“Put him on ice” is an old expression that suggests an unfavorable conclusion.

But it turns downright fascinating when you look at an old horse-drawn hearse.

The New Gloucester Historical Society is in possession of a 1909 hearse made by George L. Brownell of New Bedford, Mass.

If you look underneath, you’ll see a small trapdoor.

In the days before embalming, the deceased was kept relatively fresh by literally “putting him on ice.”

“We had a knowledgeable person examine our collection and explained this trapdoor,” society curator Tom Blake said. “We’d seen it but had never really paid it too much attention. As the hearse was paraded through town, it must’ve been a sight on a hot day to see liquid dripping out of the bottom.”

Another phrase with its roots in carriages, which is often used this time of year, is “dashing through the snow.”

We’re all familiar with the term “dashboard” as it relates to automobiles. But the dashboard was originally a vertical panel on a sleigh in front of one’s legs that kept snow and other road debris from filling the driver’s compartment.

More of this fascinating history is unveiled in a short film, “Preserving Horse-Drawn Vehicles,” that was recently produced by New Gloucester Community Television.

Hosted by Blake, the program was broadcast on local access Channel 3 (New Gloucester and Gray) over the Dec. 2-4 weekend.

However, this and some 15 other titles of historical interest are now available for $2 each and can be picked up at the New Gloucester Town Hall.

“Preserving Horse-Drawn Vehicles” includes New Gloucester’s collection as well as another hearse from the Pownal Historical Society. There is also a narrated segment of a few sleighs and carriages at Skyline Farm in North Yarmouth, which has an impressive array of about 100, one of the largest assortments in New England.

“It’s important to document these artifacts,” Blake said. “We can learn a lot from history.”

Though a few still possess the skills necessary to drive a horse-drawn carriage and know what different styles were used for, Blake said it’s important for younger generations to see what life was like in the early days of our towns.

One of the program’s highlights is the life of an early mail driver.

The New Gloucester Historical Society has two early mail delivery vehicles: a wagon, which was used in the good-weather months, and a sleigh, which was used for winter.

A typical mail delivery driver would return home at midday for lunch and to pick up a fresh horse to finish his rounds.

The current DVD offerings from New Gloucester Historical Society and Channel 3 include: “Maine Made Automobiles”; “New Gloucester History Barn Dedication”; “Bob Leighton Gazebo Dedication”; “Pineland Farms Operations”; “Colonial Gray and New Gloucester (middle school students)”; “Letters of a New Gloucester Victorian Teenager”; “Made in New Gloucester Furniture Fair”; “History Research Resources”; “Our Barns: A History of the Barns of Maine”; “Shaker Music Festival”; “Moses Greenleaf: Maine’s First Mapmaker”; and “Thank You to All Who Served.”

To place an order, call Patti Mikkelsen at 926-5660 or email [email protected] with the title(s) and number of copies desired.

She’ll inform you when your order has been delivered to the town office, where you can pay for and pick up the DVD(s).

The carriage collection at New Gloucester is open to the public on the first Saturday of each month at the history barn behind Town Hall.

For more information on the collection at Skyline Farm in North Yarmouth, call Pamela Ames at 829-5708.

Don Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Raymond. He can be reached at:

[email protected]