An almost 150-year old grave house in Itawamba County, Mississippi, is the subject of my photographic essay at http://hillcountryhogsblog.blogspot.com/2010/02/grave-house-from-hill-country-part-1.html
This small house, one of the few surviving grave shelters from the 1860s, is an excellent example of grave houses once common throughout the hill country of the South. Although this house was built, according to family history, to protect the grave of the young bride from the elements, such houses may have their origin in the older "spirit" houses built in many middle-European countries to house the spirit and to keep it near the body until judgment day.
The older custom that each human being consisted of body, soul, and spirit has been more-or-less replaced by a belief that the individual is body and soul. But the earlier concept of taking care of the spirit was as important as taking care of the dead body. As a result, many burial customs influencing our ancestors addressed issues dealing with the spirit of the deceased.
Although the grave house in this essay shows no evidence of being anything but a grave shelter, some grave houses in the South were reported to be furnished and even to contain books, pictures on the wall, and a table set with the dishes which the deceased used for his/her last meal.
If you have never seen a grave house, the one featured in this essay is perhaps the best surviving example to be found in the Hill Country of Mississippi. Click here to view the photographic essay.