Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Gone to the Grave: Burial Customs of the Arkansas Ozarks, 1850-1950

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Gone to the Grave: Burial Customs of the Arkansas Ozarks, 1850-1950

Article excerpt

Gone to the Grave: Burial Customs of the Arkansas Ozarks, 1850-1950. By Abby Burnett. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014. Pp. [xviii], 327. $65.00, ISBN 978-1-62846-111-4.)

Combining the insights and techniques of folklore, history, sociology, and anthropology, Abby Burnett has studied the customs and traditions associated with death and burial in twenty-two Ozark counties in northern Arkansas from 1850 to 1950, occasionally straying both geographically and chronologically. She focused on northern Arkansas because old customs tended to linger there longer; many sources, including the sixty-four individuals she interviewed, reveal customs that were abandoned much earlier elsewhere in the United States. Although she argues that "[b]y the end of World War II almost all Ozark burial customs had been abandoned," with the exception of Decoration Day, isolation and poverty kept many behaviors in place well into the twentieth century (p. 256). In addition to oral histories, Burnett has consulted many written memoirs, newspapers, business records, grave markers, and other pertinent sources.

With the exception of the last chapter on the rise of undertaking in the first half of the twentieth century, Burnett assumes that the customs she covers changed little over time. Thus the chapters are organized topically, with only occasional attention to chronological variations. The book begins with a chapter on causes of death and medical means used to ward it off. Burnett then explains the customs of sitting up with the sick and dying, laying out the body once dead, and sitting with the body overnight. Chapter 5 addresses coffins and caskets, while chapter 6 shows how family and friends gathered for a proper farewell. …

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