History at Risk: Saving the Heard Family Cemetery

As you’ve learned from this blog, small but remarkable cemeteries can be tucked away in some surprising places. This week I visited one I read about last year and it’s embroiled in a legal battle that shows no sign of being resolved anytime soon.

Heard Family Cemetery is located in Fulton County at the end of Heards Drive, a narrow road lined with multi-million dollar homes. It’s a quiet haven, with about 30 or so visible grave stones with many more unmarked. Unlike some neighborhood cemeteries slowly sliding into ruin under vines and branches, this one is lovingly cared for by its neighbors.

HeardFamilyCemeteryThis area is also near the site of what was once called Isom’s Ferry. If you’ve lived in Atlanta for any length of time, you know that many of the roads are named after the pioneer-operated ferries on the Chattahoochee River during the 1800s, such as Paces, McGinnis and Johnson. Isom’s Ferry was operated by James Isom until 1868.

This historical marker at the Heard Family Cemetery explains the vital role of Isom's Ferry (now known as Heard's Ferry) during the Civil War.

This historical marker at the Heard Family Cemetery explains the pivotal role of Isom’s Ferry (now known as Heard’s Ferry) during the Civil War.

Located at the confluence of Sope Creek and the Chattahoochee River, this land is historically important because Union troops first crossed here on their way south to Atlanta during the Civil War. A well-written article by Kimberly Brigance, Clarke Otten and Michael Hitt describes the events that took place in July 1864.

This map shows the location of the Heard Family Cemetery and where Union Troops crossed the nearby Chattahoochee River on their way south through Georgia. Map courtesy of Reporter Newspapers.

This map shows the location of the Heard Family Cemetery and where Union troops crossed the nearby Chattahoochee River via Sope Creek on their way south to Atlanta. Map courtesy of Reporter Newspapers.

During that summer, President Abraham Lincoln faced re-election and his prospects were not good. Confederate troops had racked up a high number of Union casualties at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. General William T. Sherman knew that for Lincoln to have any chance of being re-elected, Atlanta had to fall by November. The Chattahoochee was the last natural barrier between Union troops and Atlanta and Isom’s Ferry was thought to be the weakest point at that time.

On July 7, Sherman sent troops to the Sope Creek area with orders of little noise and no fires. On July 8, Union soldiers on ridges along the Sope Creek side of the river opened a barrage of rifle and cannon fire aimed at the Confederate position. About a hundred soldiers came out of the woods toward the river, firing across it at the water level.

Pontoon boats like this one ferried Union soldiers across Sope Creek so they could advance south to Atlanta. Photo courtesy of Newspapers.

Pontoon boats like this one ferried Union soldiers across Sope Creek so they could advance south to Atlanta. Photo courtesy of Reporter Newspapers.

From behind the ridge, 25 pontoon boats carrying soldiers went into Sope Creek and headed downstream toward the opposite bank of the river. Confederate gunners are reported to have only gotten off one shot before being overtaken. By day’s end, Federal engineers had two pontoon bridges in place shuttling more men and equipment into Sandy Springs. Union troops held three hill tops, one being the home of the Heard family and present location of the Heard Family Cemetery.

This newspaper photo of Judge John S. Heard is from his later years. His annual birthday barbecues at his farm were attended by many, including his family members.

This newspaper photo of Judge John S. Heard is from his later years. His annual birthday barbecues at his farm were attended by many, including his family members.

Judge James S. Heard was born to William “Buck” Heard (a blacksmith) and Rebecca Gill Heard in 1835. During the Civil War, Judge Heard served in the Ninth Battalion of the Georgia Artillery and is said to have been present at Appomattox when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant. In 1868, Judge Heard bought Isom’s Ferry from James Isom and operated it until 1890 so it was renamed Heard’s Ferry.

Judge Heard’s first wife, Abie, was Isom’s daughter and together, they had several children. Some died in infancy but several lived to adulthood and had families of their own.

Judge John S. Heard is buried with his first wife, Abie Isom Heard, and his second wife, Athalena Dickerson Heard.

Judge John S. Heard is buried with his first wife, Abie Isom Heard, and his second wife, Athalena Dickerson Heard. Several of his children and grandchildren are buried around him.

After Abie died in 1882, Judge Heard married Athalena Dickerson. She was about 20 years his junior and they, too, had several children. Judge Heard lived to the ripe age of 96, celebrating his birthday each year on August 7 with a festive barbecue at his farm that was attended by many locals and family members.

Judge Heard sits between two of his granddaughters at the last birthday barbecue he celebrated in 1931. He wanted to be buried on his land among his family when he died.

Judge Heard sits between two of his granddaughters at the last birthday barbecue he celebrated in 1931. He wanted to be buried on his land among his family when he died.

The stones at the Heard Family Cemetery tell stories of lives short and long, especially children who died in infancy. Many of them are the grandchildren of Judge Heard and his wives.

Grady Frazier was the son of Kansas Heard Frazier and William Frazier, and grandson of Judge John Heard. She was the daughter of Judge Heard and his first wife, Abie.

Grady Frazier was the son of Kansas Heard Frazier and William Frazier, and grandson of Judge Heard and his first wife, Abie.

James “Jim” Heard was Judge Heard and Abie’s son. As a police officer, Jim made headlines when he was shot and killed during the 1906 Atlanta race riot. He and his 19-year-old bride, Stella Sowers, had been married less than a year. Originally buried at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Jim was moved several months later to Heard Family Cemetery.

James "Jim" Heard was a policeman who was shot and killed during the 1906 Atlanta race riot. He was only 42 at the time.

James “Jim” Heard was a policeman who was shot and killed during the 1906 Atlanta race riot. He was only 42 at the time.

One of the more intriguing graves is that of Judge Heard and Abie’s eldest son, Newton Heard and his wife, Ellen. A tree is growing up the back of the stone and is actually notched on top of it, using it as a support. I don’t see that very often.

NewtonHeard1

Newton Heard was the son of Judge Heard and his first wife, Abie. A tree appears to be using his grave as a support.

Newton Heard was the eldest son of Judge Heard and his first wife, Abie. A tree appears to be using his grave as a support. Newton is buried with his wife, Ellen.

In 1900, with hopes of creating a permanent resting place for himself and his descendants, Judge Heard deeded the cemetery to his family. All went well until the mid-1990s when Fulton County, for reasons unknown, began to tax the property despite the fact cemeteries are tax exempt.

What happened next has been reported differently by various media outlets so I’ve done my best to piece things together. The property wound up on the tax assessor’s delinquent list. In December 2007, Mary Ann Elsner filed an affidavit of descent stating that she was the rightful inheritor. Elsner (listed as Mary Ellis in most of the older records) signed legal documents claiming to be the sole surviving heir of Carl Heard Jr., her brother, who was a descendant of Judge Heard.

That same month she sold the property to neighbors Henry and Wanda Cline, who paid the $38,400 tax bill and took possession. In July 2012, the Clines sold the property to attorney Christopher Mills for $1. He is also the Clines’ son-in-law.

Attorney Christopher Mills has filed a lawsuit against the city of Sandy Springs for blocking attempts to build on property where the Heard Family Cemetery is located. Photo from the website of Busch, Slipakoff & Schuh, LLP

Attorney Christopher Mills filed a lawsuit in 2012 against the City of Sandy Springs for blocking his attempt to build on property where the Heard Family Cemetery is located. Photo from the website of Busch, Slipakoff & Schuh, LLP

Mills’ attempt to build on the portion of the property not containing graves (which is in dispute since a number of unmarked graves exist) was blocked by the City of Sandy Springs, who refused to give Mills a permit to build. Mills sued the city in August 2012, arguing that the land is already zoned for residential use.

All of this has not gone unnoticed by the Heard descendants and neighbors living around the cemetery. They stand with the city in wanting the cemetery to remain as it is and don’t want Mills to build on the property.

Wright Mitchell, the attorney representing the Heard descendants, said as long as there are descendents of Judge Heard that would be eligible to be buried on the land in the future, the entire property should be considered burial grounds and restricted from being used for another purpose.

In a WSB-TV report, he said, “Mr. Mills may be building his house on top of graves that haven’t been identified yet.”

Wright Mitchell is representing the Heard family descendents. He's hoping to keep the Heard Family Cemetery from having a house build on the property. Photo by Thornton Kennedy/Neighbor Newspapers.

Attorney Wright Mitchell is representing the Heard family descendants. Photo by Thornton Kennedy/Neighbor Newspapers.

“I don’t think it matters how much of it is being used, there are decedents who do plan to be buried there in the future and that’s what the land was set aside for,” Heard descendant Nancy Smith said at a 2013 hearing about the lawsuit.

Georgia Court of Appeals judges John J. Ellington and Carla Wong McMillian heard the case in September 2014. After deliberating on the matter, they will send their decision to the parties’ lawyers at a date yet to be determined. It could take months before this happens so the fate of the Heard Family Cemetery remains in limbo.

Several Heard family descendants attended a hearing in 2013 to voice their opposition to a house being built on the property where the Heard Family Cemetery is located. Photo by CBS 46.

Several Heard family descendants attended a hearing in 2013 to voice their opposition to plans for a house to be built on the property where the Heard Family Cemetery is located. Photo by CBS 46.

In the meantime, Heard descendants and cemetery neighbors have created a Save the Heard Family Cemetery Facebook page here they post updates on the case. They also have a PayPal account where supporters can contribute to paying for the legal fees incurred.

It’s heartbreaking that an error that began with the taxation of a cemetery that’s exempt from it was the catalyst for what may spell the end for a historic site. Mr. Mills contends that he can build on the remaining part of the property. But having seen the property myself, I think it would be very hard to do so without disturbing the graves (including the unmarked ones you can’t see).

As I walked around the cemetery this week, a gentle breeze hinting of spring stirred the daffodils as I examined the old stones. Unlike many family cemeteries, it’s not fenced off or locked up. The Heard Family Cemetery is a lovely oasis amid a neighborhood that takes care of it and wants it to remain undisturbed, for both Judge Heard’s descendants and newcomers like me seeing it for the first time.

I think that’s something well worth saving.

Heard Cemetery angel

Soylent Green: Turning Human Remains into Compost

Last week I wrote about the Bios Urn, a biodegradable container that holds a tree seed that you add human cremains (ashes) to before planting it in the ground. The symbolism this evokes is that when you die, you can become a tree.

During my research, I came across another novel (if not unsettling) concept that is getting attention: the composting of human remains. Yes, you read that right. The notion of taking a human body and turning it into compost you can use in soil is on the drawing board.

You know what that immediately made me think of, don’t you?

Richard Fliescher's 1973 film immortalized the words "Soylent Green is people!" Set in 2022, Charleton Heston plays Detective Thorn, a cop who discovers that the food chips called Soylent Green are not made of plankton but actual human beings.

Richard Fleischer’s 1973 film immortalized the cry of “Soylent Green is people!” Set in 2022, Charleton Heston plays Detective Frank Thorn, a sardonic cop who discovers that the food chips called Soylent Green are not made of plankton but actual human beings.

Soylent Green, a futuristic film set in 2022, is about how a renegade cop (played by Charleton Heston) discovers that the food provided by the government called Soylent Green is not made of the plankton it is said to contain. Soylent Green is actually made from the protein found in human bodies. By the movie’s end, a screaming Charleton (“Soylent Green is people!”) is being carried away while the crowd watching thinks he’s lost his marbles.

The kind of human composting being proposed now does not involve creating little green squares for direct mass consumption. But it does mean turning a human body into compost that can be used in real soil to grow edible plants and ornamental trees/flowers.

Katrina Spade, an architect based in Seattle, Wash., founded the Urban Death Project. I am borrowing liberally from an article by Brendan Kiley about human composting that goes into great detail about her ideas. She came up with the idea in 2011.

This illustration from Brendan Kelly's article shows how loved ones would process up a winding ramp to the "core" where their loved one's body would be placed in a bay and a ceremony would be held to honor their life. Illustration by Jeremy Sorese.

This illustration from Brendan Kiley’s article shows how loved ones would proceed up a winding ramp to the “core” where their loved one’s body (wrapped in a shroud) would be placed in a bay, followed by a ceremony held to honor their life. Illustration by Jeremy Sorese.

Spade envisions building a three-story building where mourners could bring their dead. Friends and family would go with the unembalmed departed (wrapped in a shroud) up a circular ramp to the top of the “core,” or central decomposition chamber. What follows could be a type of ceremony during which the body would be placed into a mix of wood chips, straw and other organic material.

The core where the body is placed would be divided up into 10 “bays” — similar to elevator shafts — with several bodies in various stages of decomposition in each bay, separated from the bodies above and below by several feet of wood chips. Gravity and microbial activity would time the speed of each body’s descent.

After a few weeks or months (this is still being researched), loved ones would return to the building to pick up the remains, which have become an organic substance consisting of partially or wholly decayed vegetable or animal matter (also known as humus with one “m”, not the hummus made of chick peas). They could then use it to fertilize their own garden or leave it there to be used on the gardens surrounding the facility.

Spade's concept includes as much or as little human involvement in the preparation of the body as desired. The UDP web site says loved ones are encouraged to be part of the process of preparing the body for the procession and in the placement into the bay with the wood chips. Illustration courtesy of the UDP website.

Spade’s concept includes as much or as little human involvement in the preparation of the body as desired. The UDP web site says loved ones are encouraged to be part of the process of preparing the body for the procession and placement into the bay with the wood chips/organic material. Illustration courtesy of the UDP website.

Spade refers to this process as being “cremation by carbon”.

Kiley’s article includes an interview with soil scientist Lynne Carpenter-Boggs. She states that based on the elemental composition of human bodies, the compost from a 200 lb. person could produce six pounds of nitrogen, two pounds of phosphorus, and one pound of potassium. These are  three nutrients typically listed on fertilizers.

“I know this is going to be an offensive simplification of the value of a human body,” she says. “but one could compare the fertilizer value to 100 pounds of cottonseed meal.”

Soil and crop scientist Lynne Carpenter-Boggs likens the compost created by the human body to the fertilizer value to 100 pounds of cottonseed meal. Photo courtesy of Harmony Farm Supply and Nursery.

Soil and crop scientist Lynne Carpenter-Boggs likens the compost created by the human body to the fertilizer value  of 100 pounds of cottonseed meal. Photo courtesy of Harmony Farm Supply and Nursery.

How long it takes for a human body to decompose has been studied in recent years by places like the University of Tennessee’s “Body Farm” (which inspired the popular Kay Scarpetta mysteries). Spade did travel to Western Carolina University, which has a similar facility, to see how scientists are studying the natural decomposition of human remains in the outdoors

But doesn’t this process create a foul smell?

Spade said in a recent interview, “There is no smell. And that’s going to be accomplished by a number of ways, primarily through biofilters in the system. A good compost pile really doesn’t have much of an odor, and that’s because there’s a right mix of nitrogen and carbon and moisture and oxygen.”

Raised in rural New Hampshire where her family raised animals for slaughter and grew vegetables. Each household had compost piles. "We knew where our meat was coming from, where our vegetables were coming from."

Raised in rural New Hampshire, Katrina Spade’s family raised animals for slaughter and grew vegetables. Each household had compost piles. “We knew where our meat was coming from, where our vegetables were coming from.” Photo courtesy of National Public Radio.

Having received an $80,000 grant from the global non-profit Echoing Green to further develop her ideas, Spade hopes to get the operation up and running within the next few years. While the UDP has architectural designs for a potential facility, they need funds and a site upon which to build it.

The project will also have to overcome significant legal and regulatory hurdles. State law requires that all human remains be buried, cremated, donated to science or transferred out of state. The UDP would also have to get a license to operate a funeral home, according to the Washington state Department of Licensing. Local zoning restrictions, which require composting facilities to be outside populated areas, would also come into play.

Another more esoteric issue that arises from human composting is anonymously becoming a collective part of the soil along with hundreds of other people instead of burying an individual. I fully concede it’s something I can’t personally embrace. But others seem to like the idea quite a lot.

Spade admits that this communal pile, instead of individual plots of land or a special urn, is a psychological leap. “I’m asking people to accept that we don’t all need our own space when we die.”

Using the compost that came from the body of a loved one is a topic that excites some but makes others uncomfortable. Especially if it involves edible plants rather than ornamental flowers. Spade quipped, ""People love the idea of growing trees," she said. "They get really squeamish with tomatoes."

Using compost that came from the body of a loved one interests some but makes others uncomfortable. “People love the idea of growing trees. They get really squeamish with tomatoes,” Spade quipped in a 2014 Reuters article.

I understand that the practice of placing a body full of embalming fluid in a metal container in the ground is distasteful to many people and not exactly eco-friendly. But using compost that was once my Uncle George (and other people near him) so I can produce prize-winning tomatoes that can go into my salad is not one I can stomach either.

Many people I talk to say “I’m going to be dead so what does it matter?”. That opinion has merit and I understand it. But the unique rituals of the funeral and burial (which can be “green” and impact the earth more gently) are for the living, not the dead.

After my death, I want to leave my loved ones a place and a way to remember me if they choose. I don’t want to be taken to a “core” and composted with dozens of strangers.

And since I have a “black thumb” in the garden, even compost made from Uncle George wouldn’t help any tomatoes I planted survive.

deadtomatoes

Lovely as a Tree: How the Bios Urn Works

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Joyce Kilmer (his given name was Albert Joyce Kilmer so many mistakenly think he was a she) wrote “Trees” in 1913. The poem is often scoffed at for being overly simplistic. But “Trees” remains memorable, unlike other more pretentious works. People love trees. Some even want to become a tree after they die.

So it’s not surprising that people are going bonkers over a fairly recent alternative to traditional burial called a Bios Urn. At least a dozen people have forwarded me articles about it, so I knew I had to see what they were all about.

The Bios Urn is being touted as an economically friendly way to dispose of your ashes, which will eventually help fertilize a tree. Picture courtesy of Bios Urn's web site.

The Bios Urn is touted as an environmentally and economically friendly way to dispose of your ashes, which supposedly help fertilize a seed as it becomes a tree. Picture courtesy of the Bios Urn web site. Co-designer Martin Azua told Discovery News that he would “like to be buried in a Bios Urn in a forest in the Basque country [of Spain].”

Back in 1999, two Spanish designers named Gerard Moline and Martin Azua owned a studio called Estudimoline. Together, they patented a biodegradable urn with a plant seed inside designed to place beloved pets who had died back into the life cycle. From there came the idea of the Bios Urn for humans.

A big selling point of the Bios Urn is that you can use your cremains (the ashes from cremation) to nourish a tree seed. In other words, you can literally become a tree that will grow for years after your death. Instead of taking up space in a cemetery, you can become part of a forest. The idea is very appealing to environmentally conscious post-Baby Boomers that want to do things differently than their parents did.

Before I explain how the Bios Urn works, let me clarify that I am in no way a scientist or a horticulturist of any kind. I am simply sharing with you what I discovered when I searched a bit beyond the Bios Urn web site.

The urn itself is made up of 100 percent biodegradable materials such as coconut shell, compacted peat and cellulose. So nothing is left behind after it breaks down. The top section contains the seed of whatever tree you’ve chosen (eight varieties are available) or you can supply a seed of your own.

The separate bottom part is where you pour the ashes. I’m not sure just how much is required but since a human body usually becomes between four to six pounds of ashes after cremation, there’s going to be some left over.

This diagram gives you an idea of how the Bios Urn works. The top half contains the tree seed and soil while the bottom half contains the cremains (or cremated ashes) of the deceased. Photo courtesy of Jebiga.com.

This diagram gives you an idea of how the Bios Urn works. The top half contains the tree seed and soil while the bottom half contains the cremains (or cremated ashes) of the deceased. The roots eventually grow through the bottom half and into the ashes. Photo courtesy of Jebiga.com.

Here’s how it works. You place some soil from where you intend to plant the urn in the top half along with the tree seed. You then pour the ashes into the bottom half. The two parts are secured together, which can then be planted. Bios Urns’ website recommends that the urn be planted five centimeters (about two inches) from the surface.

The Bios Urns website says the urn requires the same care as a normal tree: water, sunlight and a good temperature. This can vary according to the kind of tree you choose so they recommend that you read up on whether or not it is a good variety to plant in your specific area.

The Bios Urn tree seed eventually grows roots and breaks into the lower section where the ashes are, which are supposed to serve as fertilizer. Voila, you’re now part of a tree!

While one advertised benefit of the Bios Urn is that you can plant it almost anywhere, I don’t know if cemeteries are too keen on them. You’d have to get permission to plant it and they would be the ones in charge of maintaining it for you. Since most traditional cemeteries are very focused on maintaining easy grass mowing, they may not allow it. However, the new “green cemeteries” would likely be happy to handle that request.

One variety that Bios Urns sells is the ginkgo. Considering that they have a reputation for emitting a strong unpleasant odor, I don't think that's a legacy I'd want to leave behind.

One tree variety that Bios Urns sells is the ginkgo. Considering that they have a reputation for emitting a strong unpleasant odor, I don’t think that’s a legacy I’d want to leave behind.

My thoughts on the long-term implications go into overdrive when I consider this. If my Aunt Harriet wants to be buried in her back yard, what’s going to happen if the property is eventually sold? Do you dig her, I mean, the tree up and take it somewhere else? If Aunt Harriet wants to be buried in a park, you’d probably have to get permission. If you own family land, you could plant the urn there. But what happens years from now after you die and your heir chooses to sell the landt? What do you do if the tree dies?

I did read about proposed BiosParks where you could plant your Bios Urn and monitor it via GoogleEarth. But I couldn’t find any information about whether or not that ever became reality.

What I wanted to find out was if the concept of using human cremains as tree fertilizer is scientifically valid. Here’s what I came up with.

After a body is cremated, the resulting ashes and bone fragments are left to cool. A device then pulverizes the bone fragments into a fine dust with a consistency similar to sand. There’s nothing organic left behind.

What exactly are cremains made up of? The graphic below breaks down just that. Almost half of human ashes are made up of phosphate and a fourth of it is calcium.

Human cremains are made up of a mixture of different chemicals, but most of it is phosphate with calcium coming in second. Photo courtesy of VillageMemorial.com.

Human cremains are made up of a mixture of different chemicals, but most of it is phosphate with calcium coming in second. Graphic courtesy of VillageMemorial.com.

Some gardeners believe that calcium phosphate makes an excellent fertilizer. But I’ve also read that when produced at higher temperatures (like fire from a crematorium), it can become insoluble and not very useful as a fertilizer.

A company called Let Your Love Grow (LYLG) has done extensive research that shows that cremains have a very high pH level that hinders their ability to release any helpful nutrients. Also, cremated ashes contain sodium in amounts that range from 200 to 2000 times what plant life can tolerate.

LYLG published a photo that shows how 16 months after burial, a biodegradable urn has completely dissolved (I have no idea if this is a Bios Urn). The ashes are left in concentration and may remain that way for years. Plant roots will inevitably turn away from this clump of salty rock.

To remedy that, LYLG sells a special mixture that, when added to regular soil and cremains, balances out the high pH level/sodium. This enables people to then bury their loves one’s cremains without harming the soil or any surrounding plant life.

This picture from Let Your Love Grow shows the ashes left behind from a biodegradable urn some 16 months after burial in the ground. They contend that these ashes do not provide fertilization for growing plants.

This picture from Let Your Love Grow shows the ashes left behind from a biodegradable urn some 16 months after burial in the ground. They contend that human ashes do not provide adequate fertilization to support growing trees.

Discovery News’ article about Bios Urn points out that “plants that like acidic soil might find that the ashes raise the pH of the soil too much for comfort.”

I’m not enough of a scientist to say whether or not these concerns are valid. Perhaps there’s something in the Bios Urn itself that makes the growth process of the roots into the ashes work well with the local soil. The Bios Urns website is vague on those horticultural particulars.

Bios Urn can be purchased directly from their website for about $145 with shipping costs being variable. The cost is the same for Bios Urns for pets. Some retailers sell them as well. Bios Urns’ website claims that over 7,000 have been sold.

Puerto Rican-based Spiritree sells a similar urn. Their cost is a bit higher at $225 and the process is a little different in how the ashes are introduced to the roots. Another option on the horizon is the actual composting of human remains, but current state laws forbid it. I plan on writing about that soon.

I’m sure many people will continue to be enamored with the symbolic idea of becoming a tree. Me? I don’t think so. Because this is the mental picture I get when I think about it. And that’s one I don’t think I can live (or die) with.

dog-peeing-on-tree

The Frozen Chosen: Winter Grave Digging Meets Modern Times

There’s a term in religious circles that describes some Christians of a reserved and stiff nature as being part of the “frozen chosen”.

During the winter, this figure of speech can become a literal expression when it comes to digging graves in Northern states where temperatures hit below zero and harden the snow-covered ground.

Grave-digger, painted by Russian artist Viktor Vasnetsov in 1871, shows the typical illustration of a 19th-century grave digger might look like.

Grave-digger, painted by Russian artist Viktor Vasnetsov in 1871,  illustrates what a 19th-century grave digger might have looked like.

Before the invention of the backhoe, there was only one way to dig a grave and that was with a shovel. It could take quite a lot of backbone and energy to accomplish even in warmer conditions. But when the ground froze, it could be nearly impossible.

Often, families simply waited until spring to bury their loved ones. The dead would be placed in what was called a receiving vault, where they might wait a few weeks to a few months for burial.

Westview Cemetery's receiving vault was built in 1888 and was used to hold caskets during periods of bad weather when burials couldn't take place. During the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918-1999, it was put to use because of the rising death toll. It was sealed in the 1940s when Westview's Abbey  Mausoleum was completed.

Westview Cemetery’s receiving vault, built in 1888, held caskets during bad weather when burials couldn’t take place. During the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918-1999, it was full because of the rising death toll. The vault was sealed in the 1940s when Westview’s Abbey Mausoleum was completed.

Atlanta’s Westview Cemetery has a large receiving vault built in 1888 but it was mostly used for storing the deceased when inclement weather made burial impossible. This was unusually due to cold weather or prolonged rain, not snow. When the Spanish Flu epidemic swept the city in 1918 to 1919, the vault was full with victims of the illness.

When Westview’s Abbey Mausoleum was completed in the 1940s, the receiving vault was sealed because the new building had plenty of room to store the deceased awaiting burial.

The practice of holding a casket during cold conditions is still common today for many cemeteries and funeral homes, if they have the facilities to handle it. A cemetery can place them temporarily in a mausoleum while a funeral home can store the dead if it has refrigeration on site. In general, most funeral homes don’t make a practice of keeping the deceased in refrigeration longer than two weeks.

These coolers sold by U.S. Cooler Co. in Quincy, Ill. are typical of the kind used by mortuaries and funeral homes to store bodies. Photo courtesy of U.S. Cooler Co.

These coolers sold by U.S. Cooler Co. in Quincy, Ill. are typical of the kind used by mortuaries and funeral homes to store bodies. Photo courtesy of U.S. Cooler Co.

Spring burial is taken for granted in states like North Dakota, according to a 2011 Associated Press article. Dale Niewoehner, president of North Dakota’s Board of Funeral Service, said hundreds of burials are suspended each year at some cemeteries there after the snow comes. To him, delayed burials are a “necessary evil” in North Dakota. “It’s just how it is here,” he commented.

Wes Burkart, owner and funeral director at Thompson-Larson Funeral Home in Minot, N.D. said his funeral home has as many as 70 delayed spring burials each year. He admits the delay can potentially prolong the grieving process.

“Having a family go through a second service and having them waiting and waiting can be very difficult,” Burkart said. “I hate to use the term `unfinished business’ but that’s what it is.”

This photo of snow-covered North Dakota Veterans Cemetery in Mandan shows how difficult conditions can be for digging graves in the winter. Photo by Dustin White.

This photo of snow-covered North Dakota Veterans Cemetery in Mandan shows how difficult conditions can be for digging graves in the winter. Photo by Dustin White.

North Dakota funeral directors say a law requiring them to have winter burials would be impractical if not impossible for the hundreds of small rural cemeteries scattered across the sparsely populated state. Just plowing the country road to get to the cemetery can be an arduous task.

But in states like Minnesota and Wisconsin, state law requires them to dig graves amid the harsh winters.

Thankfully, technology makes it less back breaking to dig through the top layers of frozen soil. At a cemetery in Henning, Minn., gravedigging brothers Matt and Andrew Goeden use jackhammers powered by an air compressor to break through the frozen soil, which can often go as far as four feet deep.

“We do about a foot of frost an hour with the jackhammer, but the more frost there is, the longer it takes. Four feet doesn’t take four hours, it takes more like six hours,” Matt Goeden explained in a 2014 CNN segment.

Brothers Matt and Andrew Goeden dig graves with jackhammers and backhoes in Hemming, Minn. Photo courtesy of CNN.

Brothers Matt and Andrew Goeden dig graves with jackhammers and backhoes in Henning, Minn. Photo courtesy of CNN.

Sometimes they use a little non-mechanical help in the form of a heater. “Light a couple bags of Kingsford charcoal, put a couple pieces of plywood over the top and come back the next day. Make a little oven out of it and that’ll knock the rest of the frost out of it,” Matt said.

Backhoes also do the lion’s share of winter grave digging. At Highland Memorial Park Cemetery in New Berlin, Wis., E. Glenn Porter III’s crews take a different tack. They fit the bucket of a backhoe with a pair of “frost teeth” — curved metal arms several feet long with carbide tips that, combined with the power and leverage of the backhoe, are strong enough to break the frozen ground.

“The width of the teeth is exactly the width of our grave, so I can set up once and then just dig along the long dimension of a grave until I get below the frost,” Porter said. “I also cut across the short direction twice, just so that I get smaller pieces … to break out.”

Cory Lidwin (left) and Rick Budnick use “frost teeth” attached to a backhoe while digging a grave Monday at Highland Memorial Park Cemetery in New Berlin, Wisc. This enables them to penetrate the frost line of the soil. Photo by Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

Cory Lidwin (left) and Rick Budnick use “frost teeth” attached to a backhoe while digging a grave at Highland Memorial Park Cemetery in New Berlin, Wis. Photo by Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

One of the more recent innovations in winter grave digging is the ground thawer. They resemble oil barrels cut in half lengthwise, then fitted with smokestacks and a hole for a torch. You place the barrel open-end down over the grave site, insert a propane-powered torch and pump heat into the dome. When you return 24 to 30 hours later, you can then scoop out the now-soft dirt with a backhoe.

This is an example of a more primitive grave thawer that resembles an oil barrel. Propane is used to heat the barrel which in turns, thaws the ground to make it diggable.

This is an example of a grave thawer that resembles an oil barrel. Propane is used to heat the barrel which in turns, thaws the ground to make it easier to dig.

A more sophisticated version is made by ThawDawg and sold through Ground Specialties, Inc. based in Milaca, Minn. It, too, operates via propane tanks. ThawDawg’s website states these units can fit in the back of a truck and be set up/taken down by one person. I could not find a cost online for them.

The Thaw Dawg ground warmer can fit into tight spaces that a backhoe cannot, preparing the frozen soil for easier digging. Photo courtesy of Ground Specialties, Inc.

The ThawDawg ground warmer can fit into tight spaces that a backhoe cannot, preparing the frozen soil for easier digging. Photo courtesy of Ground Specialties, Inc.

Finally, ground thawing blankets are also becoming popular with cemetery grave diggers. You can lay it on top of the ground, plug it into an electrical source or gas generator then let it do the work. This type of ground thawing blanket is also used in the construction industry.

In Creston, Iowa, Graceland Cemetery’s superintendent Bruce Hodge is a fan of them, having used the barrel thawers in the past. “You get the wind blowing with that LP burner and it’d blow it out,” said Hodge. “I just decided there had to be a better way.”

To make the dirt soft enough to dig, the blanket usually has to remain on one plot for 12 to 18 hours, depending on how deep the frost is. It can thaw approximately 10 inches deep every four or five hours, if conditions are favorable.

Graceland Cemetery Superintendent Bruce Hodge uses a ground thawing blanket, powered by a generator, to soften the frozen soil to dig a grave. Photo courtesy of the Creston News Advertiser.

Graceland Cemetery superintendent Bruce Hodge uses a ground thawing blanket, powered by a generator, to soften the frozen soil to dig a grave. Photo courtesy of the Creston News Advertiser.

RapidTHAW sells a 4.5 foot by 15-foot ground thawing 110-volt outdoor electric blanket for $685.00. Larger ones can sell for over $1,000 depending on the size. Cemetery crews are finding these blankets to be a less cumbersome and more fuel efficient option.

So whether you choose a jackhammer, “frost teeth” or an outdoor electric blanket, grave digging through hard winter soil isn’t quite as difficult for the “frozen chosen” as it used to be.

P.D. Baker Ltd. in Ontario, Canada uses a John Deere 110 TLB (tractor/loader/backhoe) and Pro-Gator.  Both machines maneuver through tight cemetery spaces easily, and the lightweight turf tires on both distribute weight to minimize damage to cemetery grounds and flower beds. Photo courtesy of P.D. Baker Ltd.

P.D. Baker Ltd. in Ontario, Canada uses a John Deere 110 TLB (tractor/loader/backhoe) and Pro-Gator to maneuver through tight cemetery spaces. Photo courtesy of P.D. Baker Ltd.

1,654 Miles of Mourning: Abraham Lincoln’s Funeral Procession (Part II)

Last week, I started a two-part series about the historic funeral procession of President Abraham Lincoln, starting with the funeral at the White House and his funeral train’s procession (and stops) in Maryland, New Jersey and New York. Today, I’ll cover the rest of the journey through Ohio, Indiana and Illinois to his final resting place in Oak Ridge Cemetery.

Ohio

Early on Friday, April 28, the Lincoln Special rumbled into the Euclid Street Station in Cleveland. Unlike previous stops, Lincoln’s coffin was not conveyed to a courthouse or auditorium for viewing but to an outdoor pagoda in Cleveland’s public park in Monument Square built just for the event.

Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg explained, “At Cleveland, the Committee…decided no available building would accommodate the crowds, where the Committee on Arrangements had a pagoda put up in the city park, with open sides through which two columns could pass the coffin.”

Unlike the other cities it would travel through, Lincoln's casket was taken to an open pagoda in Cleveland's city park so that the crowds who came to view him could be most easily accomodated. The rain did not keep them away. Photo courtesy of The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History.

Unlike other cities, Lincoln’s casket was placed in an open pagoda in Cleveland’s city park so crowds could be best accommodated. Even the constant rain couldn’t keep them away. Photo courtesy of The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History.

Despite constant rain, over 100,000 mourners passed by Lincoln’s coffin in a period of about 15 hours. Late that evening, the Lincoln Special departed for Columbus (a 135-mile journey). Along the way, at every depot large bonfires were lit to light the way. Thousands gathered in the rain, hoping to catch sight of the passing funeral train.

This train schedule lists the many towns the Lincoln funeral procession passed through between Cleveland and Columbus. Residents would line the tracks to get a glimpse of the train as it passed.

This train schedule lists the many towns the Lincoln funeral procession passed through between Cleveland and Columbus. Residents lined the tracks to get a glimpse of the train as it passed.

Lincoln’s train arrived in Columbus on Saturday morning, April 29. A 17-foot long hearse carried his coffin to the State Capitol building. All along the way, thousands of mourners lined the streets, with houses and businesses draped in black.

Lincoln's funeral train Car at Cleveland's Union Station had guards on board after Lincoln's body had been taken to the Ohio Statehouse because his son, Willie who had died several years before, was still on board. The ditch along the track is filled with water from the heavy rain storms that fell during the night. The sun came out just before Lincoln's body arrived at the Statehouse.

Lincoln’s funeral train car at Cleveland’s Union Station had guards on board after Lincoln’s body was taken to the Ohio Statehouse because the remains of his son, Willie who had died several years before, remained on board.

At the West Gate of the Statehouse, an arch loomed over the large gate posts. At the arch’s center were the words: “Ohio Mourns”. Statehouse columns were wrapped in black cloth. Above the columns on the cornice a sign hung with a quote from Lincoln’s last inaugural address: “With malice to none. With charity for all.”

Once there, eight members of the Veteran Guard carried the coffin into the rotunda on their shoulders. The Columbus catafalque differed from the others in that it lacked elaborate columns and canopies, but was a simple low moss and flower-covered dais.

A lithograph of the Lincoln funeral procession heading east on Broad Street. This view is looking south, with High Street shown on the right.

A lithograph of the Lincoln funeral procession heading east on Columbus’ Broad Street. This view is looking south, with High Street shown on the right.

According to the website “Touring Ohio”, the dais was covered with lilacs. While it was an attractive site, the flowers also served as a much-needed olfactory buffer. The site states, “Although Lincoln’s body had been embalmed before leaving Washington D.C., the process was not yet perfected and his body had already begun to deteriorate badly giving off a putrid odor that had to be masked by the floral arrangements.”

Two sets of lines formed on High Street, one stretching north to Long Street and another south to Rich Street. About 8,000 people an hour walked past the casket. During the afternoon on the east side of the Capitol Building, state and local dignitaries, and military generals spoke about Lincoln’s contributions. Major General George Hooker, who would later lead the Springfield procession, was the featured speaker.

At 6 p.m., the Capitol doors were closed. A bugle sounded the assembly and the soldiers reformed for the final escort back to Union Station following the same route in reverse. A few hours later, the train departed Columbus and headed for Indianapolis (187 miles away).

Indiana

After arriving in Indianapolis at 7 a.m. on Sunday, April 30, Lincoln’s coffin was carried to the Indiana State House in a hearse topped by a silver-gilt eagle. Because the rain was so heavy, the planned procession was canceled and the day was devoted to viewing.

This photo is from Geoff Elliott's website The Abraham Lincoln Blog. He notes that "the photo...shows the capitol in the background, wrapped in black mourning cloth and ribbons. A strange structure at the entrance to the ground...neither arch, nor tunnel. Inside it had numerous displays of Lincoln's life, yet it struck mourners as unnecessary and even distracting from the majesty of the capitol."

This photo is from Geoff Elliott’s website The Abraham Lincoln Blog. He notes that “the photo…shows the capitol in the background, wrapped in black mourning cloth and ribbons. A strange structure at the entrance to the ground…neither arch, nor tunnel. Inside it had numerous displays of Lincoln’s life.”

The first mourners were 5,000 children, all members of various Sunday schools. Bringing up the rear were hundreds of African-Americans, clutching copies of the Emancipation Proclamation. By the time those final mourners had paid their respects, an estimated 100,000 people had visited Lincoln’s casket.

During the night, the Lincoln Special departed for Chicago. In Michigan City, Ill., on the morning of Monday, May 1, the funeral train stopped at 8:25 A.M. under a 35-foot memorial arch over the tracks. That’s when something totally unplanned happened.

Officials in charge of the funeral train decided to open the coffin to display the remains, breaking the rule that said the coffin would be opened only in the cities holding official funerals. Residents were allowed to enter to pay their last respects.

The justification for this impromptu funeral was that Lincoln’s train was forced to wait an hour in Michigan City for the arrival (by special train) of a committee of officials from Chicago that were to escort it into the city.

This picture of Michigan City's arch for Lincoln's funeral train from Geoff Elliott's web site shows the grand scale of it.

This picture of Michigan City’s arch for Lincoln’s funeral train from Geoff Elliott’s website shows the grand scale of it. The only unplanned funeral of the entire journey was held there.

Illinois

The funeral train reached Chicago by 11 a.m. and did not go the full distance to the Union Depot, stopping on a trestle that carried the tracks out into Lake Michigan for some distance. The train remained still, with only its bell tolling its arrival.

Instead of fully entering Chicago's Union Station, the "Lincoln Special" stopped on a trestle that carried the tracks some distance over Lake Michigan.

Instead of fully entering Chicago’s Union Station, the Lincoln Special stopped on a trestle that carried the tracks some distance over Lake Michigan.

Soon after, Lincoln’s casket was taken to a platform which rested underneath a grand arch. According to Geoff Elliott, the Gothic structure cost the city $15,000 along with the decorations in the Cook County courthouse (where Lincoln would lay in state). That amount was half of what Washington paid for the President’s entire funeral, indicating Chicago’s desire to equal New York City and Philadelphia in their efforts to show their respect for the fallen President.

Chicago went to great expense to memorialize Lincoln, erecting a grand Gothic arch and elaborately decorating the Courthouse where his casket was taken.

Chicago went to great expense to memorialize Lincoln, erecting a grand Gothic arch and elaborately decorating the courthouse where his casket was taken.

J.C. Power wrote of the procession to the Cook County courthouse that followed:

It was a wilderness of banners and flags, with their mottoes and inscriptions. The estimated number of persons in line was 37,000, and there were three times as many more who witnessed the procession by crowding into the streets bordering on the line of march, making about 150,000 who were on the streets of Chicago that day, to add their tribute of respect to the memory of Abraham Lincoln.

The courthouse opened to the public at 6 p.m. Once inside, mourners saw a mix of patriotic fervor and somber mourning as they passed by the president’s casket. Thousands of mourners paid their respects through the night and during the next day.

The catafalque used for Lincoln's casket in Chicago's Cook County courthouse was swathed in mourning black and patriotic flags.

The catafalque used for Lincoln’s casket in Chicago’s Cook County courthouse was swathed in mourning black and patriotic flags.

On Tuesday, May 2 at 8 p.m., a hearse carried the coffin to the depot of the St. Louis and Alton Railroad. The Lincoln Special was ready to go to its last stop, Springfield, which was 184 miles away.

Civil War veteran William S. Porter was a brakeman assigned to work on the funeral train. He wrote about what he saw on the journey from Chicago to Springfield:

There were large crowds of people, congregated – stern, grim visaged men, tear eye-dimmed women and children – all silent, but with an anxious expectant look as of some impending disaster. It was that way all along the line. There were throngs of people in all the smaller towns, also at the country road crossing could be seen a group of people waiting to see the arrival and passage of this train, the remembrance of which was to become an epoch in their lives.

The Lincoln Special arrived in Springfield on Wednesday, May 3. Lincoln would lie in state in the State House’s Hall of Representatives. It was the same room in which he gave his famous “House Divided” speech. Unfortunately, Lincoln’s face had become further discolored, so undertaker Thomas Lynch had to use rouge chalk and amber to restore the face to a near normal color.

Shortly after 10 a.m., the doors were opened to the long line of mourners. Additionally, hundreds of people gathered around Lincoln’s home where his horse, Old Bob, now 16 years old, had been brought back for the day.

Lincoln's beloved horse, Old Bob, stood riderless at the funeral procession. A bronze statue of Lincoln standing beside Old Bob was created by Ivan Schwartz in 2009 and stands outside President Lincoln's Cottage at the Soldier's Home in Washington, D.C.

Lincoln’s beloved horse, Old Bob, was walked riderless in the funeral procession. A bronze statue of Lincoln standing beside Old Bob was created by Ivan Schwartz in 2009 and stands outside President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldier’s Home in Washington, D.C.

Lincoln’s law partner William Herndon wrote:

All day long and through the night a stream of people filed reverently by the catafalque. Some of them were his colleagues at the bar; some his old friends from New Salem; some crippled soldiers fresh from the battlefields of the war; and some were little children who, scarce realizing the impressiveness of the scene, were destined to live and tell their children yet to be born the sad story of Lincoln’s death.

On the morning of Wednesday, May 4, the sun dawned bright and hot for Lincoln’s final funeral. At 10 a.m., the State House doors were closed, and his body was prepared for burial by the undertaker and embalmer. An elegant hearse (finished in gold, silver and crystal) lent to Springfield by the city of St. Louis carried the President’s coffin.

The handsome hearse that bore Lincoln's body to the cemetery was lent to Springfield by the city of St. Louis.

The handsome hearse that bore Lincoln’s body to the cemetery was lent to Springfield by the city of St. Louis.

Led by Major General Hooker, the procession took a a zigzag route from the State House, past Lincoln’s home, past the Governor’s Mansion and onto the country road leading to Oak Ridge Cemetery where he would be buried. The hearse was followed immediately by Old Bob wearing a mourning blanket. Lincoln’s only two blood relatives in attendance that day were his sons, Robert and Thomas (Tad). Mrs. Lincoln was still in mourning in the White House.

Lincoln came to his final resting place on Tuesday, May 4. He would not stay there for long, however.

Lincoln came to his resting place, a receiving vault, on Tuesday, May 4. He would not stay there for long, however.

Upon arrival at the cemetery, the coffin was laid upon a marble slab inside the receiving vault where it would temporarily stay since it would take three years to complete the President’s tomb. Willie’s coffin was placed beside his father’s. Bishop Matthew Simpson gave the funeral oration and Dr. Phineas Densmore Gurley read the benediction. Mourners then watched as the iron gates and heavy wooden doors of the tomb were closed and locked.

Unfortunately, Lincoln’s remains would be moved around several times after this but that story deserves its own blog post. The long journey was finally over, having moved through seven states over 14 long days.

Never had such a funeral procession been attempted and it never would again.

For additional information and photographs of Lincoln’s historic funeral procession, see the book Twenty Days by Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt and Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr.

Abraham Lincoln's tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Ill. was designed by Larkin Goldsmith Mead. Photo courtesy of David Jones.

Abraham Lincoln’s tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Ill. was designed by Larkin Goldsmith Mead. Photo courtesy of David Jones.

1,654 Miles of Mourning: Abraham Lincoln’s Funeral Procession (Part I)

This week on February 12 we celebrated the birthday of our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln. There are a few reasons Lincoln is a favorite of mine beyond his historic accomplishments. He was the first U.S. President to be embalmed, a story I shared in another post.

This is a mourning card printed soon after Lincoln's death. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Rare Books and Special Collections Division

This is a mourning card printed soon after Lincoln’s death. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Rare Books and Special Collections Division.

But Lincoln’s also the only President whose funeral became a 14-day, multi-state affair that covered over 1,600 miles, went through more than 160 communities, and involved about 30 million mourners. This year marks its 150th Anniversary and efforts are in the works to re-create the trip, despite the fact funds have been somewhat lacking to finance it.

Today in Part I, I’ll cover the first half of Lincoln’s funeral procession through Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.

Shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theater on April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln's death shook the deeply divided country. This illustration appeared in Harper's Weekly magazine.

Although John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln at Ford’s Theater on April 15, 1865, the assassin originally wanted to do it on March 15 (the Ides of March) to emphasize his view of Lincoln as a tyrant.  This illustration appeared in Harper’s Weekly magazine.

Funeral at the White House and Rotunda Viewing

After four days of preparation, Lincoln’s White House funeral was held on April 19 in the East Room with about 600 in attendance. From the time the body had been made ready for burial until the last services in the house, it was watched by a guard of honor, the members of which were one major general, one brigadier general, two field officers, and four line officers of the Army and four of the Navy.

The procession from the White House to the Capitol Rotunda covered about three miles and took over two hours. The Twenty-Second United States Colored Infantry (organized in Pennsylvania) landed from Petersburg and belatedly marched up to a position on the avenue, played a dirge and headed the procession to the Capitol.

Over 100,000 people lined the streets. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper reported: “Every window, housetop, balcony and every inch of the sidewalks on either side was densely crowded with a mournful throng to pay homage to departed worth. Despite the enormous crowd the silence was profound. It seemed akin to the death it commemorated.”

Ben Perley Poore, wrote: “At 2 p.m., the funeral procession started, all of the bells in the city tolling, and minute guns firing from all the forts. Pennsylvania Avenue, from the Treasury to the Capitol, was entirely clear from curb to curb. Preceding the hearse was the military escort, over one mile long, the arms of each officer and man being draped with black. Illustration from Harper's Weekly.

Ben Perley Poore, wrote: “At 2 p.m., the funeral procession started, all of the bells in the city tolling, and minute guns firing from all the forts. Pennsylvania Avenue, from the Treasury to the Capitol, was entirely clear from curb to curb. Preceding the hearse was the military escort, over one mile long, the arms of each officer and man being draped with black.” Illustration from Harper’s Weekly.

The next day, about 40,000 mourners passed by Lincoln’s open casket in the Capitol Rotunda. Union officer William Gamble supervised the honor guard and described the scene, including an elderly mourner who bent the rules a bit:

While I was standing at the head of the coffin preventing people from touching it, one old lady over 60 years old watched me closely, and quick as thought darted down her head and kissed the President in spite of me. I could not find it in my heart to say a word to her, but let her pass on as if I did not see it. You can form no idea of the scenes I saw.

The catafalque (a raised structure on which the body of a deceased person lies) that supported Lincoln’s casket in the Capitol Rotunda continues to be used for all who have lain in state there. Most recently, it was used in 2013 after the death of U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, whose body lie in repose in the Senate chamber after his funeral in Secaucus, N.J.

This map shows the seven states and major cities that the Lincoln funeral procession went through. A total of 13 different funerals were held, with one impromptu one in Michigan City, Ind.

This map shows the seven states and major cities the Lincoln funeral procession went through. A total of 13 different funerals were held, with one impromptu one in Michigan City, Ind.

Lincoln’s funeral procession, with a few deletions, traces the same route he took from Springfield, Ill. to the White House in 1861 when he became President. Over the course of that journey, Lincoln’s casket would be removed from the train several times for public memorial services and viewings. As you can imagine, embalming was a must in order to forestall decomposition.

Lincoln’s funeral car was not constructed just for the occasion. In early 1865, the United States Military Railroad delivered the 1865 equivalent of Air Force One to President Lincoln, a private railroad car. Yet Lincoln never used the railroad car, named The United States, while he was alive. After his death, it was modified to serve as his funeral train and called “The Lincoln Special.”

Postcard of Lincoln's funeral train, the Old Nashville, that carried him across seven states and through over 400 communities.

Postcard of the funeral train “The Lincoln Special” that carried him across seven states and through over 160 communities. A portrait of Lincoln was placed above the cowcatcher on the front of the engine.

Also on board were the disinterred remains of Lincoln’s son, Willie, who died at the age of 11 in 1862 at the White House. Per the family’s wishes, he would be buried with his father in Springfield, Ill. Lincoln’s wife remained in mourning at the White House, but son Robert Lincoln rode the train as far as Baltimore before returning to Washington.

Baltimore, Md. and Harrisburg, Pa.

Lincoln’s funeral train traveled first to Baltimore on April 21. His coffin was borne to the Merchant’s Exchange Building and opened for public view for only about an hour and a half. The train then departed for Harrisburg, Pa., a 58-mile trip. The coffin was then carried by hearse to the state House of Representatives, placed in a catafalque, and opened for public viewing.

Philadelphia, Pa.

The train departed Harrisburg for the 106-mile journey to Philadelphia where it arrived at the Broad Street Station. A hearse took Lincoln’s coffin through Philadelphia’s streets teeming with mourners to Independence Hall. There the coffin was placed in the East Wing where the Declaration of Independence had been signed. Viewing that evening was by invitation only.

Philadelphians were eager to catch a glimpse of Lincoln's funeral hears. Thousands flocked to Independence Square in hopes of viewing him up close.

Philadelphians were eager to catch a glimpse of Lincoln’s funeral hearse. Thousands flocked to Independence Square in hopes of viewing him up close. As the photo shows, spectators even climbed on rooftops to get a look.

On the morning of April 23, long lines started forming. At its greatest, the double line was three miles long and wound from the Delaware River to the Schuylkill River. An estimated 300,000 people passed by Lincoln’s open coffin and the wait was up to five hours. The crowds were so immense that police had trouble maintaining order. Some people had their clothing ripped, others fainted and one reportedly broke her arm.

Despite Thomas Holmes’ thorough embalming, Lincoln’s body did suffer a little from the repeated exposure. According to Bradley R. Hoch, “As soon as the entrances closed and the public was out of the Assembly Room…embalmer Brown cleaned Lincoln’s face of the dust that had accumulated during 33 hours in Philadelphia.”

New York City, N.Y.

On April 24, Lincoln’s funeral train left Philadelphia headed for New York, an 86-mile trip. While in New Jersey, the train arrived at the Jersey City station and Lincoln’s coffin was taken by ferry across the Hudson River. It was then borne to City Hall where it was carried up the circular staircase under the rotunda. After the coffin was placed in a black velvet dais, the public was admitted. At one point, it was reported that more than 500,000 people waited in line to view the President.

David T. Valentine wrote: "A ceaseless throng of visitors were admitted to view the body, while many thousands were turned away unable to obtain admittance. All classes of our citizens, the old and the young, the rich and the poor, without distinction of color or sex, mingled in the silent procession that passed reverently before the bier."

David T. Valentine wrote: “A ceaseless throng of visitors were admitted to view the body, while many thousands were turned away unable to obtain admittance. All classes of our citizens, the old and the young, the rich and the poor, without distinction of color or sex, mingled in the silent procession that passed reverently before the bier.”

An account from the New York Times mentioned Lincoln’s appearance: “It will not be possible, despite the effection of the embalming, to continue much longer the exhibition, as the constant shaking of the body aided by the exposure to the air, and the increasing of dust, has already undone much of the…workmanship, and it is doubtful if it will be decreed wise to tempt dissolution much further.”

The procession of Lincoln’s hearse from City Hall to the train station was a grand affair. An estimated 75,000 marched in the huge procession through New York’s streets. Windows along the route are said to have rented for up to $100 a person. When the procession neared Union Square, it passed Theodore Roosevelt’s grandfather’s home where the six-year-old future president was viewing the procession from a second-story window.

The red circle indicates where young Theodore Roosevelt, the future 26th President, observed Lincoln's funeral procession to the Hudson River Depot.

The red circle indicates where young Theodore Roosevelt, the future 26th President, observed Lincoln’s funeral procession to the Hudson River Depot.

Albany and Buffalo

On April 26, the next stop on Lincoln’s funeral procession was New York’s capitol, Albany. Planned to be simpler than the others but no less respectful, the procession included only three companies of National Guardsmen, three companies of firemen bearing torches, state officials, members of the Legislature, and city authorities. When the hearse arrived at the Capitol, the remains were taken to the Assembly Room.

W. Emerson Reck wrote: “As many as 70 viewers a minute (total nearing 50,000) passed by the coffin between 1:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. A mass of human beings, estimated at 60,000, crowded along the streets for more than a mile when the procession escorting the remains from the Capitol to the New York Central station.”

Arriving in Buffalo on April 27, Lincoln’s coffin was transported to St. James Hall in a hearse drawn by six white horses dressed in black. About 100,000 people passed by the coffin during the day.

John Harrison Mills, a veteran whose leg was shattered at Second Bull Run, guarded Lincoln's coffin in St. James Hall. "I cannot remember how it came to pass that I was chosen to stand guard at the head of our beloved President Lincoln on that momentous day," he said. "I had been through so much in the past four years, two of which were spent amid battle, murder, and sudden death, that details did not lodge in my memory, whereas events, made indelible impressions." Photo courtesy of Benedict R. Maryniak.

John Harrison Mills, a veteran whose leg was shattered at Second Bull Run, guarded Lincoln’s coffin in St. James Hall in Buffalo. “I cannot remember how it came to pass that I was chosen to stand guard at the head of our beloved President Lincoln on that momentous day,” he said. Photo courtesy of Benedict R. Maryniak.

Mourners included the 13th U.S. President Millard Fillmore and future President Grover Cleveland. There was no formal funeral procession in Buffalo since they had staged a complete mock funeral on April 19 not knowing then it would be a stop on the train’s itinerary.

Despite his criticism of Lincoln's war policies, Millard Fillmore was on hand to pay tribute to him upon his arrival by train at Buffalo.

Despite his criticism of Lincoln’s war policies, Millard Fillmore was on hand to pay tribute to him upon his arrival by train at Buffalo.

Next week in Part II, I’ll tackle the rest of Lincoln’s journey back home to Springfield, Ill. and his final interment there.

Come Walk With Me: What a Typical Cemetery “Hop” is Like

Want to join me on a “hop”?

Much of the time, I end up at a particular cemetery because I’m on the hunt for a specific grave and someone has requested a photo of it via Find a Grave. But often, I don’t have any specific purpose in mind when I choose a cemetery to explore. It’s just for the joy of looking around.

This week is a good example. For some time, I’ve been trying to find a time to go on a hop with Bobbie Tkačik , who is chairman of the cemetery committee of the Gwinnett Historical Society. I met her when I gave a talk at one of their meetings last year. On Wednesday, we finally got together and headed for Shadowlawn Cemetery in Lawrenceville.

Shadowlawn is actually made up of two sections. Old Shadowlawn is (as the name indicates) the older section, with graves dating back to the mid 1800s. There’s still some space for future burials but not much.

East Shadowlawn Memorial is the newer, more modern area. They have a sales office if you want to purchase a plot. There’s also a mausoleum and chapel. The two cemetery sections are separated by a small, muddy pond and a narrow drive.

Here's a view from the old cemetery with the pond separating it from the new section. Photo courtesy of www.oldplaces.org.

Here’s a view from the old cemetery with the pond separating it from the new section. Photo courtesy of http://www.oldplaces.org.

We decided to do our wandering in Old Shadowlawn. Like me, Bobbie is more interested in the older markers and monuments because they have a lot more creative influences and tell a story.

But when we parked the car and came upon an area with a high wooden fenced square, it was anything but traditional. It’s not often you see Arabic in an old Southern cemetery.

This fenced off area belongs to the Dawoodi Bohra Qabrastaan-Hasani Baugh sect. Currently, there appears to be only one grave inside.

This fenced off area belongs to the Dawoodi Bohra Qabrastaan-Hasani Baugh sect of Shia Islam. There appears to be only one grave inside.

The gate was locked so we couldn’t get a good look inside. And as I’ve said before, I am NOT a fence hopper. But we did peek through the slats. A small above ground grave of recent vintage is the only grave we saw.

According to the sign, it belongs to the Dawoodi Bohra Qabrastaan-Hasani Baugh. Wikipedia says Dawoodi Bohra is a subset of Shia Islam and has roots in Yemen. I couldn’t find anything about this particular group online. My guess is that they purchased land from the cemetery for their own private area to bury their members.

It’s one of those times where the present collides with a solidly entrenched past. Not that long ago, the population of Gwinnett County (where the cemetery is located) used to be almost entirely white. In 2013, statistics indicated it’s now 59 percent white, 26 percent black, with the remaining split up between many other nationalities.

Up the hill in the much older section, one of the first monuments I saw was this small angel. Believe it or not, she’s quite common but not always in the same form. In most cases, it’s for a child’s grave. This one resembles another angel I took a picture of at a cemetery about 30 minutes from this one.

This angel looks a great deal like one I photographed at another cemetery about 30 minutes away.

This angel looks a great deal like one I photographed at another cemetery about 30 minutes away.

I saw another grave for a child not far away, a distinctive shell grave. I find them all over the South. You can read my post about them from last year. This one was different than most I’ve seen because it looks more like a child than an infant reposing in the shell. In cemetery symbolism, the shell is usually a sign of eternal life.

Julia McGree only lived for about a year. But the child in the shell looks older than that.

Julia McGee only lived for about a year and a half. But the sleeping child in the shell looks older than that.

Another child’s grave caught my eye for the unique style. Her long white legs are a contrast to her dress and upper body. I’m thinking that because the skirt overshadows her legs, they are more protected from the aging process.

This monument for a child is unusual in style and in how it has aged.

This monument for a child is unusual in style and in how it has aged over the years.

As you can imagine, I found plenty of Confederate veteran graves. But the one that stood out (physically and historically) was the only crypt in the cemetery. Captain William Jasper Born and his second wife, Barbara, are buried inside. It’s not ornate like many I’ve seen, a bit rustic. But you can learn quite a bit about Capt. Born and his family just by reading the door.

The door on Capt. Born's crypt reads: He Was A Veteran Of The Confederacy, And Was With Lee's Army When He Surrendered At Appomattox C.H. April 9, 1865.

The door on Capt. Born’s crypt reads: He Was A Veteran Of The Confederacy,
And Was With Lee’s Army When He Surrendered At Appomattox Courthouse April 9, 1865.

According to Stephanie Lincecum, who writes a blog called Southern Graves, William Jasper Born was a member of Company D, 9th GA Battalion Light Artillery (aka “Born’s Artillery”). He was a son of John and Lucinda Born.

Barbara Bates was William’s second wife. He was married before the war, then married Barbara about 1865. He married again after her death. According to the 1870 Census, Capt. Born operated a hotel. It’s fascinating to think that someone buried so close to me was there when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, ending the Civil War.

One thing I always notice at cemeteries are the different styles of iron fencing around various plots. Wealthy families in the old days could afford some handsome iron work. I found two nice examples of it at Shadowlawn. Both were done by The Stewart Iron Works of Cincinnati.

The Stewart Iron Works Company was established about 150 years ago and supplied iron fencing for decades thereafter. You can find their handiwork in cemeteries across the country.

The Stewart Iron Works Company was established about 150 years ago and supplied iron fencing for decades thereafter. You can find their handiwork in cemeteries across the country.

The Stewart Iron Works was started about 150 years ago and amazingly, is still going strong today. You can find their work in cemeteries around the country and I come across it quite often. Their history is worth mentioning.

During World War I, Stewart formed the United States Motor Truck Company and produced trucks for the U. S. Army. Following the war, Stewart returned to fence products and sold them in the Sears and Roebuck Co. catalog. In the 1930s, a Stewart Jail Cell Division produced jail cells for most of the high security penitentiaries in the country. Places like Alcatraz, Leavenworth, Marion and Sing Sing were all Stewart customers.

During World War II, Stewart shifted to wartime production and provided portable landing equipment for the U.S. Air Force. Today, they produce a wide variety of items, from parking deck fencing to sculptures to fountains.

Another example of the Stewart Iron Works handiwork at Shadowlawn.

Here’s another example of the Stewart Iron Works handiwork at Shadowlawn. As you can see, cast iron does not always age very well over time.

On the hillside between Old Shadowlawn next to the pond is what was the African-American section of the cemetery. I’ve gotten adept at figuring this out from a few visual clues. Some of the markers are simple white ones with the funeral home’s name carved into the top.

I can also see that there aren’t that many truly old markers because often the families could not afford to provide one or they were made of wood, which quickly fell apart and disappeared. Odds are there are many more people buried here than the number of visible markers would indicate.

Two of them got my attention because of their inscriptions. Dee Phillips and J.P. Phillips were both members of something called the Mt. Nebo Chamber 3108 of Lawrenceville. I have only run across this kind of organization one other time and it was a different chamber based in Toledo, Ohio that an African-American woman had been a member of. She is buried in Fairburn City Cemetery.

Dee Phillips was a young man when he died of Scarlet Fever during World War I.

Dee Phillips was 30 when he died of Scarlet Fever during World War I. He had only been in the Army for three months at the time of his death. On his WWI draft card, he listed his ethnicity as “Ethiopian”.

My Internet searches on the Mount Nebo Chamber of Lawrenceville have come up with nothing.

My Internet searches on the Mount Nebo Chamber 3108 of Lawrenceville have come up with nothing.

Not far from Dee, who died at the age of 30 from Scarlet Fever as a soldier in World War I, is the grave of J.P. Phillips. I could not find him in the U.S. Census anywhere but he was likely related to Dee. Perhaps he was Dee’s father. J.P.’s marker not only mentions the Mount Nebo Chamber but very faintly bears some kind of seal.

J.P. Phillips was probably related to Dee Phillips. Perhaps he was Dee's father. I need more time to research that connection.

J.P. Phillips was probably related to Dee Phillips. Perhaps he was Dee’s father. I need more time to research that connection. Please forgive the intrusion of my shoe in the bottom right corner.

I hope to eventually get some more information on this mysterious Mt. Nebo Chamber 3108. Mt. Nebo was is an elevated ridge in Jordan, which is mentioned in the Bible as the place where Moses was given a view of the Promised Land. So there may be a religious/church connection.

Finally, in contrast to the older graves that are the norm in this part of Shadowlawn, I found one from 2005. It was a marker for Deborah S. Oakes. The pink ribbon on it indicates she probably died of breast cancer. But it’s what is written below that ribbon that catches you off guard.

Dee may have died of breast cancer but she never lost her sense of humor.

Death by Chocolate

I can tell you, that’s not something you see at a lot of cemeteries. But I think Deborah must have been a pretty sassy and special woman to ask for that to be carved on her gravestone. It would have been a pleasure to know her, I am certain.

That does it for this hop. As usual, I saw some interesting markers and found a few mysteries to solve. Hopefully, I can solve the Mt. Nebo Chamber mystery soon.

I hope you enjoyed it and learned something along the way.

Remembering the Holocaust at Atlanta’s Greenwood Cemetery

This past Tuesday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In recognition of that, I am reposting a piece I wrote in October 2013 about Greenwood Cemetery’s Holocaust Memorial. I am not Jewish but the Holocaust has always had a great significance for me. You can find out why in this post.

In the mid 90s, I visited my friend (and fellow Church Chick) Megan in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Holocaust Museum had not been open very long so we went to see it. That day changed my life.

At the beginning of the tour, each guest is given a passport of a real person who lived during the Holocaust and was sent to a concentration camp. It briefly describes their life and what happened to them. When I opened mine, I was stunned.

The name inside my passport was Hana Mueller. My niece’s name is Hannah. And my maiden name is Muller. That’s when it became real to me.

Born in Prague in 1922, Hana was reading John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath in her apartment when she was taken by the Nazis. Despite enduring months in two different concentration camps, Hana was freed when her work crew was abandoned by the SS as liberators approached in May 1945. To watch videos from 1990 of Hana talking about her experiences, you can visit the museum’s website.

Hana Mueller was reading a book by Steinbeck when she was taken by the Nazis. Steinbeck has always been one of my favorite authors.

Hana Mueller was reading a book by Steinbeck when she was taken by the Nazis. Steinbeck has always been one of my favorite authors.

My father’s roots are in Germany. The Mullers came from the town of Konz in the Rheinland, in the Southwest. My great-great grandfather, John Henry Muller, arrived in the United States in 1866. He was a carpenter and a Catholic. Despite the fact Hana was from Prague and a Jew, I thought that girl could have been me.

This is the only photo I have of my great-great grandfather, John Henry Muller. He came to the U.S. and worked as a carpenter up until his death in 1926.

This picture from his newspaper obituary is the only photo I have of my great-great grandfather, John Henry Muller. He came to the U.S. in 1866 and worked as a carpenter up until his death in 1926.

Ever since then, my interest to learn as much as possible about the Holocaust has been almost obsessive. I’ve read countless memoirs written by Holocaust survivors and seen over a hundred hours of documentaries. I’ve read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich all the way through. It’s a subject I never tire of learning more about.

When I found out that Atlanta had a cemetery with its own Holocaust Memorial, I knew I had to visit it. That’s when I discovered Greenwood Cemetery, located off Cascade Road in Southwest Atlanta.

Greenwood Cemetery opened in 1907. Its diversity is worth noting. Hundreds of graves are for Jews who made Atlanta their home. I had never seen Jewish headstones up close before, except at Oakland Cemetery. There’s also an entire section for those of the Greek Orthodox faith, complete with a small chapel. A very small area belongs to the Chinese, perhaps 20 graves in all.

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Row upon row of Jewish graves at Greenwood Cemetery. Usually, the front inscription is written in English and the Hebrew version is written on the back.

But what truly separates Greenwood Cemetery from others is its Holocaust memorial. Built in 1965, the “Memorial to The Six Million” is a small granite open-air structure. The funds to build it came from a group of 100 Holocaust survivors living in Atlanta. In 2008, the Memorial was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It is the only Holocaust memorial in Georgia to have that distinction.

The  Memorial for the Six Million is small but impressive. You can see the six white "candles" above the top edge.

The Memorial for the Six Million is small but impressive. You can see the six white “candles” above the top edge.

What catches your eye immediately are the six 19-foot tall pillars in the middle of it. They represent the estimated six million Jews who perished as a result of the atrocities of the Holocaust. During special ceremonies at the Memorial, these “candles” are lit as an act of remembrance for those who died.

Inside, on the walls, are plaques inscribed with the names of hundreds of people (with surviving family members and descendants that reside in Atlanta) who died in the concentration camps scattered across Europe. Entire families are listed, their lives snuffed out by the Nazi regime. The pillars are anchored by a large, black base that resembles a casket.

This metal plaque is inscribed in both English and Yidish. "For these I weep..." Is from Lamentations 1:16 of the Old Testament.

This metal plaque is inscribed in both English and Hebrew. “For these I weep…” is from Lamentations 1:16 of the Old Testament.

On the day I visited Greenwood and the Memorial, it was a stunningly beautiful sunny day with a hint of fall in the air. Nobody else was around as I quietly entered. It is a place of reverence and remembrance. As I scanned the names on the wall, it was like being back at the Holocaust Museum in D.C. The huge number of six million becomes much more personal when you see the actual names of people who died.

Entire families perished in the Nazi concentration camps. Many came from Poland, who surrendered to Hitler in September 1939.

Entire families perished in the Nazi concentration camps and ghettos. Many came from Poland, which surrendered to Hitler in September 1939.

Also within the memorial is an urn containing human ashes brought from the concentration camp at Dachau.

There is a little bit of controversy attached to the Memorial. Outside of it are buried four bars of soap that are purported to have been made by Nazis from the fat of Jewish Holocaust victims. A Jewish soldier who was part of a U.S. force that liberated a concentration camp brought them home after the war. They were forgotten until his wife found them in their Dekalb County basement in 1970. They are stamped “RIF”.

Historians say the initials stand for Reich Industrial Fat. But when the bars were found, the “I” was widely interpreted as a “J,” and some people thought the initials stood for the German translation of Pure Jewish Fat.

After the bars were discovered, the couple called a local rabbi who consulted with Jewish scholars and planned a burial at Greenwood. The bars remain buried there, although I could not find the flat stone marker where they are located. The picture below was taken by someone else.

This is a picture of the memorial stone where four bars of soap purported to be made from the remains of Jews killed in the Holocaust are buried. Photo courtesy of Anneke Moerenhout.

This is a picture of the memorial stone where four bars of soap purported to be made from the remains of Jews killed in the Holocaust are buried. Historians do not believe that the Nazis ever did this. Photo courtesy of Anneke Moerenhout.

In 2000, a Jewish architect from Atlanta named Ben Hirsch (his parents and two siblings died in concentration camps) wrote a book that put forth his belief that the Nazis did indeed make soap from Jewish victims. Hirsch’s uncle’s unpublished writings describe how he was forced to work in the concentration camp crematories and saw it himself.

Most historians contend that while the atrocities enacted by the Nazis were horrific, there is no substantial proof that this soap making actually took place. Because of this sentiment, the U.S. Holocaust Museum barred a book signing for Hirsch there.

Regardless of who is right or wrong, the Memorial for the Six Million at Greenwood Cemetery is a sacred place that sends the message it creators originally hoped to get across. Such a tragedy must never be repeated. That’s why remembering it is so critical.

We must never forget.

This is the skirt Hana Mueller wore as a concentration camp prisoner. It is on display at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in  Washington, D.C.

This is the skirt Hana Mueller wore as a concentration camp prisoner. It is on display at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

Joseph R. Abrams: Inventor of the Cast Iron Grave Cover

I enjoy visiting all kinds of cemeteries because each one has something different to offer. As you’ve learned from this blog, you never know what you’ll find. That was the case when I visited Fairburn City Cemetery for the second time right after Christmas.

I first visited this cemetery in May 2014 when my best friend (who went on my first “hop” with me) Christi was visiting from Omaha. Her Dad still lives near Fairburn. She is always up for checking out a new cemetery with me.

Christi and I visited Fairburn City Cemetery the first time in May 2014. She's always ready to go hopping with me!

Christi and I visited Fairburn City Cemetery the first time in May 2014. She’s always ready to go hopping with me! She’s standing beside the pillar of the Confederate Civil War memorial.

Fairburn City Cemetery is located in South Fulton County, about 20 miles or so South of Atlanta. During this second visit, I saw something that I’d missed before. It was unlike any grave I’d ever seen before.

A side view of what appears to be a cast iron grave cover for a child. A marble slab lies beneath it. The name plate is long gone.

A side view of a cast iron grave cover for a child. stone slab lies beneath it. The name plate is long since gone so their identity is unknown for now.

At first, I didn’t know if it was just some sort of cemetery decoration because there wasn’t a name or dates on it. Nor was there any kind of maker’s signature. You don’t usually see cast iron grave markers unless they are crosses or some kind of emblem for military service. But with the image of a sleeping child resting on top, I knew it had to be a grave of some sort.

An above view gives you a better idea of the intricacy of the design of the cover.

An overhead view gives you a better idea of the intricacy of the design of the cover.

When I got home, I started my research and learned that there are indeed others like this one and they exist mostly in the South. Unfortunately, many of them no longer have the sleeping child that rests on top like this one still does.

A close up of the form of a sleeping child that tops the iron cover. Not all have survived over the years.

A close up of the form of a sleeping child that tops the iron cover in Fairburn City Cemetery. Not all have survived over the years like this one.

I discovered there’s another one at a cemetery in Canton. Two in Duluth and a few in Hampton. One in Americus. Another in Macon. More are in Alabama. There are a few in Texas, which seems a bit far flung.

John Cox posted this photo on Flickr so he deserves the credit for it. The location is not listed. But unlike the grave I found, this one has a book (perhaps a Bible) on top.

John Cox posted this photo on Flickr so he deserves credit for it. The location of it is not listed. But unlike the grave cover I found, this one has a book (perhaps a Bible) on top. The name plate is also intact.

Thanks to John Cox (whose photo is above), I discovered that one of them bore the mark “J. R. Abrams Pat’d Nov 4 73″. That’s 1873, by the way. That makes sense because the graves I found of this style usually bore an 1870s era date on them.

So who was J.R. Abrams?

Born in 1835 in South Carolina, Joseph R. Abrams’s parents were from England. In August 1856, he married Laura Porter in Marshall County, Ala. She was the daughter of an influential Alabama circuit court judge, Benjamin F. Porter. Joseph and Laura moved South to Greenville, Ala. and had several children together.

The 1860 Census indicates he was a railroad contractor while the 1870 Census lists him as a fire insurance agent. The 1870 Census also shows that his real estate holdings were worth $4,000 and his personal estate worth $2,000. So he was doing quite well during Reconstruction, a financially difficult era for most Southerners.

According to the book “Notable Men of Alabama: Personal and Genealogical, Vol. 1″, Joseph was a civil engineer. This may explain why he was keen on creating new inventions. After Googling my heart out, I found a copy of the patent for his iron grave cover and how it works. The illustration shows what his vision was.

This is a copy of the drawing that accompanied Joseph R. Abrams' idea for "improvements in grave-covering."

This is a copy of the drawing that accompanied Joseph R. Abrams’ idea for “improvements in grave-covering.” It was filed in August 1873 and published a few months later in November.

As you can see in the diagram, his goal was to protect the small grave by covering it securely with an iron cover. The patent states: “The invention relates to mounds erected over graves; and consists in improving the present construction thereof.” Here’s the written patent so you can read it for yourself.

I’m not good at reading patents, but from what I can tell, Abrams’ design includes three arches to protect the grave that will then be covered. He describes it like this:

The arches A having been adjusted in position across the grave, the frame B C secured in position over it, and the plate D supported on the latter, the earth is filled into the grave, and rounded over the aperture d. A layer of hydraulic cement, containing embedded shells or any other ornamentation, is then placed over the mound.

I don’t know how Abrams went about having the covers made. But I’m willing to bet he had them made in Birmingham, about 130 miles north of Greenville. Birmingham was a major source of iron and is still known as the Iron City.

Another Abrams patent, this one for improvements in pavement, was published in 1876. He supposedly published several more but I was unable to find them. He died in 1880.

Greenville’s Pioneer Cemetery has several of Abrams’ iron grave covers. I noticed that Abrams’ home in 1870 was only a few blocks away from that cemetery. Here are two of them, featured on Ginger’s Deep Fried Kudzu website. Notice the shells on top.

This pair is in Pioneer Cemetery in Greenville, Ala. where J.R. Abrams spent most of his life. Photo by Ginger of DeepFriedKudzu.com.

This pair is in Pioneer Cemetery in Greenville, Ala., the town where J.R. Abrams spent most of his life. These have a shell on top instead of a sleeping child. Photo by Ginger of DeepFriedKudzu.com.

Wanting to see more of these up close, I headed to Duluth (which isn’t far from my house). I wasn’t sure what type of condition they were in but I was eager to see them.

The lives of Cora Lillian and her sister, Phoebe, were brief. But with such unique graves, they will not soon be forgotten.

The lives of Cora Lillian and her sister, Phoebe, were brief. But with such unique graves, they will not be forgotten.

Unlike the Fairburn City Cemetery grave, these bear the first names of their occupants. Cora Lillian died in September 1872 and Phoebe died in October 1874. I did not see Abrams’ name on the covers. There appears to be no concrete layer beneath them.

"Little Phoebe" died on October 14, 1874, two years after her sister, Cora Lillian. Their last names are unknown.

“Little Phoebe” died on October 14, 1874, two years after her sister, Cora Lillian. Their last names are unknown. Her name plate is in good condition compared to the others I’ve seen.

Cora Lillian died on September 18, 1872. That's almost exactly two years before her sister, Phoebe, died. The condition of her name plate is not as good as her sister's.

Cora Lillian died on September 18, 1872. That’s almost exactly two years before her sister, Phoebe, died. The condition of her name plate is not as good as her sister’s.

Cora and Phoebe’s last name is unknown, although a couple with the last name of Mewborn is buried nearby. They could be their parents.

Duluth Cemetery is located next to railroad tracks and a train rumbled by as I was standing beside the graves of Cora Lillian and Phoebe. It reminded me that while time marches on, the past stays with us in small ways like these iron grave covers. They’re a remnant of a time when a creative man from Alabama came up with something new. Something unique and beautiful to protect the graves of children.

I hope to find more as my adventure continues.

Savannah’s Crown Jewel: Visiting Bonaventure Cemetery, Part II

Last week in Part I, I shared some of the colorful history of Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Ga. This week, we’ll continue our ramble.

It’s hard to think of Savannah without remembering its native son, singer/composer/lyricist Johnny Mercer. Many think the famous Mercer Williams House on Monterey Square must have been his home but it never was.

Situated on Monterey Square in Savannah's historic district, the Mercer House is visited by many fans of The Book, hoping to learn more about the murder that happened there. The tour focuses more on Jim Williams' taste in antiques than the Book, however. His sister, June, still lives in the upstairs room (which are off limits to tourists).

Situated on Monterey Square in Savannah’s historic district, the Mercer Williams House is visited by many fans of The Book. The tour focuses more on Jim Williams’ taste in antiques than The Book, however. His sister owns the house now and lives in the upstairs rooms (which are off limits to tourists).

The construction of the house was started by General Hugh Weedon Mercer in 1860. He didn’t finish it but the next owners of the house did. Neither the General nor Johnny Mercer ever lived there. Jim Williams purchased it in 1969 and restored it to its former glory.

Johnny Mercer was the son of George Anderson Mercer, a prominent attorney, and Lillian Elizabeth Ciucevich Mercer. She was George Mercer’s secretary and became his second wife. Photo by William P. Gottlieb.

Johnny Mercer was the son of George Anderson Mercer, a prominent attorney, and Lillian Elizabeth Mercer. She was George Mercer’s secretary and became his second wife. Photo by William P. Gottlieb.

The son of a prominent attorney and his second wife, Johnny Mercer was a music lover from his earliest years. The family’s summer home, Vernon View, was situated on the tidal waters and he spent long summers there among mossy trees and saltwater marshes. It may have inspired him to later write the lyrics to “Moon River” for the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Many of the Mercer family graves have lyrics from Johnny's famous songs on them.

Many of the Mercer family graves have lyrics from Johnny’s famous songs on them. Johnny’s grave is second from the right side of the photo.

Johnny is buried in a plot that contains his parents and other relatives. His grave is beside that of his wife, Elizabeth “Ginger” Meltzer Mercer. Both of their gravestones are inscribed with lyrics from his songs.

The words "And the Angels Sing" come from the song of the same name. Johnny Mercer write the lyrics to Ziggy Elman's composition in 1939 and it became a hit. A 1944 film musical based on the song starred Fred McMurray and Dorothy Lamour.

The words “And the Angels Sing” come from the song of the same name. Johnny Mercer wrote the lyrics to Ziggy Elman’s composition in 1939 and it became a hit. A 1944 film musical based on the song starred Fred McMurray and Dorothy Lamour.

Also in the same plot is a small bench with a sketch of Johnny’s profile inscribed on the seat. On the side are the titles of many of his much loved songs. He wrote so many good ones but I think “Old Fashioned” is my favorite. There’s no doubt that the man whom many call “The Poet of Savannah” made an indelible mark on the world.

MercerbenchOn the top is a jaunty cartoon drawing of his profile.

Some have given Johnny Mercer the name "The Poet of Savannah".

The next two ladies are buried in adjoining plots but are no relation to each other. But you can’t see one without noticing the other.

The first one is in the Taliaferro family plot. A stunning angel hovers over a cross. It reminds me a great deal of the angel I love so much at Laurel Grove. She stands at the grave of Marie M. Barclay Taliaferro. Sadly, Marie’s angel has not held up as well as the one at Laurel Grove. Her wings and hands are damaged. But she is still lovely.

An angel hovers over the grave of Marie M. Barclay Taliaferro, who died at the age of 45. Her husband, Charles Champe Taliaferro, was a sergeant in the Confederate Army. He is buried in Graham Cemetery in Orange, Va.

An angel hovers over the grave of Marie M. Barclay Taliaferro, who died at the age of 45. Her husband, Charles Champe Taliaferro, was a sergeant in the Confederate Army. He is buried in Graham Cemetery in Orange, Va.

Charles Champe Taliaferro, Marie’s husband, outlived her by several years. He served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He is buried in Graham Cemetery in Orange, Va. Buried to her left are four of their children, all of whom died in infancy or childhood.

As  you can see, the tops of the angel's wings and her fingers have been damaged over the years. The name of the sculptor is unknown.

As you can see, the tops of the angel’s wings and her fingers have been damaged over the years. The name of the sculptor is unknown.

Located to the right of the Taliaferro angel is probably the most recognizable resident of Bonaventure. Gracie Watson is beloved by many, so much that a fence was put around her in the mid 1990s to keep her from being damaged. Shannon Scott, our evening tour guide, told us that the day after the fence was first put up, they found the lock on the gate destroyed with Gracie undisturbed inside.  His explanation was that Gracie didn’t want to be closed in but preferred to stay close to her visitors.

Gracie Watson only lived to the age of nine. But in her short life, she touched the hearts of many and continues to do so today.

Gracie Watson only lived to the age of six. But in her short life, she touched the hearts of many and continues to do so today.

Gracie was the only child of W.J. And Frances Watson. Her father was the resident manager of the Pulaski House Hotel, where Gracie grew up. A friendly and precocious child, she was popular with the guests and considered the hotel as her playground.

At the age of six, Gracie developed pneumonia and died in April 1889. Initially, her grave was marked by a standard tombstone. Her father was said to have sunk into a dark depression, leaving Pulaski House, and then eventually Savannah.

Watson did commission a sculpture of Gracie from John Walz, a local artist who worked from a photograph of her. You may remember Walz from my post about Laurel Grove South, where another of his statues resides. You can see other examples of Walz’ work throughout Bonaventure.

This stone details the story of Gracie's short life.

This stone details Gracie’s short life. Some believe that she adopts every passerby and every passerby adopts her.

Not far away from Gracie is this unique piece of Egyptian Revival architecture in the form of the Mongin family tomb. The death dates listed at the foot of the tomb range from 1815 to 1840, in keeping with the period that this style was popular. There’s another similar example nearby in Laurel Grove North.

The Mongin family tomb is a prime example of the Egyptian Revival style that was popular in the early 1800s. It was much more popular in England and Europe than in the U.S. but you can still find examples of it in some Southern cemeteries.

The Mongin family tomb is a prime example of the Egyptian Revival style that was popular in the early 1800s. While it was much more popular in England and Europe than in the U.S. you can still find examples of it in some Southern cemeteries.

It’s hard to miss the tall Celtic cross that rises from the Chisholm family plot.

ChisholmcrossNext to the Chisolms is the Anderson family plot. The largest monument features a bust of Confederate Brigadier General Robert Houston Anderson. An 1857 graduate of West Point, he later accepted a commission as a Confederate lieutenant of artillery.

Promoted to Major September 1861, he assumed the administrative post of assistant adjutant general to William Henry Talbot Walker, Major General of Georgia state troops, commanding on the Georgia coast. In January 1863 he was transferred to line duty but not before finally seeing action in coastal Georgia at Fort McAllister, where he helped repel assaults by Federal ironclad ships. His transfer came with a promotion to Colonel of the 5th Georgia Cavalry, which was serving in the Army of Tennessee.

Robert Houston Anderson served with great distinction in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Afterward, he returned to his native Savannah and served as police chief of the city.

Robert Houston Anderson served with great distinction in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Afterward, he returned to his native Savannah and served as police chief of the city.

Anderson was raised to brigade command and made Brigadier General on July 1864. He took part in all of the operations in the Atlanta Campaign. After the war, he returned to Savannah and was the city’s chief of police from 1867 until his death.

My final stop was where my visit began, at the Lawton family plot. I wanted to visit the monument to Corinne Lawton, daughter of Alexander Lawton (whose large monument with the statue of Jesus I featured last week). The story of her brief life is steeped in much debate because many say she committed suicide while others claim she died of Yellow Fever.

Corrinne Elliot Lawton was the daughter of a wealthy Confederate brigadier general and a minister to Austria. But she died young just before her wedding day.

Corinne Elliott Lawton was the daughter of a wealthy Confederate brigadier general. How she died is a subject of much debate.

A popular legend states that the beautiful Corinne fell in love with a young man several rungs below her on the socio-economic ladder and her parents forbade her to see him. Instead, they arranged her marriage to a more acceptable suitor. The story goes that Corrine drowned herself in the Wilmington River (upon whose banks Bonaventure is situated) on the eve of her wedding day to avoid spending her life with a man she didn’t love.

Corinne Lawton was the oldest of the four daughters of Alexander and Sarah Lawton.

Corinne Lawton was the eldest of the four daughters of Alexander and Sarah Lawton.

In contrast, the published diaries of Corinne’s mother, Sarah Lawton, explain how a lingering Yellow Fever epidemic (one of many Savannah suffered through) had shaken the city. Already suffering from a cold, Corrine fell victim to the illness.

According to Sarah, her daughter died in her bed, surrounded by family. Locals say the Lawton descendants who live in Savannah today are loyal to this version of events. As you can imagine, many favor the more romantic version.

Italian artist Benedetto Civiletti of Palermo created the much-photographed statue of Corrinne Lawton. The detail of her hair down her shoulder is lovely.

Italian artist Benedetto Civiletti of Palermo created the much-photographed statue of Corinne Lawton. The detail of her hair flowing down her back is lovely.

The Lawtons commissioned Italian artist Benedetto Civiletti to create a sculpture to grace Corrinne’s grave. Her eyes, I must confess, spook me a bit. But I love the attention to detail he gave to the long, cascading locks down her back. The wreath on the steps is also skillfully done.

CorrinneWreathAround the time I was snapping these pictures of Corrinne’s statue, I heard the rumble of tour buses in the distance. In a few minutes, the tranquil peace of the place would be disturbed. After spending a little time at the water’s edge, I took a last look around and left.

But Bonaventure is not a place you visit once and forget. Despite my quibbles about the tourist hordes, I can’t deny the haunting beauty of the place. I know I’ll return for a third visit. If you are in Savannah, you can’t plan your travel itinerary without a visit to Bonaventure Cemetery.

But go on a Sunday morning. When the air is cool and the light is shining on the Wilmington River through the moss-covered trees.

Bonaventureboat

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