When I think of visiting Chattanooga, Tenn.’s Forest Hills Cemetery in April 2018, it reminds me of a few things. Number one, I had my sweet and spunky mother along with me and she proved quite helpful!
That week, Mom and I were I supposed to have gone to Ohio on a cemetery/family visit but our plans didn’t work out (it finally happened in October). We decided on an overnight stay in Chattanooga after dropping off my son with my awesome mother-in-law, Sue, so he could enjoy his spring break in Knoxville.
Number two would be some things are not always what they seem, which played out while doing research for this blog post.
Mom and I enjoyed a terrific massage at Natural Body Spa (shameless plug), which was within walking distance of our hotel. They treated us like celebs. But she knew I wasn’t leaving Chattanooga without visiting at least one cemetery! We headed to Forest Hills the next morning after we checked out.
Located in the St. Elmo neighborhood at the foot of Lookout Mountain, Forest Hills Cemetery was established in 1880 by a group led by Col. Abraham Malone Johnson. A Georgia native, Col. Johnson and his wife, Thankful, are considered St. Elmo’s founders. Besides Forest Hills, Col. Johnson played a role in forming other local organizations and companies, including the water company that would become Tennessee American Water and Chattanooga Medicine Company (now Sanofi).
Originally named “Oakland,” the cemetery name was changed to “Forest Hills.” The first burial took place in August 1880. Englishman Walter Hayter, who was hired to survey the cemetery, died suddenly and was buried in Section 1, Lot 1. I did not see his grave on our visit.
Spring at Forest Hills Cemetery
With about 45,000 burials, Forest Hills Cemetery covers about 100 acres so it is definitely big. Since spring was starting, trees and flowers were just starting to come out of their winter hibernation.
Col. Johnson’s family monument is one of the largest at Forest Hills, not surprising considering his wealth and influence. But his origins were humble in nature. Johnson was working as a tinsmith and railroad postal agent when he met Thankful Whiteside in 1857.
The Johnson union (they married the year they met) was frowned upon by Thanksful’s father, Col. James Whiteside. She eloped with Johnson two days before her marriage to a law student. Col. Whiteside reportedly did not speak to his daughter until after she gave birth to her first two children about a year later, a set of twins named Anderson and Minnie.
The Colonel Who Wasn’t a Colonel
While one source I saw reported that Johnson rose to the rank of colonel in the Confederate Army, I found no records confirming he ever donned a uniform. More likely, it was honorary. Johnson operated several railroads in Georgia serving under the Confederate government. The title “Colonel” is also nowhere to be found on Johnson’s monument, either. These honorary designations were not uncommon during the era, “Major” Eugene Lewis being another example of a railroad magnate who garnered a military title he never earned.
The Johnsons had seven children and all of them but Anderson are accounted for on the monument. One account I read was that Anderson was in a fight over a woman that resulted in a friend being cut in the neck, and the man died of infection two weeks later. Fearing he might be charged in the man’s death, Anderson fled Chattanooga and became a drifter of sorts. The last record I could find him listed on was the 1880 U.S. Census.
Thankful Whiteside Johnson was in poor health in her later years as the result of the hardships she suffered during the Civil War, the 1878 Yellow Fever epidemic, and child birth. At age 51, she died on Jan. 28, 1890. Abraham died on April 21, 1903 at the age of 73.
There was a grave at Forest Hills that I was keen to find, and it took Mom and I quite a while to locate. It is tiny compared to the Johnson monument but the story of the woman who rests there has a place in the history books.
No Flash in the Pan
A native of Chattanooga, Virne Beatrice “Jackie” Mitchell grabbed local attention as a young pitching star when she was signed in 1931 by Joe Engel (also buried at Forest Hills). He owned the Chattanooga Lookouts, a double-A minor league team in the Southern Association that still exists today. Baseball did not look kindly on women players at the time so Jackie was often regarded with scoffing and amusement.
But Jackie was the real deal, the 17-year-old having been coached by her neighbor future Baseball Hall of Famer Charles “Dazzy” Vance when her family lived in Memphis. Her father, an optician, encouraged his daughter to play ball at a tender age.
On April 2, 1931, Jackie took to the mound during an exhibition game the Lookouts played against the New York Yankees. She followed pitcher Clyde Barfoot, who had given up a double and a single. Wearing a custom-made uniform, she stared down the already legendary Babe Ruth. Her first pitch was a ball, he swung at the next two, then the fourth pitch was called a strike.
Ruth reportedly threw his bat down, argued with the umpire, then stormed back to the dugout. Next up was “Iron Horse” Lou Gehrig, who swung and missed all three pitches.
“Too Strenuous” For Women
After Jackie got a standing ovation, she walked the third batter and was pulled from the game. The sensational story was quickly reported across the country. Days later, her contract was voided by Baseball Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis with the reason given being that baseball was “too strenuous” for women.
Some have argued that Jackie’s defeat of the Babe and Iron Horse that day was a set up, but sports writers and historians tend to support that it was real. Knowing what happened later in her life indicates to me that Jackie took her talent seriously and wouldn’t have agreed to such a thing.
Jackie kept playing in exhibition games before retiring from baseball at the age of 23 in 1937. She was fed up with being used as a side show, once being asked to pitch while riding a donkey. She took an office job at her father’s company, and refused to come out of retirement when the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League formed in 1943.
Although her professional career lasted only two-thirds of an inning, her story has become legend in both baseball and women’s sports history. In 2000, a book about her story called “The Girl Who Struck Out Babe Ruth” was published. She died in January 1987 at the age of 73. Her stone is small and worn, with the last name of “Gilbert” on it. I could find no record of her marriage or if they had children.
Rare White Bronze Marker
The last marker I wanted to talk about is this white bronze (zinc) one, a rarity in a Southern cemetery. Finding information about the family proved difficult but I finally sorted it out. Where there were thought to be three sons, however, there is only one.
Three people are memorialized on this marker. John Timberlake Jackson (1859-1883) and Stonewall Jackson (1863-1896) were sons of William Jasper Jackson, a lumber merchant from Rutherford County, Tenn. who spent his later years in Jackson County, Ala. His first wife, Judith Primm Jackson, was the mother of John and Stonewall (and other children). She died in 1882 and is buried in Jackson Cemetery in Rutherford County.
Remarriage in Alabama
William remarried in 1883 to wealthy widow Paralee Edwards Moody in Alabama. Her son, Jesse Moody, born in 1869 during her first marriage to Alexander Moody, is the third person on this monument. He grew up in Scottsboro, Ala. and lived with his mother and step-father, William, after their marriage in 1883.
John T. Jackson died in August 1883 at the age of 24, I could find very little about him. Stonewall worked closely with his father at his lumberyard in Langston, Ala. and died there suddenly at the age of 32 in 1896. His obituary notes he was buried in Langston but does not specify a cemetery by name.
According to his obituary, Jesse died as a result of exposure and a fever he contracted while a soldier serving in the Philippines. The Spanish American War that only lasted a few months in 1898 dragged on into the Philippine American War, and it appears Jesse took part in both. His obituary notes that he’d only been back in America a short time when he died at the Jackson home in Chattanooga on Jan. 23, 1902. His official Tennessee death record lists “consumption” as his cause of death.
William died in 1913 and is buried in Langston Cemetery in Alabama. Paralee died in 1925 at the age of 84 of pneumonia in Scottsboro, Ala. While Find a Grave does not have a photo of her grave, her obituary notes that her remains were “carried to Chattanooga” for burial beside her son. She left a substantial sum of money in her will to endow a Jesse Moody Chair of Mathematics at what is now Bethel University in McKenzie, Tenn.
Three Names But Only One Grave
What puzzled me was how brothers John and Stonewall Jackson ended up buried at Forest Hills when they seemed to have few ties to Chattanooga, beyond a family home mentioned in Jesse’s obituary, which may have been the home of a relative. Stonewall’s obituary specifically notes he was buried in Alabama following his death in 1896, but does not mention which cemetery.
I solved the mystery by looking up Forest Hills’ extensive online burial records, which revealed no record of their burials there. Paralee and Jesse’s burials, however, are recorded. My guess is that Paralee memorialized her step-sons on the marker when she had it made for Jesse in 1902 as a loving gesture to her husband, William.
There’s a lot more to talk about at Forest Hills Cemetery. I’ll be back to share additional tales.