I admit it. I have an outdoor bucket list. And it included visiting the Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know my family has a thing about graveyards. As my aunt once said, “Your family, it’s got a thing about visiting graveyards. Kinda morbid, Barb.”
I’m not going to launch into all the reasons I will never turn down visiting a cemetery, but I am going to lay out the reasons I will not go back to this one unless I hear it has been cleaned up.
The story goes that Alabama coon hunter Key Underwood established this cemetery for coon dogs in 1937 when he buried his trusty hunting companion of 15 years, Troop – a mix of half redbone and half birdsong. He chose that location deep in the forest because it held a special meaning for old Troop. It’s where Underwood, his coon-hunting buddies met to strategize, socialize and brag about their dogs.
Interviewed in 1985 by Rheta Grimsley Johnson, Underwood responded to her question about why only coon dogs were buried here. He said, “You must not know much about coon hunters and their dogs, if you think we would contaminate this burial place with poodles and lap dogs.”
We visited the cemetery a few weeks ago on a trip to Alabama. We’d often passed by the sign for it, near Tuscumbia and I’d read about the place in Outdoor Life.
We followed signs, got lost, found another sign and finally found the resting place for somewhere in the neighborhood of 185 or maybe even more than 200 coon dogs. I’ve heard both numbers. I didn’t count the headstones. That would be difficult, because they range from elaborate in marble to folk art in funky to dirt.
The cemetery needs attention. Overfilled trashcans, broken down picnic tables and a restroom, aka privy, that only a photo like this one on the right can describe. Poison ivy from nearby woods threatens to creep across and strangle out all the crosses on the ground.
Obviously, vandals have been at work on some of the more elaborate headstones and grave markers. There’s even concertina wire around one of the graves. My husband, who always floors me with his remarks, broke the depressing silence and said, “Imagine what this place would sound like if all these dogs came alive at the same time.”
That made me smile. And, the host of fake flowers scattered on every grave does not add to the ambience; in fact, it makes it seem quite cheap and tawdry.
So, go there and visit. Don’t use the toilet. In the meantime, I’m going to get in touch with the cemetery folks and see what happened to the caretaker. Surely, there’s a coon dog caretaker somewhere?