Want to join me on a “hop”?
Much of the time, I end up at a particular cemetery because I’m on the hunt for a specific grave and someone has requested a photo of it via Find a Grave. But often, I don’t have any specific purpose in mind when I choose a cemetery to explore. It’s just for the joy of looking around.
This week is a good example. For some time, I’ve been trying to find a time to go on a hop with Bobbie Tkačik , who is chairman of the cemetery committee of the Gwinnett Historical Society. I met her when I gave a talk at one of their meetings last year. On Wednesday, we finally got together and headed for Shadowlawn Cemetery in Lawrenceville.
Shadowlawn is actually made up of two sections. Old Shadowlawn is (as the name indicates) the older section, with graves dating back to the mid 1800s. There’s still some space for future burials but not much.
East Shadowlawn Memorial is the newer, more modern area. They have a sales office if you want to purchase a plot. There’s also a mausoleum and chapel. The two cemetery sections are separated by a small, muddy pond and a narrow drive.
We decided to do our wandering in Old Shadowlawn. Like me, Bobbie is more interested in the older markers and monuments because they have a lot more creative influences and tell a story.
But when we parked the car and came upon an area with a high wooden fenced square, it was anything but traditional. It’s not often you see Arabic in an old Southern cemetery.
The gate was locked so we couldn’t get a good look inside. And as I’ve said before, I am NOT a fence hopper. But we did peek through the slats. A small above ground grave of recent vintage is the only grave we saw.
According to the sign, it belongs to the Dawoodi Bohra Qabrastaan-Hasani Baugh. Wikipedia says Dawoodi Bohra is a subset of Shia Islam and has roots in Yemen. I couldn’t find anything about this particular group online. My guess is that they purchased land from the cemetery for their own private area to bury their members.
It’s one of those times where the present collides with a solidly entrenched past. Not that long ago, the population of Gwinnett County (where the cemetery is located) used to be almost entirely white. In 2013, statistics indicated it’s now 59 percent white, 26 percent black, with the remaining split up between many other nationalities.
Up the hill in the much older section, one of the first monuments I saw was this small angel. Believe it or not, she’s quite common but not always in the same form. In most cases, it’s for a child’s grave. This one resembles another angel I took a picture of at a cemetery about 30 minutes from this one.
I saw another grave for a child not far away, a distinctive shell grave. I find them all over the South. You can read my post about them from last year. This one was different than most I’ve seen because it looks more like a child than an infant reposing in the shell. In cemetery symbolism, the shell is usually a sign of eternal life.
Another child’s grave caught my eye for the unique style. Her long white legs are a contrast to her dress and upper body. I’m thinking that because the skirt overshadows her legs, they are more protected from the aging process.
As you can imagine, I found plenty of Confederate veteran graves. But the one that stood out (physically and historically) was the only crypt in the cemetery. Captain William Jasper Born and his second wife, Barbara, are buried inside. It’s not ornate like many I’ve seen, a bit rustic. But you can learn quite a bit about Capt. Born and his family just by reading the door.
According to Stephanie Lincecum, who writes a blog called Southern Graves, William Jasper Born was a member of Company D, 9th GA Battalion Light Artillery (aka “Born’s Artillery”). He was a son of John and Lucinda Born.
Barbara Bates was William’s second wife. He was married before the war, then married Barbara about 1865. He married again after her death. According to the 1870 Census, Capt. Born operated a hotel. It’s fascinating to think that someone buried so close to me was there when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, ending the Civil War.
One thing I always notice at cemeteries are the different styles of iron fencing around various plots. Wealthy families in the old days could afford some handsome iron work. I found two nice examples of it at Shadowlawn. Both were done by The Stewart Iron Works of Cincinnati.
The Stewart Iron Works was started about 150 years ago and amazingly, is still going strong today. You can find their work in cemeteries around the country and I come across it quite often. Their history is worth mentioning.
During World War I, Stewart formed the United States Motor Truck Company and produced trucks for the U. S. Army. Following the war, Stewart returned to fence products and sold them in the Sears and Roebuck Co. catalog. In the 1930s, a Stewart Jail Cell Division produced jail cells for most of the high security penitentiaries in the country. Places like Alcatraz, Leavenworth, Marion and Sing Sing were all Stewart customers.
During World War II, Stewart shifted to wartime production and provided portable landing equipment for the U.S. Air Force. Today, they produce a wide variety of items, from parking deck fencing to sculptures to fountains.
On the hillside between Old Shadowlawn next to the pond is what was the African-American section of the cemetery. I’ve gotten adept at figuring this out from a few visual clues. Some of the markers are simple white ones with the funeral home’s name carved into the top.
I can also see that there aren’t that many truly old markers because often the families could not afford to provide one or they were made of wood, which quickly fell apart and disappeared. Odds are there are many more people buried here than the number of visible markers would indicate.
Two of them got my attention because of their inscriptions. Dee Phillips and J.P. Phillips were both members of something called the Mt. Nebo Chamber 3108 of Lawrenceville. I have only run across this kind of organization one other time and it was a different chamber based in Toledo, Ohio that an African-American woman had been a member of. She is buried in Fairburn City Cemetery.
Not far from Dee, who died at the age of 30 from Scarlet Fever as a soldier in World War I, is the grave of J.P. Phillips. I could not find him in the U.S. Census anywhere but he was likely related to Dee. Perhaps he was Dee’s father. J.P.’s marker not only mentions the Mount Nebo Chamber but very faintly bears some kind of seal.
I hope to eventually get some more information on this mysterious Mt. Nebo Chamber 3108. Mt. Nebo was is an elevated ridge in Jordan, which is mentioned in the Bible as the place where Moses was given a view of the Promised Land. So there may be a religious/church connection.
Finally, in contrast to the older graves that are the norm in this part of Shadowlawn, I found one from 2005. It was a marker for Deborah S. Oakes. The pink ribbon on it indicates she probably died of breast cancer. But it’s what is written below that ribbon that catches you off guard.
Death by Chocolate
I can tell you, that’s not something you see at a lot of cemeteries. But I think Deborah must have been a pretty sassy and special woman to ask for that to be carved on her gravestone. It would have been a pleasure to know her, I am certain.
That does it for this hop. As usual, I saw some interesting markers and found a few mysteries to solve. Hopefully, I can solve the Mt. Nebo Chamber mystery soon.
I hope you enjoyed it and learned something along the way.
This was very interesting, great reading.
I do hope you find out more about the Mt. Nebo mystery – I’ll be on the look out for anything like that here in Michigan. I haven’t seen it yet!
Thank you, Lisa. When I was researching that other “chamber” group out of Toledo, I got the sense that back in the teens and 1920s, there were a number of these social organizations for African-Amercians to promote service to their community. I have a feeling this a similar situation but that the group quietly faded away after a time.
Bonnie Sullivan said:
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Thank you, Bonnie!