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History talk Oct. 19 on central New York’s casket industry

Posted 10/2/19

The Madison County Historical Society will present Sullivan town historian Michael Beardsley’s presentation “Underground Novelties, An Uplifting History of the American Casket,” at 1 p.m. Oct. …

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History talk Oct. 19 on central New York’s casket industry

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The Madison County Historical Society will present Sullivan town historian Michael Beardsley’s presentation “Underground Novelties, An Uplifting History of the American Casket,” at 1 p.m. Oct. 19 at the historical society at 435 Main St. in Oneida.

There is no fee to attend the presentation. There is a suggested donation of $5 that will benefit the educational programming at the Madison County Historical Society. Refreshments will be served. For more information please contact the Madison County Historical Society at 315-363-4136, or history@mchs1900.org.

Just in time for Halloween this program takes a humorous look at the strange and often bizarre evolution of the American casket industry, from rough pine coffins made in colonial cabinet shops to $100,000 cast bronze sarcophagi made in casket mega-factories.

The presentation will explore the often head-scratching merchandising twists and turns taken by funeral entrepreneurs trying to survive in a vastly overproduced casket market. Central New York was once a cradle of the U.S. casket industry with powerhouses like Oneida’s National Casket Company, Marsellus Casket in Syracuse, and regional manufacturers like Asbestos Casket, The Owego Cruciform Casket Company, and Lautner’s Ideal Couch and Casket Company calling the region home. The presentation will also highlight the demise of these local giants and the challenges faced by American casket companies today due to rising cremation rates and increasing imports from China and Mexico.

Beardsley’s career in the funeral service began when he answered an ad for a customer service position at the Marsellus Casket Company in Syracuse. He figured that caskets, funerals, and archaeology must be somewhat related. Shortly thereafter, Beardsley was appointed field sales manager and later director of sales and marketing at Marsellus. He later joined Thacker Caskets Inc. as vice president of sales and marketing.

Throughout his career, he has been a frequent speaker at numerous state funeral director association meetings and conventions and has been a presenter for the National Funeral Directors Association. Beardsley appeared on the History Channel’s Modern Marvels television show in an episode entitled “Built to Last.” He served on the Board of Directors and several committees for Casket and Funeral Supply Association. In 2013, he authored the book, “A Brief History of the Funeral Supply Industry in the United States” to celebrate the association’s centennial and was master of ceremonies for the centennial banquet festivities. His articles have appeared in magazines as diverse as Indian Artifact Magazine, Southern Funeral Director, Antique Week, Antique Bottle & Glass Magazine, and the New York Archaeological Association Newsletter.

Beardsley continues archaeological pursuits, having personally found over 80 early man sites in northern Madison County. A highlight has been the discovery of a cluster of exceeding rare Crowfield Paleoindian sites that are 12,000 years old. He works regularly with the New York State Museum archaeologists, and in 2017 he was awarded the New York Archaeological Association’s Certificate of Merit.

The Madison County Historical Society is a nonprofit organization that operates both a museum and the Mary King Research Library at 435 Main Street in Oneida. The society continues to preserve, collect, promote, and exhibit the history of Madison County and its 15 towns and one city through the development of programs that enhance Madison County’s heritage. The historical society’s headquarters are housed in an 1849 gothic revival villa that is listed on the State and National Registry of Historic Places.

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