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Newfoundland Burial Tradition

This story is an excerpt from an interview with Garfield and Joy Hillier of Campbellton, Newfoundland in September 2000. The "George" mentioned here was George Manuel, a long-time resident of Campbellton who was born in Twillingate in 1880. ---K.M. Fowler, Jr.

"When someone died, a friend or neighbor would bath the body, then dress the deceased in a white nightgown. People often kept a few spare nightgowns around for dressing the dead.

Caskets were seldom made in advance, so you had to wait on them. George made most all of the caskets in his wood shop for people who died around town for 30 years or more. Each casket was made to fit the body it would contain and would be widest at the top. George would start by coming to measure the body so he would know how wide, long, and deep to make it. His early caskets were made only from planned pine boards, but later he began covering them in fabric of different colors: purple or gray for older people, and white or blue for children and young people. The fabric was similar to flannel and had a pattern, flowers for example, of the same color.

In the mean time, a piece of cloth was tied from under the jaw to over the top of the head of the corpse so that the jaw was held shut until rigor mortis set in. A large-sized old English penny was placed on each eye to hold them closed as well. Hence the saying to describe people who couldn't be trusted, "He would steal the coppers right off your eyes!"

Most houses in Newfoundland had a room called the parlor that was kept closed off most of the time. It was seldom entered except for the christening of a baby or as a place for a body to lay until the funeral. Friends and neighbors would visit the home to view the body and pay their respects, always bringing along some prepared food.

The casket was taken to the church just prior to the funeral service by pallbearers carrying it by three handles screwed into each side. Following the church service the casket was taken for a shorter graveside service that usually consisted of a prayer and some hymns.

After the funeral the house was usually sprayed with a deodorizer called 'Jeyes Fluid' to cover the smell. The blinds on the windows of the house were kept closed for several days, and family members usually wore black clothing for up to a year. Men often wore black arm bands."