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Friday, December 18, 2015

Comb or Tent Graves

Today, I am shifting gears as I explore an interesting history and region of the United States known as the Cumberland Plateau.

When I visualize the region of which I am writing, I envision wide spances of continuous mountain ranges, rocky cliffs and un-populated sprawling beauty.  I think of John Denver singing of the Blue Ridge Mountains; of Native Americans (the Swanee and Cherokee) who hunted elk, buffalo and deer; and finally, I think of Daniel Boone who was famous for hunting and trapping in this vicinity.

Image source:  city-data.com
The Cumberland Plateau comprises of some of the largest stretches of adjoining forests in the eastern United States. It's location is generally in the southern portion of the Alleghany Mountains, however, it's geographic location is difficult to pinpoint, as it shares its location with several states. The forests are rich with oak, hickory and pine.  It is also rich with various North American trees such as beech, basswood, black walnut, red oak and Magnolia trees.  Plant and animal life are abundant.   

It is also difficult to describe the original settlers and people of this region, as the unfriendly, sandy soil of this region, discouraged farming.  Many early explorers and families sought this region as a place of new settlement, and those who tried to stay found only heartbreak and hardship.  We know this, because of the unique tomb stones that can be found only in this area of the United States, and the close proximity of time that deaths that occurred, especially pertaining to children.

The grave sites in this region are called "tent graves" or "comb graves".  The significance of these graves is that they are "the most outstanding style of folk graves to develop in this region.  A typical grave consists of two flat sandstone slabs leaned together to form a protective roof along the full length of the grave."   

Tent / Comb grave  [definition]- A stone structure built over an in-ground grave that is triangular in shape. It most often consists of two rectangular sandstone slabs placed together to form a gabled roof over the grave.
- Source: preserveala.org


"Graveyards of the Cumberland region are noteworthy for the variety of covered graves that have been found here... Comb graves are clearly the most outstanding style of folk graves to develop in the region.  Comb graves in the Rock Island-McMinnville area employ triangular end stones underneath to support the side slabs... most combs are accompanied by an engraved headstone, but in the Sparta area a number of cemeteries feature combs with the inscription cut on one of the side slabs." - Source: Richard Finch, Rural Life and Culture of the Cumberland region; rayhutchison.blogspot.com

Also, on Ray Hutchison's blog, he makes reference to the Spears Family Cemetery off of Old Walton Road, that is known to be the first traversed road along the Plateau, and is located near Buck Mountain, in Tennesee.  

Image source: flickr, depicting a cross, or something else?
He wrote, "The Spears cemetery is sometimes referred to as the Witches Cemetery because a number of the gravestones include a pentagram -- not likely associated with witchcraft, as this is a common symbol in comb tombstones from several other cemeteries in the region, but, combined with the unusual location of the cemetery, certainly makes for a good story."

Upon seeing this, I had to wonder, as there is apparently little known of the origin of these unique graves, except their existence by the locals.  Though, I assume the inscribed symbol shown on the grave stone above, is intended to be a Christian cross, but what if the "pentagram" symbol is a reference to the seven pointed star of the Cherokee Nation, or as seen in the picture below, of the Shawnee tribe?  I could be all wrong, but it is worth considering, since the original inhabitants were both from these Native American tribes.  

The photo (above) is from tngenweb.org/darkside and pictured, is a tin-roof tent grave, David Belle explains that he travels around that countryside exploring unusual sites and legends, and happened across this. This grave is in an abandoned cemetery with the "last known burial being a civil war veteran", and is known under the surname of Whistman, in Kentucky. 

This photo is in the same general vicinity of the previous picture, showing the interior of a grave from the Carroll graveyard, also from Kentucky.  The stick you see is actually a tree that has sprouted from under the burial site. 

Image Source: darkfiber.com, Dahlonega, Georgia
- the author of this blog is always seeking more information
about the whereabouts of these graves.

http://www.darkfiber.com/tomb/ is a fantastic resource, with a lot of information, if you are interested in learning more about these unusual graves.