A Memorable Wake in Seneca

When I was growing up on the farm outside of Seneca in the middle of Crawford County, Wisconsin in the 1940s and 1950s, visitations were not held at funeral parlors. They were held in the home of the deceased.

It was the custom in most Northern Europe countries for mourners to keep watch or vigil over their dead until they were buried. This was called a “wake”. It is a misconception that people at a wake are waiting in case the deceased should “wake up”.

The Bernier farm was a quarter mile northwest of the Scheckel farm. The patriarch of the Bernier family was Michael, who died in 1947 when I was five years old. The wake or visitation was held at the Bernier farm house.

The funeral procession the following morning would had all those cars going by our house.  We Scheckel kids had strict orders not to be standing out in the yard gawking as the procession proceeded slowly from the Bernier farm, going south pass our farm and up the hill onto the ridge to Seneca.  We were to stay behind the house and could glimpse the hearse, pallbearer car and the whole entourage of cars from around the edge of the house as it went pass.

There was a memorable wake in Seneca as related in the booklet The History of Seneca Past and Present. “At one wake near Seneca in those early days, a couple of fun-loving Irishmen decided to play a joke on one of the families of the community. There were not many people at the wake house in the early evening and this family had not yet arrived. These two young men removed the corpse from the casket, and one of the men got into it. It was dark when this family arrived and the room was dimly lit with a kerosene lamp. The family viewed the corpse in the semi-darkness and took seats across the room from the casket. As they looked at the casket, what they thought was the corpse, slowly raised up and sat upright in the casket. This family gasped, ran out of the door, and drove the team home at top speed.”


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