Gone to the Grave
Burial Customs of the Arkansas Ozarks, 1850-1950
A rich survey of folk practices prior to mortuaries and the funeral industry
Before there was a death care industry where professional funeral directors offered embalming and other services, residents of the Arkansas Ozarks—and, for that matter, people throughout the South—buried their own dead. Every part of the complicated, labor-intensive process was handled within the deceased's community. This process included preparation of the body for burial, making a wooden coffin, digging the grave, and overseeing the burial ceremony, as well as observing a wide variety of customs and superstitions.
These traditions, especially in rural communities, remained the norm up through the end of World War II, after which a variety of factors, primarily the loss of manpower and the rise of the funeral industry, brought about the end of most customs.
Gone to the Grave, a meticulous autopsy of this now vanished way of life and death, documents mourning and practical rituals through interviews, diaries and reminiscences, obituaries, and a wide variety of other sources. Abby Burnett covers attempts to stave off death; passings that, for various reasons, could not be mourned according to tradition; factors contributing to high maternal and infant mortality; and the ways in which loss was expressed though obituaries and epitaphs. A concluding chapter examines early undertaking practices and the many angles funeral industry professionals worked to convince the public of the need for their services.
The research that went into the work will make it a useful guide for scholars and interesting to anyone who has ever wondered about an odd-looking monument in an Ozarks cemetery.- Rebecca A. Howard, Lone Star College, Arkansas Historical Quarterly
This book is engaging, fascinating, and horrifying as Burnett explores most every conceivable aspect of dying, death, burial, and remembrance. . . . Few things offer more insight into a society than how it responds to death. A landmark work.- Elder Mountain: Journal of Ozarks Studies
This painstakingly researched and thoroughly engaging book is as much an anthropological and sociological study as it is a historical and folklorist account of death, dying, and burial in the Arkansas Ozarks, covering our part of the country as well as James K. Crissman did Central Appalachia. Including references from legendary Ozark folklorists Otto Rayburn, Vance Randolph, and Mary Celestia Parler, there is virtually no source of information that Burnett hasn't explored—epitaphs, business ledgers, funeral home records, obituaries, WPA questionnaires, health department regulations, oral history interviews, ministers' journals, censuses, mortality schedules, doctors' notes, undertakers' record books, historic photographs, museum collections, and newspaper accounts. Importantly, the book also documents the more difficult to find death-related customs practiced by African Americans in the Ozarks. An enjoyable read and helpful reference, this is a book sure to be quoted and referenced for years to come.- Allyn Lord, director, Shiloh Museum of Ozark History, Springdale, Arkansas