Greenwood: A Resting Place Downtown

There’s a green place in the heart of Jackson where roses bloom and a Summer House rests beneath the city skyline, a place to have a quiet lunch, a leisurely walk and a chance to recharge batteries during another day at the office. You won’t be disturbed; those many around you there lived their lives to fruition years ago. You will be in a place to contemplate your own life and expectations in Greenwood.

Greenwood Cemetery is Jackson’s largest green space; much larger than downtown’s Smith Park or old Battlefield Park in south Jackson. It is bounded on the east by West Street, on the north by Davis, the west by Lamar and the south by George. Each of these streets has its own story and each was part of the early city. They have changed in nature but not their boundaries or how it all came about when the city was founded. Those interred within these grassy perimeters of Greenwood were influential in the early city and responsible for building it to maturity. They are not ghosts, they are history, and you will have a chance to know them better. Let’s begin.

The cemetery itself, part of a federal land grant which also established the City of Jackson as the official site of the Capitol of Mississippi on November 21, 1821, was formally designated by an act of the State Legislature effective January 1, 1823. The original six acres were known simply as the “graveyard” and later as the “City Cemetery”. Some referred to it as the “burying ground”. An early map (1822) showed the area west of what is now West Street as vacant land indicating that originally the cemetery, while in Jackson’s original plan, was not yet officially within the city limits. The cemetery is shown on an 1845 Jackson map as the Grave Yard, encompassing 11.8 acres. The future extension to its present size is shown in squares 6N, 9.64 acres and 7N, 9.77 acres on this map. Its formal designation as Greenwood Cemetery was adopted in 1899, and it was listed on the National Register of Historical Places as a Mississippi landmark in 1984.

Greenwood Cemetery contains the graves of seven Mississippi governors, 14 Jackson mayors, six Confederate generals, six state Supreme Court justices and 27 clergymen. It is the final resting place for over 100 unknown Confederate soldiers whose lined markers may be seen easily from the West Street side. According to Greenwood Cemetery Association board member Peter Miazza, “Jackson pioneer Logan Power said there are altogether about 600 Confederate soldiers buried in the Confederate graveyard. We have names of about 500 of them, but do not know exactly where each is buried.”

“There were no sections for any group,” Cecile Wardlaw, executive director of the cemetery Association says. “Many old cemeteries were divided into sections by race or religion. Greenwood never was. Catholic, Protestant, or atheist, black or white; everybody just got buried. ‘Born in Ireland’ appears on many of the oldest stones.”

Time well spent with Mrs. Wardlaw and Mr. Miazza in May 2013, provided a wealth of information on the early days and development of the cemetery. “There are 330 unmarked graves at the original south end of the cemetery,” Mrs. Wardlaw related, “with the estimated number of all graves today being 5,000.” The oldest known surviving marker with a date is Governor Abram Marshall Scott who died June 12, 1833. There are an estimated 2,200 monuments posted on the Find A Grave website and Jacksonian Linda Robertson is in the process of doing a monument survey.

Mrs. Wardlaw told of how the roses came to be along the roads and walkways. “Local horticulturalist Felder Rushing donated the roses you see along the paths which he obtained from the Antique Rose Emporium in Texas. He did some work for that establishment and instead of getting a fee, he came back with a truck and trailer load of roses. He did that for two or three years and master gardeners helped him plant them. He will not tell us the names of the cuttings but only to say ‘they are there for people to enjoy’”.

The city owns the cemetery, but much of the maintenance is done by the Greenwood Cemetery Association which also raises funds to repair and perform landscaping work. Volunteers in this organization have provided more than 600 hours of service since the beginning of 2013. They have been aided by local Boy Scouts, AmeriCorps and the Phi Theta Kappa honorary fraternity at Mississippi College. Boy Scout Troop No. 1 (St. James and St. Andrews Episcopal Churches), performed volunteer work at the cemetery during the spring. The Brookhaven Monument Company is the primary source of stone repairs. The old section (south end) of the cemetery was not plotted since the “burial ground” was not officially a part of the city when first put to use. As the cemetery expanded northward, surveyors had difficulty putting in roads since bodies were buried haphazardly rather than in organized rows.

A number of Jackson’s first families have been interred in Greenwood Cemetery. Marion Dunbar, first pastor of Mt. Helm Baptist Church, is there. It was named Helm because Thomas Helm contributed the lot for the church to be built and also gave the church some money to help with construction. According to its website, Mt. Helm, Jackson’s oldest African American church, began in 1835, with several enslaved African Americans who worshiped in the basement of the First Baptist Church. It became a separate body in 1867, the year the 13th Amendment was ratified. A modern version of the church structure may be seen today at 300 E. Church Street near the west side of the cemetery.

Other Jacksonians of note include Millsaps College founders Col. William Nugent, Bishop Charles Betts Galloway, and Dr. William Belton Murrah, who served as the college’s first president; Dr. Lewis Fitzhugh, first president of Belhaven University and father-in-law of Dr. Murrah; founders of the Baptist Hospital, Harley R. Shands, M.D., and John Farrar Hunter, M.D., and Rev. John Hunter, pastor of First Presbyterian Church (1858). Monuments are plentiful for many early Jackson families including the Yergers, Spenglers, Greens, Poindexters, Lemons, Virdens, Henrys, Miazzas and, of course Miss Eudora Welty.

In addition to Miss Welty (d.2001), other Belhaven residents buried in Greenwood Cemetery include Henry Muller Addkison, local hardware dealer (d.1974), Lawrence Saunders (more on him later), R.H. Henry, owner and publisher of the Daily Clarion and Clarion-Ledger (d.1891), and James H. Boyd (d.1882). Boyd, the owner of what is now The Oaks home on North Jefferson Street, was a former mayor of the city and his home was the site of the conception of Mississippi’s first “Decoration Day”, which became known nationally as Memorial Day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The Summer House

Monuments range from barely noticeable to imposing. In the circle by the cemetery’s Summer House, is the monument of Rev. Amos Cleaver, an Episcopal priest, who died in October 1853 from yellow fever. Five years after his death, some women took up money for this monument. The exact location of his grave is unknown so his marker was placed where it is today. The widow Cleaver had a girl’s school in a frame building where St. Andrews Episcopal Church stands today at S. West and E. Capitol Streets. In 1854, she sold the school to the state for its first school for the deaf. There is also the “Weeping Lady” (Sarah Ann and George Lemon plot), the Hilzheim lot framing structure, which looks like a church, and the “Angel Tombstone” in the Poindexter lot.

Perhaps the most interesting monuments have stories associated with their namesakes. What’s in a name? We shall soon see.

 The Saunders Stone

Lawrence Saunders was a professor at the deaf school which was then across the street from his mother’s house near Barksdale and North State Streets. On Christmas night in 1895, he dressed as Mrs. Santa Claus to entertain the students. Saunders was on his way to the school and stopped by his mother’s home to show her his costume but the front door was locked. He let himself in through the back gallery. The only person home was his nephew who awoke to discover a strange presence. He shouted “Stop or I’ll shoot.” Unfortunately, Lawrence, being deaf, did not hear the warning and was killed by his own kinsman. It is never good when you shoot Santa Claus.

The Little Dog Tombstone

An unnamed small girl lived in Jackson during the mid-1800’s. Her family moved from the capitol city to Oxford where the child died. She was buried in the Simms plot which may be seen north of the summer house to the right of the circle. It is said her small grief-stricken dog would not leave her grave and died at its foot a short time later. His likeness remains to guard his mistress through the portals of eternity – faithful to the end.

The Good Samaritan Monument

Dr. Samuel Cartwright was well known for his work and writings to control the great Yellow Fever and cholera epidemics. During the Civil War, he was charged with getting rid of dysentery in the Confederate military camps, but he contracted dysentery himself and died in 1863. The carving of the “Good Samaritan” on his tombstone attests to his sacrifice and may be seen on his marker today.

My Dog Skip

A movie scene, filmed in Greenwood Cemetery, was based on Willie Morris’ 2000 novel My Dog Skip, and represented the witches’ tomb in the Yazoo City Cemetery. It depicted one of the characters going out among the tombstone to sit down and drink booze. Also, a replica of the Helm mausoleum was constructed for the movie in which the bootleggers stored their moonshine. There is no written record, however, of these spirits raising other spirits or sharing their company for the evening.

Lorian Hemingway’s Ghosts

The granddaughter of novelist Ernest Hemingway came to Jackson in 1999 to write an article on the 1966 Candlestick Park tornado. While here she participated in a ghost tour in Greenwood Cemetery, which was conducted and scripted by Jo Barksdale, much to the delight of a number of children.

The Tallest Monument

The stateliest monument in the cemetery looks eastward toward the sunrise. It is said its tenant was fabulously wealthy, controlling more cotton land than anyone outside the country of Egypt. He died in New Orleans in an area made famous by Josh White’s folk ballad “The House of the Rising Sun”. No one knows exactly to what extent the sun rose on that occasion, but it does make for fascinating speculation. Following his death his wife donated $5,000 to the church. Perhaps a wise investment.

Early Jackson family descendent Peter Miazza says “If you want to take a short tour to visually observe evidence of the history of Jackson and the leading citizens of the State of Mississippi, there is no better place to learn than Greenwood Cemetery.”

They are all here, diverse in their lifetime but equal in the eyes of God. Within the 22 acres of monuments and memories lie those who preceded this day, and share its common ground. There are the wealthy and the pauper, the slave and his master, the business owner and his clerk, the patriarch and the child. There are the physicians, the barristers, the judges, the politicians, the writers and artists, the entrepreneurs and the indigents. There are the prominent with their success and their secrets. There are the unnamed and the unknown. There are the wretched and the rascals and the Good Samarian and the faithful dog. There is Everyman. As Albert Einstein once said “Before God we are equally wise and equally foolish.”

As you walk the paths of Greenwood Cemetery, contemplate the rose shaded spirits around you. Feel their presence. You, like them, are part of our city’s heritage and its destiny. While our own lives are but a flash of light in the darkness of creation- a short string, the deeds of those who sleep around us endure forever. It is one final reminder that beauty is at our fingertips and that we are not alone.

Bill & Nan Harvey: June 2013; revised January 2015
Copyright © Bill and Nan Harvey

Sources and suggestions for more information:

Most of the material in this article was obtained from an interview with Greenwood Cemetery Association Executive Director Cecile Wardlaw and board member Peter Miazza on May 9, 2013. Other sources include:

1) Greenwood Cemetery brochure
2) Wikipedia Encyclopedia
3) Walt Grayson’s Look around Mississippi (WLBT-TV, 4/24/12; 12/26/12)
4) Jackson, A Special Place by Carroll Brinson (1977) P. 49 (map)
5) Mt. Helm Baptist Church website

Interested readers might also wish to consult:

* www.greenwoodcemeteryjackson.org
* Find-A-Grave website
* The Old Cemeteries of Hinds County (1811-1988) by Mary Collins Landin

Historic Dishes of Oxford, Mississippi Restaurants

Before Oxford became a locus of foodie mafia hype and exploitation, the city was host to a wide variety and considerable number of eating establishments that sprang up after dining out became a more frequent activity there sometime around the late 1950s. Oxford was distinguished among north Mississippi cities because a large number of people came to the town as a center of government and education, and the many visitors to the city fostered a vibrant business community dependent on food and (later) drink.

What with the advent of this new era when tastes in dining out are much more sophisticated (not to mention much more expensive), many of the dishes on this list, which was hammered out by a squadron of Oxford residents (current and former), might well seem hopelessly antique, perhaps even repellent to those professing a preference for deep-fried kale or quinoa vinaigrette, but they are still beloved in memory by the good people of Oxford, Lafayette County and north central Mississippi as well as thousands of alumni of the University of Mississippi around the globe.

The Beacon: Big Bubba burger, chicken and dressing
Busy Bee Cafe: oven-fried pork chop
Café Olé: cheese dip, chimichanga
Dino’s: salad dressing, pizza
Downtown Grill: Eli’s praline pecan ice cream pie
The Gin: fried mushrooms, Bernice burger
The Harvest: black bean chili, vegetable lasagna
The Hoka: hot fudge pie and cheesecake, Love at First Bite
Holiday Inn: grasshopper pie, hot fudge pie
Hurricane Landing: fried catfish, hushpuppies and fries
Jitney Jungle/James’ Food: chicken salad
Kream Kup: grilled chili cheeseburger
Marie’s Lebanese: Marie Husni’s Lebanese casserole, baklava
Mistilis: hamburger steak smothered in cheese and onions
Ruby Chinese: hot and sour soup, twice cooked pork and fried rice
Sizzler Steak House: steaks
Smitty’s: tuna melt, breakfasts
Starnes Catfish: fried catfish, hushpuppies and fries
Ruth & Jimmies: Southern “meat and three”
Pizza Den: muffuletta, sub sandwich, stromboli
Warehouse: snapper en Mornay, salad bar
Winter’s Store: hamburgers
Yerk’s: Philly cheese steak

Painting by Oxford artist Glennray Tudor
Painting by Oxford artist Glennray Tudor

Sylvandell: More than a Myth

Tucked away in the environs of our historic neighborhood is a bit of Greek mythology. A wooded area at the eastern end of Pinehurst Street was once the dream of Jackson land developer L.L. Mayes who saw in its forests, hills and streams a domicilable setting for young families to begin their lives. Mr. Mayes began the development of Sylvandell in the late 1920’s and many of its homes of varied architectural styles may be found in the 1400 block of St. Mary Street (east side) and around the southeastern corner of Laurel Street to Laurel Street Park.

Pinehurst Street (named for the Pinehurst subdivision) was cleared and developed around 1915 as an integral product of Captain William M. Gillespie’s land purchase prior to the Civil War. Captain Gillespie moved to Jackson from Tennessee and for $840 purchased a country place consisting of 40 acres along the “Canton Dirt Road”. The Gillespie Place, which was the origin of the Belhaven neighborhood, was later known to be comprised of portions of North State, Arlington, Hazel and Wells (Poplar) Streets. After the captain’s death the old Gillespie place burned, but was known to have been surrounded by beautiful woodlands so dense only the gables of the house could be seen from the road. It was said that Captain Gillespie left a fortune buried on the grounds of his homestead and thus the land became the clandestine haunts of a number of treasure hunters shovels in hand. That legend, however, is a tale for another day.

Prior to the mid-twenties, that portion of Pinehurst Street that developed east along the southern campus of Belhaven College and on to St. Ann Street was previously known as Harper Street. At its terminus at newly-developed St. Mary (‘s) Street, it dipped into hostile typography: ravines and ditches, hillocks and gulches, filled with a multitude of critters and cries in the night. Most potential developers viewed it as worthless terrain. But not L.L. Mayes, then living with his family in a neoclassical home designed by Emmett Hull, which still stands on the southwest corner of Peachtree and Pinehurst Streets.

Entrance to Sylvandell

Mayes saw a residential niche in the six acres he initially purchased in early 1928. He was sensitive to the needs of young families who either could not afford to buy or preferred to rent their starter home. Mayes described his acreage as a “beauty spot where one would expect to hear Pan playing on his reed pipes and to see fairies and wood nymphs dancing in the dells to his irresistible music.” He therefore commissioned Mr. Joseph Barras, sculptor, to design a concrete entrance of wide steps anchored by nymphs and leading down to the bucolic setting which became Laurel Street Park. Behind the homes on St. Mary and Laurel Streets there were woodlands to the west and a meadow to the east. A descending natural stairway led from the entrance to a simple bridge and winding walkways built of crushed gray slag with white borders which dropped down to ravines and undergrowth and a “babbling brook”. The walkways coursed through rustic walls emulating old English country sides. Interspersed were several benches and tables also designed by Mr. Barras and cast by the N.W. Wright Stone Works that also cast the figures for the main entrance. Homes were built of buff brick, trimmed in white and topped with light apple green tiled roofs. Both the front and rear of the homes were set in a forested atmosphere designed to be attractive from the street.

Each new home was comprised of a living room, dining room, one or two bedrooms, tile bathroom, kitchen, basement, storage attic, “warm air plant”, electric cooking stove and hardwood floors. They averaged 1,000-1,200 square feet and according to the 1930 census, rent ranged from $65 per month at 1466 St. Mary to $85 per month at 1436, with rates based on the overall structure and size of the lot. There was a screened side porch for hot summer evenings, later closed in by most when AC arrived in the late 40’s. Community garages were built at suitable points so as not to take space and esthetics away from the original building. The homes were furnished prior to rental for according to an ad by the R.E. Kennington Company in 1929, “it has been our pleasure to furnish the shades, rugs, draperies and furniture for the living rooms, bedrooms and dining rooms of the beautiful Sylvandell homes.”

In addition to Kennington’s store, there were a number of local companies, firms and individuals who contributed to the ambience of Sylvandell. Among these were Enterprise Furnace Manufacturing, A.F. Nash, plumber, Eagle Lumber and Supply Company, Stephenson Brick Company, Jackson Lumber Company, Ricks Storage Company, McCleland, Addkison & Bauer Hardware, D.P. Denny, contractor, E.W. Cook Lighting Fixtures, Ray Wright Sheet Metal, Capital Paint and Glass Company, Moseley, Nelson & Smith Insurance, C.A. Hollis, builder, Ellis Stewart, painter and decorator and Planters Lumber Company.

While not directly in the Sylvandell plat, some residents remember a small building at the top of the hill on Laurel Street where some stone steps now lead to a vacant lot. The structure near this lot is reputed to have been a neighborhood library and careful examination of this garage building shows where this might have been possible. This was most likely a private effort on the part of a literary resident. It was a small but meaningful service to surrounding residents. But whose effort was it? Who cared enough to take the time? Who now knows?

Corinne Fox is a current resident of Sylvandell. As a former Jackson city planning director, she is professionally familiar with neighborhoods, architecture, codes and building policies. She has owned and lived in her home on St. Mary Street since 1971. Corinne knows the history of the development and remembers the remains of the alley dividing portions of her block and the community garage behind what is now an apartment unit on Laurel Street. For 41 years she has never regretted moving from other Jackson locations to Sylvandell and learning of its history since eye physician Dr. W.L. Hughes was her house’s first tenant in 1930. Other early residents in these homes according to the census were Bernard Lowe (fire insurance agent), P.R. Galbreath (automobile dealer), Donald Munroe (geologist and weatherman), Hamilton McRae (wholesale hardware), Freeland Gale (store clerk), Lacey Hughes (dentist) and Ernest Laird (bank cashier). “The people who settled this area were of some prominence,” she says, “and still are today through their myriad interests, achievements and gifts to this community.”

“I love being in this house,” she responded when asked of her home. “This is an area with an ideal mix of people – young, old, all income levels and interests in life. I feel safe here with furnishings of my earlier life and among friends who are part of my life today. My new neighbor is an FBI agent. No wonder I feel so safe!”

Special Agent Robert H. Ruby, who grew up in Starkville, came to Jackson from New Orleans about a year and a half ago. He kept hearing good things about “a small town setting (Belhaven), sitting in the middle of Jackson”. He at first considered building a new house on a vacant lot, but later decided to renovate an existing structure in Fondren or Belhaven. A Belhaven realtor told him about one of the Sylvandell homes which had fallen into serious disrepair. Upon first inspection of the property Robert said “no way”. But the more he learned of the neighborhood the more determined he was to live not only in Belhaven but that very house. His decision was made. “It took 13 months from the time I obtained the property to get the multitude of clearances from the city which had originally wanted to demolish the existing structure. I spoke with a builder who is college buddy and he told me he could make the house look like new while keeping the original appearance.” The task is now complete and Robert has moved into the house which is a showplace and he plans to have it as his “home forever”.

When resurrecting old structures one of the first things you want to know is if there is a ghost. “Of course there is a ghost,” Robert says, “one of a former tenant, and he welcomed me with sights and sounds the first week I lived here.” The first night, while Robert was sleeping, there was the sound of a picture falling from the wall. He turned on the lights, investigated but could not find where this had occurred. The second night he thought he heard a key turn in the front door. Again, no evidence. On the third night there was a ‘crash’. No motive could be found. Although there have been no incidences since, the new tenant feels confident he has been accepted by his ghost and there will be no further contact.

A garage in Sylvandell

You may now wish to pause for a moment and enter the heart and thoughts of the young couple viewing their new dwelling for the first time some 80 years ago. You can imagine their dreams of starting their life together in prosperous times, planning their family and roads to success. You might think of them walking hand in hand on the pathways along the stream, pointing out the hues in the foliage and discussing improvements and the larger home they would one day own. You can also see in the mind’s eye the development of this neighborhood and the foundations of its larger future.

The fairies and nymphs are gone now. Well, almost. The concrete foundations of Pan’s pipes remain crumbling at the dead-end of Pinehurst and the steps and little footbridge across the brook and into the park have returned to the soil. Sylvandell has given way to Greater Belhaven. Laurel Street Park is entered from the north. The remaining homes are now of varied hues and the woods have grown over the little footpaths. Driveways and garages have replaced the hidden community carports originally earmarked for resident’s vehicles. Pan and his music have gone back into the flocks and shepherds from whence they came. But a single nymph remains, hidden along a nearby driveway in the vicinity of her once statuesque beauty. She is quiet now and pensive, recalling her origins in folklore and proud of her singular role of helping frame one of Belhaven’s most classical neighborhoods.

The Nymph of Sylvandell

 

bill-and-nan-harvey-web
Bill and Nan Harvey

Nan Ertle Harvey is a native of Yazoo County, a graduate of Mississippi College and has lived with her husband Bill in the Belhaven neighborhood since 1994. She worked in a research position in the Department of Microbiology at UMMC, retiring in 2003. Nan’s hobbies are photography, nature study and family research. She is a volunteer at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Bill Harvey is a native Jacksonian, living most of his life in Belhaven. A MSU Bulldog, he has had careers in journalism, education and as development director of the Andrew Jackson Council, Boy Scouts of America. Bill enjoys photography, music, writing articles for neighborhood sources and sharing experiences with friends at a local coffee shop. (Text copyright Bill and Nan Harvey, used by permission of Bill and Nan Harvey)

Sources:

1) “Keith’s Beautiful Home Magazine”,  Jackson Daily News, March 3, 1929
2) Corinne Fox, Sylvandell resident
3) Robert H. Ruby, Sylvandell resident
4) 1930 Census (Hinds County, Mississippi, Beat 1; City of Jackson, Ward 5)

Ars Voces: Euphus Ruth – The Mind’s Eye

This is a scanned copy of an 11×14″ red glass ambrotype I made at Poplar Springs Cemetery in Calhoun County in April of 2012. I had been staying in Bruce at my parent’s and decided to go up to Poplar Springs where my great-grandparents (Starling Monroe and Nancy Ruth) are buried.

When I go somewhere to photograph I sort of have something in mind but it has to feel right or speak to me for me to actually make a wet collodion photograph. I may shoot some snapshots on film or take some documentary shots of things I am recording over time but for the plates it has to be that feeling; that feeling of time and place, of past and present of connection. After walking around the cemetery for a long while, reading the gravestones and making a few snapshots with a hand-held camera I decided I would not set up the wet collodion. I got in the car to back out of the cemetery entrance for some reason instead of driving through. That is when I saw this image. It hit me: there it was the old fence I had noticed and not noticed my entire life of visiting there. I could see my relatives’ gravestones in the background but what grabbed me was the fence, the plants, the foliage: that feeling.

I pulled back in and proceeded to set up the portable darkbox, get the chemicals ready and mount the camera on the tripod. In about 30 minutes I was looking through the camera’s ground glass at this image. In another 15 minutes I was washing the chemicals from the glass and feeling good about the plate. In 2014 the cemetery caretakers in their infinite wisdom of cleaning up have totally removed the fence and cleaned the bank off, forever destroying some of the visual reminders of 50 plus years of visiting this cemetery. Nothing lasts forever; that is one of the reasons I photograph. This plate is not for sale.

"Cemetery Fence": 11' X 14" red glass ambrotype made at Poplar Springs Cemetery in the Red Community near Bruce, Ms., (Calhoun County) in April of 2012.
“Cemetery Fence”: 11′ X 14″ red glass ambrotype made at Poplar Springs Cemetery in the Red Community near Bruce, Ms., (Calhoun County) in April of 2012.