Tennessee's bizarre tent gravestones

A most unusual cultural phenomenon

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Created by Anna Hider - October 18th 2016

From elaborate crypts to simple markers to headstones with touching inscriptions, graves can be as unique as the individual lives they mark. Across certain parts of Tennessee, you'll find a special type of grave that's distinctive to a region across the Western base of the Cumberland Plateau, mostly from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Known as "tent graves" or "comb graves", they're marked by their signature slabs of stone arranged over the grave in a tent-like shape, with some variations.

Cash Family Cemetery

You can find a few in the Cash Family Cemetery in Coffee County, Tennessee. Different graves have the slabs either supported by a triangular piece at either end, or by an iron bar. They can also be made of different kinds of stone: sandstone and limestone are the most common, but marble, metal and concrete can be found. Some have the inscriptions right on the "tent", while most have a separate headstone. As you explore the slightly overgrown and now out-of-use graveyard, you can see different kinds of graves, including a few tent gravestones.

"All images via The Grave Walkers" Photo Credit: The Grave Walkers

"All images via The Grave Walkers" Photo Credit: The Grave Walkers

Cub Cemetery

The theory behind why tent gravestones became popular in the region has to do with the fact that old graves settle-- as old wooden coffins deteriorated, the earth on top of the grave sunk. A stone tent over the sunken grave would have kept animals (who grazed in cemeteries to keep them from getting overgrown) from falling into a sunken grave, and prevented plants from growing in the soil. Plus, they're pretty cool to look at.

Cub Cemetery is another good bet for finding tent graves. In fact, as you explore the nearly-forgotten graveyard, you'll see all kinds of different markers. It's a totally unique way to learn about the culture of this small swath of Tennessee.

"All images via The Grave Walkers" Photo Credit: The Grave Walkers

"All images via The Grave Walkers" Photo Credit: The Grave Walkers

Anna Hider

Just a Civil War beard enthusiast, writer at Roadtrippers, and aspiring astronaut reaching for the stars.