- Associated Press - Sunday, February 19, 2017

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Abby Burnett has been looking for unusual Arkansas tombstones.

She has found “Alva’s arm,” C.C. Humbard’s hand and Sam Swindle’s leg.

Burnett, who lives near Kingston in Madison County, is an expert on Ozark Mountain burial customs, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (https://bit.ly/2lNaZMK ) reported. She has located five graves in Arkansas that contain detached limbs, and she’s looking for more.

She wants to do a lecture titled “Rest in Pieces.”

Burnett, author of Gone to the Grave: Burial Customs of the Arkansas Ozarks 1850-1950, plans to travel around the state over the next couple of years to do research for a new book about unusual cemeteries and tombstones.

“I don’t know why we’re drawn to what we’re drawn to,” she said. “I do love projects that other people aren’t interested in. The well-trodden path doesn’t interest me. But the thought that it could be lost so easily. Carved in stone does not mean permanent. I hope I’m saving something from being lost or finding something really quirky out there and telling people about it.”

Besides the burial of body parts, Burnett said her new book will probably include a chapter on humorous epithets, like the one on Thelma E. Holford’s 1989 monument in Jonesboro: “My daily prayers: God help me keep my long nose out of other people’s business and give me 26 hours each day to mind my own.”

Burnett said the burial of detached limbs appears to be a tradition throughout the South.

“The Christian belief that the body will rise out of its grave at the Resurrection might seem to explain the careful burial of body parts following an accident or amputation,” Burnett wrote in her book, which was published in 2014 by the University Press of Mississippi.

According to the folklorist Vance Randolph, if a severed limb isn’t buried, “the owner will return after death in a mutilated condition and be forced to search for the lost member through all eternity.”

Nobody wants that.

But it might explain why Northwest Arkansas is overrun with ghosts, Burnett wrote. There were many amputees after the Battle of Pea Ridge during the Civil War.

If limbs weren’t buried properly, phantom pain could be a problem, Burnett said.

“The only known cure for phantom limb pain- the uncomfortable burning, itching or tingling in the missing limb, as though it were still present - was to dig up the body part and turn it over or straighten it out so that it would ‘rest’ more comfortably,” according to her book.

Melessia Pruner, who lost a leg after a car accident, twice had it dug up and repositioned in an attempt to alleviate phantom limb pain, Burnett wrote. It seemed to work — for a while.

Pruner, who died in 1951, is buried at Spring Valley Cemetery in Washington County. Her leg should be in the vicinity, but there’s no marker for it, Burnett said.

Next to Alva Greer’s grave at Ozark’s Highland Cemetery in Franklin County is a small marker that reads “Alva’s arm, Amputated Nov. 3, 1882.”

“Alva lost his arm in a sawmill accident,” Burnett wrote. “Over 10 years later, he was buried in the plot with it.”

Calvin Canedy Humbard lost his hand in a farming accident, Burnett said. He was buried in 1938 a couple of rows away from his hand at Hale Cemetery near Oak Grove in Carroll County.

Sam Swindle had his leg amputated with a saw on the kitchen table in 1922 because of osteomyelitis (infection), according to a story on Findagrave.com. Swindle and his leg are buried at Scott-Wehunt Cemetery in Montgomery County.

J.J. Ward’s severed leg is buried near his tombstone in Blackwell Cemetery in Van Buren County, but it has only cinder blocks as its marker, Burnett said.


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com

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