It's odd for the Lowcountry that a wailing train whistle is the only reminder of a lost burial ritual.
It used to be that Gullah families would flock to the train station in the little town of Yemassee to wait for the body of a loved one to come home for good from New York, Florida or wherever the person had lived.
"As the train would come around the curve and the whistle would go 'tooo-tooo' the people would fall apart, weeping and crying," said Willa Young, second-generation owner and operator of Young Funeral Home in Yemassee. "It was so sad. The person had left here alive and now came in a casket crated in a wooden box."
While those large gatherings are gone, other Gullah burial rights have survived the fast-paced changes of life along South Carolina's coast.
In some communities including Yemassee, that includes the ritual of passing a child over the coffin of an adult. The ritual is a safeguard, ensuring the deceased person's spirit will not bother the baby, according to Gullah tradition.
"You pass the baby across the grave to confuse the spirit," Young said. "You want to keep the deceased person's spirit from coming back to bother the child."
Yvonne Smith at Marshel's Wright-Donaldson Home for Funerals in Beaufort said that burial rite is all but gone in her town, in part because it is considered a liability for funeral homes.
"God forbid you drop a child," she said.
Also surviving is the tradition to leave the dead alone in the cemetery.
"We, as a people, you don't see us going into cemeteries," said Smith, who has helped manage the Marshel's funeral home for 44 years. "Once we bury you, as a people, we're gone. We don't mess around in cemeteries."
One exception is wrapped in another graveyard tradition.
"Have you ever seen coins on a grave?" asked Young, who for 20 years has been running the funeral home founded by her late father in 1945.
"If you keep dreaming about them or keep seeing them, you put money on their grave," she said. "They say you pay the person to leave you alone."
And still today, older folk will warn everyone that they are not to cry in the cemetery, Young said.
"If you do, it's grieving the spirit and the person will come back for you," she said. "It meant death was soon to come again."
Forgotten traditions of wakes
When Young's father opened the funeral home, people were generally buried the next day. Relatives would sit up with the body all night until burial. The funeral would be held a year later, with all family in attendance, Young said.
But those old wake and viewing traditions are gone. Bodies are now embalmed and kept at the funeral home until burial, which can be days later. Visitation takes place for shorter periods of time.
At Marshel's, rarely is a coffin open for viewing after the eulogy any more. That change was supposed to help the family by shortening the service and limiting emotional times, Smith said. And nobody has an open casket at the gravesite anymore.
A major change is that there is less emotion at Gullah funerals than there used to be, Young said.
"As African Americans, we were very expressive in our mourning," she said. "You don't see that anymore."
Widows used to wear a heavy, black veil down to her chest and keep it on for six months.
"I don't know the last time I've seen a veil," Young said.
Traditionally, the Gullah people were afraid to touch the body or be near it. That is changing, with daughters sometimes asking to fix their deceased mother's hair.
Traditional flowers have now taken the place of one unique Gullah burial custom.
Plates, cups and other household items used to be put on graves.
Sometimes plates played a practical purpose of marking a grave that would have no tombstone. Items were also taken there so the spirit of the deceased would not come home to get them.
It was called "dressing the grave," Smith said. Items could include favorite things of the deceased. It could be a clock, even a telephone.
"As Gullah people, we did put trinkets at the grave, but we didn't ever do the dancing at the grave like they did in Africa," Smith said.
Now the Gullah graves are covered with flowers. And many things can be buried inside the coffin or in the grave.
Smith recalls being asked to put undressed chickens in the grave of a farmer. And for her childhood babysitter, they put her favorite tobacco pipe in the grave.
Superstitions associated with burial include turning your head if you see a hearse, and never pointing at a hearse.
Few Gullah choose cremation. And it's still a tradition to be buried back home with family, even if they body no longer comes by boat or train.
Every time Young hears a train whistle, it reminds her of her childhood at the train station and the Gullah tradition of coming home.
"Technology has led to a lot of change," she said. "Some of it is economics. Some is good and some is not so good.
"But still a lot of our African culture runs through our people. They might not know what it is, but it's African culture."