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.
July 1st, 2013
One of the joys of my job as the Historian at Elmwood is how I have a never ending source of people to choose from when I get the urge to do a little ‘searching’.
One day I was wandering by the Howard Vault in Chapel Hill and I got to wondering, “Who was J. M. Howard and who is buried in there?”
Little did I know that my curiosity was going to lead me on a journey that stretches across half the United States, takes a few twists and turns along the way, and still leaves some questions unanswered.
But first, let’s begin with Mr. Howard. James M. Howard was born around 1814 and came to Memphis from Sumner County, Tennessee in the early 1840’s. He entered into one of, if not the first, wholesale grocery businesses in the city. Apparently he was quite successful because in 1852 when the idea of Elmwood Cemetery was being floated about town he was one of the 50 residents who forked over $500.00 to buy an initial stake in the venture. In the 1855-56 City Directory he was listed as a partner in a dry goods firm named Howard & Laird at 262 main and living on, at the time a fashionable, Beale Street. Unfortunately, he died in April of 1855 at the young age of 41.
The Howard family had the resources to build a mausoleum on their Chapel Hill #55 lot and the name of J.M. Howard was carved over the door. Mr. Howard was the first person buried in the vault. A year later, Alexander Howard was buried in the vault. Son? Brother? We do not know. In 1859 and 1861, two children, each listed only as ‘Child of J.M. Howard’ were buried in the vault. To add a bit more confusion, in the lot but outside of the vault were buried a Howard H. Rayner and a Mrs. Frank C. Rayner. How did they fit into the family picture? Well, more on that later.
But what about Mrs. Howard? She was born in Virginia on August 13, 1826. The earliest record of her was of her marriage to James Howard on Feb. 4, 1844 in Shelby County. Her name was recorded as Roberta F. Williamson.
The next time she shows up in public records is on the 1850 Federal Census. This time she is merely listed, along with husband James and three children, James, Fred and Mary, as R.F. Howard, age 23. So far, so good. But then the trail ends. Nothing. Zilch. Zero.
Those of you who do genealogy know the feeling. It’s called The Wall. But there is always a way through or around that wall. In this case it was Elmwood’s Assistant Director Jody Schmidt. Jody found an old newspaper notice of the wedding which said that she was the daughter of a Mrs. Wilkinson. Wilkinson, not Williamson!
Also residing in Elmwood near the Howard Vault is the Wilkinson family. A quick search of them turns up a daughter named Frances Roberta Wilkerson. Mrs. Frances R. Howard - not Mrs. Roberta F. Howard?
One more search turns up, in the 1860 Census of Memphis, a widow named Frances Howard, born in Virginia in about 1826 and living with children James, Mary, Ellena and Fanny. Mrs. James M. Howard has been found.
Not so fast. As quickly as she is found she disappears again. A Civil War, a Yellow Fever epidemic and twenty years have to pass before Mrs. Howard surfaces again and it is far, far from Memphis.
To be continued...
-Dale Schaefer, Historian
June 14th, 2013
Elmwood has long been committed to the preservation of the 160 years of Memphis history buried within its grounds. Over the past several years it has expanded this commitment to a focus on the restoration of gravestones that have become too weathered and soiled to be read, or which have been damaged, and/or have sunk beneath the ground.
The sunken stones are of special interest. Over the years stones have fallen and with time leaves, grass cuttings and the weight of the stone have caused then to disappear beneath the ground and out of sight.
Volunteers who have completed Elmwood’s Stone College locate these stones using probes. Once a hidden stone is found the volunteers use the ‘best-practices’ methods as advocated by the Association for Gravestone Studies to raise the stones, and then see that they are re-set and cleaned.
Families placed these stones upon the graves of their loved ones so that their lives and stories would be remembered. Elmwood believes that this intent should be honored. The stories of the individuals buried there are the true legacy of Elmwood.
Elmwood volunteer and Stone College Dean Cathi Johnson has been actively searching for and raising gravestones and enclosures for the past couple of years. Just recently she was looking around in the Fowler Section and came across more than one long lost gravestone.
One very special one belonged to Susan Esther Murphy. Susan was the daughter of Alonzo and Bertha Murphy. She was born in August 1, 1917 and died at the age of 7 months on March 18, 1918. Her parents marked her grave with a lovely enclosure that over the years had slowly sunk beneath the ground giving the appearance that the grave was unmarked.
Thanks to Cathi’s efforts little Susan Murphy’s final resting place, and the marker that her loving parents placed on her grave over 95 years ago as a memorial to her and her brief life can now be seen by all.