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The Mumaw Family

Sometimes it can be easy to forget how long our desert city has really existed. But Lancaster, as a city, has over a 100 years of rich history, and some of the early settler families that moved into this area are still here and carrying on the legacy of their ancestors. This is exemplified by the story of the Mumaw family, who have been Valley residents since the late 1800s. To honor the long legacy of the Mumaw family, we’d like to take the opportunity to highlight some of their contributions to the history of our community.


The story of the Mumaws in Lancaster begins with George R. Mumaw. George owned and operated the Valleys first lumber yard and ice-house, and later operated a Standard Oil station. These businesses provided the area with much needed services. Ice was a necessity for desert living, and many ranches and mines relied on George’s businesses for building supplies and fuel. However, despite this impressive list of businesses, many in the Mumaw family would find their calling in a vastly different path.


George Mumaw stands by the gas pumps of his Standard Oil Station, between two automobiles.
George Mumaw at his Standard Oil Station

Most of us in the Antelope Valley know the Mumaws for their work as morticians, owning and operating the Mumaw Funeral Home. For the past 108 years (at the time of writing), the Mumaw family has faithfully served residents of the Antelope Valley as skilled and dedicated morticians and funeral directors.


Wesley S. Mumaw began working as a mortician in 1913. Before this, Lancaster had no true funerary specialist. From 1890-97, Sam McCracken, a local barber and Justice of the Peace, would obtain caskets from Los Angeles. When necessary, McCracken used the cellar of his barbershop to provide undertaker services. After McCracken left, Valley residents relied on local carpenters for caskets and morticians from Los Angeles were called on to prepare bodies for burial.


Wesley established his new funeral home on Date Avenue in Lancaster, where the family still provides their services today. In 1915, the business received its operating license when California established a licensing bureau. Through the Mumaw Funeral Home, Wesley and his family devoted themselves to providing the best modern funeral services possible. The mortuary is a fully comprehensive building that, when it was first established, provided rural Valley residents with services that previously could only be found in Los Angeles. With a chapel, viewing room, music room, and more, the Mumaw Funeral Home gave residents the somber and grand funerals that were previously unattainable.


The first hearse in the Valley was bought by Wesley in 1916. And four years later as automobiles became more commonplace, Wesley mounted the body of a horse-drawn hearse to his Studebaker. And thus this frankensteined vehicle was the Antelope Valley’s first motorized hearse.


A horse-drawn hearse owned by Wesley Mumaw.
The Antelope Valley's first hearse.

Wesley Mumaw stands next to a hearse made by combining a Studebaker with a horse-drawn hearse.
Wesley Mumaw and his combination hearse.

After Wesley passed away, his son, Roy took over and operated the business with his wife, Florence, and son, J. Wesley "Wes" Mumaw. Wes dedicated himself to the family business, earning a degree from the California College of Mortuary Sciences at age 21 in 1937. He worked alongside Roy for a handful of years before the start of World War II. Wes then went on to serve with the Allied troops. As a technical sergeant, he continued his work as an embalmer and mortician during the course of his service.


The Mumaw Family (including Roy Mumaw, Florence Mumaw, and Wes Mumaw) standing outside of their home.
The Mumaw Family

Though many may imagine the workings of a funeral home to be grim, the Mumaw family has shown that not only is the trade essential to building a thriving community, it can also be incredibly rewarding to the morticians that provide the services. It’s no easy work to help grieving families in their time of need, but the Mumaw family has stepped up with an unparalleled level of grace and dedication over the past century.


Morticians provide help to people when they need it the most, and this is ultimately why the Mumaws have stayed in the funeral industry for so long. Today the business is operated by Jim Mumaw, the fourth generation of Mumaws to operate the funeral home. Though the funeral home has been passed down through the family since its founding, Jim Mumaw says that he briefly considered other professions as a young man. He rarely thought about the business growing up, because of how often he was at the funeral home. But like his ancestors before him, he found that the business called to him. No other profession really fit.


Outside of the funeral home, Jim’s daughter, Captain Katrina Mumaw is a point of pride for Antelope Valley residents. Rather than following in the footsteps of her forefathers, Katrina found her calling thousands of feet above the Earth. At age five, Katrina flew for the first time as a passenger, and since that time, found herself drawn to the exciting world of aviation.


The skilled and ambitious pilot has broken numerous records in aviation, including being the youngest pilot to break the sound barrier at age 11. Flying a MiG-29 jet fighter over Moscow, Katrina clocked in at 940 miles per hour. Because of this feat, she was known for a time as “The Fastest Child in the World.” Now an adult, Katrina has gone on to graduate from the U.S. Air Force Academy.


The Mumaw family has been here for generations, helping Lancaster grow into the city we know today. Through the family’s combined contributions as dedicated undertakers, as well as the accomplishments of individual family members, the Mumaws have helped to shape Lancaster through the past century.


Sources:

MOAH Collections

Breault, Rich. “Youngster Follows in Family’s Footsteps.” Antelope Valley Press, 1998.

Thacker, Karen. “Assembly Names A.V. Aviator, 11, Fastest Child.” The Antelope Valley Daily News, 1994.


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