Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Amish Casket Makers

Every Amish community has an abundance of carpenters who are excellent craftsmen. This Countyline Woodworking shop is just one example of what you will find, if you are visiting an Amish community. Ask any local person where the nearest woodworking shop is.

There are also casket makers in almost every Amish community, turning out beautiful handcrafted coffins. Usually, they are only making caskets according to need, not for business. I have found that they will usually be quite gracious about helping out strangers, if asked politely.

A few months ago we had a special meeting in Kalona sponsored by the Mennonite Historical Society. Local Amish leaders were invited to come and speak to the community about our shared heritage. Five Bishops and Preachers talked about Kalona Amish history and fielded questions the audience had about Amish practices. It was a fantastic experience!  I heard some really great stories; one about an Amish casket maker that I will share with you.

One elderly Amish man, who was speaking, told us of a relative that made caskets.  He said that in the old days it was the practice to cut a long straight stick the exact length of a deceased person.  This stick would be sent to the casket maker to be certain of a perfect coffin size.  This elderly Amish man explained that his uncle always kept all of those sticks in a corner of his shop, each with a named carved on it.
This is where the story gets good!

Amish graveyard north of Kalona

On the occasion of an unexpected death, a local Amish family went about the unpleasant duty of preparing a to send a stick to the casket maker. For whatever reason, they were not able to readily come up with a stick that was suitable, so, they cut a cornstalk the exact length. A young Amish boy was sent on a mule to deliver the measuring stick to the carpenter. When the boy was near his destination his mule decided it would be nice to have a snack, and took a bite off the cornstalk that happened to be within his reach.

The story had it, that the casket maker and the boy made the best guess they could, about how much stalk the mule might have bitten off.  No doubt the carpenter made the casket a little longer, rather than a little too short. These measuring sticks are still around in our community, but I don't think the cornstalk measuring stick survived.

This graveyard (pictured above) is near where the mule incident happened.

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