WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) — It was a “fixer-upper” that came with a few unexpected accessories.
Two years ago on Halloween, Harry and Nancy Smith closed on their new property on Seventh Street in downtown Wilmington. It had been abandoned for years but was hardly “unoccupied.”
The purchase wasn’t quite what Nancy expected. Her husband had promised her a new car and a diamond ring for her birthday, not a renovation project.
“Then this house came on the market,” Harry said with a shrug. “So instead of getting the corvette and a ring she got this beautiful home! Isn’t she lucky?”
They bought it “as is” – meaning no inside tour before signing the paperwork. At such a great price for such a big home, Harry couldn’t refuse.
In early November they cracked open the front door for the first time. It was obvious they now owned a massive construction project. The ceiling was falling in and there were considerable structural issues.
But that wasn’t the only eyebrow-raising issue.
The bottom floor was covered in heavy dark red carpet and the interior design was a bit nontraditional. Folding chairs were also set up in a way that seemed more appropriate for an audience than a family gathering.
Looking further inside they spotted a casket holder.
That’s when they realized they hadn’t bought a single-family home. They had bought a funeral home. The “Smith Funeral Home” plastic sign confirmed it, though no relation to their own family.
They discovered a sample tombstone, a baby’s casket and a very large, very heavy fixture with a lever underneath. It was an embalming table.
Added bonus gift: all the tools used with it.
At this point, most people would have either quickly disposed of everything or put the house back on the market, but Harry saw an opportunity. Because the home was listed on the historic registry, one requirement was that it be open to the public one day a year for touring.
Surely those people would get thirsty exploring such a big house. Why not put the embalming table to use? Why not make it…a bar top?
“You can come have a drink on an embalming table,” Harry exclaimed.
That little project is still a work in progress. For now, it sits proudly in the future living room and stood in as a buffet bar for Nancy’s recent 50th birthday party.
Another discovery awaited them as they were clearing out the inside.
Inside a dusty filing cabinet, they found old documents and other relics of the funeral home’s run from 1933 to 2008. There were also two plastic containers inside.
“I’m like ‘Oh! What is this? Grout?'” Harry remembered. “I pulled it out and there’s a metal tag and it’s stamped ‘Jordan Crematorium.’ Oh – ashes.”
The cremated remains of two people were now a part of the Smith’s new home.
He wasn’t about to throw them out, even though they’d been abandoned for years. First, he tried to track down the crematorium. Maybe they had a record? But the business was long gone.
Then he called the Wilmington Police Department but they couldn’t take possession of the ashes.
Feeling a bit hopeless, he reached out to the North Carolina Board of Funeral Services.
“After six months of her researching she says, ‘You can send them up here and we’ll put them in a warehouse or you can keep them as yours – you bought them,'” Harry said.
It didn’t seem fair to ship the ashes off to stay forever in storage unit, so there was only one other option – have a funeral.
“We invited friends over and had a small service here,” said Harry. “We tongue-and-cheekily named them Ashton and Ashley.”
To the tune of Michael Jackson and Amazing Grace, “Ashton” and “Ashley” were put to peace and then, put into stone.
“We’re going to make two concrete crosses for the landscape and we’re going to take the serial numbers and put them on the cross,” explained Harry.
He wasn’t kidding. We were there when Harry fashioned two large wood molds, mixed the cement, and layered it with the ashes of each. He then took the medallion off each bag and set it into the drying mixture.
Once set, they’ll take up residence outside on the lawn. If the families ever come back to claim their relative, they’ll be able to take the entire stone.
Most people will think the Smith’s new lawn ornaments are creepy but the Smith’s think they’re a tale of caution.
“How do we prevent ourselves, me you and all of us from ending up that way?” Harry reflected. “How do you end up in a file cabinet, in a run down house and nobody misses you?”
No one believes the building is haunted, no one actually died there. Instead, it’s filled with years of family gatherings, something the Smith’s intend to keep up with among their own family. Once that unique landscaping is finished and the family embalming bar open for business.