Catholic Heritage

“Blood is thicker than water,” was one of my maternal grandmother’s favorite sayings.  Family was everything to her.  She was extremely proud of her Southern and Irish roots, and often shared tales—possibly apocryphal—of the family history.  We are blessed to have many heirlooms and photographs that breathed life into her tales of those long-ago family members.  I never knew my great-grandmother, but I was brought up on stories about her beauty and grace.  I loved to admire her portrait, and to play under the intricately carved table that had come down to my grandmother through her, part of a set that’s been in the family longer than anyone can remember.
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I internalized the stories and the reverence for the past and felt its influence on the present.  And when I grew up I became interested in my father’s side of the family as well, and conducted lazy internet genealogy research to learn more.  I’ve built a family tree that goes back many generations on both sides, and have learned that my roots are not only Irish but English, Dutch, and German as well.
Family heritage encompasses many things.  Families pass down language–my Alabama roots are four generations back now but in my family we still use some expressions that are not native to East Tennessee.  Families pass down heirlooms like the table and chairs I mentioned, the prie-dieu on which my great-grandparents knelt to be married, the silver coffee and tea service.  Families pass down genetic material, as I think you can see in the comparison pictures of my youngest child and her great-great-great-great grandmother below.  And families pass down religion.
Read the rest at Everyday Ediths.

Pleasant Forest: A Tale of Two Cemeteries

PF41Pleasant Forest Cemetery is a hard one to miss.  It’s enormous, for one thing, and it’s on a well-traveled road. I’ve driven by it many times and it’s been on my list to visit for awhile.  Occasionally my graveyard trips are serendipitous and unplanned, but for a place this large, I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to explore.
I visited over a year ago, and maybe it’s because I’m expecting some unpleasantness that I’ve held off writing about it for so long.  But I’ll get to that.
First of all, the good stuff.  And it’s really, really good stuff.  The cemetery is immaculate, with obvious efforts to clean and repair stones.

This is an historic cemetery, established over 200 years ago, making it one of the oldest in the area.  And the people who run it are obviously cognizant of and proud of its rich history.  This cemetery even has its own website!  The history of the place is recorded there in great detail, as are the names of most of the folks buried there.  Here’s the earliest grave:
And there are other graves just as primitive, the hand-carved names rendered illegible by time.

There are many that you can read, though, even some very old ones.
If you read the inscriptions, you will have seen that some of the stones carry names important in Knoxville history.  One of the things I loved about this cemetery is how it appreciates and showcases history–even its own.
But this is also very much a living cemetery, with an assortment of interesting and beautiful memorials to folks who died relatively recently, and whose families are still regularly visiting and decorating their graves.

Pleasant Forest is large, hilly, well-kept, and beautiful, as I’ve said.

But there’s another part of this cemetery’s story.  In fact, there’s another part of this cemetery.
The part I’ve been showing you is on the right side of Concord Road heading south.  It’s large, and bordered with a combination of wooden and wrought iron fencing and stone walls.
But if you cross the busy road, you’ll see another side of this cemetery.
Here’s what it looks like.
The contrast to the pristine conditions on the other side of the road couldn’t be stronger.  As I walked the grounds I was unable to make sense of what I was seeing–the exposed red earth, the tumbling stones, the un-raked ground.  And as I read the names I began to get a sinking feeling.  Surely this couldn’t be what it was beginning to look like–an African-American section of Pleasant Forest looking for all the world like an ad for separate and unequal?
But that’s what it is.  Here’s what a little online research turned up:  “Pleasant Forest Cemetery is an old cemetery, founded in 1796. It lies on both sides of Concord Road about one-half mile south of Kingston Pike. Most of the cemetery receives some maintenance. I am told that State of Tennessee provides money for cutting the grass. The cemetery functions as two cemeteries. The portion east of Concord Road and the southeast corner of the portion west of Concord Road are a black cemetery. The white portion of the cemetery which receives state maintenance funds was fenced early in 1989. The black section was fenced out and appears [in 1989] to receive little to no maintenance.”
Now, the black section that’s physically part of the larger cemetery isn’t treated any differently from the rest of it.  I am at a loss to explain why no one is caring for the other section.  Look, I KNOW maintaining cemeteries is a labor of love and largely taken on, in the case of historic graveyards, by volunteers.  But this is part of the same cemetery, under the same ownership now, according to publicly available records, whatever the case may have been originally.  What excuse can there be for ignoring this part of it so completely (as of March 2016, when I was last there)?  If the excuse is that it doesn’t receive state maintenance funds and the other side does, that doesn’t comfort me much.
I expect publishing this post will lead to my enlightenment on these matters as it often has in the past.  I hope it will not also lead to unpleasantness.  As always in these pieces, I’m just describing what I see, and what I’m seeing looks bad.
For more of my graveyard musings, click here.

The Living and the Dead: Writing about Graveyards

My post on Rocky Hill Baptist Cemetery upset someone yesterday.  I am tender-hearted and wouldn’t ever want to hurt someone’s feelings.  I took down the pictures of the grave of that person’s loved one, and I made some clarifications on the original post.  But since I don’t want to stop writing about graveyards, and I don’t want to hurt anyone else’s feelings, I thought I would tell you a little about what goes into my graveyard musings.
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When I walk into a cemetery, I don’t arrive with any definite agenda.  I like to absorb the atmosphere and think about what that particular place is saying to me.  What is its story?  I could just take pictures of every headstone, or write the names of everyone buried there, but you can see that at Find-A-Grave.  I’m looking for atmosphere, and also to tie that cemetery into my thoughts on other topics.
For example, in this post I spoke of how lucky we are to have these little oases of peace and beauty in the middle of all the otherwise unbridled development in West Knox County.
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In this one I talked about the importance of names.
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This one was about remembrance.
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If I’m in a smaller cemetery, I try to read every gravestone.  I think about the people there, wonder about them.  Sometimes, especially if they are babies, I pray for them or even talk to them.  I tell them that today, even if only today, they are remembered.
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When it’s a larger cemetery, I try to walk through as much of it as I can, especially the older sections, which are the most interesting to me.  I make notes about when the earliest burials took place and the names I see, particularly if the names are familiar as local place names.  I take pictures of whatever interests me.
After I leave, I almost immediately start doing research.  Not a lot of research, because I am not getting paid for this!  But I look on the KGIS website to see what I can find out about current and former owners of the property.  I look it up on Find-A-Grave.  I Google for the history of the cemetery, and sometimes do a little genealogy research on some of the people buried there.
By the time I sit down to write, usually something, some angle from which to approach that particular cemetery, will have occurred to me.  It would be pretty boring if all I did was describe the place and post pictures without comment.  I’m trying to tell stories, not just document.
But documentation IS part of what I do.  And if a cemetery is in bad shape, I’m going to say so.  I don’t know why it’s in bad shape, and I’m not making value judgments.  I’m wondering, and I’m raising questions.
For example, in the case of yesterday’s post, this was the first thing that I saw when I drove into Rocky Hill Baptist Cemetery, and it stirred up some questions that I raised in my post.
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I wondered:  WHY is a cemetery with the same name as the church, and right across the street from the church, not owned by the church?  WHY is this sign so emphatic?  If the church used to own the cemetery, why and when did it stop?  WHY would a private association take over such a large and active cemetery requiring so much upkeep?  WHO are the people being buried here now, if not church members or family members (there are lots of new graves.)?
Those were just a few of my questions, and my research answered some of them.  The rest I put out there with the post.  I do that with a lot of these posts, and sometimes I am rewarded with answers!
When I write about cemeteries, I am trying to make sure that the dead are remembered.  I’d like to think that if they could see my posts, they’d appreciate them.  But all I have to go on is the opinions (usually positive!) of the living.
If people get upset because I mention that a cemetery is in need of some maintenance, they are being too sensitive.  I’m just reporting a fact, and I’m not accusing anyone of anything.  In fact, I went out of my way in that post to mention that cemeteries require lots of upkeep and that it’s expensive, which is one reason I was wondering why a private association would take that on.  I’m familiar with the financial struggle my own parish has in keeping up the Catholic cemetery, and the assistance we require from the Knights of Columbus and youth groups for periodic cleanups.  The more cemeteries I visit, the more I see what a problem upkeep is–whether because no one is left to care, or people don’t have the energy, money, or time.  Whatever the reason, it’s a tragedy when the last tangible reminder of a human being’s existence is obliterated.
I have had it suggested that if I’m upset that these cemeteries are in bad shape, then I should come help clean them up. 🙂  But see, I can’t clean up every cemetery in Knox County.  And it’s not my job to do that.  It will be my job to make sure my parents’ (who are both still here!) graves are maintained, and I will.  The job I HAVE taken on is to write about cemeteries, and if it raises awareness of the very real problem of keeping them in shape, that’s a good thing.
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Rocky Hill Baptist Cemetery: Appearances Are Deceiving

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This is the first thing I noticed when I parked my car at Rocky Hill Baptist Cemetery.  I couldn’t decide whether it was the church attempting to disown the cemetery or the folks who run the cemetery disowning the church.  For sure, it’s an emphatic sign.  And I suspect there’s a story here.  Because up until 1991, the church across the street DID own this cemetery, which they then sold to the Rocky Hill Cemetery Association.
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The cemetery was originally in the churchyard, as was customary, or perhaps I should say the church was originally in the graveyard, since it’s the church that has since moved across Northshore Drive.  The church was founded in 1888 and the land for the cemetery donated in 1891.  It’s still very much in use today.
Before our house burned down we drove past this cemetery multiple times every day and I often thought of stopping there.  It doesn’t look that big from the road and I figured I could look at every stone.  But looks are deceptive.  This is actually a good-sized cemetery.
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In my (admittedly limited) experience, foundations or associations are not usually responsible for active cemeteries.  Typically they take over when the church is gone. the congregation dispersed.  It’s a lot of work to maintain a cemetery, and not cheap either, and this one was in need of some attention the day I visited.
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(Note to self:  never get a flat gravestone.  They get covered up way too easily and then you aren’t even a memory anymore.)
The need for landscaping here is in painful contrast to the adjoining property now occupied by a development called (pretentiously) The Summit at Rocky Hill.
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Here, for $800,000 or so, one can have a home with a commanding view that includes the cemetery below.
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Something else about this cemetery, perhaps because it is run by an association instead of a church or a corporation–there don’t seem to be the usual rules about how graves can be decorated.  Maybe that’s part of the charm for those who choose to be buried here?  It’s certainly a colorful place.
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When this graveyard first opened,  “The graves could be “sold only to white persons of good moral standing.”  It would appear the standards have changed a bit, judging by this:
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That’s the only dog headstone I found, but as always there were many babies and small children, some especially poignant:
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The Cottrell, Ellis, Currier, and Peters families are well-represented here.
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A few final things that caught my eye:
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Update:  This post has been edited and pictures removed because one of my readers objected to the inclusion of her father’s grave and misunderstood some of what was written here. No disrespect was intended, but I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.  I’d say more–and perhaps later I will–but I have a kid to get ready for school right now.

The Mystery of Lebanon Cemetery

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It’s a great title but I’m hoping that just because Google cannot tell me much about the graveyard I visited this afternoon it doesn’t mean that my local readers won’t be able to share some of its history with me.
I would never have found Lebanon Cemetery at all if it weren’t for Siri, who helpfully included it in a list of nearby cemeteries when I asked her this morning.  On this grey rainy day, I couldn’t go walking on muddy steep trails, but it seemed like a perfect day for a visit to a graveyard.  I didn’t have anywhere specific in mind, and this one turns out to be only a couple of miles from my house, but it is on a road I’d never driven down and would never have had any reason to.
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Lebanon Cemetery–whose name I know only because Siri told me so, as there is no sign on the premises–is located on Garrison Road in Byington, if you want to get super-specific.  Broadly, it’s between Middlebrook Pike and Western Avenue, pretty close to Karns.  It’s surrounded by woods, and fields beyond that.  There’s a chain link fence, which has the kind of gate you’d open to get grave-digging equipment in.  There’s nowhere to park and the road doesn’t have much of a shoulder.
What I know about its history after an hour on the internet isn’t much at all.  It was founded around 1885, and the most recent burial occurred in 2011.  A church once stood here–Lebanon Church, which was a Methodist congregation.  I don’t know exactly where it stood, or when or why it was demolished, or what happened to its parishioners, or who the people are who are still being buried here, although I suspect it has to do with family ties.
Because like so many of these old cemeteries, names are repeated again and again.  Here we have Hackneys and Cowards, Smiths and McHaffies, Kellys and Crosses.  When we left the cemetery we didn’t have to drive far to reach Hackney Road and Coward Mill Road, and a quick search of directory assistance shows that many of these folks still live nearby.
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This is a nice-sized cemetery with plenty of room for more burials.  The grass was mowed and the place looked cared-for.  There were some broken stones, but some were repaired and those that were not at least bore signs that someone attempted to straighten them up.
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The epitaph above reads “There was an angel band in heaven/That was not quite complete./So God took our darling Hugh/To fill the vacant seat.”  That’s just one of many picturesque legends I found there:
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“How sad it is not to hear his voice any more, but God knows best.”
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“He was beloved by God and man.”
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“In the cold moist earth we laid her, when the forest cast a leaf/And we wept that one so lovely would have a life so brief.”
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“Earth’s brightest gems are fading” and “Having finished life’s duties he now sweetly rests.”
I like those obelisk-like stones.  Like all old graveyards this one has stones in all shapes and sizes.  Also like all old graveyards, there are the babies.
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On the lighter side, there were some amusing . . . footstones, I guess you call them?  These are small stones that go at the food of the body, and usually say something like Wife or Mother, but in this case they used them to show people’s nicknames:
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The earliest burial I found was 1888.  There was one row of older-looking stones that I couldn’t read.
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Fall seems like the best time of year to explore graveyards somehow.  I’m excited about finding more, learning their secrets, and sharing them with you.
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Graveyards and Country Roads

I had so much fun looking at graveyards last weekend, that I’ve decided to try to visit some every Saturday.  Jake likes graveyards too, so I asked him to come along.  Turns out he had one he wanted to show me!
It’s often referred to as Copper Ridge Cemetery online, and it’s supposed to be haunted (you’ll find lots of paranormal articles if you Google.).  Apparently there was an old church there (the original home of Beaver Ridge United Methodist Church) which supposedly manifested paranormal phenomena, but it’s been torn down–I don’t know when or why.  There are actually two cemeteries here, one on either side of Copper Ridge Road.  The small one is labeled Brimer Cemetery, and I’m guessing the Brimer homestead once stood on this land.  Old Beaver Ridge Cemetery is across the street.
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As always, there were baby stones on both sides of the road.
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Beaver Ridge is an old graveyard, where early settlers of the area are buried.    The oldest person buried there that we could find was born in 1800, and burials began in 1815.  We saw stones as late as the mid-2000s.
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There were many stones that were so old they were hand-lettered.
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Some of the names I saw a lot of were Fox, Cox, Trotter, Brown, and Calloway.  I stumbled upon this Facebook Album that shows a lot more gravestones if you are interested.
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Many of the stones were unreadable, but just Jake brushing them off with his hand helped.  This cemetery gets a regular going over once a year on Decoration Day, but it could use some help.  I feel sure that the stones could  be made readable easily, and there’s something so sad about a stone you can’t read.  We all want to be remembered.  Sometimes that stone is all that’s left to show that a person lived.  I told Jake yesterday that I don’t care about having flowers on my grave, or having people visit to talk to me there, but I do want my tombstone to be maintained so that it is always readable.
There were also headstones that had fallen over, many broken branches (large ones) that Jake carried away, and an area right next to the cemetery that people are using for a dump.
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Still, it’s in much better shape than the Ball Camp Baptist Cemetery where I went last week, and it’s just pretty there on Copper Ridge Road, which is somewhere I had never been before.
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Because we hadn’t been out that way before, and were in a curious mood, we decided to drive down Copper Ridge Road a little ways.  Well, have you ever thought to drive to the end of a road, only the road never ended?  That’s what happened to us.  Copper Ridge got another name somewhere along the way, but by the time we crossed Clinton Highway (the first major road we saw–in fact, the first thing we had recognized since we started driving) we were committed to the adventure.  We kept driving more or less North, passing in and out of Anderson County a few times, for maybe an hour, without encountering so much as a gas station.
We saw beautiful horses, community churches of almost every denomination, ancient barns still in use, lambs, geese, trailers, shacks, and creeks.  We drove until we reached somewhere called Twinville and then we had to take a turn toward home so we wouldn’t be out driving in the middle of nowhere after dark.  We came back on Raccoon Valley Road, crossed the Clinch River, and came home by way of Oak Ridge.  It was an adventure.
We both felt so fortunate that almost anywhere in Knoxville is about ten minutes from actual country, and that we haven’t managed to destroy, pave, or develop all of it yet.


I call her Grandmother, even though I never knew her, because that is what my mother called her, but her name was Mary Becker Hagan Higgins.   She was born in 1891 in Mobile, Alabama, and she died in 1960.  My grandmother had a picture of her framed on the antique table in her living room, so we all grew up seeing it often and admiring our beautiful great-grandmother.  We saw moving pictures of her with her granddaughters.  I’ve read her autograph album.  An oil pastel portrait of her hangs in my home today.  I have grown up hearing about her, first from my grandmother and then from my mother, and especially after becoming involved in genealogy myself, I feel I know her.
I love the four generation photo below, taken in 1915 in Mobile, shortly before she moved with her husband, Walter Higgins, to Chattanooga, where she spent most of the rest of her life. 
That’s my Uncle Walter, the first of her five children, sitting in the lap of my great-great-great-grandmother, Luocretia Hall Davis.  My great-great grandmother, Mary Ann Davis Hagan, stands behind.  Mobile was presented to us as our ancestral abode, since we had family there going back for generations, and even though my grandmother (Elizabeth Higgins Carroll, known to us as Mima) was born in Chattanooga, she spent summers at the family home on Mobile Bay, as did my mother as a child.
I’m currently at a Higgins family reunion.  Last night my mother’s cousin Johnny told our gathering that when his grandmother came to visit, she always brought pralines, and he had brought some to our cookout in her honor.  I was touched as he reminded us that she was the grandmother of all of us who had come together for the weekend.  As I said before, Grandmother had five children.  The one to die, my Aunt Patty (Johnny’s mother) left us less than a year ago.  Those five children had 14 children between them.  All are living, and 12 of them are here.  Most of those 12 brought their children along,  20 members of that generation all together (that’s the generation I’m in).   And finally, there are ten members of the fourth generation here.  So there are 42 people gathered here (not counting in-laws!), representing the living legacy of one woman and her husband.
Grandmother’s influence has spread geographically:  we’ve gathered in Tennessee, where many of still live; but we have cousins from Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Missouri, Connecticut, and Rhode Island here.  And my daughter Emily has come full circle by choosing to attend college in Mobile, where descendants of Grandmother’s brother William and sister Bettie still live.
We have a plaque that’s the first thing you see when you walk into our house.  I’m not there to take a picture of it but here’s something similar:

Most couples have thought about children before their wedding day, but I wonder if any of them think about descendants, and about the impact their love will have on the very existence of so many people down through the years.

Walter Martin Higgins

Mary Becker Hagan Higgins