Tennessee February 02, 2019
The Fascinating Story Behind The Cumberland Plateau Tent Graves In Tennessee
There are all sorts of strange traditions and historic practices here in the south. It’s an old part of the United States, a facet of the nation that’s built on old stories and a bit of southern charm. It’s in Tennessee that the comb grave, which you may know as a tent grave, tradition began, and it’s quite the story….
You'll find comb graves ("tent graves" to the locals) all over the Cumberland Plateau, and even Arkansas has a few of their own across state lines. They're an odd sight, peppered throughout Tennessee graveyards.
The graves are most iconic for the slabs of stone that meet at a point above the burial plot. The story goes that aging graves, back in the 1800s, would settle and fall apart. Once the wood coffins broke up in the earth, the ground would sink around the sudden underground space.
By using a tent-like gravestone above the burial plot, the stone would protect the sunken ground and even keep animals away. There are old ghost stories of children wandering the graveyards on a dare and stumbling across the bones of an ancestor long ago laid to rest. These unique gravestones helped steer many children clear of unnecessary trauma, one might say.
The comb graves were also a deterrent to grave robbers for their fortified, stony stance.
Most tourists experience comb graves in the Cash Family Cemetery in Coffee County. Johnny and June Cash are not buried in a comb grave, but their final resting place does host a multitude if you're willing to look.
Here, you can see how a tent grave was almost obscured by the utilization of a tombstone. It was more aesthetically pleasing and served as a formal nod to the deceased.
You can find comb graves in quite a few graveyards across the state, and unfortunately, there is no complete record of them all. Now you know the stories, friends. You can tell them and wander about the old graves, wondering about the lives led long, long before you got there.
If you’re looking for more state history,
this historic train station is now a hotel and restaurant in the heart of Nashville, Tennessee.