Kurrus Funeral Home

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My grandfather, Joseph Anton Kurrus, came to the U.S.A. from Baden, Germany, by sailing vessel (William Frogingham)

50 days in route, landing on Ellis Island in April of 1861. He traveled to Belleville and then to East St. Louis. He worked at various jobs and his last one was with the St. Louis, Alton and Terre Haute Railroad. He bought a grocery store at 4th and Market and operated it until he bought the Meyer-Strothman Livery and Undertaking Co. on 1024 North 3rd Street in 1983. Besides undertaking, the business included for rent, buggies, surreys, carriages (for weddings) and horse-drawn sleighs.

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Because East St. Louis was on a flood plain, the streets were soon raised thirteen feet. This made all stores on the first floor of a building become basements and the top floor was now the first floor. My granddad then added another floor to the top of building so it would again have two stories.

In 1892 the operation of the business was turned over to my uncle, Frank J. Kurrus, the oldest son, and my grandfather began investing in real estate. He had earlier established a plot of ground in 1891 on the Belleville Turnpike (State Street) came to be known as Kurrus; Place. In 1894 my father, Charles G. Kurrus Sr. was taken into the business after studying embalming and receiving one of the first licenses in the state - No. 472. The cyclone of 1896 hit the business just after my, arrived from a funeral and had driven inside. It blew the roof from the building and none of it was ever located. The flood of 1903 covered everything south of Main Street, including my grandfather's farm at the Commonfields of Cahokia. He lost all his cattle.

In 1909 another structure was built on 314-16 North 9th Street. It included office space, an embalming room, casket display and two chapels for visitation and services accompanied by a foot-operated pump organ. It also included a spacious stable for the horses and all other funeral equipment and an ambulance. The entire business was moved to the Ninth Street location in 1910.  After the motorized equipment was bought in 1914, families could choose either horse drawn equipment or motor equipment.We had the first motor ambulance in East St. Louis. It was built on a Moon chassis in St. Louis, Mo. Until our chapels were built on Ninth St., all funeral services were held with visitation in the homes or at a church. It was not uncommon to have a picture made of the deceased, surrounded by family and friends. Before embalming was invented, bodies were packed in ice and funeral services were held as quickly as possible.

After embalming came along, many wakes were two-day affairs and someone stayed with the body round the clock. If the person had died from an infectious disease, the body was displayed in the front room window, and people didn't go inside. Funerals held at Mt. Hope or Mt. Carmel in Belleville were almost a full day with a stop at Distler's Half-Way House around 70th and State.

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In the winter time we used charcoal heaters for the carriages, but the drivers were all exposed to the elements and wore heavy coats and top hats. There was a toll gate at 40th and Rock Road (State St.).  I don't remember when it was removed.

In 1926 a new building was started on 2525 State Street. After graduating from Illinois University and Worsham Embalming. I was taken into the business.  In July, 1927, we dedicated the beautiful Georgian-style building with a Grand Opening.  The building was the talk of all funeral directors in the entire area.

In 1970 my wife, Mabel, and I bought fifteen acres of land on 57th Street in Belleville.  My oldest son, the fourth generation, built a modern and functional funeral home.  He (Charles Kurrus III) had joined the company in 1957 and took over full management in 1972.  In 1983, Dale Kurrus, his son, joined the company as the fifth generation.  I decided that after 57 years it was time for me to retire.

                                                                                                    (Charles G. Kurrus, Jr. of Belleville)




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