Batesville Casket is coy about starring role in Jackson funeral

An Indiana company was center stage at pop superstar Michael Jackson's funeral this week with a product no one could miss: a gleaming golden casket, shined to a mirror finish.

Batesville Casket, the world's largest maker of caskets, provided the luxurious Promethean model, which traditionally comes with a deep-blue velvet interior.

Like Jackson, the casket is extravagant and showy. And it was front and center at Jackson's service at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, which millions watched live on television.

But like a low-key funeral provider that prefers to remain behind the scenes, the company modestly confirmed the news without actually doing so.

"We never discuss any particular business transaction, but based on the images we saw on television, it appears to be a Promethean," said Teresa Gyulafia, a Batesville spokeswoman.

She declined to reveal whether the casket had unique, custom-built features or to disclose the price. Various funeral homes list the Promethean at $25,000 to $30,000 on their websites.

Batesville is comfortable with high-profile funerals. It provided caskets for Presidents Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, John Kennedy and Harry Truman. Celebrities buried in Batesville caskets have included Bob Hope, Wilt Chamberlain, Farrah Fawcett and Fred Astaire.

Three years ago, the company provided a Promethean casket, similar to the one Jackson was buried in, for soul singer James Brown.

Batesville Casket is one of the largest companies in the small town of Batesville, Ind., about 70 miles southeast of Indianapolis. It sells caskets and related products through a direct sales force in the U.S., Mexico, Puerto Rico, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and South Africa.

The company began in 1884, when furniture craftsmen and cabinetmakers started building caskets in Batesville.

But in recent years, the operation has been struggling as more people choose cremation over casket burials. Revenue of parent company Hillenbrand hi fell 11% the three months ended March 31, to $170.8 million. The company has lowered its outlook for fiscal 2009, citing weak casket demand.

But it had a shining moment at Jackson's funeral.

The Indianapolis Star is owned by Gannett Co., publisher of USA TODAY.

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