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”


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”

The Berger-Dickenson Family Cemetery

In 2013 I trekked to the northern part of Pittsylvania County to visit the graveyard at Siloam United Methodist Church. On the return trip I noticed a small family cemetery that looked too old and interesting to ignore. What caught my eye were the shapes of the markers and the symbols decorating them.
Because the Berger-Dickenson cemetery is on private property I parked on the side of the road and took a few photos from a distance. There were many other graves that I would’ve liked to have seen up-close, but I didn’t want to risk trespassing.
Mabel Berger was the intended focus of this entry, but over the years I haven’t been able to find out much about the the infant’s brief life in Oklahoma’s Sac & Fox territory or how she died. For that reason I held off on posting all of the photos of this graveyard…until now.
mabel berger

Continue reading “The Berger-Dickenson Family Cemetery”

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”

W.W. New & Family

Several years ago I wrote about 1911’s Pinnix Murder-Suicide, which took place in Danville and involved Fannie New Pinnix and her husband William Gunn Pinnix.

Both parties rest in Green Hill Cemetery in unmarked graves according to burial records, however; there are monuments in the plot designating the graves of Fannie’s immediate family.


Continue reading “W.W. New & Family”

Cause of Death: “Saw Throat”

BORN NOV. 27, 1848
DIED JULY 24, 1859
This tall marble grave marker in Danville’s Green Hill Cemetery belongs to ten-year-old Florence Ayres. Her parents were William Ayres, a wealthy tobacconist, and his second wife Julia Ann Henderson Ayres. At the time of the 1850 Federal Census, the only census that Florence was living during, her family lived in Danville. Sadly there is no street address listed on the census. I think it’s interesting to be able to link the house to its former inhabitants & imagine what life was like when they were living there.

Continue reading “Cause of Death: “Saw Throat””

Fort Lauderdale’s Evergreen Cemetery


I recently took a brief trip to Pompano Beach, Florida to visit friends who live and work in the area. Before I even mentioned it, one of them asked me which cemeteries I wanted to haunt. I did some research on Fort Lauderdale boneyards and after discovering that Leslie Nielsen’s grave was in Evergreen, my destination was clear.

The marker at one of the entrances reads:

Established 1910

Many Civil War veterans are buried at Evergreen Cemetery in addition to the founding families of Fort Lauderdale including the Stranahans (who built the Stranahan House on SE 6th Avenue), Bryans, Kings, Cromarties (the maiden name of Ivy Julia Stranahan) (1881-1971) and the Olivers. This burial place for the early residents of Fort Lauderdale was established by Mr. and Mrs. E.T. King in 1910. In 1910 or 1911, a funeral director from Miami moved many bodies from the first burial ground, in the proximity of what currently is Southside School on Andrews Avenue, to the newly created Evergreen Cemetery. In 1917, the City of Fort Lauderdale purchased the cemetery. In 1921, the American Legion purchased four lots set aside for the burial of veterans. In 1926, hurricane victims were buried in unmarked graves in the north central portion of the cemetery. This area is also the baby section. In 1935, B’nai Israel acquired blocks one and two for burials of those of the Jewish faith. Evergreen cemetery is Fort Lauderdale’s oldest intact cemetery.”

I didn’t see the marker until near the end of our whirlwind tour, so I didn’t have any of those names on my “graves to look for” list. For example, Frank Stranahan, credited with founding Fort Lauderdale, is buried on the grounds with his wife, Ivy. Despondent after great financial losses and possibly suffering from what today would be coined clinical depression, Frank Stranahan committed suicide in 1929. He tied a heavy grate to his foot with a rope and leaped into the New River in front of his home.

Tiptoeing through a Florida cemetery in close proximity to a body of water was a totally different experience for me. The grounds were a hotbed of wildlife activity, especially Muscovy ducks which make a hissing sound instead of quacking. The ducks didn’t bother us, even though they approached us several times (probably looking for food). I think the most alarming animal encounter was the sighting of a large brownish-green reptile (which turned out to be an iguana) chilling in the distance near one of the mausoleums. For the rest of the time in Evergreen I was much more careful of my footing.


The shade from nearby trees cast shadows on Leslie Nielsen’s memorial bench and grave marker, but I was so happy that we found them that I didn’t care if the images were a little dark. Nielsen doled out the following advice to aspiring actors: “Sit down whenever you can.” (I think that’s sound advice for those of us who aren’t interested in acting, too.) The inscription on his marker simply reads, “Let ‘er rip.” Thank you, Mr. Nielsen, for keeping us laughing from beyond the grave.


From an architectural point of view Evergreen is quite different from most of the cemeteries that I visit. My interests typically take me to the older sites peppered with tall vaulted obelisks, mammoth surrogate angels, and Victorian symbolism aplenty. What I learned from this visit was that even though the markers are contemporary in style, there are still some very interesting, humorous, and touching memorials to be seen in “younger” skull orchards.


“Dream Great Dreams and Make Them Happen”


quote from Hunter S. Thompson



Victims of the 1926 hurricane are buried in unmarked graves near the baby section.
 Woodmen of the World marker


“I Did It My Way”
“What Can I Do For You?”
“Take The Common and Make It Unusual”





“Whatever”/”I’ll Always Love You”
I love seeing palm trees in cemeteries. I don’t see them often enough.





B’Nai Israel Section Entry Gate

Pop Sylvester of the Greater Sheesley Shows

I took this photo of Henry H. Sylvester’s grave marker near the Babyland section of Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh well over a year ago. Obviously what interested me the most was the inscription, “Member of Sheesley Shows.” I thought I’d wandered into another Showmen’s Rest, but this was the only marker in the area that suggested a circus professional’s grave. My usual research yielded nothing about Henry’s life and very little helpful information on the Sheesley Shows (a traveling carnival outfit) so I put his story on hold. Often details of peoples’ lives (or deaths) don’t emerge initially. I don’t know if this delay in discovery is due to luck, database updates, or mysterious keyword algorithms. I fancy the notion that perhaps a narrative reveals itself only when it’s ready to be shared, but then again I’m a dreamer.

In May I  found Henry’s death certificate. This was a extremely helpful because it contained important demographic information such as marital status, his occupation, and the cause of death. Henry was born in New York in 1837 and died on October 17, 1923 at Rex Hospital of chronic myocarditis He was a widower, aged 86, and his occupation was “advertising agent.” The informant on the certificate was J.M. Sheasley (John M. Sheesley-the owner of the carnival), which suggests that Henry didn’t have any relatives or if he did, there was some other reason why Sheesley’s name was on the document. I looked for anything indicating that Henry had ever been married but was unsuccessful. The one death notice I came across mentioned nothing about his possible widower status, so either I missed something or there was a mistake on the death certificate.

There are still plenty of gaps in Henry’s biography, such as when and how he landed in the circus business. In addition to working for the Greater Sheesley Shows, “Pop” Sylvester also spent time with Sun Bros. World Shows, Frank A. Robbin’s Circus, and other carnival outfits, scouting locations and hanging circus banners and bills. It may have also been his duty to arrive days in advance of the rest of the circus to drum up interest in the show. Such a person would’ve possessed a dynamic, outgoing personality and exceptional persuasion skills.

New York Clipper, 26 Oct. 1923

Images of the Sheesley Shows from 1916 (when Henry joined the carnival) are up at Sideshow World, which gives you an idea of some of the sights and people he might have encountered in his daily life if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

Henry apparently remained active in the circus business up until his death and because he died during the North Carolina State Fair, his fellow circus brethren were in town and able to attend his funeral.

1906 Sun Bros. ad
1908 Frank A. Robbins Circus ad

Additional Sources:

Tombstone Tuesday: Thankful Ann Hiatt and Twins (1839)


“Thankful Ann
Consort of Joab Hiatt
Born March 26, 1820
Died Jany 28, 1839
They found redemption in the blood 
of the lamb. [illegible]
And their two infant children
Born Jan 22, 1839
one died Jan 24, 1839
the other Feb 1, 1839.”

Thankful Ann Gillespie Hiatt, who was 18 when she died, and her infant twins are buried in the church cemetery at Greensboro’s Buffalo Presbyterian, across the graveyard from her parents, Robert Gillespie and Nancy Hanner Gillespie.

Information about Thankful’s family suggested that she grew up in some affluence, or at the very least were prominent in Guilford County. Both of her grandfathers, Robert Hanner and Colonel Daniel Gillespie served in the North Carolina House of Commons. Daniel Gillespie also served in the North Carolina State Senate from 1790-1795. He was one of the first people to own lots in Greensboro, one of those lots at the corner of  Elm and Market Streets.

Thankful’s father was a farmer on his father’s original acreage and he and Nancy had at least eight children. (I say “at least” because often formal written accounts don’t include children who died in infancy.)

Thankful married Joab Caldwell Hiatt (1815-1867) on January 2, 1838. They’d only been married for a little over a year when the birth of the twins was quickly followed by the deaths of the mother and children. 

The details on this image are a little clearer.

Windows to the Past: Primitive Watercolors from Guilford County, NC in the 1820s

Wednesday’s Child(ren): In Their Death They Were Not Divided

Aug. 1, 2013
 “In Memory of
Beloved Children of 
John L. & Cornelia 
‘They were lovely and pleasant
in their lives 
and in their 
they were not divided.'”

These photos of the Bacon children’s graves were taken last summer at Richmond, Virginia’s Hollywood Cemetery. Looking more closely at the dates, I’m reminded again of how fortunate we are to live in an age where childhood mortality rates aren’t nearly as high as they were during the Bacons’ short lives.

All six of the children who have similarly designed markers were the offspring of John Lydall Bacon and Cornelia Fry Bacon. What position John held during the 1850s isn’t clear, but by 1886 he was the President of Virginia State Insurance Co. and State Bank of Virginia. The four markers that seem to be connected belong to the siblings who all died during March 1858: Eliza (b. 1850), Henry (b. 1852), Cornelia (b. 1853), and George (b. 1855). Francis Bacon also died in 1858, but his death was a few months later in July.

I wasn’t able to find out what took the lives of the Bacon children, but since nothing came up in the newspapers about an accident or fire, I believe that they died of illness. There was one death notice in the archives for George, who died on March 10. He was the third member of the family to pass away that month, with Henry on the 3rd, Eliza on the 8th, and Cornelia on the 26th.

The Daily Dispatch, 12 Mar. 1858

George’s funeral took place at the Monumental Church, so it’s possible that the other Bacon children’s services were also held there. As an aside, Monumental Church has a fascinating history. The ashes of 72 people who died in 1811’s Richmond Theater Fire are buried underneath the church and Edgar Allan Poe attended religious services there.

In the corner of Cornelia’s marker you can see that the monument was designed by J.W. Davies

Francis Bacon’s marker is to the left of Cornelia’s. He was born in June 1857 and died on July 22, 1858. His inscription displays a verse from the Bible: “Even so, Father, for it so seems good in Thy sight.

On the far right is John L. Bacon Jr.’s grave. He was born in March 1847 and died in February 1849, so he never physically “met” any of his siblings. I regret not having a close-up of his marker, but there is a clear photo on his Find a Grave memorial.