In the first decades of the twentieth century, the departed was given a three-day send-off with the coffin in the parlor of the family home, surrounded by flowers, and family and friends eating, drinking and sharing memories. Visitors often kept an overnight vigil with the corpse. Before motorized hearses were common, horse-drawn vehicles draped in black fabric with silver trim transported the coffin from the home to the church and then to the cemetery.
One of the largest and most memorable funerals was that of Antoni Benca's (Benson) in 1910. Aside from the sheer numbers, the service was notable because, on the way to St. Joseph's Church, the horses drawing the hearse suddenly refused to go any further in front of Konstanty Klimoski's home on 48th and Washington. The procession was forced to turn around and proceed to the church by another route. The incident contributed to an Old World superstition that the home of prosperous and ostentatious Klimoski was inhabited by a devil. More probable was the explanation that the horses were disturbed by the fumes from the Smith Brothers and Keith tannery on Washington Street.
By the 1920s, the Denver Tramway ran a funeral car from 38th and Walnut Streets to Mt. Olivet (the coffin still had to be transported from the neighborhood to the tramway stop, and then carried by the pallbearers from the funeral car to the gravesite, an uphill walk. Mt. Olivet Cemetery would later provide a wagon to meet the funeral party and carry the coffin). Mourners would then return to the family home for more food and reminiscing. 1.
1. Cuba, Stanley. "A Polish Community in the Urban West", Polish American Studies - A Journal of Polish American History and Culture. Volume XXXVI, Number 1, Spring 1979, pg 48
Antoni Benca's funeral 1910, photo ® Mary Lou Egan
Before Holy Rosary Church was built in 1920, Slovenians and Croatians held wakes and funerals at St. Jacob's Hall at 4485 Logan Street. Photo used with written permission from Alma Mandarich.