How the Famous Endings Museum Is Bringing Stories to Life

Posted June 14, 2016

7 min read

John Herzig is President and third generation owner of Toland-Herzig Funeral Homes & Crematory Inc., with funeral homes located in Dover, Strasburg and New Philadelphia, Ohio.

Herzig’s passion for honoring and celebrating history led to the development of Toland-Herzig’s Famous Endings Museum. The Famous Endings Museum is the largest privately owned collection and presentation of original memorabilia from funeral or memorial services. The museum features artifacts from Hollywood stars, politicians, world leaders, famous athletes, pop culture icons and other historical or notable people.

Read on to see what inspired Herzig to create the museum, why it’s such a popular tourist destination, and how the museum helps honor and personalize those who have passed.

How the Famous Endings Museum Started

It all started in 1996, when Herzig was collecting autographs. “At that time, I’d been a funeral director probably for almost 25 years. One day I had a chance to get the autographed pictures of the famous boxer, Joe Lewis. The guy that I bought it from had no idea what I did or anything like that,” says Herzig.

When he received the package, it had much more than photographs inside. It also had the program from the legendary boxer’s 1981 funeral ceremony.  “It just kind of took off from there,” says Herzig.

“One of the things I’ve enjoyed about being a funeral director and one of the things I’ve enjoyed about this hobby, is I enjoy finding out as much as I can about a person’s life – and their life story,” explains Herzig. “We do obituaries, and as funeral directors, we learn the stories behind people’s lives, and that’s always kind of fascinated me. Since I started collecting this stuff I’ve tried to not only find out about their death, but I would also try to find out as much as I could about their life.”

For a few years after coming across Lewis’ funeral program, Herzig kept his collection only to himself. But about three years into collecting, people started asking him, “Why don’t you display this stuff?”

He wasn’t sure who else would be interested, but he thought he’d give it a try. Once he showed off some of his memorabilia, to his surprise, people were just as interested. They were also increasingly telling others about the collection. Herzig also gives credit to his wife, Joyce Herzig, who helped him share the story behind each of the pieces. “People kind of get a kick out of these stories [I tell on the tours], and then they kind of spread the word,” explains Herzig.

Eventually, as the displays grew, so did the crowds. “I started getting calls from tour groups wanting to tour. Typically, I’ll share a story behind some of the people featured in the museum and now it’s become this crazy tourist attraction. We get people from all over the country.” Being located in Dover, Ohio, the museum ended up being in a large tourism area – near the Professional Football Hall of Fame, the McKinley Memorial and Amish country.

“Each Person Has a Unique Story to Share”

A little over two years ago, Herzig made the decision to create a museum-café for visitors. “I had to either totally get out of this, or have a separate area [created], because I was getting more and more calls from these tourists, and we needed an area where we could do this without interfering with the funeral home.”

Today, the museum has a mixture of pieces – more than 2,000 in total. “I have the original list of the people that Joe DiMaggio invited to Marilyn Monroe’s funeral and I’ve got a shell from John F. Kennedy’s 21 gun salute in Arlington,” says Herzig. Other notable, more recent pieces are the purple gift boxes that Prince’s family gave away at his funeral.

There are shells from President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s salute and an accordion that was played at President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s funeral. The collection also includes the lanterns from the horse-drawn carriage that carried President Abraham Lincoln through Albany, New York.

Other unique pieces include artifacts from the deaths of John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Calvin Coolidge, Harry S. Truman, James Garfield, Woodrow Wilson, William McKinley, Richard Nixon and more.

There are also pieces from a variety of world leaders and politicians, including Martin Luther King, Sir Winston Churchill, Governor George Wallace, Queen Victoria and Princess Diana. There are artifacts from sports stars including Joe Louis, Tom Landry, Jesse Owens, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Wilt Chamberlain, Pat Tillman, Bob Feller, Vince Lombardi, and more. Others come for the celebrities, a list that includes Andy Griffith, Michael Jackson, Don Knotts, Met Torme, Ed Bradley, Charles Schulz, Liberace, Joan Crawford, Rodney Dangerfield, Farrah Fawcett, to name a few. The collection also includes audio recordings and photographs from funerals as well as celebrity gravesite markers and monuments visited personally by Herzig.

Herzig says he enjoys telling the unique stories of people whose names aren’t always so recognizable, too. For example, he often shares information about Wilson Greatbatch. Greatbatch was the inventor and developer of the first implantable pacemaker – a device that has saved hundreds of thousands of peoples’ lives in the US, and millions worldwide. “Each [person] has a unique story to share. When you think about it, Wilson Greatbatch’s invention changed the world, but yet people don’t even know who he is. Another one is Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity.”

Telling their stories – alongside stories from people such as the inventor of the Twister game, the creators of the Frisbee and the Pillsbury Doughboy – is enjoyable for Herzig. “They’re all unique and pretty special.”

Honoring & Personalizing Someone’s Life

Herzig shares that Leslie Nielson, the comedian who appeared in more than 100 films and 1500 TV programs during his career, is another example of how the museum can help celebrate someone’s life and story.

Nielson’s story is one of someone who was able to take his sense of humor with him to the grave. “When he died, he wanted to do something for his own funeral, so he had these little Kleenex’s monogrammed, and everyone who attended his funeral received a little package of Kleenex.”

Each package said, “Stop crying” and “this is supposed to be a fun night. Love and laughs, Leslie” on it, says Herzig. The Museum has one of these packets on display, and the story is one that makes people smile. “Those are really the kind of things that can personalize a person’s life.”

The Famous Endings Museum is open weekdays from 9-5 PM. Toland-Herzig Funeral Home is located at 803 North Wooster Avenue in Dover, Ohio. See the website to learn more.

About John Herzig

John is the president and third generation owner of Toland-Herzig Funeral Homes & Crematory Inc. and partner with his wife, Joyce, in the operation of the Toland-Herzig Monarch Center. Herzig received his Bachelor of Science degree from Ashland College in 1974 and is an honors graduate of the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science. He earned the designation of Certified Funeral Service Practitioner (CFSP) from the Academy of Professional Funeral Service Practice in 1976, becoming one of the first funeral directors in Ohio to be so named. Visit the Toland-Herzig Funeral Homes website here to learn more information.

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