Tennessee funeral home's 'Gone To Rest' takes visitors on a hauntingly historic Halloween trip

Tennessee funeral home\
Tennessee funeral home\'s \'Gone To Rest\' takes visitors on a hauntingly historic Halloween trip  

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Right about now, many parents are undoubtedly trying to figure out how to have their small princesses, superheroes and spooks participate safely in the annual Halloween round for tricks or treats.

Meanwhile, Blount Mansion and Gentry Griffey Funeral Home are cooking up a bit of fun - and a macabre history lesson - for older kids and adults.

Over three days of the Halloween weekend, "Gone to Rest: Funeral Customs Through History" will take visitors on a hauntingly historic trip into the past. And thanks to Gentry Griffey Funeral Chapel and Crematory, the tickets are free.

Diane Hunter, manager of Gentry Griffey, says it's a fascinating history, with many details not occurring to those living in the present day. During the Civil War, for instance, health concerns - birth to death - were pretty much one-stop shopping.

"The town doctor was also the dentist and the mortician and the coroner and the embalmer," says Hunter. "One person, one office. You would go to the dentist and he may have just finished embalming a body!"

Hunter says that most funerals of that time were held in the home with the body present, and all the deceased's friends and relatives were invited for a wake to celebrate the person's life.

That was also true, says Stacey Olfe, when William Blount himself died, in his house in 1800.

As a deputy clerk with the Knox County Criminal Court, Olfe has a lifelong interest in the paranormal, and as a three-year volunteer at Blount Mansion, she especially enjoys the Halloween programs. She'll be leading these tours, and can tell visitors all about Blount's wake, funeral and eventual cortege and interment up the street at First Presbyterian Church.

She'll also give extensive commentary on the display planned for the Craighead-Jackson House featuring two Victorian practices: hair wreaths and postmortem photography.

Making wreaths, ornaments and jewelry out of hair, says Olfe, was hugely popular. She holds up a large shadow box, lent by the East Tennessee Historical Society, featuring an elaborate wreath and photograph of the living person. "She collected her hair and had this made. She wasn't necessarily dead when this was made; she wanted to make sure that her loved ones would have a memorial of her. The how-to would have been published in a ladies' magazine."

Also on display for Olfe's "show and tell" will be Victorian postmortem photography, in which the recently deceased person is photographed with other family members and made to look lifelike. Modern-day viewers find these photos unsettling, but Olfe says that the Victorians were very different from us.

"They didn't think about death the same way that we do," she says. "They were very close to it." With photography in its infancy, and photographers scarce and pricey, "you wouldn't necessarily get a photo during life. But in order to remember your loved one you wanted to make sure to get a photo of them in death."

"Gone To Rest" happens 8-9:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29 and Friday, Oct. 30, and 8-10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 31 at the Blount Mansion National Historic Site, 200 W. Hill Avenue. Tours begin every half hour. Crowd size is limited and reservations are required.

Info: www.blountmansion.org.

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This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Tennessee funeral home takes visitors on a hauntingly historic trip


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