Grundy County Herald

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Time Traveler

Posted on Thursday, June 22, 2017 at 1:51 pm

GUEST COLUMNIST

travis turner

How I wish I could see the Grundy County area as it was a hundred years ago, or even back to its formation on January 29, 1844. There was a time when Tracy City was expected to become the new Birmingham and one of the focal points of growth in the New South; Beersheba Springs was the premiere southern resort, and still is, in my opinion. Little “towns” with mostly forgotten names such as Cerro Gordo, Chesterton, and Babylon sprang up. Yes, Babylon in Grundy County!

There were a lot more towns in Grundy County with names unfamiliar to most folks now, but they were established enough to have post offices. Of course, in those early days, it didn’t take a whole lot to gain that status. The words of long-dead reporters paint pictures of those old days, some vivid and some hazy. You can see the long string of mules and convicts heading to the Lone Rock Mines near the old branch prison stockade and new railroads with spurs to going to places such as Pryor Ridge.

More recently, at the Dixie Theatre with the new talkies, western movie stars such as Lash Larue visited to promote their new film. Old faded photographs take us back to the people and businesses of the past, a glimpse in to the efforts, hopes and dreams of a generation long gone.

Here is an odd little article from a newspaper dated March 16, 1904. No wonder worrying about premature burial was common in those days.

Corpse showing signs of life

“The funeral over the body of Jacob Rustchman, who apparently died Saturday at Gruetli, has been postponed until Thursday, as the corpse has shown signs of life. The ceremony was originally deferred until today in order to give the Rev. Mr. Nussbaum of Saint Louis, the officiating pastor, opportunity to arrive. Today the limbs of the body began getting warm, and today Dr. Lockhart directed that the burial be again postponed.”

One of these days, I need to dig a little deeper and see how this turned out. OK, “dig a little deeper” was a bad way to put that, but what about poor Jacob? If the pastor had not had to travel all the way from Saint Louis, would Jacob have endured an Edgar Allen Poe nightmare?

Modern embalming really began during the War of Northern Aggression (1861-1865, to be continued); the Civil War for you folks north of the Mason-Dixon Line. When is a war civil? Because of Abe’s war, thousands of soldiers died hundreds of miles from home, and for obvious reasons, a long train-ride back to the family was not a good option.

An enterprising doctor developed a fairly easy way to preserve bodies using as much as 12 pounds of arsenic and other nasty chemicals per corpse, killing undertakers and polluting our groundwater to this day. Formaldehyde-type embalming fluids came along later with different hazards for the living. Thus was the beginnings of a new industry in the USA.

Even so, for many decades after those initial embalmings in the USA, death was largely an intimate family affair. There was always someone in the community or town that was good at laying out the body, often in the deceased person’s home or his church where the family would spend a night or two (depending on the heat) with the departed loved one before burial. I personally think that was a better way to say “goodbye” than what has become the normal process of today. The old way may have given Jacob Rustchman, of Gruetli, a second chance, but most likely, in his case, it was only postmortem warming and not life that was observed. Postmortem warming sometimes happens, but for reasons still debated, but probably bacterial activity.

Nothing was mentioned about any attempts to revive Mr. Rustchman, which I thought strange. They merely postponed his burial. How thoughtful. When my time comes, I’d like to skip the embalming process and hope someone will wave a little hot cornbread under my nose, just to make sure I’m not playing possum. If I find out more about Jacob’s uncertain demise, I’ll let you know.