Visitor’s Guide: National Museum of Funeral History in North Houston

Visitor’s Guide: National Museum of Funeral History in North Houston
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By Justin Jerkins 

National Museum of Funeral History | Photo: Justin Jerkins/365Houston

Explore one of Houston’s most unusual but rewarding museum experiences while taking in historical artifacts, scientific processes, cultural customs, and handcrafted exhibits at the National Museum of Funeral History in North Houston.

A few minutes north of Beltway 8, one of Houston’s most unique museum-going experiences explores the universal reality we must all face as humans—death. It’s a tough topic to handle for many, but the National Museum of Funeral History approaches it with reverence and respect, offering visitors an opportunity to learn about the various ways we honor, care for, mourn, and prepare departed loved ones.

Through extensive displays, handmade exhibits, and painstakingly obtained artifacts, NMFH chronicles this ancient, deep history and examines many of its rituals and scientific methods in a way that helps visitors better understand death, preservation, and their own options in memorialization.

Ghanaian fantasy coffins at NMFH | Photo: Justin Jerkins/365Houston

The Vision of Robert Boetticher

Before you arrive, dispel any images of kitschy wax museums and tourist traps because NMFH is the culmination of the career of Mr. Robert M. Boetticher, who has spent his life in the field of funeral service since 1965, and served as chairman to the museum since 1993.

Mr. Boetticher has spent his career cultivating a global network of friends and families that have called upon his expertise and service to honor their loved ones. He has directed the funerals of Presidents George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan (as well as First Ladies Barbara Bush, Betty Ford, and Nancy Reagan), and assisted in the services of Senator John McCain, Senator Ted Kennedy, actress Farrah Fawcett and other high-profile figures.

His relationships have allowed for the gradual expansion of NMFH, to include a curated selection of artifacts, replicas, and more, whether obtained at great effort through his vast network or exhibits built by his and his son’s hands.

The Presidential Funerals exhibit at NMFH | Photo: Justin Jerkins/365Houston

Touring the National Museum of Funeral History

With over 30,000 square feet of exhibition space, NMFH is certainly the largest educational center on funerary customs in the United States—perhaps the world—featuring 16 permanent exhibits, temporary displays, and a one-of-a-kind gift shop.

Presidential Funerals

A cornerstone of the museum, this exhibition just inside the front entrance remembers the services of past presidents, including a display of the presidential hearse that carried Presidents Ford, Reagan, and Bush, as well as artifacts, dioramas, and casket displays for Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy.

To the side, a special permanent exhibit brings together items from the funerals of Barbara and George H.W. Bush, and recounts the funeral train tour that carried the former President after his death in 2018—the first presidential funeral train in half a century.

A ceremonial viewing of the Pope | Photo: Justin Jerkins/365Houston

Celebrating the Lives & Deaths of the Popes

Another of the museum’s centerpieces, this 10,000-square foot exhibition documents the ceremony and lives of multiple popes, in their ascension and death, complete with many real artifacts that have been obtained at great effort through various monsignors, papal tailors, and the Vatican itself.

Browse through authentic clothing, papal ring molds, and ritual artifacts before stepping through large-scale recreations of ceremonial mourning that takes place after the death of a pope. Visitors learn about the process of preparing the pope for public viewing, and the eventual moving of the body to the papal tombs of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Part of the Thanks for the Memories exhibit | Photo: Justin Jerkins/365Houston

Thanks for the Memories

Nestled in one of the back corners of the museum, this permanent exhibition is a shrine to many notable celebrities and public figures, featuring historical artifacts, newspapers, memorabilia, and the funeral and memorial cards of actors, athletes, astronauts, musicians, veterans, and others.

You’ll find hundreds of items that shine the spotlight on the life and accomplishments of people like Arch West (the inventor of Doritos), Jim Henson, Robin Williams, Marilyn Monroe, famous animals, and more.

A small portion of the hearse collection | Photo: Justin Jerkins/365 Houston

Historical Hearse Collection

Throughout the museum, visitors can’t help but spot the impressive field of hearses that represent the history of funereal transport, from sleds and the horse-drawn carriages of the 1800s, to busses and 1930s Packards.

In another area of the museum that examines cultural customs and the expression of mourning around the globe, you’ll also find ceremonial Japanese hearses, Ghanaian fantasy coffins, the elegant Mercedes hearse that transported actress (and Princess of Monaco) Grace Kelly, and more.

A mummy in the History of Embalming exhibit | Photo: Justin Jerkins/365Houston

Retracing the Past

In addition to these fascinating artifacts and exhibitions, NMFH also chronicles the ways humans have mourned, embalmed, and cremated loved ones as far back as ancient Egypt.

Visitors can take in authentic Victorian-era furniture and dress while stepping through historical recreations of how families would have mourned in that period of history, in addition to tracing the process of embalming bodies from the Egyptians through Civil War field medicine and into the 20th century, brought to life with extensively researched information for a rewarding educational experience.

A depiction of what mourning looked like in the Victorian era | Photo: Justin Jerkins/365Houston

History of Cremation & Options for Memorialization

In a first-of-its-kind exhibition, a replica of an early crematorium near the center of the museum invites visitors to step through the evolution of this method of memorialization and consider the rise of its popularity among people today.

In addition to recreations of early and modern cremation processes, a display that features dozens of urn styles makes for an eye-catching display while nearby areas explore further way to honor others through ash paintings, jewelry, and more.

A display of urn artifacts and modern vessels at NMFH | Photo: Justin Jerkins/365Houston

Jazz Funerals of New Orleans

Opened in late 2020, this exhibition steps up to the second line and delves into the festive and boisterous jazz funerals that are a time-honored tradition of New Orleans. Visitors can take in the origins of sending off departed loved ones with music, as well as learn more about the influences of various cultures, from Mardi Gras Indians to Native American-Africans, and more.

NMFH Gift Shop

On your way out, be sure to drop by the NMFH Gift Shop, which contains wall-to-wall displays of clothing, books, art, mugs, movies, and more that make for truly unique gifts for friends and family—or yourself.

Take a look around ahead of your visit by checking out the National Museum of Funeral History online store.

National Museum of Funeral History in North Houston

National Museum of Funeral History in North Houston | Photo: Justin Jerkins/365Houston

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The National Museum of Funeral History

Fantasy Coffins at the National Museum of Funeral History

History of Cremation Exhibit Opening

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