Thousands Attended Uncle Bush's Funeral - Even Uncle Bush
In early February, Brad Jolly wrote about the history of Tennessee from a book, “Life As It Is,” authored by J.W.M. Breazeale of Roane County in 1842. Recently, I uncovered a bizarre story about a 74-year-old mountaineer descendent of that family whose name was Felix “Uncle Bush” Breazeale.
The unique individual lived with his family most of his life. When asked why he never married, he answered, “I couldn't get the woman I wanted and I wouldn't have the women I could get.” Felix’s two constant companions were a dog that he called “dog” and a mule named (you guessed it) “mule.” He was a farmer and an avid foxhunter.
Bush’s bizarre funeral service in Dogwood, TN in the Cave Creek community of Roane County on June 26, 1938 gained worldwide attention. It was held under a funeral home tent in the cemetery adjacent to a local Baptist church. Unlike most interments, there was not a wet eye to be found among those paying their respects to him. Why? The brawny hillbilly was alive. He arrived at his funeral in a hearse, not lying inside a coffin but instead, riding in the passenger seat conversing with the driver.
One news report stated that a crowd estimated at 8,000 was parked along the road in all directions leading to the church. Traffic officers were dispatched to handle the horde of curious onlookers. Parents lifted their children on their shoulders to allow them to see what was happening. The funeral cortege arrived late at the cemetery caused by the massive traffic jam along the road.
When the hearse finally arrived, Felix’s fox hunting friends served as pallbearers, thereby removing the empty casket from the vehicle. However, the crowd, eager to catch a glimpse of Bush, made it difficult for the men to transport his coffin to the tent.
Enterprising individuals charged 25 cents per car for folks to park on their property while vendors sold soft drinks, hot dogs and other items on the grounds of the carnival-like atmosphere. Knoxville and Chattanooga florists filled numerous orders for flower arrangements.
The bewhiskered Bush, decked out in a new suit, tie and wide-banded straw hat, arrived and calmly seated himself in a chair next to his self-made flower-draped coffin. As he listened emotionless while the preacher delivered his eulogy, he fanned himself using a traditional funeral home fan. The Rev. Charles Jackson delivered the memorial. Several groups sang including the Friendly Eight Octette of Chattanooga who sang his favorite hymn, "On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand."
At the conclusion of the proceedings, Bush shook hands with the people that approached him and signed autographs using an “X.”
Breazeale’s mock funeral had been planned for five years. He constructed his final resting box using a few hand tools from a carefully selected oak tree, arranged with the church for his funeral service and then attended it in person. When asked by one newspaper reporter why he did this, he explained, “I just wanted to hear what the preacher had to say about me while I was still alive." It was rumored that Felix had some “skeletons in his closet” and wondered if they would be aired at his funeral. They weren’t.
Bush was quite pleased with the service, commenting that it was the best one he had ever attended. He also emphasized that it was to be his last, giving specific instructions to bury him immediately when his end came.
On February 9, 1943, the 78-year-old colorful mountain man died peacefully in his sleep at his cabin. This time there was a cadaver inside his hewn wooden box. As requested, no funeral was conducted although there was a brief graveside service. His body lie in state for an hour at the cemetery before interment. Perhaps this time, there was not a dry eye to be found.