Dwight Williamson: An abandoned cemetery could tell many stories | Opinion


“Enduring for eternity: constant, permanent, endless, continuous and forever.”

This is how my American Heritage dictionary defines the word “perpetual”. It is also how nearly every burial plot has been sold to Logan Countians over the years in the now totally derelict 20-acre Logan Memorial Park in McConnell – final resting places for many trusted souls, including the ghostly remains of Logan’s most famous. murdered person, Grandma Thurman. Perpetual care was guaranteed.

Although Granny’s grave has no markings, it should be noted that there are many graves marked with headstones and even graves that contain no bodies or remains, although almost all of them used to. The thing is, for the lucky souls whose families could afford it, their remains were moved to other cemeteries after the McConnell site was abandoned and there was no upkeep. Other graves remain mostly the same, while still others have noticeable and sustained damage. Some plots, including two purchased by longtime Logan Circuit Judge CC Chambers, were sold when the cemetery’s demise seemed imminent. Here is the story of the now shameful place:

Jones Land Company, which had previously obtained mineral rights to numerous properties in Logan County, was incorporated as Logan-McConnell Realty on June 15, 1928. The Charleston-based company obtained surface rights to the 20 acres in October of the same year. of Ella Aldridge, a former resident of Logan then living in Huntington, and the widow of George Aldridge. EB Dyer became president of the Logan-McConnell Realty Company and the Logan Memorial Park Company. On August 24, 1928, the headline of a front-page article read: “Twenty-Acre Tract at McConnell to be Beautiful—Perpetual Care Assured”

“A modern cemetery where perpetual care for the dead will be guaranteed must be established at McConnell,” was the first line of the story. The article went on to say that the president and vice president of the Kanawha National Bank in Charleston were primarily behind the project, along with another banker, who was president of the Bank of Milton. These men had already invested in opening Ridgelawn Cemetery in Huntington and Sunset Memorial Park in Charleston. Both cemeteries have been described as “modern perpetual care burial grounds”.

It must be understood that since the discovery of certain chemicals in the last years of the Civil War, which were used to preserve corpses, undertakers and funeral homes across the country have become extremely popular due to the process of embalming which made it possible to preserve the corpse for several days. Before the embalming process, the bodies had to be buried quickly.

In Logan County, RB Harris, on February 24, 1899, was the first person in the area granted a license to practice “the science of embalming” by the State Board of Embalmers. Harris, who would open a business on the top floor of Logan Mercantile on Main Street – which is now the structure where the Logan family court offices are located – then bought the former home of Judge Logan JB Wilkinson, also on Stratton Street, and converted into a funeral home. Today the business is known as Honaker Funeral Home.

Another factor that led to the opening of large public cemeteries was the fact that for many years, particularly in the rugged Appalachian Mountains, family burial sites like that of Hatfield Cemetery in Sarah Ann were on property private and were only used for family and a few close friends. Church cemeteries usually required that the person buried there be a member of the church. This is how large cemeteries became a national enterprise.

E. B. Dyer of Charleston received a Certificate of Incorporation for Logan Memorial Park on October 26, 1928. The main establishment for the operation was 815 Quarrier St., Charleston. The authorized stock was $75,000, divided into 750 shares at $100 each. There were only five shareholders: four men in Charleston and one in Milton. Dyer was given power of attorney in most decision-making and served as president of the company.

Work on the property began in early 1928, ironically only months after the Ku Klux Klan organization was incorporated into Logan County (January 4, 1928). In November of the same year, The Logan Banner praised the site: “It recounts how a rough and unattractive site has been transformed into a burial ground so attractive, even now, that it is confidently open to your inspection.” The banner cited a cypress fence painted white, a concrete driveway and a “huge flower bed” at the top end of the driveway where 2,000 perennial bulbs had been planted. The banner reported that there were 7,000 privet hedges planted, along with “dozens of rose bushes”. Many more were to be planted the following spring.

Advertisements in The Banner invited people of all nationalities to purchase burial grounds. However, it was clarified that the cemetery was for “Caucasians only”. Offices were opened and a map of the cemetery was in the OJ Morrison building in Logan, which is the former National Bank of Logan on Stratton Street. Hungarians, Czechs, Italians, Greeks and others – some with their native language inscribed on their tombstones – can still be seen at the site. Many prominent people from the Logan area were buried there, or at least purchased burial grounds. The 20-acre cemetery has been surveyed and mapped, including every burial plot.

The Depression caught up with Logan around 1932, and by 1933 there were already outstanding balances on 88 funeral lots and several contracts were canceled due to people’s inability to continue payments. Like all businesses, the funeral home has experienced difficulties. However, he survived because death is certain and a proper funeral was a necessity.

In April 1945, at the end of the Second World War, the cemetery was sold. Mr. and Mrs. EE Von Peachy purchased the property and rights to all parcels. There was no sale price stated in the deed. It would be the beginning of the end for the final resting places of those who had been buried there and promised perpetual care.

Described by Logan’s late attorney, Eddie Eiland, as “good people,” Lucille Von Peachy was a teacher at what was then Cherry Tree Elementary School. Very few people today are able to describe what led to the abandonment of the cemetery. What is recorded is that in 1951 the American Legion of Logan purchased many plots in a section of the cemetery for use by the families of indigent veterans. Additionally, the fact that the last recorded sale by the Von Peachys was to Floyd Noe on May 11, 1956 is recorded. The deed was registered in 1958 and sets out certain conditions, and life was not one of them. The deed stated that a “suitable marble or landmark” was to be erected and that “maintenance was agreed to by the purchaser”. He went on to say that the “vendors were absolved of any maintenance of any kind.” In reality, the cemetery was then condemned.

In 1948 Forest Lawn Cemetery opened and was later owned and operated by the now deceased Lajeana Aldredge, who in an interview three years ago recalled the McConnell site. “It was a beautiful place,” she said, explaining that several families had had family members moved from there to her cemetery, including the remains of Dr NE Steele, who had purchased a huge monument for he and his wife, Maude, who still hangs out at McConnell. Ms Steele had her husband removed from the cemetery, leaving behind a concrete structure that cost $10,000, but at present is the equivalent of $100,000, according to Aldredge.

“There were no laws at the time regarding cemeteries,” Aldredge explained. “The story is that one son left with all the money and even all the cemetery records, and he just disappeared. He just left with everything. You can’t do that today.

So the cemetery that promised perpetual care and houses the remains of many famous people, including J. Cary Alderson, who opened Logan County’s first bank, is covered in growth every summer, but reveals its secrets in the fall and In early spring. Perhaps all of its secrets will never be revealed.

Testimony at Mamie Thurman’s 1932 murder trial against Clarence Stephenson revealed that her body was buried at McConnell’s location. However, no tombstone was ever placed on his grave. Was it because her husband, Jack Thurman, a Logan police officer, was angry at her cheating ways? Or was it for another reason? The key question might be who provided the cemetery land.

As for its exact location in the cemetery, here is the best proof that can be provided. Ed Burgess, who was 75 when I interviewed him in 1985, when he lived near the cemetery, said his father, Elzie Burgess, had been the cemetery’s longtime caretaker. Burgess said he was 19 when he helped dig Grandma Thurman’s grave. Burgess said he and his father dug an average of two graves a day at the cemetery in the 1930s.

“There’s no doubt about it, she’s buried here. I even helped her cover it up,” Burgess told me. He said there was never a tombstone placed on the grave. Explaining that the cemetery is divided into three sections – A, B and C – he pointed out that Grandma Thurman was buried in section B near the huge Steele monument. “To the best of my knowledge, she was buried halfway through this section,” he said.

While Burgess, like all the characters involved in the ruthless murder of Logan’s ‘mistress of the night’, is now gone and mostly forgotten, Grandma lives on – in one form or another, some 90 years later. , while her murderer surely burns in hell. .

Dwight Williamson is a magistrate in Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.


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