Two things come to mind when I think of Augusta, Ga.
The Masters and James Brown.
I don’t play golf, but my Dad did. We watched a lot of it on TV. Augusta National was almost sacred to him, and it’s special for me as well. When you walk those velvety green fairways and see the colorful azaleas in bloom, you know this place is different than any other golf course.
I’ve attended two practice rounds at the Masters. The first was in the late 1980s when Dad decided to go at the last minute. I skipped my college classes that day to tag along. It was the last year the practice round was free and open to the public. The late Payne Stewart and Davis Love III were two golfers I remember seeing.
I returned to the Masters in 2011, thanks to the generosity of my husband’s family, who managed to secure tickets. This time, I had a much greater appreciation for the experience. I crossed paths with the legendary Vijay Singh and British golfer Lee Westwood. I’ll never forget being there and hope I can go back someday.
Augusta is also known for Godfather of Soul James Brown. Although he was born in South Carolina, he spent much of his life in Augusta. His death in 2006 set in motion a number of legal actions between family members, including paternity tests and other head-scratching incidents too numerous to mention.
The current whereabouts of Brown’s remains are sketchy. According to his last widow (he was married six times), his body was moved 14 times before it came to rest at his daughter’s home where she had supposedly had it buried in her garden. The casket seen at the funeral was made of 24k gold. Michael Jackson was buried in the same kind in 2009, having admired it at Brown’s funeral.
Brown’s chauffeur William Murrell claimed in 2014, “They muminized [sic] his body so he would never rot, at $140,000 cost. Why? When you got almost 20 kids and six wives it’s hard to get you in the ground.”
It had been five years since my last visit to Augusta when my friend Amy invited me to join her for a weekend road trip. She was keen to do some hiking and I was eager to do some cemetery hopping. Neither of us was disappointed.
Augusta is much older than Atlanta and was part of the original Georgia colony founded in 1736 by James Oglethorpe. The city was named after Princess Augusta of Wales, mother of England’s infamous King George III. After Savannah, it was the second city established in the colony. Today, it is the third-largest city in Georgia.
Magnolia is Augusta’s oldest large cemetery. The land was once part of the Nicolas de L’Aigle plantation and brick yard, with the first official burial in August 1818. A French refugee, de L’Aigle established the brick yard in 1808 and made his fortune by furnishing the city with bricks made of Savannah River clay. Money donated by Mrs. Louise de L’Aigle Reese built the present office building in the memory of her mother. You can see the de L’Aigle name throughout Magnolia Cemetery.
The cemetery covers more than 60 acres. In addition to five Jewish cemeteries and one Greek cemetery, Magnolia also has a Masonic Lodge section, several church sections, an area for Confederate veterans and a special space for orphans. This diversity makes it a unique cemetery amid many I’ve visited. The variety of funerary symbols and motif also sets it apart.
Along with several Augusta mayors and Georgia legislators, seven Confederate generals are buried at Magnolia. A handful of authors, poets and noted educators also rest there. But so are plenty of humble everyday folk, including a number of immigrants who left Europe to make Augusta their home.
Amy took me on a drive through Magnolia on Friday afternoon so I could get the lay of the land. It’s a large cemetery but laid out well with actual street names to guide you. I spent most of my Saturday there while she hiked.
Like all of Georgia, Augusta in August is incredibly HOT and HUMID. Although I was drinking water throughout my trek, I was sweating it out just as fast. I’d never seen a sheen of salt on my skin before that day. Even the paint on my toenails cracked. But a cemetery hopper will do just about anything to visit a new burial ground, regardless of conditions.
The first grave that had me asking Amy to pull over was this one for little Louis Segal, whose family moved from New York to Augusta. I couldn’t find out anything about his family. He died in Memphis, Tenn. but was brought home to Augusta for burial.
Across the road from Louis is the joint marker for Lucy Jane Bridwell and her husband, Samuel. She died at 44. Her husband’s name is not on the marker but it is inscribed under the epitaph he wrote for her. According to census records, he was a planter and later a blacksmith.
I’ve always been intrigued by the “hand of Heaven from the clouds” motif but this one is especially elaborate with the flowers so intricately carved. The finger pointing down doesn’t mean eternal damnation but signifies that the death was unexpected.
Samuel and Lucy Jane had three sons and a daughter. Eldest son William Henry Walker Bridwell and his wife, Frances Brown Bridwell, are also buried at Magnolia.
As I mentioned earlier, Samuel’s epitaph to Lucy Jane is poignant. I don’t often see one as lengthy and heartfelt as this written by a spouse.
Interestingly, Samuel remarried seven months later to a woman 30 years his junior. He and Mamie had at least one child together, according to the 1900 Census. Records indicate Samuel and Mamie are both buried at Magnolia but his name is not next to Lucy Jane’s on the marker.
I’d never heard of poet Paul Hamilton Hayne until I found his monument at Magnolia. A native of Charleston, S.C., Hayne was born in 1830 and lost his father early in life. He was raised by his mother at the home of his uncle, Robert Hayne, prominent orator and politician who served in the U.S. Senate. Paul Hayne served in the Confederate Army but poor health made his military involvement a brief one of four months.
When Charleston was bombarded in 1862, Hayne lost everything. He moved his family to Grovetown, Ga., 16 miles from Augusta, and spent the rest of his life there. A prolific writer, Hayne wrote hundreds of sonnets, lyric poems, and essays. Despite poor health and financial woes, Hayne submitted poetry and essays to such magazines as Scribner’s Monthly, Southern Opinion, and The Atlantic Monthly. He served as editor and literary critic for newspapers across the South, from the Wilmington Star to the Atlanta Sun.
Hayne was also close with fellow Charleston native and writer William Gilmore Simms. Both men began their careers as lawyers but gave it up to concentrate on writing. Together, they founded Russell’s Magazine, which Hayne edited.
Poems of Paul Hamilton Hayne secured his position as poet laureate of the South, a title bestowed on him by numerous critics because of his devotion to his native state, the South, and the men who fought and died in both the Mexican War and the Civil War.
One of Hayne’s poems particularly caught my eye. I wonder if, as a man who knew sickness most of his life, death was on his mind more than most.
Life and Death
I fear thee not, O Death! nay, oft I pine
To clasp thy passionless bosom to mine own,
And on thy heart sob out my latest moan,
Ere lapped and lost in thy strange sleep divine;
But much I fear lest that chill breath of thine
Should freeze all tender memories into stone, —
Lest ruthless and malign Oblivion
Quench the last spark that lingers on love’s shrine:
O God! to moulder through dark, dateless years,
The while all loving ministries shall cease,
And time assuage the fondest mourner’s tears!
Here lies the sting!– this, this it is to die!
And yet great Nature rounds all strife with peace,
And Life or Death, each rests in mystery!
Next time, I’ll share more stories from Magnolia Cemetery. There’s plenty of ground I haven’t covered.