Greenwood Cemetery is not within the confines of Belhaven Heights but many of the Heights former residents are now within the confines of Greenwood Cemetery. Early Jackson Mayor James Boyd is buried there as well as Miss Eudora Welty. They are not alone in their repose. They are surrounded by six Confederate generals, seven Mississippi governors, 14 Jackson mayors, six Supreme Court justices, 27 clergymen, and about 600 Confederate soldiers, most of who have been identified. In its earliest days it was known simply as “the burial ground.”
The cemetery is part of a federal land grant which also established the city of Jackson as the official site of the Capital of Mississippi on November 21, 1821. It was formally designated by the state legislature effective January 1, 1823. The original six acres were known simply as “the graveyard” and later as the City Cemetery. It was officially designated Greenwood Cemetery in 1899. An early map (1822) showed the area of what is now West Street as vacant land indicating that the cemetery was not yet within the city limits which ended at High street. Over time the six acres was extended northward from George to Davis Street, delineated on the west by Lamar and on the east by West Street.
Interviews with Cecile Wardlaw, president of the Greenwood Cemetery Association, and Peter Miazza in 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.
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 will not tell us the names of the cuttings but only to say ‘they are there for people to enjoy’.”
The city of Jackson owns the cemetery but much of the maintenance is done by the Cemetery Association which also raises funds to repair and perform landscaping work. Various volunteer groups including local Boy Scouts, AmeriCorps, the Phi Theta Kappa honorary fraternity at Mississippi College and various neighborhood groups have donated time to keeping up the facility. The Brookhaven Monument Company is the primary source of stone repairs.
A number of Jackson’s first families have been interred in the cemetery. Marian Dunbar, first pastor of Mt. Helm Baptist Church is there. It was named Helm because Thomas Helm contributed the lot for the church and gave the church 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 structure may be seen today at 300 E. Church Street near the west side of the cemetery.
In addition to Miss Welty and Mayor Boyd, other Jacksonians of note interred in Greenwood Cemetery include Millsaps College founders Colonel 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 College; founders of the Baptist Hospital Harley R. Shands, M.D. and John Farrar Hunter, M.D., Reverend John Hunter, pastor of First Presbyterian Church (1858) and R.H. Henry, founder of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. Monuments are plentiful for many early Jackson families including the Yergers, Spenglers, Greens, Poindexters, Lemons, Virdens, and Miazzas.
Monuments range from barely noticeable to imposing. In the circle by the cemetery’s summer house, is the monument of Rev. Amos Clever, 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 Clever 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.
The most interesting monuments have stories associated with their namesakes.
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 a good idea to shoot Santa Claus.
The Little Dog Tombstone
An unnamed small girl lived in Jackson during the mid 1880’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 contacted 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 represents the witch’s tomb in the Yazoo City Cemetery which depicted one of the characters going out among the tombstones 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 sprirts or sharing their company for the evening.
Lorian Hemingway’s Ghosts
The granddaughter of the 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 most imposing monument in the cemetery looks eastward toward the rising sun. Edmund Richardson 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 “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 in his name. Perhaps this was a wise investment.
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 his 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 Samaritan 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 neighborhood’s heritage and its destiny. While our own lives are but a flash of light in the darkness of creation, 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.
Thanks go to Cecile Wardlaw, president of the greenwood Cemetery Association and board member Peter Miazza for providing the material for this article. Copyright Bill and Nan Harvey, April, 2018