One burial custom observed in the Great Smoky Mountains was likely practised, at least in part, to help avoid such tragedies. When a person died, friends and family always sat with the deceased through the first night. It was considered poor form to doze off during this ritual, so it is assumed that if the loved one was simply in a comma or “trance,” it would be revealed during the night. The deceased was placed on a special board and elevated to the eye level of a sitting person, also encouraging close observation of the corpse. When the casket was buried, it was always within an 18” “vault” excavated at the bottom of the six-foot deep grave.
Dr. Ed Conner of the Smokemont area was the subject of one of the most remarkable Smoky Mountain burial stories. As Charles Maynard reports in the book Churches of the Smokies:
In 1921, “after a stroke, Dr. Connor thought that he would soon die of another stroke. He had a casket made of walnut from a tree that he planted himself. When Connor improved, he decided to go ahead and have his funeral while he could enjoy it. On December 28, 1921, Dr. Connor, wearing a white linen burial suit, stood on a large Bible to lead the singing at his own funeral. He lived 16 more years, until May 18, 1937, at which time he was buried in the old linen suit and the walnut casket.”