The Mausoleum Museum

A wide-eyed tour of Houston's memorial to grateful dead heads

There's more, of course. Bills of sale and supply order forms. Catalogs and framed embalming licenses. An unpopulated Victorian funeral-parlor stage-set featuring a casket provided by the unfortunately named Opportunity Company of Saginaw, Michigan, and bound volumes of Mortuary Management Magazine spanning from 1914 to 1952. There are three video booths, illuminating "The History of American Funeral Services," "The Funeral" and "The History of Embalming." There's a display antique embalming room, complete with vials of colored liquid and rubber tubes and a slanted table with drain trenches emptying into a steel pail. You will learn, if you read, that in pre-motor-carriage days it was traditional for a man's hearse to be drawn by two black horses, and for a woman's to be drawn by the same number in white.

All, of course, is sparklingly presented, appropriately clean, and completely divested of any human presence, which makes the American Funeral Service Museum the least morbid place you're ever likely to spend an educational Sunday stroll. By the time you're done browsing and you're on your way out, the lobby's unobtrusive gift case showcasing A.F.S.M. memorial coffee mugs, highball glasses, golf balls, pen sets and watches seems less like an affront to good taste than a viable and desirable purchase opportunity. And if you emerge from the museum's doors into daylight without at least a part of your brain thinking it's a good day to die, then you're probably not employed in the funeral industry.

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