REXBURG − The Flamm Funeral Home is celebrating it’s 130th anniversary.
Garth Flamm, former owner of the funeral home, is still working there part- time and his family has owned the business almost since the beginning of Rexburg. The only other business that is as old as Flamm Funeral home is the Upper Valley Standard Journal.
Garth Flamm said that Jacob Henry Flamm, who was born in Germany in 1837, immigrated with his father and stepmother and came to New York. He worked in Pennsylvania and New York, working with in the mills. A co-worker told him about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was then baptized into the religion and moved out West in 1857.
Garth Flamm said that Jacob Henry Flamm settled in Logan, Utah and then when John Taylor, the president of the church, called people to Rexburg to colonize, he went out with them.
The bishop of the ward in the new town of Rexburg was Thomas E. Ricks. Garth Flamm says that the ward boundaries was everything north of the Portneuf River and everywhere east and west where you could find a Latter Day Saint. Thomas Flamm was Thomas E. Ricks’ first counselor for the Church.
“When great-grand dad came, he was blind from an accident that he had,” Garth Flamm said. “But he later regained the sight in one eye. He was able to do quite well and he established a mercantile store on Main Street.”
He said that the old building that was once home to the Flamm’s first business was located on the corner of Main and First East where the Key Bank now stands.
“He established the Mercantile business in 1886 and added the funeral parlor in 1888,” Garth Flamm said.
He said that when his ancestor came to Rexburg, Jacob Henry Flamm’s wife was the first person of the pioneer company to die. She was buried on the hill, Garth Flamm thinks, where the BYU-Idaho Spori Building is.
“They decided there was too much rock up there, which there really is, so they moved her grave out to what is now the Rexburg Cemetery,” Garth Flamm said. “We don’t have any idea if that’s what caused him to get into funeral service or not but anyway he did.”
In the funeral parlor at the time, they had a room for funeral paraphernalia. Like today, grieving families could purchase items for funerals right there.
“It was tradition that men wear a black armband and women wore black clothing and sometimes a veil, a black veil,” Garth Flamm said. “To attend a funeral. Now we’re quite casual, most people dress up but we’re getting more casual all the time.”
It was also tradition that families put a purple or black ribbon on a wreath and put it on their home.
“It was a symbol to recognize that there was death in the home,” Garth Flamm said. “And people passing the home would know if they didn’t know already. It was also a tradition that if you got a letter etched in black with a border of black that indicated some bad news.”
Garth Flamm said that in the past there were many strange and curious traditions. For example, some communities had a tree that they would nail death notices because at the time, they didn’t have newspapers or rapid communication.
“When a death occurred, undertakers, they were called back then, would go to the home and the body would be prepared at the home,” Garth Flamm said. “In those early days they didn’t embalm. But when it became more common to embalm, then they would actually do that in the home. They had a portable embalming table that they would take into the home and they would embalm the body there and the body would be dressed there.”
He said that after bodies were prepared, a viewing-like event would take place at the home and then a funeral would be held at the church.
Garth Flamm said that in the early days of the business, there wasn’t enough deaths to sustain the funeral business and so many morticians would have additional jobs on the side.
“So they ran the mercantile store and the funeral parlor together as one business,” Garth Flamm said.
Eventually the business became a furniture store as well. Garth Flamm said that he knew of several morticians with additional careers, including a man with a hardware store and another who was a bricklayer.
The Flamm family business moved around town several times until it stuck its roots where it is now.
“We operated as a furniture store until 1976, when the Teton Dam broke,” Garth Flamm said. “So they had the two businesses together on Mainstreet and then they moved the funeral parlor into a building next door, where the parking lot is next to us. They operated there for a number of years. Then they moved up to the base of Hospital Hill.”
Garth Flamm said that there have been several other funeral homes in Rexburg throughout the years.
“There was J.R. Young who operated down at the building where A.C. Moore, I think it’s called is. Somewhere in there,” Garth Flamm said. “And when he passed away he closed the business. And then there was the Beneficial Mortuary that was just right here and then when they closed they sold the building to the Flamm’s. And then there was the Wiser Mortuary and when it closed, the Flamms moved into that building. Each time was a little bit better, a little more room and more accommodating to the community. And then in 1967, they built this building. So this building’s been here for 50 years now.”
Garth Flamm says that Jacob Henry Flamm was the first undertaker and then his son Henry Jr. and then Henry Jr.’s nephews, Russel, Edwin and Kenneth took over and operated the business for 40 years. Then Garth Flamm’s cousin, Jim Flamm, became a funeral director. Garth Flamm took over in 1973 and then Garth Flamm’s brother started to help run the business in 1980.
Garth Flamm says that after the Teton Dam Flood, the business split.
“My Uncle Ken retired, my uncle Russell and his two boys, Jim and Darrel bought ownership of the furniture store,” Garth Flamm said. “And then my dad Ed, myself and my brother operated the funeral home.”
Garth Flamm’s sons have been running the business since last January.
With the funeral home’s rich history comes many interesting stories. Garth Flamm says that they have seen ties stuck in caskets, flowers sliding off of caskets, planks breaking car windows and puncturing tires, car troubles and more.
“In the Plano Cemetery, it’s all sand out there. When they built the new section the first grave was dug before the grass was planted or just shortly thereafter but there wasn’t grass growing. My uncle Ken and I, when the pallbearers had moved the casket over to the grave and I was on one end of the grave and he was on the other we were watching the placement of the casket. And I was looking down and when I looked up he was gone. I looked around and I couldn’t see him anywhere. Well the sand had caved and gave way and he had slid into the grave underneath the casket.”
Not only were the Flamms possibly the first Funeral business in Rexburg; they were one of the first ambulances.
“We operated an ambulance service up until 1966. I went on my first ambulance ride at age 14. Well that was not good; I didn’t like it at all,” said Garth Flamm.
The city would pay the funeral home to be an ambulance before EMTs were ever an option. It wasn’t the square yellow and red vehicle we are all familiar with either.
“The County Commissioners would subsidize the funeral home, give them a retainer to be on call and do the ambulance work. It was primitive really, not professional like today. It was the best we had the best we could do.”
It was called a combination hearse-ambulance.
“We had a red light that we put on top and a sign that we put on the window that said ‘ambulance,’” Garth Flamm said. He said that they would take the sign down, take the light and siren down, and rollers that lined the vehicles back seat were reversible. The rollers were for caskets and the flat side was for gurneys.
Garth Flamm says that no one’s reported seeing ghosts or spirits in their funeral home but says that generally people have said they feel a calming peace when they visit the funeral home.
Garth Flamm says that in the 50’s, funeral homes were dark and foreboding with black and red curtains and dimmed lights with deep red carpets. When asked why such drastic style changes were made, he said that he thinks it was just what was available and now they have more options.
The Flamm’s Funeral Home has white walls and their front door sheds a lot of light on their bright carpet.
Currently the business is in the middle of some remodeling. They are adding some windows and fixing the insulation.
Garth may be retired but he is still a licensed mortician. He helps with book work and making the road trips to pick up bodies.
Garth Flamm says that he couldn’t begin to count the number of funerals the business has had throughout the 130 years of business but says that they have enjoyed helping the people of Rexburg and surrounding areas with their grief and acceptance of death.
“You feel like you’ve made a contribution,” Garth Flamm said. “To helping people over a hard time in their lives.