PETE ELLISON RECALLS EARLY FUNERALS IN JELLICO; ONE MINISTER'S SERVICE WENT 7 HOURS WITH 16 SPEAKERS
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
George W. "Pete" Ellison compiled and recorded incidents found in the Jellico Cox and & Son Funeral Home collections. Ray, Pete's brother, and Pete bought Ellison's Funeral Home, which is now Cox and Son, in the summer of 1955 from Rachel Scott. In June 1981, The Ellison Funeral Home was sold to Charles Cox and James Bain. After about two months, Mr. Cox bought out Mr. Bain.
Pete states that in 1910, his father, George W. Ellison, started in the funeral business, which was then called Ellison Furniture and Undertaking. George W. Montgomery, Mr. Shroder, and a man named Smith worked at this time for Mr. Ellison. Ellison is recorded as owning a horse-drawn hearse with Joe Williams and Tom Baker being the drivers. Claude Angel and Kenneth Davenport worked for the furniture store and also helped in the funeral business.
Ray Ellison graduated from embalming school at Cincinnati College in 1921. He built a funeral home in Corbin, Ky. and worked in this area at this trade for two years. Ray was known as the first funeral director around. Pete's training and knowledge in the funeral business was a result of Ray's teachings.
Ray once told Pete to catch a train in the morning to Clear Creek to embalm a body, and then returns home by train. The embalming process was usually done in the homes. Back in the 1930s the charge for the funeral home to dig the grave was $5.00. In those days the graves were lined with crepe paper. Pete's salary at that time was $35.00 per week.
Pete began work for the funeral home in May 1936. In those days in Jellico there was no formal funeral home. Consequently, they would take the bodies' home. Then they would find some friends to sit up with them. The folks would arrive at 6 p.m. in the evening, while another group would come in at midnight to stay the rest of the time.
Pete recalls some of the men who worked in their employee. They are Don Davis, Jimmy Huddleson, Elvin Gridges, Tommy Trammel, Hubert Bills, Billy Ratcliff, and Rodney Lee Ellison, son of Pete. Part-time workers were Carter Broughton, Donald Lindsay, Ted Barton, Leo Sharp, Bob Wilson, Jim Large, John Morton, and John Moses.
Several gravediggers were employed during the many years of Pete's funeral business. They were Kelly Bowling, whose two sons, Tobe and Raymond, Clarence King Jr., Ed LeForce, Murphy York, Dee Mefford, Carl Bowlin, Joe Shepherd, Aaron Delk, Luke Delk, Clarence King Jr., and Bobby Edwards.
Pete writes that several years ago he went on a funeral of a deceased minister. There were four ministers officiating at this funeral. Also in attendance were other ministers, all of whom sat on the platform. When the ministers in charge had finished the service it was asked if anyone there had anything they wished to say about the deceased. In all, sixteen ministers had "something to say." The funeral was in the summertime and there was a grocery store near the church. And so, Pete decided to get something to eat. He got a big Pepsi, some cheese and crackers and bologna. The service started at 10 a.m. and he didn't get back to Jellico until around 5 p.m.
In another service the minister was going down the church aisle and Pete noticed he had "split his britches." You could readily see his pokie-dot shorts, but there wasn't anything anyone could do because the service had already begun.
One time a funeral was commenced and the minister was reading the committal. Pete noticed that the minister stepped back. Everyone wondered what had happened. Immediately a snake was seen crawling across his feet. After the snake had made his crossing the service continued. The snake was killed after the service.
Pete once buried a man on top of his wife. They dug the grave exceedingly deep and cemented up both sides of the grave and cemented over her. When he died, they also placed him in the grave and cemented his top-side grave.
Several trips were made to Ohio. The only avenue was by way of 25-W, this being the only road north and south at that time. On the way back from one trip Pete got tired and looked for a service station where he could pull over to sleep. He got in the back of the hearse and lay down on the floor next to the body and took a good nap. When rested, he completed the long drive to Jellico.
Years ago there were toll roads on the way to Ohio. Pete would pay for himself when he crossed the Ohio and Kentucky line and when he returned, he would have to pay for himself and the body.
Pete had a service in which a man had been married four times. At the viewing, there were his three divorced wives and also the wife that he was still married to. They all sat together and talked as nothing had happened. All were friendly toward each other.
One of the drivers was taking a patient to Knoxville who was in a wreck just a few hours before. On the way to Knoxville, he lost control of the ambulance due to slick roads at Lake City. Apparently the back door of the hearse flew open and the patient rolled out the back door and broke his leg.
On July 7, 1944, there was a troop train wreck out at Sandy Beach, which is located about three miles from Jellico. It was the worst wreck that anyone could recall. Several soldiers were killed at the wreck and many died later. Pete remembers that about 16 ambulances were on the spot, some as far away as Knoxville, Harlan, Middlesboro, Corbin, Pineville, LaFollette, Lake City and Williamsburg. The men were all brought to Jellico Hospital and later transferred by the Government to Oak Ridge.
(Material for this article was submitted by Mrs. Pete "Eloise" Ellison.)
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