Early American funeral custom presented at Sabine Hill site

Published 2:19 pm Wednesday, October 19, 2022

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During the last weekend in October, Sabine Hill State Historic Site in Elizabethton will present “Death Comes to Sabine Hill,” a unique event designed to resurrect many of the forgotten traditions associated with death and mourning in early America. Visitors can experience these arcane customs firsthand through several programs offered during the event including demonstrations of the jobs associated with death in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, special after-hours tours of the historic Taylor House, and a re-creation of an early American funeral service.
“Our modern perception of death and mourning are quite different than that of our ancestors. Today we push through the funeral process getting it over with as quickly as possible. Those who came before us, however, took a much more intimate approach. Disease, war, infant mortality, and other causes meant that death was a persistent companion, especially before the days of modern medical advancement. Prior to the advent of funeral homes, the process of preparing a deceased family member for burial was carried out at home, and all manner of traditions, superstitions, and ceremonies that had been practiced in the old world continued here in the new,” said Jennifer Baer, superintendent of Sycamore Shoals Park
 These ancient funeral customs and mourning rituals, many of which may seem bizarre and macabre today, have been all but forgotten.  At “Death Comes to Sabine Hill” visitors can learn more about these traditions and see just how differently death was viewed and accepted in the past.
There are three options to experience“Death Comes to Sabine Hill:” Daytime visitation to the event will be offered on Saturday, October 29. Guests can register for a one-hour time slot to visit Sabine Hill State Historic Site and learn about funeral customs, superstitions, mourning attire, professions, funeral food, and other traditions of death & mourning in Early America. Demonstrations on the grounds will include a coffin maker, grave digger, sexton, professional mourner, burial society, & resurrectionist. Also, visitors can take a self-guided tour of the historic Taylor House as each room will be displayed with various death & mourning customs from the late 1700s through the mid-19th century.
There are three options to experience“Death Comes to Sabine Hill:”
The daytime visitation times are 11 a.m., 12 noon, 1 p.m., and  2 p.m. General admission is $10. Ages 12 & under are $5. Pre-registration is required. Tickets can be purchased at tnstateparks.com/parks/events/sycamore-shoals.
Those who have a curiosity for the more mysterious will be interested in the Twilight Tours & Wake.
These candlelight evening tours will occur on Friday, October 28, and Saturday, October 29, and offer a special after-hours guided visit to the historic Taylor house. Visitors will pay their respects to the deceased at the wake and meet historically dressed interpreters throughout the house who will talk about the funeral customs and mourning rituals of days gone by. As the tour progresses outdoors, guests will visit with the coffin maker, grave digger, professional mourner, and resurrectionist as they share the professions associated with death & funerals in Early America. These tours deal with subject matter that may be too sensitive for younger visitors. Parental discretion is advised. Tour times are 6 p.m., 6:30 p.m., 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 8 p.m., and 8:30 p.m. each evening. Admission is $12 per individual. Pre-registration is required.
The final chance to experience the death and mourning customs of the late 1700s and early 1800s will take place at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park on Sunday, October 30 at 2 p.m. with the re-creation of an early American funeral. Visitors will have the opportunity to join the mourners in the funeral procession and attend the burial service of the “dearly departed.”
Admission is free.
Please be advised that Sabine Hill State Historic Site only offers portable restroom facilities at this time. The historic house is only accessible by steps and an interior staircase. All programs are subject to cancellation in the event of significant inclement weather.
Sabine Hill State Historic Site is located at 2328 West G St. Elizabethton. Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park is located at 1651 West Elk Ave. also in Elizabethton.

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