For 40 years, the Simones family operated factories in Omaha that fed the death industry. Building the finest wooden caskets lined with silk, felt, or metal, business was steady from 1892 into the 1930s. However, tragedy struck the business over and over. This is a story of the Omaha Casket Company.
Building Boxes for the Dead
In 1892, the Iowa Casket Company in Dubuque established the Omaha Casket Company. Receiving half of the company’s production, the traveling salesmen covering nearly the entire West and Northwest.
Making coffins, caskets and funeral furnishings, the company reported increasing sales every year for the decade starting in 1901.
Managed by Joseph Simones, the original factory was in the Omaha Bottoms at North 13th and Grace Streets. Located on the Missouri Pacific Railroad lines, their cars loaded in the North Yards for distribution across the entire multi-state region they served.
Deadly Whirlwind at the Death Factory
In 1905, a tornado smashed into the Omaha Casket Company building at North 13th and Grace Street. A three-story tall brick building, all the windows were open on the May morning when the tornado struck. Wind gushed into the building and instantly raised the roof, smashed down on the building and caused the entire thing to collapse.
Dozens of employees were inside, and despite buckets of rain falling after the tornado, more than 100 workers from the nearby Storz Brewery came rushing to the site to dig out survivors. There screams and cries were audible for blocks around, and it was an hour before the injured were rescued. Three people were killed and six people were wounded.
That year, the firm immediately hired German immigrant architect Joseph P. Guth to design their new factory. Located at 1618-24 Izard Street, it was on a railroad spur that transported coffins from Omaha across Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado. Joseph Simones’ sons John and Louis (Leo) took over the company and ran it for several years afterwards.
The new factory was located on the Missouri Pacific Railroad spur that shot west from the North Yards. In 1912, Louis Simones sued the Missouri Pacific Railroad for being delinquent in moving their product according to contract. This might have led to his brother John to opening a casket factory in Denver, which became the Colorado Casket Company.
Death Boxes Destroyed by Fire
The new factory burned down in a fire in 1932. Completely demolished, there was a single wall remaining a year later when it fell during a windstorm.
Along with other plants in the area, the Omaha Casket Company opened large factory at the intersection of North 29th Street and Taylor Street along the Missouri Pacific’s Belt Line Railway in 1933. The business was later owned by a firm called McClatchen & Andrews, who made extensive additions to the plant. There were also facilities at 1117 Dodge Street and a separate one on the northeast corner of 10th and Howard Street.
Likely a casualty of the Great Depression, the Omaha Casket Company closed permanently in 1939 and liquidated all their assets in an auction. After living in Omaha for 38 years, Louis A. Simones died in Des Moines in 1944.
Today, there is no sign the company ever existed in Omaha.
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