That is to say, a replica of the Batmobile from the 1966 television show is perched as the centerpiece of a display dedicated to its colorful creator, the late George Barris, at the National Museum of Funeral History in Houston.
Riddle me this: What do a Batmobile and a funeral museum have in common?
To get an answer, I asked our resident Batgirl, Genevieve Keeney, the museum’s president and chief operating officer.
“Our board member Buck Kemphausen, who was a very close friend of the creator George Barris and also the owner of the vehicle on display, a replica of the original Batmobile from the 1966 movie, wanted to pay a tribute to his dearly departed friend George Barris,” she said. “In learning more about who George was in his life and about his talent, it was fitting to create an exhibit to him in ‘Thanks for the Memories.’ The tribute would not be complete without the Batmobile, a replica of his custom casket and personal items.”
As any self-respecting child of the ’60s would do, I went to the museum to check it out. As a fan of the old TV show and being naturally curious about the museum itself, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see this in person. I have to tell you, it’s worth the trip.
I was invited to come see the Batmobile and to tour this amazing museum. As I sat behind the wheel while the security guard snapped pictures, my mind kept racing back 23 years earlier to a mall in Elizabeth City, N.C., where one of the real Batmobiles from the TV show was on display. I sat behind the wheel of that one – which was in pretty beat-up shape at the time – with my baby girl in my lap.
Kemphausen’s replica is in much better condition and is decked out with all the Bat-bells and Bat-whistles befitting the original Batmobile. Visitors to the museum can sit in the car and have their picture taken for an additional $5. You’ve got to do it. You know you want to. Just tell your non-Bat-friends that the Joker made you do it!
The exhibit, however, is about much more than a really cool car. It’s about the car’s creator, George Barris. Included in the exhibit is a replica of his casket, which is bright yellow and embellished with Bat-wing style fins. There are models of some of the famous cars he created along with some of his personal memorabilia.
Barris was known as the King of customizers and, in addition to the Batmobile, created many iconic cars for TV and the movies. Among them are the “Beverly Hillbillies” jalopy, and the Munster Koach and casket turned dragster (the “Drag-U-La”) for “The Munsters.”
Barris was born in Chicago in 1925 and died in 2015, just days away from his 90th birthday. According to a press release sent by the museum, “He moved to Roseville, Calif., with relatives after his parents died in 1928. There, he pursued a passion for building scratch-built model airplanes and model cars that resulted in winning competitions for construction and design. His interest in cars intensified during his teenage years as he discovered ‘the black art’ of bodywork by hanging out after school at local body shops.
“Barris created his first full custom car from a used 1936 Ford convertible before he graduated from high school that led to his first commercial customer. Shortly after, Barris formed a club called Kustoms Car Club where the first use of ‘K’ for kustoms appeared. He later moved to Los Angeles where his talents began to flourish.
“Barris opened his first shop in Bell, a Los Angeles suburb, in late 1944. As movie studios took note of Barris Kustoms on the streets and at races, the studios and came to George for cars for their films. This included customizing the personal cars of the stars as well. As the 1960s began, George shifted gears and bought a new shop in North Hollywood where he designed and built award-winning cars.”
Kamphausen, who is a funeral director, attended the funeral for Barris.
“It was a WOW! I knew he would have something different. I have fond memories of George. He was a great part of the automobile world,” he said.
The tribute to Barris opened Feb. 1 and runs through Dec. 31. It is part of the museum’s 25th anniversary celebration.
I asked Keeney if there are plans to bring any more of Barris’ iconic cars to the museum.
“It’s a good possibility that you might get to see more of George’s work in the future. I have a great working relationship with the family who are honored to have this tribute to the father, and find comfort in knowing his legacy is continuing on,” she said.
Keeney said the museum has received a positive reaction to the exhibit.
“(There is) excitement at seeing the vehicle and learning more about the man behind the car,” she said. “We have seen an increase in attendance. I believe the thought of being able to see a vehicle so close that you see on TV, is quite fascinating and brings people to the museum.”
The Barris exhibit is at the entrance to the Thanks for the Memories section of the museum, which is a tribute to celebrities and other famous people who have left their mark on this world. There are all kinds of interesting displays there, including tributes to astronauts, Elvis, a Munchkin from “The Wizard of Oz” and so much more.
The rest of the museum is equally fascinating. There are substantial exhibits to presidents and popes, along with some unique coffins and antique hearses. There are so many things there that I can’t begin to list them all here. You just need to go and check it out for yourself.
The National Museum of Funeral History is located at 415 Barren Springs Dr., Houston, and is open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors and veterans; $7 for children 6-11 years old; and free for children age 5 and younger. For more information, visit www.nmfh.org, like them on Facebook or call 281-876-3063. You never know, they may answer the call on the Bat-phone!