Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Dying Southern Tradition: Mission to Find Grave Houses in Appalachia before they Disappear

Tina Barry sent me this interesting article.  I’ve never heard of Grave Houses and I’m glad someone is trying to located them and preserve their history.

News Release (April 4, 2009)

"We used to walk by the cemetery on the way to the grocery store. I remember one evening...came a big thunderstorm, and we went inside one of the grave houses. Mom read to us from a Bible that was in there." Like a scene out of Catherine Marshall's "Christy"...

(Knoxville, Tennessee)—Ten years ago, at the request of surviving family members, John Waggoner Jr. began cemetery hunting. To date, his mission has resulted in the discovery of 630 obscure burial grounds in one county alone. Most of them are reportedly on farms where families typically buried their dead prior to World War II. His main focus now, however, is finding grave houses.
clip_image001What are "grave houses" you ask? As reported in Knox News, "while there are various theories regarding the origin of grave houses, most agree their main purpose was to protect the burial ground from the elements, or from the hooves of livestock." (Photo by Adam Brimer/Knox News)

Donald Ball, a retired archaeologist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, says most grave houses were built between the Civil War and World War 1. "A lot of people think a grave house is a miniature mausoleum. It is not," Ball said. "It is not a crypt either, because that would be below ground. They are in that netherworld in between."

Though Waggoner has so far located more than 100 grave houses in seven southern states—more in Appalachia than anywhere else—there is a sense of urgency to his quest. "These structures are disappearing fast," he said. "That's why I'm trying to record as many as I can."

Asked about grave houses in her area, Laura Surber said, "We used to walk by the cemetery on the way to the grocery store. I remember one evening...came a big thunderstorm, and we went inside one of the grave houses. Mom read to us from a Bible that was in there."

Another woman, 85-year-old Onalee Smith, lives in a remote area of eastern Tennessee. On a hill above her home is a wood grave house where she says she and her husband were married over half a century ago. Inside the structure, notes the report, Waggoner found a gravestone which read: "Walter, son of Arch and Ivory Smith. Born 1910, died 1923. Walter came to raise our hearts to Heaven. He goes to call us there."

To read more on this intriguing glimpse into American history, follow the link provided.

Source: Morgan Simmons - Knox News

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