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Glenwood Cemetery 2001


 by Jack Dugger, 2004

For a long time I have given some thought to the subject of funerals and the customs concerning them that I have observed. I would guess that one’s idea of funerals is based on the custom in the community where one was reared. I always thought that funerals were barbaric. As a small boy and a teen-ager, I helped dig a number of graves at the Glenwood Cemetery near our home.

In Southport, Maury Co, TN, where I grew up, the custom was after the body had been  embalmed, dressed and placed in a casket it was returned to the dwelling place of the deceased. The casket would be opened and interested family members, friends and relatives would gather for the wake. It was not unusual for as many as six or eight men to “sit up” all night with the body.

At the selected time, friends, relatives, family members would gather for the formal “funeral.” Several songs would be sung by a group that had been selected to sing and a speaker, usually a preacher of the same religious faith as the deceased would speak. After the formal funeral, the casket would be placed in a hearse by selected pallbearers and the funeral director would lead a procession to the graveyard.

A grave would have been dug and prepared by a number of men in the community where the deceased lived. The casket would be lowered into the grave using strong ropes. Usually a wooden box would have been constructed for the casket to be placed in the grave. It would have two two-by four planks laid across the bottom of the box so that the ropes could be removed. (In  later years, funeral directors brought a casket lift device that was so constructed to let the casket slowly down into the grave.) A top was placed on the box around the casket and the boards that had been cut for the purpose were laid across the grave just over the top of the box. Then, volunteers would shovel the dirt back into the grave.  After the grave was filled and the dirt mounded up over the grave, the funeral director would take a shovel and carefully pat and shape the dirt on top of the grave. He would then place any flowers that had been sent for the funeral on the mounded grave. The preacher or speaker would then complete his remarks and perhaps offer a prayer.

Tom Williams of the Williams Funeral Home in Columbia and Mt. Pleasant, TN, told us this tale. He was called to bring a casket and come down in the County, (Maury), to bury a man. No other instructions were given

Tom did as he had been requested and when he arrived at the location as it had been described to him, there were several men in overalls standing around a cabin on the side of a rather steep hill. He asked several of them to help him get the casket up the hill and into the cabin. There he found an elderly man lying on the floor of the cabin. He asked if he shouldn’t shave and dress the body in some fashion and the men told him, “throw him in that casket.” This he did and then closed the lid so the men said, “let’s go bury him.”

When they finally reached the small graveyard, a grave had been dug and Tom was told “Put the casket in the grave.” Tom asked if anyone wanted to make any remarks and he was told, “cover him up.” When this was finished Tom asked the man who pulled out the cash from his overall bibb pocket, why they didn’t show more respect to the dead man. He was told, “That was the way that man lived. He hated everybody and everything and that’s the way we buried him.”

When we lived in Hendersonville, TN, Bill Cole told me that he had been the embalmer and funeral director for Cole and Garrett Funeral Home in Goodlettsville, TN. In the country, at that time, farmers and country people were seldom embalmed. One spring, a farmer in Sumner County finished eating his noon meal of greens from his garden with green onions, etc. and he dropped dead before he could leave his chair at the table.

 Bill took a casket and after dressing the body but not embalming it, placed it in the casket and set it up for viewing at the man’s house. As was the custom there were five or six men “setting up” with the corpse overnight. As they were sitting and talking, there was a rather loud noise like a horse snorting. They all looked around but everything seemed to be in order so they settled down again to sit and talk and they heard the same noise. It then became evident to them that the sound was coming from the casket. They quickly an quietly filed out of the room. None of them showed the slightest interest in going back in to check on the body.

The old deceased farmer’s food that he had eaten for lunch began to “gas off” and escape his lips making a snorting  noise. When Bill arrived back he found a group of men really “shaken up” and standing outside the house in the yard when he went back to bury the body after a funeral service. He said that he got absolutely no help from any of the men that had been sitting up that night.