A Funeral Organ

John G. Tate’s father, a Civil War veteran, died at age 49. He left behind a widow and six children. Seven-year-old John was the youngest.

John moved with his mother Sarah to Madison County in the late 1890s. They settled in Granite City, where John worked first at the steel mill an then as a tin worker at the National Enameling and Stamping Company (NESCO) factory.

John married Leona Whaley and went to school to learn the embalming trade. In 1920, John had just started his own business as an undertaker. He was 36 years old. The childless couple owned, operated, and lived at Tate Funeral Home on State Street until the 1950s. John also directed the Granite City Municipal Band.

Portable reed organ

Faber folding organ owned by undertaker and funeral parlor operator John Tate. Circa 1910-1920. MCHS object 2001-018-0001.

Professional embalming in the United States resulted in part from the desire to send slain Civil War soldiers home for burial. Prior to the Civil War, a deceased person’s family simply washed and dressed their relative’s body for burial. The visitation and service were held at home. Many 19th-century houses had special rooms and features expressly designed for this purpose.

Even after it became common to enlist a professional undertaker, services continued to be held in private homes. John used this portable 4-octave reed organ to supply music at home funerals. The lid latches closed over the keyboard, forming a suitcase-like carrying case. A collapsible combination support stand/pedal frame fits inside.


Faber, Homo. Folding organ. United States patent number 944,483. Patented December 28, 1909. Accessed January 31, 2020. http://patft.uspto.gov/netahtml/PTO/srchnum.htm

Find A Grave. Accessed January 31, 2020. https://www.findagrave.com/index.html

Granite City: A Pictorial History. St. Louis: G. Bradley Publishing, 1995. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.

Granite City city directories. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.

“Granite City Progress Edition.” Magazine supplement. Granite City Press-Record. March 14, 1924. Accessed February 5, 2020. http://history.smrld.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Granite-City-Press-Record-Granite-City-Progress-Edition-3-14-1924.pdf

Illinois State Archives. Illinois Civil War Muster and Descriptive Rolls (database). Accessed January 31, 2020. http://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/departments/archives/databases/datcivil.html

Skovronek, Terry. “The History of Home Funerals: From Family Tradition and Back Again.” National Home Funeral Alliance (NHFA). Accessed February 5, 2020. https://www.homefuneralalliance.org/home-funeral-history.html

United States census records and other public records.