Worsham College Class Picture, 1933
Scope and Content of the Collection
Family and professional records of the prominent Chicago funeral home owner and Civil War enthusiast Ernest Augusta Griffin.
The collection is divided into seven series: Family Papers, Funeral Home Papers, Civil War Papers, Photographs, Media, Artifacts, and Scrapbooks. Most of the collection consists of paper documents and photographs pertaining to Ernest A. Griffin and his immediate family- Alyce, Dawn, and Pearl. Although the documents and photographs are organized separately, some photographs remain in the first three series when doing so best preserved the context and original order of the materials.
The Family Papers series includes vital records (birth, death, marriage), educational and community materials, church records, personal correspondence, legal records, travel materials, and periodicals. Additionally, the series contains genealogical material on which the family tree in the accession file is based. Most of the materials consist of documents pertaining to the nuclear family (i.e. Ernest, Alyce, Ethel Dawn, Pearl, and Suzanne) during the latter half of the twentieth century, but the series also includes ancestors, descendants, family friends, colleagues, family pets, and possessions (houses, cars), with dates ranging from the late-nineteenth century through the early twenty-first century. Within the series, there are some duplicates of materials, especially of key family members or events. This series also contains some documents relating to family member funerals. Other family funeral related documents are located in the funeral home series.
The Funeral Home Papers series is divided into two subseries—Professional Papers and Funerals—that cover the Griffin family members’ professional activities and individual funerals conducted by the Griffin Funeral Home, respectively. The Professional Papers subseries includes screenplays from films produced by the Griffins, publicity materials surrounding high profile funerals and awards, drafts and copies of articles and speeches, newspaper clippings, and programs from professional events hosted and attended by members of the Griffin family. Most of the materials in Professional Papers subseries deal with the professional career of Ernest Griffin. Some materials also pertain to the careers of Dawn and Pearl Griffin as funeral directors and Alyce Griffin as the funeral home’s cosmetologist. The Funerals subseries contains documents relating to individual funerals conducted by the Griffin Funeral Home and consists mostly of funeral programs, death certificates, and documents pertaining to transportation, cremation, and internment arrangements. It also includes a few newspaper clippings and thank you notes from surviving family members. Of note are materials from the funerals of jazz musician Roscoe Beach, Negro League baseball All-Star Jimmie Crutchfield, U.S. Representative William L. Dawson (D-IL), Liberian Consul William H. Jones, pharmacist and golfer Norman LaHarry, the first black U.S. astronaut Robert Lawrence, Jr., Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad and wife Clara Evans Muhammad, and Olympic star Jesse Owens. There are also documents relating to Griffin family members’ funerals.
The Civil War series consists of Civil War related documents collected by Ernest Griffin. There are several folders of correspondence between Ernest Griffin and other Civil War enthusiasts. Also included are his research materials on Camp Douglas and the 29th Colored Infantry, of which Charles Griffin (Ernest’s paternal grandfather) was a member. This series also contains newspaper clippings, Heritage Memorial Wall dedication invitations, pamphlets and brochures collected by the Griffins while traveling to battle sites and reenactments, photocopies of Charles Griffin’s military records, and general resource materials about the Civil War. There are also materials that address Ernest Griffin’s decision to fly the Confederate flag along with the Union flag and African American flag at the Heritage Memorial Wall and Ernest Griffin’s honorary membership into the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The Photographs series is the largest in the collection. Photographs are sorted into subseries that reflect the organization of the preceding document series: Family, Professional Activities, Funerals, and Civil War. Negatives and slides have been placed with the original photographs where identifiable. The Family photographs contain both photographs centered on individual people and photographs centered on specific events. Most of the photographs are of the nuclear family members (i.e. Ernest, Alyce, Ethel Dawn, Pearl, and Suzanne). A large portion of Family photographs are also of family trips and birthday celebrations. The Professional Activities photographs consist of photographs from conferences, dedications, graduations, ceremonies, interior and exterior photographs of the Griffin Funeral Home location at 3215 Michigan Avenue, and interior, exterior, and construction photographs of the Griffin Funeral Home location at 3232 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. There are also photographs of some funerals conducted by the Griffin Funeral Home, including some of the prominent ones mentioned above. The Civil War photographs consist of photographs of the Heritage Memorial Wall, Civil War reenactments, conferences, award ceremonies, and monument dedications.
The Audiovisual series contains film reels and cassette tapes (both video and audio) relating to family history, family events (marriages, funerals), funeral home business activities, prominent funerals (both domestic and abroad), community events, and Civil War activities. Similar to the Funeral Home series, prominent funeral materials include those of jazz musician Count Basie, Liberian Consul William H. Jones, pharmacist and golfer Norman LaHarry, the first black U.S. astronaut Robert Lawrence, Jr., Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, Olympic star Jesse Owens, and Filipino Catholic Charities caseworker Severino Serra. The audio cassette tapes are mostly standard size but there are a few miniatures. The majority of the audio recordings involve Ernest Griffin narrating events and experiences. [archivist's note, 2023: Audiovisual recordings in this collection have been digitized and are available online. Access to the original audiovisual items is restricted.]
The Artifacts series contains an assortment of personal items from Ernest’s career, genealogical interests, and travels. Many items are Griffin Funeral Home promotional materials, including stickers, matches, and calculators. Of note are a set of embalming tools used by Ernest in the 1940s and the Griffin family Bible containing genealogical notes. The series also contains a few items relating to the Civil War.
The Scrapbooks series consists of several bound scrapbooks with photographs and a few disassembled scrapbooks with newspaper clippings. These scrapbooks include content relating to individual family members, local institutions and figures, funerals, memorials, community events, business history, and Ernest’s Civil War related activities.
- Creation: 1933
- From the Collection: Griffin, Ernest A., 1912-1995 (Person)
The Ernest A. Griffin family papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).
Audiovisual recordings in this collection have been digitized and are available online. Access to the original audiovisual items is restricted.