The Lawson Murders, Christmas Day 1929

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.

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Julia Bizet Age-Ptomaine Poisoning

  Julia Bizet Age, born in Paris, France in 1855, is buried at Green Hill Cemetery in Greensboro, North Carolina. According to her death certificate she died of ptomaine poisoning, which is a foodborne illness. She was predeceased by her husband, Gerton Age. The informant on the certificate is J.G. Stratton, but their relationship is unknown. (At least to me.)

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Elizabeth Edwards (1949-2010)

When I visited Wade Edwards’ monument at Raleigh’s Oakwood Cemetery in 2013 I noted that his mother Elizabeth’s grave wasn’t marked with the exception of a small plaque at the foot.

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.

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Red House Presbyterian Church Cemetery

Red House, founded in the mid-1700s is one of the oldest Presbyterian congregations in the state, although the current structure is its fourth physical incarnation. Reportedly British soldiers camping on the property during the Revolutionary War burned the original building and desecrated the grave of the church’s first minister Hugh McAden. Fire consumed the second structure in the early 1800s, and the third was eventually replaced.

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On a sunny March 2014 afternoon I visited Red House Presbyterian Church in Semora, North Carolina during the melting of a recent snowfall.

There were a number of pleasant surprises in the graveyard behind the church in terms of epitaphs and structures.

day is done
Lines from a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem on the back of Betty Rainey’s obelisk

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In The Durham Hebrew Cemetery

Usually I don’t post entries about people who died as recently as 2006, but after taking this photo of Freda Abramowitz’s grave at the Durham Hebrew Cemetery I felt compelled to share part of her story.
Mrs. Abramowitz was born in Czenstochowa, Poland in 1922 and died in Durham after living in various locations including New York City, Miami Beach, Houston and the cities of her birth and death.
She also survived the Holocaust, a former prisoner at the HASAG forced labor camp.

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William Hill and His Dog Footstone

William Hill’s ornate monument at Wilmington’s Oakdale Cemetery was not unlike many others on the grounds, boasting that rural cemetery flair that I love so much.

What was unique about this grave; however, was the dog-shaped footstone which my trusty canine sidekick Esther noticed before I did and reacted as though it was a real animal.

Intrigued, I read the inscription on the main marker and found nothing on the footstone but there was nothing indicating why this particular piece was present unless I overlooked something or the inscription had weathered away.

If you recall, on this same trip I encountered the grave of a man and his dog who were buried together after perishing in a fire and wondered if this was a similar circumstance.

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Died at Sea; Buried in a Cask of Alcohol

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.

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Father Kills Teenage Daughter, Then Suicides After April Fools’ Day Prank

A cautionary tale, perhaps?

Misc. Tidings of Yore

This 1908 story of the murder-suicide at an Asheville, NC all-girls’ school was picked up by newspapers nationwide. The following clipping, from The Manning Times in South Carolina on April 22, 1908 was one of the more comprehensive accounts of the aftermath of an April Fool’s Day joke which ended in tragedy. This article states that Nellie Swinney’s father was D.O. Swinney, but he was actually Curtis O. Swinney.

 “KILLS HIMSELF
After Shooting His Sixteen Year Old Daughter Twice.
SHOCKING TRAGEDY
 
Occured in a Girl’s School at Asheville. The Young Lady had Taken Part in April Fool Joke and her Father visits her at School, Shoots Her, and then Commits Suicide.
     A terrible tragedy was enacted at Asheville, N.C., on Wednesday. Enraged at his 16-year-old daughter Nellie, because of a harmless school girl prank, Dr. D.O. Swinney, who recently went to Asheville, from New York, fired two…

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Chang and Eng Bunker: Tied Together by a Living Knot

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.

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