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Tales from Kentucky Funeral Homes

William Montell

Publication Year: 2009

In Tales from Kentucky Funeral Homes, William Lynwood Montell has collected stories and reminiscences from funeral home directors and embalmers across the state. These accounts provide a record of the business of death as it has been practiced in Kentucky over the past fifty years. The collection ranges from tales of old-time burial practices, to stories about funeral customs unique to the African American community, to tales of premonitions, mistakes, and even humorous occurrences. Other stories involve such unusual aspects of the business as snake-handling funerals, mistaken identities, and in-home embalming. Taken together, these firsthand narratives preserve an important aspect of Kentucky social life not likely to be collected elsewhere. Most of these funeral home stories involve the recent history of Kentucky funeral practices, but some descriptive accounts go back to the era when funeral directors used horse-drawn wagons to reach secluded areas. These accounts, including stories about fainting relatives, long-winded preachers, and pallbearers falling into graves, provide significant insights into the pivotal role morticians have played in local life and culture over the years.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front cover

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Copyright page

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pp. iv-

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Dedication

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pp. v-

To all funeral directors who made this book possible and to my family: my wife, Linda; my children and their spouses—Monisa and Jack Montell, Hannah Neighbors, and Zoe Adkins; and my great-grandson, ...

Contents

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pp. vii-

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Introduction

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pp. 1-4

As a folklorist, I have a long-standing interest in the importance of oral history, and during the early years of the twenty-first century I decided to record stories told by members of significant professional groups. The stories were published..

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1 Funeral and Burial Pracrices through the Years

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pp. 5-28

In the days before electricity and indoor plumbing, many families lacked the money to pay for funeral expenses; but funeral directors understood and were willing to wait until payment came later on. People used horse-drawn hearses and handmade caskets (also known as coffins and burial boxes) made by...

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2 Funeral and Burial Folk Customs

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pp. 29-48

A folk custom is a way of behaving in accordance with family and community traditions from the “old times,” the good old days people often view as ideal. Folk customs are passed on from one generation to the next, and they are usually kept in place by expectations of compliance and by disapproval of violations. In early times, it was common...

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3 Funeral Humor and Mistakes

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pp. 49-90

Humor often helps people cope with sad and difficult situations. Even when they are grief-stricken, bereaved relatives and friends of the deceased find comfort in remembering and retelling humorous stories about their loved ones. Funny stories and remarks also help people work through the stress of funeral services and burials. Funeral directors use humor among themselves, too, as a means of coping with the challenges of their profession....

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4 Personal Practice Stories

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pp. 91-160

The following personal practice stories are about funeral events in which the funeral directors were personally involved and accountable. They are oral history accounts in which the storytellers experienced what took place, whether good or bad. By sharing their stories with other funeral directors, employees, and the general public, they are letting the world know...

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5 Memories of Family Funeral Businesses

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pp. 161-173

The stories in this chapter are about funeral businesses conducted by parents and grandparents, primarily males, across the years. Most of the storytellers grew up listening to and working with their parents and grandparents, and they share fond memories here....

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6 The Bereaved

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pp. 174-190

The stories in this chapter are about funeral businesses conducted by parents and grandparents, primarily males, across the years. Most of the storytellers grew up listening to and working with their parents and grandparents, and they share fond memories here....

Biographies of Storytellers

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pp. 191-198


E-ISBN-13: 9780813173610
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813125671

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2009

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Subject Headings

  • Funeral rites and ceremonies -- Kentucky -- Anecdotes.
  • Death -- Social aspects -- Kentucky -- Anecdotes.
  • Kentucky -- Social life and customs -- Anecdotes.
  • Undertakers and undertaking -- Kentucky -- Anecdotes.
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