Monday, May 20, 2013

The Story of Madge

It doesn't end well...

Greenwood Town Cemetery; Greenwood, Caddo Parish, Louisiana

Almost two years ago I went to the Greenwood Town Cemetery in Greenwood, Louisiana on small town near the border of Louisiana and Texas.  This is a pioneer town and this particular cemetery has some of the who's who of north Louisiana interred there.  It still has active burials, which is a tad unusual, but very neat to me that forefathers had insight to bury their antecedents over a century later with the purchases of family lots.    There are many Irish immigrants that came to the farming community and thrived there.  Some of the names are  prominent in Caddo Parish and recognizable by anyone who lives there: Flournoy, Hoss, Dunn, Scott, Vaughn to name a few.  It was at the Flournoy lots that on the very edge, near a huge oak tree I spotted this grave of Madge O. Suratt's.  I was struck because Madge is my middle daughter's nickname.  Who was this Madge?  My first though was she might have been a domestic worker for the Flournoy family given her place of honor on the outskirts of the lot.  I know everyone's story ends in cemeteries, but I always wonder what their lives were like.  Who cried over their loss?  Who thought enough to have a marker carved and in Madge's case, an urn set at the head of her grave?  It never fails to surprise me when I google a name of someone long gone and get a hit and I did with Madge.  Madge's life...and her death, shocked me to my core.  Madge was a modern woman in old times.  After seeing her death articles, I dove into finding out about her in the times when she was alive.  She is enumerated in the census for Manhattan as a single woman working as a vice-president of Carlton Illustrators.  Other articles in Shreveport newspapers had her wintering in Denver, Colorado and directories for Denver had her living there in 1911-1912 working for the Chamber of Commerce.  She was clearly an independent woman of means, but her death tells of her vulnerability and incurable heartache.  On the afternoon of March 25, 1916 in the Ebbit House Hotel in downtown Washington D. C. , a maid discovers the body of a woman.  The police get in a tizzy because the only clues found to her identity was an aka of "Selma Thomas" and a drinking paper cup with Denver, Col. stamped on the side.  Days later, after much investigation, the police release the name of Madge O. Suratt with cause of death: suicide by drinking prussic acid.  Apparently Madge had been in love with an attorney from Houston, he'd broken up with her, letters are found written to her in Spanish and letters to her sister, Mrs. W. B. Cantrell of Little Rock, Arkansas.  Mrs. Cantrell denied claiming her sister for burial for reasons we don't know.  She had instructed detectives to send the body to John B. Hutchinson, a planter and businessman of great notoriety in Caddo and Bossier parishes.  His wife, Nina Flournoy Hutchinson, was close to Madge, according to Shreveport newspapers that detailed Madge's visits to Nina in it's society columns and spoke of them as cousins.  Although Madge is not interred with the Hutchinsons, she is with the Flournoys, her extended kin. As much as I know of her death, there are still unanswered questions about her life I would love to know. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Star of Star Cemetery

Star Cemetery, the grave of Mattie Reed Bradford.
Star Cemetery in Shreveport, is visible from I-20 and nestled along the Catholic cemetery, St. Joseph's at 2100 Texas Street. It was the first African American cemetery when it was established in 1883, in Shreveport. The Star Cemetery Association was formed with 14 men who purchased the 10 acres formerly home to Shreveport University, a Baptist college. Many of the people buried here were former slaves, also many in benevolent fraternities like Odd Fellows and Masons. There are few family plots, the cemetery is now owned by the city of Shreveport and maintained by SPAR. Star is a challenge to transcribe since most of the markers are homemade or concrete and have eroded or deteriorated. Fortunately, there is a new Star Cemetery association being formed by decendents. I was photographing monuments and ran across one of the most interesting graves I've ever seen. I've encountered many root covered markers, but this one is fantastic! This is the headstone of Mattie Reed Bradford (born January 29, 1879 and passed away at the age of 32 on February 3, 1911). Doing a little digging, I found that Mattie was the daughter of George and Patsy Reed. On the 1880 US Federal Census, the Reeds lived in an integrated section of Shreveport near prominent attorney, Alfred Land and Broadway playwright, Guido Marburg. Both George and Patsy are listed as black, however, Mattie and her sister are enumerated as mulatto. On April 26, 1899 in Caddo Parish, Mattie and Calvin Bradford married. The next census, 1900, Mattie is married to Calvin Bradford. They had two sons: Clyde (who became an MD), born in 1899 and Lisbon, born in 1902. The 1910 census lists the Bradfords living at 1200 Howard Street in Shreveport. That is the scant info on Mattie Reed Bradford, Nature seemed to have taken a gentle liking to her memory and that may be the tenderest testimony to her.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Fella Who Started It All


Sidney W. Saunders Tomb
Monroe City (aka Old City) Cemetery
Monroe, Louisiana
I discovered Sidney and grave walking when I went to Monroe City Cemetery as a college student in the early 1980's. I was working on my black and white photography portfolio when a friend suggested I go "see" Sidney. The best part...he had a sordid tale behind his final repose...Victorian soap opera played out tragically in my hometown! Here's what we know about Sidney with cudo's and credit to Ouachita Parish historian/librarian Lora Peppers:
A native of Mississippi and raised in Morehouse Parish, Louisiana, Sidney went on to become a private in the Confederate Army and was wounded during the Battle of Vicksburg. After the war, he became a businessman in the river boomtown of Monroe owning saloons as well as a grocery store. It was, however, the saloon business with a suspected sideline of gambling and prostitution that made Sidney a pariah of Monroe society. He just wasn't ever going to hold a respectable position as far as the upper echelon of Monroe folks were concerned. Making matters worse, he shows up with a bride named Annie Livingston who came with a child believed to by Sidney's named Willie St. John. The rumor was that Annie was a prostitute and not officially married to Sidney.
It only gets worse.
In 1886, young Willie passes away at the age of 12. Then came the fire that ravaged Sidney's empire. More rumors surfaced about Sidney being an arsonist in order to make a monetary gain from insurance claims. Such indignations only made Annie more defiant to overcome them. Unfortunately, the same indignations only broke Sidney's spirit. He purchased a plot at the Monroe City Cemetery in late January of 1889 and he killed himself with gunshot to the head on February 1. Annie took the proceeds of Sidney's estate after wrangling with Sidney's siblings over the proper inheritance dispersement. She commissioned the Muldoon Monument Company to build a grand tomb...and societele statement...for Sidney. Sidney's statue holds the marriage license so hotly contested in his hand and faces the "high society" section of Monroe in a stance that is permanant and unforgettable. The carved license is an exact replica of their real marriage license in wording. There are basement style doors in the ground to the antechamber that holds the caskets of Sidney and Willie. Also Sidney's writing desk and chair are inside and it is said Annie spent many hours sitting at it between her husband and child. Annie's sewing machine and Willie's bicycle are purported to be inside the tomb as well as Annie's casket after her death by fire in 1926.
The Saunders monument is inventoried and cataloged by the Smithsonian (url: http://siris-artinventories.si.edu/ipac20/ipac.jsp?uri=full=3100001~!335352!0#focus). As if the backstory and the impressive nature of the monument itself wasn't enough, the gut-wrenching "stream of consciousness" speeches of Annie's words engraved into the monument are forever heartbreaking:
SIDNEY W. SAUNDERS
1846-1889
IS IT IN HEAVEN
A CRIME TO LOVE TOO WELL?
TO BEAR TOO TENDER
OR TOO FIRM A HEART?
(Side panel:)
WILLIE ST. JOHN
SON OF/W S & A SAUNDERS, DIED MAY 13 1886
WILLIE, MY BELOVED TREASURE
MY BRIGHT BEAUTIFUL LOVING JEWEL
MAMA'S WEARY HEAVY HEART
IS YEARNING TO BE AT REST WITH THEE
OH! ART THOU MY PRECIOUS ANGEL
LONGING TO BE WITH ME YOUR LONELY
UNHAPPY MOTHER
(Left panel on rear of monument:)
SIDNEY I COULD HAVE WELL FORGIVEN
THAT LAST SEEMINGLY CRUEL ACT OF THINE
FOR YOU WANTED ME WITH YOU IN HEAVEN
HAD YOU WITH YOUR LIFE TAKEN MINE
TREMBLING AND ALONE I TREAD
LIFE'S DREARY STRAND
BESET ENVY, STRIFE, AND JEALOUSLY
BUT 'MID IT ALL, GOD AND LOVE OF THEE
HAS STAID MY HAND
TO RAISE THIS MARBLE TO THY MEMORY
(Right panel on rear of monument:)
MY HUSBAND, MY GOD IN MERCY PARDON ME
IF WHEN HERE I COME TO WEEP AND PRAY
ALL MY SOUL AND THOUGHT SHALL BE OF THEE
AND WRAPT IN THEE IDOL FROM THE MAKER STRAY
FAREWELL, THIS MONUMENT IS NOW MY LAST ADIEU
TILL IS HEAVEN WE MEET NO MORE TO SEPARATE
I SAY IN HEAVEN
FOR WHERE'RE YOU ARE, OUR BOY AND YOU
THERE IS MY HEAVEN
FOR THAT ALONE YOUR FAITHFUL, LOVING WIFE
PRAYS, WATCHES AND WAITS
To find Sidney head east on DeSiard from the river, turn into the west entrance of the cemetery. The tomb is not far into the cemetery on the left near the fence, you can't miss him.
UPDATE:I posted this photo on a facebook page about Monroe, Louisiana. Here is a firsthand account from Herbert Otwell who posted about actually peering into the antechamber of the Saunders graves: " I was a supervisor on nights several years ago and we found the lock on the doors missing. We opened then but couldn't go inside because there was about 15'feet of water in the crypt. There are two caskets in the tomb but they are under water." I replied " Thanks for the post, Herbert! How sad it's underwater...I'd heard there were possibly three caskets: Sidney, son Willie St. John and Sidney's wife. His wife, Annie E. Livingston Saunders Hardin, was rumoured to have been interred there after she died from severe burns in 1926. It's also been reported that Sidney's writing desk, chair, her sewing machine and Willie's bicycle were in the tomb as well. " His response: The water was very clear and we could see the contents. There was only two caskets, one had pretty much disenegrated, the other looked to be in good shape. There was nothing else such as chairs, sewing machines, etc in there. There is a space for a third casket but it was vacant. The area down at he bottom is not real big and there was a There was a casket in the space directly in front of the steps and one to the left, which would be north. There was nothing in the space to the south."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Burning Candle of Forest Park


Simmons-Eason Family Plot
Forest Park East Cemetery
Shreveport, Louisiana
This is a unique idea for a monument and it's placement within the plot. It's centered between two families plots, Simmons on one side and the Easons on the other. The monument itself is beautifully made: red granite flame, white marble candle/holder and a rough cut black granite base. The detail is amazing: a flowery vine twines around the candle and there is even a wax drip sculpted down the side. This is located right by the huge viaduct that runs through the older section (turn left as you enter the main gait and it's in front of the duct on the right).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Anything goes at Hasley Cemetery




Random Family Plots (and I ain't namin' names)
Hasley Cemetery
West Monroe, Louisiana
Hasley Cemetery is located in West Monroe, Louisiana on Arkansas Road. It's the cemetery where my dad is buried along with several other relatives, friends, and neighbors. The funny thing is the city of West Monroe seemingly has no zoning ordinances at all. You may see a great little neighborhood with charming houses, then a mobile home, a used car lot...or car junk yard. The same goes for Hasley Cemetery apparently. Several family plots have the eyesore addition of aluminum carport covers over them. I am not sure of the reason, I suppose it provides relief from inclement weather and protection of the grave itself. On the other hand I hate the cookie cutter style of cemetery where the flowers MUST be in a regulation style vase and no tchockes allowed. Personally I feel if you buy that real estate, it is yours to decorate however you please. But the covers, I dunno...it just looks like a "you might be a redneck if..." punchline to me.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A strange thing happened at the Strange Cemetery


Mathews Babies
Strange Methodist Cemetery
Strange, Louisiana


It's funny how you can live all of your life and think you know all about your family who belongs in it, but then you don't. My mom, sister and my youngest went what we call "cemetery hoppin'" early in the summer. My mom is the lone survivor of the Riddle family, the baby girl left behind, now the keeper of the family stories. My Aunt Grace, the most glamorous and an absolute clean-freak Riddle girl, had had two babies not make it much past their hour of birth. I had no idea until we were headed down the logging trails of the Jackson/Bienville/Natchitoches parishes and my mom said, "Let's go to the Strange Cemetery where Grace's and John's babies are buried." I had little cousins I never knew about! Well after zipping down this road and that, we finally found the way to the little Strange Methodist Church tucked away in a haze of driven over dusty roads and little hills and many trees. The old section is across the street from the church with a horse gate as point of entry. I was determined to get into this section even if it meant squeezing between barbed wire or scaling over the huge gate. I had to meet my cousin/babies! My mom could not remember where the little boys were buried, but I was grateful for the shady section in 100 plus degree Louisiana heat so I could roam the rows. Okay, too much about all the suffering I endure while grave walking, I did find the babies and I absolutely was enthalled at their tiny little sandstone markers. I'd never seen markers like those and from what I remember about sandstone in geology 101, it will eventually erode away. When I took the shot of Billy G. Mathews and moved over to take the other baby's, my camera went a little nuts and kept taking photos with my finger off the shutter button. Okay, weird, never happened before or since...then I load the pics on my computer and guess what? The computer shut down not once, but twice. I then go to their Find-A-Grave memorial (someone had already done their page, but I added the photo), and my computer froze. To the left is one of the shots my camera took by itself. Here's the inscriptions from the graves:

Billy G. Mathews Infant of
Son of John John and Grace
and Grace Mathews Mathews
Born 1933
Aug 4 1935
Died
Aug 20 1935

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sometimes history repeats itself...


Svarvo Family Tomb
Forest Park Cemetery
Shreveport, Louisiana
My oldest daughter and I had gone to check in on my in-laws graves at Forest Park Cemetery in Shreveport, Louisiana. Heavy rains have made several of the cemetery's winding roads impassable in a low profile vehicle, so I was forced to take a different road out. My daughter yelled, "It's John-John!" Well, no, it's actually Carl Svarva, Jr. Carl's little salute was immortalized in marble forty three years before the beloved John F. Kennedy, Jr.'s salute toward his father's casket broke a nation's heart. Carl Jr. is buried between his parents, Carl (who changed his given name spelling from Karl to Carl) and Elizabeth Green Svarva. Here's the stats I could find on the Svarva family: Carl Sr. was born 15 November 1870 in Namsos Norway. He passed away 23 January 1918 (a possible Spanish influenze death, as I think anyone who died in 1918 did since I had two great grandparents meet that end). Carl's wife was Elizabeth M. Green Svarva and she was born in Georgia to a French father and German mother, and yes, this is the right date: 7 November 1846 making her fourteen years older than her husband. Carl (Karl) and Elizabeth married in 1895. The 1900 census has them listed together, as husband and wife, just as their tombs do. Carl has his occupation listed as a storekeeper and their address was 1929 Texas Road in Ward 4 of Shreveport. Carl is also listed in a Louisiana Supreme Court case Banahan Vs. Svarva (property dispute) which was heard two years after his death. Carl Jr. was born on 4 August 1915 and passed away in Calcasieu Parish on 4 June 1920. I will assume he was adopted since Elizabeth would have been 67 years old at his time of birth. Carl Jr. was no doubt loved and adored since it is his likeness featured on the family tomb. The engraved arch above his statue states: "Pappa's little man and Mama's baby." There is no record of the Svarva family in 1910. After the deaths of her husband and son, Elizabeth at age 73 alone is listed in the 1920 census as a boarder with a Morris family on Allen Avenue. She passed away on 8 November 1922.
UPDATE: An ancestor named Shannon commented below with corrections and additional information:
Shannon said...
Carl Svarva was the nephew of John Johnson who arrived first in this country from Norway. He was a green grocer. John Johnson was my ggg grandfather. As the family story goes, the little boy died of yellow fever and was much beloved by his adopted parents. The statue was ordered from Europe with the boys exact measurements and possibly even a death mask. It was supposed to be an exact likeness. He is wearing a WWI uniform, which is why he is saluting. Elizabeth Green was the sister of Ella Green, who married Carl's uncle, John Johnson. Carl Svarva got off the boat in NY with a postcard attached to his chest as to where he was to be sent. He arrived safely in Louisiana and began to make a life for himself. To provide even a little more history. Elizabeth Svarva was not a boarder with the Morris Family in the 1920 census. The Morris Family was living in Elizabeth Svarva's house. Mr. Morris was the butler and chauffeur for the Svarva family. When Elizabeth passed she was supposed to leave her wealth to a younger relative by the name of John Edward. To everyone's surprise, the Morris Family inherited everything. Elizabeth's family called on a lawyer to determine if anything could be done and apparently it could not so the matter was dropped legally. The Morris Family boarded with Elizabeth and the house on Allen Avenue was hers.