Gone to the GraveBurial Customs of the Arkansas Ozarks, 1850-1950

Gone to the GraveBurial Customs of the Arkansas Ozarks, 1850-1950

Abby Burnett

Print publication date: 2015

ISBN: 9781628461114

Publisher: University Press of Mississippi


The complicated process of preparing the dead for burial is now the province of funeral industry professionals, but this is a recent development. Until the end of World War II, especially in rural parts of the South and documented here across the Arkansas Ozarks, members of the deceased’s community performed all of the jobs required for a burial. This was done to relieve the family but, in many places, taboos forbid their participation. This book documents death, burial and mourning customs in the Arkansas Ozarks for 1850 to 1950. It examines the traditions that governed sitting up with the sick and dying, laying out the body prior to viewing and burial, building the coffin and digging the grave. It also documents parallels between funerals and the Southern custom of Decoration Day. Preceding these subjects is an examination of the therapies, folk cures and superstitions believed to save or prolong life. Other subjects include maternal and infant mortality, obituaries, as well as the burial customs of African Americans, which generally paralleled those of whites. One chapter is devoted to disenfranchised death, deaths that could not be mourned according to tradition, such as ones occurring during epidemics and wartime. The book concludes with an examination of the ways in which, by the 1950s, the funeral industry had assumed all of the many labor-intensive jobs once performed within the community. The transition was a gradual one, but ultimately succeeded with offering of offering embalming, factory-made caskets, burial insurance and other goods and services.