Billy Graham, 99, passed earlier this week. Headlines spoke of the Pastor’s long legacy and the influence he’d had over America’s political elite. Yet it seems the old preacher had one more sermon left for his followers, and it is one that captures the spirit of a man who provided spiritual guidance and inspiration to millions.
The message comes in the form of a simple plywood box. Many would expect that someone of Graham’s stature would be enshrined in elaborate funereal accoutrements. Not so.
Even though he will be only the fourth private citizen to be brought to the U.S. Capitol where he will lie in honor in the Rotunda, he will come in a simple pine casket.
“The pine plywood casket, crafted in 2006 by inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana, is lined with a mattress pad. On top rests a simple wooden cross the prisoners nailed into place,” his website announced.
Franklin Graham, his son, first saw the caskets in 2005 when he was preaching at the prison. The inmates making the caskets, which they were making for themselves, impressed him.
The story behind the caskets is inspiring. Burl Cain, the warden at Angola at the time, found many of his inmates had no family to cover their eventual funeral services. Those men were buried in cardboard boxes.
The inmates began making coffins for themselves, and then for others who couldn’t afford other options. Some of the inmates, having converted to Christianity in prison, even pray over the coffins .
“Franklin Graham was struck by the simple and natural beauty of these caskets and requested the prisoners design and build two of them for his parents. Billy and Ruth Grahams’ caskets were built by inmate Richard ‘Grasshopper’ Liggett, with the help of others. Their names are burned into the wood.”
“I liked the simple coffin with a cross on top,” Franklin Graham said in 2006.
The caskets cost only $200. Graham’s casket has a few functional upgrades that will allow for it to be transported from Asheville, North Carolina to Charlotte, and then to Washington D.C., and back for the funeral.
In 2008, Franklin Graham visited Angola again, this time to dedicate a prisoner-built, privately funded chapel. Prison chaplain Jim Rentz shared the following memory during the service.
“I want to tell you what Grasshopper said when he made Billy’s Graham’s casket,” Franklin said. “Billy Graham,” Grasshopper said, “is a simple man who preached a simple message. He must be buried in a simple casket.”