This death doula’s 1974 Cadillac hearse is anything but macabre

Courtesy Nicole Steinberg

I’ve been fascinated with macabre things my whole life, including international death culture, dying, and hearses. I always dreamed of owning a black-on-black 1950s-style hearse.

A few years ago, I moved to Tacoma, Washington, and got a job with a mortuary service. We assisted all the funeral homes in the area with cremation and embalming. I discovered I really loved working for the mortuary, and I found great comfort in helping grieving families by taking care of their loved ones.

Through this, I learned about the role of a death doula and decided to pursue formal training. Just like a birth doula, our role is to guide an individual or family with a holistic end-of-life plan that honors the person and what they stood for. A death doula will advocate for the individual and their family. I recently launched my own company primarily working with people who are not yet at the end of life but want to get something in place for when they are.

1974 Cadillac Hearse owner
Courtesy Nicole Steinberg

During my schooling, I heard about this 1974 Superior Crown Limited Endloader sitting at an auction house outside of Tacoma. Due to COVID, no auctions were happening in person, but I knew in my gut this was the one. I logged on to the site and placed my bid, then waited. To my surprise, I won it! When I went to pick it up, I couldn’t believe the amazing condition it was in. The 472-cubic-inch V-8 ran great, and everything on the car is original. It even came with an 1800s Odd Fellows child viewing coffin.

After doing some research, I learned that mine is one of 611 Superior Crown Limited Endloaders. Sitting at about 21.5 feet long, the coach is white with a deep blue vinyl back. Three different very traditional 1970s blues make up the front interior, while a marble extension table and blue crushed-velvet paneling line the back. I really can’t find much history on the car itself, though I do know it has been primarily owned by women. I’m happy to carry on that tradition.

I always wanted a hearse to give it a rattle-can, rockabilly, pop-culture look. Now that I work to help people feel comfortable about death, dying, and bereavement, this hearse has a totally different meaning to me.

People come up to me all the time and I love to engage in conversation regarding the coach. Men will ask about the car itself, what engine it has, how it’s original, etc. Women will stop me and talk to me about the meaning of the car. I think the question I get asked most is: Why? Why am I driving it, and why do I think it’s beautiful? After we address this, I often hear stories about how they lost someone close to them, and they’re able to open up to me. It always goes beyond car talk. This Cadillac is a conversation piece—and a super tight classic car!

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    Having done a just under four thousand funerals myself, I would say that most grieving families and dying people don’t want to be helped by someone with “a lifelong fascination with the macabre and dying culture” and thus we usually work to filter out these sorts of people from the hiring (and even training/apprenticeship) process.

    Nothing wrong with owning a hearse, but this whole shtick reeks of death voyeurism.

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