Not Always What they Seem: Taking a Spring Stroll in Chattanooga’s Forest Hills Cemetery, Part I

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 some special time together in Chattanooga last year.

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).

Col. James Whiteside didn’t approve of Col. Johnson (pictured above) when he met his daughter, Thankful, who was engaged to a law student. Two days before her wedding, she eloped with Johnson. (Photo source: CityScope Magazine)

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 monument is so large, I had to photograph it in segments.

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 Johnson died at the age of 51.

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.

Two angels flank the sides of the Johnson monument.

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.

An exhibition game featuring Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig made Jackie Mitchell a star. (Photo Source: Starr Cards)

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.

Joe Engel played for the Washington Senators, the Cincinnati Reds, and the Cleveland Indians. In 1930, he became the owner of the minor league Chattanooga Lookouts. Engel Stadium, where the Lookouts played until 1999, was named after him.

“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 Mitchell was considered a novelty but her talent was genuine. This is a photo from the infamous day in 1931 that she struck out Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. (Photo source: Library of Congress)

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.

Jackie Michell’s grave marker is quite humble considering her role in baseball history.

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.

The acorns on top of this white bronze monument signify wisdom.

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.

Jesse Moody, son of Paralee Edwards Moody Jackson, died in 1902 shortly after returning to America following his involvement in the Spanish American and Philippine American Wars.

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.

Stranger Things in a Familiar Place: Visiting Fayetteville, Ga.’s Bethany Cemetery

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.

Bethany UMC Cemetery was a place I passed many times in my teens and 20s.

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

A scene from the Netflix original series “Stranger Things” as it was filmed at Bethany Cemetery. (Photo source:

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.

I unknowingly photographed the other side of the same plot that shows up in “Stranger Things.”

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.

Photo of the Shropshire plantation home taken in 1919. (Photo source:

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.

Shropshire family plot at Bethany Cemetery. Joshua and Minerva’s markers are the two on the left side of the picture.

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.

The story of where William Shropshire was between November 1861 in Virginia and when he died in 1863 in Fayetteville is unclear. (Photo source: Rhonda Brady Rampy)

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.

Is Joshua Shorpshire actually buried in Bethany Cemetery? (Photo source: Rhonda Brady Rampy)

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.

You can see the Shropshire name on the gate. I did not get good photos of the Shropshire brothers’ graves that day.

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 W. Shropshire served as a First Sergeant in the Second Georgia Cavalary Regiment, Company E, also known as the Fayette Dragoons. (Photo source: Rhonda Brady Rampy)

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.

Eddie Banks died defending his family from his father-in-law. (Photo source: Jody Shepherd,

Unfortunately, from what I discovered on, 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.

Acey Edward “Eddie” Banks was only 38 when he was gunned down by his father-in-law.

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.

Strange…but true.

A cross with no name.


One Husband, Four Wives: Exploring Lenoir City, Tenn.’s Pleasant Hill Cemetery

Last week I finished up my four-part series on Knoxville’s Old Gray Cemetery. It’s a vast cemetery with plenty of important people to write about. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting there.

But much of the time, you’re going to find me in a place like Pleasant Hill Cemetery in Lenoir City, Tenn. It’s a cemetery out in the country, maybe 30 miles west of downtown Knoxville. No towering obelisks. No massive monuments. But I always manage to find some interesting tales even in nondescript burial grounds like these.

A sign behind what used to be Pleasant Hill Baptist Church (now called the Refuge Church at Pleasant Hill), explains that the cemetery is not supported by the church but by Loudon County. The cemetery website states that Pleasant Hill Cemetery was founded as a community cemetery in 1844 for the Eaton Crossroads community of Loudon County.

Pleasant Hill Cemetery was established around 1844.

In 1997, Pleasant Hill Cemetery Inc., of Loudon County was formed to oversee continuing care of the grounds. It has a volunteer board of directors. Routine mowing and trimming are handled regularly. While this is guaranteed, families are responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the grave markers.

Green Burials Allowed

Pleasant Hill Cemetery also allows green burials (no embalming or vaults required), something pretty rare these days. It was a welcome surprise.

It was a sunny day just after Christmas 2017 when I stopped to look around Pleasant Hill Cemetery, which is situated on a pretty hillside. According to Find a Grave, it has about 1,300 recorded graves. The cemetery website noted there are about 500 grave sites still available for purchase.

Fieldstones like this are indications of older graves.

While this cemetery has been around for a while, the earliest graves I saw were from around the turn of the century. There were, I noted, rough-edged fieldstones indicating there were some much older graves there.

Woodmen of the World Tree Markers

I noticed two tree monuments from Woodmen of the World, the fraternal organization turned insurance company. The first was for Robert M. Williams (1869-1912). His marker, though worn, indicates it was a Modern Woodmen of America (MWA) one. When Joseph Cullen Root founded the fraternal organization in 1883, that’s what it was called. Later he would drop the “Modern” and it would be simply “Woodmen of the World”.

The Modern Woodmen of America motto “Pur Autre Vie” (For the Life of Others) is inscribed on the marker.

Born in 1869, Robert was the oldest son of Samuel Pike Williams and Sarah Hudson Williams. He was married to Delia Melton Williams and they had seven children. According to the 1910 Census, both he and one of his sons, Earl, were working in a car factory. Robert died of heart failure of the age of 42 in 1913. Delia died in 1949 and is buried beside him.

The other tree marker is for Henry Edwin Markwood (1873-1916). As you can see, it’s only three years older than Robert’s but has the more well known Woodmen of the World seal on it. Both markers have a calla lily at the base, which was often meant to symbolize marriage or resurrection.

Henry Markwood served in the U.S. Army during the Spanish American War.

Henry was the youngest son of Lewis Anderson Markwood and Lucinda Gilbert Markwood. A military record indicates he served in Company E of the Florida Volunteer Infantry as a carpenter from 1898 to 1900 during the Spanish American War. The men were trained for an invasion of Cuba that never took place.

Henry returned to Loudon County and married Clora Williams (who may have been related to Robert Williams) in 1905. The 1910 Census indicates they were living in Monroe, La. with their two daughters while Henry worked as a contractor. At some point after 1913, the Markwoods returned to Loudon County. Clora died on Oct. 27, 1915. I could find no death record for her but Henry died on May 23, 1916 of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 42, the same age as Robert Williams.

One Husband, Four Wives

I noticed a double gravemarker for two women nearby and realized they were for two of the wives of Clarence Esco (C.E) Lebow. It turns out C.E. had a total of four wives altogether, a first in my book. I spent a good bit of time looking into his life and uncovered what I consider a sad story akin to a soap opera.

Born in August 1890 to Alfred Taylor Lebow and Ellen Hicks Lebow, C.E. grew up in a large family in Blount County, Tenn. Ellen was Alfred’s third wife, the previous two having died. This would be a pattern C.E. also followed.

When C.E. married Lula Viles in Loudon County in March 1909, she already had a daughter named Lena, born in 1907. The couple had a son, Clarence Ray, in August 1910. Lula died on Dec. 15, 1918 of tuberculosis at the age of 33. Lena went to live with her birth uncle’s family before marrying in 1923 and having three sons. She was divorced by 1930 and I could trace her no further. I don’t know what happened to Clarence Ray.

Only two months after Lula’s death on Feb. 7, 1919, Clarence married Bessie Fay Pierce. She died on Christmas Day 1920 at the age of 20, also of tuberculosis. Both wives are buried at Pleasant Hill Cemetery and share a marker, something I don’t often see.

C.E. Lebow has three wives buried at Pleasant Hill Cemetery.

There are some question marks surrounding C.E.’s 1921 marriage to Georgia native Lillian “Lillie” Pauline Carey because I found no record for it. Census records indicate she would have been in her teens. Lillie had a son, Virgil, on Jan. 15, 1921 and I’m not sure who the father was. C.E. and Lillie had a daughter, Margaret, in 1924. Lillie died in April 1931 and is listed as buried at Pleasant Hill but has no marker. I could not find her cause of death.

Children Farmed Out

After Lillie died, Virgil was sent to live at the Williams/Henson Lutheran Boys’ Home in Knoxville. Margaret was sent to the Mayhurst Girls’ School in Louisville, Ky., a school founded by nuns in the 1840s for homeless girls. She would go on to marry and have a family, dying in 2011 in Virginia.

Clarence Esco Lebow and his third wife, Lillian “Lillie” Pauline Carey Lebow. She is buried in an unmarked grave at Pleasant Hill Cemetery. (Photo Source:

Clarence remarried a fourth and final time to Emma Mays in October 1932. She already had a son, Oscar. By this time, Clarence was working at Knoxville Knit Mills, one of the city’s many underwear/hosiery mills. He would spend eight years employed by them.

C.E. Lebow was only 44 when he died but had already outlived three of his wives. (Photo source: Knoxville News-Sentinel Feb 23, 1935 page 7)

On Feb. 22, 1935, Clarence Esco Lebow died shortly after having a heart attack. He was buried at Mount Olive Cemetery in Knoxville. Emma’s name and date of birth are also on the marker but with no death date. Thanks to some help from Gaye Collins Dillon, who belongs to a genealogy Facebook group I am a member of, I learned that Emma remarried to German immigrant Henry Ruehr, who died in 1941. She died in 1984 and is buried in Fort Myers City Cemetery in Florida.

Grave of C.E. Lebow at Mount Olive Cemetery in Knoxville. Emma remarried and is buried in Fort Myers City Cemetery, Fla. (Photo source: Find a Grave’s Howard Sutherland)

Sadly, on Oct. 9, 1936, Virgil Lebow was delivering papers for the Knoxville News-Sentinel when he was in a car accident that ended his life at the age of 14. He is buried in Bethel Lutheran Cemetery, a small family cemetery connected with the Williams/Henson Lutheran Boys’ Home. His marker has yet to be photographed, although a 1990 inventory lists it. It is located less than a mile from where the only father he ever knew, C.E. Lebow, is buried.

C.E. Lebow’s son, Virgil, died in a tragic car accident in 1936. (Photo Source: Oct. 26, 1936 edition of The Kingsport Times.)

I could find nothing more about Clarence Ray Lebow, although someone on Ancestry noted he had changed the spelling of his last name and possibly spent time in prison. I cannot verify if that is true.

In researching this story, I felt especially sad for the wives and children of C.E. Lebow. It seemed C.E. had a zest for marriage but not for parenthood since the children were all sent to live elsewhere after their mothers died (except for his last step-son, Oscar Mays). It’s possible he didn’t have the money to support them but he had the means to marry. In the end, C.E. is buried alone, something he probably never pictured happening.

Building a Sausage Dynasty

Finally, I found the grave of an East Tennessee celebrity. When I saw the name “Wampler”, I immediately thought of the sausage ads I’ve heard on the radio when my husband tunes in to University of Tennessee Volunteer football games.

Although he credited his father Riley Wampler, Ted Wampler, Sr. is considered the true founder of Wampler’s Farm Sausage. Born in Loudon County in 1929, Ted remembers his father smoking sausage in a little tin shack on the tenant farm where they lived when he was a child. Riley went door to door during the Great Depression selling it to neighbors, stopping briefly during World War II.

Wampler’s Sausage is well known in East Tennessee.

“After World War II, little mom and pop stores sprung up everywhere so Dad suggested we re-open the slaughter house. So we did. We each invested $1,100,” Ted Sr. said.

By the 1950s, it became a corporation. In 1981, the family officially changed the name from Wampler’s Wholesale Meats to Wampler’s Farm Sausage Company. The company’s sausage is sold under the Wampler name as well as many private label brands. The Wampler plant, located in Lenoir City, employs about 150 people.

Ted Sr. married his childhood sweetheart, Frances, in 1950 and they had four children. Ted served as a justice of the peace, foreman of the Loudon County grand jury, chairman of the Loudon County Board of Education and the Loudon County Vocational Governing Board, and on the Executive Board of Directors of the Loudon County Rescue Squad. Needless to say, he was actively involved in the community.

Sausage company founder Ted Wampler Sr. was active in his community.

Ted died at the age of 86 on April 10, 2016. He is buried beside his parents and his daughter, Mary Lee Wampler Hitch, who was killed in a car accident in 1995 at the age of 40.

I didn’t expect to find as much as I did at Pleasant Hill Cemetery but it was a trip worth taking. Then again, just about every cemetery hop is.

I could find nothing about Nellie Adkins. She died in 1945.


Say Not Goodnight: Discovering Knoxville’s Old Gray Cemetery, Part IV

Say not Good night, but in some brighter clime
Bid me Good morning.

— From the poem “Life” by Anna Laetitia Barbauld

One thing I neglected to mention earlier is that Old Gray Cemetery has a receiving vault. These storage areas were used to hold human remains before the advent of refrigeration. In the event there was a cold winter and the ground was too hard to dig, cemetery sextons would put coffins in a receiving vault until the weather improved. They’re much more common up North where winters are harsher. Nearby Greenwood Cemetery, however, has one as well.

I don’t know when the receiving tomb was built at Old Gray Cemetery. Many have the year inscribed on them, but this one does not.

Tennessee Governor William “Parson” Gannaway Brownlow’s family plot features a large obelisk. Born in Virginia in 1805, William Brownlow’s parents died when he was 11.  Brownlow spent the rest of his childhood on his uncle John Gannaway’s farm. At 18, he learned carpentry from another uncle, George Winniford.

From Carpenter to Fighting Parson

After attending a camp meeting, Brownlow gave up carpentry and studied to become a Methodist minister. He spent the next 10 years traveling Southern Appalachia on horseback competing for converts with ministers from the Baptist, Presbyterian, and other Methodist churches.

Brownlow could be combative with his fellow circuit preachers if they didn’t see eye to eye. In 1831, Brownlow was sued for libel by a Baptist preacher, and ordered to pay his accuser $5. He was well on his way to earning the moniker “The Fighting Parson.”

William Brownlow started out as a traveling Methodist minister but went on to become governor of Tennessee.

Brownlow quit the circuit shortly after marrying Eliza Ann O’Brien in 1836 in Carter County, Tenn. It was at this time he began getting involved in journalism and politics. In 1845, Brownlow ran against Andrew Johnson for the state’s First District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He accused Johnson of being illegitimate, suggested Johnson’s relatives were murderers and thieves, and stated that Johnson was an atheist. Johnson won the election by 1,300 votes, out of just over 10,000 votes cast.

Freed Tennessee’s Slaves

Brownlow was appointed by President Millard Fillmore to carry out congressional provisions in 1850 and as a journalist he established The Whig newspaper in Knoxville. He also became an agent for the U.S. Treasury. As the Civil War was ending in early 1865, he (with Tennessee Unionists ) created their own Constitutional Convention and proceeded to free the state’s slaves.

William Brownlow and his wife, Eliza, had seven children together.

In April 1865, Brownlow was elected the 17th Governor of Tennessee. While in office, he worked on the state’s reconstruction, ruling with a stern hand. The emerging Ku Klux Klan marked him as one of their greatest enemies but Brownlow brushed off their threats.

Running For Senate

Following re-election in 1867, Brownlow chose not to seek a third term but successfully sought the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by David T. Patterson, Andrew Johnson’s son-in-law, in 1869. By the time he was sworn in on March 4, 1869, a persistent nervous disease had weakened him considerably, and the Senate clerk had to read his speeches.

After finishing his term in the Senate in 1875, Brownlow returned to Knoxville and was a partner in establishing the Weekly Whig and Chronicle newspaper. He died at age 71, cause of death being listed as “paralysis of the bowels”. Eliza lived until the age of 96, dying in 1914.

Lady With a Rifle

Their daughter, Susan Brownlow Sawyers (1837-1913), caused a stir thanks to a story in an 1861 issue of Harper’s Weekly. Susan was a young widow, her husband Dr. James Sawyers having died only four months before the death of their daughter, Lillie, in 1858. Susan and Lillie were living with her parents when the incident took place.

A depiction of Susan Brownlow, daughter of pro-Union newspaper editor William G. Brownlow. In 1861, Confederate soldiers threatened to take down the American flag flying over the Brownlow home on East Cumberland Avenue in Knoxville.

According to the story in Harper’s:

When a mob of secessionists attacked her father’s house in his absence and insisted on the Union flag being hauled down from where it floated, this young lady seized a rifle and told them she would defend it with her life. The first who approached would be shot. They threatened her for some time, and tried in every way to frighten her. But she was firm, and after a time the ruffians withdrew, leaving the flag still flying.

Susan remarried to Dr. Daniel Boynton in 1865 and they had several children. She died in 1913. Both she and Dr. Boynton are buried in the Brownlow plot at Old Gray.

Henry Marshall Ashby’s marker got my attention because it looked like he had died in his 30s. The cause of it was not a lingering war wound but the explosive end to a simmering feud.

Col. Henry Ashby did not die in battle but he did meet his end at the hand of an enemy.

Born in Virginia in 1836, Ashby attended the College of William and Mary but never graduated. He worked as a trader in Chattanooga but was visiting his uncle in Knoxville when the war began.

Elected Colonel of the Regiment

After enlisting in the Confederate Army, Ashby’s company was assigned to the 4th Tennessee Cavalry Battalion which became part of the 2nd Tennessee Cavalry Regiment. Ashby was elected colonel of the regiment on May 24, 1862. The 2nd Tennessee Cavalry operated in East Tennessee in 1862 and 1863, usually in the brigade of Brigadier General John Pegram. Ashby was wounded during one of three raids into Kentucky made by his regiment during 1862.

Ashby was present at many strategic battles during the war, including Stones River (Tenn.), Brown’s Mill and Chickamauga (Ga.), and Monroe’s Crossroads (N.C.). Ashby actually had his horse shot out from under him at Monroe’s Crossroads. Although sometimes referred to as an acting brigadier general, Ashby ended the war as a colonel. After a visit to New York, he returned to Knoxville.

Bitter Enemies Clash

Union Major Eldad Camp had a score to settle with Ashby. During the war, a number of Camp’s men were held as prisoners of war under Ashby. Camp felt they had been treated abominably in atrocious conditions and held Ashby personally responsible. After the war, Camp pressed charges of war crimes and treason against him. Ashby fled Knoxville but returned when the charges were eventually dropped in June 1868.

Attorney E.C. Camp was determined to make Col. Henry pay for how he treated Camp’s men.

On July 9, 1868, Ashby encountered Camp on the street. Ashby hit Camp with his cane while Camp fought back with an umbrella. The following day, Ashby appeared at Camp’s law office near the corner of Walnut and Main Streets. The two went outside where Camp drew his revolver and fired. Henry Ashby was hit in the chest and killed.

Col. Henry Ashby was in his early 30s when he was killed by E.C. Camp.

While Camp was arrested and charged with murder, all charges were dropped. In examining the various newspaper accounts, the spin put on the event depending on the affiliation of the owner/editor is telling. As you can imagine, Confederate papers tended to support Ashby while those with Union leanings proclaimed Camp an innocent victim acting in self defense.

E.C. Camp went on to a successful business career, building Greystone Mansion. It still stands today as the studios of TV station WATE-TV. He died in his 80s and is buried within sight of Ashby’s grave at Old Gray Cemetery.

There’s one last stone that I wanted to share for a man that’s not even buried at Old Gray. His marker is a cenotaph. But the story of his life is worth reading.

From Knoxville to Korea

Born in Derbyshire, England in 1856, Heron was the son of the Rev. E. S. Heron, a minister of the Congregational Church, and Elizabeth Ayrton Heron. The Herons came to America in 1870 when John was 14. In 1881, he was admitted to the University of Tennessee Medical School and graduated in 1883.

After training at New York University Hospital, he refused the offer of a professorship from the University of Tennessee but instead became a medical missionary (sponsored by the U.S. Presbyterian Church) to Korea. He married Harriet “Hattie” Gibson shortly before he left and she accompanied him.

Dr. John W. Heron turned down a professorship at the University of Tennessee Medical School to serve as a missionary to Korea.

The Herons arrived in Seoul on June 1885 and John started work in Royal Government Hospital, Chejungwon. In 1887, he became the superintendent of the hospital. He also worked for the royal family while still traveling to rural areas to care for patients. He started Chejungwon Church, which later became Namdaemoon Presbyterian Church. He and Harriet had two daughters in Korea, Sarah and Jessie.

Dr. John Heron is not buried at Old Gray Cemetery but in Seoul, Korea where he died in 1890.

In the summer of 1890, Dr. Heron treated the sick and suffering amid epidemic dysentery and became infected himself. He died on July 26, 1890. Dr. Heron is thought to be the first medical missionary sent to Korea by the U.S. Presbyterian Church and was buried at Yanghwajin Foreign Missionary Center in Seoul.

Hattie married Canadian missionary James Gale in Korea in 1892. She died in 1908 and is buried with her first husband in Seoul.

The Rev. E.S. Heron died of cancer in 1888 in Knoxville and I found a record of Elizabeth’s death in September 1898. I’m not sure who erected this cenotaph to Dr. Heron but it was probably Elizabeth or one of Dr. Heron’s siblings. Neither of his parents have a stone at Old Gray Cemetery but their graves may be unmarked.

I could have written much more, but I’ll leave those nuggets of history for others to write about. Old Gray Cemetery has many of them and I’m happy to have shared just a few.

Epitaph to Helen Gibson Brownlee (1862-1949) at the foot of the Gibson obelisk. It is from the poem “Life” by Anna Laetitia Barbauld.

More Tales From The Marble City: Discovering Knoxville’s Old Gray Cemetery, Part III

Are you back for more stories from Old Gray Cemetery?

Let’s start with Lazarus Clark (L.C.) Shepard, who is thought to have been Knoxville’s first embalmer and undertaker. With a name like Lazarus (whom Jesus brought back to life from the dead in the Bible), perhaps it was inevitable that he ended up with that career.

A native of Connecticut born in 1816, Shepard spent the first 30 or so years of his life in that state. L.C. learned woodworking from his father. He married Emily Strong in 1837 in Bridgeport, Conn. It wasn’t until around 1854, after the Shepards had their four children (the last one died in childhood), that they moved to Knoxville.

Once in Tennessee, L.C. opened a furniture store but it burned four years later. For the next nine years, he worked as foreman of the rail car building department for the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia (E.T.V. & G) Railway, which had just extended its lines to Knoxville.

Conducted a President’s Funeral

In 1867, L.C. went back into the furniture business, adding to this a plant for the manufacture of coffins. Furniture stores often sold coffins in this era before funeral homes. At some point, L.C. trained to be an embalmer. This training became popular during and shortly during the Civil War when preserving the bodies of dead soldiers for shipment home became critical.

L.C. became Knoxville’s first resident undertaker and conducted the funeral of President Andrew Johnson in Greeneville, Tenn, in 1875. I don’t know how he was bestowed with the honor but it was probably because Knoxville, 70 miles away, was the nearest city with an embalmer/undertaker.

An 1871 Knoxville Chronicle advertisement for L.C. Shepard’s business. The ad extols his use of Taylor’s Patent Corpse Preserver.

In 1884, L.C. joined Edward Mann and Thomas Johnson to form Knoxville’s first formal undertaking establishment, Mann & Johnson. In 1892, the firm became known as E.B. Mann Undertaking Company. Today, it’s known as Rose Mortuary. L.C. was also a charter member of the first IOOF (Independent Order of Odd Fellows) lodge instituted in Knoxville, was three times an alderman of the seventh ward, and a trustee of the Tennessee School for the Deaf and Dumb.

The Shepard monument is the only white bronze (zinc) marker in Old Gray Cemetery.

Emily Shepard was active in Knoxville society, and had a heart for the down and out. She helped establish the Industrial Home for Youths, which three years after her death became St. John’s Orphanage. Emily died of cancer in 1882 at the age of 68. The Rev. Thomas W. Humes, whom I wrote about in Part I, was one of her pallbearers.

Clients could custom order what they wanted on the plates of their white bronze monument from a catalog.

The story behind the decline of L.C. Shepard is unclear but his obituary states that in later life, he made a bad business investment and never engaged in business after that. Ads for the business were still appearing in newspapers in the 1880s, however. Notice of his death in The Tennessean said he died a pauper. After a fall in 1900, L.C.’s last few years were spent at Knoxville City Hospital, where he received many visitors. He died on Feb. 15, 1902 at the age of 85.

A Secret Hiding Place?

I’m not surprised that the Shepards have a white bronze (zinc) marker, the only one at Old Gray Cemetery. They were much cheaper than granite or marble markers. As a funeral director, L.C. would have been very familiar with them and possibly ordered it himself when Emily died in 1882. All that had to be done after his death was to add a panel with his own birth and death dates.

Did bootleggers hide illegal booze in Shepard’s monument?

Legend has it that the hollow monument (all of them were) was a drop-off point for bootleg liquor during Prohibition. The panel shown here supposedly served as the entry point to a secret compartment for alcohol and monetary exchanges. Rust over the decades has permanently sealed the metal door.

Mind you, this kind of thing has been said about many white bronze monuments over the years, but has rarely been proven. However, the rusting of the panel suggests is just might have been tampered with over the years. This kind of rust is something I’ve rarely seen on these markers. So maybe the rumor is true in this case.

I could not write a complete story about Old Gray without telling the story of the Horne brothers, who were Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. You can’t pass their nearly life-size monument without stopping.

Brothers in Arms

Born in 1843 in Tennessee, John Fletcher Horne was the middle of the three children of the Rev. George Horne and Amanda Luttrell Horne. His sister, Margaret, was born in 1836. Younger brother, William, was born in 1845.

It is unknown who paid for the monument for the Horne brothers as both parents died before they did.

John served as a sergeant with the Kain’s Battery Tennessee Light Artillery. Younger brother, William, was an assistant quartermaster with the 42nd Georgia Infantry. Both brothers returned to Knoxville after the war. John never married and worked as a merchant for the rest of his life. William married Catherine Kelso in 1872 and they had four children. Both brothers worked together as J.F. Horne & Son Liquor Distributors in later years.

William died in 1891 at the age of 46 from typhoid fever. His wife, Catherine, died in 1897 of a “uterine hemorrhage” died at 51. Their son, Henry, had died at age 12 in 1889. All three are buried together at Old Gray Cemetery.

It is unknown if either Horne brother resembled the soldier that marks their graves.

John Fletcher Horne never married and died in 1906 of cancer.

John died in 1906 of cancer. From what I can tell, he was popular among his fellow veterans and was instrumental in organizing Confederate reunions. It was perhaps his fellow brothers in arms that helped in getting the monument made and placed at the cemetery. It is not something I see often on an individual soldier’s, or in this case soldiers’, grave site.

There’s an interesting footnote to this one. The Horne statue stands with his back to the massive Union Soldiers Tower next door at Knoxville National Cemetery. A few articles I read stated that family of the Horne brothers or the Horne brothers themselves insisted that any monument erected in their honor must have its back to the Union Soldiers Tower. Since it wasn’t constructed until 1901 and he died in 1891, I doubt William had a say in the matter. John, who died in 1906, might have but the truth is unknown.

The Marble City

I didn’t know until researching Old Gray that Knoxville was known as the Marble City in the 1800s. Its quarries provided an ample supply of Tennessee Marble, a highly polishable pinkish gray stone. You can find Tennessee Marble in famous buildings such as the J.P. Morgan Library in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Frank S. Mead is on the left. He was the first president of the Ross Marble Company.
(Photo source: McClung Historical Collection)

According to an article by Paul James, the Ross Marble Company paid for land next to what would become the Ijams Bird Sanctuary and opened up a quarry to extract Tennessee Marble. The site later became locally known as Mead’s Quarry in honor of Frank S. Mead, the company’s first president. He was also owned the Republic Marble Company (at times known as Ross and Republic Marble Co.), which produced grave markers and monuments.

A Quarry Transformed

By the Great Depression, however, demand for the Tennessee Marble plunged and quarrying operations everywhere felt the pinch. Switching to gravel and limestone production, both Ross and Mead’s quarries survived for several decades. By 1978, both were defunct and, particularly Mead’s Quarry, became illegal dump sites.

Arthur Mead worked closely with his brother, Frank, at the Republic Marble Company. He died from injuries he sustained in February 1895 when the sled he and his friends were riding struck a tree.

After thousands of volunteer cleanup hours and the dedication of Ijams park staff, the Ross and Mead quarries have expanded Ijams and jumpstarted Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness, created by Legacy Parks Foundation. The Foundation has over 40 miles of trails within South Knoxville alone. Apparently there are also two cemeteries within the area that I need to explore.

Many of the markers at Old Gray came from stone mined out of Frank S. Mead’s quarry.

Mead’s Quarry was the source for grave markers and monuments in Knoxville cemeteries. The Mead family monument, a large Celtic cross, was sculpted by Knoxville’s David H. Geddes, who owned the Knoxville Monument Works.

It was erected when Frank Mead’s older brother, Arthur, died in a tragic sledding accident on Feb. 6, 1895. He was only 33. He and Frank had worked together in managing the Republic Marble Company. Frank S. Mead was 71 when he died in 1936 of a cerebral hemorrhage.

We’re not quite done at Old Gray. Stay tuned for more in Part IV.

Twas the Dreamer Who Knew God’s Face: Discovering Knoxville’s Old Gray Cemetery, Part II

Last week, we spent some time at Knoxville’s Old Gray Cemetery. But there are too many stories worth sharing to limit to just one post. So let’s move on to Part II.

If you spend any time reading my blog, you’ll find many stories about women who died young. It was simply how it was before the advent of antibiotics, nutritional awareness and sanitary conditions. As I started looking into the lives of some of the ladies buried at Old Gray, the sad stories accumulated all too quickly.

It’s hard to miss the monument for Virginia Rosalie Coxe. The angel standing in front of the cross is missing part of her arm, but is relatively intact. As you can see, her name is almost worn off of the base. But the lines below it are still there:

In the dawn of the day of ages
in the youth of a wondrous race,
’twas the dreamer who saw the marvel,
‘Twas the dreamer who knew God’s face.

It’s possible Virginia’s epitaph is from one of her own poems.

Born in Virginia in 1863, Virginia “Jennie” Rosalie Michie was supposedly educated at Atlanta’s Gate City High School. However, it’s an institution I can find no information about. I think the reporter meant Girls’ High School, which was known for its academic excellence. It was in Atlanta where I believe Jennie met her future husband, Joseph Coxe. They married there in 1882. Coxe is described in one newspaper as “an eccentric coal baron” from North Carolina. Nevertheless, the couple was quite wealthy.

Virginia Rosalie Coxe was best known for her romantic novel, The Embassy Ball.

Joseph and Jennie lived in New Jersey and Philadelphia before moving to Knoxville. They had two children, Annie and Rosalie. Annie died in childhood but Rosalie would live well into adulthood, marrying and having children.

The Danielle Steele of the 1890s

The Coxes traveled a great deal and moved in society circles, even living in Spain for some time. But Jennie’s greatest pleasure came from authoring romantic stories under nommes de plume such as Percy Thorpe and Virginia Jerome. It was under the latter that she published the novel Princess Beelzebub. She also enjoyed writing poems, short stories, and songs.

Joseph may have initially balked at the idea of having a popular author for a wife, but eventually Jennie wrote under her own name. It was her book The Embassy Ball, published in 1898, that she is most remembered for. From the articles I read, reporters considered her a good interview and women enjoyed settling down with one of her novels. I’d compare her to a Danielle Steele or a Nora Roberts for the 1890s.

Artist’s drawing of Virginia “Jennie” Rosalie Coxe that appeared in the Atlanta Constitution.

A 1901 article in the Nashville-based Tennesseean newspaper describes her elegant Knoxville home Crescent Bluff as having an Italian rose garden overlooking a river. The Coxes hosted many parties there. I also found an advertisement in a Knoxville-based gardening magazine touting a new hybrid tea rose from the Dingee & Conrad Co. that was named after her.

Virginia Rosalie Coxe was only 44 when she died in 1906.

Jennie and Joseph saw their daughter, Rosalie, married to Daniel Hull in 1904 in a lavish wedding at Crescent Bluff. Sadly, Jennie died of Bright’s disease on June 24, 1908 at Crescent Bluff. She was 44 years old.

What Was Bright’s Disease?

Bright’s disease was a catch-all term for several kidney-related disorders, most often what we now call nephritis. The symptoms and signs of Bright’s disease were first described in 1827 by the English physician Richard Bright, for whom the disease was named. Today, nephritis is much easier to treat and not always fatal as it could be in the 1800s. President Woodrow Wilson’s first wife, Ellen Axson Wilson, died in 1914 of Bright’s disease when she was 54.

In 1911, Crescent Bluff, the home where Jennie entertained and lovingly tended her garden, was totally destroyed by fire.

Joseph did not remarry but traveled, spending much of his final years in Italy. He died of pneumonia in 1923 while in Lucerne, Switzerland. Records indicate his body was embalmed and placed in a vault awaiting burial instructions. I haven’t found anything to indicate what happened to him after that. Daughter Rosalie died in 1978 and is buried at Laurel Grove Cemetery in Savannah, Ga.

Much less is known about a woman buried near Jennie. But the monument for Ora Brewster Blanton got me looking into what her story might be.

The upside down torches on the base of Ora Brewster Blanton’s monument signifies death or a life extinguished.

Ora Brewater was born in 1858 in Sweetwater, Tenn. It appears her father died when she was a child, leaving her mother to raise her and her two sisters (one died in childhood and the other at age 30). Ora likely had to work to support her family. Ora eventually moved to Shelby, N.C. to teach music at the Shelby Female Academy.

Death After Surgery

It was in Sheby that Ora met Charles Coleman Blanton, a hardware/dry goods merchant from a prominent family. They married in Monroe, Tenn. in 1885 and moved to Meridian, Texas where Charles worked in the banking business. There are no records indicating they had any children.

Ora died only five years later in 1890 shortly after undergoing an operation. I don’t know what it was for. Her body was sent back to Knoxville for burial at Old Gray Cemetery, where her mother and her sister, Vallie, are also buried.

The statue for Ora Blanton’s monument stands next to a cross on a rock.

In 1895, Charles returned to North Carolina to work with his father and brother at the First National Bank of Shelby. Charles never remarried, becoming a prominent business leader in Shelby and active community member until his death in 1944. He is buried in Shelby’s Sunset Cemetery, where over 100 Blantons are listed.

Joe DePriest’s book about the Banker’s House in Shelby, where Charles Blanton grew up and I believe returned to after Ora’s death, had the only information I could find on Ora’s life. It’s included on the Banker’s House website. Joe and I have swapped emails and I appreciated his help very much.

The Death of Two Wives

Next to Ora Blanton is the monument to Frank Atkin and his two wives, Rosa and Lida. Frank’s brother, Clay Brown “C.B.” Atkin, was a major mover and shaker in Knoxville’s downtown development. He owned and operated several hotels, the jewel in the crown being Hotel Atkin. He was also instrumental in the Tennessee Theater’s establishment. Frank helped his brother in his many business ventures in a less public role.

Rosa was only 33 when she died on tuberculosis.

Born in 1863 to Samuel and Nancy Ault Atkin, Frank married Rosa Estelle Ault (I am guessing they were cousins) in 1884 in Knoxville. They had one son, Frank Jr., in 1885, and a daughter, Lillian, in 1889. Rose died on Nov. 1, 1890 of consumption, now known as tuberculosis.

In today’s world, tuberculosis is preventable and very treatable, with a death rate of only 10 percent. People with compromised immune systems who contract it are most at risk of death. But at the start of the 19th century, tuberculosis was a serious threat to life. It took the discovery of the tuberculosis bacteria by Robert Koch in 1882 for that to start to change. Even then, developing effective treatment would not come for another 50 years.

Frank remarried in 1893 to stenographer Lida Coffin in Hamilton County, Ohio. Lida died on June 1, 1895 of “puerperal peritonitis” or “childbed fever” shortly after giving birth. She was only 27 years old.

“Childbed Fever” Strikes

“Puerperal peritonitis” haunted women for centuries, often striking a few days after childbirth. Unsanitary conditions played a large role in causing these infections and there were no antibiotics yet to treat them after it occurred. It’s surprising to think that once upon a time, a doctor might drag on the same dirty clothes he wore the night before to deliver another child with unclean instruments, but it happened.

In 1903, Frank married a third time to a woman named Lucille. She was 22 and he was 42, making her only a few years older than his daughter, Lillian. I could not find a record of their marriage but they are listed as such on the 1910 Census. Frank died in October 1910 and records state the cause of death was “general breakdown”. He is buried at Old Gray with Rosa and Lida.

The Atkin statue was holding a colorful bouquet of poinsettias along with her wreath when we were there.

Both of Frank’s children, Frank Jr. and Lillian, lived long lives. Lillian is buried at Old Gray with her parents while Frank Jr. is buried with his wife, Robbie Atkin, at Berry Highland Memorial Cemetery in Knoxville. I don’t know what happened to third wife, Lillian Atkin, but I suspect she remarried.

I have more tales from Old Gray yet to share, so come back for Part III.

The Passing Tribute of a Sigh: Discovering Knoxville’s Old Gray Cemetery, Part I

Yet ev’n these bones from insult to protect,
         Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck’d,
         Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.

— Thomas Gray, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”, 1750

Last week, I visited Tennessee’s Knoxville National Cemetery and shared the story of the Union Soldiers Tower. Next door is Old Gray Cemetery which is a little older and a bit bigger than KNC.

One of the gates at Old Gray Cemetery. Across the street is St. John’s Lutheran Church.

Once used as pastureland just outside Knoxville’s city limits, the land that became Old Gray Cemetery was considered ideal for a suburban cemetery. The first parcel was purchased in December 1849, and landscape architect Frederick Douglass was hired to come up with a ground plan. Founded in 1850 and dedicated in 1852, it was called Gray Cemetery until 1892 when New Gray Cemetery opened about a mile away. Old Gray now covers almost 14 acres.

Named After a Famous Poem

Old Gray Cemetery got its name from Thomas Gray (1716-1771), the English poet who wrote the poem “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” in 1750. It was suggested by Henrietta Brown Reese, wife of Judge William B. Reese. He was Old Gray’s first board of trustees president.

Historical marker at Old Gray Cemetery, founded in 1850. It’s the second oldest cemetery in Knoxville.

Many of Old Gray’s first burials were victims of Knoxville’s 1854 cholera epidemic. The cemetery also contains several victims of the New Market train wreck of 1904. The tragedy occurred when two Southern Railway passenger trains collided head on near New Market, Tenn. on Sat., Sept. 24, 1904, killing at least 56 passengers and crew and injuring 106.

The area around Old Gray (and KNC) is home to a large homeless population, many of whom come to the Salvation Army Center nearby. A number were living under the Broadway overpass in 2017 but a 2018 article detailed the city’s plan to turn that area into a “day park” for the homeless so that may have changed things.

Road into Old Gray Cemetery from front gates.

When Sean and I were there, we saw a few homeless men quietly eating their lunch in the cemetery. Elsewhere, some college students were sunning themselves on blankets, enjoying the unusually warm weather for November and what was left of the colorful autumn leaves.

One of the first graves inside the cemetery gates is a slab gravestone for the Rev. Thomas William Humes, first president of the University of Tennessee (under that name). First known as Blount College, it opened in 1794 with the Rev. Samuel Carrick as president.

A Journalist, Lawyer, and Minister

Humes graduated from East Tennessee College (what the University of Tennessee was called at that time) in 1831, and obtained his master’s degree there two years later. He entered Princeton Theological Seminary to become a Presbyterian minister, but left after deciding he could not take the Westminster Confession of Faith.

During the late 1830s and early 1840s, Thomas William Humes worked as editor of the Knoxville Times, the Knoxville Register, and a Whig Party paper, The Watch Tower.

Back in Knoxville in the mid-1840s, Humes  studied under Tennessee’s Episcopal Bishop James Otey. In July 1845, Humes was ordained a priest by Bishop Otey, and in September 1846, Knoxville’s St. John’s Episcopal Church congregation elected him rector.

Although Rev. Humes had owned slaves, he helped several slaves in Knoxville purchase their freedom during the late 1840s and 1850s. He also opened a school for Knoxville’s free blacks and freed slaves. During the secession crisis of 1860 and 1861, Humes stayed loyal to the Union, despite the fact many relatives and most of his congregation supported secession. After he refused to acknowledge Confederate president Jefferson Davis’s National Day of Prayer in 1861, Rev. Humes resigned as rector.

When General Ambrose Burnside’s Union forces occupied Knoxville in September 1863, Burnside asked Rev. Humes to resume his position at St. John’s and he agreed. St. John’s member and Confederate diarist Ellen Renshaw House boycotted Rev. Humes’s opening sermon, calling Humes “the grandest old rascal that ever was.”

In 1865, Rev. Humes became president of then-East Tennessee University and secured an $18,500 federal grant to help restore the school’s deteriorated campus, occupied by both Union and Confederate armies during the war. In 1869, Tennessee’s state government designated the school the recipient of the state’s Morrill Act (land grant) funds. This amounted to $400,000, which generated for the school $24,000 in annual interest.

The Rev. Thomas William Humes was president of East Tennessee University, which became the University of Tennessee in 1879.

In 1879, East Tennessee University changed its name a final time to the University of Tennessee. Rev. Humes resigned as president in 1883, and was succeeded by Charles Dabney in 1884. In later years, Rev. Humes helped raise funds for educational and economic development in East Tennessee. He died on January 16, 1892.

Avowed Unionist with Shifting Loyalties

Across the drive, you can see monuments and a bench for the Maynard family. Horace Maynard was another East Tennessean loyal to the Union, despite the fact his views seemed to flip flop depending on the times.

Born in 1814 in Westboro, Mass., Maynard graduated from Amherst College in 1838 and came to East Tennessee College to teach. Maynard also studied law. Admitted to the Bar, he began practicing in 1844.

Maynard also involved himself in politics. Unsuccessful in his first bid for national office in 1853, he was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1857. He was re-elected twice and served until Tennessee seceded from the Union. He went on to serve as the Attorney General of Tennessee (1863-1865) and as a delegate to the Southern Loyalist Convention in Philadelphia (1866).

Elected to the House of Representatives from Tennessee’s 2nd Congressional District in 1857, Maynard became one of the few Southern congressmen to maintain his seat in the House during the Civil War.

Maynard’s views on slavery reflected shifting sentiments common among East Tennessee Unionists. During the 1830s, Maynard, the son of an abolitionist, called slavery “a curse to the country.” But by 1850, Maynard was defending the practice of slavery in letters to his father. In 1860, Maynard owned four slaves, and while he opposed secession as a congressman, he still defended slavery. Toward the end of the Civil War, Maynard again adopted an abolitionist viewpoint, and supported Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Horace Maynard successfully defended the creation of Union County, Tenn. from a challenge from Knox County. Grateful residents renamed the Liberty community Maynardsville to show their appreciation.

After Tennessee was readmitted to the Union, Maynard was again elected to the U. S. House of Representatives and served until 1875. He then campaigned unsuccessfully for the governorship of Tennessee. President Ulysses S. Grant appointed him U. S. Ambassador to Turkey in 1875, where he remained until May 1880. President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed him Postmaster General in June 1880 and he served until 1881. Horace Maynard died in Knoxville on May 3, 1882.

Horace Maynard’s son, James, is buried to his left of his father.

Horace Maynard and his wife, Laura Ann, had seven children together. During the Spanish–American War, the USS Nashville, commanded by their son, Washburn, fired the war’s first American shot. Eldest son Edward, who is buried near his parents at Old Gray, has a tragic story worth mentioning.

Tintype of Edward Maynard, who survived the Civil War but died in 1868 of yellow fever.

Death in the Caribbean

Born in Knoxville in 1843, Edward Maynard was attending Eastern Tennessee University when the Civil War broke out. His studies were abruptly curtailed, as he and his fellow students chose up sides and left to enlist.

Soon after joining the Union’s 6th Tennessee Volunteer Infantry, Edward was promoted to lieutenant colonel and attached to the 23rd Army Corps. Maynard’s regiment was at the Battle of Murfreesboro, engaged the enemy near Lost Mountain, Ga. in June 1864 and took part in the Battle of Nashville. He escaped unscathed and mustered out in March 1865.

After the war, Edward held a minor position in the secretary of state’s office in Nashville. In May 1866, he became consul to the Turks Island, at the time a British-held island north of Cuba and Hispaniola. Unfortunately, his two years in the tropics ended tragically.

Edward Maynard’s monument is a shortened column, indicating a life cut short.

On January 10, 1868, Edward Maynard died of Yellow Fever. His family did not receive news of his death until Feb. 7, 1868.

The Short Life of Lillien Gaines

Finally, I’d like to share the story of a monument that I saw from some distance and made certain I got a look at soon after we arrived.

Born in Savannah in 1868, Lillien Gaines was the daughter of Confederate Col. James L. Gaines and Belle Porter Gaines. A native of Knoxville, Col. Gaines was wounded at the Battle of Five Forks and lost his arm in the last days of the Civil War. He was already engaged to Missouri native Belle Porter. According to one account I read, Col. Gaines offered to release her from their engagement due to his “mutilation and poverty” but that she married him anyway.

Lillien Gaines was only seven years old when she died in 1876.

After marrying on Nov. 22, 1865, Col. Gaines and Belle moved to New York where son Ambrose was born in 1866. They then moved to Savannah, where Lillien was born. They later moved to Knoxville where Col. Gaines was elected comptroller in 1875 and the family moved yet again to Nashville.

Lillien spent most of her short life in Knoxville.

The Gaines’ had only been in Nashville a short time when Lillien became ill. She died on April 29, 1876. While a Memphis newspaper reported she died of meningitis, Tennessee death records indicate she died of “paralysis of the lungs.” Her grieving parents brought her body back to Knoxville, where her father was born and Lillien had spent most of her short life.

Col. Gaines and Belle returned to Nashville where they had a third child, James, in 1878. Col. Gaines died in 1910 and Belle died in 1913. Both of them are buried next to Lillien.

There are many stories yet to share from Old Gray Cemetery in Part II.




Visiting Knoxville National Cemetery: The Story of the Union Soldiers Monument

I’m leaving Nebraska behind for now and heading closer to home with a visit to Knoxville National Cemetery (KNC).

Would it surprise you to know that KNC is home to a 60-foot monument dedicated to Tennessee’s Union soldiers?

Before I dive into that, let me set the scene. My in-laws live in Knoxville and we visit them often. During Thanksgiving week of 2017, I knew I wanted to get over to KNC and Old Gray Cemetery, which are conveniently located right next to each other and share a stone wall border. So on a sunny fall day, I grabbed my son and we headed downtown.

Because we were visiting Old Gray as well, we spent less time at KNC than I would have liked. There were also some visitors at KNC that day that appeared to be sharing a quiet moment at a loved one’s grave and I did not want to disturb them with our presence.

According to Find a, Knoxville National Cemetery has close to 9,000 recorded burials.

While Tennessee is a Southern state, it did not secede from the Union quickly or easily. In fact, it was the last state in the Union to leave it on June 8, 1861. In the state’s mountainous eastern section, few people owned slaves and voters opposed secession by more than 2-to-1.

As it turns out, Tennessee furnished more soldiers for the Confederate Army than any other state and more soldiers for the Union Army than any other Southern state. According to the Tennessee Encyclopedia, while Tennessee did send over 120,000 soldiers to fight for the Confederacy, over 31,000 men fought for the Union. While there’s quite a difference in those two numbers, it makes a Union monument in Knoxville not so unusual after all.

According to the cemetery web site, Union Major Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside established Knoxville National Cemetery during the Civil War after the siege of Knoxville and subsequent Battle of Fort Sanders on November 29, 1863. Unlike most Union commanders, while Burnside was an Indiana native, he had close ties to the South because his father grew up in South Carolina.

While he had a notable military career and was elected governor of Rhode Island, Ambrose Burnside’s facial hair is what he is now better known for and the term “side burns” that it coined.

Burnside was known for his distinctive facial hair and because of it we can thank him for the term “side burns”. After the Civil War, he was elected to three one-year terms as Governor of Rhode Island, serving from May 29, 1866, to May 25, 1869.

The land Burnside acquired for the new federal cemetery amounted to almost 10 acres. After the war in March 1867, legal judgment in the U.S. District Court in Knoxville, when it was already the site of more than 2,000 burials, affirmed the U.S. government’s purchase of the land.

A native of Ohio, Captain H.S. Chamberlain is thought to have designed Knoxville National Cemetery.

Burnside is thought to have given the task of laying out the cemetery to his assistant quartermaster, Captain Hilton Sanborn (H.S.) Chamberlain. There’s a little uncertainty about that. The cemetery’s first burials were Union dead exhumed and moved from Cumberland Gap and other parts of the region. By 1874, there were 3,135 interments in the 10-acre tract. Approximately a third were unknown.

The cemetery’s plan was so effective that KNC was one of the few in the nation that required no alterations upon being designated a national cemetery after the war.

I don’t usually take my son with me on cemetery hops but the promise of chicken fingers afterward was a strong inducement.

After the war, Tennessee adopted a constitutional amendment forbidding human property on February 22, 1865 and ratified the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution on July 18, 1866. It became the first state readmitted to the Union on July 24, 1866.

The graves at Knoxville National Cemetery are arranged in a circular pattern, with each burial section separated by walkways. The burial sections each form one quarter of the circle, with the headstones converging toward the middle, where there is a flagpole and cloth canopy.

That leads me to the Union Soldiers Monument at KNC. I learned that its grand size was no accident.

In 1892, Knoxville’s Confederate veterans installed a 48-foot monument topped by a statue of a Confederate soldier at Bethel Cemetery near the Mabry-Hazen House in East Knoxville. There are over 1,000 Confederate soldiers buried there. I saw that monument in January this year, but it was through the cemetery fence because Bethel Cemetery is only open on Saturdays for a few hours. I imagine the fear of vandalism is what is behind that.

The cornerstone of the Union Soldiers Tower was laid in 1896.

In response, the local chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) formed a commission, headed by former Union Army officer and Knoxville Journal publisher William Rule, to raise money to build a bigger monument at KNC. The commission signed a contract with William B. McMullen, presi­dent of the Tennessee Producers Marble Company and the Southern Monument Company, for material and construction, and with Colonel William A. Gage for engineering consultation.

The cornerstone was laid in 1896 but fundraising went slowly. The Spanish American War also intruded but perhaps spurred Knoxvillians to begin to see KNC in a new light. During the Civil War, it was the resting place of men mostly from far away who died in or near East Tennessee and had to be buried here. Now it was to be the resting place of men from East Tennessee who died far away and whose families requested them to be buried at KNC.

In the end, the monument cost $11,300. Of the estimated 7,000 donations, most came as one-dollar offerings from Union pensioners. The 50-foot-tall marble tower, topped by a bronze eagle with outspread wings, was unveiled on Oct. 24, 1901. Some were surprised because the original plans had featured a Union Soldier on top, not an eagle.

The original Union Soldiers Monument at KNC featured an eagle on the top. It was struck by lightning in 1904. This Library of Congress photo is from a few years prior to that.

On August 22, 1904, the Union Soldiers Monument was struck by a bolt of lightning during a storm. The castle-like foundation was a ruin and the strike sent chunks of stone into houses across the street. The bronze eagle and the cannonball it was perched upon were missing from the monument’s top. The eagle was found on the ground in four pieces, its head and wings severed.

Unfazed, the GAR commissioners planned a quick rebuild, this time using federal funds secured by Congressman Henry R. Gibson. Designed by the local architectural firm Baumann Brothers, the new monument largely followed the original design. The main difference was that the bronze eagle was replaced by an eight-foot statue of a Union soldier. The new monument was completed on October 15, 1906.

This is what it looks like today.

The Union Soldiers Monument is sometimes referred to as the Wilder Monument because of the soldier’s alleged resemblance to Union General John T. Wilder.

Some people refer to it as the Wilder Monument because the soldier is said to resemble Union general and East Tennessee businessman John T. Wilder, who was the only ranking general on the memorial tower committee. There’s actually a Wilder Monument at Georgia’s Chickamauga Battlefield that was built to honor him. It features a castellated tower with an interior staircase, but with no statue on top.

Here’s General Wilder as a soldier.

A native of New York, General John Thomas Wilder came from a long line of military men. Wilder was also an engineer who operated the first two blast furnaces in the South.

Here’s as good of a close up as I could get of the monument soldier.

This marble statue of a Union soldier replaced the bronze eagle destroyed by a lightning strike in 1904.

When the tower was built the first time in 1901, it stood 50-feet tall. But when the rebuild was completed in 1906, it topped out at 60 feet.

In 2009, Evergreen Architectural Arts was hired to make repairs and conserve the Union Soldiers Monument.

You can’t enter the tower but you can look through the door and see the stained glass American eagle inside.

A stained glass American eagle resides within the Union Soldiers Monument.

One Civil War Medal of Honor recipient is buried at KNC. Private Timothy Spillane of the 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry received the commendation for gallantry at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run in Virginia. He died in Knoxville in 1901 and was buried at KNC around the time the first tower was erected. World War II Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Troy A. McGill, killed in action in 1944, was originally kept in a military mausoleum in the Philippines, but his remains were re-interred at KNC 1951.

I didn’t know these markers were there so I did not get photos of them during our visit.

Soldiers from all wars, from the Civil War to recent times, are buried at KNC. One of them was Tennessee native Patrick Belmont Northern Earle, born at Three Springs about 40 miles east of Knoxville. He was a graduate of Knoxville High School and at the time of his enlistment was a student of the University of Tennessee.

First Lieutenant Belmont Earle was only 23 when he was killed in action near Bellicourt, France in World War I. (Photo source:

First Lieut. Earle left Knoxville in September 1917 as an officer of Company D, 117th Infantry. At Camp Sevier, S.C., he became an aide-de-camp of Brig. Gen. William S. Scott, and when the latter was succeeded by Brig. General Tyson in command of the 59th Brigade, First Lieut. Earle remained on staff duty.

First Lieut. Belmont Earle was on staff duty but asked to be sent to the front line once he arrived in France.

However, after reaching France, First Lieut. Earle asked to be assigned to line duty and was ordered to Company M, 118th Infantry. He took part in all engagements up to October 5, 1918, when he was fatally wounded near Bellicourt. He died October 7, 1918. He was only 23 years old.

Before I close, there is a wonderful four-part article by the Knoxville History Project that proved to be a great source for what I wrote. If you want to know more about the origins of Knoxville National Cemetery and its history, you can find it here.

Next time, I’ll be next door at Knoxville’s Old Gray Cemetery.

Lest We Forget: Walking Through Omaha’s Potter’s Field

For the past two weeks, I’ve shared stories from Omaha’s Temple Israel Cemetery. Most graves there are marked, even if it’s a small stone, because their loved ones could afford to purchase one.

The story is quite different at Omaha’s Potter’s Field, located at 5000 Young Street near the intersection of Mormon Bridge Road. It’s five and a half acres are surrounded on three sides by Forest Lawn Memorial Park, where some of Omaha’s wealthiest residents are buried. The contrast between the two is what drew me there.

Near the end of my September 2017 trip, we went over to see it. There is no parking lot but you can easily pull off the side of the road.

The gate and sign to Omaha’s Potter’s Field came long after the last burial in the 1950s.

What is a Potter’s Field?

The first mention of a potter’s field is thought to have come from the Bible in Matthew 27. The chief priests received 30 silver pieces from a repentant Judas, who was paid that amount by the priests to betray Jesus. In anguish over what he had done, he returned the money to them then killed himself. Stating they could not keep “blood money” (even though they were the very ones who paid him), the priests used the money to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners. In other words, the “undesirables” who died in their town.

It was called “potter’s field” then because the land wasn’t good enough to grow crops and was only worth using to dig up clay for pottery. In later years, such places were often referred to as a county-owned graveyard or the “poor farm” cemetery. Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery has a potter’s field.

The thing you’ll notice right off the bat is that there are very few markers at Omaha’s Potter’s Field and that’s true for most of them. The people buried there had family would could not easily afford a funeral, much less a gravestone. Or the deceased had no family or friends to even ask.

3,912 Souls

Circumstances also did not encourage those connected to the deceased to do so. According to a 1988 newspaper article, Douglas County discouraged families from putting up grave markers because, as they put it, “If you can pay for the stone, you can pay for the funeral.” In some cases, families were asked for reimbursement of funeral costs if they tried to improve the plot. In recent years, some surviving family members have purchased and placed gravestones for their loved ones.

Nearly 4,000 people are buried at Omaha’s Potter’s Field. But only a handful have markers.

The stone pictured above is the first thing you see after you enter the cemetery gate. It briefly explains that Potter’s Field was used from 1887-1957. Nearly 4,000 people are buried there. During the 1950s, society began to frown upon the idea of poor farms and potter’s fields. Douglas County started paying for indigent and unknown persons to be buried in cemeteries throughout town. They were still kept in separate sections, however, supposedly to avoid offending those who’d paid to be buried there. Other cities across the country follow a similar practice.

This plaque lists some details concerning those buried at Omaha’s Potter’s Field.

Burying the Unknown

I learned that nearly half the burials at Omaha’s Potter’s Field were for infants and toddlers under the age of two. Almost all of them were unknown and abandoned. Many entries on the interment list say “unknown baby.” Brutal information such as “found in garbage,” “found on riverbank,” “murdered,” or “strangled,” jump out painfully.

For the adults buried at Potter’s Field, they were often the destitute, the homeless, abused women and children, the mentally ill, the disabled or sometimes those who drifted from town to town without roots who had met an unfortunate end.

You can find the names listed on stones that encircle a sundial.

Many of the people buried at Potter’s Field are unnamed infants.

After Omaha’s Potter’s Field closed, despite being owned by Douglas County, the grounds fell into disrepair. During summers, weeds grew waist high. Teens hung out there to drink and party, leading to the desecration of what few gravestones were there. The cemetery was often littered with trash after such gatherings.

A view of Potter’s Field looking back about midway up the hill.

In the 1970s, local Boy Scout troops cleared the grounds to make the cemetery look better. They worked hard for a while to keep it up but over time the cemetery fell into disrepair yet again. This is not uncommon with such cemetery revitalization projects when many in a volunteer group (not just the Scouts) who took care of a abandoned cemetery moved, grew too old to do it, or simply lost interest.

Restoring Potter’s Field

In 1985, former Douglas County Sheriff Richard Collins headed a volunteer effort to again restore the old cemetery. With help from others, Collins raised the $22,000 needed to properly restore the grounds. In September 1986, Potter’s Field was re-consecrated and the memorial erected. This included the tablets of the names they could find from government and neighboring Forest Lawn Cemetery records.

The name on this stone is no longer readable.

Some historians have tried to find ancestors of the interred with little success. Many have no traceable connection to families of present-day Omaha.Unlike today, with the Internet collecting information about everyone, it was quite easy to make little of a footprint back then. If you didn’t have any true home and were going where circumstances placed you, encountering a census worker would be unusual.

Victims of a Flu Epidemic

This stone for the Clark sisters does leave a few clues. Iva and Sadie Clark were 13 and 11, respectively, when they died in 1890 within a few days of each other. One of the articles I found said a world-wide influenza epidemic (not the Spanish Flu) that raged from 1889-1891 may have been the cause.

Their parents were Frank and A.M. Clark. That’s all that’s known about them.

Iva and Sadie Clark probably died during a flu epidemic that caused many deaths between 1889-1891.

The Chapman children likely suffered a similar fate. Nothing is known about their parents, J.L. and E. Chapman. Stella and John, ages three years and ten months, died within days of each other in 1891. They’re among the few whose parents were able to provide them with a marker.

Stella and John Chapman also died within a few days of each other.

The marker for Henning O. Koll (1857-1898) looks like it may have come in recent years. I found him in the 1895 Omaha City Directory listed as a fireman.

Henning Koll is listed as a fireman in the 1895 Omaha City Directory. Notice the large feather beside his marker.

The newer look of David A. Jones’ marker also leads me to believe it was more recently placed.

With a surname like Jones, it’s hard to find out very much about him.

There is one person buried at Omaha’s Potter’s Field who didn’t have a marker until recently. But he was at the center of an event in Omaha history that changed it forever. That man was William “Will” Brown.

The Lynching of Will Brown

The story of how 40-year-old African-American Will Brown was lynched on Sept. 28, 1919 and the riot that surrounded it has many layers. There’s a long back story that led up to what created the atmosphere in which it culminated. This article does a great job at explaining the events of that day far better than I can in this post.

Omaha Morning World-Journal headline from the day after Will Brown’s lynching in Omaha.

You probably know I live in Georgia, a state with a dark history of lynchings. When I was growing up, this history was rarely mentioned in schools. According to the Tuskegee Institute, more than 73 percent of lynchings in the post-Civil War period occurred in Southern states. That’s a damning statistic. But that leaves 27 percent that occurred in other parts of the U.S. The sad fact is racism exists everywhere.

Will Brown’s grave had no marker until Californian Chris Hebert found out about it and paid for one to be made.

California resident Chris Hebert learned about the 1919 Omaha Race Riot and Brown’s lynching from a TV program he saw about Henry Fonda. The actor was 14 at the time and witnessed the riot from his father’s office in Omaha. As a result, Hebert paid to have a marker made to honor Will Brown.

Lest We Forget

Hebert has no ties to Omaha and simply asked that “Lest we forget” be engraved on the stone. He said, “It’s too bad it took deaths like these to pave the way for the freedoms we have today. I got the headstone thinking that if I could reach just one person, it was well worth the money spent.”

I am thankful to Chris Hebert for doing this to keep Will Brown’s memory alive. In turn, none of those buried at Omaha’s Potter’s Field should be forgotten. While we don’t know much about their histories, their lives mattered. Be it a newborn baby or an impoverished drifter making his way west, they were here among us. If just for a short time.

Lest we forget…

Broken Hearts and Tragic Endings in Omaha: Visiting Temple Israel Cemetery, Part II

Last week, I introduced you to Temple Israel Cemetery and the story of Emil Brandeis’ tragic death on the Titanic. He was one of three brothers who made the J.L. Brandeis & Sons Department a household name in Omaha.

There are more buried at Temple Israel that knew tragedy. Two families, the Rosewaters and the Heyns, are the subjects of my post today.

I photographed this simple yet handsome monument having never heard of the surname “Rosewater”. But they were once as well known in Omaha as the Brandeis family.

The Rosewater name was originally Rosenwasser.

Originally the Rosenwassers, Herman Rosenwasser (1807-1878) and his wife, Rosemary Kohn Rosenwasser, emigrated from the Austria/Czechoslovakia (known as Bohemia) area in the 1850s with their large family. They settled in Cleveland, Ohio before they had two more children.

The Oldest and the Youngest

The first and last Rosewater children, Edward and Charles, both made a splash in Omaha. One of Edward’s claims to fame before moving west was being the telegraph operator who transmitted President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation for the first time.

Already active in Republican politics, Edward Rosewater arrived in Omaha in 1863. In 1870, he was elected to the Nebraska House of Representatives and the following year, he started the newspaper The Omaha Bee. His aggressive style won him both a number of friends and enemies. In 1876, he was nearly clubbed to death by an irate reader but survived. Omaha’s Rosewater School, built in 1910, was named after him and was converted to apartments in 1985.

Immediately before his death, Edward helped found the American Jewish Committee (AJC). He died of a heart attack in 1906 at the age of 65 and is buried in Omaha’s Forest Lawn Cemetery. His son, Victor, carried on his father’s pursuits in the years to follow, including joining the AJC.

Dr. Charles Rosewater’s heart broke after the death of his only daughter.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1859, Charles Rosewater traveled to Europe to get his medical degree. Dr. Rosewater came to Omaha in the 1880s and began practicing medicine. For 15 years, he occupied the chair of obstetrics in the Creighton Medical College and later focused on general medicine. In 1893, he married Clara Schlesinger.

Death from a Broken Heart

Dr. Rosewater and Clara had only one child, Irene, in 1895. But she was the apple of her father’s eye and they were quite proud of her. After graduating from Omaha’s Central High School in 1914, Irene went to Northhampton, Mass. to attend Smith College. She graduated in 1918 and worked as a chemist for Armour (the meat packing company) in Omaha until her health took a turn. After taking a prescribed vacation, she returned to her parents’ home, supposedly much improved.

Irene Rosewater’s obituary suggests she predicted her own death.

Her obituary notes that as a chemist she “diagnosed her own case”. After feeling pains, she reportedly said, “I’m going to have an abscess on the brain, Father.” Soon after, Irene was admitted to the hospital and died on May 25, 1920 of “brain fever”, which may have been meningoencephalitis.

Dr. Charles Rosewater was never the same after the death of his only child.

Dr. Rosewater never got over Irene’s death and his own health faltered. He died on Nov. 23, 1921 at the age of 62 and was buried beside Irene. His wife, Clara, did not remarry and died in 1945 in Los Angeles, Calif. Her body was brought back to Omaha for burial with Charles and Irene.

The Nov. 24, 1921 edition of The Lincoln Star included this article about Dr. Rosewater’s death.

Tragedy and The Photographers Heyn

Two generations of three brothers would make their mark in the photography world. But if there was a family that knew tragedy, it was the Heyns.

A native of Germany, George Heyn emigrated to Detroit in his teens and moved to Omaha to open a photography studio in the early 1880s. He returned to Detroit to marry Sabina Hirschman in 1883 and they settled into married life in Omaha. Son Lester Heyn was born in 1884, Jerome in 1886, and Frederick (Fred) in 1890.

Photographer George Heyn (or brother Herman) took this photo of a Native American Alfred Afraid of Hawk in 1898. (Photo source: Library of Congress)

George’s younger brother, Herman, also a photographer, came to Omaha shortly after George and Sabina’s marriage. Many photographs of Native Americans attributed to George are now thought to have been done by Herman. Herman also created portraits of President William Howard Taft and presidential candidate/orator William Jennings Bryan (the latter was involved in a court case). He moved to Chicago in the late 1920s and died there in 1949. Herman is buried in Rosehill Cemetery.

An ad for George or Herman Heyn’s studio on South 15th Street. (Photo source:

Louis Heyn, George and Herman’s brother, was also a photographer. He may have briefly worked in Omaha with George before heading to Great Falls, Mont. where he married and had a family. They moved to California in the 1930s where Louis died in 1940.

Portrait of a young woman attributed to Herman Heyn. (Photo source:

Sabina and George were were often reported about in newspapers attending parties and events around Omaha. One costume party they hosted in late January 1889 was written up in which George was dressed as Adonis, Sarah Brandeis came gowned as a Grecian lady, and the future Clara Rosewater attended costumed as a school girl.

Unfortunately, their happiness did not last. On May 26, 1892, while on a ferry going from Detroit to Canada, George Heyn committed suicide by jumping into the Detroit River. His obituary says he suffered from two incidents of “la grippe” (the flu) over the winter that affected his mind. After his remains were recovered, George was buried at Woodmere Cemetery in Detroit, Mich.

Sabina remarried in 1899 to photographer Henry Unverzagt. All three Heyn sons tried their hand at photography and were well known in Omaha’s Jewish social circles and civic organizations.

Was it Suicide?

Youngest brother Fred served in World War I, reaching the rank of captain. After the war, he gave real estate a try. In August 1926, he went to Lake Marion near Fergus Falls, Minn. with Sabina and one of his brothers (which one was not specified). His obituary states he’d recently suffered a breakdown but was doing better. He went out bass fishing by himself and the boat was later found empty.

Fred Heyn lost his life in the water as his father had years before.

On August 7, his body was recovered. Suicide was suspected as the cause of death. Fred’s remains were brought back to Omaha and he was buried at Temple Israel Cemetery. He had no wife or children. Sabina died in 1938 and was buried beside him.

Fred was the youngest of Sabina’s sons and the first to die at the age of 36.

Older brothers Jerome and Lester continued with their successful photography business. Their names appear often in the society pages attending parties and traveling. Like his brother Fred, Jerome never married. The Heyn brothers were especially talented at photographing children.

Undated photograph of unknown child attributed to Jerome Heyn, possibly 1919.

A Gunshot at Union Station

In December 1939, Jerome suffered a 25-foot fall over a stairway railing in a downtown building that fractured his skull. On Jan. 23, 1940, Jerome locked himself in the men’s restroom of Union Station in Omaha and shot himself with a .38 Colt pistol. His obituary claims he had been in a “nervous condition” in the days leading up to his death. He was 54 at the time, and was buried beside his mother and brother at Temple Israel Cemetery.

Jerome Heyn shot himself in the men’s restroom at Union Station in Omaha.

Death in the Doctor’s Office

The last Heyn brother, Lester, married Beatrice Nies Morris in 1918 when he was 34. They had two children, Eugene and Adelaide. But the marriage soured a few years later. In 1922, Beatrice filed for divorce and requested a restraining order against him. Their divorce proceedings, from alimony to custody, played out in the newspapers. Beatrice remarried to James Bray and moved to California with the children.

A picture of photographer Lester Heyn from a newspaper ad. I don’t have a photo of his grave site.

The tragedies took their toll. Not long after Jerome’s death, he retired and closed the studio. Lester died on Sept. 11, 1941 in his doctor’s office of a heart attack. He was buried at Temple Israel beside his mother and brothers. I didn’t get a picture of his grave, unfortunately. But I did find a photo of him in a newspaper ad. I could not trace his children after 1930.

There are probably thousands of people in Nebraska who own old photographs with the Heyn name on them. Few know the story behind that name and the heartache attached to it over the years.

I did encounter a guest while I was at Temple Israel Cemetery that I wasn’t expecting. But I’m sure he was hoping I’d just pretend he wasn’t there. It’s not often I encounter a groundhog during my cemetery hopping.

Closeup of the animal I saw at Temple Israel Cemetery.

Stopping by Temple Israel Cemetery was definitely worth it, despite the sad stories I found there. You never known until you start looking behind the name and date on a stone what you might turn up.