Monday, July 16, 2018

Casket Table

Prior to 1957/58, when NC Highway 12 was paved from the edge of Ocracoke village to Hatteras Inlet, everything having to do with death and dying on the island was handled by family, friends, and neighbors, without professional assistance. All of that changed when the paved highway, and state-operated ferries, made it possible to bring a hearse to the island.

Changes had already begun in about 1948 when Mr. Mace Fulcher started selling commercially made caskets at the Community Store. Before that time all island caskets were built by local carpenters. Typically, islanders kept pre-cut casket boards stored under their houses or in out buildings. At the time of death family members contacted the carpenter who retrieved the boards and nailed the casket together.

I have been told that when Alice Wahab Williams died (she was the wife of Capt. David Williams; their house is now the Ocracoke Preservation Society museum) in 1953 she was buried in a casket purchased at the Community Store. Some years later her daughter, Nina, located the unused casket boards in their shed, and decided to use them as a table top. To the best of my knowledge, that table now rests upstairs in the research library at the OPS museum.

Few people are aware that the original plan was that the wood for the table would be used as a casket.

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is a delightful story written by Dr. Warren Silverman, who in 1981 became the island's resident physician after forty years without a doctor. The story is about Dr. Silverman's very first Ocracoke patient, island native Maltby Bragg (1904-1985). You can read the story here:  


  1. Anonymous7:20 AM

    Has the Mortuary Science Industry lobbied the state of North Carolina to legislate the requirements to embalm and bury the deceased in an expensive coffin? Was the move away from a simple pine box considered a step away from simple means on the Island to something more grandiose and therefore "better" was tradition forsaken out of a mindset that this was not worthy ?

    1. The last time I checked (about 20 years ago) the only NC laws concerning burials were covered by public health laws and laws regulating transporting corpses across county lines. There were no regulations re. embalming, caskets, vaults, etc. Perhaps that has changed. Maybe one of our readers knows.

  2. Anonymous11:34 AM

    So, we could say people were literally dying to use the dining room table?

  3. Anonymous11:39 AM

    Here is some interesting information from the NC Funeral Director's Association:
    -Embalming is not required by NC law. Some funeral homes require it by their own policies but it is not state mandated.

    -Burial Vaults are not required by state law. Many cemeteries require them for burial.

    -The state does not prohibit burial on your own property. However, rules and laws verify from location to location.