Were you wondering if I would ever get back to Georgia?
I’ve written about cemetery hopping with my best friend, Christi, before. We usually do it where she now lives in Nebraska or the surrounding states. But in late March 2018, she was in Atlanta visiting her Dad. As usual, I drove from my house in the Northern ‘burbs to spend the night with her at his house in Fayetteville, where we both grew up. It’s about 20 miles south of downtown Atlanta.
I’ve known Christi since 1980, when we met in Vacation Bible School at First Baptist Church of Fayetteville. Our complete lack of volleyball prowess drew us together as we stood on the sidelines, little knowing it would be the foundation of a lifelong friendship.
Christi’s parents had built their home “in the boonies” of Fayette County during the 1970s. It often meant passing Bethany United Methodist Church Cemetery on my way to her house for a sleepover.
Back then, I had zero interest in cemeteries. But in recent years, I’d thought about stopping by. On that day in March last year, we’d already been to another cemetery to visit the grave of Christi’s oldest brother. She was good with one more stop so we did. Having passed it so many times, it felt like a very familiar place even though I’d never actually stopped by before.
Bethany UMC is still an active church. Organized in 1855, the church had been in three different locations before settling at its current site in 1898. The building cost approximately $1,000 and was dedicated on May 21, 1900. The United Methodist Church rotates its ministers every few years so the list of Bethany’s former pastors is quite long. Their current pastor is the Rev. Garrett Wallace, who will make an appearance later in this post.
Hollywood Comes to Bethany Cemetery
According to Find a Grave, there are about 675 recorded burials at Bethany. Some of the markers are broken and look to have been that way for a while. Burials are still taking place now.
If Bethany Cemetery looks familiar to you, that’s because it’s featured on the popular Netflix original series “Stranger Things”, set in 1983. I’ve never watched it. Here’s a photo I found from the series that I found at fantrippers.com.
It’s not unusual for scenes from the Atlanta area to show up in movies and TV shows because Pinewood Studios built a studio only a few miles from Bethany Cemetery a few years ago. Others have followed since. Bethany Cemetery was also featured in the 2013 movie “Joyful Noise” starring Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah.
There’s another fenced off plot that I saw in the back of the cemetery. I’d never heard of the Shropshire family when I was growing up but they owned a cotton plantation in Fayette County. Joshua Pollard Shropshire (1806-1873) married Minverva Smith in nearby Coweta County in 1833. They had seven children together. Joshua was appointed a judge in Fayette County in 1866.
Joshua did own slaves that worked the plantation, owning seven in 1850. I found a record of the family Bible that lists some of their names and birth dates of children. A man named Greg Burton, a Shropshire descendant, traveled from Canada to the area in the 1970s to visit family and see the plantation. This is a photo he posted of it at this website. I learned this week that the home burned in 1985.
The three eldest Shropshire sons all served in the Confederate Army. Oldest son William Franklin Shropshire was 25 when he enlisted in Georgia’s 10th Infantry Regiment, Company I (known as the Fayetteville Rifle Greys or Fayetteville Grey Guards.) The group left Fayetteville on June 4, 1861, arrived at Richmond, Va. on June 7, 1861 and mustered into service on June 8, 1861.
I found a record that indicated William was in the hospital in Williamsburg, Va. in November 1861. He vanishes from military records after that. William died on March 22, 1863 in Fayetteville. I’m not sure how all that happened but he was buried in Bethany Cemetery after his death.
Third son Joshua Asbury Shropshire, born in August 1839, also served in the Georgia 10th alongside his older brother. I found a record that indicated he had been on “sick furlough” since December 29, 1861 and that it had been “indefinitely postponed”. So I’m not exactly sure what happened to him as well during that time.
What we know for sure is that Joshua died on October 21, 1862 in Williamsburg, Va. Where he is buried is uncertain. There is a military marker for him at Thornrose Cemetery in Staunton Cemetery in Virginia, but the death year on it is incorrectly marked as Oct. 21, 1864. His marker at Bethany has the correct date. A marker for him is recorded in Franklin Garrett’s necrology in the 1930s and it notes that his Bethany marker said “Died in Staunton, Va.” on it. That marker is no longer there.
The Mystery of Joshua’s Grave
Some years ago, from what I found on a website, someone in Fayette County made it their mission to get every veteran in the county (Union and Confederate) a government-issued marker. I think that is who placed the marker that is currently at Bethany Cemetery.
My belief is that Joshua is not actually buried at Bethany but is in Thornrose Cemetery in Virginia. During the Civil War, the Confederate Army did not normally embalm the way the Union Army did. Shipping the body home without issues would have been nearly impossible.
Second in birth order was John Wesley Shropshire, born in 1837. He was 24 when he married Mary Jane Denham in 1862. Together, they had two children, Naomi and Johnnie. It was perhaps his relationship to Mary that prevented him from joining this other two brothers when they enlisted in 1861 and left for Virginia.
Unlike his brothers, John enlisted as a first sergeant in the 2nd Ga. Cavalry Regiment, Company E, also known as the Fayette Dragoons, in July 1963. Most of their time was spent at Camp Lane near Rome, Ga. He only served six months before he and his fellow soldiers mustered out in late December 1963 without seeing much action.
John died a month before daughter Johnnie’s birth on August 1, 1864 for reasons unknown. One notation I saw said he died in the Battle of Atlanta (fought in July 1864), but he had already mustered out months before. He is buried in the Shropshire plot with his parents and brother. It appears that his wife, Mary, never remarried and lived with one of her daughters until her death.
Father Joshua was still living on the plantation with his wife and three daughters when he died in 1873. According to a friend I contacted at the Fayette County Historical Society, the home was sold (along with 600 acres) to William T. Glower in 1876. Minerva died in 1882. They are both buried in the Bethany plot but their markers are so worn you can no longer read them.
A Marriage Torn Apart
On the front side of the cemetery, I photographed a double marker for Acey Edward Banks and his wife, Lexie Mae Griffin Banks. Born in 1892, Acey Edward “Eddie” Banks was the son of Lewis Banks and Elizabeth Phereby Hartley Banks. He married local girl Lexie Mae Griffin in 1923. They lived on a farm in Fayette County with two daughters and a son.
Unfortunately, from what I discovered on Ancestry.com, Lexie’s father, Charlie Griffin, had a tumultuous marriage with her mother, Emma Lee. Things got so bad that Emma moved out of the Griffin home and moved in with Lexie and her family.
According to newspaper accounts and a granddaughter, Charlie showed up in a rage at the Banks farm on May 15, 1931 demanding his wife come out of the house. Emma refused. While the three children hid in a closet, the two men argued and Charlie broke into the home. Exact details vary but the result was Eddie lay dead on the floor while Charlie fled to a nearby swamp.
Charlie Griffin was tried and convicted of murder, sentenced to life in prison. But according to his granddaughter, Charlie was released after only seven years in 1938. He died in 1945 and is buried in an unmarked grave in Ebenezer Cemetery in Fayette County. Wife Emma died in 1964 and is also buried in Ebenezer Cemetery.
Lexie remarried widower Oliver Peek sometime around 1945. She died in 1964 and is buried with Eddie. Oliver died in 1955 and is buried with his first wife, Mary, at Ramah Baptist Church Cemetery in Palmetto, Ga.
As we were preparing to leave, Bethany UMC’s pastor, the Rev. Garrett Wallace, pulled up and got out of his car. I was worried he might not welcome us wandering around the cemetery during sunset, but he welcomed us warmly. He asked if we were visiting because of the TV show and did we have any questions. Apparently, many “Stranger Things” viewers have stopped by recently.
Memories of the Past
Rev. Wallace said his congregants had no problem with movie crews temporarily taking over their church and cemetery, but actually enjoyed the excitement. In addition, the financial compensation the church received enabled them to make much-needed repairs to the buildings.
As I mentioned, “Stranger Things” is set in 1983, only three years after Christi and I became friends. In a way, stopping by Bethany Cemetery that day recaptured some of the magic of our early friendship, when we were two giggly teenage girls watching MTV and munching on Stouffer’s French bread pizza. A time when our weightiest issues were studying for a test or passing a note in class. Not contemplating war or facing a father-in-law’s rifle like some of those resting at Bethany Cemetery.