by Lorie Lewis Ham
I recently discovered a very unique club in Fresno, one especially suited to the Halloween season though they get together all year, the RavenMortem Hearse Club (RMHC). Their founder and Executive Director, Jerm Lugosi, recently chatted with KRL about their club, and their upcoming Halloween event. Jerm is the Driver of Casper the Friendly Hearse (1996 Cadillac Superior Hearse).
KRL: When was the club was formed and how did that come about?
Jerm: RavenMortem Hearse Club (RMHC) was formed on June 20, 2021 by me, Jerm Lugosi. I am an active Funeral Service Professional and Death Educator.
Ever since being a child I dreamed of someday owning a hearse. In 2012, I got my first hearse (1974 Oldsmobile Hearse) ‘Phantasm’. Phantasm would become a legend in Fresno appearing in many parades (Mardi Gras, LGBTQA Pride, and Veterans), Haunted Themed Parks (Hobbs Groove) and even a few weddings and birthdays! In 2018, I retired ‘Phantasm’ and debuted, ‘Casper the Friendly Hearse’ (1996 Cadillac Hearse). It was then that I started collaborating ways to serve the modern death acceptance revolution and also ease people’s questions, anxieties, and fears in regard to death and dying.
I have always been told that I am a dreamer and a mad man. I’m not sure which one I favor the most. One day while on a date with my now spouse, we visited the beautiful cemeteries of the California. A hearse had just entered the memorial park and I observed how its presence was not only benevolent but regal, mysterious, and somewhat menacing. All activities and conversations seemed to stop. Even the ravens and squirrels that were moments ago feuding over food paused in solidarity. The hearse’ presence not only carried an omnificent vibe but it also demanded respect…And rightfully through examination of history hearse’ have earned their valor.
While drinking coffee, I turned to my cemetery date and said, “Look at that! It’s morbidly majestic! Imagine all the amazing and interesting people that hearse has somehow brought together.” Some folks don’t see each other unless it’s a wedding or funeral–hopefully it’s not too late when they do. Just imagine using the hearse the way an artist uses a canvass or a sculpture uses clay. I believe it can be a very powerful platform to help people. People often marvel at hearses. Its strange dance macabre…wrapped with many phobias, untruths, and morbid fascination, which creates perfect recipe for persons to feel disenfranchised and perhaps develop psychological disorders related to untreated grief.
Perhaps, I overanalyzed a little or maybe not at all but felt many times people faced a very dark and lonely void that often had little to no support when all they sought was a little extra comfort. The world can be a scary place. A little light in the dark surely helps make the journey less frightening. RavenMortem is a happy hearse club where everyone is made to feel loved and welcomed.
I wanted to create a unique Hearse Club that featured community outreach, grief support, death awareness/education, funeral history, car shows, embraced the arts, and fun things that the general public could participate and feel welcomed (even if they don’t have a hearse).
On June 20, 2021, I reached out to ‘Darklings’ in the community including death care professionals, community advocates, artists, and hearse drivers and formed RavenMortem Hearse Club. A few shy months later, RMHC grew and started divisions such as 559 Ghostbusters, Death Café-Fresno, and RavenMortem Paranormal Society…and still soaring to new heights!
KRL: What is the purpose of the club?
Jerm: RavenMortem Hearse Club is an open and affirming organization that is composed of a diverse group of folks. We have funeral service professionals, mental health professionals, clinicians, medics, hearse enthusiasts, taphophiles, paranormal investigators, community advocates, artists, etc; but we simply refer to them as our beloved ‘Darklings.’
The primary purpose of RavenMortem Hearse Club is to prevent drunk driving, de-stigmatize suicide, foster death acceptance, create a positive peer support system, and embrace the inevitable mortal demise, DEATH (of course while having fun!).
KRL: Why is it important to the club that you specify that you are a welcoming an affirming club?
Jerm: RavenMortem Hearse Club is an open and affirming organization that is composed of a diverse group of folks that not only believe in the principle of faith but accept the challenges of stretching ourselves to grow beyond our comfort zones. RavenMortem is also publicly open and affirming because it is way more fun when we ‘cruise’ together. When life is fraught with tension and stress, times of celebration and diversity are sweeter! RavenMortem will forever remain open and affirming it is following our call to ‘Another way of living along a road less traveled.”
KRL: What sort of outreach and events do you do?
Jerm: RavenMortem Hearse Club participates in various outreach events:
AIDS Walk/Run (Fundraiser)
Homeless Feed & Community Foodbank (Donations)
MADD (Drunk Driving Prevention)
Donor Network (Organ Donation)
Big Brothers & Sisters (Trunk -or-Treat)
Care Fresno (Suicide Prevention)
Death Café (Death Education & Grief Support)
LGBTQ Community Events
Valley Animal Shelter (Fundraiser)
KRL: How many members does RMHC club have?
Jerm: We started with 12-15 active members. We are just getting started and are expanding our club membership. Come soar with us!
KRL: Why a hearse club?
Jerm: For many of our ‘Darklings’ fascination with hearses. To put it bluntly, RavenMortem Hearse Club is a group of enthusiasts that enjoy conjuring together, enjoy our beloved fleet of hearses, and like to enjoy life. We believe our unique car club is a great place to socialize. RMHC allows members from diverse areas of life to meet up and share passion with other avid enthusiasts.
KRL: How did you personally become a fan of hearses?
Jerm: I have known since I was a little darkling that I wanted to be a mortician and have my own hearse. Most teens were looking at Mustangs and Jeeps I was eyeing a ’74 Cadillac Hearse. There is no better feeling of cruising down the road in the front seat of a hearse…you really don’t get to experience the back of the hearse until it’s too late!
KRL: What is it that most of the members like best about the hearses/club?
Jerm: Here’s what our Darklings are saying so far…
“Wonderful and inspiring hearse club that makes people feel welcomed and valued; even if they don’t have a hearse. The officers all have a passion to help others and the community. It’s way more than a car club. Very awesome and unique. RavenMortem Hearse Club is a blessing to many. I love the inspirational posts and Cruise Nights. I look forward to seeing more community events.” –Jean Furr (Fresno, Ca.)
“The kids love seeing the hearses and Ghostbusters.” -Sara P (Madera, Ca.)
“I finally got to meet Jerm and the hearse club! EPIC Night!” -Bryan (Fresno, Ca.)
“I love RMHC!” –Peter Spellman (Fresno, Ca.)
“My family loves seeing the hearses and Ecto. We even got a goody bag filled with stickers and candy.” Brandy Washburn (Fresno, Ca.)
KRL: Is it hard to purchase a hearse?
Jerm: It all varies on where you are looking and what’s within your budget. Hearses can easily be purchased online from sites like Craigslist. Don’t forget to check with your local funeral home to see if they are looking to retire their hearse and pitch a deal. We do hope you keep in mind that most hearses get about 10-15 miles per gallon. Purchasing a used hearse you should expect at least some mechanical issues. However, don’t let that stop you! Hearses are big cars and you need to be prepared for expenses, know how to operate it, and comfortable with standing out. On a good note, you most likely won’t forget where you parked your hearse in a parking lot.
KRL: Can you tell me about the Death Café/Grief Support?
Jerm: RavenMortem Hearse Club will be launching its Death Café in November (2021). A Death Café is a small get together for the purpose of talking about death, usually over tea or coffee. The goal of the death café is to help cultivate awareness of death with a positive mindset of helping each other make the most of our finite lives. The Death Café is facilitated by myself (RMHC Executive Director/Funeral Counselor/Death Doula/Educator) and features guests’ speakers such as LMFT’s and LCSW’s, and other clinicians who specialize in grief counseling.
KRL: How do people become members of RMHC?
Jerm: Follow us on social media and show up to an event. Right now, we are expanding our members and not requiring a membership fee!
KRL: What are the benefits of becoming a RMHC Member?
KRL: What are your future goals?
Jerm: We would eventually like to become a non-profit, expand membership, and continue to support the community with outreach projects. Our mission is to increase awareness of death positivity, honor death cultures/traditions, and de-stigmatize mental health.
KRL: Where can people find you online?
KRL: How can people purchase a RMHC shirt?
KRL: What Halloween events does RMHC participate in?
Jerm: RMHC has participated in various Halloween events: We had a blast kicking off October by participating in the Restless Spirits Lounge, a haunted art-hop which was hosted at La Mission Kabob (Fulton Mall) on October 1. We have also been hanging around Raisin Hell Ranch, a haunted cornfield.
We will have multiple themed Cruise Nights throughout the year. Last month, we featured Scooby Doo Cruise Night featuring The Mystery Machine! Our theme for October is Beetlejuice. We encourage our members to dress up their cars and themselves too and have fun cruising with us!
Speaking of Beetlejuice, RMHC is hosting our first Halloween party, Beetlejuice: A Night In the Netherworld. The event will take place Saturday, October 30, 2021 at Ghost Golf in Fresno, California from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. We will have indoor miniature golf, live entertainment, Photo Opps, Séances, Costumed Characters, Local Artists/Crafters, Food Vendors, Polaroid Photos, Raffles and Contests.
KRL: How can tickets for this event be purchased?
Jerm: Tickets for the Beetlejuice Halloween Party can be purchased by visiting our social page under the header, RavenMortem Hearse Club or by visiting Ghost Golf at 5179 N. Blackstone Ave. Fresno, Ca. 93710.
KRL: What safety protocols does RMHC do in regards to COVID?
Jerm: We are encouraging participants to wear masks regardless of vaccine status. Hand sanitizing stations will be available throughout the event. We will also be following infection control measures in accordance to CDC guidelines.
Check out more local entertainment articles, including Halloween related ones, in our Arts & Entertainment section.