Constable: 'Magical' hearse also brings together the living

  • It looks like a car from the 1930s, but this hearse has all the attributes of a modern vehicle. Owner Lloyd Mandel, funeral director of Mitzvah Memorial Funerals, attaches the flags on his eye-catching hearse.

      It looks like a car from the 1930s, but this hearse has all the attributes of a modern vehicle. Owner Lloyd Mandel, funeral director of Mitzvah Memorial Funerals, attaches the flags on his eye-catching hearse. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 3/6/2022 8:13 AM

Typically, a ride in a hearse is a once-in-a-post-lifetime event. A tricked-out hearse modeled after a 1930s Rolls-Royce was the vehicle of choice for Lloyd Mandel and his father, Seymour Mandel, on their road trip from Arkansas to Northbrook.

"This trip I thought would be fun, and I thought it would be bonding," says Lloyd Mandel, 61, a funeral director and founder of Mitzvah Memorial Funerals in Northbrook. He gets emotional when he talks about their journey.

 

"It was touching. It added to the closeness of our relationship," says Seymour Mandel, 87.

Grabbing a bite on the road, son Lloyd, left, and father Seymour Mandel use the running board of their new hearse as a lunch table.
Grabbing a bite on the road, son Lloyd, left, and father Seymour Mandel use the running board of their new hearse as a lunch table. - Courtesy of Lloyd Mandel

Their relationship with the hearse began in the fall of 2019, when Lloyd and Seymour Mandel, a retired funeral director, attended the National Funeral Directors Association International Convention & Expo in Chicago.

"There's always something interesting at the show, and this was extremely cool," Lloyd Mandel says of the exhibit featuring a hearse built by the Rosewood Classic Coach. Founded by fourth-generation funeral director Richard Neal, the company started building new hearses modeled on a design by Max Prinzing of Minnesota. The hearse incorporates design elements such as large windows from the horse-drawn funeral coach era, stylish headlights and running boards from the "Golden Age" of classic cars from the 1930s, and modern electronic fuel-injected engines, overdrive transmissions, LED lighting, a back end that lowers to make it easier to roll out a coffin, and an awesome sound system that connects to cellphones.

Back in his office in Northbrook, Lloyd Mandel thought of that fancy new hearse when he looked at the 1922 black-and-white photograph of his father's Uncle Mickey behind the wheel of a hearse with similar features in front of Gratch Undertaking, which was started in 1906 by Lloyd Mandel's great-grandparents, Sam and Ida Gratch. With nine funeral directors in his family spanning four generations, Lloyd Mandel and his wife, Cheri, also a funeral director, ordered the Rosewood hearse.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
This old-looking hearse with LEDs and a modern sound system attracts attention and encourages people to talk about losses in their lives, says Lloyd Mandel, funeral director at Mitzvah Memorial Funerals in Northbrook.
  This old-looking hearse with LEDs and a modern sound system attracts attention and encourages people to talk about losses in their lives, says Lloyd Mandel, funeral director at Mitzvah Memorial Funerals in Northbrook. - John Starks | Staff Photographer

Lloyd and Seymour Mandel picked up the car last fall at the Rosewood shop in Morrilton, Arkansas. They drove 4 hours to visit Lloyd Mandel's son and grandchildren in Oklahoma. They stopped at Fort Leonard Wood in the Missouri Ozarks, where Seymour Mandel did his basic training with the U.S. Army. They spent a night in St. Louis. The drove the famed Route 66.

"So many people asked permission to take pictures," says Lloyd Mandel, who says those photographs also led to stories of tragedies and grief. "It was spiritual. We were laughing and singing and meeting all these people along the way."

One woman sat in the hearse and told them she found funeral homes comforting since her baby died without ever leaving the hospital. The funeral home was where she spent the most meaningful time with her dead infant, she told them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

When the father and son made it back to Illinois, they drove the hearse to Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, to visit the graves of Sam and Ida Gratch, Seymour Mandel's maternal grandparents who came to the United States from Russia. They also visited the graves of Seymour Mandel's parents, Arthur and Mollie Mandel, in Westlawn Cemetery in Norridge.

The hearse won't fit in his home garage, so Lloyd Mandel stores it in his facility in Northbrook, where Bulls legend Michael Jordan once kept some of his luxury cars.

After ordering this attention-grabbing new hearse, funeral director Lloyd Mandel drove it on a road trip with his father, Seymour, a retired funeral director.
  After ordering this attention-grabbing new hearse, funeral director Lloyd Mandel drove it on a road trip with his father, Seymour, a retired funeral director. - John Starks | Staff Photographer

About half of his customers opt for the fancy hearse over a more modest black hearse, Mandel says. At a graveside service for a woman named Melissa, there was a mention of how she liked the Allman Brother's song "Melissa." With the rabbi's blessing, Mandel used his hearse's sound system.

"While they were putting the earth into the grave, I had this playing," Mandel says, as he uses his phone to play that rock ballad.

After another graveside service at Shalom Memorial Park in Arlington Heights, Mandel saw relatives holding up a cellphone to play the deceased's favorite Bee Gees' songs.

"Oh, I can do better than that," Mandel told him before playing those tunes through the hearse's speakers. He often plays taps through those speakers for veterans.

"The car is almost magical. No matter where you take it, people's jaws drop," says Lloyd Mandel, who also founded Mural Funeral Group in Deerfield. Even taking the hearse to the Superdawg Drive-in in Wheeling is a blast, he says.

"Last Saturday, we took it to the monster truck show," Mandel says, explaining how he and his 13-year-old son, Rene, parked for free when they told the attendant they came to Allstate Arena to meet with the crew of "Grave Digger," one of the most popular vehicles on the monster truck circuit. "I would have driven it into the arena if they would have let me."

0 Comments
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.