As a child, with my cowlick shining golden and streamers in full stream from the handlebars of my red bike, I was almost crushed under the wheels of a hearse. Lumbering darkly in its deathly mission, the hearse failed to stop at a crosswalk; had I biked blindly forward, I might have been scraped from beneath the hearse and placed in its cavernous trunk, the undertaker pausing just long enough to toss my mangled bike into the woods.
For the rest of the day, my cheeks lost their ruddiness. The horror: being steamrolled by a ghoulish Cadillac station wagon. But as I’ve aged, I’ve realized that a somber duty does not a somber car make. Moreover, what’s actually wrong with a little spooky melancholia? The universe is still reeling from the high wattage of automotive cuteness—New Beetle, Mini Cooper, Thunderbird—that blasted the early Aughts.
In celebration of these grim, but often beautiful, cars, here are 15 historical hearses to put a little joy in your Halloween heart—even as they cast a pallor over your face.
Enjoy, and always look both ways when crossing the street.
Originally, hearses were horse-drawn. Many times friends and family would attach notes and epitaphs to the cart. This photograph is of a glass-sided funeral carriage in Portsmouth, N.H., circa-1900., F. J. Mortimer/Getty Images Sometimes, rum-runners would exploit the deference that people and motorists showed toward hearses to evade the police. That’s what this hearse was used for in the summer of 1929. See the bottles?, ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images In what might be the worst omen in the history of marriages, this wedding car, complete with bride and groom, crashed into a so-called “corpse car” between ceremony and reception. Something borrowed, something blue, a future blighted by curse?, Imagno/Getty Images A solemn fleet. This is the collection of funeral cars kept by the William E. McTurner funeral home in Pittsburgh, circa-1945. When they come to take me away, I hope it’s in an armada of similarly well-kept death sleds., Teenie Harris Archive/Carnegie Museum of Art/Getty Images Every young girl scribbling happily in a Lisa Frank notebook adorned with a soft-eyed, sparkle-hooved horse, know this: Horses are not cuddly. They are not creatures of light. As we can see in this grim photo of a steed draped in black, horses are probably the devil’s spawn. We shudder., Scherer/BIPs/Getty Images Edith Piaf was famous for her grit, streetwise wit and totally enchanting singing voice, which rang like a tuneful foghorn out of a slender woman standing just under four feet eight. She was France’s biggest star up until her death in 1963, an event that was near a national tragedy. This is the funeral procession., Roger Viollet/Getty Images Black is typical, but white is nice. These are the hearses, limousines and flower cars of the Frederick Funeral Home in Pittsburgh, circa-1966. The fins and after-burner designs helped rocket patrons into the afterlife., Teenie Harris Archive/Carnegie Museum of Art/Getty Images Remember that horse-drawn carriage? Here’s the Sixties update. Ray Rahrner built the Boothill Express and threw a Hemi in the front, making for a totally surreal, V8 Drag Hearse., Eric Rickman/The Enthusiast Network/Getty Images Here’s a line of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs employees paying respects to their founder, Nathan Handwerker, as his procession passes the original landmark wiener stand in Coney Island, Brooklyn. If 1974 wasn’t a great year for New York generally, it was an awesome time for Cadillacs., Charles Frattini/NY Daily News via Getty Images This 1977 Mercedes hearse is carrying the coffin of Charlie Chaplin to his funeral in Switzerland., Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images Cuba is well known for its pre-embargo American cars. Colorful and kept alive with cunning and spit, these old beasts also serve, sometimes, as hearses. Those boxes? Coffins., Independent Picture Service/UIG via Getty Images This is what an Empress’ hearse looks like. Magnificent. It was deployed in 2000 after the death of Japanese Empress Dowager Nagako at 97., Hulton Archive/Getty Images Here, a classic example of the hearse hot rod. Perfect for a cruise, or a rock ’n roll funeral., Education Images/UIG/Getty Images For the lifelong motorcycle and/or Harley-Davidson devotee, there’s this, the Harley hearse. If the deceased only rode two wheels in life, why disgrace such a legacy by plopping the corpse in a car?, Don Murray/Getty Images The Munsters was a Sixties sitcom about a surprisingly happy-go-lucky family of monsters. They drove the Munster Koach, a George Barris creation with a modified Model T body, ornate steel scrollwork, a blood-red interior and a 289 cubic-inch Ford V8. Deathly., Hulton Archive/Getty Images