Old funeral business Taylor-made


When Jeffrey Taylor stands at the National Cemetery on Annapolis' West Street, where prisoners of the Civil War from Camp Parole were buried, he remembers the late James S. Taylor.

"Every time you go in there, you look on the dates on the stones," Mr. Taylor said. "You think that your great-grandfather had a hand in their burials."

In 1862, James S. Taylor started his family in the funeral business, as a part-time mortician burying the remains of Confederate soldiers.

For the last 130 years, five generations of Taylors have served Annapolis, operating the Taylor Funeral Chapel on Duke of Gloucester Street, next door to St Mary's Catholic church. Donald Taylor, who runs the chapel, said the 24-hour business is the oldest in the county.

"It's nice to keep on going," said Donald Taylor, a 1950 graduate of the American Academy of Embalming and Mortuary research in New York City. "People just keep coming back as long as they are satisfied. We are still serving generations that my grandfather [James S. Taylor] took care of. I think you find in the funeral business that most people have grown up in it."

Donald Taylor said he expects future generations of Taylors will have the same opportunities, despite the chapel's recent purchase by Stewart Enterprises of New Orleans, the funeral industry's third largest company.

Stewart, which also purchased Druid Ridge Cemetery in Baltimore, expects to settle by the end of the month. Stewart plans to renovate the chapel's interior -- Donald Taylor said he expects the interior will be painted, with new drapery and carpeting added -- and repave the parking lot within a year.

The Taylors, however, continue to manage the business.

Twenty-eight years after becoming an undertaker, James S. Taylor became sole owner of the business at 53 Fleet St. His relative and former partner, Daniel Caulk, died in 1892.

Taylor's proudest moment came in July 1905, when he was asked to serve as undertaker for the remains of John Paul Jones, after the remains of the founder of the U.S. Navy were removed from the French cemetery where they had rested since his death in 1792.

When Jones' body arrived from France on a ship in the Annapolis harbor, James S. Taylor and Donald Taylor's father, John M. Taylor, loaded the body onto a hearse, transported it up Maryland Avenue and placed it inside a brick vault across the street from the Naval Academy chapel, which was under construction.

Jones is now buried in a crypt beneath the chapel.

James Taylor died in 1919, and his sons took over the business: Raymond, Daniel and John M.

Donald Taylor said his father worked seven days and seven nights without sleeping during the flu epidemic of 1918.

In 1924, John M. Taylor, who become the sole owner after Raymond Taylor died and Daniel Taylor lost interest in the business, moved the funeral parlor to 147 Duke of Gloucester St., its present location.

In the 1940s, a third generation of Taylors, all sons of John M., become involved, including Donald, John Jr. and Robert.

In the late 1950s, the sailing ship Marvel was hit by a hurricane in the Chesapeake Bay off Calvert County. The Taylors prepared about a dozen bodies for transport to New York City for burial.

And in 1978, then-President Jimmy Carter attended the funeral of a Naval Academy classmate.

"It was exciting to see the president come to your front door," Donald Taylor said. "He introduced himself to me and my wife and stayed for an hour."

"There is a lot of history tied up in this funeral home," Robert's son, Jeffrey Taylor, added. "Those are some of the stories we can tell. There are many stories we can't tell."

The fourth generation, Robert's two sons, Robert Jr. and Jeffrey, starting working full time at the chapel in the early 1970s. Although Robert Jr. is not licensed as a funeral director, he helps conduct funerals.

"The family business is pretty much a thing of the past," said Jeffrey Taylor, a 1971 graduate of the American Academy-McAllister Institute of Funeral Service. "My great grandfather has buried families still prominent in Annapolis. We have buried the majority of officers that are buried in the Naval Academy cemetery."

A fifth generation of the family, Sean Wilson, Robert's grandson, joined the business in 1988. In 1989, Wilson received a degree in mortuary science from Catonsville Community College. He now works as a funeral director.

Donald Taylor said he has seen one major change in recent years. People, he said, are more willing to talk about death.

"At one time [10-15 years ago], no one talked about people dying," Donald Taylor said. "Now it's a lot different. We have been called on by churches and civic groups to talk about death and the funeral parlor industry."

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