Grave Shelter, Hattiesburg

We found another grave shelter, this time in Hattiesburg, in Oaklawn Cemetery:
Grave Shelter, Oaklawn Cemetery, Hattiesburg MS

I’ve posted the phenomenon of grave shelters (pics here) here many times. This from Dr. Gregory Jeane, in Volume III of Tributaries, the journal of the Alabama Folklife Association:

Few American cultural landscapes are as intriguing as that of the Southern folk cemetery. It is an integral part of the Upland South culture as defined by Fred Kniffen and Milton B. Newton; the Upland South was the dominant culture type that had spread across the South by 1825 (Newton 1974). A material culture haven, the folk cemetery possesses artifacts of commemoration and memorialization that provide a powerful statement about local sentiment toward and respect for the dead. The folk burial landscape is in part characterized by hill top location, scraped ground, mounded graves sited on an east-west axis, highly personalized and emotive forms of decoration, and cults of piety (annual rituals such as graveyard workday, decoration day, and homecoming which bring the community together in remembrance of the dead). Among the more expressive of the decorative artifacts is the graveshelter, a house-form structure of small to modest proportions commonly erected over individual graves…

…The Southern practice of building graveshelters is largely past, although one still comes across an occasional structure that shows evidence of recent construction. The graveshelter is widely distributed across the South. Unlike the folk cemetery that literally peppers the Southern landscape, the graveshelter has a distribution broad enough to suggest a long history of development and diffusion, but at the same time is erratic enough to eliminate a clearly defined core area from whence it might have diffused to other parts of the Upland South. In many ways it is an enigma…

Grave Shelter, Oaklawn Cemetery, Hattiesburg MS

Before I go any further, in the excerpt above, obviously ‘cult’ denoting people who subscribe to a set of rites…I like considering that taking part in Decoration Day is a ‘cult of piety’ action, something I hadn’t thought of before.

Oaklawn Cemetery is of the variety that most towns of a certain size have in its city limits, not exhibiting the traits, some enumerated above, of what we would call a folk cemetery. It was a little unexpected and very nice to find this one.

If you’re interested in visiting more of these structures, the Waggoners in Tennessee have a listing of grave shelters they’ve visited — they’ve led me to many, and I’ve let them know of a few. If you are aware of any that aren’t listed here at DFK or on their site, please contact me so we can document them. Thank you!

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