Wabasha County Historical Society to get historic hearse

September 28, 2018

PLAINVIEW — A historic carriage will get a new historical owner next week.

Augie Schleicher, who has been part of a multi-generation family of funeral directors, will donate a horse-drawn hearse to the Wabasha County Historical Society on Oct. 2 during a ceremony at the family’s funeral home in Plainview.

“My grandfather bought it new in 1894,” Schleicher said. “He bought it for a funeral home in Millville. It has been in the carriage house for the last 29 years.”

The carriage, most days on display in the glass carriage house attached to the funeral home at the intersection of Minnesota Highways 42 and 247, was purchased for $900 from Cunningham Coach Works in Chicago and shipped to Millville via train.

Since then, the carriage, with its curved-glass windows has been used in numerous funerals, including that of slain Lake City Police Officer Shawn Schneider in 2011 and was even transported to Arlington, Texas, for a funeral.

Brad and Clint Schreiber help transport the carriage, along with their team of Percheron draft horses that pulls the hearse.

“We usually use two horses,” he said, though a few years ago a Twin Cities funeral called for a “six-horse hitch.”

In 2017, the hearse was used three times, all for funerals in Hmong communities, Schleicher said. And it’ll continue to be used as long as he’s alive and, hopefully, beyond.

That, said Margaret Peterson, a volunteer board member of the Wabasha County Historical Society, is the plan.

“We felt it was a great opportunity for the historical society to expand,” Peterson said. “Since the museum is located along the (Mississippi) River in Reeds Landing, it expands the (footprint) of the historical society to Plainview.”

The plan also includes keeping the carriage in the carriage house at the funeral home and, as long as he’s capable, for Schleicher to maintain the carriage. But once he’s unable to do so, the carriage’s care will transfer to the historical society, she said.

“This is extremely rare,” Schleicher said. “I belong to an antique hearse and ambulance group. There’s new ones, but they’re made of fiberglass. This is all original.”

The carriage has been through two ground-up restorations, Schleicher said, the last one in 2015 and taking 10 months to complete. “So, it was pretty extensive.”

Peterson said that in addition to the value of the carriage, it’s simply a beautiful piece of history that has been a part of Wabasha County for more than 100 years, and that makes it worth acquiring.

It’s also why Schleicher is willing to hand it over after all these years. “It’s my hope they’ll preserve it and keep it.”

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