COLUMBUS — When Sonny Bokelmann pulls into his driveway and unloads the casket from his truck, his family and friends won’t be surprised.
The Seward man admits his interest in all things funeral homes is a little ghoulish. After all, this is a man who once used a hearse as a mode of transportation.
So when Grubaugh Auction Service held a public auction in Columbus Saturday with items from two consolidated funeral homes up for bid, Bokelmann made sure to attend.
There were many others who made the trip to check out the unique items that ranged from caskets and grave markers to embalming tools and viewing tables.
It might be a little off putting to some, but there were plenty of bidders who either weren’t bothered by it or had unique plans for the accessories they bought.
“I’ve always been fascinated with the funeral industry,” said Bokelmann, who is a Columbus native.
His first job was working in Roselawn Cemetery, so maybe his interest was sparked back then. However it came about, it caused Bokelmann to shell out $105 for a slender, old wooden coffin decorated with leather and rope handles. He plans on storing it on his acreage along with whatever other items he would buy.
There were about 15 caskets up for bid, which had to be wheeled up from the back room to be placed before the bidders. Some caskets were decorated with colorful felt and silver-colored handles. The more dated ones were simple, wooden designs.
The items came from two funeral homes, one in Genoa and another in Clarkson, that consolidated with another funeral home.
Several of the items dated back to the late 1800s to the early 1900s, like the portable embalming table that used to be taken to the homes of the deceased where the bodies would be prepared for burial.
Charles Bronson, who works with Grubaugh Auction, said it is very rare to get the opportunity to auction off funeral home accessories. He expected the crowd of bidders to be mostly made up of those who wanted Halloween decorations.
That is what brought Julie Wilke of Columbus to the auction. Halloween is one of Wilke’s favorite holidays, and she goes all out with decorations. That is why she bought a casket for $85 to add to the creepy theme.
She is going to place the wooden box in her front yard, but hopes that is just a temporary location. After she and her husband build their new home next year, Wilke wants to plant a pumpkin patch complete with a corn maze. The casket, she said, would go in that field to add to the spooky atmosphere.
Some of the smaller items, like engraved markers, sold quickly, as did signs that read “Funeral No Parking Here.” Bronson said accessories that are small tend to sell well at auctions because people can ship them easily if they later sell them on eBay.
But even the large items were expected to find homes. Bronson said he wouldn’t be surprised if some caskets sold for $1,000.
Dewayne Fruge also was buying items for Halloween decorations, but he uses his to deck out haunted houses that he builds and designs. This year, he built seven haunted houses all in Omaha.
“We are trying to get a couple of coffins and maybe the body bag,” Fruge said of the black, plastic bag hanging just over his shoulder.
Dean Scheideler was waiting to bid on a padded kneeling bench. Unlike others who were looking for an addition to their Halloween decoration collection, the Nebraska City man was buying items to sell in his antique shop.
“I have people come in all the time and ask about candles, kneelers. I’ve never asked what they want them for, so I don’t know if they are ministers or what,” Scheideler said.
He bought a couple of tall, brass candle holders and had his eye on an urn stand, but knew he was going up against some stiff competition.
“This is Halloween time, so I have that working against me. I’d probably do better if this was in March,” he said.