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Death and Funerals in the Old Days

Author Photo
By Capper's Staff | Jan 31, 2013

My grandmother, whose life spanned
more than a century, told me of laying out the dead in the parlor of their
homes and putting pennies on the eyelids to keep them closed. It was an old
English custom, she said.

She also mentioned a few people who
were so dishonest as to steal the pennies off a dead man’s eyes.

In a time before doctors were
required to sign death certificates, some persons were buried before they were
dead. Grandmother remembered a man who was saved when a young team carrying his
casket shied on a bridge and dumped the body into the creek. The water revived

In another case, a doctor attending
the funeral of a young woman noticed a red mark under her wedding ring. He took
immediate care of her and brought her out of a deep coma.

Many farmers built coffins for
members of their family. They were called long boxes.

Neighbors came in to sit with the
sick and the dying, and often they brought food for families in trouble.
Funerals were large, often overflowing the church.

Robert Bishop
Nora Springs, Iowa

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the
Capper’s Weekly asking for readers
to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from
early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from
grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were
received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first
My Folks title –
My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon
hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the
My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true
tales from Capper’s readers, and
we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.

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