Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Natchez City Cemetery

The Natchez City Cemetery
by Angela L Burke MSSPI

Located on Cemetery Road and overlooking the Mississippi River, the Natchez City Cemetery was established in 1822 and covers approximately 100 acres of land.

The old burying ground was on a high hill where Memorial Park and St. Mary’s Cathedral are located in downtown Natchez. Samuel Brooks, the first Mayor of Natchez, from 1803-1811, is still buried there. When the cemetery was established in its present location, the remains from the old burial ground were gradually moved to the present site north of the town. The above photo is only a small section of this enormous cemetery.

Markers with dates of deaths in the late 1700’s testify to the fact that the remains were also moved from churchyards and private plantation burial grounds. Romantic, tragic and mysterious tales lie buried in the old graves.

Numerous beautiful, creatively designed iron fences, benches, iron mausoleum doors, tombstones and monuments are found within the cemetery. The varied patterns of ironwork represent almost the entire spectrum of ironwork produced in America in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Artistically sculptured markers with often-poignant inscriptions add to the unique character of the burial ground.

The majority of the signed marble work dates to before the Civil War. Edwin Lyon and Robert Rawes, two of the most prolific and outstanding antebellum marble workers can be credited with many of the beautifully sculpted monuments. There were numbers of other talented artisans whose work contributes to the beauty of the cemetery.

There are thousands of interesting, famous and historical persons interred at the Natchez Cemetery. Guided tours and Pilgrimages are given to the public, pointing out the more prominent and well known stories.

MSSPI co-founders visited the Natchez Cemetery. Our guide for the day Mr. Eric Glatzer, historian, and host of Natchez TV. told us some interesting stories about the cemetery and some of the people buried there. There were so many interesting stones and monuments and the grounds were so large that it would have taken us a week to view them each individually. I was overwhelmed by the size of the cemetery and the beauty of it as well.
I have included a few of the more well known stories about The Natchez Cemetery that I had the honor of visiting.

One of the most interesting things I saw at the cemetery was the Great Live Oak. which is said to have been dated in age to before Columbus discovered the Americas. In recent years the tree was struck by lightening. A large area on the side of the tree remains scarred by the jolt and from a distance it appears to some, to be portray the image of a soldier with a rifle over his shoulder, sometimes with a visable head, sometimes without. With my Native heart I did not see the soldier, what appeared to me was the image of  a Native American smoking a peace pipe, so while I can see why some would see a soldier, matrix images are often seen differently by the person looking and the images seen tell alot about how people look at the world around them, regardless of what image is seen, it remains an awesome site to see based on its, size, age and beauty alone. I felt honored to have the priveledge of seeing such a majestic tree.

Florence Irene Ford
September 3, 1861 - October 30, 1871
Ten-year-old Florence died of yellow fever.
During her short life she was extremely frightened of storms and whenever one occurred she would rush to her mother to find comfort.
Upon her death her mother was so struck with grief that she had Florence's casket constructed with a glass window at the child’s head. The grave was dug to provide an area, the same depth of the coffin, at the child’s head, but this area had steps that would allow the mother to descend to her daughter’s level so she could comfort Florence during storms. To shelter the mother during storms, hinged metal trap doors were installed over the area the mother would occupy while at her child’s grave.

In this picture you can see the trap doors behind little Florence’s tombstone, which covers the stairway her mother used. They can still be opened today.

In the mid 1950s a concrete wall was erected at the bottom of the stairway covering the glass window of Florence’s coffin to prevent vandalism.

Florence is the only person buried in the family plot. It is said that her father disappearred after her death and no one knows what happened to him. Her mother left alone to grieve soon also disappeared and there are no records of her burial.

I had the privaledge of sitting on the bottom step of the staircase installed for the mother, it was a very errie feeling as the area dug out is the same width and depth of a grave, looking up the headstone looms tall over the opening and it was a strange feeling to look up out of this deep hole. I felt overcome with sadness while sitting there and had to come up ,I climbed out of the area with tears brimming and had to take a few moments to compose my emotions. In the photo to the right MSSPI member Tony B. sits on the steps and conducts an EVP session, we did not capture any unexplained voices or noise on this occasion. But the experience of being in a place so full of sadness was definately felt by those present.

The Turning Angel

This beautiful angel monument is overlooking five headstones, each with the same date of death.

On March 14, 1908 there was a HUGE explosion at the Natchez Drug Company, which was a five story brick structure located at the corner of Main and South Union Street cattycorner from the Natchez Cathedral. The explosion was so massive it totally destroyed the five story building killing numerous people including the businesses employees that were working at the time.

The explosion put the drug company out of business, but the owner of the Natchez Drug Company was so devastated that he purchased a lot to bury his employees and he purchased this angel monument to place at their grave site. His youngest employee was 12 years old.

This monument is now referred to as ‘The Turning Angel’ because at night when cars drive by on Cemetery Road their headlights shine upon the monument and to some it appears to turn as their car passes by.

Louise The Unfortunate

As it is told, Louise came to Natchez to be married. It's not real clear where she came from, but New Orleans is mentioned as well as some cities in the distant north. She came here by steamboat, landing at Under-the-Hill, a very busy but rowdy section of Natchez. It is said that Louise asked around for her fiancée, both Under-the-Hill and in the more refined part of town on top of the hill.
The story of Louise gets a little fuzzy and goes in a couple of directions here.

One story relates that she never found her fiancée and due to some reason remained in Natchez. Some stories say she would be to embarrassed to return home because she had built up her fiancée's reputation and creditability and to return home would destroy everything she had been saying about him. Other stories say she learned that her fiancée had died she didn't have enough money to pay for passage home.

Other stories say Louise found her fiancée, but if so the story again spins into two areas. One is that they had a severe falling out and the other is that Louise discovered that he was married.

Whatever Louise's situation was it is pretty well accepted that after she found herself stranded in Natchez she held various respectable jobs. She worked as a housekeeper, seamstress and other jobs a respectable woman could perform. However, as the stories go, she gradually drifted to the notorious Under-the-Hill area working as a waitress in cafes and bars. As time passed she became a "Woman of the Night" at one of the many brothels Under-the-Hill.

It isn't clear, but some say Louise became friends with a doctor who treated her during her hard life Under-the-Hill, and upon her death he paid for her funeral. Some say a wealthy plantation owner who frequented her room on lonely nights paid her funeral expenses. Others say a preacher paid for her funeral from his pauper funds, but she wasn’t buried in a pauper’s grave.

Whatever Louise's story is she must have gained someone's attention because she received more than most destitute people of the period; she is buried in the Natchez City Cemetery with a tombstone, even though there is no date on the stone.

Local resident and historian Don Estes has published a new book about the Natchez City Cemetery. This is a coffeetable book - 8 x 10 hardback, with dust cover (per attachment), forewards by Walt Grayson & Greg Iles, containing 208 pages, over 100 stories, over 150 pictures (many in color). After over 20 years of research, the author is proud to finally present this collection of many of the intriguing and revealing stories that will shock and entertain you. The photos will demonstrate the beauty and history of this fascinating cemetery.

You can find out more about purchasing this book by Clicking Here

You can contact the Natchez City Cemetery about interments or to schedule a tour at the following address:

Natchez City Cemetery

P. O. Box 1738
Natchez, MS 39120
601-445-5051 voice

Or visit  The Natchez City Cemetery Website for more interesting stories, photos and information.


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