Murder or Death By Drunken Fall?

Several years ago I took this photo at Danville’s Leemont Cemetery, which was established in 1878 when North Danville was regarded as a separate community from Danville.

The inscription is almost too weathered to read, but this tombstone marks the grave of 32-year-old James Lucius Motley, whose body was discovered at the bottom of a rocky embankment near his home on September 14, 1886.

jl motley

Continue reading “Murder or Death By Drunken Fall?”


Alice of the Hermitage

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.

Alice Belin Flagg

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.

Continue reading “Alice of the Hermitage”

A Stranger In A Strange Land

I first noticed Francois Thomas’ tombstone several years ago  in a promiscuous section of Danville’s Green Hill Cemetery. (Promiscuous here meaning that the area is populated by single graves rather than family plots.)

This particular section is far from the entrance, near the chain link fence that separates the burial grounds from the railroad tracks. Extended distance between tombstones likely suggests that unmarked graves outnumber the marked.

I can’t say with certainty that this is a pauper’s lot because in all my time researching Green Hill I haven’t determined which lands were designated for the poor or unclaimed bodies.


Continue reading “A Stranger In A Strange Land”

The Cast Iron Guardian Dog of Hollywood Cemetery

The Iron Dog who watches over Florence Rees’ grave in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery is one of the most curious and beloved features on the grounds. When I took these photos over a year ago the bedstead-styled grave was decorated with coins, jewelry, toys and other grave goods, a sight which always warms my heart.
Florence, a daughter of Thomas B. and Elizabeth S. Rees, only dwelled amongst the living for less than three years according to her death notice below. She died from scarlet fever, an all too familiar cause of death for children in the 19th century in my research.

Continue reading “The Cast Iron Guardian Dog of Hollywood Cemetery”

Dr. Patrick O’Donnell Reportedly X-Rays Sight of Vital Spark At Death (1911)

 From the Evening Bulletin (HI), July 29, 1911:

X-Ray Shows Aura Leaving Body and Vanishing as Man Dies.
     Chicago, July 15-The light of the vital spark in a human being has been witnessed, according to a statement made today by Dr. Patrick S. O’Donnell, an X-ray expert, who has been following up experiments made by Dr. W.J. Kilner of London, who has written a scientific monograph on the subject.
     Some time ago, using a chemicalized film sealed between two thin strips of glass, Dr. O’Donnell gave a demonstration to twenty physicians of the ‘aura, or electrical radiation’ of living bodies, four young women being used as subjects. The aura developed as a strong ray of light surrounding the entire form of the subject.
     ‘Last night,’ said Dr. O’Donnell, ‘in the presence of several physicians at Mercy Hospital, the experiment was made on a dying man. He was rapidly sinking. Suddenly the attending physicians announced that the man was dead. The aura began to spread from the body and presently disappeared. Further observation of the corpse revealed no sign of the aura.
     ‘We do not claim that the light is the soul or spirit. In fact, no one seems to know what it is. In my opinion, however, it is some sort of radio activity made visible by the use of the chemical screen. My experiments, however, seem to prove that it is the animating power or current of life of human beings.'”

From the Hawaiian Star, July 25, 1911:

The Bee, [KY] 18 July 1911

I haven’t yet been able to find any articles about Dr. O’Donnell testing horses or dogs for an “aura.”

I also apologize for only transcribing one article. Initially I was only going to post the first one, but then I stumbled upon the others and decided to post them all.

Ira Tuck: “Self Suicide”

In Misc. Mortuary Mysteries I mentioned Ira Tuck, 34, who died on August 31, 1889 with a cause of death: “Self Suicide.” I knew from the Mortuary Report that he was buried in the Odd Fellows Section of the cemetery and that his final arrangements were handled by the undertakers at T.A. Fox & Company. Months ago I learned that Ira was a bartender at the Diamond Saloon and Restaurant in 1881, but without a tombstone and additional information I put his story on hold. 

The day after I posted about those “mysteries” I went back to Green Hill, without any specific purpose. (If it’s nice outside and I don’t have other plans, I’m probably in a graveyard somewhere.) I’m not sure how I overlooked the Odd Fellows section before, but it was right on the main driveway. (D’oh!) Ira’s grave was among the mostly-uniformly styled tombstones donning the Independent Order of Odd Fellows’ emblem: three links of a chain which represent “Friendship, Love, and Truth.” Many Odd Fellows markers have an F, an, L, and a T in each of the links. I can’t tell if Ira’s tombstone has those initials or not. 
The Odd Fellows Section at Green Hill
Ira T. Tuck was born “around 1856” (possibly 1855) in Halifax County, Virginia to Richard and Sarah Whitt Tuck. In January 1870 Ira’s mother died from “acute rheumatism” according to the Census Mortality Schedules. When the regular census was taken in June 1870, Richard’s occupation was listed as  “farmer.” Also in the Hyco Township, Halifax County home were siblings Edwin (farmer, 21); Mariah/Maria (“house keeping,” 19); Sarah (“at home,” 16); Ira (“at home,” 14); and Robert H. (“attending school,” 12).
During the next decade Ira migrated to Danville and found work as a bartender. When the 1880 Census was taken he was a boarder living with “restaurateur” Thomas McCully, employed at the Diamond Saloon. This ad was printed in a directory after Ira’s death, but McCully’s business appears to have been at the same 316 Main Street location while Ira worked (and possibly lived) with McCully. Pinpointing Ira’s home address was complicated by illegible handwriting on the 1880 census and directories which only listed the saloon’s location. It’s possible that the men had living quarters in the building over the restaurant, but without more evidence I can’t say that for sure.
The last bits of information about Ira are those from the Mortuary Report and the Virginia Deaths and Burials Index. The only “new” data about Ira from the latter was that he was single when he committed suicide.
I hoped to find something in the historical newspapers that would hint at why, where, or how Ira took his own life but those secrets (at least for now) are buried with him at Green Hill.
1881 Danville City Directory
1888-1889 Danville City Directory
 *I apologize for the oddly-sized text. When I migrated to WordPress, my formatting became haunted. I will retype entries as needed.

Misc. Mortuary Mysteries

Even though I still have thousands (yes, thousands) of pictures from Green Hill to sort, catalog, and research I decided to devote this post to people who may or may not rest in marked graves. The Mortuary Reports contain many fascinating and woeful tales of death, and it seems like in many (not all) cases this final entry is the only remaining record of their existence.
Some of these handwritten notes stood out because of the blunt, straightforward, and morbidly dry language used. Others caught my attention because they pose mysteries, and I admittedly love a good cemeterial puzzle. Ambiguous and unusual causes of death, references to brothels, murders, suicides, and people buried anonymously on pauper grounds are just a few examples of the mysteries that provide an image (albeit a blurred one) of life in Danville in the late 19th century perhaps not captured in the society pages or written histories.
May 15, 1886: “a white fetus found in River” was buried in a pauper’s grave.
July 24, 1886: Charles Lunde, originally from Sweden, age 50, COD: Drowning. Also buried on pauper grounds.
August 22, 1886: Emma Scott, age 42, COD: “poison by morphine.” Promiscuous ground.
October 4, 1886: John McIntyre, age 34, Place of Death: Lee Street. COD: “…caused by a blow with a stick in the hands of Henry Fuller (colored) time from attack until death 24 hours.”
October 23, 1886: G.A. Walker, Jr., Place of Death: Ridge Street. COD: “pistol shot wound through liver and stomach.” (I actually have found some information on this man and his death, but I’m holding onto it until I get a clearer picture of the circumstances.)
October 25, 1886: Harry Powell, age 16, occupation: transfer agent. Place of Death: Ridge Street. COD: “Injuries received from being thrown from train against post.”
Dec. 7, 1886: Mary Henry Etta [illegible] (alias Carrie Reade), age 26, single. Died on Craghead Street, COD: “cancer [illegible].” Buried on pauper grounds.
Jan. 7, 1887: Infant son of H.D. Guerrant, age 5 months. Died on Paxton Street, COD: “overdose of opium I think.”
July 28, 1887: Mrs. J.G. Miller, age 60. Place of Death: Grove Street. COD: “Supposed obscure brain trouble.”
Aug. 11, 1887: Edward Townes Lewis, age 9. Place of Death: Pittsylvania County. COD: “puncture wound of the brain.”
Nov. 18, 1887: Mrs. Cornelia L. Davis. Place of Death: Pittsylvania County. COD: “nervous prostration from hesteria.”
Dec. 1887: Patty Elmore, age 25 years. COD: “Delerium tremors.”
June 5, 1888: Ella May (Craghead Street), age “about 25 years.” COD: “voluntary suicide so said the Jury.” Buried on pauper grounds.

July 17, 1888: Infant son of Thos. & Mary Scott, Age 17 months. COD: “can’t make out the cause of death.”

“P.L. Randleman Age 50 years…I saw him at various times for 2 years or more that he died on the 16th day of July 1888 and that the cause of his death was Excessive use of Alcoholic Stimulants W.L. Robinson M.D.”

October 17, 1888: Henry Hartis, Age 28. COD: “killed by a blow on the head with a stick.” Buried in a pauper’s grave.

November 28, 1888: Dr. James Thomas Humfries, Age 88. COD: “Erysiflas caused by crushed leg.” (This one was interesting because Dr. Humfries, or Humphries, is found throughout the mortuary reports as the doctor signing various death certificates. I was also unable to find anything about him, which is odd considering his occupation.)

Buried February 6, 1889: “unknown male child” on pauper ground.

February 26, 1889: Frank L. Bernard, age 25. COD: “killed a train on Richmond and Danville R.Road.”

May 9, 1889: E.J. Beckner, age 44. COD: “Alcoholism.”

May 16, 1889: Lizzie Boyed (Boyd?), Age [blank space]. COD: “result of operation being performed.”

Aug. 31, 1889: Ira Tuck, age 34. COD: “Self Suicide.” Buried on Odd Fellows Section.

“Col. Blackburn, dont no his age…died on the 30th day of January 1890 and that the cause of his death was Alcoholism.” Buried on promiscuous ground.

March 12, 1890: Ollie Moore, age 7. COD: “drowning in a well on the premises.” Buried on promiscuous grounds.

April 28, 1890: Mrs. E.M. Raines, age 38. COD: “unknown Drop Dead.” Buried in “Charlie Bennett’s section.”

December 1890: W. A. Price, age 24. COD: “he was killed in a RR Accident on Atlantic and Danville RR.” Buried on promiscuous ground.

January 5, 1891: Henry Slaughter, age 56. COD: “alber mania complication Paralysis.” (If you have any idea what kind of mania this referred to, please let me know.)

March 19, 1891: R.W. Valentine, age 34. COD: “Alcoholism.”

April 9, 1891: Nettie Carter, age 26. COD: “Opium Poisoning.” Buried on pauper grounds.

Buried July 22, 1891: James M. Wilson. “Killed on Atlantic & Danville Rail Road certificate from Boydton.”

August 9, 1891: George Ferguson, age 18. COD: “Gun Shot Wounds.” Buried “on M. Enoch Taylor Section.”

August 23, 1891: Andrew J. Crawley, age 23. COD: “Morphine Habit.”

August 1891: “J.H. Ford age not known died at Franklin Junction Resident of Reidsville NC.” Buried in Masons section.

November 11, 1891: Josie Wheeler, age 18. COD: “poisoning by opium.” (This is odd because the newspaper clipping below claims Josie’s body was sent back to Winston-Salem, NC for burial following her suicide. Because the mortuary reports record burials, I think perhaps the newspaper was in error unless her body was removed from Green Hill and then transported.)

Richmond Dispatch, 13 Nov. 1891

Buried on January 25, 1892: Eugene Ferguson, age 15. COD: “gun shot wounds recd from a Negro boy.” (Please read this disclaimer about language used in historical reports before sending me hate mail.)

April 26, 1892: Mrs. M.E. Lawson, age 47. COD: “some obscure disease.”

Buried on August 5, 1893: Susan Warner, age 60. “died in jail of Acute Mania.” Buried on promiscuous ground.

Buried promiscuously on December 2, 1893: William E. Carghill, age illegible. “killed on A&D RR.”

Buried December 10, 1893: Mrs. J___ Wetherford, age 73. “Died in North Danville from the Effects of Burns.”

March 6, 1894: Infant daughter of E. Lewis & wife, age 6 days. COD: “overdose of Laudanum.”

April 19, 1894: Mrs. Ella Grasty Crews, age 30.  COD: “some obscure Disease of the Nervous Sistem.” (Ella’s grave is marked, but I don’t have a photograph of it handy.)

August 15, 1894: Child from Blonde Hall, age 8 months. COD: “Entero Colitis.” (Blonde Hall is the only “house of ill repute” that I’ve uncovered in local history, but all I have is a name so far. I’d love to know where it was located.)

February 22, 1895: Robert Terrell Jones, age 57. COD: “Exhaustion following opium poisoning.”

Buried April 29, 1895: “James Wallace, age 35, Killed by Louis Shaner.”

The mortuary reports end with the final April 1895 entry, unfortunately. There are additional burial records for the cemetery beyond 1900 but causes of death are omitted, making them mainly useful for possibly locating graves or confirming whether or not someone is buried on the grounds.

This older post contains a wee bit of information about laudanum use in the 19th century.

Alice, "Talked to Death By Friends"

I may never actually visit the grave of Alice Phillip (perhaps Phillips) in the Pritchett Cemetery located in Boulder Illinois, but I wanted to share her tombstone because of its unusual inscription. I found out about Alice’s epitaph in the article that you see to the left from The Appeal (a Minnesota paper) on April 23, 1910.

First and Last 
Wife of
Thos. Phillip
Talked to death by friends

A photo of the actual weathered stone as well as a different version of the story about why her husband chose that phrase can be found on Alice’s Find a Grave memorial page. There are actually a number of stories behind the tombstone and which one of them, if any, if the actual version we may never know. Over the years, the story of Alice’s marker was printed by newspapers across the country, each article offering its own spin on how she’d allegedly been talked to death. There are also variations on her surname, making it more difficult to track her down. I tried to locate her and/or her husband in census records to no avail. One article suggested that the epitaph also included her birth and death dates as Apr. 10, 1861-Nov. 15, 1909; however this is unlikely since another newspaper reported on the stone in 1891.

The Iola Register [Kansas] 21 Aug. 1891

There are two common themes among the articles surrounding Alice’s death. One is that at some point she became gravely ill and the second that her husband chose this particular inscription to express his disgust and blame towards people in the community for having contributed to her death. In one version of the tale, Alice was an invalid and was constantly pestered by townspeople on how she should go about regaining her health. She was so troubled by the constant meddling that she ended up dying from prostration. Other versions suggest that Alice’s neighbors and friends didn’t feel that she was very good at her “domestic duties” and pestered her regularly with unsolicited advice about everything from how to keep Thomas happy to how to dress and ways to make her cooking taste more delicious. It wasn’t until after suffering through the gossip and solicitations of the community that she fell ill and died.

From The Spokane Press 26 Feb. 1910
The St. Johns Herald [AZ] 16 Feb. 1901

The information on the Find A Grave link above is the only version I’ve read thus far that mentions anything about Alice’s mother being involved, but it does state that the story was based on local folklore. Of course, the entire story sounds like it’s largely based on folklore in some way, shape, or form. Prostration was used fairly frequently as a cause of death in the 19th century and generally refers to a crippling depression where often the person is confined to the bed. The exact cause of her death and the events that led to her prostration remain a mystery over a century later, but her unique epitaph serves as a grim reminder of the possible ill effects of meddling.

Daily Arizona Silver Belt 20 Feb. 1910

Wednesday’s Child (Children) – The Ficklen Sisters

Harriet “Hattie” and Sarah Ficklen’s twin tombstone rests within an ironwork fence in Green Hill Cemetery along with other Ficklen family members. This was one of the first stones that piqued my interest in this graveyard, due to the fact that according to the inscription both sisters died on May 29, 1862. Hattie was 12 years old & Sarah 8, so it was impossible that they were two stillborn babies. There was a story here: either there was some horrible accident that claimed the Ficklen girls or they were the victims of an illness who happened to perish within 24 hours of each other. Unfortunately records are few and far between for the years during which the girls lived.

Lovely and pleasant in their lives
In death they were not divided.” 

According to A Genealogical History of the Ficklin Family John Fielding, from Fredericksburg, VA, and Sarah Anne Slaughter of Culpepper County were first cousins who married in 1847. Around 1860 they moved to Danville to a homestead that went by the name of Oaklawn.1 If I am reading descriptions of Oaklawn correctly I believe the Ficklen home was not very far from where I currently live. That house is no longer there, however. It has long since been replaced with more modern homes and apartment dwellings.

When the 1860 census was taken Hattie was 11 and Sarah 6. Also in the home were their parents John & Sarah A.; brothers James (12), Warren (9), John (4 months); and a domestic named  either Sarah or Susan Adams (21). The youngest brother, Harry Campbell Ficklen, was born in 1862 and the youngest girl, Catherine, in 1865.

How these sisters died remains a mystery and the verse on their marker remains true: in death they remain undivided.

1 Ficklin, Walter H. A Genealogical History of the Ficklin Family 1912: Print.

The Conrad Deaths: Railroad Accidents, Childbirth Confinement, & Erysipelas

My first post on this blog was about the marker of two sisters buried in Green Hill, Louise and Hazel Conrad. Initially I thought the lightly inscribed name on the marker read, “Grace” but on my last trip to the Holland-Conrad family plot I discovered my error. The earliest burial records for Green Hill that I have date to 1883 and as I’ve mentioned before, they’re not complete, so piecing together who is buried in this plot requires a little bit of detective work. Even after more digging there are still details that are murky which means the search continues.

Continue reading “The Conrad Deaths: Railroad Accidents, Childbirth Confinement, & Erysipelas”