The Day of Grandpap’s Funeral

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, November 21, 1913: Ruth and I went to Turbotville this morning on the train to attend the funeral.

John and Sarah Derr Family. Taken about 1900. L to R. Front Row: John, Annie (Derr) Van Sant, Sarah. Back Row: Miles, Fuller, Alice (Derr) Krumm, Elmer, Phoebe (Derr) Muffly, Judson, Homer. Phoebe was the mother of Helena.
John and Sarah Derr Family. Taken about 1900. L to R. Front Row: John, Annie (Derr) Van Sant, Sarah. Back Row: Miles, Fuller, Alice (Derr) Krumm, Elmer, Phoebe (Derr) Muffly, Judson, Homer. Phoebe was the mother of Helena.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma’s 90-year-old grandfather, John Derr,  died on November 17. He was her mother’s father.  Grandma and her sister Ruth would have taken the  the Susquehanna Bloomsburg and Berwick train to Turbotville for the funeral. It was about a  five mile trip.  There was a whistle stop at the feed mill near their home where they would have flagged the train down.

How did the rest of the family get to the funeral? One thought—

Maybe her mother, father, and little brother Jimmie had gone ahead to the funeral—but Ruth and Grandma had to stay home and  milk the cows before they could go.

John Derr had a big family, so the funeral would have been large. It was probably held at a church or the family home—though it might possibly have been held at a funeral home.  He was buried in the Turbotville Cemetery.

John’s wife Sarah was still living. Were family members worried about how she was taking her husband’s death?  In 1913, Sarah was only 79 (and she would live another 14 years until she died in 1928 at the age of 93).

Eight of John’s nine children were still living. Did they all manage to get home for the funeral? Five of the children lived nearby: Phoebe (Grandma’s mother), Alice, Annie, Miles, Judson, and Fuller; but two were more distant.

The 1910 census indicates that one son, Homer, was a college professor living in Brookings, South Dakota. How did he get the message about his dad’s death? . . . by telegraph?  Was it possible for him to get back to Pennsylvania in only four days for a funeral?

And, records indicate that Elmer was a “sales manager – harvester” in Baltimore, Maryland.


28 thoughts on “The Day of Grandpap’s Funeral

  1. Yes, I would imagine that telegraph was about the only way of communicating in a timely manner in those days. Grandpap’s widow lived many years after his death….

    1. She was 11 years younger than him–so that was part of it; but she also lived a very long life. I wish that I knew what she did during the years after his death.

  2. How appropriate that Homer was a college professor :). Perhaps he was sent the news by letter; that was often the way, especially if a family knew that attending the funeral would be difficult or too expensive.

    1. That makes sense. I can see how a family might think that it would be easier it someone who lived at a distance didn’t know about the death until after the funeral. Then the individual won’t feel any pressure to try to make a long difficult trip to attend the funeral

    1. I love to look at this photo. The clothes, body language, and facial expressions give so many clues about the personalities of the various family members.

  3. I love the family photo! Such good quality, and I always love seeing the fashion of eras gone by.

    When her grandfather died, I was wondering about how family would find out, too. I had forgotten about telegraphs.

    Too bad there isn’t an obituary or one of those books where all the family who attends the funeral signs. I found a few of those for my family members and it was so valuable!

    1. I hope to find an obituary someday. There is a library in central Pennsylvania that has microfilms of the old local newspapers. The next time I get to the area, I hope to get a chance to look for the obituary.

  4. You have a ton of great information on your family. That’s awesome. What a nice photo to have too. I hardly have any old photo’s and certainly nothing like this. Lucky you.

  5. In reviewing your personal family history today as it were written 100 years ago, you can think about what you just wrote about it today. Who will see it 100 years from now? I love that!

    1. And, to make it even worse sometimes the few words used in a telegram were very graphic. I have an old telegram that was sent from a relative out west to other relatives in Pennsylvania informing them of a death–and even 75 years later it is traumatic to read that telegram.

    1. I also wondered about that, and got a book out of the library called Death and Dying in Central Appalachia by James Crissman. I learned two things: (1) Central Pennsylvania is not part of central Appalachia; it is part of northern Appalachia; and (2) In central Appalachia, in the 1910s it was a mixed bag–some families did not use embalming, while others did. My guess is that it probably was a similar situation in central Pennsylvania.

      I’m also thinking that Grandma’s grandfather probably was embalmed since his funeral held was 4 days after his death.

    1. I also really like the photo. Some of the photographers who took old-time posed pictures like this one did an amazing job of taking wonderful photos that gave lots of hints about the personalities of the individuals being photographed.

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