Breathitt Memorial Preserved in 1940

By Stephen D. Bowling

Many of the points in our lives go unrecorded and unpreserved. Who documents a trip to the grocery store or the dentist? We always take photos to save and remember the major points like births, weddings, graduation, and funerals. Breathitt County is very fortunate that on two separate occasions in the 1930s and 1940s, a woman named Marion Post ventured into the mountains of our community and snapped thousands of images.

Marion Post (later Wolcott) in February 1940 at Pine Mountain, Kentucky. Source

Her efforts in Breathitt preserved images of funerals, memorial services, home construction, drying beans, trips to the store, delivering mail, and many more everyday activities of our mountain people. Mrs. Wolcott died on November 24, 1990, after suffering for some time with lung cancer. She was 80 years old. One of the events that she documented in our community was a memorial service held in August 1940 for a Breathitt County veteran.

Friends and family at the grave of Lacy Risner at the Risner Point Cemetery on Quicksand Creek near Hunting Creek. The flag from his funeral and his photo was placed on the grave as the custom of the time.

Lacy Risner was born on July 16, 1897, at Rousseau in Breathitt County to Abraham “A.B.” and Fannie (Patton) Risner. He was a member of the large Risner family that lived just above the mouth of Hunting Creek in the Rousseau community. Risner attended the Hunting Creek School and chose to enlist in the United States military when World War I was declared on April 6, 1917. He enlisted after graduating in the Spring of 1917 and left for basic training on May 18.

The Jackson Times announced Lacy Risner’s departure for military service in the June 1, 1917 edition.

Risner, then 19 years old, was described at his enlistment as medium height, medium build, with brown eyes and hair. He completed basic training and was officially mustered into the United States Army. After his World War I service, he reenlisted in Army on April 12, 1919. He was assigned to the Coastal Artillery Corps and promoted to the rank of Corporal. Risner served until May 20, 1922, when he mustered out and returned to Breathitt County.

The economic slump that followed the First World War made employment hard to find, and Risner soon moved to Perry County. He opened a small store. He married Della Stacy (1894-1985) on April 24, 1923, at Glowmar in Perry County. Della was the daughter of James Garfield Stacy and Susan (Combs) Stacy. In an age dominated by the company store system, Risner’s business soon faltered. He made the choice that so many made, and he went to work as a carpenter in the mines.

Lacy Risner’s death certificate.

Over the next decade, he worked for the mines at Glowmar and supported his family. On February 6, 1940, Lacy was rushed to the Hurst Snyder Hospital in Hazard after suffering a heart attack. He was treated by doctors, but they could not save his life. He died that afternoon at the age of 41. His body was brought Rousseau and buried in the Risner Point Cemetery on February 8, 1940.

Mountain customs did not usually have the memorial service at the burial if the weather was not war or if the “sarvice bushes” had not bloomed. As fate would have it, his memorial was planned in August 1940, and a young photographer, accompanied by Marie R. Turner, attended the service and documented his memorial.

Click on the following photos to enlarge.

Images from the Farm Security Administration found at the Library of Congress.

Marion Post took more than 100 shots during the memorial and created a visual record of the mountain custom, and ensured that the name of Lacy Risner would not go unremembered. In 1941, she married Leon O. Wolcott and continued to take photos until February 1942, when she resigned from the Farm Security Administration. By the 1980s, her photos were highly prized and, fortunately, were preserved by the Smithsonian Institute and the Library of Congress.

Lacy Risner’s grave is near Rousseau, Kentucky, at the Risner Point Cemetery.

We are indebted to Marion Post Wolcott for her efforts to photograph and preserve the everyday life of the people of Breathitt County and other areas of Kentucky. More than 10,000 images of Breathitt County were taken because of her efforts. This collection of images remains one of the best quality and the most effective ways of remembering the mountains in the 1930s and 1940s. Thank you, Mrs. Wolcott.

© 2022 Stephen D. Bowling


About sdbowling

Director of the Breathitt County Public Library and Heritage Center in Jackson, Kentucky.
This entry was posted in Breathitt County, Military and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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