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Tales from Kentucky Funeral Homes

by William Lynwood Montell

Availablepaperback$19.95 978-0-8131-6823-4
Availablecloth$29.95s 978-0-8131-2567-1
208 pages  Pubdate: 07/22/2016  6 x 9 x .6875  0

Publicity Inquiries: Mack McCormick

In Tales from Kentucky Funeral Homes, William Lynwood Montell has collected stories and reminiscences from funeral home directors and embalmers across the state. These accounts provide a record of the business of death as it has been practiced in Kentucky over the past fifty years. The collection ranges from tales of old-time burial practices, to stories about funeral customs unique to the African American community, to tales of premonitions, mistakes, and even humorous occurrences. Other stories involve such unusual aspects of the business as snake-handling funerals, mistaken identities, and in-home embalming. Taken together, these firsthand narratives preserve an important aspect of Kentucky social life not likely to be collected elsewhere. Most of these funeral home stories involve the recent history of Kentucky funeral practices, but some descriptive accounts go back to the era when funeral directors used horse-drawn wagons to reach secluded areas. These accounts, including stories about fainting relatives, long-winded preachers, and pallbearers falling into graves, provide significant insights into the pivotal role morticians have played in local life and culture over the years.

William Lynwood Montell, professor emeritus of folk studies at Western Kentucky University, is the author or editor of more than twenty books, including Tales from Kentucky Funeral Homes, and Tales from Kentucky Funeral Homes .

While many of the tales show how the funeral business has changed over the years, the stories also serve to humanize the death care profession and those who work in it. -- Ronald L. Baker, author of Hoosier Folk Legends

For years I’ve heard funeral directors telling tales of their profession, and they would all eventually say, ‘Someone should write a book.’ Well now we have one. This publication will be enjoyed by funeral directors and the public alike for many years to come. -- Sidney Fogle, Executive Director, Funeral Directors Association of Kentucky

A fascinating read. . . . Some of the stories are thoughtful explanations of past funeral customs and ruminations on the needs of grieving, but many are also funny. -- Heather Chapman -- Lexington-Herald Leader

Montell’s easy-to-read hardbound book recounts the business of death as told through the mouths of funeral home directors and embalmers from across the state. . . . This is his piece de resistance and it deserves a prime spot on your shelf, due to the fact it can be read again and again. -- Larry See Jr. -- Meade County Messenger

[Montell] is doing what he does best: interviewing people about specific topics and presenting the information he finds. It sounds simple, but it requires a delicate finesse. -- Jonathen Jeffrey -- Bowling Green Daily News

Yes, they have humorous stories to tell, but they also have poignant tales that will move you. . . . Those in the funeral home business will enjoy reading these stories provided by their colleagues; those outside the profession will laugh and cry as the stories reveal humorous and intimate details about this most interesting occupation. -- Bowling Green Daily News

Montell’s collection documents an interesting change over several decades from families keeping their deceased loved one in their home and burying them in nearby family plots to present-day funeral and cemetery practices. -- Kentucky Ancestors

It is a unique firsthand record of this history and culture of death in Kentucky relay nearly word-for-word to preserve the language, style and emotion used by the people involved in the ears of horse-drawn hearses and in-home embalming to what we find today in funeral practices. -- Hardin Company Historical Society

In Tales from Kentucky Funeral Homes, [Montell's] edited anecdotes preserve many of those traditions for readers interested in commonwealth customs related to 'passing on.' -- Courier-Journal

Tales from Kentucky Funeral Homes is not only valuable for its focus on this locale, but also as a refresher to the way in which folklore should continue to be studied: focusing on actual individuals and their personal experiences. . . . It demonstrates useful methodological approaches for the study of folklore in an engaging and personal way while also speaking to larger aspects of American culture. -- Western Folklore

Many of the stories in this book happened decades ago, which not only gives readers a sense of early- to mid-20th century Kentucky (and mountain) culture but also allows readers to peek back at customs few are privy to today. -- Director Magazine

Tales from Kentucky Funeral Homes is not only valuable for its focus on this locale, but also as a refresher to the way in which folklore should continue to be studied: focusing on actual individuals and their personal experiences. -- Western Folklore

The author provides excellent introductions to a vast range of local traditions pertaining to the culture of death. These brief treatments may inspire further research by readers. His well-thought-out introductions tie the various chapters into a cognitive whole, helping to reinforce connections among the many topics he introduces. Montell weaves his material together in such a fashion that the reader never loses sight of his thesis. -- Chase E. Machen -- Journal of American Folklore