On the morning of August 23, 1894 banker Col. James Monroe Winstead sedately climbed the stairs to a balcony tower at Richmond’s City Hall, “threw his cane and shoes down” and then jumped to his death, landing on the iron fence over 90 feet below.
As I dug deeper into the circumstances surrounding this gruesome death, I found two additional pieces of information that in some ways shed more light on what happened that day and other ways only open up more questions.
When I visited All Saints Episcopal Church I was under the assumption that the plain slab below marked the grave of Alice Belin Flagg, a tragic figure in Pawleys Island folklore and the subject of an alleged haunting.
I’ve since learned that Alice is buried in an unmarked grave at Belin United Methodist Church and this monument was erected for a descendent who ended up in another graveyard, meaning that no one is actually interred here.
That doesn’t deter visitors from visiting All Saints to leave coins and rings. Many attempt invocation of her spirit by walking backwards around the slab thirteen times, but there’s no proof that anything ever manifested aside from a worn path circling the marker.
At any rate the ghost story along with the speculation of a foiled romance and family strife have kept her alive for over a century after her burial.
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.
I recently revisited photos from my 2013 tour of Los Angeles’ Evergreen Memorial Park and Crematory. One photo triggered the memory of an entry I started over a year ago about Chloe Canfield, who died at the hands of a disgruntled former coachman on the porch of her South Alvarado Street mansion in the early 1900s.
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.
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.
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.
She was born in the year of our Lord 1818 and departed this life on the 30th day of July 1833.
Aged fifteen years, 4 mo’s. and 18 d’s.
When blooming youth be snatched away
By Death’s resistless hand
Our hearts the mournful tributes pay
Which pity must demand
While pity prompts the rising sigh
Oh may this truth impress’t
With awful power ‘I, too must die’
Sink deep in every breast”
Elizabeth’s grave in Grove Street Cemetery is memorable for two reasons: she the earliest known burial in the cemetery and according to folklore, the teenaged boarding school student was “scared to death” after a foreboding message appeared on her bedroom wall in 1833.
The plaque by her brick tomb gives an outline of the events surrounding her death. “Elizabeth Royall, a native of Halifax County, died while a student at one of Danville’s female academies. She was supposedly frightened to death by a prank played by schoolmates.”
Dixie Dixon was one of the many bright-eyed young girls who left behind small town life in search of fame and fortune as a vaudeville performer, but unfortunately her suspicious death instead of her stage presence became her legacy.
I first mentioned Josie Wheeler in August 2013’s “Misc. Mortuary Mysteries.” Much of Josie’s biography remains shrouded in secrecy but in the months since originally conjuring Josie’s name from obscurity I’ve uncovered new information that sheds more light on her life and her tragic final hours on this mortal coil. Sadly I don’t have a tombstone or grave location and based on new evidence I’m not even certain that she’s buried in Danville anymore.
After months of trying to coordinate schedules and weather forecasts, I finally made it to the grave of Chang and Eng Bunker at White Plains Baptist Church in Mount Airy, North Carolina. It was a warm but beautiful day and fortunately for me, I showed up in time to see grave offerings of flowers and small liquor bottles left in front of the tombstone. I don’t know if the water bottle was part of the gift or if it was accidentally left by another visitor as garbage, so I left it alone. I hear that it’s important to stay hydrated when consuming liquor, so maybe someone had a reason for leaving it there. That’s beside the point.
There is no shortage of biographical information about the Bunker twins out there so I’ve provided links to additional reading and sources throughout this post. If you’re familiar with my sister site, Misc. Tidings of Yore, you know that I have a soft spot for historical newspapers. Some of what you read here will be based on old clippings from the archives.
courtesy of Special Collections and Archives Tompkins-McCaw Library, VCU
It wasn’t until 1884 that Virginia’s General Assembly established a state anatomical board and addressed the issue of body snatching as related to medical schools’ procurement of dead bodies. The anatomy act allowed medical colleges to legally take possession of certain unclaimed bodies, such as those of paupers and prisoners. Even though medical schools had access to executed criminals’ bodies before the anatomy act, the demand for corpses far surpassed the supply. The aspiring physician relied largely on “resurrection men” to provide labs with a fresh and steady supply of cadavers to quench his thirst for anatomical knowledge. Resurrection men (also known as ghouls, body snatchers, grave robbers, and anatomical men) frequently toiled under the cover of night when they could disinter and deliver a fresh corpse with little chance of detection. The gruesome nature of the trade was offensive to the general public, but body-snatching was considered a necessary evil to those in the medical profession. Newspaper accounts of body snatching suggest that the majority of the bodies stolen were from African-American cemeteries.
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.
“Dainty” Dotty Jensen’s grave is located at the left corner of the Ladies Auxiliary Pacific Coast Showmen’s Association marker in Los Angeles’ Evergreen Memorial Park and Crematory. Her remains are among those of over 400 carnival employees and performers in the Showmen’s Rest portion of the cemetery.
It amuses me that Lynchburg, Virginia is largely associated (in reputation) in some way, shape, or form with Jerry Falwell’s conservative Christian influence, but in 1804 the city was described by one evangelist as “the seat of Satan’s Kingdom.”
The two business-savvy women buried in the plot here at Old City Cemetery lived and worked in one of Lynchburg’s seediest (and probably also one of the most interesting) neighborhoods: Buzzard’s Roost.
Mary Jenifer Triplett Haxall’s tombstone sits at the back of the Haxall plot in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery alongside that of her husband Philip’s. Her marker is smaller and less ornate some of the others in the plot, which is how I overlooked it during my initial whirlwind visit. After doing some research on the Haxall name I discovered that prior to marrying Philip, Miss Triplett was the subject of a poem published in a newspaper by a scorned lover that resulted in a fatal pistol duel.
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.
This entry is divided into two parts: the first being accounts of funerals disturbed by agitated bees and the second part about “telling the bees,” a superstition observed in order to protect or preserve a hive following a death in its owner’s household.
The Sun [NY] 19 Apr. 1894
During an 1894 funeral people noticed a number of bees at the windows and along the walls of the church, finally making their way into the room where the service was taking place. The mourners’ anxiety grew as they fanned away the bees, contemplating walking out of the service to avoid being stung. A pall bearer was stung on his neck and an undertaker “was attacked in a vicious manner.” When the procession headed for the graveyard, the bees followed. Later they discovered a large quantity of honey in the church’s rafters and walls, which explained the bees’ presence.
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 Lawson’s story fascinates me not only because of the ill-fated manner of his death, but also because the house in which he died still stands today on Millionaire’s Row as a bed and breakfast.
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.
In a previous post I introduced you to several cases of people accidentally buried alive here in the United States and the fear generated by such burials. For the sad souls who were accidentally buried before they were really dead, by the time the mistake was discovered it was too late to save them. There were quite a few fortunate ones who had near-misses with being buried alive, particularly before the widespread use of embalming techniques. Such cases involve someone being declared dead and prepared for burial when they “came to life” just in time to avoid waking up in a coffin underneath six feet of soil, dead to the world. Newspapers often referred to such people as “supposed corpses” and used terms like “suspended animation” and “trance” to describe the condition of the person at the time he or she was declared dead. There are numerous accounts of people who have almost gone to the grave while still alive, here are just a few.
Kate W. Gravely Cabell was born in 1872 into a prominent Danville family, the daughter of Captain Peyton Gravely, a tobacco manufacturer and partner at P.B. Gravely & Co., and Mary Walters Gravely. In her youth she no doubt enjoyed the privileges that accompanied the life of a person of wealth and higher social standing. Her name was mentioned in the society pages of newspapers even outside of Danville’s town limits where she was described as “bewitching” and charming.
The entry in Green Hill Cemetery’s Mortuary Report for William Hastings Trowbridge reads, “…he died on the 22nd day of Dec 1889 and that the cause of his death was shocked received and peritonitis…”
William, a 47-year-old bachelor tobacconist, died a particularly gruesome death at the wheels of an electric car just a few days before Christmas. Trolley railway systems were first used in 1887 in Richmond, Virginia, and just two years later (give or take a few months), a similar system was being used in Danville. The technology, as with the introduction of most technology, probably took citizens some time to get used to. While a trolley couldn’t nearly travel with the speed of today’s automobiles, they were probably a little faster than the horse-and-wagon system that had been the typical mode of transportation.
Normally I reserve transcribing news articles for Misc. Tidings of Yore, but because of the nature of this piece about the “morgue ship” that recovered bodies from the Titanic disaster, I decided to include it here. Reading the words from the newspaper about the bodies just after they were pulled from the sea and embalmed on board (or buried at sea) gave me a different feeling than from reading or watching more modern accounts. I don’t think I’ve ever seen or read anything that described the “morgue ship” or the anxious behavior of embalmers waiting on the pier for the ship to dock either, but if you can recommend something feel free to comment.
Previously I posted some pictures from my recent trip to the cemetery at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pawleys Island, South Carolina. While tiptoeing through the Flagg family plot after locating the alleged grave of Alice Flagg, I noticed an interesting inscription on one of the obelisks:
This is the grave marker of William Roberts that sits in All Saints Episcopal Church’s cemetery in South Carolina. What makes this tombstone stand out is its inscription, which due to weathering and repairs is difficult to read in some areas. William Roberts apparently died at the age of 26 after injuries sustained from falling from a ladder. The date of his death looks to be October 23, 1884 and there is no birth date listed. You can make out: