I recently revisited photos from my 2013 tour of Los Angeles’ Evergreen Memorial Park and Crematory. One photo triggered the memory of an entry I started over a year ago about Chloe Canfield, who died at the hands of a disgruntled former coachman on the porch of her South Alvarado Street mansion in the early 1900s.
Kate W. Gravely Cabell was born in 1872 into a prominent Danville family, the daughter of Captain Peyton Gravely, a tobacco manufacturer and partner at P.B. Gravely & Co., and Mary Walters Gravely. In her youth she no doubt enjoyed the privileges that accompanied the life of a person of wealth and higher social standing. Her name was mentioned in the society pages of newspapers even outside of Danville’s town limits where she was described as “bewitching” and charming.
|The Minneapolis Journal, 23 Feb. 1901|
It was the inscription on Capt. William Charles Ward’s simple grave marker at Raleigh’s Oakwood Cemetery that caught my attention:
On the morning of August 23, 1894 banker Col. James Monroe Winstead sedately climbed the stairs to a balcony tower at Richmond’s City Hall, “threw his cane and shoes down” and then jumped to his death, landing on the iron fence over 90 feet below.
As I dug deeper into the circumstances surrounding this gruesome death, I found two additional pieces of information that in some ways shed more light on what happened that day and other ways only open up more questions.
Readers of this blog might recognize the Schoolfield name from a previous post on one of Lovick’s cousins, Kate.
Danville locals have stronger ties to the family through its affiliation with Dan River Mills, once one of the city’s largest employers.
When I hear the name “Schoolfield” I usually associate it with a crumbling economy and factory buildings being dismantled brick-by-brick.
When I visited All Saints Episcopal Church I was under the assumption that the plain slab below marked the grave of Alice Belin Flagg, a tragic figure in Pawleys Island folklore and the subject of an alleged haunting.
I’ve since learned that Alice is buried in an unmarked grave at Belin United Methodist Church and this monument was erected for a descendent who ended up in another graveyard, meaning that no one is actually interred here.
That doesn’t deter visitors from visiting All Saints to leave coins and rings. Many attempt invocation of her spirit by walking backwards around the slab thirteen times, but there’s no proof that anything ever manifested aside from a worn path circling the marker.
At any rate the ghost story along with the speculation of a foiled romance and family strife have kept her alive for over a century after her burial.
A few years ago I discovered the name of a 19th century Danville brothel, Blonde Hall. Fascinated by the grittier and often-hidden tales of yore I poured through all the records at my disposal in search of a location. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to pin down where the building stood but it appears that it was across the Pelham border on or near Main Street. The bordello was operated by Lelia Lester, who inspired its name with her fair hair.
Blonde Hall only appeared once or twice in a handful of mortuary reports or newspaper articles but its most grisly event took place in inmate Mary “Mollie” Dejarnette’s bedroom where her older brother, James (“Thomas”) DeJarnette, shot her five times in a fit of rage and/or insanity after learning of her employment.
As spookical and seasonally appropriate as it would be if Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery had its own vampire, this one goes into the “Nah” files.
Even though The Richmond Vampire myth was debunked long ago, W.W. Pool’s mausoleum remains linked to one of Virginia’s most intriguing stories of the supposed supernatural.
On the second and final overcast morning of my Wilmington trip I returned to Oakdale Cemetery armed with a map in hopes of locating Capt. William Ellerbrock’s grave. (His surname is sometimes spelled Ellerbrook but his marker and cemetery records list the former.)
What makes this grave particularly of interest to me is the tragic story of how Ellerbrock and his dog Boss were buried together, making them as inseparable in death as they had been in life.
I knew about Nancy Adams Martin’s unusual burial in Oakdale Cemetery months before my arrival. From a cursory glance her marker doesn’t really stand out from the taller surrounding monuments in the plot. As you can see below the granite is carved to resemble a rustic wooden cross. A photo taken nearly a decade ago from Find a Grave shows a less-weathered version where the name “Nance” and the cut branches are more visible.
What we can’t see from the surface is that deep below the ground Nancy’s body has been seated in a chair entombed in a cask of alcohol since her death on May 25, 1857.
The plaque by her brick tomb gives an outline of the events surrounding her death. “Elizabeth Royall, a native of Halifax County, died while a student at one of Danville’s female academies. She was supposedly frightened to death by a prank played by schoolmates.”
Dixie Dixon was one of the many bright-eyed young girls who left behind small town life in search of fame and fortune as a vaudeville performer, but unfortunately her suspicious death instead of her stage presence became her legacy.
I first mentioned Josie Wheeler in August 2013’s “Misc. Mortuary Mysteries.” Much of Josie’s biography remains shrouded in secrecy but in the months since originally conjuring Josie’s name from obscurity I’ve uncovered new information that sheds more light on her life and her tragic final hours on this mortal coil. Sadly I don’t have a tombstone or grave location and based on new evidence I’m not even certain that she’s buried in Danville anymore.
After months of trying to coordinate schedules and weather forecasts, I finally made it to the grave of Chang and Eng Bunker at White Plains Baptist Church in Mount Airy, North Carolina. It was a warm but beautiful day and fortunately for me, I showed up in time to see grave offerings of flowers and small liquor bottles left in front of the tombstone. I don’t know if the water bottle was part of the gift or if it was accidentally left by another visitor as garbage, so I left it alone. I hear that it’s important to stay hydrated when consuming liquor, so maybe someone had a reason for leaving it there. That’s beside the point.
There is no shortage of biographical information about the Bunker twins out there so I’ve provided links to additional reading and sources throughout this post. If you’re familiar with my sister site, Misc. Tidings of Yore, you know that I have a soft spot for historical newspapers. Some of what you read here will be based on old clippings from the archives.
|courtesy of Special Collections and Archives Tompkins-McCaw Library, VCU|
It wasn’t until 1884 that Virginia’s General Assembly established a state anatomical board and addressed the issue of body snatching as related to medical schools’ procurement of dead bodies. The anatomy act allowed medical colleges to legally take possession of certain unclaimed bodies, such as those of paupers and prisoners. Even though medical schools had access to executed criminals’ bodies before the anatomy act, the demand for corpses far surpassed the supply. The aspiring physician relied largely on “resurrection men” to provide labs with a fresh and steady supply of cadavers to quench his thirst for anatomical knowledge. Resurrection men (also known as ghouls, body snatchers, grave robbers, and anatomical men) frequently toiled under the cover of night when they could disinter and deliver a fresh corpse with little chance of detection. The gruesome nature of the trade was offensive to the general public, but body-snatching was considered a necessary evil to those in the medical profession. Newspaper accounts of body snatching suggest that the majority of the bodies stolen were from African-American cemeteries.
It’s almost impossible to miss Lewis Ginter’s magnificent mausoleum in that particular area of Hollywood Cemetery, as it juts upward into the Richmond sky towering over the sparsely populated plot. It wasn’t until I peeked through the barred windows that I realized there was only one tomb inside of a building that could have easily accommodated the remains of several others. Between the opulence of the mausoleum and the fact that he was buried alone in the late 1890s, when family members were usually interred in close proximity to one another, I had a hunch that there was something here worth digging into.
|The Times, 3 Oct. 1897|
My initial search began as it usually does: combing through the old newspapers for obituaries. As expected, prominent businessman Lewis Ginter’s name appeared numerous times in the archives. He was well-known for being a man who gave generously to charitable organizations, as a champion for the growth of Richmond, and he was hailed as a shining example of entrepreneurship. He lived a very private life and despite his standing in the community many Richmond residents had never actually seen him by the time he passed away.
|image source: Find A Grave|
“Dainty” Dotty Jensen’s grave is located at the left corner of the Ladies Auxiliary Pacific Coast Showmen’s Association marker in Los Angeles’ Evergreen Memorial Park and Crematory. Her remains are among those of over 400 carnival employees and performers in the Showmen’s Rest portion of the cemetery.
It amuses me that Lynchburg, Virginia is largely associated (in reputation) in some way, shape, or form with Jerry Falwell’s conservative Christian influence, but in 1804 the city was described by one evangelist as “the seat of Satan’s Kingdom.”
The two business-savvy women buried in the plot here at Old City Cemetery lived and worked in one of Lynchburg’s seediest (and probably also one of the most interesting) neighborhoods: Buzzard’s Roost.
Mary Jenifer Triplett Haxall’s tombstone sits at the back of the Haxall plot in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery alongside that of her husband Philip’s. Her marker is smaller and less ornate some of the others in the plot, which is how I overlooked it during my initial whirlwind visit. After doing some research on the Haxall name I discovered that prior to marrying Philip, Miss Triplett was the subject of a poem published in a newspaper by a scorned lover that resulted in a fatal pistol duel.
|From the Morning Star, Rockford, Illinois|
Daisy “Evelyn” Marrion is buried in “Showmen’s Rest,” an area of Los Angeles’ Evergreen Memorial Park and Crematory, among the graves of over 400 former carnival and circus workers. Until I heard about this plot, I never really thought about where circus performers were buried which is alarming since I’m so fascinated by circus and carnival culture. It makes sense that graveyards around the world have special plots for “carnies;” most people are buried with their families and for this particular nomadic population, their fellow circus folk are family.
This entry is divided into two parts: the first being accounts of funerals disturbed by agitated bees and the second part about “telling the bees,” a superstition observed in order to protect or preserve a hive following a death in its owner’s household.
|The Sun [NY] 19 Apr. 1894|
During an 1894 funeral people noticed a number of bees at the windows and along the walls of the church, finally making their way into the room where the service was taking place. The mourners’ anxiety grew as they fanned away the bees, contemplating walking out of the service to avoid being stung. A pall bearer was stung on his neck and an undertaker “was attacked in a vicious manner.” When the procession headed for the graveyard, the bees followed. Later they discovered a large quantity of honey in the church’s rafters and walls, which explained the bees’ presence.
Robert was employed with P.B. Gravely & Co., a well-known local tobacco firm. I’m not sure what exactly his position with the company was even though the B&B reported him as a clerk. Whatever his duties were, they allowed him to afford a mansion alongside many other prominent Danville families on Main Street.
In a previous post I introduced you to several cases of people accidentally buried alive here in the United States and the fear generated by such burials. For the sad souls who were accidentally buried before they were really dead, by the time the mistake was discovered it was too late to save them. There were quite a few fortunate ones who had near-misses with being buried alive, particularly before the widespread use of embalming techniques. Such cases involve someone being declared dead and prepared for burial when they “came to life” just in time to avoid waking up in a coffin underneath six feet of soil, dead to the world. Newspapers often referred to such people as “supposed corpses” and used terms like “suspended animation” and “trance” to describe the condition of the person at the time he or she was declared dead. There are numerous accounts of people who have almost gone to the grave while still alive, here are just a few.
The entry in Green Hill Cemetery’s Mortuary Report for William Hastings Trowbridge reads, “…he died on the 22nd day of Dec 1889 and that the cause of his death was shocked received and peritonitis…”
William, a 47-year-old bachelor tobacconist, died a particularly gruesome death at the wheels of an electric car just a few days before Christmas. Trolley railway systems were first used in 1887 in Richmond, Virginia, and just two years later (give or take a few months), a similar system was being used in Danville. The technology, as with the introduction of most technology, probably took citizens some time to get used to. While a trolley couldn’t nearly travel with the speed of today’s automobiles, they were probably a little faster than the horse-and-wagon system that had been the typical mode of transportation.
Normally I reserve transcribing news articles for Misc. Tidings of Yore, but because of the nature of this piece about the “morgue ship” that recovered bodies from the Titanic disaster, I decided to include it here. Reading the words from the newspaper about the bodies just after they were pulled from the sea and embalmed on board (or buried at sea) gave me a different feeling than from reading or watching more modern accounts. I don’t think I’ve ever seen or read anything that described the “morgue ship” or the anxious behavior of embalmers waiting on the pier for the ship to dock either, but if you can recommend something feel free to comment.
Previously I posted some pictures from my recent trip to the cemetery at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pawleys Island, South Carolina. While tiptoeing through the Flagg family plot after locating the alleged grave of Alice Flagg, I noticed an interesting inscription on one of the obelisks:
AND THEIR CHILDREN
This is the grave marker of William Roberts that sits in All Saints Episcopal Church’s cemetery in South Carolina. What makes this tombstone stand out is its inscription, which due to weathering and repairs is difficult to read in some areas. William Roberts apparently died at the age of 26 after injuries sustained from falling from a ladder. The date of his death looks to be October 23, 1884 and there is no birth date listed. You can make out:
From the archives, stories of holiday treats gone wrong. See the full post at Tidings of Yore.
Late on the evening of May 15, 1928 police were called out to High Street to investigate reports of gun shots. They heard a muffled shot coming from 540 High Street, which was the home of James and Mattie Milam Jones (30) and their four children: David (11), Lola (9), Leila (3), and Clara (18 months). Upon the officers’ knocks at the door, James yelled through an upstairs window that the door was bolted and they would have to enter through a window. He eventually came to the door after coming downstairs and turning to go back upstairs holding a shotgun. Officers saw the gun & convinced him to come to the door. When he opened it, he had the loaded shotgun half-raised towards the police but they were able to get the gun out of his arms. Mattie’s “buckshot riddled” body was nearby at the bottom of the staircase. James was arrested and the children, who slept through nearly an hour’s worth of on-and-off shotgun blasts, were taken to someone named Gus Warren’s home. Mattie’s father’s took custody of the children not long afterwards but months later, an article suggested that they were in the care of some sort of charity organization.
James, a tall, strong carpenter with a mangled foot and hand from an old accident, told police that he didn’t think he’d shot his wife, and if he did it wasn’t on purpose. Two alleged intruders were inside the house and he and his wife both armed themselves with shotguns for protection. These strangers had come through a hole in the floor and the shots that were fired were done so to scare them away as well as to fend off one of them who was coming up the stairs to where he and Mattie were standing in the darkness. James thought one of the intruders had shot back and after thinking that he’d shot one of the men he realized that Mattie was at the bottom of the steps, dead. He told police that the two men could’ve been the two insurance agents who had been to the home earlier that day.
|“Hilarious dancers were burning powder in their enthusiasm”?|
No autopsy was done even though there was initial question about whether Mattie was only shot once from the back with a shotgun, leaving exit wounds through her front or twice, with one shot also from the front with a pistol. 18 shots had been fired in total that night. By May 17, police had determined that there were no intruders, no pistol had been used in Mattie’s killing, and there was no hole in the floor through which any intruders could have entered or fled.
James’ behavior in jail prompted one doctor to suggest that he go before a lunacy commission to plead insanity. Other officials felt that he was sane when he shot his wife, although intellectually he was functioning around the level of an 8-year-old. In jail Jones claimed that his body was plagued by impulses of electricity sometimes which kept him from sleeping. Two doctors were to testify in preliminary hearings that James was sane at the time of the murder but was pretending to be insane for the purposes of eluding prosecution.
Within days after the murder, their son David told his maternal grandfather, C.H. Milam, and an uncle that on the night of the murder his father had physically abused his mother and left the house, returning with a bottle of something that he made all four of the children drink. Police believed that the children had been drugged, explaining how they slept through all the shooting. During the trial David was called to the stand but upon seeing his father he began to cry and called out, “Daddy.” David, who was also considered “feeble-minded” was then removed from the courtroom without testifying.
In late January 1929 a jury found James guilty of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 20 years (the minimum sentence) in prison, despite the prosecution’s desire for him to receive the death penalty. On the way back to jail from the courtroom James seemed pleased that he’d avoided the electric chair and expressed that of the jobs he would be given in prison he didn’t want to “dig no dirt.”
Mattie’s grave is located in Danville’s Highland Burial Park. I am not sure what became of the four children or about James’ prison sentence or his life after serving time, if he was released.
Ancestry.com. The Bee (Danville, Virginia) [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com
Operations, Inc., 2005.
*This entry was originally published in 2013.
Familial murder-suicides are tragic no matter what time of the year in which they occur, but those that take place around the winter holidays often seem all the more horrendous.
We don’t know the full motivation behind sharecropper Charlie Lawson’s actions on December 25, 1929 but by the end of that day he, his wife, and five of their six children were dead.
The swirling rumors about possible incest, head injuries and the general shock created by the crime has captivated the public for decades, inspiring books, films, and even its own murder ballad.
Thomas Doe Keen’s headstone was toppled over when I took this photo in Danville’s Green Hill Cemetery several years ago. The state of this tombstone is not surprising given the number of others who are also in need of repair.
Thomas was born on June 21, 1876 to John Thomas Keen and Mary Virginia Doe Keen. At the time of the 1880 census, John Thomas was a tobacco dealer and the family lived in Pittsylvania County. Thomas was the third child, his siblings being Sallie, William, and Nannie.
Specific information about Thomas is sparse aside from his death notice, but upon researching his father’s death I determined that not long after the census the family moved to North Danville (“Neapolis”) and John Thomas became the mayor in July 1880.
Unfortunately J.T. didn’t hold that office for very long, as he died later that year.
According to the Richmond Dispatch, on the morning of March 17, 1896 Thomas’ body was discovered in his bedroom at his mother’s house. The night before he appeared to be well and even in “the best of spirits.”
Thomas had a history of catalepsy, so the assumption was that after he went to bed he had another episode and died. In the 19th century catalepsy referred to a condition that caused a seizure or trance-like state.
|Roanoke Daily Times [VA] 6 May 1890|
E. Scott, referred to in some of the news articles about his death as only “Scott,” attended Hampton-Sydney College, an all-male liberal arts school in Virginia. His interest must have been in journalism, because he worked at a Lynchburg newspaper and was the editor of a paper in Glasgow. He was described as having above-average intelligence and had a “firm athletic stride.” In 1897 he married Maria Selden, who died in 1900. Her bright grave marker is seen in the first photo, having fallen off its base.
|The Times, 7 Jan. 1900|
|New York Tribune, 5 May 1902|
From Maria’s obituary we learn that she and E. Scott had lived in New York City at least since 1897. At some point he was hired as a manager for the society paper “Town Topics,” which was more like a gossip paper than an actual news source. Scott was living on West Twenty-Sixth Street in May 1902 when he had the accident that cost him his life. Around midnight on the 5th, he pressed the elevator button wanting to go from the fourth floor to the first floor. In the dimly lit, or perhaps even completely dark hall, he didn’t notice when the elevator doors opened that the elevator hadn’t moved from its position three floors below. Stepping forward, he had nowhere to go but down, landing on top of the elevator car. Both of his legs were broken and he also sustained internal injuries. At least one of his legs may have been amputated while he was in the hospital.
Scott’s brother, John, who was living in Richmond, Virginia, went to his brother’s side upon hearing about the fall and was in New York on May 7 when he died. Scott’s body was back in Danville by the 8th, where he was buried in the family square.
|The Times [Richmond, VA] 8 May 1902|
|The Times [Richmond] 11 May 1902|
I was pleasantly surprised in 2015 when I returned to find a beautiful marble sculpture depicting doves flying upwards from a pair of outstretched hands. The piece was painstakingly chiseled by Robert Mihaley, the same artist who created the marker for Elizabeth’s son years before.
While collecting clippings from historic newspapers about Fourth of July tragedies I noticed an interesting trend in the late 1800s-early 1900s: an alarming number of deaths attributed to tetanus from Independence Day injuries. In fact, there were so many lockjaw fatalities after that particular holiday that the condition became known as “Patriotic Tetanus.”
Tetanus or lockjaw is something that we rarely hear about these days with the availability of the tetanus toxoid vaccine, which wasn’t developed until 1924. However, people living in the very dark ages of medicine who were exposed to the tetanus-causing bacteria through flesh wounds were pretty much at the mercy of the infection if the available antitoxin serums failed. Taking into account how many people celebrated (and still celebrate) July 4 with firecrackers, reckless pistol-firing, and other potentially bloody activities, it makes sense that “Patriotic Tetanus” was a real problem back in the day. After July 4 festivities in 1903 alone 415 lives were lost to the condition.
The good news in modern times is that you’re less likely to find yourself with lockjaw after Independence Day, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to go out and act a fool. Safety first, people. Even if you’re not at high risk for tetanus you can still learn something from this small sampling of Independence Day death.
|Public Ledger 13 July 1882|
|The Big Stone Gap Post, 20 July 1899|
|Perrysburg Journal, 17 July 1903|
|The St. Louis Journal, 16 July 1903|
|The Daily Journal, 13 July 1903|
|Daily Public Ledger, 13 July 1909|
|The St. Louis Republic, 11 July 1905|
*Originally posted in July 2014.