The museum "cooling board" had over 500 bodies
pass over it. Its history is one of the most unique and fascinating of all the hundreds
of stories associated with frontier life in the South. If you laid without moving for
three days, you were pronounced dead and ready for burial. The cooling board was your
last and final — bed.
I cannot say, and I will not say
she is dead - she is just away!
With a cherry smile, and a wave of the hand,
She has wandered into an unknown land,
And left us dreaming how very fair
needs must be, since she lingers there.
And you - O you, who
the wildest yearn,
For the old time step and glad return,
Think of her faring
on, as dear
In the love of There as the love of Here;
Mild and gentle as she
When the sweetest love, of her life she gave.
simple things, where the violets grew
Pure as the eyes they were likened to,
The touches of her hands have strayed
As reverently as her lips have
Think of her still as the same, I say;
She is not
dead - she is just away!
by James Whitcomb
A wrinkled, weary old soul had found the upswing of winter too hard for one
of his or her years and had given up the struggle. It was difficult for the family to
start the spring under the handicap of added expenses, but they wished to extend the
last full measure of devotion. A simple coffin “on the credit” cost ten to twenty
dollars. Six yards of shoddy bleaching for a binding cloth cost fifty-five cents more.
The total cost of a funeral was not great, but even so, it required a big bale of cotton
to pay the bill off in October. Mr. Sutton purchased his coffins and caskets from the
Farmer's Trading Company wholesale.
Death became a chapter in the ledgers and
journals of daily store transactions. Tucked away in an inside cover of the Sutton's
ledger for 1878 was a characteristic itemized burial account. This miscellaneous order
consisted of “1 Bx for Coffin, 1 yd print, 1 bx tack, 1 doz. Screws, 1 # nail,” and
involved a cash outlay of ninety cents. A more formal entry inside the ledger included a
goods box for a coffin, a dozen screws, a pound of six-penny nails, two yards of calico,
and a box of tacks.
There were actually few customers for coffins in
the rural South in frontier days. Death like birth was pretty much a homemade affair,
and because of its eternal element of misfortune the burden was spread out to as many
people as possible. Neighbors contributed to the financing of the costs of materials,
and making coffins was almost always a labor of charity. A tenant farmer’s child took
sick with the “summer complaint” and within a day or two it was dead. Crops were “in the
grass,” help was scarce, and the moment was the most unfortunate one of all for a child
to die. The father had no money, and the margin of credit on his lien note failed to
take into consideration the certainty of death. Thus it was that burying the dead in a
majority of cases became a community responsibility.