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There is No Fun In The Undertaker Business



Horse-Drawn Hearse

      A gentleman who formerly engaged in the undertaking business in 1895, in western Kansas, while standing on a street cornor in Arkansas City, he told a story one evening to an interested crowd ~hich bear to be repeating. The gentlemen at the time lived in a rather sparsely settled part of the state and was the only undertaker in that section. As a consequence he got all the business in this line. The farms were mostly occupied by homesteaders, and in case of death, the remains were generally sent east, as the larger part ofthe families lived there.

     One night in late summer, the undertaker was awakened by two men and asked to go out some twenty-two miles in the country to prepare a corpse for shipment east. He consented, hitched up his horse and started, the two men leading the way. The night was dark and sultry and vivid flashes of sheet lightening lit up the horizon. The road was little better than a trail and wound away amoung sunflowers which towered above a man's head as he sat in a buggy. Not a breath of wind was stirring and the dust rose in white, choking clouds, hanging over the road, puffing up from each beat ofthe horse's feet and powdering the buggy and its occupants with white. Nothing could be heard but the muffled thuds of the hoofs and the swish of the sunflowers as they were bent down by huds or brushed aside by the wheels.

     When the destination was finally reached at 2 o'clock in the morning, the undertaker was drowsy and paid but little attention to what his companions were telling him. He went into the house, which he found to be a common sod house, scantily furnishly, with two rooms. Two women were talking in a low tone in one of the rooms and they informed him that the remains were in the other room. One ofthem handed him a candle and he went into the other room, closing the door. He put the candle on a chair and commenced to examine the corpse.

     He found that the deceased was an old man, muscular, but thin, and that one arm was warped and twisted, either by paralysis or by accident, so that it was turned in an unnatural manner. The traditional pennies were on the eyes, the jaws were tied together, and a bandage had been placed around the feet and another around the body and over the arms ofthe corpse. The undertaker proceeded methodically with his work, looked at the eyes, unbound the jaws and unfastened the feet. He then commenced to unfasten the bandage which had been passed over the arms and found that it was tied under the board on which the corpse was lying. The knot was tight and he worked some little time to get it loose. He finally went around on the other side and bending over the crippled arm when the candle flickered and he saw movement of the muscles in the subject's face. Startled, he dropped the knot and bent forward closely to examine, when suddenly the left hand of the corpse shot up and struck him a hard blow in the face. He sprang back, with every nerve tingling and his hair on end, and for a moment was so thoroughly frightened that he could neither move or speak. Then seeing that no further demonstrations were made by the deceased, he caught his breath and approached again, with the candle in his hand. He discovered in a moment what had occured and indulged in some quiet, but hysterical laughter, for the fright was too great and the reaction too sudden for any real enjoyment.

     The old man during his life had injured his arm so that it could not be straightened out without great pain and it was drawn so that it naturally stood at right angles with his body. After his death the arm had been pushed down and tied, but when the undertaker loosened the bandage which held it, the arm shot up suddenly to its original position, and as he was bending over the corpse, he got hit in the face. That was what the men had told him when he was putting his horse up, but paid no attention to them.

     He finished his work with no further difficulty, but in ending the story he said:

"And I'll tell you one thing, if that candle had gone out just at the time that dead hand hit me, I believe I would have gone insane or been frightened to death before I could have gotten out of that room. Gentlemen, you can talk all you please, but there is no fun in the undertaking business. "