Back row, from left: Anna Gomes, Alex Aleman, Thomas Doherty, Branham Mann, Robert Damitz; front row, from left: Lesel Frinks, Brittany Smith, and Dr. Dana Neese.
Photo by Vernon Miles.
The building at 520 S. Washington St. is one of the oldest commercial properties in Old Town to stay in the same business — since 1952. The Demaine Funeral Home cares for the dead, but inside, the building has never been more alive.
After a series of complete interior renovations, the Demaine Funeral Home has been updated into the 21st century. Inside the walls are freshly painted and the bathrooms are ADA compliant, but beyond this the atmosphere is fresh. The building is divided into a series of rooms, each with displays that reflect the life and passions of the recently deceased.
“We’re not grim,” said Robert Damitz. “We have a sense of humor. We laugh and cry. We’ve all been through what these families are going through.”
Damitz has been a funeral home director for 33 years. His interest in the field was sparked as a young child growing up poor, where funeral homes were the nicest places in the neighborhood.
“It's the only thing I've ever done,” Damitz said. “It's not easy. You're always sweating or freezing. Sometimes you can really relate to what a family is going through, and we get teary eyed, but you have to hide it and act like it doesn't get to us.”
Funerals have changed over the years. Branham Mann, location manager at the Alexandria location for Demaine Funeral Homes, said over the last 10 years families have transitioned away from more traditional funerals. Cremations have increased, and services have shifted away from ceremonies like the dour, all-black wakes.
“There's less traditional services,” said Mann. “People want things more unique. Less like a funeral.”
Mann says funeral home staff now do research and get to learn a lot about the deceased. One of the memorials in the home is covered with maps and wine bottles. Mann says the deceased was a world traveler and a wine connoisseur.
One of Mann’s favorite services was one for a WWII veteran. Mann says those are generally his favorites. He studied history in college, and as a location manager for a funeral home he gets to hear first- or second-hand accounts of history from the people who lived it.
“A lot of people think it's all sad and dreary, but it's not,” said Mann. “You get to hear stories about what made people special. I sometimes bring those stories home and share them with my wife … it's just a chance to get to hear all these people’s stories.”