When a Cemetery is Reborn: A Happy Ending For Old Greencastle Cemetery

Some of you may remember the blog posts I wrote about Old Greencastle Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio. The first one (“When a Cemetery Dies”) was about my visit there in 2012 to try to find the graves of my great-great-grandparents, Samuel and Margaret Grice. I never did find them and the place was in very bad shape, except for the area dedicated to veterans.

This is what Old Greencastle Cemetery looked like when I visited in 2012. I had no idea that everything was about to change.

This is what Old Greencastle Cemetery looked like when I visited in 2012. I had no idea that everything was about to change for the better.

The second post was about a year ago when I learned that a lot had been happening at Old Greencastle to bring it back to its former glory. I was cautiously optimistic that the changes were of a permanent nature. Having seen old cemeteries get cleaned up only to slide back into ruin, I was afraid to get my hopes up.

This week, I received an exciting email from Fred Lynch, senior vice commander of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, General William T. Sherman Camp #93. The gentlemen from this group have been sending me periodic updates about the cleanup efforts at Old Greencastle.

But this email contained pictures of the dramatic physical improvements made there. I wanted to share them here.

This area is mostly made up of Civil War Union veterans but there are also several civilians buried there as well. It looks amazing compared to what it was before. Photo courtesy of Sons of Confederation Union Veterans of the Civil War, Sherman Camp #93.

This area is mostly made up of Civil War Union veterans but there are also several civilians buried there as well. It looks amazing compared to what it was before. Photo courtesy of Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Sherman Camp #93.

These men have been hard at work not just cleaning up and repairing the graves of veterans but those of civilians buried there as well. I was pleased as punch that they sent me a picture of some of the group, too!

Many Sherman Camp #93 members are making sure that the history and sacrifice of veterans will not be forgotten.

Many Sherman Camp #93 members are making sure that the history and sacrifice of veterans will not be forgotten. Photo courtesy of Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Sherman Camp #93.

One of the updates said:

Graves of 197 Civil War veterans have been identified and documented in a record available to the public. Unmarked graves of Civil War veterans were located and verified using ground penetrating radar. All Civil War veterans’ graves are marked with a GAR flag holder. Graves of veterans who served in the American Revolution, War of 1812, Indian Wars, World War I, World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam are also being marked by the SUVCW with proper flag holders.

That information got me thinking about my great-great-grandfather, Samuel Grice. I had forgotten that he indeed was a Union soldier during the Civil War as a member of the 112th Ohio Infantry. He and his brother, Henry, both signed up. I have no idea if either saw combat since many such volunteers were never called upon to serve actively. But he is listed in official records, which also indicates that both he and Henry had served in the military previously.

In June 1863, Samuel and William Grice volunteered for service in the Union Army. It is unknown if they were ever in combat.

In June 1863, Samuel and William Grice volunteered for service in the Union Army. It is unknown if they were ever in combat. Photo is from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.; Consolidated Lists of Civil War Draft Registration Records (Provost Marshal General’s Bureau; Consolidated Enrollment Lists, 1863-1865).

I would love to eventually see a marker placed for Samuel since it appears that if he ever had one, it probably got swept away by the Dayton Flood of 1913. The only way the government will provide one is if the next of kin authorizes it or a person authorized by the decedent. So I will have to look into that a little further.

On Nov. 15, Sherman Camp #93 will be holding a Remembrance Day Commemoration and Grand Army of the Republic Veterans’ Section Rededication Ceremony at Old Greencastle Cemetery. These wonderful folks have invited me to join them on this special day. I would like to go very much but because the end of the year is my husband’s busy time at work, it’s unlikely I will be able to do so.

Regardless, I am so proud of this dedicated group of men who saw a cemetery that was on its last legs and did something about it. Too often, people sit idly by waiting for someone else to come along and take action. Along with some help from additional volunteer groups, they have worked hard to restore dignity to the dead and restore a place that might have disappeared forever.

On behalf of my family, I want to thank Sherman Camp #93 for not letting Old Greencastle Cemetery die. You are my heroes.

Gentlemen of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, General William T. Sherman Camp #93. Photo courtesy of their Facebook page.

Gentlemen of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, General William T. Sherman Camp #93. Photo courtesy of their Facebook page.

Farewell to Furry Friends: Visiting Oak Rest Pet Gardens

When I was a kid, a dog adopted us. He plopped himself down on our front doorstep and promptly fell asleep.

My Dad had no interest in acquiring a dog but when we moved later that year, Peanut Butter came with us. He was a genuine mutt, with a bit of wire hair terrier. He was a mellow soul but tough as nails. He survived a scorpion bite and a nasty run-in with some neighborhood dogs. Maybe a cat gave him a few of their nine lives because he recovered both times.

Peanut butter was my best friend in my tween and teen years. He was a faithful friend who loved me unconditionally.

Peanut butter was my best friend in my tween and teen years. He was a faithful friend who loved me unconditionally.

I was with Peanut Butter when we took him to the vet one last time. It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. But when a friend as faithful as he was needed help to cross the Rainbow Bridge, you do it. I cried for days afterward.

At that time, there were no pet cemeteries. At least no formal ones. People tended to bury their pets in the backyard (although for goldfish, the toilet was the stairway to Heaven). Makeshift pet cemeteries did crop up here and there. There’s actually a cemetery for coon dogs in Alabama.

Located in Northwest Alabama, the Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Cemetery was established in 1937 when a man wanted to honor his faithful dog, Troop. Only coon dogs are allowed to be buried at the cemetery. Photo courtesy of coondogcemetery.com.

Located in Northwest Alabama, the Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Cemetery was established in 1937 when a man wanted to honor his faithful dog, Troop. Only coon dogs are allowed to be buried there. Photo courtesy of coondogcemetery.com.

Things have changed since then.

According to the Atlanta-based International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories, just a handful of pet aftercare facilities in the U.S. were in operation less than a decade ago. Today, there are about 700 nationwide, including funeral homes, crematories, and cemeteries. Why?

Some pet funeral directors point to baby boomers, who have increasingly turned to pets for companionship after their spouses die or their children leave home. But in recent years, pet funerals are arranged just as often by people in their 20s and 30s, many of whom chose not to become parents and treat their “fur kids” like their own children. A 2012 Bloomberg Businessweek article goes into more detail.

“You really can’t put your finger on it,” says Ed Martin Jr., director of Hartsdale Pet Cemetery and Crematory in Hartsdale, N.Y. “I used to think this was something for older women who never had children. Or very wealthy people. But we get everybody: men, women, rich, poor, young, old.”

Atlanta does have a pet cemetery (located a bit out of town in Bethlehem) called Oak Rest Pet Gardens. I had never been to a formal pet cemetery before so I decided to check it out.

Located about 25 miles northeast of Atlanta, Oak Rest Pet Cemetery is a peaceful place for spending quiet time remembering beloved furry friends.

Located about 40 miles northeast of Atlanta, Oak Rest Pet Gardens is a peaceful place for spending quiet time remembering beloved furry friends.

Oak Rest sits on a large piece of land amid rural fields and new subdivisions. It’s very peaceful and nicely landscaped, but not overly so. Everything from dogs and cats to rabbits, pigs, birds and even horses are buried here. Some of the markers are large and include the pet’s name, birth/death dates and even a picture. Others are a simple brass plate with the pet’s name inscribed on it.

OakRestpicIn the center of the cemetery is a special area dedicated to K9 police dogs as well as guide/service dogs. Many of the markers include the police unit the dog worked with. It’s thoughtfully laid out and pays respectful homage to these amazing animals.

Oak Rest's Garden of Honor is dedicated to the courage and sacrifice of K9 police dogs as well as guide/service dogs.

Oak Rest’s Garden of Honor is dedicated to the courage and sacrifice of K9 police dogs as well as guide/service dogs.

K-9 Coal is just one of several police dogs buried at Oak Rest. Coal was also the son of two very successful K-9s, Max and Murphy, who are buried near him.

K-9 Coal is just one of several police dogs buried at Oak Rest. Coal was also the father of two very successful K-9s, Max and Murphy, who are buried near him.

K-9 Sherrif was the Atlanta Police Department's first suicide bomber detection dog. My apologies for the grass bits, the staff had just mowed.

K-9 Sheriff was the Atlanta Police Department’s first suicide bomber detection dog. His picture, with his handler, is on his grave. My apologies for the grass bits, the staff had just mowed.

Most of the markers were heartfelt memorials to beloved friends. Some were for multiple pets on one marker. But all of them conveyed an owner’s love for their beloved friend.

The West family's dogs share a monument at Oak Rest Pet Gardens.

The West family’s dogs share a monument.

Varmit Cat, who lived to be 15, was the apple of her owner's eye.

Varmit Cat, who lived to be 15, was the apple of her owner’s eye.

Roamy and Walker appear to have been hunting dogs and litter mates.

Roamy and Walker appear to have been hunting dogs and litter mates.

There’s also an area dedicated to burying or scattering the ashes of horses called Horseshoe Gardens.

HorseshoeGardens

Darwin's  memorial stone is one of several in Horseshoe Gardens.

Darwin’s memorial stone is one of several in Horseshoe Gardens.

On many stones, there are only names so you can’t tell for sure what type of animal they were. But in one case, I’m pretty sure it was a pet pig.

ZoinkToward the front, there’s a patch of grass with a number of small plates bearing pet names. They were for cats that had all belonged to the same person.

E.H. Rice loves cats because he or she has honored at least 13 with memorial plaques.

E.H. Rice loves cats because he or she has honored at least 13 with memorial plaques.

Oak Rest Pet Gardens was the dream of Doyle Shugart, who was a licensed funeral director. With his wife Maudann, he started Deceased Pet Care in 1972 in a small brick building.

The business now consists of four locations (which includes their offices, showrooms, crematorium, chapels and cemeteries). Their web site describes Shugart as “an advocate for pet parents across the nation and a pioneer in the pet aftercare profession.” He passed away in July 2012, but Maudann and their children continue to run the business.

Planning a pet funeral is much like planning one for a person. Oak Rest has showrooms with caskets, vaults, urns and memorial markers. There’s also a chapel available for those wanting to spend a few last moments with their pet. They even provide grief counseling services if needed.

Considering how much unconditional love and companionship our pets give us, providing them with a fitting farewell seems right. For many people, a pet can be the only friend they truly have.

I think Peanut Butter would have liked Oak Rest Pet Gardens.

PetPoem

Farewell to Furry Friends: Visiting Oak Rest Pet Gardens

adventuresincemeteryhopping:

Having some trouble with WordPress today. Sorry if you get this twice.

Originally posted on Adventures in Cemetery Hopping:

When I was a kid, a dog adopted us. He plopped himself down on our front doorstep and promptly fell asleep.

My Dad had no interest in acquiring a dog but when we moved later that year, Peanut Butter came with us. He was a genuine mutt, with a bit of wire hair terrier. He was a mellow soul but tough as nails. He survived a scorpion bite and a nasty run-in with some neighborhood dogs. Maybe a cat gave him a few of their nine lives because he recovered both times.

Peanut butter was my best friend in my tween and teen years. He was a faithful friend who loved me unconditionally.

Peanut butter was my best friend in my tween and teen years. He was a faithful friend who loved me unconditionally.

I was with Peanut Butter when we took him to the vet one last time. It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. But when a friend as faithful as he was needed help…

View original 866 more words

Making Coca-Cola Kosher: Atlanta’s Rabbi Tobias Geffen

This week, I got an email from Baruch Amsel, who lives in Queens, N.Y. His web site features famous Jewish rabbis, including photos of their grave sites. You could call it a Find a Grave for rabbis.

Baruch asked if I had a photo of the grave of Rabbi Tobias (Tuvia) Geffen, whom he referred to as “Chief Rabbi of the South back in the day.” I’d never heard of Rabbi Geffen but I offered to find out where he was buried and get a picture of his grave. There is a photo of it online but it’s not very clear. I also wanted to find out what made Rabbi Geffen so special.

Rabbi Tobais (Tuvia) Geffen was small in stature but he stood tall in the American Orthodox Jewish community. Photo courtesy of JewishCurrents.org.

Rabbi Tobias (Tuvia) Geffen was small in stature but he stood tall in the American Orthodox Jewish community. Photo courtesy of JewishCurrents.org.

A Google search fixed that. Rabbi Geffen was responsible for ensuring that Coca-Cola was kosher! Now that’s a considerable accomplishment. I wanted to know more. An article by Adam Mintz was very helpful. I also located his grave at Greenwood Cemetery, which is Southwest of downtown Atlanta.

Rabbi Geffen was born in Kovno, Lithuania in 1870. He and his wife, Sarah, moved to the U.S. sometime after 1903 due to the anti-semitic unrest in Eastern Europe. After deciding that the cold winters of Ohio were too much, they moved to Atlanta. In 1910, Rabbi Geffen became the leader of Shearith Israel Synagogue (which still exists today). When the Geffens arrived in Atlanta, the Jewish community was relatively small. About 4,000 Jews lived among a population of 150,000.

So how did Rabbi Geffen get involved with the “is Coca-Cola kosher?” debate?

By the 1930s, American Jews (like many people) were enamored of James Pemberton’s revolutionary beverage, Coca-Cola. Problem was, nobody knew exactly what was in it. The formula (which is still locked up in Atlanta’s Sun Trust Bank) was a well-kept secret.

In 1886, John Pemberton invented what we now know as Coca-Cola after temperance laws forced him to make a non-alcoholic version of his French Wine Cola. It contained cocaine until 1903.

In 1886, John Pemberton invented what we now know as Coca-Cola after temperance laws forced him to make a non-alcoholic version of his French Wine Cola. It contained cocaine until 1903.

Rabbis were being asked by their congregants if the soft drink was kosher enough to consume during the Passover season. Some said yes, others said no.

As early as 1925, Jewish rabbis wrote to Rabbi Geffen asking if he knew if Coca-Cola was truly kosher since he lived in Atlanta. Rabbi Eliyahu Kochin, rabbi of Pittsburgh’s Orthodox Jewish community, said in a letter, “Many of the people are drinking Coca-Cola without proper rabbinic certification and claiming that it is kosher. Please clarify this matter.”

Rabbi Eliyahu Kochin of Pittsburgh wrote to Rabbi Geffen in 1925 in hopes of finding out if Coca-Cola was kosher enough for Passover. He as rabbi to Tiphereth Israel Congregation in Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy of Corinne Azen Krause Photographs, Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center.

Rabbi Eliyahu Kochin of Pittsburgh wrote to Rabbi Geffen in 1925 in hopes of finding out if Coca-Cola was kosher enough for Passover. Photo courtesy of Corinne Azen Krause Photographs, Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center.

By the 1930s, two prominent rabbis had stated their belief that Coca-Cola was kosher. Rabbi Shmuel Pardes (a Chicago rabbi) said he’d visited a Coca-Cola plant in his city and had seen no non-kosher ingredients being used. He shared his thoughts with Rabbi Geffen in letters.

Rabbi Geffen decided to make it his mission to find out whether or not Coca-Cola’s formula contained any items that would cause it to be non-kosher. But how was a Lithuanian rabbi who spoke Yiddish better than English going to do that?

Rabbi Geffen knew someone who had access to the secret formula. He’d met Coca-Cola attorney Harold Hirsch not long after Hirsch attended the high school graduation of Geffen’s daughter, Helen (who gave the valedictorian address). Hirsch was so impressed that he paid Helen’s tuition to the University of Georgia, his alma mater (and mine!).

Rabbi Geffen met Coca-Cola attorney Harold Hirsch at his daughter's high school graduation. Helen Geffen (back row, second from left) was later to play an important role in the "kosherization" of Coca-Cola. Photo courtesy of ourfamilystory/rabbigeffentestimonial.html.

Rabbi Geffen (first row, second from left) met Coca-Cola attorney Harold Hirsch after his daughter’s high school graduation. Helen Geffen (back row, second from left) played an important role in the “kosherization” of Coca-Cola. Photo courtesy of http://www.ourfamilystory/rabbigeffentestimonial.html.

Hirsch, who was active in the Atlanta Jewish community, introduced Rabbi Geffen to Coca-Cola executives. The rabbi explained the concerns of Orthodox American Jews wanting to be true to kashruth (Jewish dietary laws) while remaining loyal Coca-Cola consumers.

Coca-Cola executives agreed to help and Rabbi Geffen became one of a very small group of people allowed to see the secret formula. The only stipulation was that he could not get specific on the matter if his fellow rabbis wanted to know the exact ingredients.

Once Rabbi Geffen saw what went into Coca-Cola, he needed help deciphering exactly what those ingredients were. Daughter Helen, majoring in chemistry, told her father that there were two ingredients that conflicted with kosher laws: glycerin and grain kernels (corn).

American Jews depended on their rabbis to ensure that "Kosher Coca-Cola" was valid for Passover consumption.

American Jews depended on their rabbis to ensure that “Kosher Coca-Cola” was approved for Passover consumption.

While the amount of glycerin in Coca-Cola was small, it posed a problem because it was made from meat and fat tallow from non-kosher animals. Rabbi Geffen suggested (with Helen’s advice) substituting vegetable-based glycerin. Coca-Cola executives were okay with that and contracted with Proctor & Gamble to provide it. Concerning the grain kernels, sugar beets or sugar cane were a suggested substitute. That idea was also approved.

Pleased that Coca-Cola’s ingredients were now all kosher, Rabbi Geffen issued a response in 1935:

“With the help of God, I have been able to uncover a pragmatic solution according to which there would be no question nor any doubt concerning the ingredients of Coca-Cola”, he wrote. “It is now possible for the most stringent Halachist to enjoy Coca-Cola”.

A bottler pours a taste of “kosher for Passover” Diet Coke for a local rabbi in 1983. During Passover, Coke uses a formula free of corn syrup for its kosher Coke. Photo courtesy of Detroit Free Press/Ira Rosenberg.

A bottler pours a taste of “kosher for Passover” Diet Coke for a local rabbi in 1983. During Passover, Coke uses a formula free of corn syrup for its kosher Coke. Photo courtesy of Detroit Free Press/Ira Rosenberg.

This change did make some waves. Nazi sympathizer Karl Flach, who manufactured a German rival to Coca-Cola called Afri-Cola, returned from a trip to the U.S. carrying Coca-Cola caps stamped “Kosher for Passover” on them. A picture of the caps appeared in Nazi propaganda to fuel the belief that Jews had too much influence in the U.S. The director of Coca-Cola’s operations in Germany pushed for Hirsch to be removed from Coca-Cola’s board but Coca-Cola stood by Hirsch.

Today, Coca-Cola uses high fructose corn syrup in place of the sugar cane that Rabbi Geffen asked for. But during Passover, Coca-Cola produces the sugar cane version that the kashrut demands. It’s recognizable by the yellow caps on the bottles. Non-Jewish Americans who love the old taste of the sugar cane variety of Coke snap them up as well.

"Passover Coke" is easy to identify by its yellow cap. Even non-Jews buy it to enjoy the original sugar cane flavor.

“Passover Coke” is easy to identify by its yellow cap. Even non-Jews buy it to enjoy the original sugar cane flavor.

In 2012, Coke directed its suppliers to change the way they manufacture caramel to reduce levels of the chemical 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI) after California listed it as a carcinogen. The company said the new caramel process has since rolled out nationally to streamline its manufacturing process. But outside California, it’s still using the previous caramel process so that it can continue providing kosher Coke for Passover.

Coca-Cola is still working on a method to make Passover Coke that meets the standards of the kashrut while avoiding the caramel issue. So California Jews must purchase their kosher Coke elsewhere for the time being.

But it’s comforting to know that in the 1930s, an Atlanta rabbi was looking out for his fellow Orthodox Jews to ensure they could enjoy Coca-Cola during Passover. I found his grave at Greenwood Cemetery on a beautiful fall day and took this photo for Baruch.

A sheynem dank, Rabbi Geffen.

Rabbi Tobias (Tuvia) Geffen is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Atlanta, Ga. He lived to be a hundred years old.

Rabbi Tobias (Tuvia) Geffen is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Atlanta, Ga. He lived to be a hundred years old.

These Famous Ladies Had Georgia on Their Minds (repost)

adventuresincemeteryhopping:

This is worth reading again, I think. :-)

Originally posted on Adventures in Cemetery Hopping:

There are plenty of famous men buried in Georgia, but the ladies often get overlooked. This week, I am featuring a handful of those enterprising women. Some you may already know about, but a few of them may surprise you.

Rome, Georgia is home to Shorter and Berry Colleges. Class A minor league baseball team the Rome Braves draw plenty of crowds. But did you know a U.S. President’s wife is buried there?

Woodrow Wilson was not a household bame when he met Ellen Axson at her father's church.

Woodrow Wilson was not a household name when he met Ellen Axson at her father’s church.

President Woodrow Wilson’s first wife was born Ellen Louise Axson. The daughter of a Presbyterian minister, she grew up in comfortable circumstances. Her parents believed in the importance of a good education for both sexes, so Ellen became an intelligent, observant young lady who eventually studied art in New York City. She enjoyed painting throughout her life and even spent time…

View original 909 more words

These Famous Ladies Had Georgia on Their Minds (repost)

There are plenty of famous men buried in Georgia, but the ladies often get overlooked. This week, I am featuring a handful of those enterprising women. Some you may already know about, but a few of them may surprise you.

Rome, Georgia is home to Shorter and Berry Colleges. Class A minor league baseball team the Rome Braves draw plenty of crowds. But did you know a U.S. President’s wife is buried there?

Woodrow Wilson was not a household bame when he met Ellen Axson at her father's church.

Woodrow Wilson was not a household name when he met Ellen Axson at her father’s church.

President Woodrow Wilson’s first wife was born Ellen Louise Axson. The daughter of a Presbyterian minister, she grew up in comfortable circumstances. Her parents believed in the importance of a good education for both sexes, so Ellen became an intelligent, observant young lady who eventually studied art in New York City. She enjoyed painting throughout her life and even spent time at an artists’ colony.

Ellen met the future president at her father’s church long before he entered politics. After her father died and Wilson was offered a teaching position at Bryn Mawr College, the couple decided they were financially prepared to marry. They eventually had three daughters together.

Sadly, Ellen’s tenure as first lady was brief. Having suffered from Bright’s Disease (a deterioration of the kidneys) since the birth of her youngest child, Ellen died in 1914, only a year and a half after her husband was elected president. Her body was taken back to Rome for her funeral. She is buried at Myrtle Hill Cemetery.

First lady Ellen Wilson's body was transported through the streets of Rome after her funeral.

First lady Ellen Wilson’s body was transported through the streets of Rome, Ga. after her funeral. Photo courtesy of the Georgia Archives.

Ellen Axson Wilson is buried in Myrtle Hill Cemetery in Rome, Ga. I was finally able to visit her grave many months after I originally wrote this post.

Ellen Axson Wilson is buried in Myrtle Hill Cemetery in Rome, Ga. I visited her grave many months after I originally wrote this post.

One acclaimed Hollywood actress buried in Georgia was tops at the box office for years. Born Edythe Marrenner in Brooklyn, N.Y., Susan Hayward arrived in Hollywood in 1937 to do a screen test for the role of Scarlett in Gone With the Wind. While she did not get the part, she went on to star in films like “With a Song in My Heart”, “I’ll Cry Tomorrow” and “I Want to Live” (for which she won her only Oscar).

Actress Susan Hayward got the nickname "Red" from the fiery color of her hair.

Actress Susan Hayward got the nickname “Red” from the fiery color of her hair.

After a failed marriage to actor Jess Barker, Susan met wealthy Southern real estate developer Floyd Eaton Chalkley in 1957. His Southern charm won her heart and they were married not long after that. They lived happily on their large ranch (which they called Chalk-Marr Farms) in Carrolton, Ga. for several years. Locals often saw them together around town.

Chalkley died in 1966 of hepatitis. Always a heavy smoker and drinker, Susan learned she had brain cancer in 1972. She died in 1975 and is buried with her husband at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cemetery in Carrolton. On their shared memorial plaque, she is listed simply as Mrs. F.E. Chalkley. A smaller flat stone with her name is placed off to the side.

Susan Hayward's grave is simple compared to  her flamboyant Hollywood image.

Susan Hayward’s grave is simple compared to “the Broad from Brooklyn’s” flamboyant Hollywood image.

Life at the turn of the century in the Deep South was far from easy for African-American women. Gertrude Pridgett knew this first hand growing up poor in Columbus, Ga. The product of a musical family, she eventually hit the vaudeville circuit, which was a booming business in a river port city like Columbus.

In 1904, Gertrude met and married minstrel show manager William “Pa” Rainey. Together, they toured the country at various shows and with tent performers. That’s when her fame began to grow and she took on the name “Ma” Rainey that would stick with her for life.

Ma Rainey's life of poverty and hard work was reflected in songs like "Bad Luck Blues" and "Trust No Man." Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Ma Rainey’s life of poverty and hard work was reflected in songs like “Bad Luck Blues” and “Trust No Man.” Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Ma enjoyed a successful recording career with Paramount Records for five years. She collaborated with other well-known musicians such as Joe Smith, Coleman Hawkins and Louis Armstrong. But just as she was getting to the top of her game, Paramount dropped her, claiming that her rough around the edges kind of music had gone out of style. She retired to Columbus and died there in 1939. She is buried in Porterdale Cemetery.

I have a special appreciation for Ma because unwittingly, I crossed paths with her past in my younger days. As a member of my high school chorus, I performed on the same stage she did at Columbus’ Springer Opera House. A year later, I had the good fortune to attend a Broadway production of the play about her life, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

Ma Rainey's music... Photo courtesy of Ronald Self.

Ma Rainey’s music earned her the nickname “Mother of the Blues”. Photo courtesy of Ronald Self.

Perhaps the most well known female Georgian is author Margaret Mitchell. A headstrong young woman, she loved hearing stories about the Civil War from Confederate veterans. She dropped out of Smith College after the death of her mother in order to run her father’s home where he and her younger brother still lived.

A bit of a rebel herself in her youth, Margaret Mitchell treasured the Southern history shared by Confederate veterans.

A bit of a rebel herself in her youth, Margaret Mitchell treasured the stories told to her by Confederate veterans.

During her first rocky marriage, Margaret began writing for the Atlanta Journal’s Sunday magazine to make ends meet. After her divorce, she married former suitor and editor John Marsh, and left her job to recover from a series of illnesses. While convalescing at home, she wrote the Pulitzer-prize winning novel Gone With the Wind in 1936. The book and eventually the movie made it financially possible for her to support a number of philanthropic interests for the remainder of her life.

Margaret Mitchell was killed in 1949 when she was hit by a car while attempting to cross at the intersection of Peachtree and 13th Streets in what is now Midtown in Atlanta. She is buried with Marsh at Oakland Cemetery, where thousands of visitors trek to visit her grave every year.

These four women made their marks on the world in many different ways. But in the end, they all chose to make Georgia their final resting place.

While I’ll never be famous like these female icons, I hope to do the same some day.

image

The Empty Cradle: Children’s Gravestones and Their Symbolism

I spend a LOT of time in cemeteries. They are usually older ones with stone markers, not the modern ones with bronze plates flat on the ground so the maintenance crew can mow around them more easily. I do visit a few of those for Find a Grave. Over the past two years, I’ve noticed another difference between the two.

Old cemeteries often have a lot more graves for infants and children. And it’s truly sad.

One of my favorite haunts is East View Cemetery, which has a number of children’s graves. Two of them always tug at my heart and feature little shoes and socks on top. To find two of them in the same cemetery is rare, so I think they may have been created locally by the same stone mason.

Little Brenda only lived a handful of months before she died. The shoes on top of her grave always get to me.

Little Brenda only lived a handful of months before she died. The shoes on top of her grave always get to me.

I’ve wondered if little Brenda Darlene Starr had the nickname of “Twinkle” because of the Brenda Starr comic strip that started in the 1940s. In it, top reporter Brenda Starr had a child named Starr Twinkle, with husband Basil St. John. I don’t know why little Brenda died but it’s clear she meant a lot to her family.

James Michael Harper only lived two days. Like Brenda Starr, the cause of his death remains a mystery.

James Michael Harper only lived two days. Like Brenda Starr, the cause of his death remains a mystery. He’s also buried at East View Cemetery.

The inscription on the back makes this little boy's death all the more poignant.

The inscription on the back makes this little boy’s death all the more poignant.

There’s another style of children’s grave that is no longer common but when I see it, I am always struck by it. Some call it the “baby on a half shell” style because it involves a carving of an infant or a child resting inside a seashell of some kind. The style was popular from the 1870s into the 1920s, and Sears and Roebuck even offered them in varying sizes in their catalog. Annette Stott wrote an excellent article about them that goes into further detail.

Little Leo Smith lived from July 4, 1885 to June 16, 1887. He is buried in Shadnor Baptist Church Cemetery in Union City, Ga.

Little Leo Smith lived from July 4, 1885 to June 16, 1887. He is buried in Shadnor Baptist Church Cemetery in Union City, Ga. His sister, Ruby, who lived an even shorter period of time, is buried next to him.

Leo Smith's younger sister, Ruby, is buried beside him. This time, the family chose a flower motif instead.

Leo Smith’s younger sister, Ruby, is buried beside him. This time, the family chose a flower motif instead. Sorry the picture’s a little blurry.

Where did this shell motif come from?

During the Victorian era and into the turn of the century, the image of childhood was an innocent, fragile one. Artists such as Margaret Tarrant, Jessie Wilcox Smith, Walter Crane, and Randolph Caldecott used playful images of children, babies, fairies, and elves to illustrate nursery books and children’s tales. So it seemed a natural progression to use such images in gravestones for these little lives sadly cut short.

"The Sea-Babies Cradle" by illustrator Margaret Tarrant, 1908.

“The Sea-Babies Cradle” by illustrator Margaret Tarrant, 1908.

The sad reality was that children often died during this era with surprising frequency. In 1880, almost 22 of every 100 children born in the U.S. died before they reached their first birthday. Ten years later, that rate was 15 percent. In 1900, more than one in every 10 infants still died before the age of one, not including stillbirths.

Mary Ruth Britt did not reach her fifth birthday. She is buried in Friendship Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery in Tucker, Ga.

Mary Ruth Britt did not reach her fifth birthday. She is buried in Fellowship Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery in Tucker, Ga.

Another popular gravestone style is the figure of a child as an angel or a cherub. Pictured above is Mary Ruth Britt, who died at the age of four for reasons unknown.

Another cherub leans against a tree on this marker. Louise is buried at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Ga.

A solemn cherub leans against a tree on this marker. Louise Inman is buried at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Ga. She lived less than a year.

However, the most common symbol by far on the graves of children and infants is the lamb. It signifies the innocence, purity and sweet nature of childhood as few other images can. To some, it also signifies the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. You can still see them today on many graves, some being more elaborate than others.

The grave of M. Rufus ? has two symbols. The tree stump signifies a life cut short while the lamb symbolizes the innocence of childhood. He is buried in Shadnor Baptist Church Cemetery.

The grave of M. Rufus Thornton has two symbols. The tree stump signifies a life cut short while the lamb symbolizes the innocence of childhood. He is buried in Shadnor Baptist Church Cemetery.

Sometimes the lamb is carved into the stone itself, as you can see in Mary Nell Driver’s grave below.

Mary Nell Driver's life was brief but she is surely not forgotten. She is buried at Flat Rock Baptist Church Cemetery on the border of Jackson-Hartsfield International Airport outside of Atlanta, Ga.

Mary Nell Driver’s life was brief but she was surely loved by her family. She is buried at Flat Rock Baptist Church Cemetery on the border of Jackson-Hartsfield International Airport outside of Atlanta, Ga.

Sometimes I do come across some unique child/infant graves that tend to defy the usual symbolism. That is definitely the case at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, S.C. Blake and Rosalie White had eight children but five did not make it past childhood. Little Rosalie Raymond White was one of those five.

The style of Rosalie's grave is known as a "cradle grave" because of the resemblance to a baby's bed. She is buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, S.C.

The style of Rosalie’s grave is known as a “cradle grave” because of the resemblance to a baby’s bed. During different seasons, various plants are placed in it. She is buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, S.C.

Few children's graves feature a death mask of the deceased, but Rosalie's does.

Few children’s graves feature a death mask of the deceased, but Rosalie’s does.

Another child’s grave that I came across also features a casting but it is of the child’s hand, not his face. I think the simplicity of it is touching. It’s also made of white bronze (zinc), which is a style and material I admire. I have never seen one like this before or since.

Little Louis Johnson is buried in

Little Louis Johnson is buried in Largo Municipal Cemetery in Florida.

Unlike most of the others, I was able to find out a little bit about Louis’ family. His father, Louis S. Johnson, was the second mayor of Largo, Fla., and was a successful businessman. He owned the Largo Hotel. Son Lloyd Johnson was born in 1918 and went on to become a CPA, and one of the original city commissioners for nearby Indian Rocks Beach (where we were vacationing when I visited this cemetery).

The small hand of Louis C. Johnson.

The tiny hand of Louis C. Johnson.

There are a number of other styles of child/infant graves but these are the ones that I’ve come across in my almost two years of cemetery hopping. Some are more elaborate than others, while some are small and simple.

Regardless of style, they remain a poignant reminder of a life that never had the opportunity to reach its full potential. A whisper of what might have been.

A nameless infant's grave rests in the corner of the Coming Street Cemetery in Charleston, S.C.

A nameless infant’s grave rests in the corner of the Coming Street Cemetery in Charleston, S.C.

Blood on the Badge: Murder in Gwinnett County

Today’s entry is a re-post of a piece I did in May 2013 about a 1964 triple homicide in Gwinnett County, Ga. It was a heinous crime that rocked the county for years. Since I first posted it, I’ve talked to a number of Gwinnett residents who still remember it well and how shocking it was at the time. It remains so today.

Remember the saying “like looking for a needle in a haystack”? Sometimes cemetery hopping can be like that in reverse. Something rare is sitting right under your nose and you weren’t even looking for it.

As part of my Find a Grave efforts, I took on the task of photographing many of the graves at Sugar Hill Baptist Church Cemetery in north Gwinnett County. Most of the graves are already documented because of my dedicated Find a Grave friend Wesley, who referenced the cemetery book that lists everyone who is buried there (along with the dates). However, his wife is in a nursing home now so photographing graves is not something he can do. I asked if I could take it on for him and he gave me the green light.

Homespun Restaurant is an awesome meat-n-three. Try the country chicken if you ever visit.

Home Spun Restaurant is an awesome meat-n-three. Try the country chicken if you ever visit.

Sugar Hill Baptist Church Cemetery is a large, well kept cemetery situated across from the town’s impressive city hall complex. A small park with a gazebo is across the street and a community center is next door to the cemetery (where I parked my car). Close to 1,500 graves make up the cemetery. I’ve made several trips to take pictures but I’m not quite done. Eating lunch at the nearby Home Spun Restaurant (a meat and three) after these photo sessions makes visits even more pleasant.

It was during one of these trips to Sugar Hill that I photographed a very simple flat stone marker with the name Ralph K. Davis on it. His death was on April 17, 1964. It was located in a decent sized gravel square with the Davis monument behind it. It is rare for me to find a family plot with only one grave in it so as usual, I got curious and began digging for information.

It didn’t take me long to feel my breath catch in my throat.

Ralph Davis' death was much more dramatic than his marker indicates.

Ralph Davis’ death was much more dramatic than his marker indicates.

Ralph King Davis was an officer for the Gwinnett County Police Department. Today, the county is a sprawling mass of homes, businesses and interstate highways. The population is incredibly diverse. But back in 1964, Gwinnett County was a rural backwater somewhat trapped in time. Catching moonshiners was still a going concern for law enforcement. To make matters worse, some lawmen were known to have gotten their hands dirty by taking part in such crimes themselves.

On the evening of April 17, Davis and his partner, Jerry Everett, were giving a ride home to an ill fellow officer, Marvin Jesse Gravitt. En route, they got a suspicious activity call at a home on Arc Way, which was a dirt road connecting Beaver Ruin and Pleasant Hill Roads at the time. What started out as a routine response quickly became something that would make headlines across the country.

Retired former Atlanta police officer Mackie Carson recently wrote a book about it called Judas Deputy. He kindly gave his consent for me to quote from it.

Gwinnett police officers Marvin Jesse Gravitt, Ralph King Davis and Jerry Everett got more than they bargained for during a routine call. Photos courtesy of Mackie Carson.

Slain Gwinnett officers Marvin Jesse Gravitt, Ralph King Davis and Jerry Everett. Photos courtesy of Mackie Carson.

People think chop shops (garages where stolen cars are “chopped up” for parts that are then resold) are a modern phenomenon but not so. In 1964, a number of car theft rings were operating in Gwinnett County for that very purpose.

Thieves would purchase a car from a salvage yard, then steal a similar car and strip the stolen car of its parts. The parts then would be put into the salvaged car — which had no “hot” vehicle ID number.

According to Carson, the “finder’s fee” for stealing a car was $25, and rose to $100 if you took it out of the county. As a result, it became a very tempting crime to commit.

It was this kind of activity the three officers stumbled upon that April night. They found three men beginning the process of stripping a stolen Oldsmobile for parts. One of the thieves, in an attempt to flee, threw the Oldsmobile in reverse and sped back down the road only to be blocked in by the police car. When Everett was examining the inside of the Oldsmobile, the other two thieves came into sight. They were armed and took fatal control of the situation.

The next morning, the bodies of all three officers were found in the nearby woods, handcuffed together with their own handcuffs. They had been shot dead execution style with their own weapons. The Oldsmobile was nearby, torched to destroy evidence.

Alec Evans, Wade Truett and Venson Williams were arrested for the triple murder. Truett got immunity for his testimony against Evans and Williams.

Alec Evans, Wade Truett and Venson Williams were arrested for the triple murder. Truett got immunity for his testimony against Evans and Williams.

The ultimate irony is that one of the killers was one of their own, a former Gwinnett County deputy sheriff named Alec Evans. He had even been an ATF agent at one time. The other two, Venson Williams and Wade Truett, owned a garage together in South Carolina and had helped Evans steal the Oldsmobile the previous day.

Gwinnett deputy sheriff Jerry Griswell was one of the first to arrive on the scene the next morning. He never forgot what he saw. “A waste of three fine men,” Mr. Griswell said in a 1989 Atlanta Journal-Constitution article.

According to many witnesses, Evans swore he would find the officers’ killers, even going so far as to visit the Everett family more than once to assure them the murderers would be caught.

Later that year, with no one yet suspecting his role in the murders, Evans was arrested for running illegal moonshine and sent for a short stint in a federal prison in Michigan. He was eating lunch with the other inmates when he was informed he would be going back to Georgia.

Evans, along with Williams and Truett, was arrested for the murders. Evans was convicted and given a death sentence that was later commuted to life in prison. At age 86, he is still incarcerated. Williams (now deceased) served 25 years and was paroled. Wade Truett, also now deceased, was given immunity for his testimony against Evans and Williams. He served no prison time. Carson says Truett was the only one of the trio who did not shoot the officers.

Jerry Everett, only 28 when he was killed, came from a strong law enforcement tradition. His brother, Kelly, was the former Norcross police chief. Another brother, George, was a Doraville police officer.

Brothers Randall and Roger Everett owned and operated Everett’s Music Barn in nearby Suwanee and the store is still a magnet for bluegrass music lovers. It has roots in the tragedy. Those paying condolences to the family would return to hold impromptu bluegrass jam sessions on the Everett family’s porch. The brothers and their friends felt the music was a form of therapy amid their grief. Randall and Roger have since passed away, but the legacy of their music continues.

While many living in Gwinnett today have no idea what took place on a dark country road in 1964, memories of the triple murder linger. Long-time residents remember three police officers being cut down by a gang of thieves, one a wolf in sheep’s clothing. They walked blindly into a crime in progress and paid with their lives.

According to Carson, Ralph Davis’ neighbor, George Kelly, remembered his last conversation with him. Davis told Kelly that he was seriously thinking of leaving law enforcement because of the danger involved.

Sadly, he never had a chance to do so.

Dum Dum Da Dum: The Story Behind Chopin’s Funeral March

Recently, Caleb Wilde (of Confessions of a Funeral Director fame) featured the Top 20 Pop Songs Requested at Funerals list based on requests made at 30,000 services during 2012. Compiled by The Co-operative Funeralcare of England, the list has a decided British bent to it. Here it is:

1. Frank Sinatra – ‘My Way’
2. Sarah Brightman/Andrea Bocelli – ‘Time To Say Goodbye’
3. Bette Midler – ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’
4. Eva Cassidy – ‘Over The Rainbow’
5. Robbie Williams – ‘Angels’
6. Westlife – ‘You Raise Me Up’
7. Gerry & The Pacemakers – ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’
8. Vera Lynn – ‘We’ll Meet Again’
9. Celine Dion – ‘My Heart Will Go On’
10. Nat King Cole – ‘Unforgettable’
11. Tina Turner – ‘The Best’
12. Whitney Houston/Dolly Parton – ‘I Will Always Love You’
13. Monty Python – ‘Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life’ (Caleb didn’t think this song would make America’s top 20).
14. Luther Vandross – ‘Dance With My Father’
15. Louis Armstrong – ‘Wonderful World’
16. Daniel O’Donnell – ‘Danny Boy’
17. Eva Cassidy – ‘Fields Of Gold’
18. Righteous Brothers (and various) – ‘Unchained Melody’
19. Westlife – ‘Flying Without Wings’
20. Eva Cassidy – ‘Songbird’

A lot of people like having Ole Blue Eyes' song, "My Way" played at their funeral. I think I'd prefer "The Best is Yet to Come" instead.

Many people want to have Ol’ Blue Eyes’ song “My Way” played at their funeral. I think I’d prefer “The Best is Yet to Come” myself.

The list got me to thinking about how funerals and music have always been intertwined. One of the most famous pieces of funeral music isn’t even on this list. That would be Chopin’s Funeral March.

You know the one. DUM DUM Da DUM, DUM da DUM DUM DUM DUM DUM.

Polish composer Federick Chopin's Funeral March has been parodied a lot but it remains a powerful piece of music. This is a drawing of Chopin on his deathbed. Courtesy of Kean Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

Polish composer Frederic Chopin’s Funeral March gets parodied a lot but it remains a powerful piece of music. This is a drawing of Chopin on his deathbed. Courtesy of Kean Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

I love classical music. From the age of 12 or so, instead of buying pop records, I was browsing the classical music section at Record Bar at the mall. Those of you old enough to remember Record Bar probably remember it was back in the far corner most of the time.

You know when you ask your parents for an album of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #5 for Christmas (and they buy it), you’re a genuine geek.

Chopin has always been one of my favorites, mostly because he wrote some amazing piano work. His nocturnes are especially dear to me. But I don’t think I truly appreciated him until I saw Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, an autobiographical film about Polish pianist and composer Władysław Szpilman. Chopin’s music is prominently used in the film.

Adrian Brody portrayed Polish composer amd musician Władysław Szpilman, who barely survived the Holocaust.

In The Pianist, Adrien Brody portrayed Polish composer and musician Władysław Szpilman, who barely survived the Holocaust. Chopin’s music is featured prominently in it. Brody won the 2002 Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal.

The story behind Chopin’s Funeral March is that he was moved to write it after the 1830 Polish uprising against the Russians. Then traveling through Western Europe, Chopin was worried about the fate of his friends and family he was forced to leave behind. He never returned to his homeland.

Clash between Polish insurgents and Russian cuirassiers on bridge in Warsaw's Łazienki Park. In the background is an equestrian statue of King John III Sobieski. Painiting by Wojciech Kossak, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Clash between Polish insurgents and Russian cuirassiers on a bridge in Warsaw’s Łazienki Park. In the background is an equestrian statue of King John III Sobieski. Painting by Wojciech Kossak, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The piece is actually the third movement in Chopin’s Sonata #2 in B-flat minor. It was apparently a very emotional expression of his angst because he found it difficult to play in public.

According to Chopin scholar Jeffrey Kallberg (in a 2010 NPR piece), “His colleagues said that he often played in salons, and the only way to get him to stop playing was to ask him to play the March,” Kallberg says. “He was so caught up in the emotions of it.”

When Chopin died in 1849, Mozart’s Requiem was played at his funeral service. But Chopin’s Funeral March was played later at his burial service in Paris at Pere Lachaise Cemetery. If I ever get to Paris, that’s going to be my second stop (after the Eiffel Tower).

Chopin's tombstone, featuring the muse of music, Euterpe, weeping over a broken lyre, was designed and sculpted by French sculptor/artist Auguste Clésinger.

Chopin’s tombstone features the muse of music, Euterpe, weeping over a broken lyre. It was designed and sculpted by French sculptor/artist Auguste Clésinger.

Chopin was only 39 when he died of tuberculosis. Chopin's death mask , courtesy of the Jack Gibbons Collection.

Chopin was only 39 when he died of tuberculosis. Chopin’s death mask, courtesy of the Jack Gibbons Collection.

Since that time, Chopin’s Funeral March holds a prominent place in history. It was used at the state funerals of President John F. Kennedy, Sir Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. It’s been played at the funerals of Soviet leaders, including Leonid Brezhnev.

Chopin’s Funeral March has also been parodied often over the years. According to Kallberg, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

“Chopin’s march is modeled after a Rossini opera, La Gazza Ladra, and that served as the basis for parodies,” says Kallberg, who points to one such parody written by Charles Gounod. It’s also notable that one of Chopin’s friends, Charles Valentin-Alkan, wrote a piece called “Funeral March on the Death of a Parrot”.

Monty Python would have been proud.

Charles-Valentin Alkan was a friend of Chopin's. Was he parodying Chopin's Funeral March when he penned "Funeral for a Dead Parrot"?

French composer Charles-Valentin Alkan was a friend of Chopin’s. Was he parodying Chopin’s Funeral March when he penned “Funeral March on the Death of a Parrot”?

Beetlejuice, Loony Tunes and even comic duo Abbot and Costello have parodied the famous dirge. A 2002 TV ad for Pilot Pen’s erasable ink pen featured it. You can even download it to use it as your ringtone.

I’ve always wondered if any funeral directors have done that. Probably not a wise PR move.

I’m not sure yet what music I want played at my funeral. Definitely “I’ll Fly Away” and “Old Rugged Cross” because they’re close to my heart. I have a running list that I add to from time to time.

And while I do like Led Zeppelin a lot, “Stairway to Heaven” isn’t on it.

StairwayToHeaven

Locks of Love: Victorian Mourning Jewelry

This is a repost of an article I wrote in November 2013. Enjoy!

In 1947, a woman named Frances Gerety coined the phrase “A Diamond is Forever” for DeBeers. She may have been right but for the Victorians, hair was more eternal (and affordable) than glittering gems.

Mourning jewelry, or jewelry worn when one is mourning the loss of a loved one, has been around for centuries. But the Victorians truly embraced it when Queen Victoria took mourning to a new level in the 1800s. Last year, I wrote about how the death of her beloved Prince Albert initiated a very detailed code of dress for ladies. The Queen was partial to mourning jewelry, especially if it was made out of jet (which is not a true mineral but actually a very old form of decayed wood).

In the third season of PBS' popular "Downton Abbey", Lady Mary follows the dictates of society by wearing jet jewelry in her time of mourning.

In the third season of PBS’ popular Downton Abbey, Lady Mary follows the dictates of society by wearing jet jewelry in her time of mourning for her late husband. Photo courtesy of PBS.

The curious practice of making mourning jewelry from human hair became very popular. In other words, jewelry that literally contains hair from the deceased. This might seem incredibly bizarre (and to some, downright creepy), but the act of keeping someone’s hair as a memento of them was quite normal. The hair could be placed in a locket or even in an elaborate piece of jewelry.

It may seem like a strange way to remember someone but it’s actually quite practical since photography was not affordable for most people. Hair has chemical qualities that enable it to last for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years. (Contrary to popular belief, hair does NOT continue to grow after someone has died.)

This 18th-century locket contains the hair of George and Martha Washington. It was sold at James D. Julia Auctions in August 5, 2009 for $7,475.00.

This 18th-century locket contains the hair of George and Martha Washington. It was sold at James D. Julia Auctions in August 5, 2009 for $7,475.00.

Of course, not everyone could afford jewel-encrusted lockets like the one pictured above. More often, it was simply a lock of hair stashed behind a painted miniature or inside of a ring. The jewelry’s owner knew it was there but didn’t necessarily flaunt it.

Since photography wasn't fully utilized at that time, Victorians took to incorporating the hair of the deceased into their mourning jewelry.

Since photography wasn’t fully utilized at that time, Victorians took to incorporating the hair of the deceased into their mourning jewelry.

However, the Victorians took hair out of the darkness and into the light. Rings, pendants, pictures, wreaths, you name it and they did it.

Located in Independence, Mo. (not far from Kansas City), Leila Cohoon operates the only hair museum in the U.S. to truly feature this art form. She says that often, a family member would collect hair from several generations of relatives and weave the hair into a wreath. More often than not, the wreath included intricate hair-woven flowers and were shaped like a horseshoe, always pointed up to keep luck in the family. Her museum features hundreds of examples of hair art. You can find them up for bid on eBay from time to time as well.

This framed wreath is made out of hair from the ladies listed inside of it. Photo courtesy of Leila' Hair Museum.

This framed wreath is made out of hair from the ladies listed inside of it. Photo courtesy of Leila’s Hair Museum.

The Northampton Historic Museum and Education Center in Massachusetts has a fantastic virtual exhibit of Victorian hair art. They do a better job at explaining the history behind it than I can.

For mourning accessories, jewelry items made from the hair of a deceased friend or loved one became hugely popular. Pamphlets featuring hairworking patterns assisted Victorians with creating their own hair jewelry, if they so desired. The jewelry designs are surprisingly complex and varied for consisting of such humble material as human hair. The pieces could incorporate jet, gold and diamonds for later stages of mourning or lockets for hair or photographs.

There was also a large market for mass-produced gold fittings that could be personalized with engraving or monograms, so the jewelry items could be commissioned as well. There was some distrust, however, of professional hairworkers; there was a widespread problem of hairworkers neglecting to use the deceased person’s hair. Instead, they would sell “custom-made” pieces actually made from purchased bulk hair.

This is a gentleman's watch chain made out of human hair. I can't imagine how many hours it took.

This is a gentleman’s watch chain made out of human hair. I can’t imagine how many hours it took.

Looking at some of these examples, I have to wonder how on earth this was done. And how long it must have taken. Then it occurred to me that during the Victorian era especially, most gently bred women did not work. And if their children were grown or away at school, they had ample time on their hands. If they truly were in early mourning, they weren’t allowed to go out except to attend church services.

This brooch features four hair acorn shapes. The acorns are tightly woven and incorporate gold components to support the acorn shape. Even though this piece has gold elements, it is understated enough for the middle stages of mourning. Photo courtesy of the Historic Northampton Museum and Education Center.

The acorn probably originated as an English hairwork motif since oak is England’s national wood. This brooch features four hair acorn shapes, which are tightly woven and incorporate gold components to support the acorn shape. Photo courtesy of the Historic Northampton Museum and Education Center.

No doubt someone spent several hours creating this intricate brooch. Photo courtesy of Leila's Hair Museum.

No doubt someone spent several hours creating this intricate brooch. Photo courtesy of Leila’s Hair Museum.

According to artist Sandra Johnson (who uses hair to make jewelry and other items), there are four main techniques involved. They are:

Palette
Palette work is the most versatile of the techniques. It can make pictures and designs both large and small. The hair is used in a “cut and paste” manner to create designs. The third picture on this page is an example of palette work.

Sepia Painting
Sepia painting uses the hair as a painting medium and spread thinly on the background. The sixth picture on this page is an example of palette work.

Tablework
Tablework is created using a table and bobbins with weights. The hair is woven around a form in order to make the shape desired. The fifth picture on the page is an eye-catching example of this style.

Hair Flowers
Hair flowers are created using much longer hair than is needed for the palette or sepia technique. The hair is wound around a rod and secured with a wire making long lengths of looped hair. The hair is then shaped into petals or leaves. When several are wired together a flower can be formed and many very large wreaths were made using the hair of many people. Sometimes a church would make one of all their members, or a family would make one of all the members of the family, these could get very large and ornate. The fourth picture on this page is an example.

Then there are those works of art that aren’t jewelry and defy explanation.

Photo courtesy of Leila's Hair Museum.

Photo courtesy of Leila’s Hair Museum.

There are actually dozens of Pinterest pages devoted to the art form. Many artists like Sandra have revived the tradition and are selling their pieces online.

In the end, while it does seem a tad freaky, the sentiment behind using hair for mourning jewelry makes sense. If you couldn’t have a photo of your loved one to put in your wallet or purse, wearing one of these pieces of jewelry could make you feel close to your deceased loved one in an intimate way. It would never fade or be destroyed by the ravages of time. As seen in the pictures featured here, many examples survive today.

So maybe the Victorians were onto something after all.

This shadow box with a picture of a girl in mourning is lined with material usually reserved for a coffin. The wreath is made with hair from the girl and the girl's mother, who had died. Photo by Richard Gwinn.

This shadow box with a picture of a girl in mourning is lined with material usually reserved for a coffin. The wreath is made with hair from the girl and the girl’s mother, who had died. Photo by Richard Gwinn.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 600 other followers