Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Brief History of Funeral Rites & Customs


This entry is just a small fragmant of the information available regarding funerals and funeral rites, I have attempted to condense the size of the information to accomodate this blog. The information provided here is a compilation of different articles and writings into one , I have provided source links at the bottom of the entry for further review if necessary. Angela.

Early Funeral Rites

Funeral customs are as old as civilization itself. Every culture and civilization attends to the proper care of their dead. Every culture and civilization ever studied has three things in common relating to death and the disposition of the dead:

  • Some type of funeral rites, rituals, and ceremonies
  • A sacred place for the dead
  • Memorialization of the dead
Researchers have found burial grounds of Neanderthal man dating to 60,000 BC with animal antlers on the
body and flower fragments next to the corpse indicating some type of ritual and gifts of remembrance.
With no great psychological knowledge or custom to draw from, Neanderthal man instinctively buried their
dead with ritual and ceremony.

The Role of Fear

Primitive man lived in a world of fear. He reacted to most natural phenomena such as weather events based on that fear. He eventually attributed many life events to his instinctive knowledge of a higher being or power. In his primitive mind, life and death events were the acts of spirits. Since he was not able to see or sense these spirits, he lived in a world of terror. In an effort to enact some type of truce with these "gods" or "spirits," man devised charms, ceremonies and rituals to placate these spirits. Although we may find ancient burial customs to be strange or in some cases repugnant, they obviously arose for a reason.
The first burial customs then, were crude efforts to protect the living from the spirits which caused the death of the person. Fear of the dead caused the burning of bodies to destroy evil spirits.
Many primitive tribes even today simply run away from their dead, leaving them to rot.

Zoroastrians similarly allow their dead to simply rot or be devoured by vultures. They consider fire to be too sacred to be put to use disposing of the dead and burial is thought to be a defilement and injury to mother earth. Others place the body deep in the jungle to be devoured by wild beasts. In Tibet and among the Kamchatkan Indians, dogs are used for this purpose because they believe that those eaten by dogs will be better off in the other world.
Herodotus tells us that the Calatians ate their own dead. It was considered a sacred honor and duty of the family. Queen Artemisia supposedly mixed the ashes of her beloved with wine and drank it. To this day, certain African tribes are known to grind the bones of their dead and mingle them with their food.

The Zulus burn all of the belongings of the deceased to prevent the evil spirits from even hovering in the vicinity.
Some tribes would set up a ring of fire around the bodies of their dead to singe the wings of the spirits and prevent them from attacking other members of the community. Other tribes would throw spears and arrows into the air to kill hovering spirits or would eat bitter herbs to drive away or kill spirits that may have already invaded their bodies.

The Role of Religion
This fear of the dead carried over into what was developing into religious thought. The Polynesian word tabu expressed the view that a person or thing coming into contact with the dead was set apart and shunned for a religious or quasi-religious reason.
In English this thought is rendered "defilement" or "pollution." To most people a dead body is indeed taboo.
In Hebrew belief, the dead were considered unclean and anyone who came in contact with the dead were declared unclean.

"Whosoever is unclean by the dead shall be put outside the camp, that they defile not the camp in the midst of which the Lord dwells."  Numbers 5:2

In old Persian scriptures, a similar taboo is expressed. Anyone who touched a dead body was "powerless in mind, tongue, and hand." This paralysis was inflicted by the evil spirits which were associated with the dead body.
Sacrifices of one kind or another were also offered in honor of the dead. In some cases their purpose was again, to appease the spirits.  In some cultures, these sacrifices were meant to be used by the deceased in the future world.
Self-mutilation, such as the cutting off of toes or fingers was another type of sacrificial sign of respect for the deceased.
Suicide was considered the ultimate show of respect and sacrifice in some cultures.

The sacrifice of dogs, horses and slaves was common in Africa after the death of a king.
In Japan, it was the custom to insist that twenty or thirty slaves commit Hara Kiri at the death of a nobleman.
In Fiji it was considered correct for the friends of the deceased as well as his wives and slaves to be strangled.
Probably the strangest rite was practiced among the Hindu in India prior to being outlawed by the British. The practice was known as suttee,or wife burning. The wife of the deceased was expected to dress
herself in her finest clothing and lie down by the side of her deceased husband on the funeral pyre to be cremated alive. The eldest son then lit the pyre.

Funeral Customs by Gender and Social Class

In many cultures, men and women were treated differently at death. Among them:

  • The Cochieans buried their women, but suspended their men from trees.
  • The Ghonds buried their women but cremated their men.
  • The Bongas buried their men with their faces to the North and their women with their faces to the South.
During the Middle Ages in England, decent burials and durable funeral monuments were a privilege of the upper and middle classes of society, whose deaths were commemorated with permanent effigies in churches. In contrast, the best commemoration that most of the peasant classes could hope for following death was burial in a coffin (Houlbrooke, 1998).
Historically, some societies developed elaborate structures for the disposal of human remains, while others appeared not regard such burial rituals as an important aspect of their social structure. As an example of the former, burial and commemoration ceremonies were intimately linked to Christian doctrines of a ‘good death’ during the later Middle Ages in England. The Protestant church provided the most coherent body of guidance concerning rites for both the dying and survivors, the certainty of a life after death, and what to do about human remains. During this era, it was a Christian duty to bury the bodies of the dead. By the mid-18th century, a coffin came to be regarded as indispensable in a ‘decent burial’. Subsequently elaboration of coffins, as well as embalmment, became status symbols. Similarly, in ancient Rome, cemeteries had been located outside towns, but Pope Gregory (590 – 604 AD) authorized burials in the immediate vicinity of churches, so that the souls of the dead might benefit from the prayers of worshippers reminded of them as they passed their graves (Houlbrooke, 1998).

Modern Funeral Customs

Many of our modern funeral customs have their historical basis in pagan rituals.
Modern mourning clothing came from the custom of wearing special clothing as a disguise to hide identity from returning spirits. Pagans believed that returning spirits would fail to recognize them in their new attire and would be confused and overlook them.
Covering the face of the deceased with a sheet stems from pagan tribes who believed that the spirit of the deceased escaped through the mouth.  They would often hold the mouth and nose of a sick person shut, hoping to retain the spirits and delay death.
Feasting and gatherings associated with the funeral began as an essential part of the primitive funeral where food offerings were made.
Wakes held today come from ancient customs of keeping watch over the deceased hoping that life would return.
The lighting of candles comes from the use of fire mentioned earlier in attempts to protect the living from the spirits.
The practice of ringing bells comes from the common medieval belief that the spirits would be kept at bay by the ringing of a consecrated bell.
Originally, holy water was sprinkled on the body to protect it from the demons.
Floral offerings were originally intended to gain favor with the spirit of the deceased.
Funeral music had its origins in the ancient chants designed to placate the spirits.

The firing of a rifle volley over the deceased mirrors the tribal practice of throwing spears into the air to ward off spirits hovering over the deceased.  The 3-volley salute is a ceremonial act performed at military and police funerals as part of the drill and ceremony of the Honor Guard. It consists of a rifle party firing blank cartridges into the air three times. The custom originates from the European dynastic wars, where the fighting ceased for the dead and wounded to be removed, then three shots were fired into the air to signal that the battle could resume. It is now used at military and police funerals as a sign of respect for the sacrifice made by the deceased individual. It should not be confused with the 21 gun salute. Today the national salute of 21 guns is fired in honor of a national flag, the sovereign or chief of state of a foreign nation, a member of a reigning royal family, and the President, ex-President and President-elect of the United States. It is also fired at noon of the day of the funeral of a President, ex-President, or President-elect.

Scottish Funerals


An old funeral rite from the Scottish Highlands is to bury the deceased with a wooden plate resting on his chest. The plate contained a small amount of earth and salt to represent the future of the deceased. The earth signified the decaying of the body to become one with the earth while the salt represented the soul, which did not decay. This rite is known as "earth laid upon a corpse".

African Funerals

The custom of burying the dead in the floor of dwelling-houses has been, to some degree, prevalent on the Gold Coast of Africa. Some funerals in Ghana have the deceased placed in elaborate "fantasy coffins" colored and shaped after a certain object, such as a fish, crab, boat, and even an airplane. African ceremonies are purely animist, and without any set ritual. The exception is that the females of the deceased, as well as friends may undergo mournful lamentations. In some instances, they work themselves into an ostentatious, frenzy-like state of sorrow. This revelry may be heightened with the use of alcohol, of which drummers, flute-players, bards, and singing men may partake. The funeral service may last as long as a week. Another custom resembling a memorial, frequently takes place 7 years after the death of the deceased. These types of funerals and subsequent memorials can be costly as cattle, sheep, goats, and poultry, may be offered in remembrance and then consumed in the festivities.


The History of African American Death

Death has always been to many a forbidden topic of discussion. However, in the African American community death is very much an important aspect of culture. It has been stated that death traditions, customs, procedures, mourning practices, burial rites, and even the structure of African American cemeteries differ greatly from that of non-African Americans.
It has been stated amongst the black community that death is not a time of sadness but a time to rejoice, for the deceased no longer has to endure the trials and tribulations of this earthly world. The deceased are indeed mourned and missed, however, death is also a time of celebration. These emotions and procedures of death is what student researcher focused on.
Many African Americans may not be aware that some of the present day traditions and customs of death can be traced back to African roots of the Bakongo and the LaDogaa tribes.

These African traditions have been passed down from the oldest living members of the community, in the form of expressions, sayings, superstitions, religious beliefs and practices, and music. Many of the stories and superstitions relating to death and burials are still believed today, especially in the Southern United States. Since the Sea Islands, have strong rooted Africanisms, the culture of Angola and Sierra Leone are most commonly thought of as the closest identification to their heritage. Sea Islanders however are not the only group of African Americans with these strong ties; the cultural traditions spread far and wide.

Death to African Americans is not an event which just occurs, is "handled," and then forgotten about. When one dies, there is a series of events which usually take place. After the approach of death family members are often notified right away, not just the immediate family members, but every relative and friend of the deceased. Old beliefs and superstitions, are remembered and acted upon. An old belief is that the dead can not be buried on a rainy day. The sun is-a sign that the heavens are open and welcoming for the deceased one. If it rains while a man is dying, or if lighting strikes near his house, the devil has come for the soul. Thus, the family members often attempt to bury the dead on a sunny day.

There is usually a five to seven day mourning period before the actual funeral. Before the funeral takes place there is generally a ceremony known as a wake. At this time, close friends of the family of the deceased pay respects to the family and view the body. Many wakes take place at the funeral parlor, but have been known to take place at the church or the home of the deceased. This is a time when everyone gathers and eats food cooked by the family members, and shares memories of the deceased. Two viewing days may be arranged for the wake. After this time period there is the funeral which consists of a funeral procession. The hurse leads cars of the deceased family members follows. The immediate family members follow directly behind the hurse. All of the cars following in the procession place purple flags upon their antennas and drive with the car head lights on to identify themselves as members of the funeral procession. Once reaching the cemetery many traditions (or superstitions) are followed concerning the actual burial of the dead. It is believed that it is important that the dead be buried feet facing east; to allow rising at Judgment Day. Otherwise the person remains in the crossways of the world.

Coins are placed on the eyes of the dead to keep them closed. However, coins were also sometimes placed in the hands as the deceased person's contribution to the community of the ancestors-or perhaps, as a token for admittance to the spirit world. For the same purpose coins are also placed on or around the grave site. It is believed that one should always cover the body and one should never place it directly in the ground. All of these traditions may not be practiced by every African American family but many of them were and still are believed to this day.




History of Embalming



Beginnings in Egypt

Egypt is credited with being the land where enbalming began. During the period from 6000 BC to 600 AD approximately 400,000,000 bodies were mummified.

Embalming in Egypt was done for two reasons: Religious- Greek historian Herodotus maintained that the Egyptians were the first people to believe in the immortality of the soul. They believed that the soul would never fully forsake the body as long as the body remained intact.

Embalming was for the purpose of preserving the body so that the soul could return to it after the completion of the "circle of necessity."

This "circle of necessity" was a 3,000 year journey the soul was required to make before it could return to the body. At that time, the whole man would arise from the dead and live with the gods forever.

Sanitation- The writer Cassius maintained that enbalming was developed to provide a solution to the problem of trying to bury the dead in the Nile valley which would be inundated on a frequent basis. The Egyptians apparently also noted that this unsanitary condition caused more deaths.

The Egyptians were not the only people to practice some type of preservation of the dead. Ancient Ethiopian tribes preserved their dead in a manner similar to the Egyptians.
Aboriginal inhabitants of the Canary Islands from 900 BC practiced mummification of their dead.
Babylonians, Persians, and Syrians preserved their dead by placing them in jars of honey or wax. By depriving the bacteria in the body of air, decomposition was prevented. Peruvians practiced mummification 1000 years prior to being conquered by Spain in the early 16th century.

Jewish custom is for simplicity. Embalming and cremation were generally not allowed because they were seen as mutilation of the body. As seen in the scriptures, preparation for burial consisted of wrapping the body and the application of oils and spices.

The Greeks believed that the deceased must make a journey across the river Styx to the land of eternity. A coin was placed in the mouth of the deceased to pay passage over the river. A cake of honey was placed next to the body to appease the three headed dog, Cerebus, who guarded the entrance to Hades. Interment was delayed three days to prevent premature burial. Cremation came into practice in about 300 BC.

The Romans also did not practice enbalming as such. The body would be washed daily for seven days with hot water and oil. This delay also was to prevent premature burial. A group of slaves called pollinctores performed this function. Funeral processions were held at night to avoid defilement of the living. The procession was managed by a Designator, who functioned much like the modern day funeral director. Burial later gave way to cremation. At one point cremation was forbidden within the gates of Rome because of the smoke pollution of so many bodies being burned at once.

Early Christian Customs
The early Christians derived their burial customs from the Greeks, Romans, and Jews. They followed the strong Jewish tradition of burial with no enbalming. The sacred status of burial grounds was upheld.

During the "dark ages" in Europe, enbalming was generally not practiced. During this period, great advances were being made in medicine and bodies were needed for dissection purposes. For this sole purpose, some enbalming was done and techniques perfected.  Also during this time, discoveries made in the world of medicine would have a great influence in the development of modern enbalming technique.

  • Leonardo DaVinci (1452-1519) produced hundreds of anatomical plates as a result of his dissection of the human body. He undoubtedly used arterial injection to preserve his specimens.
  • Dr. Frederick Ruysch (1665-1717) is generally considered the father of enbalming with his discovery of the first successful system of arterial enbalming.
  • Dr. William Harvey (1578-1657) was the English physician who discovered the circulation of blood.
  • Dr. William Hunter (1718-1783) is credited with being the first to successfully adopt arterial injection as a means of preservation.
  • Jean Gannal (1791-1882) began as an apothecary assistant and became the first to offer enbalming to the French general public.
  • Anthony Van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) manufactured the microscope and discovered bacteria in 1683.
  • Alexander Butlerov (1828-1866) and Wilhelm von Hofmann (1818-1892) are credited with the discovery of formaldehyde.
  • Dr. Thomas Holmes (1817-1900) is generally considered the father of modern enbalming. He experimented with preservative chemicals while working as a coroners assistant in New York and later began offering his services to the public.

Early American Embalming

Modern enbalming really got its start during the Civil War period

Dr. Thomas Holmes received a commission as a captain in the Army Medical Corps and was assigned to Washington, D.C. where he embalmed many army officers killed in battle. He reportedly embalmed over 4000 soldiers and officers.
President Lincoln took a great interest in enbalming and directed the Quartermaster Corps to utilize enbalming to allow the return of Union dead to their home towns for proper burial. When he realized the commercial potential of enbalming, Holmes resigned his commission and began offering enbalming to the public for $100.
After the Civil War, enbalming fell into disuse because of lack of demand and few to do the procedure. The "undertakers" of the day limited their efforts to ice to ward off decomposition long enough to have a funeral.

Twentieth Century Practices


By the turn of the century, wooden coffins were being made to order by the local carpenter or cabinet maker. A few even made coffins beforehand but met with criticism by the public for their boldness.

The cabinetmaker rarely became involved in any aspect of the funeral other than providing the coffin. Even the conveyance of the deceased was done by someone else, the livery man. With the passing of time, these men became more and more involved in providing other services and advise to those planning the funeral.

Eventually the person who would "undertake" to manage all funeral details and provide funeral merchandise became known as an "undertaker." He eventually obtained and provided all the necessary items for the funeral including the hearse, door badges, coffin rests, etc. Once it became possible for the undertaker to provide enbalming services, the haste was taken out of the burial process and people were given ample time to arrange and prepare for the funeral.

The first enbalming preparations were arsenic solutions that were rapidly replaced when formaldehyde became available. Representatives for enbalming fluid companies would travel the country presenting one or two day schools of instruction in the use of their product. For attending these classes and purchasing a quantity of fluid, an undertaker received a certificate as an embalmer. It wasn?t until the 1930?s that state licensing became almost universal. While this education seems wholly inadequate, it should be remembered that physicians and dentists of the day did not have much education either prior to practicing their profession.From the cabinetmaker who simply supplied a coffin, the funeral director today provides over 130 separate services to a family.

Modern Embalming

The modern method of enbalming is defined as the disinfection of preservation of the dead human body.

It is performed for three reasons.The primary purpose of enbalming is disinfection. While some pathogens die soon after the death of the host, it is also true that many dangerous organisms have the ability to survive for long periods of time in dead tissues. Persons coming in direct contact with the unembalmed body can become infected as well as there being the possibility of flies or other agents transferring pathogens to humans and infecting them.

The second purpose of enbalming is preservation. The prevention of putrefaction and decomposition allows the disposition of the remains by burial, cremation, or entombment to take place without the odors or other unpleasantness that would accompany an uncared for remains.

The third purpose of enbalming is restoration. Returning the body to a life-like appearance has received many critics, but the custom of viewing the body after death in a state of rest remains a practice of proven psychological worth.

The modern enbalming process is designed to retard tissue decomposition for the period of time necessary for disposition as arranged for by the family of the deceased. Under favorable conditions however, modern enbalming has been shown to be able to keep a body intact for decades.

Rather than prevent the body from returning to its natural elements, enbalming allows the body to decompose by oxidation and dissolution rather than by putrefaction or rotting. Embalming is accomplished by a chemical "fixation" of the cell protein. Formaldehyde basically reacts with the soluble albumins in the cell and converts them to albuminoids or gels. At the same time, the bacteria are destroyed, thus halting or at least delaying decomposition. Once enbalming is properly completed, the body can only be attacked by air-borne bacteria and molds that can eventually destroy the body exposed to air if sufficient moisture is present to support bacterial and mold growth.

In modern enbalming then, an enbalming fluid that is both a disinfectant and a preservative is injected into the circulatory system of the body by an electric pump while the blood is forced out of the body and disposed of. In effect, the blood is replaced with a disinfectant and preservative solution.



The Purpose of the Funeral

The funeral:  Helps confirm the reality and finality of death. Provides a climate of mourning and the expression of grief. Allows the sorrows of one to become the sorrows of all. Is the only time when love is given and not expected in return. Is a vehicle for the community to pay its respects. Encourages the affirmation of religious faith. Is a declaration that a life has been lived, as well as a sociological statement that a death has occurred.
The funeral allows people to remember and honor their loved one in a special way.  It serves as a central gathering place for family and friends to give emotional support to one another. It encourages mourners to face the pain of their loss and express their thoughts and feelings. It helps the survivors to better cope with their grief and enables them to move forward in their lives. It initiates the grief process while bringing closure to the death.

When we speak of the funeral we should define it in the terms of today. Many picture the funeral as an exclusively religious event with the body present in the casket followed by earth interment. By funeral we mean the post-death activities that may include any type of meaningful ceremony to commemorate the life of the deceased.

While affirming the comfort and solace many find in the rites of their church, we should also acknowledge that religious services may be inappropriate for those who do not have a religious affiliation.The funeral should meet the needs of the family. The service, whether religious in nature or not, may include personal reading, stories, or anecdotes about the deceased, eulogies by family members, and musical numbers of meaning to the family..
While some would view the visitation and funeral as a painful experience and would thus want to avoid it, it is in reality a first step towards healing.

The funeral serves both the living and the dead.

The funeral is for the living. It provides a means of saying farewell.
The funeral is for the respectful disposition of the dead.

No successful civilization has ever existed that simply discarded their dead.

Sources:

free-times.com from Wyoming Funeral Directors Association Director of Education Curtis D Rostad’s essays “History of Funeral Customs” and “History of Embalming”
Superstitions, Traditions, and Procedures- http://northbysouth.kenyon.edu/1998/index.htm
mundanebehavior.org/issues/v4n1/awofeso4-1.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3-volley_salute
http://www.history.army.mil/faq/salute.htm

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Natchez City Cemetery

The Natchez City Cemetery
by Angela L Burke MSSPI



Located on Cemetery Road and overlooking the Mississippi River, the Natchez City Cemetery was established in 1822 and covers approximately 100 acres of land.

The old burying ground was on a high hill where Memorial Park and St. Mary’s Cathedral are located in downtown Natchez. Samuel Brooks, the first Mayor of Natchez, from 1803-1811, is still buried there. When the cemetery was established in its present location, the remains from the old burial ground were gradually moved to the present site north of the town. The above photo is only a small section of this enormous cemetery.

Markers with dates of deaths in the late 1700’s testify to the fact that the remains were also moved from churchyards and private plantation burial grounds. Romantic, tragic and mysterious tales lie buried in the old graves.


Numerous beautiful, creatively designed iron fences, benches, iron mausoleum doors, tombstones and monuments are found within the cemetery. The varied patterns of ironwork represent almost the entire spectrum of ironwork produced in America in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Artistically sculptured markers with often-poignant inscriptions add to the unique character of the burial ground.

The majority of the signed marble work dates to before the Civil War. Edwin Lyon and Robert Rawes, two of the most prolific and outstanding antebellum marble workers can be credited with many of the beautifully sculpted monuments. There were numbers of other talented artisans whose work contributes to the beauty of the cemetery.




There are thousands of interesting, famous and historical persons interred at the Natchez Cemetery. Guided tours and Pilgrimages are given to the public, pointing out the more prominent and well known stories.

MSSPI co-founders visited the Natchez Cemetery. Our guide for the day Mr. Eric Glatzer, historian, and host of Natchez TV. told us some interesting stories about the cemetery and some of the people buried there. There were so many interesting stones and monuments and the grounds were so large that it would have taken us a week to view them each individually. I was overwhelmed by the size of the cemetery and the beauty of it as well.
I have included a few of the more well known stories about The Natchez Cemetery that I had the honor of visiting.

One of the most interesting things I saw at the cemetery was the Great Live Oak. which is said to have been dated in age to before Columbus discovered the Americas. In recent years the tree was struck by lightening. A large area on the side of the tree remains scarred by the jolt and from a distance it appears to some, to be portray the image of a soldier with a rifle over his shoulder, sometimes with a visable head, sometimes without. With my Native heart I did not see the soldier, what appeared to me was the image of  a Native American smoking a peace pipe, so while I can see why some would see a soldier, matrix images are often seen differently by the person looking and the images seen tell alot about how people look at the world around them, regardless of what image is seen, it remains an awesome site to see based on its, size, age and beauty alone. I felt honored to have the priveledge of seeing such a majestic tree.


Florence Irene Ford
September 3, 1861 - October 30, 1871
Ten-year-old Florence died of yellow fever.
During her short life she was extremely frightened of storms and whenever one occurred she would rush to her mother to find comfort.
Upon her death her mother was so struck with grief that she had Florence's casket constructed with a glass window at the child’s head. The grave was dug to provide an area, the same depth of the coffin, at the child’s head, but this area had steps that would allow the mother to descend to her daughter’s level so she could comfort Florence during storms. To shelter the mother during storms, hinged metal trap doors were installed over the area the mother would occupy while at her child’s grave.



In this picture you can see the trap doors behind little Florence’s tombstone, which covers the stairway her mother used. They can still be opened today.

In the mid 1950s a concrete wall was erected at the bottom of the stairway covering the glass window of Florence’s coffin to prevent vandalism.

Florence is the only person buried in the family plot. It is said that her father disappearred after her death and no one knows what happened to him. Her mother left alone to grieve soon also disappeared and there are no records of her burial.








I had the privaledge of sitting on the bottom step of the staircase installed for the mother, it was a very errie feeling as the area dug out is the same width and depth of a grave, looking up the headstone looms tall over the opening and it was a strange feeling to look up out of this deep hole. I felt overcome with sadness while sitting there and had to come up ,I climbed out of the area with tears brimming and had to take a few moments to compose my emotions. In the photo to the right MSSPI member Tony B. sits on the steps and conducts an EVP session, we did not capture any unexplained voices or noise on this occasion. But the experience of being in a place so full of sadness was definately felt by those present.

The Turning Angel

This beautiful angel monument is overlooking five headstones, each with the same date of death.

On March 14, 1908 there was a HUGE explosion at the Natchez Drug Company, which was a five story brick structure located at the corner of Main and South Union Street cattycorner from the Natchez Cathedral. The explosion was so massive it totally destroyed the five story building killing numerous people including the businesses employees that were working at the time.

The explosion put the drug company out of business, but the owner of the Natchez Drug Company was so devastated that he purchased a lot to bury his employees and he purchased this angel monument to place at their grave site. His youngest employee was 12 years old.




This monument is now referred to as ‘The Turning Angel’ because at night when cars drive by on Cemetery Road their headlights shine upon the monument and to some it appears to turn as their car passes by.










Louise The Unfortunate

As it is told, Louise came to Natchez to be married. It's not real clear where she came from, but New Orleans is mentioned as well as some cities in the distant north. She came here by steamboat, landing at Under-the-Hill, a very busy but rowdy section of Natchez. It is said that Louise asked around for her fiancée, both Under-the-Hill and in the more refined part of town on top of the hill.
The story of Louise gets a little fuzzy and goes in a couple of directions here.

One story relates that she never found her fiancée and due to some reason remained in Natchez. Some stories say she would be to embarrassed to return home because she had built up her fiancée's reputation and creditability and to return home would destroy everything she had been saying about him. Other stories say she learned that her fiancée had died she didn't have enough money to pay for passage home.

Other stories say Louise found her fiancée, but if so the story again spins into two areas. One is that they had a severe falling out and the other is that Louise discovered that he was married.

Whatever Louise's situation was it is pretty well accepted that after she found herself stranded in Natchez she held various respectable jobs. She worked as a housekeeper, seamstress and other jobs a respectable woman could perform. However, as the stories go, she gradually drifted to the notorious Under-the-Hill area working as a waitress in cafes and bars. As time passed she became a "Woman of the Night" at one of the many brothels Under-the-Hill.

It isn't clear, but some say Louise became friends with a doctor who treated her during her hard life Under-the-Hill, and upon her death he paid for her funeral. Some say a wealthy plantation owner who frequented her room on lonely nights paid her funeral expenses. Others say a preacher paid for her funeral from his pauper funds, but she wasn’t buried in a pauper’s grave.

Whatever Louise's story is she must have gained someone's attention because she received more than most destitute people of the period; she is buried in the Natchez City Cemetery with a tombstone, even though there is no date on the stone.




Local resident and historian Don Estes has published a new book about the Natchez City Cemetery. This is a coffeetable book - 8 x 10 hardback, with dust cover (per attachment), forewards by Walt Grayson & Greg Iles, containing 208 pages, over 100 stories, over 150 pictures (many in color). After over 20 years of research, the author is proud to finally present this collection of many of the intriguing and revealing stories that will shock and entertain you. The photos will demonstrate the beauty and history of this fascinating cemetery.


You can find out more about purchasing this book by Clicking Here







You can contact the Natchez City Cemetery about interments or to schedule a tour at the following address:

Natchez City Cemetery

P. O. Box 1738
Natchez, MS 39120
601-445-5051 voice

Or visit  The Natchez City Cemetery Website for more interesting stories, photos and information.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Choctaw Bone Pickers, Burial Customs and Superstitions

Choctaw Bone Pickers, Burial Customs and Superstitions


Note : The information pertaining to Choctaw burials and customs could fill a book, and since this is just a mere blog article I have chosen a few sources that give brief descriptions of the customs and superstitions. To further study this amazing subject I have listed a few source references to aide in further study should the subject be of research interest to you, in an upcoming blog I will be featuring the Mound sites of the Mississippi Indians as the volume of information is to large to post here.
Angela L Burke


Choctaw Customs before 1800's

Choctaw belief in immortality is shown by its appearance in the burial customs. When a member of the tribe died, the body was covered with skins and bark and placed upon an elevated platform which was erected near the house for that purpose. Even if the death had occurred far from home, the body was carefully brought back and placed near the house.

Beside the corpse were placed food and drink, a change of clothing, and favorite utensils and ornaments which would be needed by the spirit in its long journey to the other world. A dog was killed to provide the deceased with a companion, and after the introduction of horses, ponies were also sacrificed so that the spirit might ride.

For the first few days a fire was kept constantly burning to furnish light and warmth for the journey.

The body remained upon the scaffold for a fixed period, which, however, seems to have varied from one to four or even six months according to local custom. During this time the relatives frequently resorted to the foot of the platform to wail and mourn, although in warm weather the stench from the decomposing body became so intolerable that the women sometimes fainted while performing this respect to the deceased.


Among the honored officials of the Choctaws were men - and possibly women - who were known as bonepickers. These undertakers were tattooed in a distinctive manner, and allowed their fingernails to grow long for their revolting occupation. When the body had remained upon the scaffold the specified time, a bone-picker was summoned, and all the relatives and friends were invited for the last rites.

These mourners surrounded the scaffold, wailing and weeping, while the grisly undertaker ascended the platform, and with his long finger nails thoroughly cleaned the bones of the putrefied flesh.

The bones were then passed down to the waiting relatives, the skull was painted with vermilion, and they were carefully placed in a coffin curiously constructed of such materials as bark and cane. The flesh was left on the platform, which was set on fire; or was carried away and buried.


The hamper of bones was borne with much ceremonial wailing to the village bone house, a rude structure built on poles and surrounded by a palisade. There it was placed in a row with other coffins, and the mourners returned to the house, where all participated in a feast over which the bone-picker presided (without having washed his hands, as shocked white observers were wont to state).

Apparently it was the custom at stated intervals once or twice a year, to hold a mourning ceremony at which the entire settlement participated. The hampers of bones were all removed at this time, but they were returned at the close of the ceremony. When the charnel house became full, the bones were buried; sometimes the earth was placed over it to form a mound, and sometimes the bones of several villages were carried out and placed in one heap and covered with soil. This custom accounts for the burial mound at Nanih Waiya and for the many smaller mounds that form such a distinctive feature of the old Choctaw country.

From The Rise and Fall Of The Choctaw Republic by Angie Debo, pages 4 and 5, Copyright © 1934, 1961 by the University of Oklahoma Press.


Customs & Superstitions

One custom peculiar to Choctaw Christians was carried over from earlier times into the post Civil War era. This was the famous funeral cry, concerning which accounts differ. In some instance, apparently, the funeral sermon for the deceased one was not preached until six to twelve months after burial had occurred. In the meantime, friends and relatives would accompany the wife or mother to the grave occasionally for a crying session. Since the Indians buried their dead near their homes, the cry furnished an occasion for a visit with the family of the deceased. The Choctaws felt that it would be "like you were throwing them away to take them away from home and bury them." Until quite recently it was customary in remote full-blood settlements to bury some of the belongings of the deceased with him. Clothing, perhaps some tan-fula, a saddle, and even the dog and pony of the departed one might be buried with him.

When the funeral sermon was preached under a brush arbor near the grave, there would be singing, praying and a final cry at the grave itself. Afterwards all present shared in a bountiful meal of barbecued beef and other foods. Other reports indicate that funeral cries took place at every summer camp meeting, or after any church service, for those who had died since the last meeting. The fact that this old tribal religious practice was not prohibited by the missionaries probably resulted from their belief that some compromise with native customs was necessary to ensure the adherence to the full-blood element to Christianity. In the 1880s a visiting white missionary pointedly asked Willis F. Folsom, a mixed blood minister: "Don't you encourage . . . superstitions by officiating at these funerals?" to which Folsom merely replied evasively: "You don't know the Indian." The funeral cry naturally disappeared over the years and is rarely or never practiced today,


Another superstition which the Christian missionaries found extremely difficult to eradicate was the belief in witchcraft. The missionary influence can be seen in a law passed by the General Council as early as 1834 which declared, "That any person or persons who shall kill another for a witch or wizard, shall suffer death." There was reason for the missionaries to worry about the power of the Choctaw superstitions. As late as 1899 a full-blood Presbyterian minister, who had been educated at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia, and had held important posts in the Choctaw government, was found guilty of murdering witches. Nothing shows the power of Choctaw superstitions more that the deeds of this man, who was considered a progressive Choctaw and a firm believer in the need of the education of his people. Yet, faced with the sudden death of three of his children from diphtheria and the insistence that the deaths were attributed to witchcraft by the full-blood neighborhood, this man disregarded his excellent education, reverted to tribal belief in witches, and remembered only the Biblical injunction, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live, " As a result, he shot and killed two women and one man, and wounded another man - all of whom the community believed were the witches causing the plague. After his arrest by federal officers, the minister wrote a friend, "I have done the act because I love the Lord's work and because I love the people." he was sentenced to death by a federal court, but the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by President Theodore Roosevelt. The witch-killer died in the Atlanta penitentiary in 1907, where he had been known as an exceptional man and a distinguished prisoner.

From The Social History of the Choctaw Nation: 1865-1907, by James D. Morrison, edited by James C. Milligan and L. David Norris, pages 25-26, copyright © 1987, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.



Mourning and Burial, Southeast (Choctaw)

As with so many other customs in the Southeast, mourning and mortuary practices were never uniform. In the Adena culture, concentrated farther north in the Ohio River Valley, while most dead persons were cremated, specific individuals were selected to be encased in log tombs that were subsequently covered by mounds of dirt. These varied traditions gave way to Hopewell and then Mississippian cultures. While it is true that the Yuchi buried their dead in individual stone-lined coffins in restful-appearing positions, facing west, the same tribe sometimes buried them under the floors of their houses, placed them on scaffolds in the woods, or cremated them on a funeral pyre. Others reused these tombs, often placing two individuals in them.

Sometimes the dead were buried where they fell: the eighty-five-year-old Choctaw chief Puckshenubbe collapsed en route to Washington in October 1824. In other cases, tribal and family burial grounds were used. Cherokee chiefs had caves made into tombs on the borders of the lands they ruled (present-day Blount County, Alabama). Moshulatubbee, the last grand chief of the Choctaws, was buried in 1838 under a pile of stones near the spring on his farm in the Choctaw Nation West (now LeFlore County, Oklahoma). The Choctaw, Chickasaw, Yuchi, and other groups continued the various traditions of burial mounds (for example, at Ft. Walton Beach in northwest Florida). The environs of Nashville with its numerous mounds served as a popular “City of the Dead,” a kind of Native Jerusalem where as many as eight distinct tribes made pilgrimages. Such mixed traditions, obviously expressive of individual preferences and changing fashions, just like today, beggar any attempts, however studious and well meaning, of the federal government and state archaeologists to assign pre-Columbian human remains or funerary artifacts to the “relevant tribal culture.” Many tribes also buried the placenta or afterbirth.

This entry specifically describes Choctaw mourning and burial customs, which illustrate the region’s great variety and continual synthesis of traditions, notwithstanding the different origins and lack of uniformity even within that large group, probably the most populous one at the time of European contact. “The sun was the supreme being, and fire, its mate, gave the sun information about human activities,” according to Choctaw historian Kidwell. “It had the power of life and death, which explains its importance in the funeral customs of the Choctaws. A dead body was exposed to the rays of the sun on a raised platform and allowed to decay, thus giving itself back to the supreme power.” The deceased were scaffolded in their best clothing and painted in an elaborated and personal fashion, so that the sun would recognize them. Often a favorite weapon or (in the case of a woman) her beauty stone or household heirloom was included on the bier. A period of mourning followed for family members. Signs of mourning included cutting the hair (which represented accumulated memories), assuming a negligent appearance, not remarrying, staying segregated by sex, and being seen only by other clansmen. It did not entail visits to the scaffold, usually rather distant in the woods. In fact, the family was expected to have little to do with the burial. After about a year, the bone picker, a revered figure of the Turkey Buzzard Society, scraped the bones clean with his long fingernails, a sign of rank and power, then prepared a feast for the entire village “only wiping his filthy, bloody hands on grass,” according to a French eyewitness in the eighteenth century. The cleaned bones were wrapped, often painted with red ochre, placed in a special willow reliquary, and hung or shelved in the communal or clan bone-house. A coastal Virginian ossuary appears in John Smith’s drawings. Periodically, the relics were brought out and made part of a mourning ceremony, ballplay, or other tribal occasion.

Males and females in the Turkey Buzzard Cult were venerated and trusted, never feared, since their powers were benign and beneficial, unlike most witchcraft. Often they were also healers. Only they could perform the Turkey Buzzard Dance at festivals. Significantly, their totem animal fed only on carrion and did not kill for its meat as did the owl, eagle, hawk, panther, and other carnivores.

Choctaws divided themselves into two moieties, or iksa. When Great Spirit created people, he placed half of them on the north side of the mother mound Nanih Waiyah and half on the west side. These two groups were the kashapa okla or imoklasha and the okla inholahta or hattak inhaolahta, the “younger brother” group and the “elder brothers.” Your mother’s iksa determined which moiety was yours, and you were expected to marry into the opposite one. The interdependence of the two was also observed in death. When the charnel house was full, the opposite iksa carried the reliquaries to a nearby burying ground, piled up the bones, and covered them with a mound, using the reliquaries now as baskets to carry earth. Some rather recent burial mounds of this type may be seen along the Natchez Trace Parkway.

From the middle to late nineteenth century, the Choctaw favored burying their dead directly in the ground. The deceased was buried in a seated position. Seven men placed seven red poles about the grave, with thirteen hoops of grapevines and a small white flag. Mourning went on for several weeks as the family performed the required thirteen cries for the dead. Then a feast and dance were given in the dead person’s honor.

Like most indigenous people in North America, the Choctaws believed that it took four days for a soul to become embodied in a person, and four days for that soul to be prepared for its long and final journey. Ghosts were pitiful spirits somehow lost or stuck in this world, often because their deaths went unavenged. Witches had the ability to steal a person’s dying spirit and thus increase their power, defying death. In some traditions, the entire town sang a funeral dirge to direct the released spirit to the other world. Listening to this chorus, the spirit went away from the music until it could no longer hear sounds of the living. The words of such a song by the Tihanama (a tribe often hired to conduct funerals) may be translated as follows: Blanket him (her) with spirit/ Raise everything to the highest sky.

These lyrics are sung over and over to a sad tune, often all night, with the participants beating sticks together but no other accompaniment, until the priest senses that the spirit has taken its departure, at which moment the concluding verse is sung to a different melody, only once: May he (she) never have need for anything again, forever and ever.

Like the Yuchi, Natchez, and other surrounding tribes, the Choctaw believed in four distinct spirits, one of which remained in the bone marrow after death and one of which went to an afterworld, conceived of as a beautiful gathering place in the west with good hunting, perpetual games, and plenty of food (legend’s “happy hunting ground”). The Milky Way was the path toward the Creator, and its multitudinous stars were said to be the souls of the ancestors. Reincarnation was assumed without thinking. Newborns often received the name of a recently passed uncle or aunt in the hope or recognition that they would also carry the elder one’s spirit. Once a relative was dead and mourned, his or her name was never spoken again. This taboo was so strong among the Choctaw that Indian agents could not force mothers to name their dead children on claims forms.

Many traditional Indians today dismiss the issue of repatriation by saying, “Leave them be; they’ve already been mourned.” In practice, most Indians of old had a thousand taboos about death and would go to great lengths to avoid even the subject. For instance, it was unlucky to see an owl, and wise to avoid cemeteries with a wide detour. None of the clothing or effects of a dead person were kept, for fear of contagion. Suicides were usually not honored with a proper funeral, as they were considered to have squandered their life and cheated their families and community. It was believed that the time and place of everyone’s death was foreordained. This belief gave warriors courage in battle but caused a lot of superstitions concerning graveyards, journeys, and funerals.

When the Choctaw first encountered the English, they could not understand why the Europeans had left the bones of their ancestors across the ocean. It horrified them to see how casually and unfeelingly the white people dealt with death. The reason why many Natives buried their parents in the floors of their lodges—a practice that continues among the Maya in Central America—was to remain close to them. Death was a part of life, and the dead were still members of the community. Thus the Choctaw and many other tribal cultures throughout the Americas practice a symbolic cannibalism. Whenever a new fire is kindled, the ashes of the ancestors are mingled with it and inhaled in its smoke by the descendants. Among the Yanomami, a soup containing a small amount of finely ground dust of the deceased person’s remains is served. The intent is to keep a person’s spirit and power within the living circle of the community.

If tribes had a “heaven,” they also had a concept closely approximating the Christian idea of hell, for they believed in divine retribution, though they had no corresponding devil figure. A very bad person’s spirit did not automatically go to the happy hunting ground to join his kinsmen; it was judged by the Master of Breath, then sentenced to torments commensurate with the pain he had wrongfully inflicted on others throughout his life. This punishment might last for hundreds of years, while the ghost wandered in this world. At the end of those experiences, the soul was dispersed, never to be reborn. To the Native mind, that was the worst fate imaginable—not only to die unmourned but also for one’s spirit to be destroyed. This apparently had a cautionary effect on most people.

Donald Panther-Yates


Ninih Waiya

This large rectangular platform mound, measuring 25 feet high, 218 feet long, and 140 feet wide, is maintained in a state park. Nanih Waiya is a Choctaw Indian name meaning "leaning hill." A small burial mound, now nearly leveled by plowing, is located outside the park boundaries several hundred yards away. A long, raised embankment once enclosed the site. Most of this earthen enclosure has been destroyed by cultivation; however, a short segment remains along the edge of a swamp to the northwest of the large mound.

The period of construction of Nanih Waiya Mound is uncertain. Although its rectangular, flat-topped form is typical of Mississippian period mounds (1000 to1600 A.D.), pottery sherds found on the surface of the adjacent habitation area suggest a possible Middle Woodland time range (100 B.C. to 400 A.D.). Until archeological investigations are undertaken, however, the mound's actual age will remain unknown.

Although built by American Indians, by the 18th century Nanih Waiya had come to be venerated by the Choctaw tribe. The site plays a central role in the tribe's origin legends. In one version, the mound gave birth to the tribe--the people emerged from the underworld here and rested on the mound's slopes to dry before populating the surrounding region.

Nanih Waiya Mound and Village is located northeast of Philadelphia, Mississippi. Drive about 15 miles on State Hwy 21, turn left at the Nanih Waiya sign on State Highway 393 and continue north three miles to the mound. Open to the public daily, free of charge, from dawn to dusk. Call 662-724-2770 or 1-800-GO-PARKS for further information.
http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/travel/mounds/nan.htm

The Supernatural


Some early writers, and in later times Cushman and Bushnell, report that the Choctaws believed in a great good spirit and a great evil spirit. It seems that there were a number of supernatural beings mentioned in Choctaw historical accounts. In addition to the native language for what would today be termed God and Devil, the Choctaws believed they had many other "powerful beings" in their midst.

The Great Spirit (or God) of the Choctaw went by various names. Rev. Alfred Wright also said God was referred to as "Nanapesa," "Ishtahullo-chito" or "Nanishta-hullo-chito," "Hustahli," and "Uba Pike" or "Aba."[1][2] "Shilup chitoh osh" is a term anglicized to mean The Great Spirit. "Chitokaka" means The Great One. The terms lshtahullo or nanishtahullo is applied to anything thought to possess some occult or superior power - such as a witch.

“ Anthropologist theorize that the Mississippian ancestors of the Choctaw placed the sun at the center of their cosmological system. Mid-eighteenth-century Choctaws did view the sun as a being endowed with life. Choctaw diplomats, for example, spoke only on sunny days. If the day of a conference were cloudy or rainy, Choctaws delayed the meeting, usually on the pretext that they needed more time to discuss particulars, until the sun returned. The sun made sure that all talks were honest. The sun as a symbol of great power and reverence is a major component of southeastern Indian cultures. ”

 Greg O'Brien, Choctaws in a Revolutionary Age, 1750-1830[3]


"Hushtahli" is from "Hashi" (Sun) and "Tahli" (to complete an action). "Hushatahli" is believed to have originated as a Choctaw term without European influence; the Choctaw were believed to be sun worshipers. Fire was the "most striking representation of the sun", having intelligence, and was considered to be in constant communication with the sun.

Little People, sprites, & other man-like creatures

They believed in a little man, about two feet high, who dwelled alone in the thick, dark woods. The little man was called Bohpoli or Kowi anukasha, both names being used alone or together. The translation of Bohpoli is the "Thrower". The translation of Kowi anuskasha is "The one who stays in the woods", or to give a more concise translation, "Forest Dweller". Little man can be compared to the European counterparts- Dwarfs, Elves, Gnomes, and Leprechauns. Little people sighting occur all over the world. One such example includes sightings in South America.

The little wood sprite was known to be rather mischievous, but not malicious. The Choctaws believed that he often playfully threw sticks and stones at them. All unexplained sounds heard in the woods were attributed to Bohpoli, believing he took a special pleasure in hitting the pine trees to create noise.

Bohpoli was never seen by the common Choctaws, only the prophets and doctors. The Indian doctors would report that Bohpoli assisted them in the manufacture of their medicines. Some stories even give the account that bohpoli would "steal" little children and take them into the woods, to teach them about herbs and medicines. After returning the children to their homes, Bohpoli would leave them alone, letting them grow up to become doctors of the tribe.

An interesting being mentioned in some of the history writings is Kashehotapalo, a combination of man and deer who delighted in frightening hunters. He was much admired for his speed and agility. If the Choctaws angered Kashehotapalo, he would race ahead of them and warn the enemy or animals being hunted.

Okwa Naholo or Oka Nahullo (white people of the water) dwelled in deep pools and had light skins like the skins of trout. They were believed to sometimes capture human beings whom they converted into beings like themselves.

Hoklonote was a bad spirit who could assume any shape it desired; it was considered to read people's thoughts.

 Shadow like beings

The Choctaws have stories about Shadow beings. "Nalusa chito", also known as an "Impa shilup," was the soul eater, great black being, or devil. If you allowed evil thoughts or depression to enter your mind, it would creep inside you and eat your soul.

"Nalusa Falaya" (long black being) resembled a man, but with very small eyes and long, pointed ears. He sometimes frightened hunters or transferred his power of doing harm. Some believed that "Nalusa Falaya" preferred to approach men by sliding on his stomach like a snake.

"Hashok Okwa Hui'ga" (Grass Water Drop) was believed to have a connection to what is termed will-o'-the-wisp. Only its heart is visible, and that only at night. If anyone looks at it he is led astray.

It was also believed that every man had a "shilombish" (the outside shadow) which always followed him, and "shilup" (the inside shadow, or ghost) which after death goes to the land of ghosts. The "shilombish" was supposed to remain upon the earth, and wander restlessly about its former home, often moaning, to frighten its surviving friends, as to make them forsake the spot, and seek another place to live. It was also supposed to assume the form of a fox, or owl; and by barking like the one, and screeching like the other at night, cause great consternation, for the cry was considered ominous of bad things. The Choctaws could tell between the "shilombish" and animals it imitates. When a fox barks, or an owl screeches, another fox or owl replies. But when the "shilombish" imitates the sound of either animal, no response is given.


 Birds of the dark

 The horned owl, was believed to prowl about at night killing men and animals. Many believed that when ishkitini screeched, it meant sudden death, such as a murder. If the ofunlo (screech owl) was heard, it was a sign that a child under seven in that family was going to die, because in size, it is a small owl. If opa (a common owl) perched in a barn or on trees near the house and hooted, it foreboded death among the near relatives.

Biskinik, the sapsucker, was known as the newsbird. If he landed on a tree in their yard early in the morning, some "hasty" news would come before noon. If he perched there late at night, the news would come before morning.

Animal explained occurrences

Animals figure significantly in Choctaw mythology, as they do in most Native American myth cycles. For example, in Choctaw history, solar eclipses were attributed to black squirrels, and maize was a gift from the birds.

Heloha (thunder) and Melatha (lightning) were responsible for the dramatic thunderstorms. In Choctaw mythology, they were two huge birds. Heloha would lay her giant eggs in the clouds and they would rumble as they rolled around atop the clouds. Despite his size, her mate, Melatha, was extremely fast and left a trail of sparks as he streaked across the sky.



References and Further Reading


Barnes, Jim (Choctaw). 1982. The American Book of the Dead. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.


Blitz, John Howard. 1985. An Archaeological Study of the Mississippi Choctaw Indians. Jackson: Mississippi Department of Archives and History.


Bushnell, David I. 1920. Native Cemeteries and Forms of Burial East of the Mississippi. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.


Cushman, Horatio B. 1899. History of the Choctaw, Chickasaw and Natchez Indians. Greenville, TX: Headlight Printing House.


Halbert, H. S. 1900/1985. “Funeral Customs of the Mississippi Choctaws.” Vol. 3, pp. 353–366 in Mississippi Historical Society Publications. Reprinted in Peterson, John H., Jr. 1985. A Choctaw Source Book. New York: Garland.


Hall, Robert L. 1997. An Archaeology of the Soul: North American Indian Belief and Ritual. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.


Hughes, Laura Hill. 1982. Cherokee Death Customs. Master’s thesis, University of Tennessee, Knoxville.


Hultkrantz, Ake. 1979. The Religions of the American Indians. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Innes, Pamela. 2001. “The Life Cycle from Birth to Death.” Pp. 245–249 in Choctaw Language and Culture: Chahta Anumpa. Edited by Marcia Haag and Henry Willlis. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.


Kidwell, Clara Sue. 1995. Choctaws and Missionaries in Mississippi, 1818–1918. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.


LePage du Pratz, Antoine Simon. 1758. Histoire de la Louisiane. . . . 3 vols. Paris: De Burre. English edition by Joseph G. Tregle, Jr. 1975. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University.


Momaday, N. Scott (Kiowa-Cherokee). 1969. The Way to Rainy Mountain. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.


Swanton, John R. 1931. Source Material for the Social and Ceremonial Life of the Choctaw Indians. U.S. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin no. 103. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.


Tedlock, D. 1975. “An American Indian View of Death.” Pp. 248–271 in Teachings from the American Earth. Edited by D. Tedlock and B. Tedlock. New York: Liveright.


Wheeler-Voegelin, Erminie. 1944. Mortuary Customs of the Shawnee and Other Eastern Tribes. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society.


Yarrow, Harry Crécy. 1880. Introduction to the Study of Mortuary Customs among the North American Indians. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.


1881. A Further Contribution to the Study of the Mortuary Customs of the North American Indians. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.





Saturday, December 5, 2009

Old Philadelphia Presbyterian Church & Cemetery

Old Philadelphia Presbyterian Church


The Red Banks Presbyterian Church was organized in 1844 under the name of Philadelphia Church, by the Presbytery of Chickasaw, Synod of Mississippi. It was the 15th church to be organized in the North Mississippi Presbytery. In the first statistical report, that of 1857, the members numbered 44.

No mention of the minister who organized the church could be found, and neither was there a list of the charter members kept. All were destroyed when the first book of minutes of the Session was burned.

The name, Philadelphia, was given this church because some of the earliest communicants had earlier been members of Old Philadelphia Church, built on Clear Creek in North Carolina, by their ancestors who migrated there from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Members of this congregation had fond memories of their "old meeting house" (Philadelphia) in Cabarrus County, North Carolina, so it was natural that they should call their new church by that name.



Photo of The Old Presbyterian Church which is now located in Red Banks a few miles from the cemetery itself. It was moved brick by brick and rebuilt in its original construction. It is now owned and managed by the First Presbyterian Church of Holly Springs and is still utilized several times a year with a special service and picknic lunch. Photo taken by Angela L of MSSPI and history provided by Roy Hendrix, current owner of the Old Presbyterian Cemetery

A Brief history of

RED BANKS, MISSISSIPPI

One of the oldest communities in Marshall County, Red Banks was settled by the cavalier type of citizenry, the most of whom came from Virginia and the Carolinas during the 1830s and 1840s when Mississippi was considered part of the western frontier.

These early settlers brought with them the culture of the older states, togehter with their love for the good life of a prosperous generation.

Many of these families were great landowners. The land of the older states being worn out with continuous cotton growing and lack of crop rotation, the more adventurous planters moved westward, to Mississippi and Tennessee where they could acquire new land and establish new homes and churches.

Although Red Banks has, throughout all the years since it was settled, remained only a small town, it has produced many outstanding men and women who have been successful in many fields of endeavor. To the business world, Red Banks has contributed 7 millionaires; Roberts, Johnsons, Rands, Norfleets and Claytons all once lived in this tiny village.

Other names associated with the early history of Red Banks are Berkley, Parks, Power, Taylor, Young, McComb, Canon; Castleberry, Mebane, Richmond, Houston, Newell, Blair Carlock, Crook, Wells, Hancock and Seabrook, Martin and Johnson, Woodson, Moore, and Walton.

Information provided by Roy Hendrix Jr.




According to Mr Roy Hendrix Jr. he is actually the grt-grt grandson of Alfred Orville Canon. There was a misprint of the sign. Angela and Tony had the pleasure or meeting Mr Roy Hendrix JR. who was very excited that our group was interested in helping with a cemetery clean-up project. Mr Hendrix stated that he had been trying for several years to get help from the State of Mississipi and the Local historical society as well as other officials who were unable to help Mr Hendrix with labor or funds to keep up this historical location. Mr Hendrix has spent thousands of dollars of his own personal money to remove dead trees and debris from the cemetery.

MSSPI has taken on the project to help Mr Hendrix clean-up and preserve this historic cemetery. Angela has documented some of the headstone photos on FindAGrave as well. Mrs Sarah Perry of Vicksburg Ms. who, also has family ancestors buried here, has been a wonderful resource in helping Angela with some of the history and contacts with this project.

According to Mr. Roy Hendrix Jr, there was once a plantation connected with this land, which was owned and donated by his grt-grt grandfather Alfred Orville Canon. -Canon, A. O., born Feb.20, 1813 - died Aug. 14, 1879.


The Old Red Brick Church once sat adjacent to the cemetery and was later moved to Red Banks. There are 3 unmarked headstones at the back of the cemetery seperate from all the others, which Mr. Hendrix suggested could possibly be the gravesites of former slaves. This has not been confirmed at this time.

Photo by Angela L Summer 2009 at the desecrated crypt of the bride from the following story. The copper coffin is unearthed and glimpses of its broken top can be seen when gazing into the open crypt. Angela and Tony of MSSPI have also recorded EVP in this area.

Buried in Wedding Dress

The following account was taken from The Commercial Appeal on May 2, 1935

Another, sadder story tells of a young lady whose wedding day was not far away when she became ill and died. (This is Laura B.A. Canon, daughter of M.H. and Eliza Canon). Shrouded in her wedding dress, she was laid to rest in the old cemetary on the Canon Plantation, before the Civil War. (The cemetary is the Philadelphia Presbyterian cemetary ). Seventy years later ghoulds uncovered her grave.

Apparently incited by a 70 year-old tale of buried antebellum treasure, ghouls yesterday descrated the graves of aristrocratic Southerners who were buried in the private cemetary before the Civil War.

Early this week, residents of the Red Banks community in the vicinity of the old Canon Plantation, reported seeing the strangers with 'diving rods", which are supposed to be sensitized to buried metal.

Yesterday , a farmer in search of a lost calf, found that half a dozen or more graves had been laid bare. Several bodies were missing.

In one of the graves, and in a copper coffin, lay the body of a young girl, supposed to have been Larua Canon, who died before the Civil War. ( Canon, Laura B. A., July 27, 1846 - Nov. 19, 1869, dau. of Moses Harvey & Eliza Houston Canon of Mecklenburg co, NC.)

She was richly dressed, her face and features perfectly preserved. A net, like a bridal veil, covered her bright red hair.

Shortly after the war, stories were circulated that valuable jewels and gold coins had been hidden in the grave yard. Many had searched fruitlessly in the vicinity, but until yesterday non had viloated the sleep of the dead.

Contributed by Mrs. Sarah Perry of Vicksburg Ms




MSSPI Cleans up the Old Philadelphia Cemetery!

On October 2, 2009 members David & Shelly Beard, Tony B and Angela L spent a beautiful day, raking leaves and debris at the Old Philadelphia Cemetery. The morning was eventful as a large doe ran thru the cemetery, unfortunately we were not quick enough on the draw to photograph it. There is still much to be done, the rain has been a hinderance but MSSPI is dedicated to finish this project as soon as the weather allows.




Photo of Angela and David of MSSPI working hard to get the place cleaned up.
To see a list of all those known to be interred at the Old Philadelphia Presbyterian Cemetery Click Here

Friday, December 4, 2009

Carved in Stone

Headboards of Stone Grave Yard Rabbit Blog
Carved in Stone
by Angela L Burke
I by no means, claim to be a professional photographer, but, I very much enjoy taking photos in cemeteries. And while I may be a Paranormal Researcher, my main purpose in visiting cemeteries so frequently is not just to try and capture a spirit on film or a voice on my recorder. I have many reasons for visiting cemeteries.
One reason is because I enjoy documenting headstones for my tombstone genealogy projects and another is because I love the beauty, charm and exquisite artwork that are characteristic of the old stones. Many of the new stones are quite bland and boring. Only recently , with the introduction of the etched black marble stones, have any of the newer stones been that interesting.


Some of my favorite Mississippi cemeteries for beautiful stones include , Hillcrest Cemetery in Holly springs, The Natchez City Cemetery and Hernando Memorial Gardens (Old Section). but there are many cemeteries to explore and these are just some of the larger collections of beauty.

The headstones in a cemetery can tell you alot about the person buried there. Not just their times and dates of death , but some of the larger stones, from the 1800 era have personal and family histories, Military and career information, as well as political and social club affiliations and migration information.

In addition to the information that can be gleaned from a headstone, there is beautiful artwork and inscriptions that are sometimes unfamiliar to us, but which hold a wealth of information regarding the personality , religious and social standings of the persons buried there.

Being a poetry lover, I also enjoy reading the beautiful poetry that is left on the markers. There have been some that have brought me to tears, although I didn't know the person.
The wealthy and the poor, even after death, are recognizable, based on the intricacy and size of their headstones. The details and images of the hand carved stones are a lost art to headstone manufacturers of our time. Which is another reason that cemetery documentation and preservation are so important. Not only will the records of ancestors be lost, but the
memorial left behind to commemorate them will tragically be lost as well. Being apart of a preservation effort whether it is documentation, photography or hands on clean-up and restoration of cemeteries and stones is a very rewarding and important effort.

I frequently come across lost and abandoned cemeteries which are over grown, neglected and vandalized. It is a very sad thing when nobody, including the property owners or the descendants of the deceased cares enough or is able to even try to preserve their resting places.

If you photograph the stones and document the names of just one cemetery, you have done something to help in the preservation of our burial grounds. I encourage anyone who has an interest in cemeteries or has access to a paranormal or historical group to utilize your volunteers and give something back to the dead, by organizing at least one cemetery preservation project a year.


The Mississippi Society of Paranormal Investigators, which I am a Co Founder of, has adopted the Old Philadelphia Presbyterian Cemetery in Victoria.
A beautiful private owned cemetery , who's owner is in his elder years and has contributed nearly $10,000 dollars of his own money to remove trees and debris from the cemetery, unfortunately , although the cemetery has been declared an historical site by the State of Mississippi, he has been unable to get funding or resources or even volunteers from local churches to help him in preserving and cleaning up the cemetery.
I think this is a tragedy. Just because a cemetery is privately owned does not necessarily mean that we as a society are not responsible to ensure that it is preserved. Some cemeteries are inherited or owned by elderly descendants of those buried there and are unable to physically or financially keep them up. Many are owned by the state and local townships who have limited, if any funds to maintain them. I believe that it is up to us as a community to be responsible.

Our present day headstones tell us little about the lives of the persons interred and have few features that distinguish them as different. The introduction of the black etched marble stones are a welcome addition to the cemetery in my personal view as many of them depict scenes of interest that give the dead a personality to associate with. They are somewhat harder to
photograph however due to their reflective surfaces, but the stories they tell are most interesting. I also love the stones that have personal portraits of the person, this draws me in and helps me to associate with the fact that these were real human beings and not just a name carved on a stone.
I also love the angel art and statues found in cemeteries.
Some of them come alive with emotions when you look at them.
The trinkets and tiny statues left by grieving loved ones at grave memorials are sometimes odd and sometimes very personal and make you wonder what certain items might have meant to the person who lays to rest there. I recently came across a grave marker that had a small pair of sunglasses and tiny trinkets that would mean nothing to the
average person, and it made me wonder what memories might be associated between both the person interred and the person who left them.

I hope that the next time you drive past a cemetery that you make time to take a walk through it, that you take the time to notice the finer details of the stones you pass. Cemetery stones are not just a place marker, they are not just a plaque to let you know who's buried there. They are story tellers and works of art as well as clues to mysteries about the dead. And if you take the time to pay attention to the details, examine them closely, look and listen,........they just might speak to you.