Having just visited the Eureka Springs cemetery for the Silent Voices living history tour, this post seems perfectly timed. I’m reblogging a book review of Gone to the Grave, which was written by the scholar and researcher Abby Burnett, gives us a fascinating snapshot of the customs and traditions practiced in the Ozarks for generations. My thanks to fellow Arkansas author Jack Cotner, whose work ranges from poetry to short stories to novels. His most recent work, Mystery of the Death Hearth, is an expertly crafted murder mystery involving the Celtic and Roman cultures as they might have been in the 5th century. I highly recommend it!
The leaves cross over our graveyards
When the cold wind blows and raves
They whirl and scatter on the frozen ground
Then settle on the sunken graves
They put me to mind of the children of the earth
The mournful condition of us all
We are fresh and green in the spring of the year
And are blown in the grave in the fall.
–Florence Elizabeth Rutherford, 1873-1889
Rutherford Cemetery, Independence County Arkansas
Abby Burnett’s Gone to the Grave: Burial Customs of the Arkansas Ozarks, 1850-1950 is an interesting, intriguing read exploring the traditions surrounding death, local customs and rituals concerning bereavement, and the burial practices in the Arkansas Ozarks. It is excellent in its research, narrative, and visual presentation. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in such subject matter.
I had the pleasure to meet author Abby Burnett, a former freelance newspaper reporter, at the Books In Bloom event in Eureka Springs, Arkansas May 2015 and again this past week during her presentation at the Fayetteville, Arkansas Public Library. Her speaking and presentation abilities are every bit as impressive as her knowledge and expertise on Arkansas burial history and customs.
“This painstakingly researched and thoroughly engaging book is as much an anthropological and sociological study as it is a historical and folklorist account of death, dying, and burial in the Arkansas Ozarks…there is virtually no source of information that Burnett hasn’t explored—epitaphs, business ledgers, funeral home records, obituaries, WPA questionnaires, health department regulations, oral history interviews, ministers’ journals, censuses, mortality schedules, doctors’ notes, undertakers’ record books, historical photographs, museum collections, and newspaper accounts…”
–Allyn Lord, Director, Shiloh Museum of Ozark History, Springdale, Arkansas
I hear a voice you cannot hear
Which says I must not stay,
I see a hand you cannot see
Which beckons me away.
–S. N. Lyle, 1875-1932
Lowes Creek Cemetery, Franklin County, Arkansas
I previously hosted Abby Burnett here on the blog. She shared some wonderful stories about her research, to include burial customs involving pets (something she’s continuing to research). You can find that here.
Jack Cotner’s name may be familiar to you, as well. That’s because I chose one of Jack’s poems (Do the Dead Call?) to read on air as part of National Public Radio’s National Poetry Month. And if you like poetry with a bit of a twist, here’s another of his that’s perfect for the season: Goodbye, My Love, Goodbye.
I also featured Jack’s book Mystery of the Death Hearth on this site. Find that here. That same post includes information about his short story collection titled Storytellin’: True & Fictional Short Stories of Arkansas.
As you can see, the Ozarks are home to some terrific writers. I highly recommend all these books!