Jun 20, 2022
On the morning of May 23rd, a small group of spectators gathered at the corner of 7th Avenue and West 50th street in New York City to watch the city’s last payphone bank being removed from public streets. While watching the news coverage, we were actually a bit surprised by the lack of attention paid to this event. After all, the payphone was such a significant icon of the 20th century, playing a major role in everyday life. This was especially true for those who worked on-call like funeral professionals because they often needed to rely on pay phones if their pagers went off while away from home. Phone booths have also had a prominent role in so many plot points in books, movies and TV shows that it’s hard not to romanticize them a bit.
It may seem a bit overly sentimental to get hung upon wanting more of a sendoff for the pay phone, which, if we’re being honest, bit the dust a long time ago. However, that instinct to pay homage to something beloved or important by holding a symbolic funeral is shared by many and you may be surprised to learn just how often it occurs. We recently spent some time researching occasions when funerals were held for something other than a person. Whether the event was held as a heartfelt tribute, an artistic statement or a humorous gaff, this list proves that a funeral service can serve multiple purposes. From a community tree to a fictional character, these funeral ceremonies all brought people together to bid farewell to something they cared about or even loved. And, when you get down to it, what could be more human than that?
Here are 7 Famous Funerals Held for Something Other than Humans
1. A funeral for a cherished animal
A funeral held at Schoedinger Funeral Home in memory of their grief therapy dog, Tara
Over the past few decades, the act of holding a funeral ceremony for a beloved family pet has shifted from an anomaly to a fairly common occurrence. In fact, many pet memorial businesses have sprung up in recent years to help families say goodbye to their furry friends in a manner that meets their needs. Most bereavement experts now recognize the complex grief associated with the loss of an animal companion. Pet funerals have become ubiquitous in our culture today and it’s even become more common to see animal obituaries published alongside humans in newspapers (although not without some debate). In most cases, families will hold a small, intimate ceremony in their home or in a rented chapel space.
What about those rare animals that touch many people’s lives? There have been several examples from all over the world of animal funerals that brought together hundreds or even thousands of people to pay their respects. From K-9 Unit hero dogs to ancient crocodiles who become local mascots, below are just a few famous animal funerals held in recent years:
Hundreds attended this funeral held in 2014 for Kye, an Oklahoma City police dog that was killed in action. Kye was given full line-of-duty honors during the ceremony. Here is an interesting article that sheds more light on how fallen K-9 officers are honored.
3,000 people came out to attend an elaborate funeral for Japan’s famous feline, Tama, who earned her celebrity after becoming the honorary “stationmaster” of a remote railway stop. Tama was given the status of goddess during her Shinto-style funeral. (If you’re a fan of cat funerals, you might also enjoy this story about beloved kitty, Doorkins Magnificat, who was honored with a memorial service in the same London Cathedral where she had come to live 12 years earlier.)
In the video above, locals in Costa Rica hold a well-attended funeral for Pocho the performing crocodiles. Crocodiles aren’t the first animal that come to mind when you think about species that develop social relationships with humans; so, you would be forgiven for thinking there aren’t any other examples of a large number of people showing up for a crocodile funeral. You’d be wrong though. In 2019, 500 people attended a funeral for a 130-year-old croc named Gangaram in a remote village in India. That same year, the Australian town of Cardwell held a ceremony to bid farewell to the town’s celebrated saltwater croc, Bismarck. It may seem like a strange coincidence that so many different people would mourn the loss of a crocodile, until you consider how long these scaly guys live, often leading them to become local mascots in many places.
2. A funeral for a home
If you’ve ever spent any time in one of Philadelphia’s inner-city neighborhoods, you know firsthand that the city has a problem with vacant houses and empty lots. Poverty and crime have led to a multitude of homes sitting empty for years and, over time, becoming condemned. 500 of these homes are demolished every year. In 2014, a group of artists and historians from Temple University got together to ask an important question: what if we held a funeral for a home before it is torn down?
The Funeral for a Home project is a wholly original and unique concept that asks people to care about and memorialize their history before it disappears. The group selected a shuttered residence in the poverty-stricken neighborhood of Mantua that was close to collapsing. On May 31, 2014 a widely attended homegoing funeral service was held for the house complete with a eulogy from a local pastor and a full choir. A large floral spray was fixed atop the house and a 20-yard dumpster was transformed by local artists to look like a casket. Speakers addressing the crowd explained the history of the home and discussed its former occupants. This community art and engagement project helped raise awareness about the need for new infrastructure and long-term revitalization goals.
“The loss of vernacular architecture is often hidden in plain sight,” said Patrick Grossi, Project Manager for Funeral for a Home. “When a kind of modest house is being run down, you are erasing a century of lifetimes.”
3. A funeral for a community tree
“Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy”– So begins the tale of The Giving Tree, a book many of us remember from our childhood about a tree that devotes its life to the happiness of a boy. It is a tale that reminds us how humans share a deeply rooted emotional connection with trees that can be traced back to childhood. Those green giants give more than just oxygen, they provide a setting for our memories. Just about every one of us can probably think of a particular tree that we climbed or stood in the shade of as a kid. For all of these reasons, and others, we were not surprised to learn that some communities have gathered together to mourn the loss of a beloved tree.
In 2010, dozens of residents in Yarmouth, Maine gathered in freezing temperatures to watch as New England’s tallest elm tree was cut down after a decade-long battle with Dutch elm disease. It is moving to see so many people gathered together in the snow to see their beloved ‘Herbie’ one more time. In death, the tree was given new life by artisans who repurposed its wood to create many items, including a casket that was used by a man who spent many years devoted to the tree’s survival.
Last year, in the city of Durango, CO residents held a tree funeral that was also a protest over the removal of a stately cottonwood tree. Residents were angry and saddened about the 45-year-old tree being chopped down to make way for an underpass. About 20 people attended wearing black and holding “Rest in Peace” signs while they solemnly watched the tree being cut down. Most recently, a mountainous town in Taiwan announced that they planned to hold a funeral, during their upcoming cherry blossom festival, for a giant cherry tree that contributed to their local tourism.
4. A funeral for a fictional character
Have you ever watched a TV show or movie and felt afterwards like you weren’t ready to let one of the characters go? That’s how fans of the groundbreaking television show Breaking Bad felt when the show concluded in September 2013 and they had to say goodbye to their favorite antihero, Walter White. About a month after the series finale aired, more than 200 Breaking Bad fans gathered together at an Albuquerque cemetery to hold a mock funeral for Walt. A ceremony was held in front of a replica of the RV that featured so prominently on the show. One of the show’s set directors even turned up to give a eulogy. While the event was mostly a tongue-in-cheek way to bring fans together, it also speaks to the power of strongly written characters and how deeply connected people can feel to them.
5. A funeral for a beloved car
When you think of objects that one might treat with reverence, the first thing that comes to mind might not be a rusted-out car that is barely drivable. However, when you hear the story of Henry Ettling and his much loved 1982 Honda Civic (affectionally nicknamed ‘Bluey’), you’ll understand that a car can sometimes be more than a car—it can become a lifelong friend. In August 2012, Henry held a New Orleans style funeral for Bluey. With a floral spray affixed to the top of the car and a Dixieland band performing jazz, Henry lead a funeral procession filled with dozens of mourners down a street in a New York to a bar where a wake was then held. With 170,000 miles driven on it, the car was memorialized by Henry as “the most reliable friend I have ever had.”
6. A funeral for the end of a season
Sebastian Faulks said it best when he wrote, “the end-of-summer winds make people restless.” There is something about the end of the warmest season that makes one want to get the most out of those last golden days and enjoy one last hurrah. For residents in Bethany Beach, a small coastal town in Delaware, the end of summer is all about saying goodbye in style. Since 1985, the town has hosted the Bethany Beach Jazz Funeral. During this annual event, a New Orleans style band, a “not too” grim reaper and a group of “mourners” dressed in black lead a funeral procession complete with a fake coffin and mannequin that represents summer. The event then culminates in an evening of dancing on the boardwalk. About 2,000 people attend every year and we can’t help but wonder how many of them say, “I’m so excited for the funeral!” in the days leading up to it.
7. A funeral for decommissioned canine robots
If you read our blog regularly you may know that we love saving the best (read: oddest) for last. Earlier in this post, we discussed the rise of pet funerals and how they help people come to terms with the loss of a cherished animal companion. In some cultures, that reverence is taken up a notch. In Asian countries, pet funerals are even more prevalent than in the U.S. and often much more elaborate with families often building Temples for their beloved pets. This stems from the Buddhist belief that animals have souls and for that reasons are often treated very similar to human children. By that logic, you can start to understand why mechanical pets might become just as revered by their owners.
When a product line of lifelike AIBOs (short for artificial intelligence robot) that was sold to the Japanese market beginning in 1999 was decommissioned by Sony after seven years of production, many owners who had become attached to their mechanical canine panicked. If Sony would no longer support updates, it meant that their robot dog would effectively die. While some niche repair shops began helping owners keep their AIBOs alive, others could not be fixed. Buddhist Temples received requests to hold funeral ceremonies for the decommissioned AIBOs, and they agreed. Traditional services are now held regularly in Japan for the AIBOs which include burning incense, chanting, and the recitation of Buddhist scriptures.
According to Head Priest Oi, honoring inanimate objects is consistent with Buddhist thought. “Even though AIBO is a machine and doesn’t have feelings, it acts as a mirror for human emotions,” Oi stated.
Which example on our list surprised you the most? Did we miss any famous funerals for non-humans? Please share in the comments below.
About The Author
Jess Farren (Fowler)
Jess Farren (Fowler) is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD’s company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at Jess@myASD.com