DODGE McCULLEY'S ACCOUNT OF ROACH'S FUNERAL HOME
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
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
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.