Last week, I visited the grave of country/pop singer Eddie Rabbitt and shared the story of his career. But there’s quite a bit more to Calvary Catholic Cemetery. Because it’s the only Catholic cemetery in the Nashville Diocese, Calvary contains quite a few graves of high-level priests that served there.
At the center of this circle of monsignors are Nashville’s sixth, seventh, and eight bishops that served the diocese. I am not very familiar with the Catholic Church or its iconography but the beauty of the cross and the figures surrounding it struck me.
In contrast, the story of Sterling Brown (S.B) Spurlock is a not as angelic. His monument is quite large and is a testament to his wealth at the time of his death. But the story behind the life that acquired it is shrouded in mystery and some discord.
Born in 1821 in Woodbury, Tenn. to Joseph and Esther Blair Spurlock, S.B. was the son of a farmer. He found his calling in the wholesale grocery business in Nashville. S.B. was a bachelor most of his life and census records indicate he often boarded in rooming houses instead of a fine home of his own. His health was poor and he was not one to socialize much because of it.
In the 1880s, S.B. met divorcee and Irish immigrant Margaret Mallon. Margaret married young in Ireland but was abandoned by her first husband, who left for America. She followed and worked as a servant until she found him in Nashville. They reconciled but later divorced and she began her own grocery business. In the course of running her business, she met Spurlock.
Margaret actually appeared to be doing financially better than S.C. when he asked her to marry him in 1883. She brought with her into the marriage about $3,700. S.B. was 65 and Margaret was 40 at the time. Despite his own supposedly shaky financial foundation, Spurlock had a pre-nuptial agreement drawn up promising her a small settlement and a home but no further claims to his estate. Margaret signed it.
According to the Tennessee Supreme Court Case Spurlock vs. Brown, the marriage was described as a happy one and Margaret nursed her husband through his illnesses. At some point, his arm was amputated. A year before he died, he supposedly returned that initial $3,7000 to her.
When S.B. died in 1891, Margaret discovered that his net estate was estimated at over $100,000. Had she not signed the agreement before their marriage, she would have expected to receive at least half of it, if not much more.
Margaret claimed the document (contrary to what S.B.’s attorneys said) had never been explained to her at the time she signed it and she had been tricked. S.B.’s next of kin countered her claim and legal action resulted. A majority oft the Tennessee Supreme Court sided with Margaret in 1892 with one dissent. I’m not sure if S.B.’s family took it further or how much money Margaret ever received.
In city directories following S.B.’s death, Margaret is listed as working and living at St. Cecilia’s Academy. Established in 1860, the all-girl’s Catholic school is still in existence today. When Margaret died of a pulmonary embolism in 1908, she was living with a nephew, Thomas Slowey. Her profession was listed as housekeeper.
By looking at Margaret’s will on Ancestry, I learned that she left her nephew several pieces of property (including at least one with a house), her sisters $500 each, a piece of property and home to a Michael Mallon (perhaps another relative) and $500 each to various Catholic charities.
Margaret rests beside S.B. beneath a very handsome monument with an angel as scribe situated atop of it. I’m sure his family wasn’t pleased at this outcome but my guess is that they could do little to stop it.
Other angels I photographed at Calvary day are familiar in style yet still lovely to look at in any cemetery I visit.
The image of an angel dropping a single flower is one that’s puzzled me as to what it’s meant to symbolize. One site I consulted said that it’s taken from the legend of Saint Dorothy. On her way to death, she was mocked by Theophilus. He asked for proof of the heavenly garden she was going to. After her death, an angel visited him with a basket containing flowers and fruit in the middle of winter. The angel is supposedly bringing proof that the deceased is in heaven.
I don’t know if that’s true but I’ve seen it often enough to wonder. You can also see this motif in the Sherlock monument but this figure (which has no wings) is also holding a wreath, which often means victory over death.
It was humbling to see some of the small markers featured portrait circles on them. To be able to see a picture of the deceased adds a dimension beyond the name and dates on the stone. Ann Costello McNally is one of them.
The daughter of livestock trader Pat Costello and Mary Riley Costello, Ann was born in Greenwood, Miss. in 1920. She married John Costello and eventually moved to Memphis, Tenn. It was there she died in 1953. The cause of death was uremia caused by kidney disease.
I didn’t realize until later that I had also photographed the marker of Ann’s brother, James, until I was writing this post. In looking her up, I found they had the same parents but James was born in Talladega, Ala. in 1912.
Buried beside James is his wife, Ann Gorman Costello. She died in 1980 in North Augusta, S.C., just over the Georgia/South Carolina border.
It’s been fun remembering this 2015 trip to Nashville and paying tribute to singer Eddie Rabbitt. But it also makes me want to return and explore further. To learn more about the people that lived and shaped this vibrant city.
Hopefully, I’ll get that chance soon.