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The Iniquitous Undertaker: Legends of Oscar and Mary Fischer

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Emily D. Edwards, Professor (Creator)
Institution
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/

Abstract: Although a few contemporary media accounts such as Night Shift (1982), My Girl (1991), and the short-lived television series Frank's Place (1987- 88) offer more humanized portraits of the undertaker, conventional stereotypes portray a distrust of the strangers who have assumed the grim job once the domain of family and close friends. As discussed in this article, the grotesque oral narratives about two undertakers who owned and operated a funeral home in Florence, Alabama, can be classified as urban legends (Brunvand 1989:325) which function to relate an unease about strange places, such as a mortuary and funeral home, and a distrust of strangers (Lindahl 1986:15), especially those people who would choose undertaking as an occupation (Quigley 1996:310). What is particularly interesting about the cycle of oral narratives regarding the Fischers, the directors of the funeral home, is that while some aspects of these stories can be verified, much of the material clearly functions as contemporary legend, implementing stereotypes, attempts at authentication, and film noir flavor (de Vos 1996). Though the narratives may reflect the uncertainty of a small town's rapid transition from rural to urban culture in the first decades of the twentieth century, the uninterrupted changes and innovations of modern life keep the Fischer legends germane for a more contemporary audience. Finally, modern funeral practices replaced the family tradition of caring for the dead that belonged to an earlier, agricultural community. The corpse and those that attended it became relegated to the discourse of urban legends and popular culture portrayals.

Additional Information

Publication
Southern Folklore 55.1 (1998): 43-62
Language: English
Date: 1998
Keywords
Undertaker, Legends, Oscar and Mary Fischer, Oral narratives