By Joy Allmond
As thousands paid their respects to “America’s pastor,” images of Billy Graham’s pine plywood casket was on prominent display on smartphones, computer screens, and televisions across the nation.
During a 2005 ministry visit to Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana, Billy Graham’s son, Franklin Graham, noticed some inmates building the plain plywood caskets.
Inmates had begun building caskets when then-warden Burl Cain learned some of the prisoners dying at Angola Prison were being buried in cardboard boxes because their families could not afford a funeral, let alone a casket.
At Cain’s direction, inmates began constructing the plywood caskets, not just for others but also for themselves. And some of the prisoners—who were once hardened criminals—were now new creations in Christ praying over the caskets as they were being constructed.
Captivated by the story behind the construction and beautiful simplicity of the craftsmanship, Franklin Graham had two made in 2006 for his parents. The names of the inmates—including Richard “Grasshopper” Liggett—are burned into the wood.
“Billy Graham is a simple man who preached a simple message,” Liggett is said to have told the prison chaplain. “He must be buried in a simple casket.”
The caskets cost around $200 each to make—just a fraction of the cost of a standard one purchased through a funeral home.
Each is lined with mattress pads and has a simple wooden cross nailed on its lid.
Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth, who often visited prisoners and offered hospitality to many in her home upon their release, passed away in 2007 and was buried in her plywood casket in the Prayer Garden on the grounds of the Billy Graham Library.
Billy Graham was buried next to her after a private funeral on Friday, March 2.
Many people have asked me about my father’s casket. In this short video, my son Roy shares the story and we have footage of the casket being handmade by a convicted murderer named “Grasshopper” at Angola Prison in Louisiana. pic.twitter.com/DPyU0Yz4QC
— Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham) March 1, 2018
- Details on Billy Graham Memorial Events
- Billy Graham’s Life & Ministry by the Numbers
- On Billy Graham, Calling and Humility: A Tribute From a Former Employee
- Billy Graham Remains Influential Among Churchgoers
JOY ALLMOND (@JoyAllmond) is managing editor of Facts & Trends.