Henry Lewis, a Welsh carpenter, one of Lehi’s earliest undertakers
Lee Anderson | Lehi Historical Society and Archives
In the late 1800s, Henry Lewis was working as a carpenter. When someone died, he made coffins for the deceased, making him one of Lehi’s earliest undertakers.
Around 1910, Lewis built a shop just north of his home where he made and trimmed caskets. When someone died, the body was often taken to his shop to be fitted for the coffin. The caskets were not like those built today. They were made to fit the corpse—wider at the top and narrow at the feet. They were also frequently “dressed up” to make them look nice for the viewing.
One night a man was shot and killed. His body was taken to Henry’s shop and left on the floor until Henry could take care of it in the morning. A neighbor lady who had heard of the shooting noticed that Henry was in his shop and stopped by to ask about it. Unfortunately,as she entered the shop, she nearly stepped on the bloody corpse and ran away screaming.
Back then, bodies were not embalmed. If the deceased was a woman or child, the Relief Society sisters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were tasked with washing and preparing the body. If the deceased was a man, the brethren from the same church were given the task. Sometimes coins were placed on the corpse’s eyes to keep them closed, and rocks were sometimes used to keep the body straight. After the body was ready, it was customary for someone to sit with the corpse until it was buried.
One time the deceased was a badly crippled man, and a large rock was placed on the man’s chest to keep the body straight. Randal Schow and three other young men were tasked with sitting with the body. Sometime during their sojourn, an argument ensued, and they started to scuffle. Apparently, someone bumped the casket during the tussle and dislodged the large rock. Without the weight of the rock on the body, the corpse sat up. This immediately ended the argument and sent the young men fleeing at great speed.
In those days, the livery stable had a black hearse that could be borrowed to take the body to the cemetery. A long, closed buggy that was open at the end was used to carry the mourners. Later, the livery stable bought a white hearse pulled by white horses, used primarilyfor women and larger children. The caskets of small children were carried on the laps of the mourners.
In 1914, Lewis decided to get out of the mortuary and casket-makingbusiness and sold the company.
Henry Ray Lewis was born in Llanelly, Breconshire, Wales, on Apr. 28, 1854. A convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he immigrated to the U.S. and settled in Lehi in 1871 at 17.He married Jane Sarah Goody on June 30, 1873, and they had 11 children together. From 1893-1895, he served a mission for the Church in Great Britain. On Dec. 20, 1903, he was called to be the bishop of the Lehi Third Ward.
He was on the building committee for the Lehi Tabernacle of the LDS Church and was appointed treasurer. “He received in cash and merchandise $30,913.39, and paid out $30,938.61, from 1900 to 1904, a balance to his credit of $25.22 cents,” according to the LDS Biographical Encyclopedia. He served as a member of the Lehi City Council, was a director for the People’s Co-operative Institution for about 20 years and was president of the North Bench Irrigation Company.
Lewis died Sept. 1, 1931, and was buried in the Lehi Cemetery.
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