Lost Memphis: Emma Wilburn Funeral Home

One of the few funeral homes in Memphis run by a woman.



City directories show that Emma Wilburn opened her funeral home in a former residence on Mississippi Boulevard in 1920.

Not only did she work at this address, she lived there, too — which makes her a braver person than most people, considering all the other folks “sleeping” there. The back of the old postcard promotes her services as an undertaker, embalmer, and complete dresser, and it also notes that Wilburn provided “the very best ambulance service, day or night.”

That claim may surprise modern readers, who might not think to call a funeral home if they needed an ambulance. (It’s not really in the company’s best interest, you’d think, to get you to a hospital in time.)

Wilburn closed her firm sometime in the 1930s, and the grand old building housed other undertakers, including Thomas Funeral Home and Southern Funeral Home. A church acquired the property in the 1950s and turned it into a parking lot.

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Ask Vance is the blog of Vance Lauderdale, the award-winning columnist of Memphis magazine and MBQ: Inside Memphis Business.  Vance is the author of three books: Ask Vance: The Best Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History and Trivia Expert (2003), as well as Ask Vance: More Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History Expert (2011) and Vance Lauderdale's Lost Memphis (2013). He is also the recipient of quite a few nice awards, the creator of several eye-catching wall calendars, and the only person we know with a vintage shock-treatment machine in his den. 

You can find him from time to time in the pages of the Memphis Flyer and MBQ, on WKNO television, and on Facebook. When he is not exploring the highways and byways of Memphis, he spends his time sleeping, napping, and dozing.

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