Hearse owners like to ‘creep it real’

October 3, 2018
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Every time Brian Swartz fires up his ’68 Cadillac, it makes his neighbors nervous.

They retreat into their homes, whisk their children away from the road or shout, “Keep drivin’!” as the vehicle roars down the otherwise peaceful, treelined street.

Swartz grins like a jack-o’-lantern.

“I like hearses because they freak people out!” he says.

The 21-foot-long, 3.5-ton behemoth is not your average undertaker’s ride: It’s Brandywine colored with flames, skulls, monsters and tombstones airbrushed on the sides and a large tribute to the 1979 movie “Phantasm” painted on the hood. There’s a real coffin in the back with Slim the (fake) skeleton resting inside.

Swartz, a lifelong gearhead and horror enthusiast, bought the funeral coach on eBay in 2002 and ventured all the way to Odessa, Texas to pick it up. He planned to drive it back to Pittsburgh, but it died in Arkansas and had to be hauled home on a flatbed truck.

“It’s a big, angry, temperamental baby,” Swartz says, adding that replacement parts are rare and expensive. “But, it’s fun. When you drive it, it’s an event.”

The 42-year-old Hampton Township resident takes the macabre automobile to local car shows and makes an appearance at his son’s elementary school each Halloween. He recently carted a group of black-clad teenagers to their senior prom.

Swartz can’t even refuel without folks lining up to take selfies with the creepy car, which gets less than 10 miles per gallon.

Hearse ownership is not for the frugal or faint of heart.

Josh Montedoro’s 1985 Cadillac Fleetwood is possibly possessed. The Turtle Creek resident acquired the car after a local funeral home went out of business.

“It’s kind of eerie when you’re under the hood and it revs up by itself like it’s going to kill you,” he says. “I’m not worried about it. Nobody ever died in a hearse.”

Sammi Allegro, 29, of Herminie, Pa., makes weekday commutes to work in a Ford Escape, but, according to a bumper sticker on the SUV, her other car is a hearse.

The black chariot is a rolling symbol of her favorite holiday -- Halloween.

As she cruises through Allegheny Cemetery in a 1996 Cadillac Fleetwood, she waves to onlookers and recalls a time when an elderly woman requested to lie down in the back.

“Generally, I think people are just curious. They see a young girl with blue hair driving it and they’re like, ‘What?’” she says with a laugh. “Some people are creeped out; my own mother wouldn’t sit in it until this year. I’ve noticed that people are a little more considerate on the road. You’re less likely to get cut off in a hearse.”

South Hills native Christopher Ciccanti, 37, has owned eight hearses in the last 15 years.

When he bought his first one - a dark green Buick that he drove daily - he showed up to the seller’s house sporting red contact lenses and a pair of fangs.

“The guy’s wife and kids wouldn’t even come outside,” he says. “Hearses are creepy, they’re scary, they’re morbid. They fit my personality to a T.”

His auto addiction has sent him all over the country to pick up the death wagons. The latest ride is a 1993 Cadillac Fleetwood that he’s customized with funeral flags and signs, chrome skulls, a black casket complete with a 40-pound medical skeleton inside of it, a noose that hangs in the rear window and a stereo system that blasts spooky tunes.

People can see Ciccanti’s Caddy - and other examples of motorized mayhem - at the Creatures & Creep Rods show on Saturday, Oct. 20 at The Subalpine Society in Turtle Creek. In addition to the four-wheeled entertainment, there will be reptiles on display, vendors, fortune tellers, on-site painting, glass-blowing, tattooing, a DJ and a costume contest for people and their pets. The car show runs from 1 to 6 p.m., followed by a Zombie Prom from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m., which will feature live bands and a burlesque performance.

Organizer Amber Sunshine, of Penn Hills, says she hopes it becomes an annual event, giving hearse owners a chance to educate people about the macabre mode of transportation and, possibly, turn them into “diehard” motorists as well.

“We’re all going to die someday,” Ciccanti says. “Don’t let your first ride in a hearse be your last.”

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