Fun Funerals

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Woodworker Roy Davis turned to the funeral market after his sister died in 1992, and his family paid $3,000 for the coffin. He now operates Vintage Coffins with a partner in Murray, Ky.

"When I saw what we paid for my sister's casket, I knew I could do better myself," he says.

But designing a coffin to order is a slow business, requiring weeks of work, and the dead can't wait. How does Davis survive? He is finding customers who buy coffins now and store them for the inevitable.

"Maybe it's a little odd, having your own coffin in the basement, waiting for you," he says. "But it is practical, too. You have just what you want and you are not passing surprise expenses on to your loved ones."

He says one of his customers, a 30-something Microsoft executive, uses his future coffin as a wine cellar. "The guy keeps a latex dummy in there, just as a joke," Davis says.

Another man uses his coffin as a coffee table. "I don't think it's that strange," Davis says. "I'm going to fashion one for me as a grandfather clock. When I stop ticking, they stop the clock, put me in the box and bury me."

Davis' handcrafted caskets can cost several thousand dollars, depending on how elaborate you want them. "I made one shaped like a steamboat," he said. "I'm hoping to make another like a boat-tailed Deusenberg. That's an old car from the '30s with big fenders and a trunk that slopes down and in from the sides like a boat."

But he's hoping to really establish himself with his new screw-together kits that people can store and assemble themselves. They retail for about $500. "In the age of Ikea," he says. "I think that makes sense."

P.S. How's this for a subject for a marriage counselor: Davis has built his wife's coffin. And she is now using it as a dollhouse. "She is a smart, beautiful woman, very successful," he says. "She just plans to be buried with her dolls."

Fame at Last

If you want to make it into the New York Times obituaries, here's some advice: Live in New York, Los Angeles or Washington; work as a business executive, university professor or government official — and don't die on a Saturday.

Looking at the Times' obituary page over the past six years, writers John C. Ball and Jill Jonnes arrived at the following conclusions in their book Fame at Last: