June 1st, 2016
By volunteer Allison Bailey
20 November, 1922. “The funeral of William Eastman Spandow, who was killed by the explosion in Havemeyer Hall Friday, will be held in the Chapel at 11 o'clock this morning.” This was the introduction of the obituary given by the Columbia Spectator on the unusual death of the 24 year old chemist. According to the newspaper, Columbia University was providing advanced programs in chemistry, physics, and engineering- but no safety standards had been set. The newspaper describes common injuries such as “many eyes, fingers, and hands have been lost in such laboratories because the educational institutions… have not yet become as thoroughly convinced… that it is possible to prevent almost every type of industrial accident by the installation of proper mechanical guards, by the revision of manufacturing processes and by safety education of the workers.” If accidents like these were common, why would safety standards be so low?
William Eastman Spandow had been educated in Paris until 1914, when he returned to America to attend college at the University of Denver. He possessed “unusual attainments” and had both a B.A. and an M.A. in physics and chemistry, being also a graduate at Memphis. It is apparent that he loved experimenting and discovering ways in which chemicals work. Unfortunately, his love of learning would be cut short. On November 17, 1922 he was in the lab busy experimenting in the manufacturing of diphenylamine- a colorless element used for the preparation of dyes and the detection of oxidizing agents in analytical chemistry. Apparently the chemists were unaware that the chemical posed any danger. The concoction had produced a great pressure and shattered the heavy steel autoclave it was placed in. The shattered steel was forcefully hurled in all directions, wounding other chemists and killing Spandow instantly, who was standing directly in front of the pressure guage. He was badly burned and cut with debris, but a large piece of metal had crushed his head, killing him instantly. The explosion was powerful enough to shatter the windows.
Spandow’s surviving co-experimenter later summarized that the accident occurred because Spandow had failed to turn off the gas heater if the pressure became too high. He recalled that other students performed the same experiment and had been successful. Before he left the premises, their professor read the gage at 112 and warned them about the heat and pressure. Just before the accident, the pressure rose to 250 lbs. per square inch, and it was concluded that the not yet extinguished gas had spread into the container and caused the explosion.
Spandow is buried in Elmwood Cemetery in the Miller section. His inscription reads “Killed in chemical laboratory of Columbia University by an explosion due to the carelessness of others.” It seems that whoever wrote the inscription also took issue with the college’s poor safety standards.
"Chemical & Metallurgical Engineering." Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 May 2016.
"Columbia Daily Spectator 20 November 1922 — Columbia Spectator." Columbia Daily Spectator 20 November 1922 — Columbia Spectator. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 May 2016.
"William Eastman Spandow (1897 - 1922) - Find A Grave Memorial." William Eastman Spandow (1897 - 1922) - Find A Grave Memorial. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 May 2016.
March 29th, 2016
By volunteer Allison Bailey
General Earl Van Dorn has been engaged in military life since his graduation from West Point in 1842. He fought in the Mexican War where he earned two brevets, and was wounded in a battle engaging the Indians in 1858 which spread his reputation as a national hero (findagrave.com). With the outbreak of the Civil War he became a colonel in the Confederate Army where he earned a somewhat different reputation than before, leaving some soldiers to speculate that his position came from political influence rather than his military ability. After losing the battle of Pea Ridge and later Corinth, he was requested to appear in court to explain his actions. His last skirmish was at Franklin, Tennessee before returning to his headquarters in Spring Hill.
Jessie Helen McKissick Peters was born in Spring Hill in 1838 and was the wife of Dr. George Bodie Peters, a physician. Peters was away frequently to serve on the Tennessee state legislator (http://burnpit.legion.org/). In 1863 Peters was once again absent, and Van Dorn being in the area did not hide his feelings toward Peters’ wife. Van Dorn was also married with children and it was well known that his physical features attracted the attention of women wherever he went- he was even known as the “terror of ugly husbands.”
Mrs. Peters was 25 at the time and Van Dorn made no attempts to keep their affair a secret. He frequently invited her to his headquarters and her visits attracted local attention. The rumors had finally reached the ears of the doctor, and he pretended to go on another trip in an attempt to catch Van Dorn and his wife. He entered his room at 2:30 am to find that the rumors were true, and the furious doctor demanded the general sign papers exonerating his wife.
Tensions had not simmered down by the next day, May 7, 1863. The doctor called Van Dorn to the home of Martin Cheairs to settle the matter, but things got out of hand rather quickly. The conversation was raised to a heated argument, until finally Peters pulled out his gun and shot the general in the head. Some accounts say he was killed instantly, others report he was in a comatose state for 4½ hours before his decease. Peters was tried in court but later acquitted. Van Dorn’s widow never remarried.
After a brief divorce and remarriage, Dr. Peters and Jessie moved to Memphis where he was well established in his business until his death in 1889. Mrs. Peters remained in the area until her own death in 1921. Dr. & Mrs. Peters are buried in Elmwood in the Miller Circle section.
"Gen Earl Van Dorn (1820 - 1863) - Find A Grave Memorial." Gen Earl Van Dorn (1820 - 1863) - Find A Grave Memorial. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.
Siggurdsson. "Confederate General Earl Van Dorn Murdered by Cuckolded Husband." The American Legion's Burnpit. N.p., 7 May 2013. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.
Magness, Perre. "General Lived Wildly until the Last." Commercial Appeal [Memphis] 1996: n. pag. Print.
"Earl Van Dorn." Council on Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations, n.d. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.
December 11th, 2015
By Kelly Sowell, Elmwood Historian
The City of Memphis is largely credited with being founded by John Overton, James Winchester and Andrew Jackson, but many are unaware of a fourth proprietor who also shared a name with a major holiday.
John Christmas McLemore is considered to be the fourth founding father of Memphis. McLemore was not named after the holiday; though uncommon, it was his mother’s maiden name. McLemore was born in Orange County, North Carolina on January 1st, 1790. When he was 16 he moved to Nashville to train as a land surveyor with his uncle, William Christmas, who was the Surveyor General of the military district. He apprenticed for 5 years until his uncle died. Upon his uncle’s death, McLemore was appointed Surveyor General.
McLemore’s wife, Elizabeth Donelson, was a niece of Andrew Jackson. Jackson and McLemore partnered in several land deals. Before Jackson ran for the presidency, he traded his shares of land in Memphis, over 600 acres, to John McLemore, for land elsewhere. McLemore moved to Memphis and dedicated himself to selling lots and promoting the new town. He acquired even more land south of Memphis where the abandoned Fort Pickering lay, and then founded the town of Fort Pickering. He had land holdings in other areas of West Tennessee as well, hence the names of the towns Christmasville and McLemoresville.McLemore was very forward-thinking about transportation. He envisioned a railroad that would reach from Memphis to LaGrange and even offered land for someone to build a depot. The Memphis and LaGrange Railway was chartered in 1834 but ran out of money by the time it reached White’s Station.
McLemore lost a great deal of money in the failed railway attempt and again in the Panic of 1837. He went to California in the gold rush of 1849 with hopes of rebuilding his fortune. Soon after the Civil War broke out, McLemore returned to Memphis. He died at his daughter’s home in 1864. He is buried in the Chapel Hill section of Elmwood. Fort Pickering was annexed by Memphis shortly after McLemore’s death in 1868.
September 23rd, 2015
By volunteer Allison Bailey
Recently, someone came into the office asking for the location of a relative with a story that Elmwood staff had not heard before. His name was Adam Jack Boehler, and his actions on December 19th, 1912 drew attention to the entire city of Memphis, and would later go down in infamy.
On December 17th, 1912, Boehler wrote: “Dec. 17- Somebody with my wife at Union Avenue. Going to the show. A man with a brown suit on.”
His wife’s name was Grace Young. They both originated from Ohio, married in 1907, and had a daughter a year later named Rhoda. The years they were married were not described by any source, but it was apparent Grace was not happy, and left Ohio for Memphis with her daughter. According to the Kentucky New Era, Boehler travelled to Memphis from Indiana in a houseboat that floated down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. It is unclear when he arrived in Memphis, but sometime after he did, he found out that Grace had filed for divorce. Grace was living at 452 Union Avenue, while Adam was living at the foot of Jefferson Street.
Grace was trying to move on with her life, but Boehler did not accept that she wanted to be separated from him. On December 17th, he had witnessed her with another man. He wanted to take the treasonous act into his own hands; he took this sight as nothing less than adultery.
On the night of December 18th he entered into his wife’s house with a razor. He found Grace and was in the process severing her head when their 4 year old daughter walked into the living room munching on an apple. Seeing the horrific sight, she ran to the neighbor’s house and gasped out that “Mama was being killed.” The neighbor called the police while Adam washed his hands and left for a rooming house on Main Street.
The police arrived promptly to find that Boehler had barricaded himself in his room with plenty of ammunition and alcohol, yelling to them that he would not be taken alive. Passing crowds of people stopped to watch; The Day Book claimed that as many as ten thousand gathered to witness the standoff. The police thought to starve him out in the room unless he attempted escape.
It is unclear who fired the first shot, but sometime between 3am and 11am many bullets were exchanged between the police and Boehler. A druggist named Spalding Parsons had stepped onto his own balcony nearby to presumably see what was going on. But one of the officers mistook him for Boehler and shot him. Likewise, two police officers were wounded by Boehler.
The situation was intense and attracted the attention of the city’s leaders, Mayor Crump and Fire and Police Commissioner R. A. Utley, who supervised the standoff. Main Street was roped off. A few officers entered the building and bored some holes in the floor above Boehler’s room, letting in a toxic gas called formaldehyde sink in. If they could not kill him via bullets or starvation, they would try a deadly fume. This did work- partially. He was weakened considerably, allowing the police to shoot him seven times before he staggered and fell onto the bed.
When the shoot off was ended the police broke the door to the room and transported Boehler to a waiting ambulance and rushed to the hospital. He was declared dead.
Boehler had left some notes behind, some of which answer questions about why he had killed his wife, while others create more questions. He had asked that all small debts be paid and that his daughter should be cared for by his relatives. He gave directions on what they should do with his body and his wife’s, requesting that they be buried side by side at Elmwood Cemetery. He began writing these notes before 10pm, continuing through the night. It was written in a manner that implied to the reader that they were intended to act somewhat as a will and suicide note- he did not expect to live long after he murdered his wife. He wrote in the first part of his letter about another baby they had, but had died. He blamed his wife for not visiting the grave. He also grimly joked about the Memphis police.
He even bought Christmas presents for his wife and daughter. For his wife he bought a watch, inscribed “Jack to Grace.” To his daughter he had a locket, inscribed “From Papa.” This suggests that the murder was not premeditated for very long.
Here are a few samples of notes he wrote shortly before his death:
“To All It May Concern:
Dear Brother and Sister—I am very sorry I have to write this note, but I cannot help it. I loved my wife and baby better than anything in the world. But she has turned me down for someone else. That’s the reason I take this step. If my baby lives after I am gone, please take care of her. I want brother or sister to have her, for my wife’s folks cannot take care of her. They cannot read or write.”
“Bury my wife beside me in Elmwood cemetery. I loved her better than my life. I would never have done this, but I could not reason with my wife. There was always somebody else. I caught her with someone else.”
“I am only sorry I did not get the man who broke up my home, and her folks, too.”
“I wish I had done this last night when she was in the ice cream parlor at Beale and Main with that - - -. I would have felt better. That’s what started me.”
“Some fine shooting your officers done. Very fine. Ha, ha!”
“Memphis has got a police force you can be proud of- aber nit[?].”
“The man with the brown suit and black Stenson hat caused this trouble. Mrs. North knows the man. He has taken her to the Majestic and Alamo Theaters and on Tuesday night to the ice cream parlor at Beale and Main. I hope Memphis will keep her eyes on a case like this hereafter.”
The Seattle Star (Seattle, WA), 19 Dec. 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. Of Congress.
The Bennington Evening Banner. (Bennington, VT), 20 Dec. 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. Of Congress.
The Day Book. (Chicago, IL), 19 Dec. 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. Of Congress.
Omaha Daily Bee. (Omaha, NE), 20 Dec. 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. Of Congress.
The Daily Ardmoreite. (Ardmore, OK), 19 Dec. 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. Of Congress.
The Evening Standard. (Ogden City, UT), 19 Dec. 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. Of Congress.
The Evening World. (New York, NY), 19 Dec. 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. Of Congress.
The Man Who Murdered Wife Killed by Police and Three Persons Wounded. Kentucky New Era (Hopkinsville, KY), December 20, 1912.
"Boehler Dead In Battle With Police." The Commercial Appeal [Memphis] 20 Dec. 1912: n. pag. Print.
August 20th, 2015
By Kelly Sowell, Elmwood Historian
Elmwood is turning 163 this month, and though it might seem as though a cemetery that looks like Elmwood would have always been a reality, it was not. Elmwood’s forebear, Pere Lachaise cemetery, opened in Paris in 1804, and it was the first landscaped cemetery. It started what would become the Rural Cemetery Movement. Graveyards were at one time dismal, dreary places, but the “rural” or “garden” cemetery was meant to be a beautiful place filled with trees and flowers. We point to the lifetime of grieving by Queen Victoria (1819-1901) for her husband, Albert, as the birth of the Rural Cemetery Movement. She ushered in this new attitude towards death, and cemeteries, and because of that we now enjoy the beauty of 80 bucolic acres at Elmwood.
Pere Lachaise Cemetery inspired Americans to create similar places outside their cities. Garden cemeteries were meant to be like parks, where people could go for picnics or family outings. Mount Auburn Cemetery near Boston was the first garden cemetery in the United States, founded in 1831. In the following decades, dozens of rural landscaped cemeteries were founded throughout the New England states.
On August 28th, 1852, 50 prominent Memphis citizens each paid $500 to establish a new cemetery outside the city, making Elmwood one of the oldest landscaped cemeteries in the South. At a meeting of the committee on September 25th, 1852 the purchase of the first forty acres was confirmed. The stockholders had to pick a name for the new cemetery so the 50 men each wrote down a suggestion and one was drawn from a hat. The stockholders were pleased with the selection of “Elmwood,” a suggestion made by Captain Charles Church. There were no Elm trees on the property so the Trustees ordered some from New York to plant. Today Elmwood is well known for its landscape of trees and is recognized as a Level 2 Arboretum by the Tennessee Department of Urban Forestry. That means there are over 60 species of trees on the property.
After the Civil War the cemetery was expanded to a total of 80 acres. The Phillips Cottage was constructed in 1866 and operates as the cemetery office today. It is the only example of Carpenter Gothic architecture in the city and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Also on the National Register is the cemetery itself and the Morgan Bridge at the entrance.
At 163 years old, Elmwood is the oldest active cemetery in the city with approximately 5 acres that haven’t even been developed yet. The beauty of Elmwood stands as a testament to the foresight of those 50 founders, as well as the love of the people who continue to help us maintain this special place.