We finish up the month of October with one more look at unusual graves.
As we have mentioned, it was common practice to bury a member of the family on the family property, usually in a quiet secluded place close to the family home.
That is why we have over 240 graveyards in Trousdale County!
If you were living 100 years ago, it would be a family chore to help dig a grave for a close relative. And digging in the rocky soil of our county wasn’t always an easy task — six feet down to boot!
Although there is no law determining that a grave has to be at least six feet down, it is the accepted norm. In fact, our archives have a unique shovel that we often show to visitors. It has a very long handle: exactly six feet long.
It is a gravedigger’s shovel and the handle doubled as a measuring rod to make sure the depth reached was accurate.
And locations for these family graves differ from farm to farm.
I have investigated an old grave in a fence row, checked on a grave in someone’s front yard and found one in the center of a cow pasture.
The worst job I had of searching for old graves was when a man from Texas visited here and was looking for his great-grandparents’ graves. We knew the location, but spent three different weekends looking until we realized that we were looking for a cleared-off area. In fact the old graves, along with about 20 other tombstones, were grown over and were now surrounded with large trees, completely hiding them from view.
But speaking of unusual graves, not everyone wants to be buried underground.
An article from The Tennessean from 1948 tells of just such a local grave, and it gets more interesting as we read:
“Ever since the Rev. Hugh Douglas Thomas dug the hole for its foundation in January, 1948, his brick and concrete mausoleum, solidly built and all above ground, has been the subject of controversy…”
It seems that the reverend had decided that at age 71 and in poor health, he needed to make plans for his funeral. That was complicated by the fact that he and his wife Geneva had no children to take care of such arrangements.
When he began its construction the neighbors were not too happy and complained, which led Geneva to write a letter to the State of Tennessee’s Attorney General. The article gives the Attorney General’s reply to her question concerning her husband’s plans.
The letter said, “I wish to advise that I have investigated the statutes in this state on this subject and I am unable to find any authority which would prohibit you from constructing your own mausoleum.”
Thus informed, her husband continued with the construction of the above-ground chamber.
Mrs. Thomas was as feisty as her husband and the article reports that she had, back in the 1930s, carried her husband’s 116-mile mail route between Hartsville and Red Boiling Springs anytime he was too sick to make the route himself.
Which leads to another facet of the construction of the chamber for her husband’s body.
The article quotes Geneva Thomas as complaining of her
“Last winter I got the grippe in November and didn’t put my feet on the floor until February.”
That in turn led to this comment to her husband, “I was just getting over it when Mr. Thomas came to me and said he’d decided to build a tomb. ‘Well, while you’re at it’, I said, ‘build two.’ ”
So, he did just that.
The article has a picture of the mausoleum and gives details of its location, which we will not include here to keep the curious from visiting the large brick and concrete gravesite, which is on private property.
But we can say that it is very close to the corners of Trousdale, Macon and Smith counties.
Having visited it myself, I can say that it is indeed impressive.
Mr. Thomas was smart to begin construction when he did, because he died just over a year after completing it. Mrs. Thomas, however, lived to be 99 and passed away in 1983!