Ceres undertaker has toy car museum in funeral parlour

2016-07-21 09:04

Ceres - “People's Undertaker” Mitch Jantjies runs a funeral parlour with a difference by combining the grim business of grief with the whimsy of childhood in the form of a Dinky Toy museum.

Instead of dimly-lit rooms and assistants speaking in the mourning whisper, Valley Undertakers on busy Voortrekker Road in Ceres is bathed in sunlight.

Staff chatter with a client deciding on which package would be best for his dearly departed. Meanwhile, Jantjies juggles calls arranging hearses, and WhatsApps a picture of a coffin's handles to a family who can't choose between the wheat sheaf, the praying hands, or the rose relief work.

Displayed proudly on shelves running along a long wall opposite the racks of coffins are around 1000 Dinky Toys - from miniature Mustangs to hippy Combis and sleek mini Ferraris.

Mitch Jantjies has a dinky car museum inside his funeral parlour (Jenni Evans, News24)

He has around 6000 of the pre-World War One die-cast toys which caused as much excitement among children then as Pokemon Go does now. He started collecting them when he was three and he won't say how much they are worth. A quick search on the collector's items will give the inquisitive an indication, he says.

There was a time when the shop space was neatly divided between the Dinky Toy museum, and the funeral parlour. When News24 asked the Ceres tourism bureau for suggestions on places to visit, information officer Shirley Wagener said Jantjies's shop was a must see.

We sit around a table crammed between the coffin racks and the Dinky Toy collection, speaking over one of the sample purple silk floral arrangements. On the table is a laminated price guide offering the various burial options - like whether the grave should be six or eight foot deep.

Jantjies does not charge an entrance fee for the museum, but one day he did the sums and decided it was foolish to spend half his R8 000 a month rent to show off his prized collection. So he expanded the coffin display space and reduced the number of dinky cars on display to around 1000. The rest are at home.

He's been on television, he says proudly, and is used to people coming in just to see if it is true that there is a toy museum next to the coffins. 

The only time they are touched is for cleaning, but anybody is welcome to go in and admire them.

Funerals don't have to break the bank

But in Ceres, he is not only known for his unusual use of floor space. Because he believes funerals do not have to break the bank, he offers a R3 500 all-inclusive package for the bereaved who do not have a lot of money to spend on the final send-off.

And in a town, where fortunes ebb and flow according to the latest harvest,  the package offered by Valley Undertakers is a welcome relief.

“Okay, they have to use a bakkie, or the Cressida, but it is still much less,” he explains of the People's Package.

But they will get the church leaflets, flowers, a coffin, the burial, and the death registration as part of the package.

Other funeral parlours charge around R14 500 for a cremation - an enormous amount to raise at a moment's notice. He won't say that some undertakers are ripping people off, but says he can do the same package at half the price.

(Jenni Evans, News24)

An electrical engineer by training, he got into the funeral business at the urging of a friend, about 16 years ago. He is linked to Doves, and has expanded to 11 outlets in the region and has plans to open four more offices. 

He's been in the business long enough to pick up on a few trends. From his vantage point, many white customers are scrapping the whole idea of a funeral.

“They say, she's gone. Just give us the ashes. We will hold a memorial service for her.”

His black clients on the other hand, regard death as the moment of joining the realm of the ancestors, and want the entrance to be grand. 

He has to be on trend too, so that he is not caught off guard for recreations of funerals seen on television. The latest request is for a gazebo or a tent, with chairs, next to the grave, after this was seen in television shows

“It's nice to help people. That is what it is all about,” says Jantjies.

Asked what the most common cause of death is in Ceres, he shrugs his shoulders.

“Old age, diabetes, tuberculosis, Aids, stroke, heart attack - same as anywhere else,” he says.

Read more on:    cape town

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