April 29th, 2013
We should all be so lucky to have a name like Stacker Lee. The name is often connected to the myths relating to the song “Stagger Lee” and to the original inspiration for Edna Ferber when she was writing her book and later Broadway play and movie, Showboat. However, when all is said and done, little if any of the myths are based in any fact. One thing is true: there was a Stacker Lee.
Stacker Lee was born Samuel Stacker Lee in Stewart County Tennessee. The year was 1845. He was the 3rd son of James Lee, Sr.
James Lee, Sr. started out as an iron monger along the Cumberland River in Dover Stewart, Tennessee. In order to avoid the middle-man in transporting his goods to market he started operating his own steamers. Sometime after 1850 he and his family moved to Memphis and set up the offices of the Lee Steamer Line alongside the Mississippi River.
The eldest son, James Lee, Jr., did much to expand the family business. Through the years all of the officers of the Lee Steamer Line and many of its boats carried the name of Lee.
The Stacker Lee was built around 1902 and was named for Samuel “Stacker” Lee who had died 12 years previously. The boat operated until 1916.
One has to admit that from looking at the picture of the Stacker Lee it did look like the stereotypical picture we carry in our minds of what a Mississippi River steamboat looked like. The boat in North Carolina that Ms. Ferber was most familiar with, and most likely used as her inspiration, looked nothing like what we think the showboats looked like.
As for the song, let’s just say that the only thing that Stacker and Stagger had in common was the same last name.
Samuel Stacker Lee died April 3, 1890 of Gastritis at the age of 42. He is buried under the name of Stacker Lee in a plot purchased by his wife Lizzie in the Evergreen Section of Elmwood.
April 1st, 2013
Within Elmwood’s extensive archives T-#504 is short for Turley Lot Number 504. Of all the lots in Elmwood this is the only one that is forever imprinted on my mind. The mention of T-#504 brings to mind anger, disbelief, shock, curiosity, and especially sadness of the most profound degree.
The Lot Book says that this area is “Reserved for the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. For those of you not familiar with the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, this was the agency run by Memphis’s infamous Georgia Tann, also known as the “Baby Thief”.
Visit T-#504 and you will see nothing but a grassy patch of ground. No markers. Yet within this plot are buried 19 children who died under the supervision of Miss Tann.
The first burial was on September 17th, 1923 and this little girl’s name as registered in the Elmwood records was Maud. The last burial, Robert, was on October 10, 1949, less than a year before the agency was formally exposed for what it was and shut down. Eight other children also have full names listed. It is known, however, that Ms. Tann commonly changed the names of the children so it will never be known if these are the actual birth names. Ten of the children are only listed as Baby Estelle, Baby Billy, Baby Herbert, and so on.
Thousands of children went through this agency and were often deceptively stolen from their legitimate parent/s and sold at a profit through Tann’s nefarious ‘adoption system’. Hundreds of children died while under her care from neglect, abuse, and improper medical care. No one knows for sure what happened to their bodies. One story, as told in Barbara Raymond’s book The Baby Thief, has it that some of the bodies were disposed of through an agreement Miss Tann had with a local mortuary to cremate the remains. It was said that she liked cremation because ‘graves left a trail’.
T-#504 is one small, sad, visible reminder of that ‘trail’. The children buried there still wait for a marker to tell the world who they were and what happened to them.
March 5th, 2013
We have a tendency at Elmwood to write and talk a lot about the politicians, military notables, Yellow Fever victims and financial tycoons buried within our cemetery. The fact remains, however, that the majority of Memphians buried here were just regular folks who’s names at best made the paper twice: on the day of their birth and the day of their death. Yet the truth is that everyone has a story.
Maude Ann Gillican was born in St. Louis, MO on 11-27-1876 to Benjamin Franklin and Rachel Nellie Stern Johnson. At some point in time B. F. and “Nellie” moved to Memphis. He started a career as brick laying contractor and began to raise a large family. One of the youngest daughters was Maude.
Maude married on June 9, 1906 at the relatively late age of 30 to Edgar O. Gillican. Nothing is known of the marriage except that it was to be a relatively short one, for Edgar died unexpectedly on September 11, 1912 from complications after a surgery.
One year later Maude posted a large ad in the Memphis City Directory announcing services she provided through the Maude Gillican Beauty Salon in the Downtown Exchange Building. Apparently the newly-widowed Mrs. Gillican was returning to the work force. At the time this was a bit of a novelty. In 1913 there were only three beauty salons listed in the City Directory and Maude’s seemed the be the finest.
It is not clear how long Maude’s salon remained open. It soon disappeared from the city directory. Over the next 10 to 15 years Maude’s name continued to appear at several different addresses, usually with the occupation of Masseur. In the early 1930’s she moved to Shreveport, Louisiana and managed a beauty salon for several years.
Late in life Maude returned to Memphis and began living at the Ambassador Hotel on South Main with her older sister Mattie. It was here that she was living when she died at the age of 78 on June 28, 1955 of heart disease. Maude is buried in the South Grove Section of Elmwood along with her husband, parents and several siblings.
February 5th, 2013
James D. Davis wrote and published a book in 1873 that has gone down in the annals of Memphis history as one of the classics.
Written and published in 1873, “The History of the City of Memphis” and the accompanying series of articles entitled “Old Time Papers” offers one of the earliest looks at the Memphis years before 1850.
At the time the book was written Mr. Davis had been a resident of the city for over forty-five years. He had watched the city grow from a dirty, rough little river town into a metropolis that seemed destined to become one of the great cities of the United States.
Mr. Davis was born September 2, 1810 in Pennsylvania and came to Memphis in 1827 by way of Tuscumbia, Alabama. At the time of his arrival the city was less than ten years old. The young man heard the stories told by the earliest settlers and late in his life tapped into his memory of these stories to write of the early settlers and events Memphis’s younger years.
On December 15, 1834 James Davis married Mary Jane Smythe. Together they had at least seven children. Along with being an author and poet, he served as a municipal harbormaster, and a professional painter.
In 1857 a group of citizens interested in preserving the history of early Memphis formed a group called ‘The Old Folks of Shelby County’. They printed a monthly journal which Mr. Davis edited and used latter in his writing of Memphis’s early history. This organization has evolved over the years into what we now know of as the West Tennessee Historical Society.
Politically Mr. Davis was a staunch Republican and Unionist. In the vote on secession, which followed the attack on Ft. Sumter, it is said that Mr. Davis was one of only five citizens in Memphis who voted against secession. This political stance made him quite unpopular in Memphis for many years.
James D. Davis died on October 3, 1880 and was buried on October 5th in the Turley Section of Elmwood Cemetery. Five years latter his wife Mary was buried next to his side. It took 95 years for his grave to be marked.
January 8th, 2013
In the annals of Memphis and West Tennessee history the names of Cecil M. and Boyce Alexander Gooch should never be forgotten. As a couple they moved quietly through the business, artistic, educational and social circles of the 20th Century Memphis leaving a legacy that lives to this day.
Cecil Gooch was born around 1890 on a farm near Crab Orchard, Kentucky and began in the lumber business by cutting logs in the mountains for a dollar a day. In 1919 he moved to Memphis. In a short time he built a fortune in the hardwood business.
Boyce Alexander, born in 1893 near Cuba in Northern Shelby County, attended Vassar on a scholarship, and upon graduation in 1915, returned home to teach school. She taught for a year at a rural school at Cuba, and for three years at Central High School. In 1919 she married Cecil Gooch.
Early in their married lives they were known for their world travels, and their activity in the local arts and social scenes. They established a beautiful home behind the wall and gardens at 123 East Parkway North. On the issue of money, Mrs. Gooch once said, “I told my husband when we were first married I wanted him to make enough money for me to do anything I wanted, so I could be called eccentric.”
One year Mr. Gooch ask his wife what she wanted for Christmas. Her answer was “to give a scholarship to Vassar.” It didn’t stop there. By 1943 she sold him on a larger vision and together they formed the C.M. Gooch Foundation. Over the next 35 years they gave away millions of dollars in the form of scholarships and financial aid to over 12,000 young Mid-South students. Cecil and Boyce never had children of their own and Mrs. Gooch often referred to the scholarship recipients as her ‘children’.
The Gooches are also remembered for the buildings on West Tennessee college campuses which bear their name. At the University of Tennessee-Martin stands the Cecil M. & Boyce Gooch Hall. Locally, standing on the campus of Rhodes College, is Gooch Hall. Erected in 1962 and dedicated in 1982 to the Gooches, the building adjoins Palmer Hall and the Richard Halliburton Memorial Tower. It houses the Office of the President, and the Offices of Student Affairs and the Academic Deans.
Mr. Gooch died in 1969. Mrs. Gooch lived in the family home until her death in December of 1979. They are buried in the Miller Section of Elmwood. Their simple stones do nothing to draw attention to their names and the wide spread philanthropy and goodwill to which they dedicated their remarkable lives. I like to think that this is exactly how they wanted it to be. They had mastered the fine “Art of Giving”.
-Dale Schaefer, Historian