In 1898, Louis Abriola with his young family came to Bridgeport, Connecticut in search of work and fulfilling the American dream. Along with his brother, Anthony, the two Italian immigrants founded Abriola Brothers Barber Shop at 292 State Street in Bridgeport.
Following the accidental tragic death of his young daughter, Louis Abriola had trouble finding an undertaker to assist his family because of language and cultural barriers in his new country.
In 1906, due to this tragedy, Louis and his brother decided to become the first Italian undertakers in Bridgeport. The two brothers continued to operate the barber shop while they went for embalming training at the Lewis Barnes Embalming School in New York City.
The simple fact that the Abriola's spoke Italian commended them to their community and the business grew. Mr. Abriola would advertise his profession by displaying a small white casket in the front window of his residence and mortuary. During the influenza epidemic of 1918, when victims died by the hundreds, the Abriola's conducted as many as ten funerals in one day. Victims were buried both day and night.
During this period in time, all waking hours and embalming preparations were done at the home of the deceased. It was not unusual to see funeral processions led by a multi piece band playing religious marches and dirges, followed by 20 to 30 carriages with the horses canopied and decorated in flowering nets and the driver wearing a "stovepipe hat" moving slowly though the streets of Bridgeport. Generally the coffin was open to allow viewing through the glass window of the hearse along the processional route. Orations extolling the deceased took place at home and at the grave.
The Abriola brothers operated two funeral homes, one on Bridgeport's East side and one in the North End of Bridgeport. In an early 1940's newspaper article describing the vanishing of old funeral processions, Louis Abriola states that the clientele that he served looked upon the mortuary home with mixed emotions. "The custom had been in this country and overseas to bury someone from the home in which they lived and died in." At the time, a lot of old residences in Bridgeport had no electricity, ventilation or hot water, all of which the law compelled funeral homes to offer. As a result, by 1940 nine out of every ten burials were taking place from funeral homes.
Kenneth Abriola, a third generation funeral director still remembers assisting his grandfather as a young boy moving furniture and setting up for visitations in people’s homes. He also recalls the Italian bands playing somber tunes and leading the funeral procession from the church to the cemetery. Many times Ken would hang a black wreath at the home of the deceased, signaling to neighbors who couldn’t read that a death had occurred.
100 years later, seven different licensed funeral directors of the Louis Abriola Family have faithfully served local bereaved families during their time of need.