Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Stone and Bones 1 - Oak Grove Cemetery

Suggested by listener Melisa Nelson

Oak Grove Cemetery is located at the intersection of N. Lanana St. and Hospital St. just north of the Nacogdoches Town Square in Nacogdoches, Texas. Hospital St. ends at the cemetery gate.

Oak Grove Cemetery was originally called "American Cemetery." The land upon which it was founded was part of the 1825 land grant of Empresario Haden Edwards, who was the leader of the 1826 Fredonian Rebellion. The Fredonian Rebellion was led by Haden and his brother Benjamin against the Mexican government. To explain this a little better, an empresarial grant was given to certain men as a form of permission to settle an area with multiple families. Haden planned to settle the future Nacogdoches with 800 families. He posted notices on street corners that the area would be settled by new families if the prior settlers could not provide proof that they had a claim to their land. This obviously pissed off the original settlers. Elections were set up and controversy ensued with the government overturning things that favored the Edwards brothers. They were enraged as were the settlers they brought. Several of these men, along with the brothers declared themselves independent of Mexico and named their republic Fredonia. When the Mexican militia arrived, most of the revolutionists fled and Haden was killed by some Native Americans who were angry that he had involved them in the rebellion. He is buried at Oak Grove. His wife Susan preceded him in death by a few months and she is buried here as well.

There was an earlier Spanish cemetery in Nacogdoches and many of the graves from there were relocated to this site to make room for the county courthouse in 1912. One of those graves that was moved belongs to Father Mendoza. He died in 1719. Many of the burials here are for historical figures important both to Nacogdoches County and the State of Texas. Thomas Jefferson Rusk was a judge and also Sam Houston's secretary of war. He was a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence as were fellow cemetery occupants, Charles Stanfield Taylor, John S. Roberts and William Clark, Jr. Veterans of the Battle of San Jacinto buried here are Captain Haden Arnold and Elias E. Hamilton. Other prominent people are Jacob Lewis; Helen Vinson, a movie actress during the 30s and 40s; General Kelsey H. Douglass; George F. Ingraham; Nicholas Adolphus Sterne; Captain Frederick Voigt; Dr. Robert A. Irion, who also was Sam Houston's personal physician; Deidrich Anton Wilhelm Rulfs, who was Nacogdoches' master architect and designed Zion Hill Baptist Church on the north side of the cemetery; Richard William Haltom, who founded and edited Nacogdoches' "The Daily Sentinel;" poet Karle Wilson Baker; former slaves Mitchell Thorn, Lawrence Sleet and Eliza Walker and there are six soldiers here who were all killed in action in 1918: Charlie Bell, J.B. Crow, Felix H. Briley, B.C. Duncan, Marion E.Houston and Robert Lewis.

The oldest marked grave in the cemetery belongs to Pamela Starr, according to the cemetery records I found online, and there must be an interesting and sad story here. She was married to Franklin Jefferson Starr. He died at the age of 37 in 1837. The couple had a son who was born the year before in 1836, but he only lived three years, dying in 1839. There are no dates listed for Pamela's grave, but the claim on the graveyard records is that her grave marking is the oldest. So did she die before her husband? Perhaps in child birth? And if this is the case, their little family was gone in that three year period. But as you all know, I had to find out more.

Franklin Jefferson Starr was born in New Hartford, Connecticut in 1805. His family moved to Ohio in 1814 and in April 1829 Franklin became adjutant of the Second Regiment of the Second Brigade, Seventh Division, Ohio state troops. He later became principal at an academy in Columbus, Ohio. He took the bar exam and was admitted in 1833, but by the following year he had relocated to Georgia and took the bar there, gaining admittance in 1834. Some Georgia investors asked him and another man to travel to Mexican Texas and seek out opportunities to establish a settlement there. The report they brought back was mixed because the Mexican administration was unsavory. Franklin married Pamela upon his return in 1835 and even though his report had not been entirely favorable, he and Pamela migrated to Texas and he took his Mexican citizenship oath at San Felipe de Austin on December 24, 1835.

It was here in San Felipe where Franklin would join forces with William B. Travis to open a law office. This was short lived as Travis took over command of a Texas regiment that would eventually see him in command of the Texian forces at the Alamo in San Antonio. He would gain fame as the ill-fated commander of the Alamo. Franklin joined a volunteer company under Moseley Baker and marched to Gonzales. He asked for a furlough during the Runaway Scrape to get his family to a safer location. The Runaway Scrape was a term used by Texans to describe their flight from their homes when Antonio López de Santa Anna began his attempted conquest of Texas in February 1836. Sam Houston arrived in Gonzales on March 11 and was informed of the fall of the Alamo. He ordered all the inhabitants in the area to join him as he retreated to the Colorado River. People all over Texas left everything and ran to safety. The safer location that Franklin took his family to was Nacogdoches. *Fun Fact: William B. Travis gave his diary to Franklin and it would be the Starr family that would preserve it.

In May of 1836, Franklin opened a criminal law practice in Nacogdoches. The following May, he became captain of a company of mounted volunteers that had been brought together to pursue hostile Native Americans in Nacogdoches County. It was during this time that the volunteers became sick from the long marches in the summer heat. Franklin himself became sick with fever and died on July 7, 1837. He was buried in Oak Grove Cemetery and it is his grave that is said to be the earliest marked grave in the cemetery, not Pamela's. He and Pamela only had the one child. Of interest also is that Franklin's brother was James Harper Starr. He married a woman named Harriet and they eventually moved to Marshall, Texas and purchased 52 acres of land that is today the Starr Family Home State Historic Site. The Starr Mansion here was originally known as Maplecroft. So the Starr family is very prominent in Texas history and I had no idea. The Starr headstones and dates just peaked my interest.

Strolling through this cemetery in fall would be amazing with some of the trees' leaves turning to golden yellow and burnt auburn. There are so many unique memorials here. For example, there is Anna Mary Taylor's gravestone with her last words carved into the granite, "I am one of nature's children, I love to look at the green trees." She died in November of 1889. There is the Steamboat Monument that was erected by Henry and Marcia A. Raguet in memory of their two children, Mary and Condy who lost their lives on the steamboat "America" during a storm on the Ohio River on December 5, 1868.

So down the rabbit hole we go: On that fateful day, two steamships, The America and the United States, collided. They had been traveling in opposite directions on the Ohio River near Warsaw, Kentucky. They were two ships in one of the nation’s largest steamship companies, the U.S. Mail Line, which advertised itself as making “direct connections with all railroad and steamboat lines.” At this time, not all railway lines had been constructed, so mail, cargo, and passengers used a combination of railroad and steamboat lines to complete their journeys. These two ships had the finest interiors and were fairly new and cost $500,000 to build. Steamships used whistles at night to signal where they were on the river,but on this particular night, the signal must have been misinterpreted because they ships steered into each other, rather than away from each other. The United States burst into flames after impact and the fire quickly spread to the America with whisky, cotton and petroleum to fuel it. Forty passengers were killed and many more were wounded.

Oak Grove Cemetery is a beautiful cemetery, full of history, which makes it incredibly fascinating! And that, was just a little about the Stones and Bones found there!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Greyfriar's Kirkyard

East Wall
Edinburgh, Scotland is considered one of the most haunted cities in all of Europe, particularly with Edinburgh Castle sitting above the city as a type of haunted sentinel.  The Castle is said to be the most haunted location in Edinburgh, but Greyfriar's Kirkyard could give the Castle a good fight for that title.  Burials have taken place here since the 16th century and the cemetery sits between an old melancholy hospital and a menacing looking prison.  The tombstones and statuary are ornate and beautiful.  The term "kirk" means "church" and so a kirkyard is a churchyard.  A churchyard is a cemetery that is on church property.

The church that sits here is named for the Franciscan Friary that originally was located here and managed by the Greyfriars, an order of Franciscan monks.  The Franciscan Order originally landed in Canterbury from Italy in the 13th century and spread across what we call the United Kingdom today.  The Order was later split into two different groups known as the Conventuals - friars that were in the cities - and the Observants - who wanted to keep the old more isolated ways.  The Franciscans in Great Britain became known as Greyfriars.

Roman Catholicism was pushed out of Scotland in the 16th century.  A group of people signed covenants in Scotland binding themselves to maintain Presbyterian doctrines and denouncing the Pope and the Catholic Church.  They became known as Covenanters and they proved to be a big issue for King Charles I.  The National Covenant (which can be read here) was signed at Greyfriar's Kirk in 1638 and it was an oath to maintain the reformed religion and reject all superstition of the Catholic Church.  When King Charles tried to push new reforms on the Covenanters, they revolted and defeated the King in the Bishops' War.  Wars continued and the Covenanters became the de facto government of Scotland.  Later, Oliver Cromwell, fighting for the English Parliament, would defeat the Covenanters and by 1652, they were decimated.  In 1679, another rebellion was formed, but it was knocked down once again and 1200 Covenanters were taken prisoner and put into the Covenanters' Prison at Greyfriar's Kirkyard.  Conditions were awful and many were executed.  By the end of their imprisonment, only 400 Covenanters were alive and they were sold into slavery, most of them dying when the ship transporting them wrecked. 

Covenanters' Prison
The Martyr's Monument was erected in the kirkyard for those Covenanters who died there.

Martyr's Monument
Sir George Mackenzie, who was a Scottish lawyer, became the Lord Advocate implementing the reforms of King Charles II in Scotland and he was the one who not only imprisoned the Covenanters, but had most most of them executed earning him the title of "Bloody Mackenzie."  Prior to this, Mackenzie had been involved in witch trials.  Mackenzie died in 1691 and is buried, ironically, in Greyfriar's Kirkyard in a large mausoleum.
Bloody Mackenzie's Mausoleum

Reports of Mackenzie's ghost haunting Greyfriar's Kirkyard began in the 20th century after a homeless man decided to seek shelter in Mackenzie's Mausoleum during a rain storm.  He had noticed that he could get through an opening in the back of the structure.  After he entered, he began to rummage through the coffins like a grave robber and he fell through the flooring that had rotted away, into a pit full of bones.  This pit was where plague victims were buried.  As is the case in so many cities in earlier centuries, it was impossible to do individual burials during times of plague and so mass burials were conducted.  The homeless man ran screaming from the building and now the poltergeist of Mackenzie has been taking out his rage about this desecration on visitors.  The ghost injures people to the point of cuts, bruises and even broken bones.  Most of these attacks happen in the Covenanter's Prison area, so apparently Bloody Mackenzie has returned to his roots.  There is a mausoleum inside the prison called the Black Mausoleum and this is where much of the activity occurs.  And if the hundreds of personal reports do not convince people the place is haunted, perhaps the true story of how the Exorcist Colin Grant died shortly after trying to cleanse the entire kirkyard, and particularly the Black Mausoleum, might convince them.

Greyfriar's Bobby is another famous resident at the kirkyard.  The story is told of a night watchman named John Gray who took on a Skye Terrier as his partner and named him Bobby.  Gray eventually contracted Tuberculosis and succumbed to the disease in 1858.  He was buried at Greyfriar's Kirkyard and Bobby took up vigil at his master's grave.  He refused to leave, even in bad weather and so the townspeople took care of the dog, bringing him food and water and Bobby would sometimes leave to have a meal at a nearby shop.  Bobby kept vigil for fourteen years and then he was buried in the kirkyard and a monument was erected in his honor.  The accuracy of this story has been questioned for years and some have surmised that Bobby was just a stray dog that had taken up residence in the graveyard.  At the time, many strays would live in graveyards.  Whatever is the case, a beautiful monument was built or the dog.

Here is the tomb of John Bayne of Pitcairlie:

Tomb of George Foulis of Ravilstoun:

There are so many interesting and wonderful monuments at this cemetery that I cannot wait to visit it in person one day!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Old Roswell Cemetery in Roswell, Georgia


Roswell's First Methodist Church was built on this plot in 1836.  The church was an original log cabin style structure with stone steps and the earliest pastor of the church requested that he and his wife be buried as close to the spot where the original pulpit stood and that their graves be marked by two of the stones from the steps.  The cemetery was probably founded at the same time as the church but the earliest burial that can still be deciphered was in 1846 and was that of a four month old girl.  The cemetery has 1,950 known burials and many of them are of children.

This cemetery is haphazard in many ways, but also unique in that many family burial plots are surrounded by walls of bricks, concrete or granite and a couple have the wrought iron fences as well.  Burials range all different decades with some oldest burials being right next to more recent ones.  The most recent we found was in 2008.  There was this really unique broken headstone that appeared to have been painted and it was remarkable how bright the color still was, although we had no idea of the dates because no name or dates could be found on the stone.

There are military burials here as well, particularly those that are honoring those that served in the Confederate Military and there are some graves that are empty, but marked because the burials occurred at sea.

The troubling part of this cemetery is not only how many markers have deteriorated beyond recognition, but those that have been vandalized.  Many have been knocked over and broken and since many plots have no family left to care for them, the stones lay where they are pushed.  The City of Roswell does maintain the main areas of the cemetery, but individuals plots are the responsibility of family.

All in all, this was a wonderful cemetery, full of history and beautiful old live oak trees housing squirrels and various birds from the mockingbirds to the blue jays we saw.  Here are some of the other unique headstones we saw in this great cemetery:

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Poland's Vampire Burials

Tales of the customs followed to prevent the occurrence of vampires have been told for centuries.  Evidence of these rituals and customs have been discovered in cemeteries across the world.  The latest find is in Poland, which is nearly a year after a much larger find of buried vampires in another region of Poland.  The latest find features a skeleton with a rock in place of its teeth and a stake hammered through a leg bone to keep the corpse from rising.  The earlier find featured four vampires, all of whom had been decapitated - a sure fire way to prevent corpse re-animation.

The act of placing a rock in the mouth of a suspected vampire dates back to the 16th century, with vampire folklore dating back until nearly the beginning of human history.  Rocks were thought to keep the corpses from chewing through their burial shrouds and obviously, it is impossible to bite someone and suck their blood if there is a large rock in the mouth.  The picture you see to the left is the skull of a female skeleton found in Venice.  The plague was raging at the time of burial and archaeologists suspect that mass graves were dug and when they were reopened for more bodies, the people of the time - ignorant of decomposition - suspected that some corpses were vampires.

The latest vampire burial was found in a West Pomeranian town of Kamien Pomorsk in Poland.  The skull of the skeleton had a rock placed in its mouth as well.  The top row of teeth is missing as well indicating they may have been removed before placement of the rock.  An interesting tidbit to the story is that the mainstream media is reporting that the placement of rocks in the mouth is a regional occurrence.  Apparently, Polish people believed that their vampires were self-eating zombies of some sort, hence the rock prevented that as well as the eating through burial clothes.  But as I detailed above, this is found in Italy as well.  I imagine this practice is central to vampiric folklore.

Over 100 of these types of burials have been discovered in eastern Europe.  Another well known one was in Bulgaria.  The corpse, believed to be 700 years old, had an iron stake through the chest cavity of the skeleton.  The use of iron stakes or rods dates back to the 14th century.  The last recorded burial of this type is believed to have taken place in 1913.

Did such actions prevent vampire attacks?  Apparently since the lore has lived on, I would guess the rituals either did not work and or many vampires were not discovered.  There have been no reports of sparkly dust in any of the burial locations.  Edward must live on.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Graveyard At The Dozier School For Boys

A former reform school is under scrutiny this week after excavations in a graveyard near the school yielded the bones of 55 young males.  Stories from the archives at the school would make for a grisly horror genre movie.  Boys were beaten, raped, killed, burned up in the incinerator and witnesses saw body parts  in the hog slop.  The Florida Department of Agriculture ran the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys and the boys were used as slave labor in the city of Marianna.  Threats kept anyone from telling the truth about the school.

As we know, bones never lie and the story they tell is that official reports were untruthful about how many boys were buried near the school.  The graveyard was found across the street from the school and the University of South Florida was given authority to excavate the site and send bones and teeth to Texas for DNA testing to try to identify those dumped in unmarked graves.  Parents were not notified when boys died and so many families were left believing their child had just disappeared.  USF Forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle has lead the team and said, “We’re bringing a last measure of human dignity for these boys.”
A former resident at Dozier, Robert Straley, thinks there could be another 100 bodies in the graveyard that was dubbed “Boot Hill.”  Straley went on to say, “From 1900 to 1940 were the most brutal years in that place. Back then, a white boy’s life wasn’t worth much and a black boy’s life wasn’t worth anything.”
Another former resident, Roger Dean Kiser,  wrote a book on his experience at Dozier, “The White House Boys,” and he claimed when he heard about the excavations, “They’re going to find a lot of bodies out there, and there are a lot more bodies they’ll never find.”  Kiser wrote in his book that he was beaten twice with a leather whip reinforced by sheet metal.  He reported that other boys were sodomized and beaten until their underwear became one with their skin.  This is the White House:

The excavations started in September 2013.  Ground probing technology identified 50 possible burials that were unmarked save for thirty-one white crosses erected in memory of the boys in the 1990s.  No criminal charges will be pressed and I imagine that most of the guilty are dead anyway.  And many of the dead may never be found.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Yalaha Cemetery In Florida

Yalaha is just a ramshackle little place in central Florida.  Sneeze and you might miss the town.  I drive through what appears to be the heart of the town at least once a week and for some time the little green street sign informing the passerby that up the hill is Yalaha Cemetery has always intrigued me.  I finally decided to investigate when I had a little extra time and I found a fairly depressing cemetery.  It was not more melancholy than other cemeteries I have visited.  Nor was it greatly unkempt, although the layout is quite haphazard.  Its distinction is the fact that so many of the headstones have no dates.  Many have no real names.  It feels as though there was no compelling need for those that lie here to be known.  But this is not true as I came to find that many people had gone to great lengths to keep graves marked here that originally had wooden markers and such.  Many of the simple granite stones I found were placed in 1996.  Unfortunately, many graves were unable to be marked because locations were lost over time.
The oldest marker I found was one belonging to an infant buried in 1868.  It was the Laws Baby.  A little girl who did not live more than two months.  A little lamb is at the top of her headstone.  Many infants are buried here with very simple markers like this:
With this above marker, I think it was a replacement for the stone it sits against.   The original is broken and hard to read.  This is just conjecture on my part.  This family may have lost more than one child since there are no dates.  I found four similar looking markers to this one that were the infants of another family named Godfrey.  Very sad.
Children were not the only ones with these types of markers.  Mr. and Mrs. Smith have the same type of memorials.  Imagine having the last name Smith as the only identifier.
The Cottrell family had a sizable plot here, so I imagine they were a heritage type family for the town.  There is a  little sign near Carrie Sims Duncan Cottrell’s headstone (it is cut out of the picture) that identifies her as a Daughter of 1812.  This means that she is a descendant of a patriot of the War of 1812.  The National Society United States Daughters of 1812 formed in 1892.
There are military members memorialized here as well.  Captain Melton Haynes, who is identified as someone who fought on the confederate side of the Civil War; J.W. Fisher whom I believe if I interpret his headstone correctly, served in the 2nd Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry; and William Henry Snow who served in the 147th New York Volunteer Infantry.  The 2nd Massachusetts regiment fought in Cuba during the Spanish American War and the 147th New York served the Union during the Civil War.  I’ve included links for further information, which I found fascinating.

My favorite grave marker is the most prominent one in the cemetery leading me to believe that the Drake family were significant members of the community.  This actually is the second monument.  The first and original is at the bottom of Lake Harris where it fell off a barge in transport.  The main feature is an obelisk that is draped.  It’s more common to see urns draped, but any kind of draping on a tombstone represents mourning.  The design here is from the Victorian Era when obelisks became quite common.  The obelisk is Egyptian in nature and generally symbolizes rebirth.
Other markers of interest include a bench adorned with swans – there was a matching one across from it about fifteen feet away – a marker informing everyone that Patrick Pike is now at his favorite fishing spot and two graves that were covered by brick and concrete curved slabs.

I liked the epitaph on this tombstone:
The Whitt family plot was another one of the larger plots and it was off to the far right, almost as though set away from the rest of the cemetery and nearly all headstones indicated membership in Masonic organizations.
I would like to point out here that there is another cemetery across from this one maintained by St. Matthews Church of God by Faith that is gated and chained shut, so I was unable to explore.  Here is a basic shot of the heart of the cemetery.  Most of the memorials are covered by slabs of concrete or marble.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Greenwood Cemetery In Eustis, Florida

The town of Eustis in Florida dates back to the late 1800s and was named for Colonel Abraham Eustis.  The town unfortunately gained some notoriety in 1996 for the “Vampire Cult Killings.”  Richard and Ruth Wendorf were found bludgeoned to death in their home and the suspects were members of a vampire cult of teenagers who dressed in goth attire and drank each other’s blood.  Their daughter Heather belonged to the cult.  Teenager Rod Ferrell was the leader of the group and claimed that he would live forever.  He is spending his “immortality” in jail and rumor has it that iron bars are good for keeping pesky vampiric vermin at bay.
Greenwood Cemetery was founded in 1885 and lies on two tracts of land on either side of a two lane road outside of downtown Eustis.  Several of the headstones within date back to the founding of the city.
Unfortunately, this older stone did not fair well:
I found these really unique headstones that were made from wood, so any inscription was long gone.  I need to contact the sexton sometime when he is there to see if they have any information on these.  I’m interested to find out as well if the circle and diamond shapes have some kind of symbolic meaning.
There were several headstones that were hand written on what appears to be concrete:

Here are some other images from Greenwood Cemetery:

 Mary J. Phillips Allen was a nurse who served in the Army’s Nurse Corp during the Spanish American War:
And then there was the infant section.  I chose a few headstones with touching epitaphs to photograph:

And this is a touching tribute to a couple who are together again past the sunset: