Nina Daniels



Wednesday, July 20, 1949

The little red school-houses referred to in former articles were put to sill another use by the early settlers. Before churches became commonly erected, funerals were often held in the school-houses. Folks were most helpful and kind to each other in those hard and drudging days. There were not so many, but that they knew their neighbors' joys and especially all their sorrows. Neighbors came forward to watch during long, sad nights beside the dying and afterwards often made "grave-clothes" and even coffins. So they were bound together by mutual hardships and suffering. Incurable maladies racked the bodies of old and young because in their ignorance of the causes of diseases, few cures were available. It seems incredible that folks resorted to the use of such unreasonable and often injurious curatives as our grand-parents resorted to. Modern science has brought healthier and longer life to us, their descendants.

So funerals were not uncommon in the settlements. It was then the school-house witnessed a different scene from those of ordinary days. When the children were absorbing the three R's—"reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic," the little room would be completely filled with the coffin, friends and relatives.

The sad event even took on a suggestion of a subdued and entirely respectful holiday. There were not too many diversions from the daily grind, and the atmosphere would be charged with the excitement of unrestrained human emotional suffering. Some enjoyed a morbid curiosity over this display of grief, especially if unusual circumstances brought about the funeral in the first place. Long, drawn-out illnesses from consumption and other ailments, accidents from drowning, or other catastrophes, always lurked in the background. Newly-born babies were sometimes lying, too, in their mothers coffins. Many, of course, attained a good, old age, but whenever death visited the settlement, a funeral, of course, would follow.

My aunt, who was a pioneer in this country, told me about taking her little girl to her first funeral, which was held in the school-house on the edge of the village. That would have been over 75 years ago. The deceased was a little girl about four years of age, the age of the child. The circumstances were unusual, but I have forgotten them. The whole ceremony was uncommonly sad, accompanied by great weeping and sobbing. Lugubrious hymns were sung by a choir, and put all the sorrow possible into the mournful tune and heart-breaking words. The sermon, which the little listener understood only by the dubious tone of voice of the preacher and his suggestive motions, added to her fear and apprehension. When the last hymn died dolefully on the summer air, the whole congregation was sobbing unrestrainedly. Then the little coffin was opened and the people were invited to "view the remains." The scene which followed was almost overpowering even for grownup folks, but when my aunt lifted up her little girl to see the still child in her coffin, she burst into wails and sobs louder than those of the parents, and she hastily took her home. The mother never allowed her little daughter to attend funerals again. Most of them left sensations of depression and foreboding hard to overcome, so unbridled were the emotions called forth by their grief.

Their sorrows, their joys, their above their dust in many country labors are over, and passes wave grave-yards. We shall walk reverently there, for they founded a commonwealth.



North Country