Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Michael Vincent Moran – Gentleman Undertaker

by David Parmer

The certainty of death requires a kind heart, a sympathetic ear, and the steady hand of a good friend when the need arises. In the early days of Orlando, medical care and medicine were still in their primitive forms, if there were any available at all. Death was a frequent visitor to young and old alike in Orlando and death is never a kind visitor. Mike Moran, gentleman undertaker, could not preserve life, but he made death seem a transition to a better life for many Orlando families during his lifetime.

Michael Vincent Moran was born on Grass Run in the Goosepen area near Orlando in 1878. Mike was next to the oldest of the nine sons and two daughters of John Moran and Margaret (Griffin) Moran1. Early in his youth, Mike decided that he would become a cabinet maker and with that in mind secured employment with the John Feeney Furniture Company of Burnsville.

At the top of the page next to his photo is Mike Moran's letterhead. To the right is Mike's mother, Margaret (Griffin) Moran

John Feeney manufactured his own line of fine furniture in a very large building on Main Street in Burnsville and sold his furniture throughout West Virginia. Feeney later added other lines of furniture to his store. Among the types of furniture manufactured by Feeney were several styles of caskets. While in the employment of John Feeney, Mike Moran became an expert casket maker, a skill that would later serve him well in Orlando. Another line of business conducted by John Feeney was the funeral and undertaking business which was primarily the responsibility of John Feeney’s son, Thomas I. Feeney.

Right is the original Feeney Furniture Company, built by John Feeney in the 1880s.

Left: Beham Henline was buried in this casket, made by Mike Moran.

Mike Moran and Tom Feeney were kinsmen, fellow Catholics and good friends. Tom suggested that Mike begin assisting with Feeney’s funeral business. Mike was amenable to the suggestion and began his apprenticeship. In the early 1900s there were few rules regarding the funeral business and no licensing was required. Mike became quite experienced in the embalming process, as he was in casket making. During the period of Mike’s apprenticeship in Burnsville, Orlando was beginning the period of its heyday. More and more people were building houses and starting businesses in Orlando and the population was growing. Mike recognized that Orlando was a promising venue for providing funeral services. He knew its people, had many relatives in the area, and Orlando seemed tailor-made for a resident undertaker. Mike had well learned the manner of conducting funerals, the dignity required, and the right things to say and do to salve the grief of the survivors of the departed. Orlando became the home of Mike Moran and his undertaking skills for the remainder of his life.2

Mike began conducting funerals in the year 1900 according to records of the State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors. When Mike Moran returned to Orlando to begin his funeral and undertaking business, the horse and buggy was still the only way to get to where you wanted to go. Below is Mike Moran’s horse drawn hearse during an I O O F funeral at Orlando. The hearse was state-of-the-art of the time, with sidelights, glass windows, and draperies.2 In good weather the horse or horses could take the hearse to the Blake Cemetery on Clover Fork, and could easily pull the hill at St. Bridget’s Cemetery at Goosepen. However, the Skinner Cemetery hill was beyond the ability of a horse or horses to climb with the funeral hearse. Mike kept a sled at his undertaking establishment in the former Wholesale Building to transport the casket to the top of the hill when a burial was required at the Skinner Cemetery. In those days pallbearers were a far greater necessity than they are today because horses simply could not be used to go into a cemetery to a grave site.

Mike Moran provided employment to many residents of Orlando. Among the people who worked in the Moran household, either cooking, cleaning or giving child care, were Jeanette “Tom” Hurst, Myrtle Morrison, Mildred Morrison, Nellie Godfrey, Pat Reckart, Ethel Blake, and Cora Posey.3 Among those who worked for Mike on his farm or in connection with the funeral business were Cecil Skinner, Pate Conrad, George Pumphrey, Dale Barnett, Worthington Hurst Jr, and Dave Bennett, the latter of whom would often drive a team of horses pulling a hearse or sled to the cemetery.

Mike Moran was aware that personal appearance was an important aspect of being an undertaker. Mike’s son, John Michael Moran, tells us that Mike would don a necktie first thing in the morning and take it off at night. This was the dress of the day even if he was going to work on his farm on Goosepen. Pat Reckart, a neighbor of the Morans, recalls that Mike was always dressed ‘prim and proper’ and always wore a ‘nice dress hat.’ Mike’s son Lee Paul recalls that his dad always wore “starched collars.” Joe Eddie Moran recalls his father always impeccably dressed and always in shirt and tie.

Extended family photo to the right: 1.unkown 2. John Vincent Carney 3. Winifred Frances (Arkle) Carney 4. Mike Moran 5. Margaret Catherine Carney 6. Joe Eddie Moran 7. Mike Carney 8. Jim Carney 9. Pat Carney 10. Catherine (Moran) Carney, Mike's sister 11. John Carney (the donor of this photo) 12. Patrick Lee Arkle Carney 13. Rose Angela Moran 14. Ann Dolan For more on Mike Moran's heitage See the May '06 entry The Irish Immigration

A story well remembered by the older natives of Orlando which involved Mike Moran also involved a lady by the name of Phebe Riffle.4 Phebe, who lived on Clover Fork, had come to town one day and picked up her mail. Among the mail Phebe received that day was a letter from her husband, Short Riffle, who was away during World War II and who had not written for a while. Phebe starting reading the letter as she walked up the railroad tracks to her home on Clover Fork. Engrossed in the letter she was reading, Phebe did not hear the train coming behind her. Unfortunately, the train struck Phebe and ripped an arm off of her body. The injury was grievous and was believed to be fatal. Phebe was rushed to the hospital but there was little hope that she would survive. Phebe’s arm was taken to Mike Moran who was expected to bury the arm with Phebe when she died from her wounds. Miraculously, Phebe survived her brush with death. Phebe’s arm was still in the Moran funeral parlor, and curiosity seekers started coming to ask Mike to “look at Phebe’s arm.” Many of the local citizenry did view Phebe’s arm in solemn repose until Mike buried it in the orchard on the above his house under an apple tree.

Mother Margaret (Griffen) Moran is seated with all her children behind her. lt to right, Jim, Mike, Kate, Mame, Tom, Charlie, Pete, Bill, Martin, and Pat.

Not long after returning to Orlando, Mike began buying real estate which came up for sale and shortly he became one of the major owners of real estate in Orlando. He was one of the incorporators of the Orlando Produce and Commission Company which opened a wholesale farm produce company in Orlando in 1907. After that business failed to produce a profit for the company it ceased operations and the building was sold in 1912 to Mike for $2100. He established his funeral and undertaking business in this building where it remained for over forty years. In addition to being the location of the funeral home, this building also housed his International Harvester equipment store. Mike’s son, John Michael, remembers that one of the best sellers in farming merchandise was cream separators. In addition Mike sold hay rakes, mowing machines, and other assorted farm equipment and parts.6 Mike also had a line of household furniture for sale. Mike’s son, Lee Paul, who lives in Ravenswood has a dining room table which Mike originally sold to John and Celia Brice of Goosepen.
At one time Mike’s place of business was one story higher than it is today. Dale Barnett recalls that in the early 1930s the first floor of the building had become unsafe so Mike had the building jacked up and the first floor removed. The building was then lowered so that the former second floor then became the first floor. The Orlando Post Office also was located in the Wholesale Building until a new post office was built in the present location.

To the left is the warehouse in 1924 with young Fred McCord out front.

As modern times came to Orlando, Mike phased out the use of his horse drawn hearse in favor of a 1930 Nash hearse2. As we know, although a motorized vehicle has its advantages, they don’t last as long as a good horse, so in 1936 Mike replaced his Nash for a 1936 Pontiac hearse. However, this Pontiac must have been almost as good as a horse because it was the last hearse Mike used for the remainder of his career.

An example of a 1930 Nash hearse is left. To the left below is a 1935 Hudson Terraplane like the Moran model which spent the night hanging on the side of the 45 foot high cliff. To the right is Mike's later model Ford , with son Lee Paul in the driver's seat.

In addition to an International pickup truck for personal use, Mike also owned a 1935 Hudson Terraplane which was involved in an interesting story. Mike kept the Hudson in a garage at the top of the hill in the Rusmisell/Fury Addition overlooking downtown Orlando. One day Mike and his sons decided they would examine the large Hudson and found that it had a dead battery. They pushed it out of the garage, and although they put chucks behind the back wheels, the heavy Hudson jumped the chucks, went down the driveway, across the road toward the Catholic Church and just as it started down over the hill toward the railroad tracks the Hudson hit a large stump or rock and ended up hanging precariously on the nape of the hill.

In the 1930s and 1940s few people in Orlando had automobiles. Whenever residents without transportation needed to go to Weston, Burnsville or Sutton for a doctor’s visit, to pay taxes, or to fulfill jury duty they would often call on Mike to take them. He willingly obliged his friends and neighbors with transportation.

Mike Moran was a self educated man.5 Because he grew up during the late 1880s in the Orlando area there was little opportunity for formal education. Children were mostly given the rudiments of education at home. As an adult Mike strove to make up for this lack of formal training. Joe Eddie Moran, Mike’s son, tells us that each day when his Dad would go into his office in the wholesale building he would take five words from the dictionary he kept there, write out the words, their definitions and would memorize them. In this way Mike acquired the reputation of a “learned” man, even though he had no more formal education than most others who grew up in the Orlando area.

For many years, Orlando knew Mike Moran as a confirmed bachelor who never sought the company of a wife. Mike however surprised the entire community when at age 54 he married Marguerite Sweeney who was 24 years of age, the daughter of John and Mary Sweeney of Leopold, Doddridge County, and brought her to Orlando in 1931. So, late in his life, Mike and his wife had four children, John Michael, Lee Paul, Joe Eddy, and Rose Angela.

Left is Mike and Marguerite Moran with their first child, John Michael. To the right are Lee Eddy and Joe Paul with their dad. Below left is Rose Angela with Major in front of their Orlando home.

The Moran home in Orlando was a two story home on Orlando Hill, overlooking the Oil Creek valley. This spacious house also had an attached building consisting of two rooms and a basement which had once been the office of Dr. Trimble and later of Dr. Peck, both of whom subsequently relocated to Burnsville.

The Mike Moran family was the first in Orlando to have electricity which was furnished by a natural gas driven generator. John Michael Moran recalls that all of the electric power in the house was turned on by a switch in his parent’s bedroom. Mike also electrified the attached doctor’s office , his garage at the foot of the hill by the Oil Creek bridge and his office in the Wholesale Building by running wiring from the house to those auxiliary buildings. The Morans were also the first to have indoor plumbing in Orlando. The indoor plumbing was made possible by a water line which ran from a cistern on Mike’s hillside property below the E.U.B. Church to the house. This cistern system furnished water to the kitchen and bathroom. Rose Angela Moran recalls that the Moran family had lots of company who enjoyed and were fascinated by the indoor plumbing.

Mike and Marguerite Moran were very community minded and participated fully in local activities. Helen Jeffries recalls that Marguerite was always involved in school functions and social affairs and was friendly, helpful and a leader. She also recalls Marguerite coming to see her when she gave birth to her son, John. “She was such a nice person, “ said Helen. Mildred McNemar recalls that Marguerite would often call on the sick and infirm, and families that death had visited and provide what comfort she could give. “ Marguerite came to the house when my baby brother was stillborn, and she washed and cleaned the dead child,” said Mildred. Opal Blake Hall who lived near Mike’s Goosepen farm remembers Mike as a “good man” who would always speak to a passerby regardless of age. Dale Barnett recalls the reverence of Mike Moran who, when walking or driving past the Catholic Church, never failed to doff his hat and cross himself. It is clear that Mike and Marguerite were well respected and admired in the Orlando community.

Note that Mike is wearing a suit and tie and, not doubt, a starched collar, on this trip to the family farm. Below are Joe Eddy, Mike, Lee Paul and Major at the farm.

A biographical sketch about Mike Moran would not be complete without mention of the collie dog “Major” which was acquired when Rose Angela was a young girl. Major was a great companion to the Moran children as well as an outstanding working dog. If Mike wanted the milk cows brought in for milking, Joe Eddie recalls that his Dad would say to Major, “Major, milk cows”, and off Major would go to bring the cows. Major would not bring in the beef cattle or any livestock other than what he was instructed to bring in. Major would not rush the milk cows but would simply walk them off the hill so as not to impair their milk flow. The Moran sons were ever grateful to Major for all of his work because it saved them from herding the cows off the hill for milking.

It was a sad day in October 1946 for the entire community when at a Halloween play at the Orlando School, Marguerite, on stage during the program, was stricken with a cerebral hemorrhage. She was transported to a Weston hospital where she passed away at 39 years of age. Her children were all still in grade school and her youngest Rose Angela was but 6 years of age. Rosemary (Riffle) Crutchfield remembers Marguerite as a “beautiful woman”. Rosemary also recalls that all of the school children of Orlando were taken to the Moran Funeral Home in the wholesale building to view Marguerite as she lay in state.

Click on the clipping, right, to read Margurite's obituary.

As sometimes happens when a couple marries late in life, has children, and the mother passes away prematurely, the father is unable to provide the necessary care for the children. Recognizing the problem, Mike, who was aged 68, arranged for his youngest child, Rose Angela, to be cared for by his sister Kate Carney in Clarksburg. Mike’s nephew, Father Edward McDonald, was a Catholic priest in Wheeling. Fr. McDonald arranged for the two youngest sons, Lee Paul and Joe Eddie to be taken to St. John’s Orphanage in Elm Grove, near Wheeling, where they lived until they graduated from Wheeling Central High School. The oldest son, John Michael, remained with his father and completed his freshman year of high school at Burnsville. John Michael completed his sophomore year at Boys Town in Nebraska, and finished high school at Weston St. Patricks. in 1951. While attending St Patrick’s High School John Michael lived with his aunt Mary McDonald in Weston.

In his later years, Mike had heart problems which he knew would be his end. Mike was stricken with a heart attack in 1954 and was taken to City Hospital in Weston where he passed away in July 1954 at age 76.7 When Mike was in the City Hospital in Weston, Mildred McNemar , an Orlando native, was in the same hospital for surgery. Mildred noticed a lot of activity near her room and the coming and going of several Catholic priests. Mildred knew that someone important had to be at the center of the turmoil and learned to her distress that her neighbor Michael V. Moran was critically ill.

Marguerite and Michael V. Moran were laid to rest in the St Michael/Griffin/Greene Cemetery at St. Michael’s Church on Fleshers Run. 8

Comment 1 Marilyn (Cole) Posey

My mother told me how Margareite Moran had died. She told me that her mother (Alta Blake Bee), my grandmother was good friends with Mrs. Moran. Matter of fact, my grandmother made most of Mrs. Moran's clothes. My mother remembers all the Moran children, as they played together all the time. My mother also told me that when her father died (James Adam Bee), my grandfather, that Mr. Moran let my mother go into the funeral parlor or whatever they called it then and watch him work on her dad. She was12 years old at the time. She had nothing but good and kind things to say about the entire Moran family. Her words were...."those were decent people". Just thought I'd let you know how the Moran's were viewed through the eyes of a child back in 1947. Alta {Blake} Bee is at the right.

1. Mike Moran's father John Moran was a stonecutter as well as a farmer. An example of his stonework can still be seen today in the Moran homeplace on Goosepen Road which was later the residence of John and Celia Brice. The Moran homeplace was about one and a quarter miles from downtown Orlando. Grass Run is located off the Goosepen Road.
Also, note that Michael Vincent Moran, the Orlando undertaker, was the son of John and Margaret (Griffin) Moran. This John Moran is not to be confused with John V. Moran of Burnsville. John V. Moran of Burnsville was the son of Patrick and Mary (Murphy) Moran. Patrick and John the father of Mike were brothers; John V. Moran in Burnsville and Mike Moran in Orlando were first cousins.

2. After Mike phased out the horse drawn hearse and started using automobiles for hearses, Mike removed the undercarriage from his horse drawn hearse and converted the casket compartment into a playhouse for his daughter Rose Angela. The hearse had set outside Mike’s house for a number of years prior to its conversion to a playhouse for Angela. Neighborhood kids used to play in the hearse.

3. Cora Posey was the daughter of Patrick and Mary (Murphy) Moran and was a first cousin of Mike Moran.

4. Phebe Riffle was the daughter of Bill Posey. She died in 1986. Her husband George “Short” Riffle died in 1984. Phebe’s brother-in-law Warren McCauley, an employee of the B & O Railroad, was killed in a work related accident in 1947 near the site of the accident which took Phebe’s arm. (See blog on this site)

5. Despite Mike’s on- the- job experience obtained in the art of embalming, when licensing requirements were instituted by the State of West Virginia many years after Mike began the undertaking trade, Mike did not apply for licensure. Mike utilized the services of Alkire Funeral Home in the town of Ireland to do his embalming when the need arose. The embalming fee charged by Alkire was $25.

6. A cream separator is a machine for separating and removing cream from whole milk. Its operation is based on the fact that skim milk is heavier than cream. The separator consists of a centrifuge in the form of a rapidly revolving bowl containing a set of disks. The bowl is mounted on a spindle situated underneath the milk supply tank. As the milk enters the bowl at the top, cream is separately mechanically from the whole milk by centrifugal force. Encyclopedia Brittannica, Cream Separators.

7. After his death, the old buildings Mike had owned at the foot of the Orlando hill became the place for adventure for the neighborhood boys, with bottles of mysterious fluids, equipment that boggled the young imagination and a casket to hide in, or even to lock an unsuspecting playmate in. To the relief of parents, and the disappointment of the boys, Oras Stutler tore down the old buildings in the early 1950s.

8. When the Burnsville Dam was built in the early 1970s the cemetery at St Michaels Catholic Church was moved to Kanawha Memorial Gardens at Heaters. The church building was moved to Bulltown.

Below are Rose Angela, Joe Eddy, John Michael and Lee Paul.

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