From the street the home of Deporah Hornberger and Stephane Langelier looks much like any other on North Main Street in Kendallville, but step behind to the garage and one gets a whole new perspective.
Hornberger and Langelier are car collectors. But unlike those who collect Corvettes or old hot rods the couple collects vintage hearses. They currently own three: two from 1949 and one from 1964. All are modified Cadillacs.
“I have always loved hearses,” Langelier said.
When he was 20 he saw one for sale and really regretted not being able to buy it. He bought his first while living in Quebec, Canada. It was used in some movies including one about the life of Jackie Kennedy. He no longer owns that one, but he has two other '49 hearses.
Langelier by day runs a pipe organ service. Hornberger, a local Realtor, said the couple met in a gothic-style bar in Washington D.C. 10 years ago and it was love at first sight. The two have been together ever since and married for seven years. They both share a love for vintage hearses.
They belong to Just Hearse 'N Around car club in Hell, Mich., and of all the car shows the two participate in it is their favorite. In 2011 the club set a Guinness World Record for most hearses in a parade: 51.
Langelier, who is also a talented artist and musician, does most of the restoration work on the vehicles himself. Recently he added pipes that shoot flames out the back of La Belle, the 1964 hearse. In their garage the couple's third hearse is going through restoration. Langelier said he is turning it into a “rat hearse,” which means he is restoring the inside, and the engine, but he will leave the outside as is. It's a rusty coppery color. and Hornberger said they will call the hearse Rusty Patina.
Charcoal La Bete, the second 1949 Cadillac, is fully restored and sports a plush red velvet interior and upholstery, with a silky gray exterior. In the back is a coffin with a dressed “skelton” inside named appropriately “Skelly.” Langelier wears a ring a friend made for him that is a replica of the front grille of the vehicle.
When they go to car shows Hornberger said they have camped out in the back of the 1964 hearse. At one time the vehicle doubled as an ambulance. There are two jump seats in the back to accommodate medics. The floor panels, which have rollers for the coffins, can be flipped over to a flat surface for patient transport. Hornberger said it made sense for villages that couldn't afford both a hearse and an ambulance.
“That way if you died on your way to the hospital, you were already in a hearse,” Langelier said with a laugh.
Heavy curtains on the windows allow for privacy and Hornberger said with a couple of sleeping bags it makes a cozy place to sleep.
Langelier dresses in a top hat, black jacket and black leather pants, and Hornberger wears a red satin and black lace gown when showing off the vehicles. The couple look very gothic next to their machines. If you are near the haunted house in Albion on Halloween you just might see the couple driving La Belle. Look for the flames shooting from the back tail pipes.