The pounding sun glared in my face as I tilted my phone back to snap a photo of the gates of Birmingham, Ala.’s Oak Hill Cemetery. Sweat rolled down my back as the lunchtime traffic whizzed by. As a result, the shot (see below) was not my best. But I didn’t care. It was the first stop on a road trip I’d been eager to start for months.
I’ve mentioned the Church Chicks to you. Sarah is one of them. I wrote about our visit to Myrtle Hill Cemetery in Rome, Ga. back in 2014. Of all the chicks, she and I have done the most traveling together. Our first trip was to her hometown of Lawton, Okla. We survived a church singles’ cruise to the Bahamas. In 2012, we took a memorable trip to New York City. Our most recent trip (with another chick) was to Blue Mountain Beach, Fla.
Oklahoma Road Trip 2019
In early 2019, Sarah told me about a Memorial Day cycling event near Lawton, Okla. she wanted to attend. Sarah is an avid cyclist and I am not. But she was eager to return to her hometown to take part. She suggested we make it a road trip, taking two and a half days to drive out to Oklahoma, spend two days there, and two and a half days to get back. Along the way, we could stop at all the cemeteries (within reason) that I wanted. Who could say no to that?
At first, I wasn’t sure I could come because it conflicted with my family’s annual trip to Folly Beach, S.C. But the more we discussed it, the more something told me we needed to do it that summer. I could fly out to Folly to join my family after the road trip. Considering that Covid 19 was preparing to strike the following year, she and I agreed later that my gut feeling was on the money.
Over the next months, we plotted our course and discussed our route. I admit it, I’m a closet travel agent and I relish the challenge of planning a trip. By the time May came around, I was chomping at the bit to hit the road. I think Sarah was, too.
First Stop: Oak Hill Cemetery, Birmingham, Ala.
Located a little north of downtown, Oak Hill Cemetery was originally 21.5 acres from the estate of James M. Ware. According to Oak Hill’s web site, when Birmingham was founded in December 1871, it had been in use as a private burial ground for at least two years. When civil engineer William P. Barker platted the new city for the founding Elyton Land Company, he identified the site as “City Cemetery.” After the city purchased the 21.5-acre site in December 1873, it was formally established as Oak Hill Cemetery.
In 1889, Judge A. O. Lane purchased 200 acres on the southern slopes of Red Mountain (now Lane Park) for pauper burials, ending the use of Oak Hill’s “Potter’s Field”.
In 1977, Oak Hill Cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Currently, there are probably around 10,000 burials.
The first building I photographed was this one, the Pioneer Memorial Building, which houses the cemetery office. In 1928, the caretaker’s cottage near the center of the property was removed to the southwest corner of the cemetery and this new building made out of Indiana limestone was erected. It was designed by Miller & Martin Architects with William Kessler, landscape architect.
I was in search of a particular grave and I was hopeful someone was in the office to guide us. We didn’t have a lot of time to look as we were due in Oxford, Miss. that night. I’m embarrassed to say I don’t remember the name of the kind gentleman who helped us but he personally walked us over to the grave I was seeking. It was probably Stuart Oates, Oak Hill’s executive director. We also talked to him at the end of our visit.
You might not expect to find a survivor of the Titanic in an Alabama cemetery, but there’s one at Oak Hill. His story is a bit unusual, too.
Born in 1881 in New York, Phillipp Mock was the son of Richard and Emma Mock. His older sister, also named Emma, was born in 1876. The family traveled back and forth between Europe and the U.S., with the children receiving some of their education aboard. The siblings were close and Emma referred to Phillipp fondly as “Boy”.
In Feb. 1900, Emma’s married wealthy Rufus Blake, 44 years her senior. Rufus suffered from Bright’s disease and was housebound. While alone in their home in 1901, he shot himself in the head with a prized gun from his collection. His will left Emma $1,500,000. Another $95,000 went to a sister and nieces, while his four daughters reportedly received nothing. The will was relatively new and written shortly before his death. Emma married a second time in 1903 to Paul Schabert, with whom she shared a romance in Europe before her first marriage.
A Suwannee University (known as University of the South) graduate, Phillipp Mock served in the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War. Although an artist and portrait miniature painter, he worked as secretary of the Sterling Piano Company (previously owned by Rufus Blake) while his brother-in-law Paul was treasurer. He married Emma Clark in 1903.
Mock went on a business trip to Euprop in 1912 and booked passage home on the Titanic with his sister, Emma. Both he and Emma were unhappy in their respective marriages and discussed possibly divorcing their spouses. The siblings were accustomed to traveling on ocean liners and had cabins on the E deck.
According to the Encyclopedia Titanica:
Emma and Philipp were clearly impressed with the ship. He said Titanic was “without question the finest boat that was ever afloat and that she was so large passengers almost lost the idea they were on board ship. She was so huge that there was no rolling or pitching, she seemed to keep an even keel all the time.” Letters Emma wrote on board, revealed that she felt the same way about “the marvelous ship, with its wonderful restaurants, lounge and reception rooms, of our large cabin, of the fashionable well-dressed people who gathered in the hall after dinner…” The siblings touched upon a curious topic. They mused that should the Titanic sink, they would “die as stoics.”
Emma and Phillipp had little idea that the Titanic would indeed sink in the early hours of April 15, 1912.
Boarding the Lifeboats
You can read the account of Emma and Phillipp making it onto Lifeboat 11. Phillipp nearly lost a seat in the boat with Emma but once in, he immediately helped row. The siblings made it to the approaching Carpathia in an hour and a half. They arrived back in America on April 18. Despite a brief reconciliation, Emma and her husband divorced soon after. She would remarry to Baron Curt von Faber du Faur. Although the Baron was 14 years her junior, the marriage lasted until her death in 1961. Emma is buried in St. James Cemetery, St. James, Long Island, N.Y.
Phillipp and Emma divorced not much later and he married Alvis Ehrman in late 1914. They stayed in Connecticut while he continued to work for Sterling. He and Alvis did not have children and settled in New York. They later moved to Florida where he taught art at The Casements (a girl’s school) in Ormond. Philipp Mock passed away in Daytona Beach, Fla. on June 16, 1951.
So how did Phillipp and Alvis end up buried at Oak Hill Cemetery? After Phillipp’s death, Alvis moved to Birmingham, Ala. She was born in Clanton, Ala. in 1881. My guess is that Phillipp was cremated and she had his ashes buried with hers after she died on Aug. 18, 1963. Her parents, Rudolph and Kate, are buried nearby along with other family members.
Two Lives Cut Short
I’ve got one last story for this installment. I noticed two nicely carved monuments with death dates indicating the couple died young.
Born in 1863 to Dr. Thomas and Lucy Leeper Anglin, Eula Anglin was a well-known society miss in Birmingham. On Oct. 3, 1883, she wed Joseph Paul (J.P.) Mudd, also of Birmingham. Newspapers called it “the most notable social event” of the season. J.P. was the son of esteemed jurist and state legislator Judge William Swearingen Mudd and Florence Jane Earle Mudd.
Eula was 20 and Joseph was 24. In 1885, she gave birth to a son, William (named after his grandfather), and in 1889, a son named Joseph Paul (named after his father). J.P. did well and was involved in banking.
For reasons I could not learn, Eula died at age 26 on Feb. 10, 1890. I could not find an obituary for her beyond a one-sentence mention in a Montgomery newspaper. J.P. did not remarry. He died almost eight years later of pneumonia at age 39 on Jan. 12, 1898.
That left young William and Paul orphans. They went to live with their Aunt Ellie Anglin Weakley (Eula’s sister) and Uncle S. Davies Weakley, an attorney. William became one of the publishers of the Rome (Ga.) News-Tribune. Joseph became a lawyer like his uncle. The brothers are both buried in nearby Elmwood Cemetery in Birmingham.
I have more stories from Oak Hill Cemetery as the Okie Road Trip 2019 gets underway. Won’t you stay with me for Part II?