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. A 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.

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