lived in a older home outside of Johnstown. And when... My older mom was one of the oldest, one of the second oldest, and she would wait down underneath the steps. And when they would hear something coming, sneaking down to catch the Easter Bunny, they would bang on the steps. And, of course, the kids would run back upstairs and get back in bed. You know, until it was time to get up, but that's the one thing I can remember, you know.
Amy Partlow [00:03:31] Okay. All right, I'm going to ask some questions about your profession now. How did you get involved with your profession funeral business?
Ken Mackin [00:03:38] Strictly an accident. I met a funeral director and a mortuary student at a wedding and they asked me if I'd be interested in driving for them. And I said yes. And about four months later, about three months later, I guess it was, they called one day and they said, are you ready to drive? And I said, yes. And off we went. And that's how, that's basically all was, say, strictly an accident. You know.
Amy Partlow [00:04:04] Did you have any apprehensions going into your first day?
Ken Mackin [00:04:09] Yes, driving a big limousine. I'd never driven a limousine. That was only apprehensions I had, you know, like any new job, you're never quite sure what's going on. You're kind of naive to what's going on, actually. And that's what...
Amy Partlow [00:04:27] Tell me about your first day.
Ken Mackin [00:04:29] I remember going the first day, getting in the limousine course, checking things out and not knowing anything about a limousine where all the switches and buttons and all that sort of thing is. We went to a funeral home on the East Side. We got there, of course. That time I knew nothing about it. And I thought, you know, look at me, I'm driving a limousine, you know. And I just remember going to the... My most memorable experience is going to the mausoleum at Knollwood Cemetery. Getting out of the limousine, letting people out of their cars and literally just standing there with my arms folded and kind of getting... Look at me, you know, I'm driving a limousine, you know, and had no clue whatsoever what was going on around me. They were probably thinking, what's this guy doing? He's supposed to be doing this and that. And that was kind of my first day. And I felt kind of neat being able to drive these people around, but absolutely knew nothing about what I was there for. It was I was just driving, you know, somebody. And I was kind of my first day, you know.
Amy Partlow [00:05:31] Okay, do you work at the funeral home full time?
Ken Mackin [00:05:33] Part time.
Amy Partlow [00:05:35] Let me backtrack by asking, can you tell me the name of the funeral home again?
Ken Mackin [00:05:37] Yes. Corrigan. Corrigan Funeral Home on Lorain Avenue.
Amy Partlow [00:05:44] What does your job entail?
Ken Mackin [00:05:47] Well, it depends on the specific day or time. On a normal day, let's say it's a visitation, it could be a morning or an afternoon visitation, or afternoon or evening I should say, I'm sorry. If it's a afternoon visitation, you have to get everything all prepared set up for the visitation, which entails basically arriving two hours early. First of all, checking the body, the remains, making sure that everything is okay with that. Making sure the eyes are not open. The mouths are not open. Making sure the blankets are there. Making sure the spray is up if it's there and there's no flowers had fallen on the body and so forth or in the casket, making sure the casket is centered and that sort of thing. Then you proceed to make coffee, get water for the families, they're coming in. Make sure the candy dishes are filled. The candy dishes are kind of a unique thing. It's an old Chinese custom that the candy is supposed, being sweet, supposed to take the sadness out of the funeral service, which is kind of a neat thing that I've learned. But then we have to proceed, obviously, opening all the doors, making sure the register book is out for the people, make sure the prayer cards or folders are ready. Turn on all the lights, make sure everything, all lights are working. If they're going to have any sort of a religious ceremony, make sure the mic is set up. Make sure it's working. Again, when the family comes in, we are introduced to the family. The funeral director actually greets the family, then they had in turn introduce us. We're going to be with them all day and take care of them. And then during this actual visitation, basically, we just keep check on the cards, on the water, make sure the coffee's filled, greet people as they come in if it's inclement weather, take their coats or their umbrellas or what I may have brought with them. There was something I wanted to... Okay. And basically, that's the... If you're there any afternoon, [inaudible]. That we have what they call a car card, which is a little card that we give to them. And it has the vitals on it. And then inside it asks for the names of the pallbearers. We check, make sure they have the six pallbearers. We check to see if they are going to have limousine use of there. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don't use a limousine. We check then the flowers, make sure what flowers are going to the cemetery, which ones are going to church, which ones the family's going to keep if they want them donated to where they're donated. They're going to be delivered to a family residence where the residence is, we make sure to check with them as to what's to be removed from the casket before it's closed because after it is closed. Not that you can't open it, but it's not ethical to reopen it. So we check with that. And basically all then we ask about if there's going to be any sort of visitation after and we get the address of that place and write it down. Sometimes we have to write directions or make maps for the people from out of town or so so they can get to this place. And then as the day goes on, visitation, we just again are there for their assistance, anything they might need. And usually it's a two-hour visitation in the afternoon as people leave again, we turn down all the lights. I didn't mention if it's a Catholic service, you would have to check, make sure there's the kneeler is there for them and for the candle lit. If it's a Protestant service, you have to make sure that there's a cross in there as opposed to a crucifix. And again, at the end of the visitation, everybody leaves. We lock doors, clean up, just get everything ready, then the afternoon shift come in up or if I'm on the afternoon shift, you come in again two hours early. Again, just make sure everything's cleaned up, ready for them to come in. In evening it's pretty much the same routine. Other than the fact that you're pretty much set up as far as flowers and all those sorts of things are already taken care of. But again, at the end of the evening, you've got to make sure everything is locked up. Make sure the car card is all filled out so you have all the information so that everything runs smoothly the next day. And then, of course, there's always the cleanup. But that's a basic day as far as being a part time person at a visitation or as you mentioned that earlier, is sometime a week. Same basic thing. If it's an actual day of a funeral, there could you could be one of three people on a service. Basically, you could either be the escort driver. You could be a limousine driver or the hearse driver if you are the escort driver. Again, they ask us to be there two hours early again. We are asked to come in, get our vehicle set up, make sure all the signage is on us for safety reasons. Make sure our lights on for safety reasons. We need our car flags to put on vehicles as a part of a procession. And then again, as the cars arrive for the service, if you have a specific order of cars, which the family requests, then you have to make sure the cars get a specific order. Are all flagged during the visit. During the actual funeral service, in the funeral home, you just kind of wait for everything to come out. And then as they come out, your job again is to take the flowers that are going to the church and cemetery, load them into your vehicle to take them with you. Get as they bring the casket out. They have it's sitting on up what they call a bier, which is nothing more than a unit with wheels on it that holds the casket. And as the casket proceeds out, you remove the bier. You also gather the pallbearers. I forget to mention that you gather the pallbearers and give them instructions so that they know what they're doing when the casket comes out. Your job is to open the doors, open the hearse door, make sure it's all ready to go. And then as the procession gets ready to leave, you've got to make sure. Everybody's got lights on. We have been using lights and four-way flashers because there are so many lights on anymore in cars that it just distinguishes us a little bit more as opposed to just a regular car with lights on. So we make sure that is all set up and then we obviously pull out and block traffic for the funeral procession to proceed. And then if you are the escort, you. Basically there to protect the procession, you go in the intersections and hold traffic as they go through. Wait till the very end, make sure the last car is through so nobody misses and comes through the intersections at the church. You're going to if you're going to a church again, your job is to get the cars again in order as they pull into the church. Get the church doors open. Get the church flowers in. Help the limousine driver and the hearse driver if they need any help getting the church truck set up. More people in and out of cars then at the end of the service. If you're the escort driver again, you make sure doors are open as people proceed out. Again, you helped them remove all of the church truck. You make sure all again, lights are on and everything is ready to go to the cemetery. If you're going to the cemetery, which unless it's a cremation is you go to the cemetery and you protect the procession to you get the cemetery at the cemetery, you're again in charge of getting the cars parked and getting in and ready to go. You are in charge of taking flowers up to the grave side. You are in charge of. Undressing the cars, which means you can taking all the signage off, all the lights off of the escort car and the funeral director's car and take... removing all the funeral flags from the cars, and at the end of the service as everybody leaves, you wait with the hearse driver for the closing of the grave. And that means you wait at the graveside until they remove the tent and lower the casket into the vault and seal the ball vault lid so that nothing happens. It's area. Everything is legal there. There's nothing taken or anything like that. And then your job again, you go back to the funeral home, undress your car, and you're finished for the day. Basically, that's one job, okay? If you are the limousine driver, again, you get asked to be there two hours early. Take your limousine out, get it in position. Check that everything is clean in it and there's Kleenex and so forth in it. You also go out and help then with the positioning of cars with the escort driver during the visit. They're doing the actual service of the funeral at the funeral home. Your job is to again make sure that the cards are all put together. Your holy cards, flower cards, the register book. Get that all into a packet for the family so that all they are concerned with is their grief and their family members, as you don't they don't worry about it in the paperwork or that sort of thing. Then again, you help close the casket with the funeral director and the hearse driver. Then you take the casket--and we call working the casket--you work the casket, take it out, load it into the usually you're at the foot of the casket and you direct it into the hearse and then go back and open your limousine doors. And again, the people proceed into the limousines at the church. Again, your job basically is to work the casket, getting it into the church, working the casket coming out of the church again, making sure the family is all comfortable in the limousine and again proceeding to the cemetery. And at the cemetery, again, your job is to work the casket from the hearse to the graveside. Then at the graveside, the limousine driver is supposed to help the escort driver undress cars, take flags off, and they again, after the service is all finished. Take the family back to whatever destination I want to go, whether be the funeral home, to the reception, to a private home, whatever. And that's the limousine driver. The hearse driver, again, has got to get his vehicle out, make sure that there's a church truck in it, make sure that the casket stops are all set to put the casket in so it doesn't roll clear to the front of the hearse then in the actual service again at the funeral home. The hearse driver's job is to stay with the funeral director basically at all times. And just in case anything should happen to the funeral home, any emergencies arise or anything that they need to take care of at the end of the service, the funeral, the hearse driver helps direct the folks up as a last for a last viewing of the deceased. And then as everybody is gone, they again help close the casket, which means removal of anything, putting the lid down and cranking it. Most caskets have a crank lock on them when you crank it tight, so it's locked and sealed tight. Then again, they work the casket with the limousine driver and they are at the back of what we call the head of the casket, which would be where the person's head is. They proceed to take it out, loaded in the hearse, make sure the casket stop is in, and then again proceed to the church at church. And they work the casket coming in and out of the church at the end of the church service. Then again, they just wait for everybody to get ready to go and proceed to the cemetery, at the cemetery again, they work the casket and when they get to the graveside, they again stay at the graveside the entire time in case of some sort of emergency, someone should faint, fall, whatever might happen there. At the end of the service, again, they remain until the casket has been lowered into the vault and the lid has been sealed on it. And then they proceed back to the funeral home and they are finished.
Amy Partlow [00:19:33] You mentioned a church truck. Can you explain that?
Ken Mackin [00:19:35] Yes. A church truck is a collapsible piece of equipment that folds up and opens up with wheels on it so that some the rest the casket on what you're going into church and out of church. They don't carry it the whole way. The pallbearers proceed to take the casket out of the hearse, put it onto the church truck, and then you take it into the church and proceed out of the church with this. That's what the church truck is.
Amy Partlow [00:20:06] The pallbearers only act at the church?
Ken Mackin [00:20:09] And at the cemetery. They work both places.
Amy Partlow [00:20:14] What would you say is the most interesting aspect of your job?
Ken Mackin [00:20:21] Well, as being the escort driver, I would say the most interesting aspect of it is escorting pulling into and intersections with ya know traffic stopping, making sure that nobody proceeds through, make sure nobody's cutting into the procession. Making sure everybody is kept tight. Everybody arrives safely as a limousine driver. The most interesting part. I guess you'd say was, be, dealing with family, making them feel comfortable and making sure everything is okay for them. The hearse driver... I think the most interesting part of that is basically working the casket and staying till the caskets concealed, the vaults been sealed.
Amy Partlow [00:21:12] Have you learned anything that surprised you? During your job?
Ken Mackin [00:21:27] Nothing really that surprised me, I mean, it's it's like any other industry, it's there's a lot of things that go on that you don't have. If you were in a service yourself, if you have ever been to a funeral. You have absolutely no idea what's going on. I think that's the background of what's happening. I think is probably the most surprising, I think is that any profession, the things that are going on in the background that you have no idea of, actually nothing that's really surprised me now, I used to do a lot of removals and that's a financial situation. They won't allow us to work under two pay scales now. But up to about five months ago, I used to do removals, which is a matter of going to the hospital, nursing home, private home to the morgue or whatever, and literally picking up the deceased and bringing them back to the funeral home. That was very interesting. I think that was the most interesting part of the job I ever had. And at that time, I also worked in the morgue or our prep room, we call it down in the basement, helping to dress the deceased, help what we call case it, which means get them into the casket, make sure everything is set up in the casket, but run into a lot of situations that you could tell lots of stories about doing removals. I mean, different families talk about fun things that happen. We went to a home one evening. We were asked to come pick up one that was on a second floor and was we arrived, we walked upstairs. We always check and see where the person is so we can know how to handle it, how we're going to bring them down. And as we get up to the second floor, this gentleman meets us and said that they did tell there's two of theirs. And I said, no, we didn't know there was two. You don't really have one cot. So we proceeded to walk through one room into the next room. And as I turned round the corner on a couch, here is one body with a cover on it, and then the next in the other end the couch, another body with a cover on them. And I looked at the other jump because on a house call you always take two people with you. It took turn around the other gentleman and we looked each other like, what are we going to do? As we did that, we look back over and a one fella pulled a sheet, and says, Gotcha! [Laughs] There was actually only one person there. I mean, that's a little bit strange for a... You're going to pick up a deceased, you know. You know, we've had several situations like that. The little stories you could, you get really heavy people that we've had to remove things that there's all kinds of stories that could tell you about that kind of stuff, you know, but the only thing I have to tell again is, I'm laughing about this. You still do it with respect to the deceased, respect to the family. It's like any job. Little things happen that can't be avoided or just happen. And you still try and maintain your dignity and do the job as you would want somebody to do it with one of your deceased family members. It's not a thing where you make light of, you know, per say.
Amy Partlow [00:24:43] What was it like when you were working down in the morgue dressing and preparing?
Ken Mackin [00:24:49] Very interesting. Even at the Cleveland City morgue, the Cuyahoga County morgue over there. It's interesting. I guess it's like any job. Not that you become hard to it, but the deceased members become properties as opposed to people. You know, it's that's sad to say in a sense, and I'm sure I would assume it's that way in most places. Again, you don't handle them like a piece of carcass, but at the same time. It's not not necessarily a pretty thing because you are literally taking him from a cot onto a table on it, and there is a little bit of roughness in that situation, although obviously they don't feel anything. But as far as working down in the morgue, everything has been is kept sanitary. Basically the embalming procedure, which I virtually know nothing about personally, the all the... I've seen it done. I really couldn't tell you much about it, the procedures, but it is very interesting to watch it being done and again done again with the utmost respect. The dressing again is very interesting because generally we ask people, family members, to bring in clothes that these people would normally wear. And we do have suits and dresses at the funeral home that people can purchase if they'd like. But we ask the family to bring them in as something that they would normally be seen in. And it's very interesting. Sometimes the things you do get, you know, again, just recently we had a woman bring in a pair of Navy underwear. You know, you want these to show or not to show you know. As the families bring these in, you, you know, check everything they have. It is surprising that that they are fully dressed. That's something that I hadn't you know, again, the average layperson has no idea as they're put into the casket, putting them into the actual casket, which we call casing, can either be done by hand. Where two or three literally get under the body, lift it up and lay it into the casket if they're unusually large. We do have a hydraulic lift, which we put straps under them and literally lift them up with the straps, slide the casket under them, lower them into the casket. And again, after they're in the casket, you've got to make sure that all the clothing looks fine. Again, whether you're aware of or not, the most dresses, suits, shirts, those sort of things are all cut down the back, put on the front, and then that's the end again after they're in the casket. You've got to make sure everything is tucked in so it doesn't look that way so everything looks normal. So again, as everything is put in there, you've got to check the makeup again. That's not my specific job. But the cosmetologist we have a gentleman who works for us was 82 years old, who does most of our cosmetology and our hair. He does woman's hair. And again, we asked for photographs, recent photographs that we can make them again look as natural as possible as they would look in the most recent photos. And that's one of those funny things. Again, we'll get this person it's, you know, 80 years old. They give us a picture that's 30 years old, you know [laughs], and it's kind of hard to make them look like that again. But it is interesting, though.
Amy Partlow [00:28:27] When the bodies are there before for the viewing, where are they kept?
Ken Mackin [00:28:32] We they're kept down in the prep room and that is a private area. Like I say, unless you are asked to work in there, it's not an area where you just people meander in and out. It's a locked. It's an actual locked situation where you've got a combination to get into it. And that's basically where they're kept. Yeah. We do not have refrigeration. Again, most bodies on the average are kept ya know maybe two days unless there's some extenuating circumstances and they may be kept longer if they're embalmed. That's not a problem. They can be kept the week, two weeks actually, or even longer as far as that's concerned. But on the average, they're only probably down there a day. A day and a half at the most.
Amy Partlow [00:29:20] Do you have any services that go from one night to next, they are still in the parlor overnight or do you put them back down?
Ken Mackin [00:29:27] No, no, no. Once once they're in the parlor, in the chapel, they remain there. We do have occasionally we'll have two day viewings, which has become rare anymore generally. There are one afternoon, one evening, or one long visitation, maybe from four to eight or five to nine, that type of thing. But they are kept in the chapel at all times. We do have occasions where if it's going to be a cremation or maybe the family is not going to have a full blown funeral, will literally do a little bit of cosmetology on them, set the facial features, meaning closing eyes, mouths, just a little bit of prep work, maybe touching hair up and then a little bit and literally put them on a table, dress them up with a nice sheet and a pillow and so forth of something and a blunt, nice blanket over such. A family may just want to come in for a final viewing, you know, before the cremation as such. So we'll do that occasionally. We put them in a separate chapel. And again, it's basically only family members allowed. It's not a visitation where the public is due because, again, nine times out of ten, they have not been embalmed. It's going to be a direct cremation. And I if I'm not mistaken, I think the state law requires that the you can't have a but immediate family viewing something like that. And that's just usually maybe a twenty minute, a half-hour visitation. And they're left, you know, then we can take them downstairs into the prep room and proceed to get them ready to take to the morgue or to the cremation center.
Amy Partlow [00:31:09] Have you ever experienced any problems with a body that was being shown while it was in the casket?
Ken Mackin [00:31:16] Yes. Then the main problem that I have seen. It's only been a few times is what they call leaking. I can't explain why it leaks. They embalm and obviously it's a fluid they put in. It's got a coloration to it which makes the deceased look better as far as coloration of the skin is concerned. And every once in a great while, you will get a leakage. Now, if it's perceived before being put into the casket and so what they do have special plastic clothing that they literally dress the deceased in. It's like a pair of like pajamas, if you want to call them, or almost like a snow suit or something. But it's all plastic, you know, and you put the pants on. You put a top on, so forth. But every once in a great while, it won't leak right away. And all of a sudden, you'll notice prior to the visitation, during visitation, again, you're going to check every so often. And again, this only happened a few times, but you might see a wet spot on the pillow. And. There's not too much you can do about it and try and literally tuck it into to hide it from the people that from the visitation. I don't know if there's any way of stopping it actually, but that's about the only type of problems that I've ever seen. Once in a while between visitations, we will in fact many times we'll have the embalmer come up and just make. Quick look to check, make sure that during the visitation, nothing has happened. Again, all the features still set, eyes are still remain closed and mouth corners and so forth.
Amy Partlow [00:33:07] Have you witnessed any unusual practices, about family their funeral practices?
Ken Mackin [00:33:16] When you say families, I would say I have noticed different nationalities. Families per say, you know, families are so different. And I think, again, nationality and of course, upbringing has a lot to do with their behavior. I guess you would call it at a wake or visitation. Some families are very nonchalant, like it's just another day. Other families are very distraught, obviously. And again, that can vary from family to family, from individual individual. Now, I have done Muslim services, which are very unusual. I have done Chinese visitations, which are very unusual. The Muslim services, you do not touch the body, basically, you pick it up. Bring it back to the funeral home. If it's a male person, they have their own people come in six or eight, ten males come in and do the washing of the body, wrapping the body and getting it prepped. Because my understanding is they have to bury 24 hours after the within 24 hours after the death occurs and then a few take them to the mosque. Again, even if you drive in the hearse, we usually have a rental casket that sometimes they if they're going to be with us for a year or two and they have kind of a contract actually with the funeral homes, if they're going to be with us for a while, they we have one specific casket that they use and they put the body in the casket. They take it to the mosque. You drive it in the hearse. They unload it. They reload it when you get to the cemetery. They take it out of the hearse, you do nothing but drive it there, they take it out of the hearse, they carry it to the graveside. Ohio law requires a vault, concrete or some sort of a vault. So the vault has already
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