The Urban Coroner
Photography By Sugarbomb
WARD'S FUNERAL HOME
A historic house-turned-funeral-home in southeastern Alabama.
Me showing off my foot that went through the floor | Photo © 2019 Sugarbomb
Considering how many aged wooden floors of questionable stability I've walked on during my years exploring abandoned buildings, it's truly shocking that it took over nine years for my foot to fall through one of them. The floor of the old Ward's Funeral Home has that distinct honor, luckily only swallowing up the lower half of my leg before I was able to brace myself and pull my foot out. It's no real surprise that the wooden floor wasn't quite structurally sound, seeing as the house was nearly a century and a half old. According to the scarce records that exist pertaining to the house’s history, this stately structure was built on Avenue A in 1870 and originally lived in by Dr. Eugene Lindsey and his wife.
Dr. Eugene A. Lindsey was a prominent black physician in Opelika, born in 1882 in LaGrange, Georgia. He moved to Opelika in the 1920s with his wife, Clara Brown Lindsey, where they settled into the beautiful colonial brick home on the east end of Avenue A, just east of 3rd Street. Dr. Lindsey owned and operated Lindsey’s Drugstore and Soda Fountain on 9th Street in downtown Opelika. In a time of strict segregation in the deep south, Lindsey’s Drugstore was one of the few places
where black citizens could relax while waiting for their prescriptions to be filled or just sit and socialize. The drugstore changed hands over the years but continued to thrive, operating well into the late-1950s.
Dr. Lindsey passed away in 1955, though his contributions to the health and wellness of the community, especially black citizens, cannot be understated. His contemporaries include physicians Dr. John Wesley Darden and Dr. Frank E. Steele as well as Dr. W.F. Clark who was the first, and for many years the only, black dentist to practice in Opelika.
The front windows of Ward's Funeral Home | Photo © 2019 Sugarbomb
It's not specified as to when the Ward family bought the old house on Avenue A, but it was repurposed by the new owners as a funeral home. The Wards operated the funeral home throughout the mid-twentieth century before eventually moving to a new location and leaving the house vacant, though they still retained ownership of the property. The Ward family still operates a funeral home at a new location which serves the Valley area.
The hearse abandoned in the outside garage | Photo © 2019 Sugarbomb
When the funeral home in Opelika ceased operation in 1989 the owners left everything behind; coffins, embalming chemicals, even an old black hearse in an outside garage with the roof nearly completely fallen in. The house-turned-funeral-home deteriorated over the decades, eventually being designated a danger to the neighborhood. Discussions about demolishing the old funeral home were brought up to the city council three times since 2011. Maurice Ward, the owner of the property, wanted to restore the old home and had been granted additional time on these three instances to raise the money
necessary to begin restoring the building, but these repairs never happened.
The abandoned funeral home intrigued the imagination of curious, morbid explorers and repelled the more superstitious residents. A local claimed that people see "haints" - meaning ghosts or spirits - in the windows at night and that many avoid the place because of this. If you look closely at the house you notice that the ceiling of the porch is painted a light blue, an old southern practice said to keep ghosts, or haints, away from the home. This "haint blue" is intended to mimic the sky, tricking spirits into passing through rather than entering, or possibly to mimic the appearance of water, which it’s traditionally believed that ghosts could not cross.
If you look closely you can see the fading "haint blue" on the porch ceiling | Photo © 2019 Sugarbomb
Many other less-superstitious residents also avoid the old funeral home, because of the neighborhood it’s located in rather than any spirits that may be lurking behind the walls. One visitor to the area described it as the part of Opelika that has "homes with bars on the windows".
After narrowly being spared by the EF-4 Beauregard-Smiths Station tornado that tore through southeastern Alabama on March 3, 2019, the old Ward's Funeral Home wouldn't escape the wrecking ball months later. On October 1, 2019 the Opelika City Council unanimously approved a bid from AAA General Contractors Inc. to demolish the home, despite the continued pleas from Maurice Ward to spare the historic home. There were mixed feelings from local residents about the demolition, ranging from happiness at the fact that the city was "finally cleaning up" to remorse over the loss of a beautiful historic home. After sitting abandoned for three decades, Ward's Funeral Home was demolished on November 13, 2019.