San Antonio Uncovered: Weird Funerals

February 14, 2011
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imageSAN ANTONIO ? Have you ever thought about what’s going to happen right after you die? Not whether you’re going to the great beyond or wherever, but your funeral, burial or cremation? What you want at any services? How you want to be dressed? What kind of casket?

I discovered some weird ? no, let’s call them ‘unique exits’ ? ways to go out in style that’ll make you think, ?Maybe I want to do that.?

One of the weirdest burials in the world was right here in an East Side cemetery. Sandra West was the young widow of Texas multimillionaire oilman Ike West. When she died in 1977 the Beverly Hills socialite left a handwritten will saying she had to be buried in her lacy nightgown sitting in her 1964 powder blue Ferrari 330 America in a comfortable reclining position.

If she wasn’t buried as instructed, her brother-in-law would get nearly nothing. A court battle lasted two months before she finally rode off into the ground. Hundreds showed up at the Alamo Masonic Cemetery to see the spectacle, but the funeral director kept West all crated up. The onlookers couldn’t see West inside the crate, even though she was dressed in her nightgown in the car. The court had ordered it to be respectful and discrete.

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Don’t think about digging up West and her Ferrari. They’re covered in tons of cement. There’s no sign of anything unusual today. Just a little extra space near the modest headstone.

As baby boomers started to die off, the choices for their funerals and burials, caskets or urns, grave markers ? have skyrocketed. The buzzword in the funeral business is ‘personalization.’

Dick Tips owns Mission Park Funeral Chapels and Cemeteries.

?If someone wants to be buried in their car, we welcome that. We encourage that! Whatever it is that that individual wants us to do, we want them to think about it ahead of time,? explains funeral home owner Tips.

It’s a family business started by Tips’ great grandfather more than 100 years ago. The services offered now might have great grandfather spinning in his old fashioned mausoleum.

?If they want to have a motorcycle at their funeral services, we’ve done that. Anything that they want to have. If they want to have horses, we’ve done that. We’ve had a wagon who we backed up in to this chapel. And used the wagon, and taken a person down to the grave site,? said Tips. ?We’ve had somebody who was not in the casket – quite frankly – and on a horse. We walked the horse because they wanted him to ride the horse for one last time.?

Live music, especially mariachi music, is becoming popular at San Antonio funerals. With slide shows or videos of the dearly departed now fairly standard. If you can’t make it there, just click.

?We actually have now set up all of our chapels. If you are stuck in the snow, as we’ve had this bad ice situation this month, if you are stuck in the snow somewhere you can actually come online. We’ll give you a code and it’s a 7 or 8 second delay, but you can actually watch and participate with the entire services,? said Tips.

And there’s more stuff at services. Mission Park’s brought in the dearly departed’s furniture to recreate – say their whole family room or a bedroom. And with the deceased in a bed – that could save the cost of an expensive casket. Though by law you still have to be buried or cremated in some kind of container.

And favorite hobbies, colleges, or sports teams figure more and more in these personalized sendoffs.

?I’m going to promise you ? you get a good Aggie and that Aggie wants to have that casket shrink wrapped with Texas A&M all over it. And they would just love to have their mascot dog right there and or Bevo inside the chapel,? said Tips. ?If that can be done, we are going to try to help that person out. It’s endless what you can do.?

And Spurs fans, while Raul Martinez’ services were different, they were not weird at all. But touching and inspiring. The 53-year-old had down syndrome, a great smile, and loved his Spurs. So his mom decided he should go out that way in a jersey.

?He wouldn’t have been comfortable in a suit. And that’s how it grew. Everybody just heard from that and thought, yeah, we’re gonna honor him,? said Raul’s sister Lou Jimenez.

So everybody wore their Spurs finest to the funeral.

?It was different,? remembers Raul’s sister Birdie Moncivais. ?It was one of a kind to us. It was more of a tribute to him and his life and what he liked. It was what he cared about.?

And, finally, I discovered what will be San Antonio’s flashiest funeral ever.

?I’m going to have different costume changes,? says Tips. ?I was a Rey Feo here in San Antonio. I’m very proud of it,? said Tips.

?Absolutely. The Masonic Lodge, Rey Feo, Cavaliers, and, of course, the suit,? said Dick’s wife Kristen, who is also a funeral director.

Dick Tips plans to show off and celebrate what the family business can do. Someday, not soon, in the very same solid bronze casket with the gold hand bars that Michael Jackson was buried in.

?There is going to be act 1, act 2, act 3, act 4,? said Tips. ?I’m not trying to drag it out. If someone was willing to stay and visit, it’s going to be an interesting event.

And there will be a big party after that.

So have you ever thought about it? How are you going to go out? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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