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
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.
July 2nd, 2015
Most Memphians are familiar with Graham Street, but probably don’t know anything about the Graham family for which the street was named. George C. Graham was one of the earliest settlers in this area. He bought his land directly from the Native Americans before Shelby County was officially established. His farm, which consisted of several hundred acres, was east of where the Highland Heights neighborhood is today and South of Macon Road. Graham helped state commissioners locate and lay off the county seat in an area known as Sanderlin’s Bluff. His son, Joseph Graham chose the name for this new town. The family came from North Carolina to settle in this area, so Joseph Graham decided to call the new county seat Raleigh after his hometown.
When the land on what was the Graham farm was being developed, it became apparent that the family cemetery needed to be addressed. On January 24, 1951, the 6 bodies in the Graham family cemetery were reinterred at Elmwood. What gravestones existed were moved along with their remains. There are three tablet style markers in the South Grove section of the cemetery. One of which belongs to Dr. George Graham, who died in 1827, twenty five years before Elmwood was established. His is one of the oldest existing gravestones in Memphis. The only gravestone that might be older is for Sally Carr Bettis who died in 1826 and is interred in the Bettis family cemetery next to what is now Cash Saver grocery store. To the right of George Graham’s stone is one for Col. Joseph Graham who died in 1837. To his right is his wife, Sarah, who died in 1842. All three tablets are broken but Sarah’s is the most damaged. It cracked in several places and broke into a dozen pieces. Grass was growing through the cracks and some pieces were sinking into the ground.
Elmwood’s superintendent began the project of repairing Sarah Graham’s gravestone earlier in the year. He dug up the pieces of stone then placed them on a large board. The board provided a flat surface to repair the gravestone. The pieces were cleaned and some were adhered together with epoxy and left to cure. During a Stone College class in June, we attempted to finish piecing together the tablet style stone. Due to rain and the weight of the stone, the board had warped over the months. We were able to adhere all but one of the remaining pieces due to the warping. The corner piece would not fit. We will have to revisit this project but I am very satisfied with the progress. Sarah K. Graham’s gravestone is clean and much easier to read now. The D/2 solution we used to clean it should continue to brighten the stone over time. Eventually the other two Graham gravestones will be repaired in the same manner. Though not an uncommon style of grave marker, there are only a few others like them in Elmwood Cemetery so they should be preserved.
Click on the photograph to see more.
April 21st, 2015
By Kelly Sowell, Elmwood Historian
This Saturday, April 25th Elmwood will be offering another Stone College class. We will focus on leveling, repairing and cleaning dirt and biological growth from monuments. Graduates of the class will be invited to join in on scheduled volunteer days. On past volunteer days, we have leveled enclosures and cleaned a number of monuments. In December, we dug up and leveled a marble Victorian bath-tub enclosure belonging to Benjamin Avent. A few days after we leveled this enclosure, a family member came to the Cottage asking where to find Benjamin Avent. I was happy to tell him I knew exactly where he was and that we had recently leveled his monument which had almost completely sunken. He shared Benjamin’s story with me, which you can read about here on the blog.
On another volunteer day last Spring, several volunteers came to clean monuments near the entrance of the cemetery. One of those was a well known monument, Jasper Smith’s lion. The monument was covered in black air pollutants and mold, and there was lichen growing in his mane. The volunteers carefully sprayed and scrubbed him clean with a solution approved for use on historic stones. From the natural reaction of the cleaning solution with the biological growth and dirt, the lion actually took on a slightly golden color, making him look rather realistic. The solution seeps into the pores of the stone and continues to work, so the lion gradually whitened further from exposure to sun and rain.
When you attend Stone College, you will have the opportunity to attend volunteer workshops like these. There is still space available for the upcoming class. It will be held Saturday, April 25 from 9:00 to 11:30. The cost to attend is $25 per person. You should come dressed in comfortable clothing that you do not mind getting dirty. Once you have completed the class, you will receive emails notifying you of the scheduled volunteer days. If you are interested in helping to preserve the monuments that tell the history of Elmwood, you should definitely register for Stone College. Advance registration is required. You can register online or by calling (901)774-3212.
March 17th, 2015
By Kelly Sowell, Elmwood Historian
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! What better time than now to feature one of Elmwood’s Irish residents. Sarah Hardin Murphy Leath was born in Ireland and immigrated to the United States at the age of 18. First, she lived with her brother, a veteran of the War of 1812, in Decatur, Alabama. Sarah married James Leath and the two moved to a 200-acre farm near Memphis. Together they had two sons, but James died when they were young so Sarah was left to take care of the boys on her own. In 1850, the president of the Protestant Widows and Orphans Asylum approached the widowed Mrs. Leath to ask for a contribution. Understanding the problems that widows and orphans face, she donated 9 acres of farmland along Raleigh Road for an orphanage. On June 3, 1856, fourteen children moved into a new building on the property, which is the present day site of Porter Leath Children’s Home. Upon Mrs. Leath’s death in 1857, another 20 acres was willed to the home to start an Orphan’s Education Fund. The next year the Tennessee Legislature chartered the institution as the Leath Orphan Asylum.
Though he wasn’t Irish, it’s important to include Dr. David Tinsley Porter in the story of the orphanage. He was a member of the Citizens’ Relief Committee during the 1873 yellow fever epidemic. After Memphis was devastated by the yellow fever epidemics of 1878 and 1879 and lost its city charter, Dr. Porter was elected president of the taxing district, the equivalent of mayor. He initiated sanitary reform and built sewers, essentially preventing future outbreaks of yellow fever without knowing how or why. He served as the president of the taxing district of Memphis from 1879 to 1891. He was also a trustee of the Leath Orphan Asylum. He died in 1898. Dr. Porter’s daughter, Mrs. Rebecca Porter Bartlett died in 1903 and left a bequest to the Asylum honoring her father. The name was changed to the Porter Leath House the following year.
The trustees of the Porter Leath House erected a monument to honor both Sarah Leath and Dr. Porter in 1984. It is located in the Turley section and is the only marker for Mrs. Leath. Dr. Porter’s grave in Miller Circle has a monument that is quite large and impressive with a life-sized likeness of Dr. Porter.