Last week, I dove into some of the history behind Destin’s evolution from a humble fishing village to a sunny tourist destination. Now let’s take a look at some of the other stones at Marler Memorial Cemetery.

Thomas M. Knapp’s obelisk is under the tree on the right.

One tall marker stands out. It’s not for a Marler or a Destin but a Knapp, the only one buried here. Thanks to again to H.C. “Hank” Klein, I was able to uncover some of the story of how he ended up in the cemetery.

Born in 1871 in Illinois, Thomas Morse Knapp married Cecily Flynn in Clayton, Mo. in 1897. According to the U.S. 1900 federal census, Edward and Cecily, were living in Havana, Cuba, at the headquarters of the Department of Matanzas and Santa Clara Hospital Corps. Edward had served in the Spanish-American War in 1898 and stayed on to work as a clerk.

Plans of a Homecoming

Edward continued working as a civil servant for the U.S. Army in Cuba until Nov. 30, 1910, when he resigned. He and his family planned to join Edward’s parents in Northwest Florida, near Destin, when they returned to America. Edward’s parents had staked a claim under the Homestead Act of 1862 on land in Shoals, Fla., (now Miramar Beach) in 1909. One of their lots could have been where Edward and Cecily hoped to build their new home.

Edward Knapp was only 39 when he drowned in the Choctawhatchee Bay.

On Dec. 26, 1910, four weeks after Edward retired, he was moving his family to Shoals when he drowned in the Choctawhatchee Bay between Santa Rosa and Shoals. According to Hank, an affidavit from Capt. Billy Marler (who you read about last week) said Edward fell off a motorboat while moving furniture to his home in Shoals and died. He was pulled from the water, but no one knew how to resuscitate him.

However, Edward’s Find a Grave memorial includes a January 15, 1911 article from the Pensacola Morning Journal that has a different account of his death:

The body was not found until Thursday, Jan. 5, 1911. It had come to the surface and floated near his home, where it was first seen and brought ashore by the loving hands of his wife, who was keeping a constant vigil for it along the beach. All other means had been exhausted and it became apparent that they must wait until the body should rise and float. The great privilege was given his wife of being the first to rescue the last earthly remains of him whom she so fondly loved from the maw of the hungry sea.

I’m not sure which of these two stories is true but sadly, Edward was gone. Cecily remarried in 1920 to Rufus McChesey and moved back to Missouri where they lived until her death in 1954. They are buried together in Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, Mo.

“Gone to a Fairer Land”

Last week, I told you how Carrie and Capt. Billy Marler lost eight children in infancy, all buried at Marler Memorial Cemetery. The Destins were also no stranger to tragedy. Leonard Destin’s son-in-law, Frederick, would know it all too well.

Born in 1869 in what was then called East Pass, Leonard’s daughter Fannie grew up with her siblings as her father fished. Excerpts of her childhood journal exist on Here’s one entry from July 1881:

Sun shining brightly.  Wind from the north.  Read my lesson to Uncle Elias then helped Priss.  My sister Jane is with us yet.  Mr. Woodward, her husband is at Pensacola.  Brother George came in last night.  Very glad to see him.  Wind from the north yet.  Green corn is all gone I am sorry to say.  Read lesson to Uncle Elias.  Wind is blowing from the west quite strong.

“Gone to a Fairer Land” Fannie Destin Studebaker died a day after giving birth to a daughter. They share a marker against the back fence.

Fannie grew up and married fisherman (and later a lighthouse keeper) Robert Studebaker in 1898. Their daughter, Martha, was born in 1900. On March 2, 1902, she gave birth to another daughter, who died the same day. Martha died the next day. Mother and daughter share a marker located back against the fence.

Robert Studebaker moved to Cromanton Bay, Fla. and remarried to Hattie Pratt in 1903. In a sad twist of fate, Hattie would die on Nov. 15, 1903 after giving birth to a daughter, Lillian. The baby also died. Robert married a final time to Nina Ecker in 1909. He died in 1947 at age 73 and Nina died in 1949 at age 70. They are buried together in Panama City’s Greenwood Cemetery, as is Robert and Fannie’s daughter Martha Studebaker Brown.

Death in New Mexico

Earlier, I shared an excerpt from Fannie Destin Studebaker’s childhood journal where she mentions her sister, Jane Destin Woodward. Jane married Frederick Harlow Woodward in 1875 and together they had several children, including a son name named George born in 1892. This is a photo of her with her oldest son, Edward, sitting on her lap.

Jane Destin Woodward was only 45 when she died in 1901. Her oldest son, Edward, sits on her lap. (Photo source: Find a Grave, Hank Klein)

Jane died on July 31, 1901 at age 45. Her marker is broken and in sad condition. Frederick died on Nov. 2, 1908 and is buried beside her.

Jane Woodward’s epitaph reads, “She died as she lived, a Christian.”

Son George Woodward grew up to be a fisherman. He married Minnie Marler, I’m not sure where she fits into the Marler family tree. But George’s health began to suffer in the late 1910s. Like many people at that time, he went to New Mexico in hopes that a dryer climate might help. He may have had tuberculosis.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. George died on Feb. 8, 1922 at age 29. Minnie accompanied his body back to Destin and he was buried in Marler Memorial Cemetery beside his parents. I’m not sure if Minnie remarried after his death or what happened to her.

George Woodward traveled to faraway Albuquerque, N.M. in early 1922, hoping to improve his health. It was not to be.

A Mysterious Fire

One small homemade grave marker caught my attention but I didn’t have time to look up the person until I was writing my blog post this week. A sad story unfolded that is still shrouded in questions.

Born to Milton Shirah and Elgin Inez Sprinkle Shirah in 1938, Shirley Annette Shirah grew up in Alabama. She was a graduate of Central High School in Phenix City, Ala. She married a few years later and the family moved to the Destin area.

On the night of May 21, 1963, while her husband was working out of state, Shirley went with some friends to the dog races in Erbo. She returned late that night and told the babysitter she was going over to the vacant house she and her husband owned nearby “to get something”. In the wee hours of the next morning, Shirley was found badly burned across the street from the vacant house, which was now on fire.

Young wife and mother Shirley Destin died in a mysterious fire in the early hours of May 22, 1963.

Shirley was whisked to the hospital but never recovered. She died on June 7, having been unable to tell the police what happened. A Pensacola News Journal article detailed how one of the group she attended the races with was suspected of being involved in a bank robbery and had left town soon after the fire. I could find nothing more. I’m sure Shirley’s family was devastated by her death.

Next time, I’ll be at nearby Brooks Memorial Cemetery in Fort Walton.