Step right up: See Jesse James’ coffin, the famous ice casket and more

Funeral Museum

Imagine seeing the casket that carried Jesse James’ body to the mortuary after he was gunned down by the coward Robert Ford. Just imagine.

Imagine no more! You can see the wicker casket used to carry the infamous outlaw’s corpse from his home to the Heaton-Bowman-Smith funeral home in 1882. James was shot in the back by Ford as he was fixing a picture frame in his living room. The bullet hole remains in the wall of the house, now located near downtown St. Joseph.

Jesse James wicker casket

The funeral home was involved with the interment of Jesse James twice. James’ body was exhumed in 1995 for DNA testing. A representative of the funeral home was on site as an official representative. The testing proved with 99.7% certainty that the body was James, according to a CNN report. James is buried in Kearney, Missouri.

The Jesse James casket has its own wall, along with pictures and press clippings about the James brothers, inside the small room that houses a miniature museum of caskets and other funeral-related memorabilia.

Jesse James

A second major tourist “attraction” is an ice casket. Ice was used to keep bodies cool inside the casket. The casket was used during the early 1800s, before embalming was used.  A small window sits where the deceased’s head would be. This allowed people to view the deceased person without having the casket open. My guess is it helped keep the ice from melting any sooner than it needed to and spared people from…

Ice casket

Apparently, the ice casket is one of two known to still exist. The Smithsonian has tried to lure this one away from its home at the current Heaton-Bowman-Smith and Sidenfaden funeral chapel. The funeral home – currently located in a former supermarket building – is the city’s oldest business, opening its doors in 1842.

Ice casket at coffin museum

In addition, the chapel owners have acquired a number of antique or unique items through the years. Candle holders, various urns and other religious items are on display.

Coffin Museum

The chapel added an exhibit featuring presidential deaths and other notable American events.

Coffin Museum

An unofficial copy of the death certificate for President John F. Kennedy is on display. JFK was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, in November 1963.

Uncertified copy of JFK death certificate

The museum is located inside a funeral home, so please remember to be respectful when visiting. The museum is located away from where others may be.