Published in the Record-Courier on May 23, 1967.
Hand-Finished Works of Art
Riddle Hearses Carried the Famous, Powerful
By MARY FOLGER
Back in the late 1800's, it took six months to manufacture a carriage at the Riddle Coach and Hearse Co., located in a three-story building across Ravenna's Main St. from the present Elks Hall. Handmade from start to finish, these coaches were the result of expert craftsmanship by men with special jobs and custom tools.
They were indeed the Cadillacs of the carriage industry.i Presidents Garfield, McKinley and Harding, and according to some reports, President Hayes, were taken to their last resting places in Riddle Hearses. Children's hearses were painted white, hearses for young adults were finished in gray, and the traditional black hearses for elderly people were manufactured locally. There were three-seated coaches made especially for the six pall bearers.
Broughams, with fold-back tops, Cabrilets which carried just one or two people, and Victorias, as well as custom-made coaches were turned out regularly from the Riddle Co.
Often, these coaches had silver-plated hubs, plated by the Riddle Co’s. own silver-plating outfit. The ironwork such as the springs was also made in the factory's own blacksmith shop during the early days of Riddle ownership.
It took six weeks just to paint the vehicles in a dust-proof room on the third floor of the Riddle Coach and Hearse Co. building after the preliminary work was completed on the first two floors. After each coat of paint dried, it was carefully hand-rubbed before the next coat was applied. The last coat was varnish, and this had to be put on while the room was at a particular temperature. This was maintained by employing one man whose only job was the constant maintenance of a coal stove. When at last a coach or hearse was completed, remembers Mrs. H. Warner Riddle who came to Ravenna in 1904, the finish was dull but beautiful. and the vehicles were works of art.
Eventually it was this careful and exacting craftsmanship which forced the Riddle Coach and Hearse Co. to yield to competition and to close its doors. But today, it is this same expert craftsmanship which delights and excites carriage collectors and restorers when they find a Riddle Coach.
Such a coach— a custom-built "convertible" model with a receding window behind the coachman's seat, side windows which can be removed by the pressing of a maze of buttons, and a semi-Brougham back which folds down—was purchased last week by H. C. Schulz of Gates Mills from the R. G. Warner Auction Gallery on Cleveland Rd.
RAY WARNER of R. G. Warner Auction Gallery and H. C. Schulz of Gates Mills prepare to start a Riddle Coach possibly manufactured for William McKinley during his presidency on the last ride it will have to hitchhike. Schulz plans to completely restore the carriage, which is in remarkably sound condition, and to use it for promotional advertising and parades.
Supposedly made for William McKinley before his assassination in 1901, according to the family in Hartville which owned the coach for many years, the coach will be completely restored by Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Kepner of Hartford, O. "It is in remarkably sound condition." explains Schulz. "The wheels and chassis are solid, but we will treat them. Tires were put on for parade use by a former owner. We intend to completely reupholster and refinish the coach, and the only thing we may have to replace is the leather on the back. If so we'll use deerskin or calfskin. "It's a unique coach. I've never seen a style like this."
An authority on coaches, Schulz has a coach which belonged to a congressman during Lincoln's administration, a rock-away which belonged to McKinley. President Garfield's large Tallyho, a road hack, a gentleman's racing cart and a high wheel sulky, all of which were owned by famous men.
His collection also includes a Conestoga wagon from 1825 as well as a step-in coach used to take him to the church when he was christened. Previously, he had the entire collection of the Fageol estate, but these were among the antique restored carriages he lost in a $100,000 fire several years ago
What is the value of the coach he just purchased? He can't be sure. "You can't place a value on something you can't replace." he explains.
Schulz has papers verifying the original ownership of most of the carriages in his collection. He would like to get more information regarding the one he just purchased. The only clue he now has is the fact that a "Riddle Coach and Hearse Co." plate is secured on the carriage, and the hubcaps read "Riddle Coach and Hearse Co."
He would appreciate hearing from anyone who may be able to tell him whether or not the coach did belong to McKinley. He hopes to find some carriage lanterns from the Riddle Coach and Hearse Co. which will enable him to restore the coach with added authenticity.
In the meantime, the coach, graceful, beautiful and unique, will be in the company of other elite carriages of days gone by and will occasionally come out of retirement to be used in parades and for promotional advertising.
Archivist note – According to the newspaper clippings from family scrapbooks and other family papers available, there are no records of any presidents other than McKinley and Harding being buried from Riddle Hearses.