Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Burying the Dead at Eloise

Searching for information on another story I came across this one that I blogged about in 2011! Which is probably why I don't recall it whatsoever but it buttresses a previous entry on the House of Diggs. It details Charles Diggs, Jr.'s recollections of burying paupers at Eloise while performing his duties at the family's business.

His father, a Michigan state representative who also owned a funeral home, discovered that Eloise's burial practices of using employees and inmates to bury bodies was illegal and he was granted the job.

Since he was a dark-skinned black man and most of Eloise paupers were white males it was deemed improper for him to perform the services. So his son and wife, both light-skinned, were employed to officiate the burials.

Diggs, then only 14 but fully grown, recounted the practice in the book "Untold tales, unsung heroes: an oral history of Detroit's African American community, 1918-1967" by Elaine Latzman Moon. Diggs, Jr. and his mother would drive the 20 miles from Detroit to Eloise and receive the body at the morgue which was called the "Round House" due to its shape.

On the rare occasions when relatives or friends showed up for the deceased patient's funeral the duo would arrive early, close the corpse's mouth, shave and groom them as necessary. Rarely were there female pauper since a family member or benefactor usually came forward and gave them a private burial.

The plain wood caskets were lined with a white hospital sheet and the body with their Sunday best would be buried with the help of the inmates. If the pauper had no clothes outside of his hospital garb he was covered with a sheet up to his neck. In the cases of attended funerals the mourners would follow the hearse to the pauper cemetery were a ceremony would be performed.

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