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A hearse with history
To some it might seem a macabre fascination, but for Eddie Stringer and his car-collecting son, a classic hearse from British Columbia is the ultimate automobile acquisition.
The Stringers, who live in the U.K., are appealing to Cloverdale Reporter readers for more information on their 1960 Cadillac Eureka.
The distinctive hearse starred in a constellation of made-in-B.C. movies and took top billing in a local protest over a political decision that haunts car, truck and aviation buffs to this day.
Eddie, a professional photographer and theatre promoter, and his youngest son, James, a jeweller, are determined to find out everything they can about the hearse.
They’ve contacted former owners and others with a connection to the “somewhat famous” Cadillac, turning turned to photographers, film producers, cameramen and newspaper editors in a bid to dig up the missing pieces in the creepy car’s history.
James has owned about 15 American cars, including a Cadillac Seville Bustle Back he bought at age 22, his first collectible automobile.
A few months back, James sold his “lovely” ‘79 Trans Am, intending to use the money to build a jewellery workshop in the garage.
“But,” says Eddie, “James being James and his craving for American classics, he managed to find this 1960 Cadillac Eureka hearse for sale near Vancouver.”
Every story has a beginning, but the Cadillac’s first 15 years after leaving the factory floor in late 1960 are shrouded in mystery, say the Stringers, who have traced its ownership back as far as 1975.
It was originally all black, but a later paint job saw the sides decked out in silver with a black roof – which is how it appeared in the 1996 movie Kissed, an independent B.C.-made film about a funeral home worker with an unusual love life.
It was re-painted all black – the shade it is now – before appearing in 2000’s Mr. Rice’s Secret (starring David Bowie).
The Stringer’s quest for details turned up a 1970s newspaper clipping from the Merritt Herald which shows proprietor John Bann outside the Merritt Funeral Home. “It describes the car as the pride of his fleet,” says Eddie.
The funeral business was sold, and, according to Eddie, the new owner, Peter Wright, said there wasn’t a Cadillac on the books at the time of the sale. “So, the mystery there is rather fascinating,” says Eddie. “Maybe it was sold by John Bann, or maybe he kept it.”
He’s tracked down Bann’s granddaughter but is presently awaiting a response.
Meanwhile, thanks to a meticulous record-keeper, the Stringers know that Surrey resident Marcel Hill bought the car in late 1989 from Howard’s Distributors.
In 1993, he sold it Vancouver resident Rolf Eipper [pictured], who kept a journal during his ownership until 2006. Now 79, Eipper helped the pair nail down much of the history of the car, including helping them discover the name of the previous owner, Hill.
The fin tail hearse belonged to Hill when it led a rally that attracted 2,000 protesters in Cloverdale who turned out to oppose the provincial government’s decision to shutter the B.C. Transportation Museum.
An undated MetroValley News Service clipping (“Cloverdale rallies to save auto museum”) shows the hearse in front of the museum.
The Eureka’s Hollywood North era ranges from 1989 to the early 2000s, when it was rented out to movie productions such as Cadence (with Martin and Charlie Sheen), Stephen King's It, Deliver Them From Evil, Kissed, Mr. Rice’s Secret, Suspect Behaviour, Riding the Bullet and Happy Gilmour – the immortal golf comedy starring Adam Sandler – to name a few.
The Stringers also want to fill in the blanks between 2006 and 2014’ the car’s most recent chapter is murky.
Today, the limo has 48,000 miles on it. “Not bad for 54 years of age,” Eddie allows.
“Did it stand still til we bought it?” he wonders. “We think this is very likely.”
He says a Pitt Meadows resident bought the car in 2006 but that is not the man who sold it to James in 2014.
The hearse had been in storage for a long time before the Stringers bought it. They had it shipped out of Seattle, WA, to the U.K. – a journey that was interrupted by the port strike earlier this year.
The Caddy arrived on May 12, but it was not quite in the condition advertised. Rather than being in near-pristine condition, it turned out the floors were rotten, the metal was due for a respray and the car needed “serious renovation and restoration.”
It’s now in “hearse hospital having new floors put in it,” says Eddie.
Understandably, communications with the most recent owner are strained – forcing their search into an untimely dead end.
“We just want to know its entire history – like, it’s life in the funeral trade up till Marcel bought it,” says Eddie, crediting both Hill and Eipper, especially, with getting the wheels rolling on their cross-Atlantic research project.
“What a fantastic character,” Eddie says of Eipper. “He is a UFO hunter, meteorite-finder, crop circle photographer – such a magical character.”
Over to you, Cloverdale. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your tips, and we’ll pass them onto the Stringers in the UK.