(The following article appeared in The Times News, April 3, 2001, Page 17. It is reprinted here with the permission of the publisher. Reproduction of the proprietary images or the text is strictly forbidden without prior consent from both The Times News and the Zizelmann Gulla Funeral Home and Cremation Services, Inc.)

The History of Our Funeral Homes

It didn’t start with wealth. Nor was it based in mercenary motivation.

Instead, it was the courage and determination of Bavarian immigrant Conrad Bischoff that sowed the seeds leading to the successful Bischoff-Zizelmann businesses in Tamaqua.

He was a brave young man who decided to make his mark in the land of opportunity, arriving in 1857 with companion Wilhelmina Buri.

The two weren’t formally wed. They had lived in separate provinces and a peculiar German custom at the time forbade inter-provincial marriages.

Appropriately, the land of opportunity allowed the couple to legalize their union on October 31, 1857 at Tamaqua’s St. John’s Lutheran Church.

Bischoff was described as being “young and thrifty”. He perfected his cabinetmaking trade and nurtured his people skills working side by side with Phillip Dormetzer, another German immigrant.

By 1867, ambitious Bischoff opened his own cabinet factory on Railroad Street. There he crafted not only furniture but also simple wooden boxes used to carry the bodies of the deceased.

Three years later, the Bischoff furniture store opened at 115 West Broad Street. The retail furniture business was operated on the first floor and Wilhelmina coordinated funerals – about one every three days – from the second floor where the family resided.

In just two years, Bischoff was successful enough to build a large brick factory at the intersection of Lafayette and Gay streets. The three story structure included two extensions on the south side and housed a one-cylinder, six horsepower Judson steam engine. Fifteen persons were employed at the site at its peak. The building still stands.

When Conrad died on December 3, 1901, Wilhelmina ran the operation with help from the couple’s four children -- Charles, William, Fred, and Emma – until her death in 1909.

At the time, she had been in the business 45 years and was credited with arranging 5,000 funerals, or about 111 a year.

This success was in addition to the family’s other enterprises.

In fact, the 1916 J.H. Beers’ Genealogy of Schuylkill County refers to the Bischoff family as being “among the most substantial businessmen in Tamaqua, holding a large share of the local trade both as furniture manufacturers and dealers and in the undertaking line.”

By 1930, however, interests changed. The surviving Bischoff children, Charles, William (both bachelors) and Emma, closed the furniture factory to focus their energies on the funeral business.

Emma had married August Wilhelm Friederick Zizelmann, son of a Scranton German Lutheran minister in 1903. The couple gave birth to a son, Conrad Bischoff Zizelmann, who continued with the business in the tradition of the family. It was Conrad who purchased the neoclassical home of Cornelius McGeehan at 500 East Broad Street, Tamaqua and moved the business there in 1946.

Today, more than 140 years after Conrad Bischoff pursued his American dream, the funeral business continues under the guidance of Bischoff’s great grandson, Jon, and his great-great grandson, Eric.

And it can all be traced back to a personable, skilled Bavarian who learned how to craft precise, sturdily made cabinets. It was at a time when fine workmanship and a friendly smile guaranteed quality and instilled confidence.

And Conrad Bischoff knew it.


Zizelmann-Gulla Funeral Home and Cremation Services, Inc. | (570) 668-0390
500 East Broad Street, Tamaqua, PA 18252

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