GERNHART, JIM NELSON - Sherman County, Kansas | JIM NELSON GERNHART - Kansas Gravestone Photos


Goodland Cemetery
Sherman County,

1876 - 1980

Jim Gernhart, 103, "the corpse of Burlington" who held his next-to-last funeral on June 3, 1951, was not around for the real thing when services were held Wednesday, January 23, 1980, at the Sage and Smith Chapel in Goodland.

Jim died here Monday night, in spite of the fact that he stated that "I wouldn't be caught dead in Burlington."

Jim retired in 1947 and moved to Burlington from Northwest Kansas, where he had been a farmer all of his life. He received world-wide publicity when he held his "funeral" in 1951, and down through the years received basketsful of letters from people all over the world. Many of the letter writers thought Gernhart was loaded with money, and a large portion of them were seeking a soft touch.

Gernhart was probably the biggest tourist attraction the community has ever had. Especially during the summer months, tourists going through town would inquire about where he lived. Many of these people made frequent stops here, some of them becoming good friends, but most of the letter writers were ignored.

Gernhart had the reputation of being a curmudgeon, but he also had a much better side. For example, without the knowledge of many persons, he devoted a considerable amount of time to helping elderly widows around town. He would run errands for them, mow their lawns, make minor house repairs, and perform many other deeds which the elderly could not do for themselves.

He craved publicity and therefore he was brusque, arrogant and even vulgar when exposed to the many photographers and newsmen who came in from out-of-town.

However, his friends, Mr and Mrs Kenneth Keeler, stated that Jim had mellowed in his later years, and he was acknowledged that 'he had a sense of humor. The Keelers "looked after" Jim as he grew older, and every year they prepared his birthday dinner and cake.

The funeral publicity was not a spur-of-the-moment thing with Gernhart. The death of his sister set Gernhart to thinking. He was not pleased with the manner in which his sister's funeral had been handled, and it started him to thinking about his own funeral. To be certain that his own funeral was handled right, he decided to have a test run. He would be on hand to see how things went.

He bought a casket, a $456 headstone and cemetery lot in Goodland. Jim experienced some difficulty as the community recoiled when they heard about his plans. The first preacher backed out, his hymn singers quit, as did the pallbearers.

But when it was discovered that Gernhart's plans could not be stopped, the community adopted a philosophical attitude. He lined up eight new pallbearers and there were 18 honorary pallbearers. It was estimated that 1,200 people from the area attended the services held at the state armory.

All of the news services sent photographers and reporters to Burlington to cover the story. Instantly there was nationwide and worldwide coverage. People ate it up, some of them agreeing with Gernhart, while others thought he was off his rocker.

The Rev S H Mahaffey preached the funeral sermon, extolling Jim as a man who had done many kindnesses for people without general knowledge.

It was estimated that Gernhart paid $4,000 for the funeral, but he thought it was worth it. "Man who drinks spends $1 for it and a man who smokes pays 25 cents a day for it. If they would save their money, they could buy a nice casket like mine," Gernhart stated.

For several years after Jim's funeral, he celebrated an anniversary of the event every June, inviting the governors, senators, congressmen and others from a wide area. He was always ready to participate in the parades that were held, complete with mourners, the casket and other paraphernalia.

Contributed on 10/16/15 by amy
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Record #: 41719

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Submitted: 10/16/15 • Approved: 2/11/19 • Last Updated: 2/14/19 • R41719-G0-S3

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