The Body of Captain Ward Comes Ashore

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:

Went Down With His Ship
City Of Rio De Janeiro
San Francisco Bay

Continue reading “The Body of Captain Ward Comes Ashore”


Man and Dog Perish Fighting Fire; Buried Together (1880)

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.

“Faithful Unto Death”

Continue reading “Man and Dog Perish Fighting Fire; Buried Together (1880)”

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.

IMG_8835 Continue reading “Died at Sea; Buried in a Cask of Alcohol”

Showmen’s Rest: Evelyn Marrion’s Fatal Plunge

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.

Continue reading “Showmen’s Rest: Evelyn Marrion’s Fatal Plunge”

Anna Anderson: Sad Tragedy in Clinton Orphanage

The Laurens Advertiser [SC] 20 May 1903

I read about Anna Theresa Anderson’s unfortunate death in the laundry room of a South Carolina orphanage while researching a different orphanage tragedy. The details of her life are few and far between, but there were accounts of her death in various 1903 newspapers. Descriptions of the accident was quite graphic. “Anna Anderson, aged 15, a native of Sweden, and a protege of Mrs. Cyrus McCormick, the wealthy Chicago lady, was accidentally killed this morning by the explosion of a piece of laundry machinery. She was almost completely disemboweled, besides having the right arm almost severed from the body.

The Pickens Sentinal-Journal 28 May 1903

The piece of steel broke both her arms and dreadfully mangled her body. The child died a few minutes after the accident.

The Watchman & Southron 27 May 1903

 “When one of the girls was passing by the wringer in the steam laundry it suddenly went to pieces with the noise of a pistol explosion. Miss Anna Anderson was struck by a flying piece and was dead within 20 minutes.

Thanks to Find a Grave, I learned that Anna was buried in Clinton Cemetery in Clinton, South Carolina. There’s no picture of a headstone*, but the person who created the memorial made a note that the inscription read, “Born in Konsor, Sweden.” From there we have Anna’s birthdate as well, April 27, 1887.

The big piece of the puzzle stems from how and when Anna and her sister, listed on the 1900 Census as Hedvig ended up in South Carolina’s Thornwell Orphanage after being born in Sweden.

Based on these newspaper clippings, they’d been pupils at the orphanage for “a number of years”, so there are still many unanswered questions about Anna’s early life.

Anna was well-liked by the other children in the orphanage and apparently a talented musician, playing the organ in the Presbyterian-affiliated institution’s chapel services. Mrs. Cyrus McCormick, mentioned in one of the articles, was Nettie Fowler McCormick. Her husband was the inventor of the horse-drawn reaper and built his fortune with the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company. One of Nettie’s philanthropic endeavors was supporting the Thornwell Orphanage, explaining the link between the wealthy Chicago woman and the Swedish-born orphan. 

With musical talent and a connection to a prominent woman, Anna could have gone on to become a great musician, or at least found a way to get past the hurdle of orphanage life.

UPDATE (3/10/14):
I submitted a photo request through Find a Grave when I originally wrote this post and today one of the volunteers added her headstone.

photo courtesy of Charles Hawkins, Find a Grave volunteer

The inscription from “Away” by James Whitcomb Riley reads:

“I cannot say and I will not say
That she is dead, she is just away.
With a cheery smile and a wave of hand
She has wandered into an unknone
[unknown] land;
And left us dreaming how very fair
Its needs must be, since she lingers there.”

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.

A Career To Dye For

Needham Henderson Benefield’s marker in Leemont Cemetery bears an inscription which illustrates the grief his death left his wife, Bessie.

My precious husband this world is so lonely without you, for when you left, the dearest on earth to me was gone, and darling, I am so lonesome.
Needham was born in either Georgia or Alabama (records vary) in 1882 or 1883 to William G. and Elizabeth Brumbelow Benefield. Sometime in the 1880s the Benefields moved to North Danville where William worked in the mercantile business. While Needham’s marker lists his birth year as 1883, a draft registration card gives his birth date as October 31, 1882.

In 1910 Needham was living at 1111 North Main Street with his first wife, Elizabeth. An 8-year-old son, William, is also in the home. Needham was then working in the cotton textile industry as chemist in some capacity. Within the next five or six years several big changes would occur for Benefield. For one, Elizabeth died in 1912. I was unable to find her cause of death. The next year Needham filed a patent for a “cotton drying machine”  while employed as a dye sales manager for American Aniline Products.2

This draft card also gives a vague physical description of Needham at age 36: he was tall, of a medium build, with brown eyes and dark hair.3

From the 1913 Official Gazette of United States Patent Office

By the time the 1920 census was taken he had remarried Bessie Walker. His son is not listed in the household on that census, but because William would have been 18,  it’s possible that he had already moved out. The William M. Benefield listed in the directory below was Needham’s brother.

From Danville’s 1921 City Directory

Needham’s health problems began by May of 1922. That month there was a blurb in the local newspaper about his wife traveling to Tennessee, where he had been hospitalized.
The Bee, 27 May 1922

He had gone to Georgia to visit his brother William, perhaps on business, around October 1922. According to information on Needham’s Find a Grave memorial, his health was declining when he arrived at his brother’s. On November 23 he passed away, with his body sent back to Danville the next day on a train.

His obituary from the Nov. 25 issue of The Bee states that his death was the result of “dye poisoning complications.” I did some research on the health hazards faced by employees working in the textile industry and poisoning from dyes used was a daily risk. Workers faced danger from explosions due to chemical reactions as well as poisoning from inhalation of fumes or dust produced by and absorption through skin contact with the toxic chemicals used in textile colorants. Depending on which compound he was exposed to, the severity of his poisoning, and the method of his exposure, his symptoms could have included: central nervous problems (including paralysis), weakness, vertigo, irritability, rapid pulse (a weak pulse for more severe cases), an unusual pallor, dermatitis, discoloration of the eyes, digestive and kidney trouble, cyanosis, constant sneezing, blood poisoning, mucous membrane irritation, muscle pain, pustular skin lesions, loss of appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea.1 Those symptoms were based on toxicity due to aniline manufacture and aniline dyestuffs, but American Aniline also produced a number of other dye products.

Needham was but one of the many, many people who worked in Danville’s textile industry during the time when such an industry actually existed locally. It makes you wonder how many others died as a result of industrial poisoning.

1 Kober, George, and William Hanson. Diseases of Occupation and Vocational Hygiene. Philadelphia: P. Blakiston’s Son & Company.1916.
2 Official Gazette of United States Patent Office, 1913.
3 Registration State: Virginia; Registration County: Pittsylvania; Roll: 1985043; Draft Board: 2.