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New Funeral Service Gives Deceased The Final - And Ultimate - 60s Trip

Everyone’s days are numbered, and baby boomers of the “flower child” era are no exception.  A Eugene funeral company has tapped into that vibe, with a new storage facility at its west Eugene site. As KLCC’s Brian Bull reports, it’s for the remains of dearly-departed Deadheads, hippies…or anyone who wants to go out with a distinctive 60s groove.  

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Passenger side view of the VW columbarium at Musgrove's Lane Memorial Gardens in West Eugene.

Under a metal roof held up by wooden supports, sits a brightly-colored vehicle...a bit of a standout next to the surrounding markers and headstones. 

Mark Musgrove of Musgrove Mortuaries and Cemeteries, explains.

“We’ve created what they call a columbarium, which is a place to put cremated remains. A 1972 VW van, painted to show “PEACE” and “LOVE” on either side like you remember in the 60s and early 70s."

I ask him: "On a scale of 1 to 10, how Eugene, Oregon would you call this?"

"A '12'!" he laughs. 

Co-owner Jeff Musgrove, says while cemeteries are quite traditional, Eugenians are quite non-traditional.  He recalls the discussion he had with his brother that led to their latest innovation.

“I said, “Well you know, it’s too bad we couldn’t have something down in Kesey Square for people to put their urns in,” and like, “that’s not going to work,” and Mark said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we had a VW Van?” you know, and like, “Ah, that’d be great!” and I said, “Well, what if it was on West 11th on the way to the Country Fair?”

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Close-up of VW columbarium's front.

"And so the whole germ of the idea happened in about a five-minute conversation.” 

The Musgroves recruited mechanic Cody Rushing to find – and fix up – a VW van.  Rushing found one outside Vancouver, Washington.

“The interior was really disgusting," recalls Rushing.  "Tires were flat, the brakes were locked up, the front end was smashed, and there was no windshield or emblems on the thing.  Pretty much a complete wreck!” 

After a year’s time, the van was ready for its 60s-era makeover.  SignPro employee Erich Schwartzwald was one of two artists who designed it. 

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Erich Schwartzwald, one of two local artists who designed the 60s-era look of the VW van turned columbarium.

“We looked through as many different hippy vans as we could possibly find," Schwartzwald tells KLCC.  

"And I just kinda came up with something original. I had a lot of fun coloring it, that’s for sure.  I don’t usually do stuff this bright.”

For roughly $1,000, you can have your ashes placed inside the VW columbarium, located at Musgrove’s Lane Memorial Gardens.  The back hatch opens up for committal ceremonies. 

Mark Musgrove says there’s an additional feature that is green-friendly and poignant.

“Our mechanic has set up solar lighting, so that the accent lights on the van, and the headlights, and taillights…all light up in the evening. 

"And it creates just a beautiful setting.”

WEB EXTRA: Take a walk around the new VW columbarium, as seen at the Lane Memorial Gardens off of 11th Avenue in West Eugene.

Copyright 2017, KLCC. 

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.