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The Mysterious Tent Graves of Tennessee

Why do they look like that?

All along the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee, the historical graveyards have a distinct look, that of “comb graves” (often called “tent graves” by the locals). These graves are characterized by two slabs of stone laid above them, rested at an angle to create a triangular “tent” above the gravesite.

Though common across Tennessee and even in nearby areas of Kentucky, Arkansas, and even Alabama, these unusual graves are practically unheard of in other portions of the country. And wait until you hear out why they were created.

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Beginning in the 1800s, these slabs of stone were places over gravesites for several reasons. After the bodies were buried and the wooden coffins broke down, sunken areas would open up above, leading to dangerous holes in the ground. Not only did these spots prove perilous for humans or animals walking across the graves, but occasionally it would allow access to the bodies inside, either for scavengers or, occasionally, grave robbers.

These stone slabs would cover the hollows in the ground to protect the contents of the grave as well as the people who might come through the yard. Comb graves were a popular tomb type throughout the 1800s and well into the twentieth century in this area.

Most comb graves in the Cumberland area are made of local sandstone, which is a brittle rock subject to erosion, which might be one of the reasons that these stones are being removed from the graveyard as they break down. After all, they were put there for safety reasons, and as they crumble, they might cause another danger altogether.