When you think of someone who is a funeral director and owner of a funeral home, I’m willing to bet your first description wouldn’t be of a witty and jovial person due to their rather peculiar profession. . Over the years I have discovered that Zionsville resident Eric Bell is not what I would expect of a funeral director. He is outgoing and engaging, but shows genuine compassion when duty calls. Many know that Bell is also a talented trumpeter, doting husband and father with a penchant for collecting classic cars.
With the 15th edition of Artomobilia fast approaching on the calendar, I thought it fitting to feature Bell on this month’s cover. Bell showed off his class-winning 1955 Buick Roadmaster at Artomobilia, and has a remarkable collection of classic cars — and hearses — he calls “memorabilia anchors.”
I spoke with Bell about his life as a classic car collector and its connection to his career path as manager and owner of Eric MD Bell Funeral Home located in Pittsboro, Ind.
A strange synergy between cars and coffins
Bell grew up in the small town of Frankfort, Ind. Bell, his father, and his uncle scoured the pages of car buyers’ guides that were popular and published in the pre-internet era. Bell’s men would bond with their aspirations, and as Bell shared, it’s one of his most treasured memories from his youth.
Unaware of his fate, Bell hung around the town’s funeral home, Goodwin Funeral Home, to view his collection of classic cars.
“My ‘career’ actually started at 13 when I started hanging out in the funeral home,” Bell said. “I was just fascinated by classic cars. I was really a nuisance – for lack of better words – and I had to come up with something [productive] to do, so I started mowing [funeral home] yard, washing cars and spreading gravel. When I was 16, I was in a suit and parking cars. In fact, one day after getting my driver’s license, I was assigned to pick up a person from a nursing home who had died, all alone.
As a proficient trumpeter, Bell landed the honorable position of tap dancing at local funerals for the funeral home when he was in high school.
“They would pick me up from the flower van at the school funeral home, and we would go to the cemetery and play tap dancing,” Bell recalled. “Then they would take me back to school for the exorbitant sum of $10. And that was my experience in high school.
After graduating from high school, Bell earned a bachelor’s degree in commerce from Marian University in Indianapolis and an associate’s degree in funeral service from Mid-America College of Funeral Service in Jeffersonville, Ind. After serving the communities of Carmel, Ind., and Indianapolis, Bell acquired the historic David A. Hall Mortuary, which is currently the Eric MD Bell Funeral Home.
“I’m so happy to be an undertaker,” Bell said. “It’s laid back here, and through a series of events, I’m just happy to own my own home. It gave me the opportunity to kind of replicate my childhood, and I have my own little collection of classic cars. We’re always one foot in and one foot out of the past, and that really resonates with what makes my funeral home special and classic cars.
The joy of collecting classic cars
Bell and I discussed his collection and the importance of exposing younger generations to classic car collections in hopes of nurturing future classic car stewards and enthusiasts.
“We have three generations of hearses,” Bell explained. “I got a brand new Cadillac [hearse]a 1948 Packard and a 1907 horse-drawn carriage [hearse] which is made from hand-carved wood,” Bell said. “The Packard was originally used in a very small funeral home in South Dakota.”
All of Bell’s cars come with fascinating stories and stories, from their origins to how they ended up in Bell’s garage, which is one of the reasons Bell prefers classic cars over new ones. productions that have just come out of the dealer lots.
“The ’55 Roadmaster is a very special car for me,” Bell said. “I was 26 or 27, and I took out a $20,000 loan – from my uncle – and did a lot of restoration, putting it back to where it was originally. That’s how I started [collecting and restoring], and it’s been with me ever since. To me, it’s the most beautiful car GM has ever made, and always will be. »
Featured with Bell’s 1955 Roadmaster in this article is his 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood.
“Now the reason I’m drawn to the ’55 Cadillac is because it was the car in ‘Driving Miss Daisy,’ and that movie was a big deal for me when I was a kid,” Bell explained. “It was also in ‘The Godfather.’ This car was originally owned by a funeral home in California, and that’s why it has air conditioning, which was an $800 option on a $3,000 car back in the day. really wanted that [option]!”
Bell continued, “Their catering has gotten easier since I was in high school, with the internet. The nice thing about vintage GM cars is that they’ve used parts on 15 different cars for 30 years, so a lot of things are interchangeable. Parts for my ’55 Buick, brake cylinders for example, cost about $4 and $4,000 for a Ferrari. I have all the original sales brochures and magazine ads for my cars because I’m very interested in that kind of stuff. What I would like young people to know about classic cars is that the cars in my collection are not expensive. You can easily buy a Buick like mine for $25,000. And the fun and enjoyment you get from just racing in these cars – experiencing the story in your hands – is so wonderful.
To contact Eric Bell, visit ericmdbellfuneralhome.com.