The big Memorial Day weekend blowouts at Spokane’s Heritage Funeral Home have paid homage over the years to deceased icons like Abraham Lincoln, Bing Crosby, Amelia Earhart, Elvis and even the king called Tut.
The free events are wildly popular, which is amazing considering that funeral homes are not normally associated with the phrase “fun for the whole family.”
Tell that to the huge crowds of people who travel to Heritage, 508 N. Government Way, to gawk at the replica caskets, photographs, props and actual artifacts from dead celebs.
But this Memorial Day weekend tribute to “Roy Rogers and Other Western Heroes” will offer something never before seen outside of my kitchen.
I have loaned Heritage some rare pieces of Americana from the – wait for it – Clark Collection of Cowpoke Claptrap.
When I heard that the Barnums of the burial biz had gone Boot Hill, I saddled up and galloped straight to Heritage. I handed Dennis Murphy, the funeral home’s president, two vintage grocery store advertising posters that I inherited from my dad.
The framed, brightly colored lithographs date to the early 1950s. They feature the greatest cowboy sidekick who ever rode the range.
“Buckaroos! Get a hat just like mine!” declares Gabby in an advertisement for Quaker puffed wheat and puffed rice.
In the second ad Gabby hawks a miniature set of replica guns on behalf of the same cereal sponsor.
Ah, those were the good ol’ shoot-em-up days, huh?
Rekindling baby boomer memories is precisely what Murphy had in mind in this year’s attempt to inject a little fun into funeral. “Funeral homes and baby boomers” don’t mix, observed Murphy, who at 62 is part of the boomer club.
So celebrating the lives of our childhood cowboy heroes (Rogers and Gene Autry and Hopalong Cassidy …) is, in Murphy’s mind, a savvy way to lure some of the vast boomer posse out to Heritage.
The show runs 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday through Monday. There will be a car show, refreshments, a veterans display and music.
Murphy says they will also have a replica of Rogers’ blue coffin (or is it casket? I can never remember the difference) plus one of his saddles and a pair of his chaps.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t get Trigger, the beloved horse Rogers had stuffed for display after its demise. But there will be a trove of cowboy-related memorabilia as well as a visit from a faux Zorro.
I’m glad I did my part to have Gabby represented.
The world, alas, has all but forgotten the late George Francis Hayes. That’s because the so-called hero always gets the buzz while the saddle tramp sidekick always gets the shaft.
Yet every star needs a sidekick.
The Lone Ranger, for example, had Tonto. Batman had Robin. And Lindsay Lohan now has an ankle alcohol-monitoring device.
Gabby actually played the Ed McMahon role for a number of famous wranglers, like Cassidy,* Autry and, of course, Rogers.
(*With Hoppy, Gabby was Windy.**)
(**That’s one of the wackiest sentences I’ve ever written.)
A grizzled and bearded sodbuster, Gabby introduced a legion of American kids to colorful words and phrases such as, “Yer durn tootin’,” “whippersnapper” and my personal favorite, “dadgumit.”
Best of all, however, those Gabby posters remind me of my father, who sold Quaker Oats products to grocers all over the Western United States when he was a young man.
Part of his job was to distribute those advertisements for products like Aunt Jemima pancake mix and puffed rice and wheat.
He later went into the insurance business and a pile of those old store ads ended up forgotten in the basement. I had a couple of them framed not too long after he died.
Dad was just 61 when he rode into the sunset. It still seems mighty unfair.
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