Category Archives: USA

Circus Tragedy

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Source: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/circus-train-wreck-victims-memorial

On Monday November 22, 1915, the Con T. Kennedy Circus Carnival having completed a successful engagement during ‘Harvest Festival’ week at the Atlanta Exposition in Columbus departed the area on a traveling circus train with 28 cars. A Central of Georgia passenger train headed to Macon was also departing Columbus, and instructions were sent to the engineer to wait at Muscogee Junction.

Failure to comply with this order resulted in both trains colliding head-on at 30 miles an hour near a bend at Bull Creek, six and a half miles east of Columbus. The engines of both trains were demolished but did not derail. Other cars telescoped resulting in a catastrophic fire. Although passengers on the Central of Georgia were unharmed, a total of 24 people died on the train carrying the circus crew.

Fred S. Kempf and his wife Blanche who operated a sideshow miniature mechanical city called Kempf’s Model City were trapped inside their sleeping compartment. They managed to pass their young daughter through a window to friends who were working to extricate them. Tragically the unfortunate parents burned to death, and four year old Hazel was left an orphan. “I saw those poor fellows pinned in their sleeping wagons and they could not get out,” reported many at the site.

In addition to the loss of human life, two carloads of animals were burned alive.

A funeral cortege travelled from the First Baptist Church to Riverdale Cemetery where the dead were interred. A memorial headstone in the form of a circus tent was erected by the circus community to commemorate the event.

Erected by the / Con T. Kennedy Shows / In memory of their comrades / Who lost their lives / In a railroad wreck near Columbus GA / Nov 22 1915.

We’ll not forget thee, we who stay / To work a little longer here, / Thy name, thy faith, thy love shall be / On memory’s tablet, bright and clear, / And when o’er-wearied by the toil of life, / Our heavy limbs shall be, / We’ll come, and one by one lie down / Upon dear Mother-earth with thee.

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The Vergon Tree

This memorial stone marks the grave of Frederick Peter Vergon (1829-1919). Located in Oak Grove Cemetery, Delaware, Ohio, it is ten feet tall and ten feet wide and is carved from Indiana limestone. Due to the intricacy and detail of the carving it is believed to have taken several years to create.

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Within the leaves of the majestic Chestnut tree are birds, a bird nest containing eggs, an owl, lizards, and a frog located in the roots. Unfortunately, vandals have damaged many of the small sculptures.find a grave65418587_1407765421

Vergon was born in France in 1829. His parents emigrated to the USA and settled in Delaware County, Ohio, where his father purchased farm land which became Greenwood Farm. From a ravine, Frederick made Greenwood Lake which he stocked with bass. He created an amusement park surrounded by imported deciduous and evergreen trees. His interest in horticulture expanded into a vineyard and a 50 acre apple orchard.

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One of the earliest gravestones I have seen can be found in the Copps Hill Burying Ground in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. It’s interesting to note that in order to keep within the design boundaries of this elaborate gravestone, the text has been scrunched together.

In the surname WALTERS, the letters L, T, E have been overlapped using the downward stroke of L to create T and E. The same process has been used in the word THIS where the downward stroke of T is shared by the letter H.

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The inscription on the gravestone uses Old English text and translates as:
Here Lies Buried
The Body Of Captain
Sampson Walters
Aged 53 Years
Departed This Life
August The 13th
1693

Above the winged effigy is the Latin phrase ‘Hodie Mihi Cras Tibi Sic Transit Gloria Mundi’ which translates as My Turn Today, Yours Tomorrow. And Thus Passes Away The Glory Of The World.

On a side note, this phrase is used in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander historical novel series when Claire visits the tombstone of Lady Sarah Fraser at Beauly Priory.

Asylum Interments

There was a time in the latter part of the last century when facilities for those suffering from mental health issues were known as Hospitals for the Insane, State Colonies for the Feeble-Minded, Lunatic Asylums or Mental Institutions, and the regard for the patients was equally insensitive even in death. Many family members did not claim the bodies of their deceased relatives and they were buried in unmarked graves or graves identified with only a number.

Georgia State Lunatic, Idiot and Epileptic Asylum opened in 1842. Over population and a decrease in staff sadly led to mistreatment of patients. People died at an alarming rate and it is believed that 25,000 people are buried in the hospital grounds possibly in a mass grave. The Central State Hospital in Milledgeville as it became known closed in 2010. Cedar Lane Cemetery contains numbered iron markers of patients who died at the hospital. The historic marker at the cemetery states the following: In 1997 a cemetery restoration began here triggered a movement to memorialize patients buried at state psychiatric hospitals nationwide. After discovering nearby neglected cemeteries interred some 25,000 people, members of the Georgia Consumer Council pledged to restore the burial grounds and build a memorial. A grassroots campaign raised funds to erect the adjacent gate and display 2000. numbered iron markers displaced from graves over the years. A life-size bronze angel was placed 175 yards south of here to serve as a perpetual guardian.

Letchworth Village in Rockland County, Rockland County New York, opened in 1911 as a residential facility for the mentally and/or physically disabled. It closed in 1996 after years of reported abuse and a lack of funding. Graves are marked with rusting metal T-shapes embossed with a number.

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Image source: http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/numbers-instead-of-names-on-the-forgotten-graves-of-asylum-patients

The Somerset and Bath Lunatic Asylum Cemetery in Wells, Somerset opened in 1874 and closed in 1991. The cemetery contains 2900 anonymous graves identified by numbered iron discs. A wooden sculpture by artist Peter Bolton lies on the ground beside the markers representing the anguish of mental health.

As recent as 2011, there was no road, no sign and no headstones for the 5776 patients buried at the Willard Asylum for the Insane. New York State operated 26 of these facilities.

Vermont Asylum for the Insane was founded  in Brattleboro in 1834 to care for the mentally ill. Initially deceased patients were buried in the Village Burying Ground (to later become Prospect Hill Cemetery), then the Asylum Burying Ground and finally in the Brattleboro Retreat Cemetery known as Fairview. None of the graves have identification.

“The eye of him that hath seen me shall
come no more. Why hast thou set in
me a mark against thee so that I am a
burden to myself? and why dost thee not
pardon my transgression and take away
mine iniquity? for now shall I sleep in the
dust and thou shalt seek me in the
morning, but I shall not be.” Sarah Culy

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Between 1871 and 1953, there were 3200 patients buried at the Western State Hospital in Lakewood, Oregon. They were represented by numbered stones which sank beneath the surface of the ground.  A granite stone has been erected over a mass grave to mark their lives and deaths.

 

Lakewood
Image source: http://www.mentalhealthportland.org/clear-pixel-once-anonymous-graves-of-mentally-ill-at-wash-mental-institution-get-named-markers/

The Longview Asylum opened in 1860 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The hospital cemetery contains the bodies of patients who were unclaimed or died indigent. Grave markers consist of small square cement blocks bearing a number.

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Image source: https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=cr&CRid=2350754

Spencer State Asylum Roane County, West Virginia, opened in 1893 closing almost 100 years later in 1989. Approximately 850 patients are buried on the hospital grounds.

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Image source: http://www.hurherald.com/cgi-bin/db_scripts/articles?Action=user_view&db=hurheral_articles&id=45196

The Mississippi Lunatic Asylum was established in Jackson in 1848 and asylum patients were buried on the grounds. The cemetery which has been consecrated also contains the ashes of many anatomical donors and is the repository for the ashes of infants who died at UMC and whose families wished them to be buried there. A Ceremony of Remembrance honors them in a fall service.

“By their extraordinary gifts these dead have taught the living how to touch, through them, we touch the body of the world”. John Stone M.D.

This monument was dedicated on april 16, 1996 as a memorial to all those who have donated their bodies to the University of Mississippi Medical Center since 1955 for professional education and research.

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Image source: https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=cr&CRid=2161647

Public attitude has since changed 180 degrees with regards to mental health. Markers and/or memorial walls have been erected to recognize those who died and were buried with no ceremony. A new national memorial dedicated to the unnamed graves of the mentally ill broke ground at Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. in 2009.

Son of a …

You would think that having lived 89 years you would have learned the value of what really matters in life. Apparently not the case for Bernard P. Hopkins whose grave is accompanied by a  marker inscribed; Legacy Of BPH: Liar . Thief . Cheat . Selfish . Unsharing . Unloving . Unkind . Disloyal . Dishonorable . Unfaithful

Not surprisingly, there are no flowers at this grave located in Morton Cemetery, Richmond, Texas.

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Shells

Actual shell fragments left on gravestones in pioneer cemeteries represent the journey through death and rebirth. Shells that are not part of the gravestone were left there to signify that the deceased had not been forgotten.

In localities near the sea, entire graves were covered with shells because this product was cheap and readily available.

Although not a common symbol the shell most often used is a scallop shell which represents the baptism of Christ. Many baptismal fonts are often built in the form of a scallop shell.

It is also a traditional symbol of the Crusades.

This large scallop shell was designed by the deceased, Ransom Cook, some years before his death.

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The art form of a child cradled in a scallop shell was popular in North America during the 19th century. Sears, Roebuck and Company had a contract with a Vermont marble producer to sell the shell headstone by mail order.

The conch shell was revered by many cultures as a symbol of reincarnation and wisdom. In Buddhism, the shell’s call can awaken one from ignorance, in Chinese Buddhism it signifies a prosperous journey; and in Islam the shell represents hearing the divine word. People in the Bakongo area of Africa believe that the shell encloses the soul (Pagans also held this same belief regarding the shell as a source of life.)

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He Is My Rock

This unusual grave marker in the form of a rock symbolizes Christ (“He is my rock…” Psalm 92:15).

The two symbols carved into the rock signify that the deceased was a member of two fraternities.

  • The Masonic compass and set square are a symbol used to represent the Order of Freemasons who view God as the architect and builder of the universe hence the use of these tools.
  • The three linked rings which signify the chains that bind the Fraternity are synonymous with the International Order of Oddfellows Fraternity (IOOF).

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The rock rests upon a stone base. A slate marker is engraved with two lines which share the same sentiments related in a poem by Robert Richardson.

Sleep Light Dear Heart
Sleep Light
Good Night
Good Night

The poem entitled Annette was published in 1893. The last lines of the poem by Robert Richardson reads

Warm summer sun, shine friendly here 
Warm western wind, blow kindly here; 
Green sod above, rest light, rest light, 
Good-night, Annette! 
Sweetheart, good-night!

Mark Twain also echoed these sentiments when he paraphrased the poem on the grave of his daughter, Olivia Susan Clemens.
Warm summer sun, shine kindly here;
Warm southern wind, blow softly here;
Green sod above, lie light, lie light –
Good night, dear heart, good night, good night.

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