In 1937 Key Underwood of Tuscumbia, Ala., had the painful task of laying to rest his faithful coonhound, Troop. The ideal spot was obvious: a small, grassy meadow in the Freedom Hills area of northern Alabama.
Troop knew this place well as most hunting trips began and ended here. This well-known spot was where coon hunters from the area regularly gathered to discuss hunting strategies, swap tales, and compare coonhounds. Most comparisons usually began and ended with Troop. He was well known as the best around. On that dreary Labor Day more than 60 years ago, Underwood placed a hand-carved headstone above a shallow grave and said good-bye to the special friend.
Out of one hunter's devotion to his coonhound was born the "Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard," which has became a popular tourist attraction and is the only cemetery of its kind in the world.
"When I buried Troop, I had no intention of establishing a coon dog cemetery," says Underwood. "I merely wanted to do something special for a special coon dog."
When columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson interviewed Underwood in 1985, he told her that a woman from California wrote him wanting to know why he didn’t allow other kinds of dogs to be buried at the coon dog cemetery.
“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,” he responded
Some of the burial ground's headstones are crafted of wood, some of sheet metal. Others are not unlike the stones found in a "normal" cemetery.
But, of course, the names of the deceased are different and so are the epitaphs.
For example, listed among the dead are Patches, Preacher, Smoky, Bean Blossom Bomma and Night Ranger. And etched along with these names are tributes such as, "A joy to hunt with" and "He wasn't the best, but he was the best I ever had."
To qualify for burial in this unique cemetery, where more than 185 coon dogs have been laid to rest, it has been said that three requirements must be met:
- The owner must claim their pet is an authentic coon dog.
- A witness must declare the deceased is a coon dog.
- A member of the local coonhunters' organization must be allowed to view the coon hound and declare it as such.
Each Labor Day, one of the area's raccoon hunting clubs host a celebration at the cemetery. Entertainment includes music, dancing, food and a liar's contest.
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You can find the Coon Dog Cemetery 7 miles west of Tuscumbia on U.S. Hwy 72. Turn left on Alabama Hwy 247, and travel approximately 12 miles. Then turn right, and follow the signs. For more information and directions contact the Colbert County Tourism and Convention Bureau,If you are interested in a Coon Dog Cemetery Shirt, contact the above phone #.
(800) 344-0783; (256) 383-0783; or visit www.colbertcountytourism.org
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