Mark Culp’s neighbor in Scio Farms didn’t appreciate his hearse.

“First thing I see every morning is a hearse, and I know it’s just for me,” Culp recalls his neighbor grumbling–not unreasonably, since the vanity plate on Culp’s 1988 charcoal gray Lincoln Town Car read HERE4U. Culp, who bought the hearse from a limo company in Ohio in 2006, says that people’s reactions to his macabre vehicle were “pretty cool between September and October, but the rest of the year they’d sometimes say, ‘It’s not Halloween, you freak. Get that thing out of here!'”

Culp took his hearse camping at Bruin Lake, and his son took it to his senior prom. On a trip to Cedar Point in 2006, his young daughter spotted three other hearses trailing them. They pulled into a gas station, where the other drivers invited them to an upcoming outing of their club, “Just Hearsin’ Around,” at Pinckney’s Terrorfied Forest. Mark met his new love there. He and Melinda were married in July last year at the wedding chapel in Hell.

The Culps, now living in Brighton, were grieved when their hearse’s transmission gave up the ghost a couple years ago. “Melinda and I miss it, but with the economy being what it is, we didn’t have the money to fix it,” says Mark. Though no longer running, the Lincoln is still startling people: in August, it was sold to a haunted house in Flint.

Hearse owners are fond of Hell–in 2006, Melissa Pilkington of Ann Arbor attended a gathering there and became enamored of a 1988 gray Chevy Caprice Eureka hearse with swirls of purple, white, and black airbrushing; blue-tinted windows; and sandblasted images of ghosts and demons. The car’s owner claimed to have invested more than $25,000 just in the paint job–but, in need of cash, agreed to sell her the car for $4,000.

At her former job at an elementary school lunch program, Pilkington was asked not to leave her “funeral coach” in the parking lot. Her next employers, at the Ann Arbor-Saline Rd. Meijer, were more understanding. They’ve welcomed the hearse in their parking lot, especially around Halloween.

For many years, John Gibbons sold hearses at Ann Arbor Coach Brokers, on Plymouth Rd. across from the Dixboro General Store. His wife, Evelyn, aka the “Button Lady,” sold antiques from the same building. Evelyn explains that John earned his mortician’s license, a legal mandate for anyone selling hearses, but “never did an embalming.” Their son, Mike, recollects local rock bands buying hearses to haul the musicians and their equipment to gigs. But Evelyn says that used hearses are harder to find these days, as funeral homes trade in their vehicles less often and more people opt for cremation. That side of their business ended when John died in 2000.

The Gibbonses sold nearly all of the remaining vehicles to collectors, but they’ve held onto one: a 1946 gray Pontiac hearse, with crushed red velvet interior, reputedly used for the funeral of a henchman of either John Dillinger or Al Capone; Evelyn can’t recall which, and says that the confirming paperwork is buried somewhere.

Bob Rudy bought his first hearse, a 1985 black Lincoln Century, from a private owner out of Redford Township. He’d been inspired to act on a longstanding ambition by the sight of his neighbor Melissa Pilkington’s hearse, and later sold that one to Pilkington’s father. He then bought a 1989 blue Lincoln Miller-Meteor.

Sadly, Rudy’s hearse is out of commission after mechanical problems spun it out and across lanes of traffic on Washtenaw Avenue a few years ago. Bob was safe, but the Miller-Meteor is still awaiting repairs.

Like the Culps’ Lincoln, Rudy’s now serves as a seasonal decoration: “We still pull it out into the yard for Halloween,” he says, “and put the ‘toe pincher’ [old-fashioned casket] my brother made for us in the back.”