Shamokin PA

Chronicles: Undertaker’s unusual requests

Some unusual funeral requests were revealed on Friday, Jan. 3, 1890, after a reporter for the Shamokin Herald met with a local undertaker.

The undertaker, who was not identified and spoke under an agreement of anonymity, said sometimes he could comply with requests, but sometimes he could not. To begin the conversation, he related the story of an elderly woman who had received a new set of dentures shortly before falling ill. On her deathbed, she made her husband promise she would be buried with her lips so arranged that her friends would be able to see and admire her beautiful teeth.

“We did the best we could,” the undertaker reported. “The result was rather startling, but the teeth showed and the old man was satisfied.”

On another occasion, he reported, “I was once called upon to bury a man who had at some previous period chopped off one of his great toes. Just as I was about to screw down the cover of the casket his weeping widow came to me with a small jar and said that her husband had expressly urged her to bury this with him. I looked at it and found that it was the missing toe, neatly and carefully preserved in alcohol.”

Then there was the four-foot tall man who insisted on ordering a coffin six feet in length. “The law,” said he, “gives every man six feet of earth, and I’m going to have my full share.”

One of his most unusual stories was this: “I frequently have people try to drive bargains with me for caskets for their dead friends. About the best case of economy in that line I ever had, however, was that of a young widow who gave orders that her husband’s coffin should be placed in the ground perpendicularly. A year and a half later she had another husband to bury and his coffin was placed side by side with that of No. 1. At intervals, she had more husbands to bury, and finally when number six was placed under the sod no more space had been taken than usually occupied with one grave. She said it saved trouble, because she really had only one grave to attend to now, where if they had been buried in the ordinary manner she would have five.”