"Fashion Modeling" and "Funeral Directing" ..and Irony.


We had a “Career Day” in 7th grade. Based on my TV-watching involvement of yore, I am guessing every school has one of these, where local professionals from a variety of occupations visit to explain the basics of what their job entails.

Of the dozens offered, we were instructed to select 2 different employment situations to learn more about.

In complete jest, I signed up for both  “Fashion Modeling” and “Funeral Directing” - two careers i could absolutely NOT see future me involved in - in any way (unless I was to die) -  It made me giggle in my head just to think about seriously working in either vocation . Too silly. 

Innately surgically curious and knowing what I did already about Egyptian Embalming, I was actually interested in listening to the attending funeral director discuss his work, but at the time, i had more interest in dying than ever working in deathcare. And for my own personal amusement,  I thought it would be HILARIOUS to sit amongst a classroom full of genuine desirables and learn about the SERIOUS PROFESSION of FASHION MODELING - just because i was largely considered anything but attractive.  I recall a few boys in the classroom who were just as lowbrow as myself. 

Strangely enough, by the time i was 18, i ended up enrolled in mortician school and just a few years later very unexpectedly found my way into New York fashion modeling. 

Sarcasm manifested! I was now an official cliche of my own conception.

Shortly after 9/11 and wishing to return to funeral service, I managed to find a mortuary in Manhattan that was willing to hire me on as their resident funeral director / embalmer~ with flexibility in working hours to attend shoots, fittings, go-sees, shows and whatnot, as I was still under contract with my modeling agency - and they basically owned me. In balancing two full time jobs and mental "specialness" - my dual employment situation did not last remarkably long-  but that's another tin of invertebrates I have no particular desire to spill in detail all over the internet right now. 

At any rate, Vanella’s Funeral Chapel was that funeral home. I was teased a lot for wearing men's shoes ( Joe called them my "SENSIBLE shoes"), but never forbidden to wear them nor forced to dress like the "lady of the funeral home".  I believe I was the first female embalmer to ever work there (at the time, amazingly there were still a number of funeral homes in New York that just would NOT hire a female for that type of work. It was the beginning of the 21st century, for Pete's sake and archetypical stereotypes were still all the rage! It just was not done! Insert eye-roll)  So many memories packed into only half a year. Gosh, I loved that place. It was quite literally New York incarnate. 

  I drove by Vanella’s a few years ago after visiting a friend in the neighborhood and it appeared as if they had shut down. A shuttered business in Manhattan is not at all a foreign observation, as the rent there is tremendous and ever increasing , but i knew they owned the building, so it puzzled me a little. 

It wasn’t until last week -  I was invited to an art opening on Madison Street. It's not every day someone mentions Madison STREET  (not to be confused with it's much more popular and classier cousin - Madison AVENUE). Nearly 2 decades since I worked there, I could not recall Vanella's exact address to see where it was in proximity to the art gallery - so i looked it up on the In-TER-NET.. which is where i found these articles ( linked below). 

It was unfortunate to read of the alleged circumstances surrounding their mysterious closing, but if there's one thing working in funeral service has taught me - Life is indisputably messier than death. Long Live Vanella’s Funeral Chapel. You were indeed somethin' else. 

https://www.boweryboogie.com/2017/11/prohibition-era-funeral-home-madison-street-hits-market-12-5m/

https://infamousnewyork.com/2013/09/27/the-mayor-of-james-street-robert-roxie-vanella/

Retro-Coincidence: A few years prior to my employment at Vanella's, I was sent home one night from a different funeral home (north of the city) I was working at - with a death certificate to file at NYC's department of health. New to driving , I was disoriented.  (In walking the streets, you need not worry about one way signs. Chinatown is not part of NYC's easily navigated numbered grid and It was 1999. Cell phones (or mine, anyway) did not even have text messaging, - let alone, GPS ). Streets were barely lit and I could not find Worth Street. I could not find anyone who could or would speak English to me except for a police officer  (who amazingly had no intimate knowledge of the surrounding streets.) I drove some more and saw a beacon-like amber glow coming from a portrait light in a dim vestibule where a sharp-suited elderly man was seated in a wingback chair. It was a funeral home. It was Vanella's.