Colorado’s only horse-drawn hearse operator turning over reins
DENVER — Most of us shy away from funerals. But a woman from Manzanola, Colorado has willingly attended hundreds of them. And her presence there has brought boundless peace to grieving families. But all good things come to an end. And that includes the very good thing she’s been doing for two decades.
At the hardest moment, on the most difficult day in a family’s life… death is made just a little bit more tolerable by Lorraine Melgosa.
Melgosa owns Wellington Carriage Company, and operates the only known horse-drawn hearse in the state of Colorado.
“It’s an 1867 James Cunningham and Sons funeral coach,” Melgosa told FOX 31 Denver.
And it offers the kind of dignity that can’t be found in the modern day version of the hearse.
“It’s just a cut above, you know, it stands out, and when you see that going down the road, you just say wow, who died,” Melgosa said. “The sound of the horse’s hooves on the pavement, the jingling of the harness, it just takes you back in time.”
She wanted a horse-drawn hearse for her dad’s funeral back in 1991, but couldn’t find one. So she and her brother got an idea. Buy one, and start a business named after dad, to help families mourn.
“They’re not in a hurry to get to the cemetery, and I feel like we can give them just a few more minutes with their loved one, and I think that’s special to them,” Melgosa said.
But Lorraine and her brother had no idea how many families they’d help. From police officers, to murder victims, she’s carried nearly 700 people to their final resting place.
About 50 of those funerals have been for U.S. service members, many of them killed in action in Iraq or Afghanistan. And Lorraine has never charged the families a dime for those funerals. But one family insisted. They wanted to find a way to pay her back.
Cindy Dietz-Marsh is the mother of fallen Navy Seal Danny Dietz of Littleton, CO. He was killed by insurgents in Afghanistan in 2005. And on their toughest day, it was Lorraine who helped the family get through it.
“Just being the genuine person she is. She’s got such a genuine heart,” Dietz-Marsh said.
So when they learned Lorraine needed a new horse a few years back, members of the Dietz family cut Lorraine a check, so she could keep helping other families.
“The sendoff in burying our son was just absolutely beautiful and amazing, and the families unfortunately that came after us to have the same beautiful send off for their loved ones,” Dietz-Marsh told FOX 31 Denver.
“Every horse I’ve had they’ve done it with dignity and grace and without complaint. They just know that this is an important job,” said Melgosa.
It is emotional work, and it can take its toll. And more than a few times over the years, Lorraine has thought about hanging it up.
“I’m not ready for it to be over, but I know it has to be,” Melgosa said.
But recently she decided it finally, really is time.
“My health isn’t what it used to be, and I’m not as young as I used to be, and you know, even old soldiers get to retire after 20 years, and all good things must come to an end,” Melgosa said.
So this Saturday, October 26, after 700 funerals, three horses, and too many tears to count, Lorraine will celebrate her retirement. She’s hoping to sell or donate the hearse, to someone with the same passion she has. The passion for helping families get through the hardest moment, of the most difficult day of their life.
“That’s good enough for me,” Melgosa said.
And there’s an update to this story: late Tuesday night, Melgosa told FOX 31 Denver she’s in talks with the Colorado National Guard, and they may take over the horse and hearse to continue escorting fallen soldiers. She hopes to iron out the details in the coming days.
Meantime, a retirement party for Lorraine and Duke is planned for Saturday afternoon from 2 to 4 pm at Horan and McConaty Funeral Home at 5303 E. County Line Road in Centennial, and the public is invited.
To leave a comment on Lorraine’s Facebook page, click here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Duke-the-Funeral-Horse-Wellington-Carriage-Company/139457472752314