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Robert Fairman

Cabinet/casket maker, funeral director, and founder of Mt. Union Cemetery (now Union Dale)

Robert Fairman’s name can be found on many of the legal papers pertaining to the founding of Mount Union Cemetery in Allegheny City in 1846. By the time Fairman became a founding board member of Mount Union he was 40 years old and was well established as a cabinet maker. 12 years after Mount Union was incorporated, Fairman and his business partner, Samuel Farley, decided to focus their cabinetry business solely on the production of caskets while expanding their facilities to include livery service, thus becoming undertakers. Many American funeral homes can trace their beginnings to either a livery stable (provider of hearses) or a cabinetmaker (provider of caskets) narrowing its original business plan to participate in a new professionalization of death and burial; a professionalization that took the care of the dead away from the family who had traditionally cared for their own within the home. The timing of Fairman’s move into the undertaking profession mirrors this trend, as does the evolution of Mount Union Cemetery into the larger, more modern Union Dale Cemetery. Samuel Farley eventually retired and Fairman found a business partner in Hudson Samson, later of H. Sampson and Sons.

Fairman found time to serve on the school board of Allegheny City and was a founding member of the United Presbyterian Church of the city. As most Allegheny men of business, Fairman was active in a variety of lodges, including the Zerubbabel Chapter of the Royal Arch Masons, and the Pittsburg [sic] Commandary No. 1 of the Knights Templar. He married Agnes Jack and, of their children, at least three survived to adulthood. Fairman’s son, William, followed in his father’s trade as an undertaker and the two were in business briefly until poor health finally forced Fairman to retire in 1876 at the age of 70. At the time of his death two years later, Robert Fairman was one of Allegheny’s oldest citizens.

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