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.


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

Continue reading “Red House Presbyterian Church Cemetery”


Spring Break at Oakdale

Oakdale Cemetery has been on my radar for awhile due to several notable or unusual residents, the close proximity of the grounds to the ocean and its roots as part of the Rural Cemetery Movement.

I recently took a whirlwind trip to Wilmington where my dog and I spent several hours exploring only part of the nearly 100 acres by foot and car searching for particular graves, Victorian motifs (my favorite kind of symbolism) and unique inscriptions.

Continue reading “Spring Break at Oakdale”

October at Lynchburg’s Spring Hill Cemetery

Yesterday I revisited Lynchburg’s Old City Cemetery and stopped by nearby Spring Hill Cemetery. Established in 1855, Spring Hill was the city’s first burial ground designed in the rural cemetery style. Celebrated landscape architect John Nottman, responsible for the design of Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery, plotted Spring Hill’s beautiful grounds. You’ll notice in the photos below the many examples of Victorian symbolism throughout the tombstones.I wish I’d had more time to explore, but I was running out of daylight and already exhausted from my first haunting. (My fatigue is obvious in these photos.)

Continue reading “October at Lynchburg’s Spring Hill Cemetery”

James Henderson

The photo you see here was taken in Danville’s Green Hill Cemetery on a soggy afternoon in late 2012. The man buried below this vaulted obelisk is James Allen Henderson, Jr. and because he died during the time frame listed in my copy of the mortuary reports, I had a cause of death to use as a springboard for my investigation.

Jas. A. Henderson Jr. age 22 years died from Laudanum at Rocky Mount, NC, Ferrell & Co.” (Ferrell & Co. was the name of the undertaking firm which handled his funerary preparations.)

When I read about someone dying young from unusual or mysterious circumstances I do as much digging as possible in order to piece together what happened during the person’s final moments in addition to creating an overall biographical sketch. Each marker in a cemetery represents a person’s life, not just a death, and my thirst for the hows and the whys often causes me to put off posting until I’m sure I’ve exhausted my resources. This morning I decided to try a different combination of keywords and localities in the newspaper archives and luckily it produced a few more details from April 1, 1895 when he “died from laudanum.” (We’ll get to that later.)

There are still many gaps in James’ story and unfortunately those might never be filled. We often take for granted that our inner monologues and sometimes mundane snapshots of daily life are documented through the magic of the Interwebs. There was no Instagram to document what James ate for dinner or Facebook if he wanted to declare how much he fancied his new velocipede.

So we begin at Mr. Henderson’s beginning.

James  Jr. was born on June 6, 1872 in Caswell County, North Carolina to James A. Sr. and Rebecca Johnston Henderson. I’ve noticed his parent’s names while researching other families as they are biologically linked to prominent Caswell County families. James Sr. was descended from some of Yanceyville, North Carolina’s founding citizens, notably his great-grandfather Bartlett T. Yancey. Rebecca Lea Johnston was a daughter of Thomas Donoho Johnston, the President of the Bank of Yanceyville.

In 1880 the Hendersons lived in the “Village of Yanceyville.” In addition to James Jr. and his parents, other family members included three living siblings Addie (1869-1958), Bessie (1874-1896), and Frank Hurst Henderson (1877-1956). Sometime after the census they moved to 921 Main Street in Danville, Virginia. That address is where the First Presbyterian Church now stands, beside the Sutherlin Mansion. James Sr. was a merchant, tobacconist, and founder of J.A. Henderson & Co., a leaf tobacco firm located at 400 Craghead Street. It’s highly likely that James grew up in some affluence, possibly running in some of the same social circles with other current Green Hill residents from his age group.

The next bit of information about James Jr. comes from the 1890-1891 city directory. He still resided at the Main Street home with his parents and sister “Miss Addie D. Henderson.” Other siblings probably also lived there but not listed separately in the directory due to their age. At that time James was employed as a bank runner, or courier. By 1892 he earned his wages as a tobacconist, suggesting that he intended to follow in his father’s footsteps in an industry that was then booming in the area.

Between 1892 and the date of his expiration on April 1, 1895 he relocated to Rocky Mount, North Carolina after spending some time in Henderson. I couldn’t determine where he worked during those years, but one of the articles printed after his death suggested that he held a job as a tobacco buyer in Rocky Mount.

James was just a few months shy of his 23rd birthday in late March/early April, living at the “Woodard hotel” in Rocky Mount. This might have been more of a boarding house than a typical hotel owned by someone named Mr. Woodard. James had lost his job, fallen behind on his boarding fees, and “for some time had been drinking excessively” to cope with his financial woes and employment status. I wonder if James tried to drown other demons in the depths of the bottle, but I have no evidence to support any other circumstances affecting his state of mind. Because he died from a laudanum overdose we know that he used the drug at least once, but we can’t assume that he had ever previously experimented with it. (In an earlier post I wrote briefly about laudanum use during the 19th century in case you’re not familiar.)

For nearly two years I wasn’t sure if James’ death was accidental or if he’d taken his own life. Every time I visited Green Hill, his monument reminded me of my unsolved mystery, and every few months I opened his case to no avail. Then I located this short piece in The Progressive Farmer: “News from Rocky Mount Monday states that Mr. James Henderson, of that place committed suicide that night by taking laudanum. He was about 21 years of age. No reason was assigned for such a rash act, other than that he had been drinking for some days, says the Wilson Mirror.”

The Progressive Farmer 9 April 1895

James’ untimely death was already unfortunate, but knowing he’d died at his own hands made it that much more heartbreaking. Those of you reading who aren’t invested in historical research might find my sympathy towards unrelated people who died over a century ago a bit odd. I suppose I’d compare my feelings to the manner in which a reader or viewer feels about a character in a book or a television show. The difference is that these characters were real people and I’ve stood at their real graves, with just a few feet of dirt and a metal or wooden coffin separating the living body and the decomposing corpse. (Before you gasp at my ghoulish phrasing, remember that in the end, we’re all just worm food, unless you go with cremation or some other non-traditional burial.)

But getting back to James, the other source of information about his last day was entitled, “Strange Suicide: A Man Attempts to Take the Life of Three People-Then Kills Himself.”

The Caucasian 11April 1895

“A singular case of suicide is reported from Rocky Mount, N.C.. Mr. James A. Henderson, a tobacco buyer, staying at the Woodard hotel, had become despondent, ostensibly in consequence of his inability to pay a board bill which he had contracted at that hotel. While in this melancholy state of mind he made out an insurance policy, which he handed to Mr. Woodard, remarking that he (Henderson) might soon be missing. Then to the great astonishment of his host, he suddenly drew a revolver, and pointed it at Mr. Woodard’s heart. Being foiled in his evident intention to shoot, the unfortunate hypochondriac endeavored to slash the alarmed proprietor with a butcher knife, but was again prevented from carrying his murderous purpose into effect.
Henderson next started to kill a young man whom he accused of causing him to lose his position. While on his bloody-minded errand he met the porter of the hotel, whom he also attempted to dispatch, but who luckily escaped.
Nothing more was seen of Henderson until about midnight last night, when he was discovered, gasping for breath, upon the bed in his room. A physician was summoned, who, upon examination, found that the suicide had swallowed four ounces of laudanum. Death ensued soon afterwards. Deceased came to Rocky Mount from Henderson and for some time had been drinking excessively which seemed to have turned his brain on the night of his death.”

After reflecting on James’ financial problems and his family connections I was curious as to why he didn’t go to his parents for help: was it pride or was there a rift in the Henderson clan that prevented them from communicating? There’s also the possibility that his judgement was so clouded by liquor that he chose to off himself before thinking his options through clearly.

I’m not advocating suicide by any means, but we can’t judge James for his hastening his journey on the pale horse with a few ounces of laudanum. The silver lining about his “strange suicide” is that no one else was killed that night. We can only hope that in death he found the peace of mind that evaded him towards the end of his short life.

I decided to revisit James’ grave this afternoon in light of this new information because it felt like the right thing to do.


James’ sister Bessie’s grave is to his left; their parents are in the background


Their monuments are being uprooted by the nearby tree.

The Mysterious Private Life of a Public Man: Richmond’s Lewis Ginter

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.

Continue reading “The Mysterious Private Life of a Public Man: Richmond’s Lewis Ginter”

Old Town Cemetery, Hillsborough, North Carolina

Hillsborough’s Old Town Cemetery, (est.1757), is tucked away behind the Presbyterian church at the corner of North Churton and West Tyron Streets. Even though it’s just off the main road through the downtown area I didn’t realize that it was there until last summer due to its semi-secluded location.

Members of some of the town’s oldest and most prominent families are buried on the grounds, which was the site of the original St. Matthew’s Church.
William Hooper, who signed the Declaration of Independence was buried here, but in 1894 he was reinterred  at the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park. His original slab still rests at Old Town.

Mary Goddard Nash (left) and husband Frederick Nash (right)

“Death of Chief Justice Nash” from the Weekly Standard, 8 Dec. 1858

You’ll see several pictures of this grave because it’s my favorite here.

Lamb at the foot of Sophronia’s grave

From last summer:

Old Maplewood Cemetery

After a family obligation in Durham, North Carolina yesterday I returned to Maplewood Cemetery, hoping to find some of the older graves that I’d read about. It was by luck that I ended up in an area behind the office where I was able to see the Old Maplewood Cemetery across the street and beyond two locked gates. (I didn’t realize that there were separate designations for the two graveyards.) I drove around a residential area until I found an open entrance off of Kent Street, but wasn’t able to explore all the grounds due to intermittent rain and the fear of being locked inside the gates at 4:00. (This happened to me once locally and even though I laugh about it now, at the time it wasn’t so funny.)

It’s going to take awhile to sort through and research the 100+ pictures taken with the DSLR, but in the meantime here are some dreamy iPhone (Hipstamatic) images to tide you over.

Joseph S. Hall was a retired undertaker when he died in 1928.
Obviously I like trees and clouds.
The Durham Hebrew Cemetery is separated by Maplewood with fencing, but all of its gates were locked.
Washington Duke and his two sons have been re-interred elsewhere, but other relatives are still here.
“Hug a Tombstone”
“Grape Bootlegger”?
The Carr plot: same statues, different filters:
Mangum mausoleum (front)
Mangum mausoleum (back)

A.G. & Rachel Blythe Bauer: Love, Discrimination and Tragedy

Last Saturday in Raleigh was characteristic of a typical southern summer afternoon: hot and miserably humid. It was so uncomfortable that it forced me out of the graveyard. Just before leaving Oakwood Cemetery I spotted a monument down the hill from where I was taking pictures that looked different from all the others. The base was brick with what looked like a replica of a building on top, so we drove over to check it out. I’m really glad that I decided to investigate further because not only is this marker incredibly detailed, it comes with a stirring and tragic story of racism, a woman’s life cut short, and the downfall of a promising architect’s career, family and sanity which ended in suicide.

The marker which initially caught my attention belongs to Rachel (Unaka) Blythe Bauer, who was born in October 1870 to a prominent Cherokee tribe family in Swain County, North Carolina. Her grandfather, Jacob Blythe, was referred to in one newspaper clipping as a “leading Cherokee” but there was no mention of her parents. Some of the information suggested that Rachel was sent to an orphanage “to be educated”, but because she was later said to be a “wealthy orphan” it’s possible that something tragic happened to her parents resulting in that placement. Another possible scenario is that Rachel’s father was a Caucasian and her mother a Cherokee; and because at the time interracial marriages were forbidden she was orphaned in that manner. (This is based on information from the Find a Grave memorial that Rachel was regarded by the community as having “mixed blood.” Read this disclaimer about terms used in historical reports before sending me any hate mail.)

As a young adult Rachel studied stenography at the Baptist Institute and worked at Raleigh’s Post Office as a stamp clerk.5 She would later meet Adolphus Gustavus Bauer, who is buried at her side.

Adolphus was born in 1858 in Martinsburg, West Virginia to German-born parents, Frederick and Sophia Bauer. Adolphus was educated at Bethany College in West Virginia and then went to Pennsylvania where he attended Iron City Business College and the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts.4 Some sources indicate he also studied painting in Cinncinnati.

In 1881 Adolphus was hired as a draftsman for architect Samuel Sloan and in that capacity he traveled to North Carolina to assist with some of Sloan’s projects in the South. After Sloan’s death in 1884, Bauer continued to work on various NC projects, such as Raleigh’s Executive Mansion, Chapel Hill’s Memorial Hall, and Morganton’s Western North Carolina Hospital for the Insane.4 Bauer left North Carolina in 1887 but returned in 1891 to work on other architectural endeavors, incorporating the Queen Anne style into his designs.

Adolphus and Rachel were boarders at the same house, which is where they met and fell in love. They had a secret ceremony in 1894 but wanted to make their nuptials official after Rachel became pregnant. Because marriages between Native Americans and people of other races were illegal in North Carolina, the couple went to Washington for their second wedding in June 1895 under the assumption that the marriage would still be valid in North Carolina. That validity would be debated, but regardless of legality the couple would never be fully accepted with open arms into the community.

The News (Frederick, MD) 21 June 1895
The McCook Tribune (Nebraska) 28 June 1895
Indian Chieftain (OK) 4 July 1895

In October 1895 the couple’s first child, Owenah was born. Despite the possible isolation and discrimination that the Bauers faced they remained in North Carolina where Adolphus’ career flourished. That changed on May 2, 1896 when he and contractor Charles Norton were in a carriage hit by a train at a crossing in Durham.

The Evening Times (Washington, DC) 2 May 1896

Adolphus’ brain injuries would leave lasting physical and mental issues, including dizzy spells, delusions, and melancholia. He was hospitalized at Raleigh’s North Carolina Hospital for the Insane at least once. After his institutionalization he suffered from the same complications but attempted to work even though he had great trouble concentrating on projects. A letter written to his sister revealed that his reputation as an architect had been marred by the accident’s effects and he even questioned his own capabilities despite his local reputation. A lawsuit against the railroad was filed, but the process was slow and it didn’t seem like the Bauers would receive any compensation.

The couple’s second child, Fred Blythe Bauer, was born on December 27, 1896. Rachel had been ill throughout the fall and winter and died within two weeks of Fred’s birth on January 9, 1897. Unable to care for the children, Adolphus sent the children to live with relatives. Fred went to Qualla Boundary, where he was adopted by Rachel’s brother James and his wife, Josephine. Owenah ended up in Ohio with Adolphus’ family.

In the months following Rachel’s death, Adolphus worked feverishly to on several projects, one of them being Rachel’s stunning monument. He had received a small settlement from the railroad by this time which he used to fund the grave marker. The Grecian-styled building atop the brick column is based on the Temple of Diana (Artemis) and was intended to showcase Rachel’s virtues. The front bears a porcelain plate with an image of Rachel on her wedding day above a small plaque that reads:

“In thy dark eyes splendor
Where the warm light loves to dwell
Weary looks yet tender
Speak their last farewell”
The quote underneath the dates could express contempt towards Rachel’s treatment by the people of Raleigh. N.C.’s motto is: “To be, rather than to seem.”
Lamp-holders are set underneath designs around the column.

After Rachel’s marker was complete, Adolphus must have felt like his life’s work was also complete. His last days were spent alone in his room reading and writing. On May 11, 1898, he committed suicide with one bullet to the head. When his body was found, the gun was said to be in his right hand and his left hand clutched a photograph of Rachel.1 In a suicide note, Adolphus wrote: “I wish to say that if I, by violence to myself should die, I wish to be buried by the side of my wife, in Raleigh, N.C., where I have so long sojourned and among the Southern people I have liked so well.5

Adolphus was interred beside Rachel in a grave that remained unmarked until 1986 when the Triangle Native American Society erected the headstone below.1

(rear view)

In my haste, I didn’t take a good photo of the front of Adolphus’ marker, but in the following picture you can see that some of the inscription is from his suicide letter. The words, “I wish to say that if I, by violence to myself should die” were omitted.

I found a 1917 yearbook photo from Ohio State University where you can see Owenah around age 22 when she was the President of the Philomathean Literary Society. (She’s on the bottom row, fourth from the left.)2

Both Owenah and Fred, despite the rocky start they had in life, survived into their seventies and had families of their own. Fred died in 1971 in North Carolina and Owenah in Ohio in 1974.

Unfortunately it seems as though many of the buildings designed by Bauer have been razed over time, even though some still stand today.

1 A.G. Bauer, Raleigh’s Architect
2 U.S. School Yearbooks [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.
3 Bishir, Catherine W. North Carolina Architecture UNC Press Books, 2005.
4 North Carolina Architects and Builders
5 Powell, William Samuel and William Stevens Powell. Dictionary of North Carolina Biography: A-C University of North Carolina Press, 1979.

Death on Millionaire’s Row-“Accidental” Pistol Shot

The November 5, 1885 entry in Green Hill’s Mortuary Report reads, “RW Lawson, race white native of NC age 47 years died in Danville 4th November cause accidental pistol shot Dr. W.L. Robinson

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.

Continue reading “Death on Millionaire’s Row-“Accidental” Pistol Shot”

Irma Burgess and Bellefontaine Lawn Parties

While some people today might find it a bit morbid, at the height of the rural cemetery movement in the 19th century, it wasn’t unusual for the living to visit graveyards for recreational reasons. Common activities included picnicking at the grave of a loved one and peacefully strolling the grounds in admiration of the pastoral landscape and elaborate Victorian age graveyard architecture. The solitude of the cemetery provided many a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city and an opportunity to reflect on life and death. 

I was pleasantly surprised when I ran across this article from the August 3, 1913 issue of The Washington Herald about one lady’s efforts to carry on the celebration of the cemetery as a place for the living as well as the dead at St. Louis’ Bellefontaine Cemetery.

Irma Graydon Burgess had spent most of her life in the cemetery so it made sense that she was at the center of St. Louis’ graveyard party trend. Irma’s father, Walter Graydon, was Bellefontaine’s superintendent and due to that position, lived on the grounds with his wife and seven children.

As a child, Irma was taught to be skeptical about ghosts and wasn’t afraid of living in the cemetery because as her mother said, “There is less to be afraid of here among the dead than among the living downtown.” (I’ve said the same thing to people on many occasions when asked about my own fears of haunting cemeteries.) Irma and her siblings scoffed at other children growing up who believed in the supernatural, but as an adult she insisted that if spirits still roamed the realm of the living, they would gravitate towards their old homes instead of lurk about in the graveyard.

Irma’s habitation at Bellefontaine didn’t end with her childhood. She married Francis Burgess, the assistant superintendent at the cemetery. She welcomed church groups who wanted to hold picnics and society events on the grounds and as a member of a Christian Endeavor group, was responsible for at least one such successful lawn party.

These parties, described as “the very newest North Side social thrill” often took place in the evening, with the cemetery lit by Japanese lanterns and picnic lamps. Young people happily took part in games and music amidst the dimly lit headstones and monuments, a sight to which those living around the cemetery had become familiarized but which puzzled outsiders.

A century later, Irma is still on Bellefontaine’s grounds, buried there after her death in 1958 near other members of the Burgess family. She would probably be pleased to know that her cemetery isn’t one that fell victim to neglect and that visitors still take pleasure in its peaceful beauty.