English+teacher%2C+Regina+Tomlinson%2C+and+her+husband+used+to+live+in+a+morgue.+Listen+in+to+hear+some+of+their+ghost+stories.+

Ryann Daugherty

English teacher, Regina Tomlinson, and her husband used to live in a morgue. Listen in to hear some of their ghost stories.

Spooky encounters

Teacher and husband share stories from living in a funeral home

October 31, 2022

On their first date, Regina Tomlinson hopped into his suburban hearse. Halfway through their second date, David (Dave) Tomlinson’s pager rang mid “The Man without a Face” movie. He’d received a death call. Dave left for the bathroom and changed into his suit.

“I’m sorry,” Dave said. “Do you want me to take you and drop you off at the funeral home?” 

“Well, is it on the way?” Regina said.

“No,” Dave said.

“Well, I’ll just go with you,” Regina said.

Dave drove to the nursing home he received a call from, and he gathered the deceased person, sliding them into the back. Then they were on their way to the funeral home.

 “I guess there probably won’t be a third date,” Dave said.

“Oh, no,” Regina said. “I’ll go with you again, but I’m bringing a book. It was boring sitting in that car.”

Walking backwards

English teacher Regina and her husband, Dave, lived in a funeral home for about 10 years. 

Dave was a funeral director; he started his journey in the funeral business during the 80s at his summer job in Oklahoma City at Hahn-Cook/Street and Draper Funeral Directors. At the time, Dave was studying at the University of Central Oklahoma to receive a creative writing degree, but he later switched to a science degree with a minor in English.

“The first funeral home I worked at was a very wealthy funeral home,” Dave said. “It was just the way it was. At night when I would close up, they had this dock outside, and they kept all these custom caskets out there. I would always imagine vampires sleeping in those things. My creative writing skills would go nutso.”

As a funeral director, Dave was making $30-40 an hour. A funeral director arranges funerals (gathering all the information such as the death certificate and obituary), directs the funeral and does the embalming.

“There’s two things about it that are really good,” Dave said. “You can always help people through the worst time in their life, and nobody wants to do it so you’ll always have a job. I enjoy it. I enjoy helping.”

When Dave’s boss at Hahn-Cook came into the funeral home where his offices resided, the boss gathered all 50 of his workers, including Dave, into the chapel.

“Dave Tomlinson, will you stand up?” his boss said.

“Yes, sir,” Dave said, thinking he was in trouble.

“I can always tell if Dave’s closed up because when I walk in and open the door, there’s not a single footprint in the whole carpet in the funeral home,” his boss said. “It’s so beautiful. Now, that’s the level of detail I’m looking for and for the people that work for me.”

Inside the towering atrium and the funeral home surrounded by trees with a fountain, Dave only kept the shag carpet spotless because he would vacuum backwards from the front of the funeral home all the way out the back.

“I didn’t want to turn my back on the dead people when I was vacuuming,” Dave said. “It was just because I was scared. That’s why it looked so pretty.”

First experiences

Before Dave was sent on his first death call with the funeral director, he mowed the law and washed the hearses during his first summer. 

“The first time I touched a dead person,” Dave said. “They [his coworkers] thought it was funny because I was studying to get my English degree. I remember touching the deceased lady. She was a little Greek lady, and she was in this nursing home. I was shocked that she was still warm. That kind of freaked me out. Some people always say when they move somebody who’s been dead for a while it freaks them out because they’re icebox cold.”

He became an apprentice in Oklahoma City at the three different funeral homes in the area. When Dave was an apprentice, he went down to Capitol Hill Funeral Home in the oldest part of Oklahoma City to help them out. He told another funeral director who did his apprenticeship at the funeral home that he saw a lady dressed with a pillbox hat, a veil and a purse, like she stepped out of the 50s, crying on the couch in the sitting room.

“He said, ‘I remember her son was killed in Vietnam,” Dave said. “He was a soldier. I remember when she did it the first time when she was alive, and she began to cry.’ Once you’d hear her, you’d go by and see her in the corner of your eye all the time.”

Licensed creepy interactions

After he was licensed, he moved to Trout Funeral Home in Phuket City, OK. A year into Dave’s license, while he was a young embalmer, he worked at a funeral home down in Marfa by the border of Mexico where he learnt the business side of the industry. Since the 80s and 70s, the embalming room is two doors away from the public in order to keep people from accidentally walking into it; however, at the time, the funeral home Dave worked at was older, so there was a hallway that ran to the back of the home from the offices to break room. One evening Dave was embalming and something strange occurred, the next day he told the boss’s son.

“Something weird happened last night,” Dave said.

“Oh, what happened?” the boss’s son said.

“I heard these footsteps walking down the back hallway,” Dave said. “I was right in the middle of embalming, gloved up, blood everywhere. I heard these footsteps walk down there, and the door began to slowly open to the embalming room from the hallway. I felt like somebody was standing there staring at me.”

“Oh, that’s Mr.Kelley,” the boss’s son said. “He came down to make sure you were doing it right.”

At one time, the break room was the owner’s apartment, Mr. Keller, who is now long deceased. Dave checked the funeral home, but there was nobody there. It was locked up. Anytime someone would say, “It feels like somebody is looking at me.” Dave would sum it up to “that’s just Mr.Kelley.”

Sometimes while Dave was embalming, an old black dial rotary phone rang.

“I’d answer it, and it’d be somebody in Abilene calling their wife,” Dave said. “Isn’t that weird?”

Sudden chills

While Regina and Dave lived with their adopted children in their funeral home, Tomlinson Funeral Home, anytime Regina felt an eerie spite or had the job of turning the lights off at the home, she would say a little prayer.

“I was walking the puppy, and I said ‘Well, let’s go inside,’” Regina said. “The door opened by itself. There was no way. It’s a door like this [Regina points toward her classroom door] it’s heavy and it closes by itself, so it wouldn’t have come open by itself. Nobody was standing there.” 

Regina spoke no word about the encounter to Dave. She shrugged it off as “weird.” A couple of days later, Dave told her about a strange, similar experience.

“He says, ‘Oh, it was weird,’” Regina said. “The other night I was walking the dog, and I said ‘Let’s go inside.’ The back door opened by itself.’ I kind of like that kind of ghost; open the door for me.”

Regina told her students about her experiences on the first day of school.

“She did say she believes in ghosts,” sophomore Ella Ashley said. “She has to turn off certain lights to turn off other ones. She always has a light on when she walks through the hallway because she doesn’t want it to turn off on her. She’s seen a lot of dead bodies, so I wouldn’t blame her if she saw ghosts.”

Dave and Regina had two funeral homes. After Dave took a break, he worked for Hahn-Cook near Austin where he managed their funeral homes.

“The only time I kind of got scared was [when] I went into the infant room, and there was a body there,” Regina said. “I went to go get something off one of the shelves, and as I was walking by, all of a sudden it felt like he was looking right at me. It’s just my eye happened to cross where his was looking. It felt like he was looking at me.”

Poltergeists

Inside Tomlinson Funeral Homes, a poltergeist would play tricks on Dave and Regina. Dave has been in multiple funeral homes with a poltergeist.

“It would make the lights come and go on and off,” Dave said. “We had these things called Porgera lamps; these great big lamps put on the end of the casket. I would have apprentices go, ‘I think you have to change the bulb.’  I’d just go, ‘No, it’s just the ghosts. They’re having fun.’ The water fountain would come on and spray water. Sometimes water would come out of the ceiling where there were no pipes or it wasn’t raining.”

Another funeral home Dave worked in he was there before the haunting sound of a woman’s high heels clacked on the marble flooring in the front of the funeral home, walking up and down the hallway.

“A lady had died, and all of her children had died young in accidents,” Dave said. “I was there when her last child died. She had a heart attack, and died in the funeral home.”

Out of all the funeral homes Dave has worked at, he’s only felt a “foreboding” once. He had worked there for about a year and a half.

“At night, when I would come out from embalming, I had to seek my paperwork up front, and it was really dark there,” Dave said. “I got a really evil feeling. I didn’t want to go down in the dark out there. I didn’t check those doors.”

Gross out

If kids are orphans or they get in trouble with the law, instead of sending them to juvenile detention facilities or jail, they’re sent to Cow Farley’s. Dave and Regina were houseparents out by the ranch. The facility had their own 24/7 EMTs, and Dave would share “gross out” stories with them. 

“Got any ghosts down here?” Dave said. “I heard there’s a ghost in the clinic.”

“Oh, yeah,” the EMT said. “There’s this little girl that runs around down here and she wears this little dress. She’s got pigtails, and she has no feet. You see her run down the hallway.”

After he brought up the ghost, one of the EMTs told him to “shut up” and ran to another room. The EMT had seen the girl multiple times.

“I always thought ghosts were a thing beforehand,” Dave said. “I was always reading ghost stories and books.”

Traveling help

In 2020, when the pandemic hit and over 1,000 people were dying every day in New York City, Dave traveled there with a group to help out.

“That’s all we did for 12 hours a day was remove dead people from hospitals, nursing homes and people’s houses,” Dave said. “They were so overwhelmed in New York City that the medical examiner couldn’t remove all of them. One of my bosses was a funeral director from California there, and we were talking about [how] we saw more dead people in one location than we did in our entire 25 year careers.”

He spent most of his time in Staten Island and Brooklyn, but he saw every borough in New York. They gave him a phone and three soldiers escorted him through the city. On one of his calls, the deceased lady had been dead for about five or six days in a decomposing state, and he had with him three dairy farm National Guard soldiers. 

“They were not doing well,” Dave said. “One was throwing up, and one was emotionally distraught. I said, ‘Well, y’all just go outside. I’ll take care of this.’ One of the guys came in, and he was a bounty hunter of all things. When we left, I remember they were all really disappointed in themselves. They’re like, ‘I should have been in there with you helping you get her in a body bag.’ They said, ‘How do you get in the car, and then you’re joking around with us about stuff?’ That’s what you do. You compartmentalize. You have to take the death, the scary things, the things nobody wants to see. You put that in a box, and you hold it in a box.”

All the funeral homes were full, so Dave had to take the deceased to a large morgue that could hold 50-1000 deceased. They would triple tag the deceased person, so they could find them later in the morgue when their funeral home came to gather them.

“You have to be able to do that [compartmentalize] because sometimes there’d be families there,” Dave said. “I can’t go in there and boohoo to them and cry to them. I’ve got to be strong for them. I have to be effective. I would have to talk to them. ‘Hey, we have to take your mother.’ We’d go to the family, and I’d say, ‘Hey, here’s the phone number you can call the medical examiner, they’re going to help you with this. Let me say the steps that are going to happen.’ We’re very respectful.”

Other than being able to stick the “scary” things in a box, the funeral directors need dark, gallows or morgue humor.

“It’s also disturbing, picking up arms, fingers, and legs,” Dave said. “So much is going on. You see things that no one else will ever most likely see. Then how do you return to normalcy? Nobody around you knows what it’s like to see all these crazy things.”

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