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Narrator: Irvin Harper, 73, Hamilton, Missouri

Mr. Harper's father J.W. Harper kept a furniture store in Hamilton about 1870 and took on the undertaking duties that went with it. He had to make the coffins. He measured the body then cut varnished black walnut boards which he kept in stock for the required length and width. The box was narrow at the feet and was lined with a figured muslin made for that purpose. There was no padding but a row of fringe hung around the edge. The lid might be hinged or simply laid on. It took about a day to make a coffin. There were many home made coffins, especially in the country.

The undertaker did not have the laying out of the body. He did no embalming. The family and friends renewed the clothes, moistened with soda and water on the face and hands to prevent discoloration or "mortification settin' in" as the expression was. This explains the necessity of "setting up" with the corpse and on which occasion refreshments were laid out for the friends.

In the late 60's and early 70's there was a frequent custom of burying the dead on one's premises. The Harper children who died then were buried in the front yard of their home because the family were not in sympathy with the Rohrbough Cemetery management. When the new (Highland) cemetery started Mr. J.W. Harper moved his children there. Most front yard graves were abandoned about the same time. George Putnam's son was buried in a field back of the present Dawson home (the old Putnam place) but was moved to the old cemetery when the field was sold 1875. The first Mrs. Wm. McCoy was buried in the McCoy yard on the Kingston road, then removed to the old and later to the new cemetery. These few examples illustrate the custom.

When the new cemetery was planned the Railroad Company would not sell them land for the purpose lest it spoil the sale of lots out there. J.W. Harper bought the land from the Railroad and then sold it to the town at the purchase price.

Of course there was a simple hearse those days but often it could not be used since the roads out there were so bad that it took a lumber wagon to carry the coffin.

Interview taken July 1934.


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All photos are copyright KingsCross Farm, 1997 & 1998
All written material other than reference material copyright KingsCross Farm 1998