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Column: Correct casket, right clothing, wrong person
Johnny Vardeman

Jerry Ward has memories of his own, now managing Memorial Park Funeral Home’s Riverside Chapel.

He also has stories handed down from the previous owners of Ward’s Funeral Home.

Once, Jerry recalled, the funeral home had 11 or 12 services pending and eight different shapes of caskets for mourners to choose from. Those were the days when it was common for the deceased to be taken to their home for viewing.

On one such extra busy occasion, when Buck Ward took a body to a home, upon opening the casket, the deceased woman’s husband told him, “That’s her casket, and that’s her dress, but that’s not her.” 

Naturally embarrassed, Buck quickly got the right body into the correct casket.

Once, when a deceased member of a club died, the group’s members gathered to view the body in a casket. Suddenly, a floor joist broke under the weight of the crowd, and one of the men hollered, “He’s going to hell and taking us all with him.” 

Obviously, the deceased and the rest of the club had a sense of humor even on a somber occasion.

A husband asked Jerry to have his dead wife cremated. Jerry told him he could have it done. However, the widower wanted to build a funeral pyre on top of Yonah Mountain in White County because his wife was half Native American. “Couldn’t do that,” Jerry replied. He explained that Cherokee only buried their dead, and noted all the burial mounds in White County and other sites in North Georgia.

As a compromise, the body was cremated and the ashes were spread into a fire atop the mountain. That satisfied the husband.

Popular preacher

The Rev. T.L. Robinson of Bark Camp in Hall County apparently excelled at preaching funerals. By the time he was 61 in 1915, he had presided over 1,400 funerals, or about one a week. Robinson was pastor of Yellow Creek Church in that community for many years.

Large funeral

One of the largest funerals conducted for somebody connected to Hall County was for Capt. Victor Montgomery. He had lived in Gainesville for some of the time because he was president of Gainesville Cotton Mills, Pacolet Manufacturing Co. and Spartan Mills.

He died in November 1902 after falling about 16 feet through a floor while inspecting a warehouse at New Holland. Dr. J.H. Downey and four other physicians were summoned to save him, but his injuries were too severe, and he died within a few hours.

As testament to the esteem Hall Countians held him in, a local delegation was appointed to escort his body to Spartanburg, South Carolina, where thousands viewed the body, and 5,000 attended the funeral. 

The delegation included Mayor P.N. Parker, H.H. Dean and S.C. Dunlap. Montgomery, 69, was a captain in the Confederate Army. He was almost penniless after the war, but built a fortune in the cotton business.

Mortuary turnover

Funeral homes have come and gone during Hall’s history. In 1909, Pierce and Richards Funeral Home announced it was succeeding Dorsey Brothers. A short time later, the funeral home was succeeded by Davenport and Richards.

The mortuary was located at the corner of Spring and Maple streets, just off Gainesville’s square.

Revolutionary War hero

Elias Allred was a Revolutionary War hero in the Georgia Cavalry. He is buried in Bethlehem Baptist Cemetery in Lula. His grandson was Lemuel Allred, who served in Georgia’s Senate and for a number years as the Senate doorkeeper.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326; email, or His column publishes weekly.

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