The Very Particular Details of Emily Dickinson's Funeral

Three Lions/Getty Images
Three Lions/Getty Images / Three Lions/Getty Images

After suffering from a long period of illness, Dickinson died on May 15, 1886. (She was diagnosed as having Bright’s Disease, but modern scholars believe she died of heart failure brought on by high blood pressure.) She was 55. Since so many of Emily’s poems focused on death and immortality, it should come as no surprise that she had very specific plans she wished to be followed upon her passing.

In keeping with her particular penchant for wearing white while she was alive, Dickinson had requested the color wherever possible at her funeral. According to one Emily Dickinson biography, the coffin was white, the casket lining was white, the handles were white, and it was all adorned with ribbon that was — you guessed it — white. Emily herself wore a robe of white flannel.

Her specifications didn’t end there. She requested that the honorary pallbearers, including professors and the president of Amherst College, carry her coffin just out the door of her beloved family house, Homestead. But once they crossed the threshold, six men who worked for the Dickinson family carried her to the graveyard.

Even the route to the cemetery was completely calculated. According to Emily’s instructions, the funeral party circled her flower garden, walked through a barn behind the house, then meandered across buttercup fields to get to West Cemetery.

She's still there to this day, although at least one thing has changed since her carefully planned funeral. When Dickinson was buried in 1886, it was under a simple stone bearing her initials, "E.E.D." Her niece later replaced it with a taller stone bearing Dickinson's full name, and a quote from a letter she sent to her cousins shortly before her death: "Called back."

Midnightdreary via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY­SA 3.0