John A. Kirby

November 13th, 2014

You may have seen in recent local news about a house that was being moved but ran into several problems. The process of relocating the Nelson-Kirby Farm House to make room for development began on October 27th. The house made a couple stops along the way due to a broken axle and a broken crankshaft on the moving truck.

 The house that took 3 days to move was the Nelson-Kirby Farm House. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. The house was partly named for the Kirby family, several members of which now reside at Elmwood Cemetery. Wilks Brooks, who owned a plantation nearby, developed the house for his son.

 In its history, the property operated as the area’s first polling place and post office, as well as the first place to obtain a marriage license. At the turn of the century, John Kirby owned and operated over 8,000 acres in the region and the Farm House was the headquarters for his land holdings. Kirby Parkway in East Memphis is named for John A. Kirby as well.


The house was originally located at Kirby Farms, located off Poplar Pike in Germantown, and now sits about a mile south of there. The original tract of land was so large that the new location is within the boundaries of the old farm. Though no one knows a definite date of construction of the house, the structure is more than a century old. It was probably quite simple when constructed, but due to additions by multiple owners, it now has Italianate and Queen Anne features.

 Thomas A. Nelson purchased the property in 1868, a year after a Yellow Fever epidemic in Memphis. The house’s remote location provided his family with an escape from the city during times when the disease was epidemic and people thought it could be spread from person to person. John Anderson Kirby bought the farm from Nelson in 1898.

 John A. Kirby was born in Virginia in 1842. He came to Memphis in 1860 to enter the wholesale grocery business. He enlisted with the “Shelby Grays,” the pro-Southern 4th Tennessee Infantry Regiment organized in Shelby County in 1861 that was part of the state’s provisional army before the Civil War officially began. Kirby fought at Belmont and Shiloh. He was captured at Missionary Ridge in November 1863 and spent the rest of the war imprisoned at Rock Island prison in Illinois. By the time the Civil War ended, he was one of the few surviving members of the Shelby Grays. After the war, John Kirby married Ann Eliza Brooks, descendent of Wilks Brooks who developed the farm and house where they would later live.

 The land around the house was developed and sold off, but descendants of John Kirby have lived in the house since he bought it. John Kirby and his wife Ann Eliza are both buried in the Lenow Circle section at Elmwood. 


The Burkle Estate

October 8th, 2014

Not all Memphians are familiar with the Slave Haven museum at the Burkle Estate in downtown at 826 North Second Street. Jacob Burkle, who is buried at Elmwood in the Chapel Hill section, was a German immigrant from Schemeden. He fled to America seeking a freer way of life after the failed German Revolution of 1848-9. Burkle owned the city’s first stockyard. The house at the Burkle Estate was built in the 1850s, overlooking his stockyards. Today his house is a museum featuring portraits of slaves and slave trading advertisements that aims to teach visitors about the atrocity of slavery and the secret world of the Underground Railroad.

According to local legend, the house was a stop along the Underground Railroad. Some historians debate that there is truth behind the legend, but both sides will argue that the lack of primary evidence supports their argument. The lack of evidence could mean that it never was a stop along the Underground Railroad, but it would be unsurprising for there to be no remaining evidence since it would have been a very secretive operation which could get someone killed if discovered. Supposedly, the only documents which could have verified the legend were burned by Burkle’s great granddaughter.

It is believed, by some, that the cellar beneath the house, accessible through the parlor, was used as a place to hide slaves. The estate is only three blocks from the Mississippi River and according to legend there was a tunnel to the river which has since been blocked off. An archaeological survey found no evidence of a tunnel, but engineers say that a tunnel would have been possible in the type of soil found at the estate. One possibility is that there was a naturally occurring trench from the house to the river that Jacob Burkle bricked over forming a tunnel which is no longer visible.

Whether the Burkle Estate actually served as a safe house for escaped slaves or not, the Safe Haven museum teaches a lasting lesson about slavery in this country. Though it is likely we will never know the truth about the Burkle Estate, the folklore will live on. 



Col. Robert Galloway

September 3rd, 2014

Col. Robert Galloway played an important role in beautifying and enriching Memphis. He was a businessman who started out working for the Southern Railway, and later owned his own local coal company which made him a wealthy man. He made a significant contribution to The Home for Aged Women, which was opened in 1896 by the Willing Hands Circle of the Kings Daughters. When it was time for them to expand, they purchased a new lot at Monroe and Manassas costing about $1,100 for the land and the new building. Galloway paid off their debts and the Home was renamed the Mary Galloway Home in honor of his first wife.

 Col. Robert Galloway obviously loved the outdoors. Not only was he an officer for the Memphis Boat Club, he was a member of the first Memphis Park Commission in 1901 and later became chairman. Through his efforts, the land for Overton Park was acquired and the parkway system established. He played a big part in developing and improving Overton Park. In 1904 he had a pavilion erected near the east end so the public could enjoy free concerts throughout the summer months. Also in 1904, a Southern black bear named “Natch” went to live in Overton Square, chained to a tree. He was the mascot for the Memphis Turtles baseball team. Galloway had the idea to build a home for Natch, and several other wild animals which had ended up at the Park, Galloway presented the city with a plan to form a Zoo. After a few attempts to establish a Zoo, the Memphis Park Commission allocated $1,200 to establish the Memphis Zoo in 1906. In the beginning Galloway used his own personal funds to care for the animals. Later the Memphis Zoo Association held fundraisers for the animals and for improvements. By 1907, the first building, named Galloway Hall, was built at the Zoo. If not for Col. Robert Galloway, we may not have our top-rated Zoo that is such an asset to the city today.

  In 1908, Galloway began construction on Paisley Hall near the new Zoo at 1822 Overton Park. Finished in 1910, it is a beautiful example of Greek Revival architecture. Much of the interior was imported from Europe. Now commonly known as the Galloway Mansion, Elvis was interested in purchasing it before he settled at Graceland. The house still stands at Overton Park, but Col. Robert Galloway now resides here at Elmwood. 


Elmwood's Elvis Connections

August 14th, 2014

Most people know that Elvis is not buried here at Elmwood Cemetery. He was originally interred at Forest Hill Cemetery and was later moved to Graceland. Elmwood however does have some ties to Elvis and Graceland. Most people don’t know that the woman for whom Graceland is named, Grace Toof, is buried here at Elmwood. She was the daughter of S. C. Toof, who owned the local printing firm, S. C. Toof & Co, which is still operating today as Toof Commercial Printing. He owned the land that the Graceland mansion now sits on. Under his ownership it was just a farm. His daughter Grace inherited the land when he passed away in 1894. When she died the land went to her sister, Ruth Toof Brown, and then to her daughter, Ruth Brown Moore. Moore and her husband built a colonial mansion in 1939. It was her niece, Ruth Brown Moore that decided to name the house and grounds “Graceland” in memory of her beloved aunt.

Elvis’ cook, Mary Jenkins Langston, is also interred here. Mary is the one pictured in this post. She started as a maid for the for the Presley family in 1963 and several years later Priscilla promoted her to cook. She cooked for him for 14 years and stayed on with the Presley family for 12 years after he died. She mastered cooking his famed favorite snack, fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. The secret to getting them just right was apparently butter, as with many foods Elvis enjoyed. Langston said she used about a 2/3 cup of butter per sandwich. She was so appreciated by the Presley family that Elvis bought her a house. He even bought her 3 Cadillacs in her time working for him.

Visit Elmwood Cemetery during Elvis Week and we’ll be glad to show you Elmwood’s “Elvis connections”.


Jasper's Lion

June 26th, 2014

A few months ago, Jasper Smith was featured on this blog. His and his sisters’ monuments are the first ones most people notice when entering the cemetery. In the blog post from February, you can see that both Jasper and his lion are quite dirty. They are covered with dirt, pollution and some orange lichens. The soft white marble is very porous so it tends to wick up air pollutants which become more difficult to clean over time. Biological growth, like lichens, fungi and bacteria, tend to be acidic and can actually etch into the stone over time, obscuring details or inscriptions.

Knowing that Jasper’s lion was probably a gleaming white statue when it was first installed, I have wanted to clean it for a long time. This past Saturday I invited this spring’s Stone College graduates to clean some monuments. We cleaned Jasper’s lion and several others nearby. I was impressed to see how clean it got even after just a few applications of the cleaning solution and scrubbing. It took some extra time to get into the tighter spaces like the lion’s mouth and the nooks and crannies within his mane. The D/2 solution soaks into the porous stone and continues to work after scrubbing so a volunteer sprayed the statue down once more before leaving Saturday and it really did continue to work. The recent rain washed some more of the grime away and the lion looked wonderful this morning.

It is so satisfying to see the difference a few hours of cleaning can do for a monument, but it is rewarding to know that our efforts have helped to preserve the lion which is in place to preserve the memory of Jasper Smith.

If you are interested in participating in projects like this one, you should sign up for Stone College in November. After the class, you will be invited back to help when we plan cleaning and restoration projects. We can also do a private class for 10-15 adults. Thank you to volunteers Erin Hillis, Pam Rummage, Lisbeth Redden, and Joshua Cooper for your help cleaning monuments!