In February 2019, my husband and I attended a couples’ retreat sponsored by our church at the lodge in Unicoi State Park in Helen, which is in the North Georgia mountains. Chris and I enjoy the chance to get away from the routine while growing closer to each other and the Lord. It was very pleasant few days.
On the way home on Sunday, Chris said we had time to stop by a cemetery. I’d already scoped one out online that was 20 minutes south of Helen. Cleveland City Cemetery it would be.
Like Helen, Cleveland is located in White County. It’s named after state legislator David White. With what eyewitnesses said was “a skillful display of oratory”, White argued for it to be carved out of larger Habersham County in 1857. White convinced the assembly to pass fellow legislator William Shelton’s bill for the new county, which had already been turned down twice. Shelton was so thrilled that he immediately moved to name the new county “White” in David White’s honor.
Originally called Mt. Yonah, the county seat was later renamed Cleveland in honor of Gen. Benjamin Cleveland, a hero in the War of 1812.
Home of the Cabbage Patch Kids
Cleveland is probably best known as the home of BabyLand General Hospital, where the wildly popular Cabbage Patch dolls are “born” every day. The dolls were originally thought up by Clevelalnd resident Xavier Roberts in the late 1970s. The Cabbage Patch brand brought in an estimated $2 billion from the dolls and other items such as books and T-shirts during the 1980s and made Roberts a multimillionaire. He lives quietly in Cleveland out of the spotlight.
Established in 1866
The land for the Cleveland City Cemetery was purchased by the W.E.F. Shelton family (possibly related to legislator William Shelton mentioned above) and deeded to Cleveland’s churches in 1866, according to local historian Judy Lovell. Today, it’s operated and maintained by a board of trustees, similar to other perpetual care cemeteries. According to Find a Grave, there are about 800 recorded memorials.
One of the first markers I photographed was in shade so I didn’t read the inscription until I was looking at my photos later that week. I had somehow missed the words “brutally murdered”. As I began my research on the Bell family, a history of sadness and tragedy slowly unfolded.
Born in 1839, North Carolina native William Brown Bell moved to White County in his youth. He married Catherine “Kate” McAfee in 1858 and the couple had several children. William worked in a dry goods establishment in Cleveland and later, was as a pharmacy salesman for an Atlanta employer. He also acted as an “ordinary” or local judge in Cleveland.
William and Kate’s second child, Thomas, attended college and taught school in Cleveland in the late 1870s. He moved to Gainesville to work as a salesman and was elected clerk of the superior court of Hall County in 1898.
On April Fool’s Day 1899, William visited J.S. “Si” Smith at his home, the two spending the evening drinking a good bit. When William left the next day, Si hopped into William’s carriage and went along. A disagreement arose between the two and Si beat William with a piece of wood. Some said it was because William insulted Si’s wife.
William managed to get away but Si shadowed him until he set on him again in his carriage, this time crushing his skull and leaving him for dead in the road. Si’s friends spirited him away, and a posse led by Tom Bell was formed to track down Si. It took a while but Si was eventually traced to Rabun County and taken to jail. Smith admitted killing Bell, but claimed it was justified. A judge ruled that it would not be safe for Smith to remain there so he was sent to the jail in neighboring Hall County.
Late on July 14, 1899, a mob woke the Hall County sheriff at the jail. One of the men claimed to be a sheriff of a nearby county and that the group had a prisoner that needed to be put in the jail. He let them in, and when he did so the mob rushed the cell where Smith was held, pulled out weapons, and began firing into his sleeping form. They then quickly dispersed.
Georgia Governor Allen Candler, who had earlier offered a reward for Smith’s capture, ordered an investigation. One of Tom Bell’s friends, who was among the mob that arrived at the Hall County jail that night, was charged with the killing, but a jury acquitted him.
“Thy Rod and thy Staff Comfort Me”
Kate was devastated by William’s death and the ensuing events. She died at age 68 on July 3, 1903. She is buried to the left of William.
In 1905, Tom was elected as a Democrat to the 59th Congress and to the 12 succeeding Congresses (March 4, 1905 to March 3, 1931). He served as majority whip in the 63rd Congress. He died on March 18, 1941 and is buried in Gaineville’s Alta Vista Cemetery.
Unfortunately, tragedy would continue to follow the Bell family in the years to come.
“She Shines in Endless Day”
Mark Bell, William and Kate’s oldest son, married Lydia Zealure Reeves in 1880. The couple had two boys, William and Fred, before Lydia died in 1898 at age 33.
Mark remarried in 1900 to Florence McAfee. The couple moved to Athens, Ga. where he entered into a partnership with brother Tom and some others in operating Bell Brothers Marble Co. On Jan. 10, 1905, Florence gave birth to a little girl they named Katie Lou. She only lived five days, dying on Jan. 15.
Katie’s marker is one of my favorite styles, featuring the “baby on a half shell” motif. The detail on the neckline and hem of her little gown is lovely.
The epitaph on the back of her marker is heartbreaking.
Mark and Florence had three children altogether. Son Parks lived well into adulthood but youngest son George, born in 1908, only lived two months. He is buried beside Katie Lou.
“We Miss You”
It was with great joy on May 17, 1904 that the Bell siblings celebrated the marriage of youngest brother Parks Lester Bell, 26, to his sweetheart, Fletcher Louise Charles. Lester was employed as a clerk at Cleveland’s post office, despite having a weak heart much of his life.
On the morning of April 1, 1905, a day before the sixth anniversary of his father William’s death, Lester was found dead in the bathroom by Fletcher. A news article surmised his death might have been due to ptomaine poisoning from oysters that he had brought home and eaten the night before.
Lester’s monument includes the date of his marriage to Fletcher and her name, not something I often see on a marker. On top is a heartfelt message.
Fletcher remarried in 1908 to railroad conductor J. Franklin Busbee of Atlanta. She died in 1924 of hepatitis. She is buried with Frank at Westview Cemetery in Atlanta.
“Sorrow That Heaven Cannot Heal”
On Oct. 23, 1911, Florence Bell sent her six-year-old son, Parks (named after his uncle), upstairs to summon his father, Mark, downstairs for breakfast. What the child found that morning would change his life forever.
Little Parks found his father in bed, a pistol still in his hand and blood covering his body. According to a newspaper account, Mark had been suffering from a “severe nervous condition” in the months leading up to his death. Brother Tom came from Gainesville by train to help Florence make the funeral arrangements. Mark is buried on the right side of his father.
Mark’s monument is a Woodmen of the World tree marker with a calla lily carved into the base, which signifies marriage. In some cases, the flower can also represent the resurrection.
Florence didn’t remarry after Mark died. She lived with son Parks and his family in Marietta, Ga. in her final years. After she died on Dec. 13, 1956, she was buried at Cleveland City Cemetery.
“We’ll See It Again”
Fred, Mark Bell’s son with his first wife, Lydia, married Minnie Warwick in 1902. The couple lived in Athens where Fred managed a grocery store. Their fourth child, Julia, was born on Dec. 16, 1918. After a short illness, Julia died on May 22, 1922. She was only three years old.
Her obituary included the following poem:
Well might the parents say;
That smiling face God loaned to me
He now calls back for Him to see;
We thank Him for its presence here;
We’ll see it again
We have no fear.
I’ll have more stories from the stones at Cleveland City Cemetery in Part II.