History of Campbell County, Tennessee

Time Line


By Dallas Bogan

Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.  This article was published in the Volunteer Times.

     Claudine Dodge McCulley wrote a very interesting account of the Roach Funeral Home. This article was submitted to the writer by the Campbell County Historical Society in LaFollette, Tennessee, and was found in the LaFollette Press dated, Thursday, July 17, 1986. It consisted of an interview with Emmett and Jack Roach. Rather than recite the interview, I shall give a version of the happenings.

     Roach Funeral Parlor, recently sold, is the oldest in LaFollette. It opened for business in June 1906, as the W.E. Mars Furniture and Undertaking Co. The furniture business was downstairs and the funeral parlor upstairs.

     Emmett E. Roach became associated with the business, in 1906, as an embalmer, graduating from the Embalming College of Cincinnati in 1920. The business moved in 1936 to 410 East Central, operating as an undertaking parlor and automobile ambulance service. Emmett stated they were the only folks in town who had a machine or well - a machine/truck, car, whatever they were called in those days. He also said they were the only individuals who had a machine long enough, outside of a truck, to haul a human body lying down.

     The business moved to its present location in 1963 at 200 East Avenue. Emmett E's son, Emmett A., and his wife Francis along with their son, Jack Emmett, then operated the business.

     At the beginning, in 1906, most funeral parlors were run in conjunction with a hardware or furniture company. Explanation for this was they had to have a box, and somebody had to make a box, and-so, a hardware or furniture company could craft them.

     Jack Roach stated that everything has changed in this century. Emmett related that the "undertaker" undertook everything. He built the casket, lined the casket, dug the grave and filled it.

     Jack recounted that in present times the undertaking trade is more of a service-oriented business. He also stated that most funeral homes today contract a grave digging company. Jack noted that the undertaker doesn't do much physical labor anymore. They do the embalming, help to fill out of the necessary papers, and make arrangements for the service.
Dr. Thomas Holmes invented the anterior embalming process during the Civil War. And-so, the bodies could be returned from the battlefields to the homes of their families. Minus this procedure meant that a person would probably die today and be buried tomorrow.

     Emmett declared that most embalmers began their training under a doctor's watchful eye. In the past, doctors did most of the embalming. Emmett compared the art of embalming today with that of the Egyptians. He said the undertakers of today knew how it was done in ancient Egypt, the difference being that most of the present embalmers sought to preserve, restore and to disinfect, while the Egyptians were not interested in anything more than preservation. Jack Roach reiterated that in comparing the two embalming processes, the Tennessee mountains don't have the hot, arid climate. So far as a comparable embalming procedure in an inside environment, Jack said that it could be replicated but it would take several months. The Egyptian practice was that the body was first soaked in a nitrogen solution, which in in all actuality, was nothing more than salt water.

     The Egyptian embalmers removed all the organs from the body, including the brain. The body was then subjected to various chemicals, perfumes and similar products. The higher you were in Egyptian society the longer it took to prepare the body. The average funeral in Egypt cost 66 cents of silver, compared to today's cost of several thousand dollars. The afterlife of the Egyptians was first and foremost. A prime example is the huge pyramids built for their departure into another world. The lower class of Egyptians were possibly cremated, getting rid of the stench of the dead body.

     Embalming college was made mandatory for the embalmer when death certificates were required; in Tennessee, 1914. Jack Roach gave his opinion stating that Tennessee is a little backward in its laws regarding the funeral parlor business. Present credential for this trade is that you have to work for a funeral parlor for two years. The next step is that you travel to Nashville and take a written test. If you pass this test you are a funeral director; however, you have to attend college to be an embalmer. Embalming was not required to run a funeral home. If it weren't for the embalmer, one would have to go back into the furniture business. Sometimes, in olden times, the embalming process was accomplished when actually running the furniture or hardware store.(Remember, this article was written in 1986. The laws have possibly been progressed by now.)

     Emmett Roach declared that embalming was not mandatory; it was not a law. Most airlines or trains will not accept un-embalmed bodies for interstate transfer. This is the law of the airlines and trains, not a state law. There is a state law, however, listing specific diseases causing death that require embalming. Such is the case of an epidemic or a flood where typhoid might become out of control. (Some of the causes of death in the 1800s and 1900s were hives, measles, teething, croup, consumption, flux, paralysis, dropsy, typhoid, Tuberculosis flux.)

     In this area various mining accidents occur. Slate falls, and a variety of other incidents contribute to the accidental deaths of relatives and neighbors. The casket of the dead was delivered to a home or mining company, where the deceased was disposed at their convenience or their own discretion. It was not unusual for folks to build their own caskets or buy one and have it delivered to the home. Here the friends and neighbors took care of the body, bathed it, dressed it, and buried it. If the embalming procedure was absent, the body was to be buried as soon as possible, depending mainly on the weather conditions.

     The circuit rider (traveling clergyman) appeared about every three months and, as a result, he might have three or four funerals to preach. The folks were buried as soon as death occurred and, in due time, the circuit rider would preach a memorial service over the graves of the deceased.

     The funeral business is now being guided by the Federal Trade Commission's rules. The director has to display a general price list for each family that it comes in contact with so far as the burial of the individual. The services are broken into several categories: that of the cost of a hearse, limousines; the cost of a steel casket compared to that of a wooden casket; the cost of a concrete vault; acknowledgement cards, thank you notes, transporting the remains to another funeral home, etc.

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