These days, you’ll often find funeral homes tucked away in the suburbs, located off of highways and out of direct sight.
But, for a long time, it was exactly the opposite. Located in grand corner buildings, they were highly visible, mainstays of cities, almost as common a sight as the neighborhood church or the corner store.
In Harrisburg, Neumyer Funeral Home is one of the last of the old types, a prominent fixture on the corner of N. 2nd and Calder streets.
Founded in 1936 by Henry S. Fisher, it originally was located just across the street, moving to its current location early on. Over the years, it was passed down through the family and renamed and today is one of the oldest businesses in the city.
In 2015, Nathan Bitner purchased Neumyer from long-time owner Bob Horst. Bitner, the owner of three other Harrisburg-area funeral homes, said that the building was in need of major updating. So, he gutted and renovated it to make it more spacious and modern.
“As the city changed, the business had changed as well,” said Bitner, detailing the work done on everything from the heating and ventilation to the lighting and layout.
Peter Stegman, general manager for Bitner Family Funeral Homes, compared the updates to putting old wine into a new bottle.
“We wanted to be respectful of its history and heritage,” said Stegman. “We looked at things we could do with past generations and present day needs.”
Stegman said that it was important to respect the building’s tradition and architecture, but also to take the next step, giving it a modern feel to keep up with the renaissance of Midtown.
“Today’s families like open space, warmth, natural light and a less institutional feeling,” he said, adding that they renovated nearly all of the facility to “make it a little more in keeping with what today’s families expect.”
To respect the heritage of the business, they chose to feature several tangible pieces of history.
The first was a sign with Henry S. Fisher’s name. Stegman said the Fisher sign once sat outside the funeral home, but was buried in the basement for years, covered in dirt when they found it. Stegman said it’s now on display as a direct link to the business’s roots.
The second historical link is a piece of leaded glass that was originally part of the casket bier, which is the stand where a casket is placed for services and display. The glass was backlit, so would emit light whenever there was a service or viewing.
Stegman said that the funeral home used the casket bier for more than 50 years, but that it had begun to deteriorate. They removed the leaded glass inset, which is now displayed on a wall in the funeral home. Bitner said the glass was such a signature of the business that a man recently recognized and remembered it from when he had attended a service at Neumyer Funeral Home as a young child decades ago.
Another way Bitner decided to pay homage to the history was by keeping the Neumyer name.
“People will know the name,” Bitner said, adding that the goal is to respect the history of the business, just as they did with the renovations and preservation of the sign and glass.
The goal of the renovation was more than merely cosmetic. Bitner believes that personality and service make a business. Part of that service includes ensuring that families are informed about all of their options and the new and different ways they can preserve their family member’s memory.
“We want to understand from a family who a person was and what they meant to the family,” said Stegman.
Bitner said people are personalizing services more than ever before and that technology has allowed that to happen with everything from personalized music to live streaming the service. They also offer keepsakes such as blown glass art preserving ashes and personalized jewelry with a loved one’s thumbprint.
“There are no curtain calls in this business,”Bitner said. “We’ve got to get it right the first time, and you never want to disappoint the families.”
Neumyer Funeral Home is located at 1334 N. 2nd Street, Harrisburg. For more information, call 717-233-7814 or visit www.neumyerfuneralhome.com.