The “Bonner-Allen House,” located at 505 Main Street, was built around 1842 in the Federal or Greek Revival architectural style. Most of Vincennes’ citizens to this day refer to this architectural gem as “Gardner’s Funeral Home.”
David S. Bonner is believed to have had the house constructed. Among other things he ran a cotton mill in Vincennes for some time. The house is very well-built, and certainly was an indication of wealth. The ceilings are fourteen feet high and the brick walls are nearly fourteen inches thick. The home originally had thirty-three rooms. However, there has been quite a bit of remodeling and alterations done since then throughout the history of the home.
Colonel Cyrus Allen purchased the home in 1845. Allen was a friend of Abraham Lincoln. It has been noted that on several occasions that Lincoln visited and stayed in the home as Allen’s guest. According to a 1930 article in the Vincennes Sun, Allen had a special bed constructed for Lincoln that was considerably longer than most to make Lincoln’s visits there more comfortable. Today that room is known as the “Lincoln Room.”
After the Allens moved away, the home was utilized as a boarding house for a time. In 1915 George Gardner purchased the home for $25,000 to be used as an undertaking establishment. The Gardner family name is still incorporated into the name of the business to this day: “Goodwin-Sievers Gardner-Brockman Chapel.”
There are also many great stories associated with the home. The comedian Red Skelton was a close friend of the Gardner family and would stop in from time to time.
Rosa Gillenwaters is undoubtedly the most notorius resident of the funeral home. Her embalmed body remained in a crypt in the basement of the home for ten years after being left there by her husband Frank.
Frank and Rosa worked in show business. They operated the “Bloomer Girls Orchestra,” a Vaudeville act which traveled across the United States. Rosa passed away in Wichita, Kansas in 1920. Her husband Frank had her body embalmed there. He then placed her in a wicker style carrying device commonplace during that era and proceeded to transport her east. He told people along the way that he was taking her back to Indiana for burial. Somewhere along the way, he decided to make money by making his deceased wife’s body into their show: she would be shown to anyone that wanted to pay a small fee. While passing through Illinois, the authorities stopped him and made him purchase a casket.
When the show made it to Vincennes in October of that year, Frank stopped at Gardner’s Funeral Home. He made the necessary arrangements for Gardner’s to care for his wife’s body while the show was in Vincennes performing. He stated that they would be in town for a week or so and that he would settle with them financially prior to moving on. Shortly thereafter, Frank and the group vanished from Vincennes, leaving Rosa’s body behind.
It was ten years before Frank was finally located again. He was in prison in Kansas, having been charged with having inappropriate relations with underage girls in the show as well as taking them across state lines. The warden gave the Gardners permission to correspond with Frank. Frank gave his written permission to bury her body in Vincennes. She was finally interred in the city cemetery in 1930 with a very small ceremony put together by generous and thoughtful people in the community. The funeral home maintains business records dating back to 1816.