When we’re not in a particular hurry, we find that traveling the back roads can be infinitely more intriguing than charging down the black topped congested interstate.
Driving west from Huntsville, Alabama, heading to Iuka, Mississippi, we were getting tired and a little bored after spending the previous day on the road. Along US Highway 72 West, with a train track running alongside, we spotted a little green sign that read “Coon Dog Cemetery.” Thinking that would be a welcome bit of diversion, we slowed down and turned onto Alabama Highway 247.
We didn’t see another sign for the cemetery, but we kept driving. I was beginning to wonder if I had gone the wrong way, when after about 13 miles, we saw another cemetery sign. Turning off Alabama Highway 247 we proceeded to drive, and drive and drive. For five winding and dipping miles.
Weaving around the curves, we were surprised to see red clay roads with houses off in the distance. I wondered whether a school bus had to traverse this route to pick up kids. That would be a trying drive every school day.
At any rate, we finally reached our destination, the Key Underwood Coon Dog Cemetery at 4945 Coon Dog Cemetery Road, in Colbert County, Alabama. A tall monument noted that the first dog (Troop) was laid to rest here in 1937. Now, however, dogs from all over the country have been interred here.
The grave sites are well tended. Many have permanent grave markers. Others have simpler monuments of wood or bits of rough stone. Bright artificial flowers adorn many graves. Coins are lined up on top of the markers. Some pennies, some dimes, some quarters.
The significance of the coins escaped me. Later I learned that for many, coins left on the top of gravestones were a sign of respect. They mean you knew the deceased, trained with them or were with the deceased when they died. Some say the custom dates back to Greek mythology and the payment needed to cross the river Styx.
Many of the monuments were for champion coon hunters. A lot of them had tributes to the canines, engraved or scratched into the monuments. All of them were heartfelt sentiments, and quite touching.
At any rate, the cemetery has more than 225 dogs buried here. According to the rules, only bona-fide coon dogs can be buried on the site. It’s a peaceful setting, back in the woods. The site is a former hunting camp. It’s a fitting tribute to the hounds.
There’s a covered picnic table near the back of the Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard, and a guest book is available. Names from all over the globe appear in the book. I guess that’s a testament to all the dog lovers and curiosity seekers who travel this way.
Admission to the cemetery is always free, and that makes it a great place for the budget-minded traveler.
The cemetery is the place for a celebration every Labor Day. Bluegrass music, barbecue, and a liar’s contest are all welcome features of the event. Sounds like a fun time to visit.