Getting There 'Like A Parade'

January 21, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

The funeral procession led by a horse-drawn hearse wound its way 13 miles through Baltimore, drawing midday gawkers out of their shops and homes to watch.

"One guy came out of a barber shop with an apron up to his neck," said Darrell Putman, who drove the two white horses pulling a black carriage for three hours to the final resting stop at Baltimore National Cemetery. "It was like a parade."

About once per year, Mr. Putman, co-owner of Sundance Equestrian Center in Lisbon, is hired to provide a horse-drawn hearse for a funeral. At other times, Mr. Putman and co-owner Shay Murphy provide their 21 workhorses and 13 carriages of all styles and sizes for weddings, a Halloween "Monster Tour" in Frederick's historic district and travel tours of Frederick.

They also break and train other people's horses for jumping, dressage and other riding styles, breed horses with their two stallions and buy and sell horses. But the carriage business is the most profitable operation, said Mr. Putman.

Prince George's County resident Dorothea Bazilio, 37, wanted to do something special for her grandmother, Mother Eula Wilds, for her funeral. Ms. Bazilio remembered her grandmother always telling stories about riding in a horse and buggy to church in her native South Carolina in the early 1900s.

"I made up my mind I'd send her out the way she came in," said Ms. Bazilio.

The funeral director contacted Mr. Putman and requested the horse-drawn hearse for the Jan. 4 funeral. The procession started at Ms. Wilds' home in Northeast Baltimore and, with a police escort, snaked through the city to the southwest corner.

"People actually came out of their houses and took pictures," said Ms. Bazilio. "It made us feel our grandmother was someone special. Men took their hats off when they realized it was a coffin."

Mr. Putman has led two other funeral processions on horseback since buying the hearse two years ago. One was for Gypsies in Washington and was followed by a four-piece Dixieland band. The other was for a Carroll County Irishman, who had seen his own grandfather taken to the grave in a horse-drawn hearse in Ireland. Two bagpipers followed the hearse.

"Having the horses there seems to take a little something out of the grieving process," said Mr. Putman. "People thank us for being there and tell us, 'This is how he would have wanted it.' "

Mr. Putman and Ms. Murphy raise Clydesdales, Belgians and Percheron's on their 117-acre farm, which they purchased for $780,000 at auction a year ago from former Baltimore Orioles owner Jerold Hoffberger. The farm, which includes five houses and five barns, is in the state's agricultural preservation program, which precludes development.

Mr. Putman, 42, a Vietnam veteran who spent 14 years of active duty in the U.S. Army, said he knew nothing about horses as he closed out a three-year assignment at the Pentagon as an organizational development consultant in 1989. But he knew he didn't want to be transferred, and he didn't want to commute from his Frederick home.

He had noticed a horse-drawn carriage business that operated irregularly in downtown Frederick. The Frederick Carriage Co. wouldn't be bought out, so Mr. Putman went into competition with it. He hired equestrian professionals to run the business and to teach him about horses. His competition eventually folded, he said.

"It's the best decision I ever made," said Mr. Putman. "In the military, as I increased in rank, I also increased in paperwork. I became further removed from people and the things I found satisfaction in doing."

He sold a smaller farm in Frederick and several other properties in order to purchase the Lisbon farm and move the business there.

Sundance is hired for about 100 weddings a year. The company charges between $195 and $395 for the first hour -- depending on Sundance's travel time and cost -- and $1 per minute thereafter. Carriages range in size from a two-person model to a 44-person trolley.

The basic price for a funeral is $495.

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