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Private Ambulance: 1927

Washington, D.C., circa 1927. "W.W. Chambers Co." An outside view of the funeral parlor at 1400 Chapin Street N.W. National Photo. View full size.

Washington, D.C., circa 1927. "W.W. Chambers Co." An outside view of the funeral parlor at 1400 Chapin Street N.W. National Photo. View full size.


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Not a Glumbunny

The following obituary is a real gem: from the story of "innovative" advertising techniques to the quote "Anyone can be a large undertaker in China."

The tale of W.W. Chambers' shockingly risque calendar, "Beautiful Bodies by Chambers," has crept into quite a few books about corpses and such. Alas, I have yet to find any images from the calendar on the internet.

Additional article and photos at Also, a 1947 Time Magazine article which refers to the calendar controversy.

Washington Post, Apr 22, 1954

W.W. Chambers, Sr., Dies Unexpectedly
At 60 After Short Illness at Home

W.W. Chambers, Sr., 60, colorful Washington undertaker who embalmed his first body in a livery stable 46 years go and went on to make a fortune as "one of the largest undertakers in the world," died yesterday.

Mr. Chambers, who succumbed after a short illness at his home, 5803 Cleveland ave., Riverdale, Md., was founder of the W.W. Chambers Co., a more than flourishing concern with three funeral homes in the District and a fourth in Riverdale, near his residence.

A native Washingtonian, he was a lively and unorthodox figure, in marked contrast to the usually conservative members of his profession.

His father and grandfather before him for many years operated a livery stable at 1227 R st. nw., renting turnouts for the funeral trade. It was there that the budding funeral director performed some of his earliest professional services before opening his first funeral parlor at 1400 Chapin st., nw. in 1911.

The main office and chapel are still at the Chapin st. address. In later years, as the business thrived and branch funeral homes were established, Mr. Chambers son, W.W. Chambers, Jr., became associated with the business.

Mr. Chambers was one of the founders of the Advertising Funeral Directors of America a quarter century ago and had served as president of that national organization. A pioneer in developing less conventional advertising techniques in the funeral business, he was a times criticized by members of the profession that favored a more staid approach.

During a controversy in 1947 over one of his advertising calendars, featuring an attractive young woman au naturel, Mr. Chambers reported that he received 60 and 70 calls a day regarding the advertisement.

"No one wants to read an undertaker's ad," he explained, recalling that "when I advertised caskets they called me casket-crazy and when I featured the religious theme they called me a glumbunny."

Commenting on the size of the 22-by-45 inch reproduction, Mr. Chambers explained that he had always considered "newspaper advertising my first line of defense against oblivion. Next, it's the billboard and how many billboards can you find in the downtown area?"

One of the biggest problems, he once remarked, was keeping his picture and that of his son before the public on advertising cards in streetcars and buses. Vandals, he said were continually defacing the cards and at one time he offered a $500 reward for the arrest and conviction of defacers.

In 1937, during Federal Trade Commission hearings on complaints about some of his advertising claims, Mr. Chambers issued a statement as to the size of his firm. "I say I'm still one of the largest undertakers in the world," he declared. "There are eight others in this country larger than the Greater Chambers Co.: two in Australia and an American in Chile. Anyone can be a large undertaker in China."

Nehemiah Shopping Center

The strip mall in the Google Street View has been completely leveled. The plan is to put up an apartment building right out to the sidewalk, with street-level retail, which will be a big improvement.

Ask the undertaker who owns one

Packard aficionados will recognize the hood ornament as the "Goddess of Speed."

[She's more like the Aftermarket Knockoff Goddess -- no wings. The ambulance is a Cunningham. - Dave]

Hearse Race

In the small town I grew up in, the local undertaker also provided the ambulance service. For years the owner of the funeral parlor also served as the local coroner. Perhaps now we would consider that a conflict of interest.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Very reminiscent of the type of ambulance Hemingway was in when he served in the American Red Cross in Italy in 1918 which gave him fodder for one of literatures greatest novels. Isn't it amazing what fueled some writers' imagination.

Packard Bell

I will admit it, I have never seen a hearse with a fire bell on it. Here is your Packard hood ornament; they called them "mascots."

[Note that the lady on the ambulance lacks wings. - Dave]


1400 Chapin today. Lovely.

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