Our homeschool group had a tour of Elmwood Cemetery in downtown Memphis. This cemetery dates from around 1850, and is still in use. Many of Memphis' most prominent families, black and white, are buried here, and Memphis history is woven through out it. It was built as a typical Victorian cemetery, as a park like setting, where families would come to picnic at the family plots, clean the markers, and plant flowers and such. You enter this city of the dead by crossing over a bridge, shown above. On the other side is the cemetery office inside a Victorian cottage with a bell tower. The bell rings whenever a funeral procession enters, which it did while we were there.
Near the cottage is the obelisk marking the grave of E.H. Crump (Boss Crump), who ran a political machine here during the first half of the 20th century. His political machine filled the gap left by the deaths and departures of much of the Memphis economic and academic elite following the decimation of the three successive yellow fever epidemics in the latter part of the 19th century.
My 14 yr old and one of her friends decided to dress in black and carry black umbrellas throughout the tour.
There are several "ethnic neighborhoods" within the cemetery. Below is the section that the Irish Travelers favor. Memphis has a fairly significant Traveler (Rom, or "gypsy") community. Notice the caravans and tents depicted on this marker.
Here is the Chinese section. A significant number of old Chinese families in Memphis are descended from a group that was emigrating from China to California in the 19th century, but somehow ended up stranded in New Orleans and made their way up the Mississippi, settling in Clarksdale, Mississippi and Memphis ultimately.
The Chinese families come visit the graves and leave paper notes and messages on the markers.
Another rather crowded section of Elmwood is the area where the Confederate war dead of Memphis are buried. The Union war dead (which also included native Memphians) used to also be buried at Elmwood, but they were all moved to the National Cemetery (for Veterans) when it opened in Memphis. Unfortunately, the people moving the bodies and markers put notes on the caskets noting who was in which, but a storm came and blew them away and smeared what was left, so nobody could tell who belonged with which marker.
|more Civil War markers|
The marker for "No Man's Land" marks the mass grave where thousands of yellow fever victims from the big epidemic of 1878 were buried with no individual graves or markers, as there were too many to deal with and too few healthy citizens left in the city. Although it is a mass grave, the people did their best to note the names and identity of each body brought over the bridge for burial in the mass grave, and those records are available.