late 19th century and early 20th century Texas it was not uncommon
for a grieving family member or a professional photographer to take
a picture of the dearly departed laying in their coffin. Far rarer,
if at all, was for someone to be photographed alive in their casket.
But that's what a smiling Ruth Elizabeth Bevins was happy to do in
the summer of 1933 when a newspaper reporter came calling.
"Why, child, I'd as soon have my picture made in it as in a rocking
chair," she laughed. The image, with a story about her pre-planning
(a funeral home euphemism not yet developed), appeared in the Dallas
Morning News on September 3 that year.
For years, Mrs. Bevins explained, she had been squirreling away spare
change to build a funeral fund. "And when I had saved enough," she
said, "I went to town and told Mr. Mayben, our cabinet maker, just
how I wanted my coffin made."
While the Pittsburg,
Texas woman was quite pleased with the finished product E. P.
Mayben delivered, there was one problem. The casket did not look at
all comfortable, especially considering the amount of time she would
be spending in it.
So, she added a finishing touch, sewing a narrow feather bed and making
a matching pillow.
"I had to make the pillow over," she told reporter Guy Holman, "…for
when I laid down in the coffin and got somebody to set the lid on
it, I was it was going to mash my nose, so I took some of the feathers
out of the pillow."
Of course, Mrs. Bevins was in no hurry to occupy her small, final
home. The 72-year-old felt just fine, thank you. "…It takes but a
few minutes contact with the bubbling wit and cheerful disposition
of Mrs. Blevins and but a casual glance around the spic and span homestead
to realize that it was not a quirk of eccentricity but rather a very
practical vision that prompted her to buy a casket while she is yet
hale and hearty."
The Talapoosa County, Alabama native, an East
Texas resident for 63 years, lived on a farm about eight miles
Mrs. Blevins kept her coffin standing against the wall in the family's
guest room (which she referred to as their "company room") next to
a bed covered with a patchwork quilt. She did that, she said, because
"so many people want to look at it."
As practical as the East Texas woman's pre-planning was, some still
thought it strange. "Some of my neighbors say they don't see how I
can stand to have it around the house, but I think that's just scary
superstition, don't you?" she asked Holman.
Mrs. Blevins did not need her comfy coffin until Nov. 8, 1950 when
she died at 89. She was buried in the Blevins family cemetery near
Cason in Morris County.
Next to her lies husband, who had preceded her in death by decades.