Friday Question of the Day

IMG_5610, originally uploaded by Prince of Petworth.

Why are there so many funeral homes in Petworth and Columbia Heights? I mean there are seriously a lot of them. And they seem to be smack dab in the middle of residential homes. I just don’t understand how there can be such a high concentration. I feel like I’ve been saying this a lot lately – but I mean no disrespect to the businesses – I’m seriously baffled by this phenomenon…

17 Comment

  • Yep, I noticed a lot of them in the general area.

  • business is good?

  • does it have anything to do with zoning? like maybe georgia avenue is one of only a few streets on which they can have that kind of business?

  • But it’s not just Petworth – there are several on U just east of Georgia and in the Shaw neighborhood on 6th and 7th.

    Personally, I think it’s creepy to have a funeral parlor in a residential area.

  • There are a lot of them because over the past 30 years there has been a need for them due to the high numbers of murders. You have to be burying someone to stay in the funeral home business.

  • We moved to DC in September of ’59. Don’t forget, neighborhoods such as Petworth, Brightwood, etc. were, in many ways, self contained villages (complete with movie theaters, post offices, grocery stores)- kind of the way, say, the Connecticut Avenue stretch of Cleveland Park is now. There were 3 funeral homes between 5th and Kennedy and Georgia and Kennedy THEN-and this was when we’d go out “on the town”= and leave the doors open. (Yes, I am serious!) So I dont think theres a murder
    correlation here. But as the old blues song goes, (one way or another) “You got to go back to Mother Earth… Ancienty yours,

  • I’ve often wondered the same thing.

  • Check out the casket manufacturing or display building, not quite sure exactly which it is, on the East side of Georgia between Emerson and Farragut. Would LOVE to know more about that!

  • This is not uncommon in predominantly African-American neighborhoods everywhere. African-Americans were long denied access to most professions (still are, in some). There were only a few professions — and by that I mean not blue collar work — at which African-Americans could succeed: teaching (although usually in underfunded, undersupplied schools); some medical professions like nurses, dentists and doctors, so long as they didn’t stray out of the black community; and mortician, because everyone needs to be buried. Teaching and medicine are tougher to get into because you needed the money to go to college; you can pass on the mortician’s art from generation to generation, and all you need to do is get a license. Lots of African-Americans with aspirations to middle-class and possibly upper middle class life opened funeral homes, which over the decades passed from generation to generation. So what it comes down to is the high concentration of funeral homes is a vestige of segregation.

  • Petworthian brought very god analysis. (Thank you Petworthian)

    I agree with him.
    I just wan to add that to have success Funeral home, business depends on the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods and a long-term social and business relation with the residents of those neighborhoods.
    Petworth is one of the neighborhoods that people been living there for 30-40 years, some of them even more, unlike other parts of the DC. Therefore these businesses are successful.

  • I had noticed this as well. Thanks for posing this question, I’m interested in the answers.

  • Petworthian is correct and I was going to write something similar. In addition, under segregation, a white (or at least a non-black) funeral home would often refuse to do what a mortician does to prepare a deceased black person for burial and host the funeral service. Therefore there was a need for black operated funeral homes under segregation as people wouldn’t and couldn’t go out of their communities for funeral services. And yes, being a mortician was and still is a respectful profession, a ticket to the middle class. Kennedy Street NW has a lot of funeral parlors too.

  • There is one sorta down our back alley. I have to admire how they manouvre the funeral limo in that tight space, and it has nice “Six Feet Under” surrealism to it as well: once I saw one of their employees push a body in a bag to their carage, dancing, and humming a song to himself as he went.. 😀

  • As my sweet grandma always said … dyin’ is part of livin’. Nothing creepy about it … we all will do it one day. And, if Petworth is a great place to live, well …

  • Maybe I am being simple, but I thought it might be due to the density of population. Basically I am thinking if you took the total retail square footage per person, the % of funeral homes would not be out of kilter on the average, considering all the many smallish shops, convenience stores, liquor stores etc.. Which in PW all blend in, but if you move away from the city (presuming a similar population density) there is a lot of retail, but more centrally located. Don’t know if this makes sense. It had not occurred to me that it was odd.

  • I think it’s also a socio-economic thing, not only due to segregation. In my mother’s Polish neighnorhood, there is a funeral home on every corner. I feel like those people also used it to step into middle class. By the way, at UDC they have a mortuary science program- probably unique to this city!

  • For SIX FEET UNDER fans, PBS’ FRONTLINE will air this Tuesday a documentary called “The Undertaking” — link:

    In the Boston Irish neighborhood where I initially grew up (although some may argue with that point), wakes and funeral homes were the focal point for significant socializing among adults. I recall my father routinely going to wakes of people he never knew but went to see who might be there. Dad had the gift of the gab and would hang out a wakes for hours.

    There was one particular funeral home that was very popular. In 2003, there we were waking my Dad in an affair which he entirely scripted. Tens of aging jocks including some significant Boston political figures came by to pay their respects to my cop-jock Dad. With tears in their eyes, they recalled how he made them into great baseball players and men. Go Red Sox Nation!

    After his funeral mass, several of these total strangers joined our motorcade as we toured my father’s favorites spots in Boston and along the beaches of South Boston before we headed to Cape Cod for his burial – with our funeral motorcade accompanied by the Massachusetts State Police and a few old jocks none of us knew.

    The rituals reminded me of the important role of funeral homes in neighborhoods.

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