The McKnight family is not new to the funeral business or to Hoboken. John McKnight Jr. was born and raised here and has been working in funeral homes in Hoboken since 1971. He got into the industry by chance. While he was engaged to be married, he was having trouble finding work as a teacher and didn’t want to enter married life without employment. He vented these anxieties while attending a wake at Bosworth Funeral Home; they offered him a job. Now he is manager and owner of Failla, along with his son, Funeral Director David J. McKnight.
Despite being born into the business, and making pocket money working as a pallbearer as a teenager, the younger McKnight was not pushed into the family business. He came to it on his own while working in finance in New York City. He should have been excited about landing his first job in his field right after graduating from college, but he wasn’t.
“I didn’t really feel like it was my calling,” David says. “I missed the funeral home.”
He has been working at Failla since 2004. His father credits him with expanding the family business to include two more funeral homes: Frech-McKnight Funeral Home in Dumont and Beaugard-McKnight Funeral Home in River Edge, which honor the founder’s name and legacy.
Seven Decades of Service
Failla Memorial Home was founded in Hoboken in 1947 by Silvio J. Failla. An oil portrait of Failla greets visitors at the entrance. The building is composed of three converted tenement buildings. It has three chapels, one downstairs and two upstairs.
The McKnights describe a typical day at the memorial home.
Loved ones of the deceased cluster in groups, telling old stories, laughing, and crying underneath a sign that reads, “Failla Memorial Home.” A new sign is in the works that will read “Failla-McKnight Memorial Home.”
John McKnight will lead mourners into the ground-level chapel. The families have usually formed a bond with the McKnights throughout the days of planning the funeral and the wake. The McKnights guide them through this difficult day. “I’m here to ease their grief,” John says. The job of a funeral director is part therapist, part clergyperson, and part host. Both McKnights are skilled at playing their parts.
The group, along with the McKnights, will usually go on to a house of worship, often Saint Anne’s Church, which provides services for many Failla clients. “Because Hoboken is a mile square city, there’s an intimacy that we share with all the parishes,” John says.
David emphasizes that the funeral homes provide services for all faiths as well as nondenominational memorials, working closely with families to tailor unique tributes to the loved one.
“This industry is definitely growing and changing,” David says. “It used to be traditional.” But now, he says, more people opt for cremation. He’s read studies reporting that as many as 64 percent of funeral services include cremation, though Hoboken remains traditional.
Another change in the industry is the popularity of large corporate funeral homes. “They treat everyone as a number, whereas we treat everyone as a family member,” David says. Adds John, “There’s a great deal more service and compassion that come with a family-owned business.”
Price Not a Problem
Failla doesn’t push sales. It works with families to find a way to pay tribute to the deceased within their price range.
“We’re very financially sensitive to people,” David says. “We’re just not salespeople. Whether people come in with a $2,500 cremation or an $8,000-to-$12,000 traditional funeral, we treat everyone the same.”
They accept Medicaid, insurance, and credit cards.
They also do community outreach services. John McKnight Sr. was a Hoboken firefighter, so it was only natural for his son to provide free funeral services for victims of 9/11.
“It was my way of doing something,” John says. The McKnights also never charge parents of stillborn children.
A Feeling for Families
After a funeral service, often at Holy Name Cemetery in Jersey City, the McKnights will return to Failla. The pair will go to John’s office. In lieu of a desk, he has a table, which creates a communal atmosphere designed for conversation. An imposing desk might feel like it separates the director from the bereaved. It changes the mood of the room in a distinct way.
“Nobody wants to be sitting at this table,” John says. “People are emotional and devastated in most cases. If there was a preceding lengthy illness they’re physically drained as well. By the time they leave you can actually see a change in them. They’re looking forward to the tribute, still with a heavy heart, but they are ready to honor and pay tribute to their loved one.”
The grandfather clock in the main room tolls somberly; it’s noon, time for a meeting with another bereaved family.
“One traditional funeral to the next traditional funeral is very much the same, but every person’s story is different,” David says as he and his father prepare to learn the next story when they meet another family who will rely on Failla Memorial Home to honor their loved one.—07030