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Coast company builds James Brown's mausoleum: Couple prepared entertainer's final resting place in S.C. [The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.]
[August 23, 2009]

Coast company builds James Brown's mausoleum: Couple prepared entertainer's final resting place in S.C. [The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.]

(Sun Herald (Biloxi, MS) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 23--OCEAN SPRINGS -- This is the tale of a manufacturing company in Jackson County that served The Godfather of Soul.

Fortress Mausoleums, at Interstate 10 and Mississippi 57, has been gaining a national reputation -- six deliveries in six states in one week recently.

In March 2007, the little company was selected to provide the mausoleum for James Brown on the Brown estate in South Carolina.

It not only built and delivered the tomb, but the owners and a crew also stayed to prepare the site, tent the structure, help fend off paparazzi and fill in as midnight pallbearers.

Fortress Mausoleums is owned by Don and Faith Magallanes, but it's not a mom-and-pop business anymore, Don said in an interview recently.

With the help of the Internet, engineering, technology, a small fleet of flatbeds and a keen marketing strategy, it has grown into a factory-direct outlet.

It still supplies mausoleums through funeral homes, so it was at a trade show in South Carolina that the Magallaneses were approached by a representative for the Brown family.

The Magallanes' tale is two-years interrupted in the telling because they signed a confidentiality agreement that only recently was lifted.

Don and Faith had a model of their work on display around Super Bowl time at a trade show in Columbia, S.C., when the offer came to give a private showing to the Brown family at a funeral home in Aiken, S.C.

"We brought the display unit on the trailer and we set up in the parking lot of the funeral home like we were in the Coliseum," Don said.

They showed it to 20 members of the family.

The representative who had approached them turned out to be Robert Shellhouse, the funeral director who handled Strom Thurmond's funeral, but in this case, he was handling only the selection of the mausoleum, Don said.

The Fortress model with a welded inner chamber was of particularly interest to the Brown family because there was concern about security -- destructive fans or souvenir seekers.

The family chose a two chamber, earth-tone model with Dakota Mahogany granite doors, including a face plate across the top that would have the name, "Brown." But delivery of this mausoleum entailed more than renting a crane.

They bulldozed, leveled and fenced the site, then laid sod and installed security cameras.

"We stayed for two weeks," Don said. "We prepared a 400-foot strip of property. It looked like a golf course leading up to the tomb." All the while, they dealt with paparazzi, one even in the trees, and they tented the mausoleum to hide it from photographers in airplanes and helicopters.

Weeks later, Don's mother, Bonnie Diaz Magallanes, would pick up a copy of the Globe tabloid in a Biloxi beauty shop, turn to the featured article on the James Brown funeral and see her son's mausoleum and all the work that he and his staff had done in a color aerial photo.

She was proud, Don said.

There has been talk of having Fortress provide an even larger mausoleum for Brown's final resting place in a Graceland-type park on the Brown estate and using the mausoleum provided that March for Brown's parents. But that has not been settled, Don said.

Brown's daughter, Deanna Brown Thomas, and others of the Brown family approached Don and Faith before the Saturday-morning funeral and asked if they would help entomb Brown's body at midnight on the Friday before.

The funeral was to be a 50-person, private funeral, but the family was afraid there would be photographs of the entombment, which they wanted that to be very private.

"This is something that was never disclosed," Don said. "They asked, 'Do you have any black suits and ties?' and asked us to be at the property at midnight." This was during a time when the media had camped out, and family members couldn't even get out of the driveway, he said.

So they had the gold-plated casket sneaked past the media in an old station wagon that backed right up to the mausoleum and no one ever knew, Don said.

The media was sleeping, gearing up the for the Saturday funeral.

Don, Charles Reid, the director who handled all three of Brown's funerals, Shellhouse and a few other men lifted the coffin into the mausoleum and sealed the door.

So technically, Don Magallanes, an Ocean Springs businessman, was a pallbearer for James Brown, though he never would have expected that.

The next morning, the funeral went as planned, with James Brown already secure in his tomb. Al Sharpton spoke, Brown's family attended, including his wife, Tomi Rae Hynie, and son James Brown II.

Don and Faith signed a confidentiality agreement.

"When the estate was settled, we were released," Don said.

Faith kept Deanna's cell number, and they still stay in touch occasionally.

Deanna asked that they not reveal the exact location of the mausoleum or the words they inscribed on the granite face.

But they do have a photo of themselves in suits with the other midnight pallbearers flanking the Brown mausoleum.

And they already include an exact replica, labeled with James Brown's name, in their Web site gallery of photos.

With that under their belts, Don and Faith don't discount future possibilities. They've been creative in their custom mausoleum work. They designed and built a pyramid-shaped mausoleum for the pet of a Florida attorney.

"I don't specialize in celebrity mausoleums," Don said. "No. Well, I guess now I do.

"We're feeling pretty good about Michael Jackson," he said. "It's the same scenario and they were friends" He said, "We're hoping they'll contact us." To see more of The Sun Herald, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to

Copyright (c) 2009, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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