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.
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.
Lovick was around ten years old when his older brother Orin passed away from consumption at age twenty-six. According to a death notice published on April 11, 1900 Orin spent time at one of the health resorts (possibly a mineral springs retreat) in an attempt to defeat the illness which forced him to return to Danville from his work in Chicago.
I held off publishing this entry hoping that I’d run across a photo of Orin, who was allegedly “one of the best known men in the State” but none were publicly available.
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.
This inscription on Benjamin Dyer’s tombstone in Danville’s Green Hill Cemetery has always intrigued me. While the presence of a phrase or quote is not unusual on grave markers this one (combined with the fact that the decedent was only 35) suggested there was an unexpected tragedy associated with Benjamin’s death, something that his loved ones struggled to comprehend.
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.