Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A grave house from Hill Country, Part 1

Part 1. Letha Ann Ratliff Grissom: A grave house from Hill Country. Below
Part 2. The Grissoms and Ratliffs of Itawamba County Mississippi, 1860. To be posted later

by Terry Thornton
email: hillcountrymonroecounty@gmail.com

Below is a photographic essay of the grave house of Letha Ann Ratliff Grissom, born April 25, 1844, died March 24, 1861. Letha Ann married Henry Jackson Grissom December 3, 1860. Three months and a few days later she was dead. She was sixteen years old. Letha Ann Ratliff Grissom is buried at Oak Grove Cemetery in the Ratliff Community of Itawamba County, Mississippi, in the grave house that Henry Jackson Grissom built for her 149 years ago.

Grave houses were once common throughout the Hill Country --- but few have survived. This one-hundred-forty-nine year old grave house is a prime example of grave houses built over a burial to shelter and to protect the grave. The custom may have had its origin in the older custom of building "spirit houses" so that the spirit of the deceased would stay near the body until judgment day to then be rejoined with the body, fused with the soul, and resurrected to ascend into Heaven.

The grave of Letha Ann Ratliff Grissom is within the grave house shown above. Her husband, Henry Jackson Grissom, built the grave house in 1861. His grave marker is the one to the immediate left of the house.

The grave house was probably originally covered with a wooden shake roof; the older photo below shows some sort of composition shingles on the roof; but more recently, the grave house has been updated with a metal roof.

Each side of the house features either a window or a door.

A photograph through the back window; sunlight illuminates the marker and the grave covered with flowers. The reflections on the window are of me holding my camera.

Through the opened door, the grave of Letha Ann Grissom is visible; the marker has been repaired but is most readable.

Note the walls and ceiling of the completely sealed small grave house. The rubble on the floor indicates that an earlier concrete floor has been picked and broken apart.

The marker of Letha Ann Grissom, born April 25, 1844, died March 24, 1861. Family records indicate that she married on December 3, 1860. Just a few months later, Letha Ann was dead.

An earlier photograph of the grave house is used by permission of the Itawamba Historical Society. This photograph originally appeared in The Grave of Letha Ann Grissom by Sue Farmer Bean, page 184, Itawamba Settlers, Volume 20, Number 4, Winter 2000, Edited by Joe Nell Wood. Copyright © Itawamba Historical Society. All Rights Reserved.


Bean, Sue Farmer. The Grave of Letha Ann Grissom, Itawamba Settlers, The Quarterly Journal of Itawamba County Mississippi History and Genealogy. Edited by Joe Nell Wood. Volume 20. Number 4. Winter 2000. Page 183 and following. A photograph of the grave house from that article is republished above with written permission of Bob Franks, Publications Editor, Itawamba Historical Society.

Grissom Family Census, 1860 Federal Census of Itawamba County Mississippi. Available through Heritage Quest through the Itawamba-Lee County Library System.

Ratliff Family Census Information, 1860 Federal Census of Itawamba County Mississippi. Available through Heritage Quest through the Itawamba-Lee County Library System.

All photographs (unless otherwise noted) from Oak Grove Cemetery, Itawamba County Mississippi, by Terry Thornton, Fulton, Mississippi. February 2, 2010. All Rights Reserved.


S. Lincecum said...

Awesome! I've seen a shelter or two, but never a house.

Liz said...

Interesting! I only recently heard of grave houses, in regards to Istre Cemetery in Acadia Parish, La. Those houses are miniature in size. Info/photos of those at: http://tinyurl.com/y8ozwpp
and http://tinyurl.com/ykm33e6

Dorene from Ohio said...

Very interesting!!

Diane Wright said...

My new favorite story! I never heard of a grave house. Now I will spend the night researching the internet. Thanks Terry for always giving the best stories.

Terry Thornton said...

Thanks, Diane. As you watch for information about grave houses, note differences in those built as "shelter of the grave" and those designed for "shelter of the spirit" which, according to some, hovers about the body until judgment day. This custom probably came to the Colonies from the British Isles and from various European countries.

Terry Thornton
Fulton, Mississippi