Leave it to the great New York Yankee philosopher to succinctly sum up funereal etiquette. Funerals are unusually bipolar events – deeply solemn, sad occasions on one hand; celebrations of a person’s life on the other. Some wags have even tagged them as “cocktail parties for the geriatric set.”
You’ve probably attended many funerals in your lifetime, but have you ever thought about your own? The average person spends weeks or months planning a wedding but less than 2 hours planning a funeral. While most of us pay little attention to our own mortality, many of us also harbor a deep fear that no one will come to our funeral in any case.
Whatever his reasons, Felix "Bush" Berazeale decided in 1938 that he wanted to have his own funeral while he was still alive to enjoy it. Thanks to a tip from Chris Dunham at The Genealogue, I have learned more about Bush, a rural Tennesseean whose unusual first funeral got way out of hand.
The Associated Press got wind of it and soon some 7,000 people from surrounding states – and a photographer from Life magazine – were headed to the Cave Creek Cemetery for the June 26, 1938, “funeral.” Heavy traffic delayed the funeral cortege and a local farmer reportedly earned some $300 for letting mourners park in his field at 25 cents a pop.
Bush, as the never-married Berazeale was called, was soon featured on Robert Ripley’s Believe It Or Not radio program and was the biggest celebrity in tiny Roane, Tennessee, until his death five years later. Bush’s real funeral was much more modest. Only five people – all funeral home staff – were said to have attended.
Bush’s story has been turned into a motion picture script and the film, Get Low, is currently in production starring Bill Murray, Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek.
Have you had any memorable funerals in your own family?
Writing prompt of the day: List three (or more) things that you want included in your own funeral. (Make sure your family is aware of your wishes.)
Photo courtesy of Susan Daugherty through Roots of Roane County, Tennessee