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Death Lore

Texas Rituals, Superstitions, and Legends of the Hereafter

Kenneth L. Untiedt, editor

Publication Year: 2008

Death provides us with some of our very best folklore. Some fear it, some embrace it, and most have pretty firm ideas about what happens when we die. Although some people may not want to talk about dying, it’s the only thing that happens to all of us–and there’s no way to get around it. This Publication of the Texas Folklore Society examines the lore of death and whatever happens afterward. The first chapter examines places where people are buried, either permanently or temporarily. Chapter Two features articles about how people die and the rituals associated with funerals and burials. The third chapter explores some of the stranger stories about what happens after we’re gone, and the last chapter offers some philosophical musings about death in general, as well as our connection to those who have gone before.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Series: Publications of the Texas Folklore Society


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-ix

Upon hearing the proposed topic for this PTFS, many people responded to me with the same reaction: Why? Death does seem like a rather unusual subject for an entire publication, doesn’t it? Not if you check your local library. The shelves are stocked with books on burial customs...

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I. Introduction: “The Lore of Death”

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pp. 1-11

Contrary to what Captain Kirk told us at the beginning of every Star Trek episode, space is not the final frontier. Nor is the ocean, which many scientists believe warrants more research and promises more potential life-sustaining solutions for our planet than does any place outside our atmosphere...

II. “Final” Resting Places

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pp. 12-14

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"Life and Death in Old Bexar”

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pp. 15-30

I’ll begin by explaining this is primarily a discussion of old burials and old cemeteries in and around Bexar—San Antonio—and not the NEW, commercial variety. You should realize that Bexar once covered approximately half of present-day Texas, so if I seem to go far afield...

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"The Past at Rest: Two Historic Austin Cemeteries”

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pp. 31-40

The looks of disbelief and inevitable questions are remarkably similar year after year. “We’re going where?” Patiently I explain that classes next week will be held off-campus at the Texas State Cemetery on East Seventh Street and Oakwood Cemetery alongside Interstate 35...

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"Eden Cemetery”

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pp. 41-44

I grew up with a healthy respect for graveyards. My grandmother sold tombstones during the 1940s, and I have memories of visiting graveyards with her as a young child. She often took rubbings of monument designs to get ideas for her customers. When I first learned to read...

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"Buried in Texas: Any and Every Which Way”

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pp. 45-58

Sandra Ilene West was accustomed to having her way. She took that stubbornness to the grave with her in one of the more unusual burials ever in Texas, not to mention it being the most spectacular. The millionairess widow of ranch and oil heir Ike West, Jr. of Vanderbilt was buried on May 19, 1977...

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"There’s Something About Old Country Graveyards”

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pp. 59-64

Memorial Day. Homecoming. Decoration Day. Or my personal favorite—All Day Singing and Dinner on the Ground. All the same? Not exactly, but close. Their common thread? They bring people to cemeteries. I know that Memorial Day at Mt. Zion is not exactly the same...

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"Who Is Digging on My Grave? The Corps of Engineers?”

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pp. 65-75

The opening of a new man-made lake is a wonderful occasion, especially for fishermen, water sports enthusiasts, city water managers, and homeowners who are lucky enough to own land somewhere along the shore. Not so happy are reluctant farmers who don’t want to give up their rich bottom land...

III. Getting There: Rituals, Ceremonies, and the Process of Dying

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pp. 76-78

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"Most People in Texas Don’t Die”

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pp. 79-88

What was once a passing interest in newspaper obituaries has over the years become, for me, an abiding interest. I have observed that the obituaries, while reflecting passing tastes, more and more often concern younger and younger persons, many my age or even younger...

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"Oakhill Cemetery”

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pp. 89-94

We buried my mother, Thelma Alford McGeorge, in July of 2005, in Oakhill Cemetery outside of Hemphill in Sabine County. She was eighty-eight and had lived a long, mostly happy, very eventful life. She rests beside her mother in the same row as her father, a baby sister who died of diphtheria in 1913...

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"A Most Unusual Upbringing”

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pp. 95-106

Most men stumble into their life’s role. A chance encounter sparks a flame, a career pursued; a birthright endows one a profession. Some drift from trade to trade until something sticks. Others simply drift. My grandfather, Bab, labored as a ranch hand, then a butcher, until finding a life’s calling when he landed a job...

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"Funereal Humor”

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pp. 107-112

Folk humor like most other traditional forms of humor depends heavily on incongruity. The unexpected at the wrong place and time often provides cause for laughter. Certainly, this principle is true regarding happenings at such solemn events as funerals and graveside services, or, to use the more uptown phrases...

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"A Family Secret”

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pp. 113-118

One of the most vivid memories of my young years is the Sunday meals at my grandmother and grandfather’s house. All of the girls were fantastic cooks and all wanted to show off their talents. The house smelled like Thanksgiving every Sunday. After the meal was over and the dishes were washed...

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"Death Behind the Walls: Rituals, Folktales, and True Stories”

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pp. 119-146

Huntsville, a tiny dot on the map, marks the location of an East Texas town of 35,000 residents. Motorists traveling seventy miles an hour on Interstate 45 could easily miss the exit sign about an hour north of Houston, but mention Huntsville to anyone in the state and there will almost assuredly be instant recognition...

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"Origins and Celebrations of El Día de los Muertos

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pp. 147-152

Harvest time. The crops are in and the fields are torn and broken from giving their all. What has been nurtured and tended since the first warming winds of spring is now cold and dead and spent. Ghosts roam here as the line between the living and the dead is blurred and any door separating them stands ajar...

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"From the Gallows: A Confession and Apology”

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pp. 153-157

One of Dr. Samuel Johnson’s more acerbic comments has often been quoted or paraphrased: “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” Grayson County had its first legal hanging in Sherman on Friday, April 8, 1869, and a statement...

IV. Superstitions, Strange Stories, and Voices from the “Other Side”

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pp. 158-160

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"The Spirit That Walked Toward Hornsby’s Bend”

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pp. 161-168

There are a number of accounts of this story. All agree with the overall story and differ in some of the details. And this story is a part of me. The 1920s came and went before air conditioning. The month of August each year was so hot that our family would sit in the yard at night...

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"A Grave Mistake”

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pp. 169-172

It’s been said the only sure things in life are death and taxes. However, I came to question that proverbial wisdom when raising my family in Houston, Texas. Our sense of family always included animals, and there have been many through the years. One cat, in particular, is memorable for his ability to have the last word...

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"Larger Than Life, Even in Death”

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pp. 173-182

In one respect, death is a lot like a Hollywood film: at the end, everything presumably fades to black just before the credits roll. Throughout history, many Texans have been larger than life, even in death. Occasionally, one finds an unusual inscription on a tombstone, runs across a newspaper article...

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"Messages from the Spiritual World”

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pp. 183-198

Current society has a fascination with the paranormal. Flipping through the TV channels, one is not surprised to find shows about ghost hunters, mediums, haunted houses, and haunted battlegrounds. Some people even go to great lengths to contact the dead, spirits in the “other world.” They sit in the dark...

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"Chipita Rodriguez: The Only Woman Hanged in Texas During the Civil War”

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pp. 199-204

I was introduced to Chipita Rodriguez when I took a Texas history course in college several years ago. Our assignment was to pick from a list of subjects on which we would like to do a book report. Being a little bit of a history buff, and a songwriter and poet, Chipita’s story fit my interests very well...

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"Oscar—The Friendly Ghost”

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pp. 205-207

I never met “Oscar.” I am convinced he existed because of my source—my daughter Jan and her friends Gwen and Ted, and their two children. Believing in ghosts or active spirits depends upon an experience one may encounter. I haven’t had the pleasure or displeasure of any contacts with ghosts...

V. Thoughts, Musings, and Pure Speculation

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pp. 208-210

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"Graveyard Meanderin’; Or, Things of Life Learned Among the Dead”

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pp. 211-216

I have never been a particularly “normal” person, considering my unique quirks and “idiot-synchrasies” (yes, I know that’s not a real word, but what is language if it won’t do what we need it to do?). I get what my mom used to call “big ideas” as in, “what’s the big idea, anyway?”...

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"The Walking Dead: The Role of the Corpse in Western Myths”

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pp. 217-224

Modern Westerns seem rife with dead cowboys. Of course the bodies are going to pile up with all of the gunfights, Indian battles, rattlesnakes, stampedes, stabbings, battles, and general ill will. But a lot of them—the bodies that is—seem to malinger. Even John Wayne’s characters seem to hop back and forth...

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"The Yellow Flower of Death”

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pp. 225-236

The late Sheriff William Shely of Christi was frequently heard to repeat the preceding proverb when viewing Latin-American funerals in the old days. It was a comment upon the alacrity with which mourners returned from graveside to normal pursuits of life. The saying intimates that feelings, as well as flowers...

"Grandmother’s Uncle”

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pp. 237-238

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"A Gift of Time”

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pp. 239-246

The last time my “original family”—my mother, my father, my brother and I—took a car trip together, I was twenty years old. We were headed for Creede, Colorado. It was our first trip to a place that would become an annual summer vacation destination for my parents, but it was our last car trip together as a family...

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"Super Reality”

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pp. 247-254

Must not the question be asked before the answer comes? If a person owns an experience that the general population accepts as out of the realm of common, it could be considered well-named, “supernatural.” Yet, is it not “natural” only because all persons do not claim one?...

Contributors’ Vitas

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pp. 255-264


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pp. 265-275

E-ISBN-13: 9781574413748
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574412567

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 60 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Publications of the Texas Folklore Society