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Vintage Cadillac Carries Aretha Franklin’s Casket

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Aretha Franklin Cadillac hearse

A 1940 Cadillac LaSalle hearse transports the casket of civil rights icon Rosa Parks in 2005. Last week, the hearse took part in Aretha Franklin’s funeral.
Photo:Wikimedia Commons

There’s a long and rich history behind the Cadillac hearse that carried Aretha Franklin’s casket last week.

Detroit’s Swanson Funeral Home owns the ivory-painted, chrome-detailed 1940 Cadillac LaSalle. The funeral home keeps the hearse in storage and only uses it for special, high-profile funerals.

Most famously, the hearse played a role in civil rights icon Rosa Parks’ funeral in 2005. The hearse also took part in the 2008 funeral of Four Tops singer Levi Stubbs and the 1991 funeral of Temptations singer David Ruffin. And in 1984, it transported the body of Franklin’s father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin.

Last Tuesday, the Cadillac hearse carried Franklin’s gold-plated casket to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History for a public viewing. On Thursday, it brought her to New Bethel Baptist Church for another viewing and for Friday’s funeral service. On Friday evening, it took the Queen of Soul to her final resting place at Detroit’s Woodlawn Cemetery.

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“(The Cadillac LaSalle) was a very cool car and absolutely speaks of Detroit,” Hagerty Classic Insurance spokesman Jonathan Klinger told the Detroit Free Press. “The LaSalle from that era had a perfect combination of sportiness and luxury. It’s just very fitting that a classic icon of Detroit, Aretha, was driven by a classic automotive icon of Detroit.”

Funeral home owner O’Neil D. Swanson II bought the 1940 Cadillac LaSalle several years after he first started running the business in 1958. Cadillac discontinued the LaSalle nameplate ater 1940, meaning Swanson’s is one of the last ever made. It features the Swanson name on the sides and the rear door and a white dove on the inside.

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News Sources: Detroit Free Press, The Washington Post