Monthly Archives: March 2014

Cemetery of the Week #130: the Wooldridge Monument, Mayfield, Kentucky

Since 1899 many tourists have visited Maplewood Cemetery, according to this vintage postcard.

Since 1899 many tourists have visited Maplewood Cemetery, according to this vintage postcard.

The Wooldridge Monument
Maplewood Cemetery
East Cemetery Street at North 6th Street
Mayfield, Kentucky 42066
Telephone: (270) 251-6210
Founded: 1890
Size: 17 feet wide by 33 feet long
Number of interments: 1

Once his first and only love died in a riding accident in Tennessee, Henry G. Wooldridge never married. After serving in the Civil War, Colonel Wooldridge moved to the Mayfield, Kentucky area around 1880, when he was nearly 60. He bred, raced, and sold horses there – and outlived all of his immediate family.

Toward the end of his life, Colonel Wooldridge decided to leave an enduring monument to his family. He ordered a collection of 18 statues to be carved. One, a portrait statue of himself standing at a lectern, was carved of marble in Italy. Most of the others were carved of native Kentucky sandstone in Paducah, Kentucky between 1890-99. Will Lydon, a sculptor for Williamson and Company claimed in 1930 that he had carved two-thirds of the figures himself. Now they are recognized as important examples of Kentucky folk art.

When the statues were ready to ship, the Illinois Central Railroad supplied a special flatcar to transport the statues from Paducah to Mayfield. Legend has it that the Mayfield town drunk was in Paducah at the time, so he hitched a ride astride Col. Wooldridge’s horse, riding into town in style behind the statue of Wooldridge himself.

With Wooldridge looking on, the statues were installed on a plot 17 feet wide by 33 feet long in the Maplewood Cemetery in Mayfield. The collection includes two statues of Wooldridge – the one astride his favorite horse Fop and the other of him standing beside a lectern. Other figures represent his mother Keziah, four of his brothers, three of his sisters, and two nieces. His hunting dogs Bob and Towhead, follow a fox and a deer.

The colonel died on May 30, 1899. He is the only person buried in the plot. His coffin lies inside the stone sarcophagus, which had an Italian marble slab on top.

Ektachrome postcard from the 1950s

Ektachrome postcard from the 1950s

As you can see from the postcards, the fence around the plot has undergone several iterations. The original iron fence was replaced during the 1950s by chicken wire. That was replaced again by a fence similar to the original, placed by the Mayfield Masonic Lodge, of which Wooldridge had been a member.

The monument was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. The historical plaque at the grave site calls Wooldridge an animal lover, famous fox-hunter, and Mason. Ripley’s Believe It or Not featured the monument on its television show in September 1984.

On January 27, 2009, a 300-year-old oak toppled onto the statues after an ice storm. Only the three female statues at the back and one of the dogs survived unscathed. The horse and several other figures, including both statues of Wooldridge, were decapitated. Federal disaster money collected by the city of Mayfield went to repair its chief tourist attraction. You can watch a lecture about the restoration of the statues on Youtube.

The monument was rededicated in October 2012.

Please watch this beautiful (and short) video about the monument:

Useful links:

A satellite map from the Billion Graves site

The City of Mayfield page about the Wooldridge Monument

Roadside America feature on the monument

Road trip article about the statues

Other monuments in the Maplewood Cemetery

More information on the postcards above

My first Obscura Society cemetery tour

Yes, that's the cemetery, way up there on the hill beneath the cypress trees.

Yes, that’s the cemetery, way up there on the hill beneath the cypress trees.

Last month, Annetta Black asked if I’d be interested in arranging tours of local cemeteries for the San Francisco branch of the Obscura Society.  Anything that gets people into graveyards is a good thing, as far as I’m concerned.  I was glad to do my part.

We had our first cemetery excursion on Sunday.  Eleven of us went to the Rose Hill Cemetery in Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch, which is across the bay, beyond Walnut Creek, and around the back of Mount Diablo.  I’d forgotten what a hike it was to get there.

The mining car that became a cattle trough.

The mining car that became a cattle trough.

Our guide was Mickey, a ranger for the park.  Even though I’d been to Black Diamond twice before (once on a private tour with the park supervisor), Mickey pointed out all kinds of things I hadn’t seen before, from steel rods bent by a boiler explosion to a mining car cut in half and used as a cattle trough.  He knew where to find the bolts from which school kids hung a swing more than a century ago and where the old buildings used to stand.  Here I thought not a stick remained of the old ghost towns, but much more survives than I expected.

Mickey told us stories of the characters who’d lived in the towns and the bobcats and gray foxes who live there now.  He had a sheaf of laminated photos to help illustrate his points, which turned out to be very useful, especially as we stood in the old graveyard.  I always like to see whose grave I’m standing over.

Sarah Norton's gravestone, before it was repaired

Sarah Norton’s gravestone, before it was repaired.

Since I visited the graveyard last, the park staff has repaired even more headstones.  One of the ones I was most glad to see standing proud again belonged to Sarah Norton, the wife of the founder of Nortonville who had helped at the births of an estimated 600 babies.  When I visited in 2002, her stone lay in a bed of concrete.  Now it is upright once more, although someone had smeared mud or something worse across it.

Rhoads_RH_Norton_1038In general, the headstones were bright white in the spring sunshine, which made it tricky to photograph them.  I’m a little concerned that someone has been too energetic in their cleaning and will damage the delicate old stones.  They’ve already been through so much.

Clearly there’s a lot more outreach to be done, too, to get people to care about — and care for — old graveyards.  My goal is to set up a tour of a different historic Bay Area cemetery every month this year.

Next month’s tour will take us to the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, home of the oldest naval cemetery on the West Coast.  The tour, which will include the museum and the Admiral’s Mansion, is scheduled for Saturday, April 19, at 10 a.m. Tickets haven’t gone on sale yet, but when they do, they’ll be here:

Hope you can join us!


Cemetery of the Week #129: the Graves of Jesse James

Zerelda Samuels, Jesse James's mother, stands by his original grave

Zerelda Samuel, Jesse James’s mother, stands by his original grave

The James Farm
21216 James Farm Road
Kearney, Missouri 64060
Telephone: (816) 736-8500
Grave in use: 1882-1902
The farm and museum is open: October until April: Monday to Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday from Noon to 4 p.m.
May-September: Monday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Admission: $8 Adults, $7 Seniors (62 and over), $4.50 Children (8-15), Children under 8: Free

Mount Olivet Cemetery
101 Missouri 92 (West 6th Street)
Kearney, Missouri 64060
GPS coordinates to James’s second grave: Lat: 39° 22′ 03″N, Lon: 94° 21′ 53″W
Founded: 1868

Jesse James was 16 when he followed his brother Frank into fighting the Civil War.  After their side lost, Jesse, Frank, and several other veterans spent 20 years robbing banks and trains and getting famous through dime novels.

On April 3, 1882, Jesse was shot dead by Robert Ford in his home in St. Joseph, Missouri (now a museum).  The surviving members of the gang, including his brother Frank, packed his body in ice and brought it back to his childhood home in Excelsior Springs (now called Kearney).  His mother Zerelda had Jesse buried near the house, where she could keep an eye on his body.  She feared grave robbers would dig him up and put his remains on display in a traveling show, as was common in those days.

Zerelda wasn’t above making a little money off her son’s notoriety.  She  sold rocks from his grave for 25 cents.  The postcard above shows a picture of her standing beside his obelisk.  The right sleeve of her dress covers the stump of her amputated hand, which she lost after Pinkerton detectives threw a turpentine flare into her home.

The Kansas City Star dates this card to 1907.  Apparently, there was a whole set of postcards featuring James’s homestead.  It also is a museum now.

The back of the photo reads, “Here is the picture of Hiram on Jesse James grave. My picture was no good so I did not get any of these. But this is a good resemblance of old Hi. And the old Tomb Stone also.”

The back of the photo reads, “Here is the picture of Hiram on Jesse James grave. My picture was no good so I did not get any of these. But this is a good resemblance of old Hi. And the old Tomb Stone also.”

After 20 years in the grave outside his mother’s farmhouse, Jesse James’s body was exhumed in 1902 and reburied in the family plot in Mt. Olivet Cemetery.  His wife Zee (short for Zerelda: she was a first cousin who had been named for his mother) had died in November 1900 and was already buried in the plot.  Jesse’s half brother Archie Payton Samuel is also buried there.  He was killed by the Pinkerton bomb that took Mother Zerelda’s hand. 

Zerelda herself died in 1911 and was buried in the plot with her boys.

That tall marble tombstone has since been replaced by a government-issued military headstone.  It details the outfits with which Jesse fought in the Civil War.  A large granite marker, flush with the ground, names Jesse and Zerelda.

In 1995, forensic experts apparently proved that Jesse’s remains were in fact in his grave, so that all the men who claimed that Jesse had escaped and grown old peacefully were proved to be imposters.  Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses gives a pretty good rundown of the exhumation and analysis.

Useful links:

Photos of Jesse James and Zerelda Samuel’s gravestones at Mount Olivet

Map to Jesse’s grave

A biography of Jesse James’ wife Zee

A history of Kearney, Missouri

Things to do in Kearney, Missouri

A 1995 story about the exhumation of Jesse James, from the Chicago Tribune

A round-up of the Jesse James impostors

Bay Area Cemetery Tours

Rose Hill Cemetery, 2001

Rose Hill Cemetery, 2001

I spent last year’s Nanowrimo working on a book about the historic cemeteries of the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ve visited a lot of them, but not nearly all, so I made myself a list of places I need to see. Ideally, I could find someone to give me a tour, show me the highlights, and ground my research for each one.

In early February, Annetta Black — mastermind of the Obscura Society in San Francisco — wrote to ask if I’d consider giving cemetery tours for the group.

I am qualified to lead cemetery wanders, but not tours. My knowledge of our local graveyards is broad, rather than deep. However, I would be thrilled to arrange tours for anyone interested in learning more about cemeteries — and now I am.

Rhoads_rose_hill_3This Sunday, March 23, the Obscura Society is touring one of my favorite local cemeteries: the Rose Hill Cemetery at Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve. This cemetery was almost completely obliterated by vandals and the well-intentioned preservation tactics of early park employees. It has been painstaking puzzled back together through the love and service of the more recent rangers and historians.

The cemetery is about all that survives of the five coal-mining ghost towns on the eastern slopes of Mount Diablo. It’s a reminder of how different the past was from the present, even though it’s barely 150 years distant.

Tickets are still available, if you’d like to explore for yourself. Here’s the link:

In April, we’re going to explore Mare Island’s ship-building history and the first naval cemetery on the West Coast. I’ll let you know when those tickets are available.

Looking past the headstones at Alcatraz Island

Looking past the headstones at Alcatraz Island

Now I’m working on the May tour. I think we’re looking at Memorial Day weekend, so it will be a tour closer in to San Francisco and Oakland. I was thinking maybe the San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio, which will be pretty with all the graves decorated with flags.

In the works are tours of St. John’s Cemetery in San Mateo, the Rural Cemetery in Santa Rosa, and a walking tour of the vanished cemeteries of San Francisco. I’m going to lead that one myself.

Is there anywhere you’ve been particularly interested in touring? Any Bay Area graveyard that caught your eye that you’d like to know more about?

What would You like to see on Cemetery Travel?

After almost 400 posts, I’m curious how I can make Cemetery Travel more useful to you, dear reader.  I’d appreciate it if you can help me out by letting me know what you’d like to see.

You’ll remain anonymous, unless you choose to leave a comment on the blog itself.  Comments inside the survey won’t carry your name.