February 6th, 2014
by Richard Alley, 2014 Volunteer Writer-in-Residence
It’s one of the first markers seen after crossing Morgan Bridge. This isn’t the original entrance to Elmwood Cemetery, that was off of Walker Ave., on the south side of the 80 acres. This newer passageway is narrow, confining, yet once traversed it gives the visitor a feeling, of all things, of openness and a sense of space; to cross over is to be delivered.
Straight ahead, slightly to the right, is a grave that isn’t. There is no one buried there but, instead, a monument stands to the memory of a man and it is his likeness, in profile to the visitor there at the intersection of Page Ave. and Morgan’s Grand Tour. The statue of a lion, as is custom when there is no body within, watches over that memory.
Jasper Newton Smith was poor when he came to Memphis from Giles County, Tenn., in the late 19th century. He soon went to work for Mary Moore, described in later accounts as an “eccentric widow.” Smith worked at odd jobs and acted as her caretaker. The two became close and were wed in 1878, a year that would see thousands in Memphis perish from Yellow Fever.
Mary was born in Missouri in 1837, and died of pneumonia on Feb. 19, 1897. Jasper inherited her money and property, amassing some 100 properties throughout Memphis with others in St. Louis, Baltimore and Mayfield, Kentucky.
Two years after his wife’s death, Jasper would go missing. He never returned and his body was never recovered. In his fifties at the time, with graying hair, a moustache and “a small bunch of whiskers on his chin,” wrote a reporter for The Commercial Appeal, he was last seen the night of May 26, 1899.
Jasper dressed plainly, though, at the time, his fortune was said to be worth $200,000 (almost $5.5 million in today’s money). Indeed, accounts claim he had been in the habit of carrying large sums of money and that “he had a tobacco sack full of greenbacks” on him the day before he disappeared and displayed some gold to his niece, Ida Smith, who lived with him at his home at 392 Madison St.
Those close to him believe Jasper was a victim of foul play as he was a man of habit and had not mentioned going abroad. He was a drinking man, but did not drink heavily, yet one of the last places he was seen was at Whiskey Chute Alley, a blocks-long string of saloons, oyster bars and gambling houses stretching from Madison to Court, and from Front to Main St. Renamed Park Alley in 1942, it was a gathering place for businessmen and Jasper had been seen there with a nephew before he disappeared. Another report puts him at the Montgomery Park horse racing track on East Parkway the night before with that same nephew.
In Elmwood, adjacent to Jasper’s monument, two other markers on the same plot belong to his sisters, Eliza and Ruth Smith, who inherited his estate once he was declared legally dead seven years later. Eliza died on Aug. 12, 1910. The cause of death is listed as “chronic diarrhea” with a contributing factor of exhaustion. She was 55 years old.
Born in 1848, Ruth outlived them both, passing in 1918 at the age of 70.
The mystery of Jasper Smith was never solved, though speculation swirls like nearby gingko leaves in autumn. Did the sisters have something to do with his disappearance? The purchase of the plot and his monument a final act of respect and, perhaps, an effort towards an apology? It is worth noting that the sisters’ monuments, equally as tall, are turned away from that of Jasper’s as though they wanted to be near him, yet not necessarily with him in eternity. Had it been the nephew in Jasper’s company on the final night he was seen in public? Or could it have been any of the desperate, fearful men who must have populated the pubs and gambling houses in that year of Memphis’s fever? We may never know for sure, but the statue of the man and his lion looking over him will forever act as a reminder and memorial.
December 12th, 2013
Submitted by Guest Blogger Cathi Johnson
On November 11, 2001, my oldest daughter Ashley was killed in a car accident. Each of the twelve years since, I have take 11.11 as a personal day, seeking no human interaction, a time for reflection and nowhere to go, no place to be. I do what feels right, when it feels right.
This year was no different. I intended to go to Elmwood shortly after they opened, but got involved in something else at home, so I left for Elmwood when I got done.
In the section where I do most of my volunteer stone preservation work, Chapel Hill 2, single infant burials from the late 1880s, I started doing a little lawn maintenance, dragging downed tree limbs from the far end to the curb. As I walked to the curb, a truck stopped right in front of me.
“Darn,” I thought. “People. Now I have to interact.”
I could have nodded hello and turned away, but when a man emerged from the truck holding a map and gazing about in bewilderment, I felt the need to offer my services. “May I help you?” I asked.
Grunt. Awkward silence. Then a mumbled, “They keep moving these things around.”
More silence as I digested that statement. Er, what exactly could he be thinking was being moved around? In a cemetery?
The man was still standing there clutching the map. He did not offer it to me to look at, nor did he ask a question. I tentatively leaned closer, keeping my feet in place. Grudgingly, he finally allowed me to see the map. It was indeed a map of Elmwood, and someone from the office had marked in red the location of a burial. He was in the right place – Chapel Hill 2.
Emboldened, I asked for the name of the person they were looking for. “Louis Kummerer,” he said. “I know exactly where that child is buried!” I replied. “Come with me.”
Eager now, the man and woman carefully followed me across the uneven grass to Louis’ marker. During my volunteer work, I had found the cradle portion in three pieces, and the upright headstone broken from its base, lying 5 feet away. Each piece has been restored and re-set. I admit I felt some pride as I presented them to Louis.
I discovered that the man and woman were mother and son, and that Louis was her father’s infant brother. And now, years later, his family was reclaiming him, remembering him, mourning him.
Silently, I left them there and went back to my work. But on this day, set aside every year to honor the memory of Ashley, when I could have arrived earlier and been gone by the time they parked the truck, or not offered to help, or not been shown the map, I marvel at how small the world really is.
November 25th, 2013
Recently a woman stopped by the office with a small bag of items she hoped we could bury at the gravesite of her Great-Great Grandmother who was buried in Elmwood in 1960. Fighting back tears, she explained the reason for her request.
In February of 1901, her Great-Great Grandparents were living in St. Louis and lost their first born child, a son named for his father, Roy. The child had just turned 6. The child’s mother, Jeanette, packed up a few items to remind her of her departed son: some toys, a pair of christening shoes, a mitten and a sprig of fern probably taken from a funeral wreath. She carefully packed these things away and moved on with her life. Jeannette raised more children, moved to Little Rock and then Memphis, grew old, died and was buried in Elmwood next to her husband. The child was rarely, if ever, mentioned over the next 112 years. The stored items quietly passed down thru the next three generations. Until now.
A Great-Great Granddaughter found the items while going through her mother’s things. Here was a handful of items bringing home a poignant reminder of a mother’s grief for a small child taken long before his time. The woman feared that eventually someone was eventually going to come into possession of the items, have no idea of what they were, and that they’d end up discarded without care. These items symbolized her Great-Great Grandmother’s tragic loss and grief and she felt that they needed to be reunited with Jeannette once more.
Elmwood was contacted and asked if the items could be buried in Jeannette’s plot, and that’s what we’ve done. A mother and her only son’s possessions together again, united for all eternity. Keeping family memories alive is what Elmwood is about. We honor and welcome that responsibility.
October 18th, 2013
If only homes could talk. Over a span of 136 years and three different centuries, 1085 Poplar has seen it all. It has been known as the Patton home, the Bejach home, the Patton-Bejach House, the Coach House, The Four Flames, and today, the Memphis Child Advocacy Center. 1085 Poplar has seen more than its share of Memphis history. It watched the 1878 Yellow Fever epidemic play out at its front door, the rise, fall and resurrection of downtown Memphis, Elvis, murder, and the comings and goings of Memphis high society.
The year the house was built depends on who you are talking to, but 1877 is most likely accurate. Thomas Newton Patton built the home as a wedding present for his second wife, Helen Amanda Coulter. At the time it was built the home was out in the county well away from the center of downtown Memphis. A fire badly damaged the house in 1883. Mr. Patton rebuilt it the next year using the original bricks. The Pattons lived in the home until 1900 when they sold it to Samuel Bejach, a Russian immigrant and downtown merchant.
The Bejachs lived in the home until around 1914. Samuel Bejach’s son Lois Dillard BeJach became a prominent local attorney, judge and state politician. In 1913 he sponsored a bill known today as BeJach’s Law, which gave married Tennessee women property rights years before they had a right to vote.
The home was later bought by Mrs. Walter L Cawthorn. She restored the home to its antebellum appearance. She ran an antique store called the Heirloom Shoppe in the home.
In the late 1950s Mrs. Lessie Gates moved in and transformed 1085 Poplar into the Coach House Restaurant. The Coach House was known as one of the finer dining establishments in Memphis. At its opening Mrs. Gates was quoted as saying, “For a long time I have felt there was a definite need in Memphis for a restaurant of this kind. One that would combine an exclusive dining service, deluxe-course dinners, and an appropriate setting.”
The establishment offered private dining rooms, floors of brick, huge mirrors, and treasures from this country and abroad. The courtyard in the rear was turned into a French-style open-air care.
In 1964 it became a private club. On March 31, 1965 the home made local headlines when Mrs. Gates was mysteriously murdered in the rear of the house.
The home then became The Four Flames Restaurant and the iconic four flames were placed in front of the house along Poplar. Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s the home continued its reputation as one of city’s premier dining establishments. The restaurant closed in the late 1980s and the building sat empty for a few years until it became the headquarters for one of Memphis’s social-service agencies, the Memphis Child Advocacy Center.
The Pattons, the Bejachs, Mrs. Gates and their accumulated stories have all come to rest within Elmwood Cemetery.
July 17th, 2013
When we last left Mrs. Howard the year was 1860. She had been a widow for five years and was living in Memphis with four young children. The year before, in 1859, she buried another child in the Howard Vault, and by the end of 1861 she would return to Elmwood to bury children James and Ellana.
We know that Mrs. Howard was still living in Memphis in 1866. On August 21 of that year her daughter Mary was married to Mr. Juan Rayner, son of Eli Rayner, Jr., at Calvary Church in Memphis.
Fourteen years later, and it’s 1880. Mrs. Howard resurfaces in the 1880 Federal Census, but not in Tennessee.
Founded in 1858, Denver became a boomtown after 1870 when the transcontinental railroad was finally completed and linked it to the rest of the United States. In the 1880 census Frances was 54 years old and turned up living with her 35 year old daughter Nellie (Fannie) in Denver. The census said they both worked as “Dressmakers”. According to her obituary we find that she moved there around 1873. Why Mrs. Howard ended up in Denver is not clear. It could have been for many reasons. The West at that time embodied the ideal of ‘new beginnings’, ‘fresh starts’, and ‘new adventures’ for many. Maybe Mrs. Howard was restless. But it’s also possible that she was merely following her older, married daughter Mary and her husband Juan Rayner, who ended up living in Pueblo Colorado. By the 1910 Federal Census Frances was 84 years old and living in Pueblo with Juan and Mary. Daughter Nellie had married John M. Norman and was living in Denver.
Frances Roberta Wilkinson Howard died in Pueblo Colorado on Sunday, August 7, 1910 at the age of 85 years old in the home of her oldest daughter Mary. Two days later her other surviving daughter Fannie Norman came to Pueblo to take her body back to Denver for burial. Fannie and her husband James M. Norman are buried in the historic Fairmont Cemetery in Denver. Frances is most likely buried there also, but we do not know for sure.
Frances Howard may have lived out her last 37 years in Colorado, but it would seem that the family never made a complete break from Memphis. Her obituary mentions the ‘legion’ of Friends she had left in Memphis. Also, you may remember the Howard and Frank Rayner buried outside of the Vault, but within the Howard Plot at Elmwood? It turns out that some of the family had returned to Memphis. Howard was the son of Mary Howard Rayner and her husband Juan and the grandson of Eli Raynor, Jr. and Francis R. Howard. Mrs. “Frank” Raynor was his wife. Sometime around 1908 they returned to Memphis. But that leads to another entirely different story and a new blog entry for another day.