Monday, October 27, 2014

Ten Thousand or more attend funeral...but he wasn't dead

The Knoxville News-Sentinel
Monday, June 27, 1938

'Bush' Breazeale Goes Back to Farm Happy
After His 'Buryin' That Went Off So Nice'

by Bonnie Tom Robinson

Crowd of 10,000 or More Sees Roane County Event
Folks Come From 12 States
Cars Park Several Miles

Looking the country over today, one ocean to the next, you will find no match for Bush Breazeale who heard his own funeral and had the time of his life.
Over on his Roane County ridge farm he is resting up from the excitement of the biggest and the strangest celebration anybody ever heard of.

The little breezes tickled his beard and good humor lines crease up around his eyes, for Uncle Bush is full of pride and content that "my buryin' went off so nice."
Ten thousand men, women and children, striking a balance on the estimates, were in that tide of people who swept down on Cave Creek Baptist Church grounds yesterday.

One Man Suffers Stroke
and Ten Women Faint
The excitement was too much for Lige Freels, nearly 70, who had come over from Bethel Valley for the services.
Mr. Freels suffered a stroke, friends said, and he was rushed to Knoxville for treatment.
Ten women fainted.

A dozen states were represented in the shoving throng, even far-off Washington.
They came in holiday mood. You could say it was like a country fair and be partly right, except there never was a fair that stirred up so much curiosity anywhere.
Hundreds, despairing of ever getting their autos through the jammed roads from Dixie Highway to the church, pulled over to the the side of the road and walked the last three miles under the hot summer sun. Nearby farmers took down pasture fence near the church grounds, but even that was not enough room.

Buses painted with big signs, "To Breazeale Funeral", rolled in from Loudon and Lenoir City. Trucks came loaded with people. There was only one wagon. Wallace Harvey, neighbor of Mr. Breazeale's, drove his family to a hand-picked parking space on the ridgetop overlooking the church grounds.
'Bush' Runs Late
For a little while it looked like Mr. Breazeale was not going to get to his own service. "Looks like I ain't going to get to my own buryin," he said, leaning his bearded head out of the front seat of the Quinn Funeral Co. hearse.
In the back was the solid walnut casket, made from a tree he cut down himself. People milled up and down the road and pressed their noses against the glass insets.
"Well, no," some said, 'he ain't in it. Couldn't be. Smother a man to death on a day like this."
They mopped their faces and looked up to see Uncle Bush, so dressed up in the new suit Hall's gave him last week when he came to Knoxville, they almost failed to recognize him. "Looks like the preacher himself, so dressed up," a woman said.
The old man settled his hat and stepped down by his seat beside Buddy Robinson who was at the wheel of the hearse. People crowded up to shake his hand and started joking, "Bush, you're a-gonna be late to your own funeral."
What was worrying Uncle Bush was a drink of water. When somebody found him a drink he started joking, too.
"We kin just have the buryin' right here," he said. "They can't have it up yonder without me."

But they were reckoning without Frank M. Quinn, Loudon funeral director. He started out afoot to get a way cleared for the procession, and he did with the help of State Highway Patrol officers.
Down around the church, it was the sight of all your days to see the crowds jammed so close together, it was a shove fight to get Uncle Bush and his walnut casket through to the funeral tent, set up under a giant cottonwood.
Solid like a wall were the people, spread way up fan-like on the ridges and as many as could stirring the sultry air with the 1500 fans Mr. Quinn provided. Out from the loudspeaker in the tent came a voice pleading: "Don't shove, don't crowd, give them room."

As well talk to the waves sweeping up on the shoreline. The funeral tent heaved and pitched as the human tide swept against its iron posts and stay ropes.
Beard Gets Combing
Somehow the casket was set in its place and Uncle Bush in his chair in front of it. First off, he borrowed a comb and raked it through his white beard.
In the crush of cars and people, four of the "pallbearers" had been completely cut out of the procession, and six of the Chattanooga Octette whose songs were past due. The jokers were right. Uncle Bush was about 30 minutes late for his "funeral."
At last the singers got through and their voices rose up: "Time is filled with swift transition...hold to God's unchanging hand..."
People had to make themselves into a wall to protect him, but Uncle Bush's serene face seemed unmindful of the terrible shoving.
Right in the middle of the singing the loudspeaker broke down, and then there was an even mightier shoving from the crowd edges as people tried to shove up to hear what the Rev. Charles E. Jackson, come all the way from Paris, Ill., was going to say.
A man and some youngsters kept their fans going on Mr. Breazeale, while his self-appointed bodyguards kept the crowd from crushing him. The press of people made the casket teeter on its supports.
The Rev. Jackson's voice rose up in full pitch repeating the Twenty-third Psalm, but there was no way for the human voice unaided to reach that crowd.
"He maketh me to lie down in green pastures...He restoreth my soul. Yea, though I walk through the valley of death I shall fear no evil, for thou art with me..."
No fear was in the face of Uncle Bush, but a happy light, as he rested his grizzled old head back against the top of his casket. Before the service had even started, stealthy hands began ripping blossoms from the blanket of flowers.
"This is an unusual occasion," the Rev. Jackson's voice fought against the murmur of the crowd. "It is unusual for a man to shape his own casket with his own hands, and for singers to be called from Knoxville and Chattanooga and for this great concourse of acquaintances and friends to gather.
His Only Rites
A woman fainted almost within reach of Uncle Bush and the crowd parted just enough to let her be carried out.
The Rev. Jackson spoke sharply of people coming out of mere curiosity, but that didn't trouble Uncle Bush. And the tremendous crowd was no surprise. Hadn't he asked everybody he saw in Roane County and Knoxville and then everybody else who was listening when he spoke over WNOX?
"I hope that you did not come with the idea that this was a fantastic affair. That was not what prompted this man to have it," the minister said. "I submit that this is more serious than when the corpse is here, because life is more serious than death. It is interesting to find an individual who finds the time to make such plans in the midst of life, looking into the future.
"This is a funeral occasion that is divested of heartbreaks and heartaches."
It was. And, for so many, a happy reunion with friends not seen for as many as 35 years. It is the only funeral Uncle Bush will ever have. He wants no service when he dies.
"It might be wholesome for everybody to hear his own funeral before he crosses over," the Rev. Jackson said. "There might be time to make amends before the end."
Then he spoke of the significance of building, saying the measure of the man is the thing which he builds with his own life, but there was not much said directly about Uncle Bush. The Rev. Jackson read a brief "obituary."
The sketch said he was born June 29, 1864, one of the eight children of D. W. Breazeale and Sarah Littleton Breazeale on Dogwood Road where his home still is. Most of his life was spent working on the ridges with a bull tongue plow, and spending all of his life, except one year, in Roane County.
The preacher said Uncle Bush's mother was the sister of Thomas J. Littleton, father of Attorney Martin Littleton and Mrs. Rachel Vanderbilt Morgan of New York City.
"On Jordan's stormy banks I stand and cast a wistful eye," the Chattanooga singers took up his favorite hymn, and on the arm of his chair Uncle Bush beat out the melody. "I aimed to stand up when they sung it and make some gestures," he said. "But it's too crowded, there ain't room."
"Gold Mine In The Sky", was the song Fred Berry came from Knoxville to sing for Uncle Bush.
Not seeing the crowd but lifted up to search the blue beyond the top of a giant oak, Uncle Bush's eyes held something that was not in the faces of the crowd around him.
The press of the people made the casket rock forward as if it were going to slide forward and crush him, but he paid no attention to that.
Carry Off Flowers
After the service, people crowded forward to shake Uncle Bush's hand and pat the satin gleam of his casket. All four of the big floral offerings were stripped bare as a plucked chicken. Men in jeans stuck gladiola or carnation blooms into their shirt pockets or carried tight bouquets of fern and flowers. Some were taking them home to press for souvenirs.
"I just wanted to see what it looked like," J. M. Cook admired the casket. "You see, that lumber was sawed out at my mill."
Mr. Cook was not altogether happy that so many cars stopped way down the road. He had turned his pasture into a parking lot.
"I would have paid for the land if those cars could have got through," he said. "I took in $30."
Mothers made their little babies reach out their hands and touch Uncle Bush. Long years from now they may tell about it. Some of the women who fainted were able to come over and speak to him.
His hands shake so badly with palsy that he couldn't satisfy all the autograph seekers who wanted him to put his name on the programs Editor A. Summers of The Roane County Banner had printed.
The people rushed the soda pop stands as soon as the service was over, stood about visiting and fanning themselves.
Some distant relatives from the state of Washington were in Tennessee on a trip and came to the service. There were cars from Georgia, North Carolina, Arkansas. Some tourists camped overnight down Cave Creek Road a little way, to be there.
"All the way back to the highway, packed and jammed with cars, I couldn't get through; walked on in," Circuit Judge Sue K. Hicks said.
Some of the people didn't wait for Mr. Breazeale to get over to the church grounds. They drove the 10 miles around to his three-room house on Dogwood Road to see him and his best companion, the 18-year-old trick mule.
'Mule' Shows Off
Carloads of people came bouncing down narrow, twisty Dogwood Road, bordered by its rick-rack of split-rail fences choked up with elderberry bushes and Queen Anne's lace and blackberry vines.
"Mule," Uncle Bush said, "is plain tired of showing off. Everybody comes wants to see her cut up a little."
On the eve of his big day he dropped off to sleep listening to the music he loves best in this world - Walker hounds driving a red fox hard over the ridges and down through the hollers.
Boy and man, Uncle Bush is a fox hunter, and there was a whole lot of talking about favorite hounds and the long races, on his big day. All the pallbearers were old-line fox hunters, used to sitting around a campfire in all kinds of weather on those ridges, listening to their hounds.
Uncle Bush was as full of little jokes as "Mule" is full of tricks. He invited a dozen guests in to rest themselves, while he went in his bedroom to dress. In about a minute, his white beard peeped around the door.
"Mr. Quinn, you have some practice putting on dead men's clothes," he said, "I don't know whether you had any with live men, but come on in here."

The undertaker assisted him and when he stepped out fully clad, Uncle Bush said, "Well now, if I'd had these when I was young, I might of married."
"It's the first time I ever seen Bush with a whole suit of clothes on," John McNabb, one of the pallbearers, said.

The odd procession of hearse, undertaker's assistants, pallbearers, neighbors, newspaper reporters, and photographers halted at the Dogwood School House to meet the rest of the pallbearers.
When Ebb Huff looked out, passing the lot where "Mule" was, he shook his head, saying:
"I got within $10 of trading Bush out of that mule last fall, and if I'd a'got him he wouldn't be here getting his picture made but down in Georgia making cotton."
While the procession was waiting, (Mr. Quinn said it wouldn't do to get to the church too soon) Mr. Huff, Ed McDaniel, Horace Brooks, J. W. Grubb and Sam and Ed McNabb got to talking fox hunting, mentioning favorite hounds like Uncle Bush's "Yaller Eyes" and "Davey Crockett" and some more old timers - "Dinah," "Phil," "Trusty," "Stonewall," and "Rounder."
Still Waits for Dinner
If it had been nearer night they might have called off the funeral and gone on a hunt. All the pallbearers and the other friends and neighbors said they figured it was "all right" for Bush to have his funeral now if he wants it.
"It appeals to me for the people to have a little recreation," Mr. Grubb said. "Bush is an old typer. They don't raise 'em like him any more."
One said: "It will pleasure a lot and hurt none."
John McNabb joked about 'that 'Yaller Eye' dog" (Uncle Bush's last fox hound), saying "Bush trained him to keep the foxes off his chickens, made him run the foxes off before he let the chickens out in the morning." As for "Davey Crockett", he spent his time chasing house cats.
Along the way to the church, families had pulled chairs out into their shady lawns to wait for the procession and wave when it came by.
Great nieces from Kingston, Mrs. Mary Kate Breazeale and Mrs. Walter Crow, greeted him at the church grounds and invited him to go back home with them, but Uncle Bush shook his head, he'd have to get back to "Mule."
"If you'll come on home with me," he invited Knoxville friends, "we'll cook and eat. I'm still looking for my dinner."

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