Have you ever seen a grave house?

Wes Franklin

A good friend recently took me to this little country cemetery in north Arkansas. I saw something there I’ve never seen before: Grave houses. 

William N. Christian was a Confederate veteran and also a master carpenter. While in his 70s, two of his grandkids died. One was about two years old. The other was younger, I believe. The story goes that he didn’t want the rain to fall on their graves so he used his skills to build them the little houses you see here. 

Every night he would say “I’m going to go be with the babies” and he’d sit for hours in a chair in one of the houses and whittle. He died after a few years and is buried next to “the babies.” 

The cemetery volunteers keep up the houses to this day. They look like they were built within recent years, instead of being more than 100 years old. The old man built them to last, and plus the cemetery folks have made repairs when needed, such as putting new metal roofs on. 

There is an old wooden chair in the bigger of the grave houses that I presume was the chair Christian used to sit in, back in the 19-teens. But even if it isn’t, it is representative of it. My buddy told me that somebody stole the chair once and the local community expressed their outrage online. Before long the chair mysteriously reappeared. Perhaps the person who stole it felt guilty. 

I got to reading, and grave houses were an old Appalachian custom, apparently, and some of the settlers to the Ozarks brought their eastern mountain ways with them. These were the first I had personally witnessed. But another friend informed me that grave houses can be found among some of the relocated Indian tribes in Oklahoma, and that he has seen a few of them, namely in Creek and Seminole cemeteries. 

If you have seen any yourself, let me know. 

-Wes Franklin writes a weekly column, That History Guy, for The Neosho Daily News and on occasion for The Aurora Advertiser.