Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Luck of the Irishman

     Standing in the Old Catholic Cemetery on Broadway in Galveston is the lovely white tombstone of Jeremiah Buckley, who was born across the ocean.

     An immigrant from Larka, County Cork, Ireland, Buckley was a resourceful merchant whose obituary tells the story of a respected man who worked hard for his success.

Galveston Daily News, March 13, 1881, page 4

Death of Jeremiah Buckley

     "On March 1, 1881, at Fort Bend. In this State, Jeremiah Buckley breathed his last, aged fifty-five years. He was born in Cork, Ireland, in the year 1826 and came to the United States in 1849. After a residence of five years in Mobile, Alabama he removed to Galveston, were he laid the basis for a career of prosperity, which was only checked by the war of the States. Prior to its breaking out, Mr. Buckley had sailed for Europe to lay in a stock of foreign goods, suitable for the Southern market, intending on his return to supplement this stock with selections from Northern and Eastern marts of trade. But the cloud of war, at first no bigger than a man’s hand, spread over the whole country; ports were blockaded; commerce crushed; and Mr. Buckley’s assets were buried in the general ruin. 
With the recuperative faculties natural to his countrymen, he emerged from these financial misfortunes and re-established his business in Galveston, which he conducted successfully until 1873, when he became attracted by the pastoral life, and purchased a large farm in fort Bend County, where, as stated, his eventful life ended in the presence of his wife and other friends on the 1st instant. He had no children. His brother, to which he was much devoted, resides at Corpus Christi and is known as one of the largest wool-buyers in Western Texas, being also a large owner of sheep and lands in that section of the Empire State. Deceased, though right and exacting in business, had a warm, generous nature. His friendships, slowly made, were lasting. If the tide of adversity swept over any one to whom he felt kindly, his purse-strings at once flew open and material help was ungrudgingly and freely given, without solicitation. He was a many of marked individuality, and won his position in the battle of life by a fair but ferocious fight. His death is deeply regretted by the community in which he was so widely known and his remains were laid away by gentle hands and sorrowing hearts, which throbbed in unison with his during life. He has passed from earth to put on a purer, finer mold."

     It's a thoughtfully written, beautiful obituary.

     I haven't found the name of his widow, and with no children I wonder how long his name was remembered in the community. At least his beautiful marker certainly keeps his name alive to whomever wanders the rows of the Broadway cemeteries.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Casket vs. Coffin: What's the Difference?

     While I was at a museum the other day, one of the archivists asked me a question that I hear often: "What is the difference between a coffin and a casket…or is there one?"

     I was glad I had the answer to share with her.

     Yes, there is a difference although we tend to use the two terms interchangeably.


     Wooden coffins, which came into use around the early part of the 16th century in the western world, typically have six sides, and the lid lifts off completely. Once the deceased was placed inside, the lid was nailed shut. Think about the classic Halloween decoration or old black-and-white vampire movies, and you have the idea.

     The silhouette is wider at the shoulders and narrows toward the feet. The only handles, if any at all, would have been functional loops of rope to carry it to the graveyard.


     You may be surprised that this was a term originally used for jewelry boxes. When the Victorian sensibilities of proper mourning and tribute came into fashion, the word "casket" began being used for the burial receptacles as well. It makes sense I suppose, since it would hold something precious and certainly sound kinder to the ears of those left behind.

     The casket is different in shape as well, being elongated and four-sided.

     Some caskets feature a split lid to allow for easier viewing of the deceased. This would have been impractical with wooden coffins. The lid of a casket is also hinged, so it is hover entirely detached from the lower portion.

     Lined with metal on the interior, unlike coffins, caskets also usually feature six metal handles for pallbearers. 

Bits of Related Trivia:

     The Greek word "kophinos," meaning basket, refers to the fact that wicker baskets were used in days gone by. There is a new interest in utilizing them for "green burials."

     Ancient Greeks often buried their dead in a sitting position in clay pottery.

     "Fittings" or "coffin furniture" were/are external details such as crucifixes, handles and name plates. The local mortician would often offer "rental" of such adornments which would then be removed immediately before burial. 

     "Trim" was a term used to refer to fabric used to line the interior of coffins.

     When a coffin is used to transport a deceased person it is called a "pall," hence the term "pallbearer" for those that carry it. The word can also refer to a cloth used to drape over the coffin.

     I hope that you found this posting interesting…and not too morbid.

     What bit of trivia do you have to share about the subject?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Saving a Crumbling History

     There are many facets to saving the history held within cemeteries; not all of them chiseled in stone.

     During a cemetery workday when volunteers were busily cleaning gravestones and picking up trash, I went into one of the old buildings on site to ask a question of one of the men in charge. A new friend greeted me with a handful of crumbling papers and a horrified look on his face. "Look at this! They're everywhere."

     Sure enough, the original sexton records for the cemetery were scattered across the floor and heaped in a corner. Unfortunately, they had obviously been there through hurricane flood waters, insect and rodent feeding frenzies, and currently had paint cans and scrap wood laying on them. The disintegrating bits of paper had seen better days.

     Most of the scraps were smaller than a fingernail with only a letter or two visible. I carefully lifted the partial and mostly full pages and stacked them for removal. The heartbreaking realization was that only a few could be retrieved. And yes, even those that I picked up were extremely fragile, and covered in feces. But they HAD to be saved!

     It will take quite a while, even with the little stack rescued, to gently separate and scan the papers, transcribe the information, and store the originals in an archival manner.

     The exciting thing that I have noticed about the few that I have looked closely at, is that there seems to be no other record of the burial.

     The set of cemeteries these records are from is quite unique. I am very familiar with them because I am currently writing a book about them called "Galveston's Broadway Cemeteries" for Arcadia Press. It is due out in February 2015, so I am still finalizing research.

     Appearing as one large, two-city-block cemetery, it is actually seven distinct cemetery that have been through a number of grade raisings…therefore losing the location many of the burials.

     Using a variety of records, including transcriptions over the years, old photos, plot maps from different sextons and additional "treasures" of information like these slips of paper, we can more fully understand the history of our cemeteries and reconstruct who is at rest there. 

     PLEASE NOTE: I AM WORKING WITH THE CITY, WHO OWNS THE CEMETERY, TO RESTORE RECORDS. If you are not working directly with the owner of the cemetery, please notify the correct authorities of your discovery for permission to remove (even temporarily) any paperwork from a cemetery.

     So while transcribing the grave markers in graveyards and cemeteries is vital to saving there history, there are other sources I hope you'll consider including in your research…and OF COURSE share the results with others!

     Let me know what surprises you have found in cemetery research!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Tragedy on the Homefront

The United States Navy regrets to inform you…
     When we see military markers and the date of death falls within a specific war, we often assume that the serviceman or woman died in battle. Albert Andy Holmans is one of the exceptions that prove that isn't always the case.
    18-year-old Albert was an aviation radioman, third class in the United States Naval Air Force. He was one of five officers and enlisted men killed in a PBY Catalina bomber that crashed and burned as it attempted to take off near San Diego Bay. Six other members of the crew were rescued.

     The Catalina PBY is the most famous Navy long-range patrol 
bomber, reconnaissance and rescue boat of World War II.

     When searching through old newspapers within a two week period of this crash, I was shocked to find numerous accounts of bomber crashes on home soil. It's heartbreaking to think that the families of these victims probably felt relatively secure abut their loved ones safety since they had not departed for "action."What a shock it must have been. 

    Albert was the youngest son of Charles Albert Holmans and Marion Palmer. His father died from appendicitis when Andy was only three years old.

     According to a family member, his mother was unable to financially care for the children, so they were split up. Douglas, Pearl and James traveled by train to Fort Worth to live at the Masonic Home and School of Texas. The two older brothers, Charles and William (Bill) were "too old" to live at the Masonic home, so they "made it on their own."
Masonic School & Home, Fort Worth, Texas
     Because he was so small, Albert was sent to live with his widowed, maternal grandmother  Marion Moore, and his uncle John Palmer. 

     All five boys served in the armed forces during World War II.

    Albert was survived by his mother, Mrs. James McBride of Houston; his grandmother, Mrs M. More of Dickinson; a sister, Mrs Pearl Dement of Columbus Ohio; four brothers (Charles, William, Douglas and James) and his uncle John Palmer of Dickinson and other aunts and uncles.

     Of the family of six children, the surviving five went on to live productive lives and have families of their own. Quite impressive considering the rough start the endured.
     Albert rests in the serene Fairview Cemetery of League City, Texas. His poignant epitaph reads, "My loves goes with you and my soul awaits to join you." 

     One wonders if his mother, who missed precious years with her youngest child, chose the inscription.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Mystery Solved!

     In our last blog visit to the cemetery, we were pondering whether Elizabeth Israel's husband was ever laid to rest beside her or if he had been interred away from his beloved wife.

     I am happy to report that I received a reply to my question from a genealogist whose husband is related to the Israel couple. 

     She shared that they had been told that Alexander died while visiting his sister in St. Louis, but that they had discovered a receipt for his burial next to Elizabeth. The receipt had the payments broken into monthly payments, so it may be assumed that the engraving was too expensive for the family to undertake at the time.

     I am so grateful to know that the couple is together. I don't know about you, but these situations can make me grieve a bit for those involved, even if they are no relation to me. Yes, people interred in cemeteries are "real" people who led very real lives. I would rather find out about them than read a fictional account of someone who never actually existed.

     I've added Alexander's name and information to the Findagrave database for anyone who has the same question in the future.

     I was also glad to be able to share a bit of fun information about Alexander with our informant, as well. Although her family knew that he had a registered patent for a washing machine, they had not yet seen a picture of it. Here it is:

     Alexander was quite ingenious, and surely his blacksmithing skills came into play with the design. 
The description of the machine is in Alexanders own words, so it gives an insight into his engineering skills.
     "…the clothes are thoroughly washed or scoured and boiled at the same time. The clothes are thoroughly cleaned without danger of injuring or tearing the same, and the machine is adapted for washing the finest fabrics - lace curtains and the like. The water is kept constantly boiling by the heater and s continuously circulated throughout he revolving drum an brought into contact with the clothes contained therein. The clothes are constantly carried upward and dripped by means of the radially-disposed ribs and are at the same time subjected to the scoring or rubbing action of the rotary washboard."

     It actually sound quite like our washing machines today!

     Thanks to Jan for solving our mystery.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Is Elizabeth Eternally Waiting?

While walking through the LaPorte Cemetery in Harris County, Texas this gravestone caught my attention. It's a lovely marker in wonderful shape, despite being over 100 years old. But what intrigued me is that someone seems to be missing.

Only half of the stone is engraved.

"Eliza, beloved wife of A.C. Israel"was interred here in 1910, having passed away at the age of 55. The other side of the marker was obviously left blank in wait for the passing of her husband…but where is he? Unless he is breaking a Guinness World record for age, surely he has passed away by now.

"A.C. Israel" was Alexander Charles Israel, who was born in Ohio in 1844 to native residents of that state. The family also lived in Meigsville, Ohio (1850 census) and St. Louis Missouri (1860).

On September 8, 1864 Alexander married Elizabeth Williams, who was born n 1845 in New York. She was the daughter of Henry Williams (b. 1823) and Harriet (born 1825).

 Alexander and Elizabeth lived in Concord, Missouri (1870 census) and Rock, Missouri (1880) before moving to Texas. They had three daughters together: 
Elizabeth “Lizzie” Harriet Israel (Serface) b. 1867-1913
Emma Florence Israel (Serface) b. 1869 - 1954
Cora Belle Israel b. 1871 - 1923

Family photo shows :  Alexander Charles and Eliza and their daughters Emma Florence (left), Libby (top) and Cora Belle (bottom).

Elizabeth died in 1910, leaving Alexander a widower.

He was recorded as living in LaPorte, Texas by the 1910 census with his occupation listed as owner of a blacksmith shop. A 38-year-old servant, Lillie Brown, and her six-year-old daughter Helen lived with him. He was still living in Harris County at the time of the 1920 census.

Alexander passed away on May 22, 1922 in Harris County, Texas.

I can find no record of his burial in the LaPorte Cemetery, or in the cemeteries where Elizabeth Harriet (who died just three years after her mother and is interred in Houston) or Emma Florence rest. I have found no grave listing for little Cora.

So the mystery remains…where was Alexander buried. It's possible that he was laid to rest beside his wife and the engraving was never ordered. It's sad, but I've seen it happen several times. 

I have contacted a descendant of the family in an attempt to find Alexander, but haven't received an answer. Perhaps someone reading this will have a clue. 

Until then, his resting place remains a mystery.

Is Eliza still waiting for her beloved husband to join her?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Showmen's Rest - Part 4

"To Each His Own"
1925 - 2003

    Frances Loter Padilla of Hugo, Oklahoma performed in circus sideshows with an act not many would be brave enough to attempt. She and her "co-stars" are immortalized in a ceramic photo on her gravestone.


1915 - 1976

     Kenneth Ikirt was a circus showman for 30 years. The World War II army veteran is said to have been especially good dealing with elephants known to have bad tempers. At various times he toured with the Kelly Morris Circus, Ringling Brothers, and John Pauling's Great London Circus. He was also the elephant trainer for the Miller family shows.
     The back of his grave marker exclaims, "Boss elephant many for Carson-Barnes Circus, Largest Elephant Herd in America."

1908 - 1979     and       1907- 1978

C. L. “Tex” Clayton was the “24-hour man” for Al G. Kelly and Miller Brothers Circus. He traveled a day ahead of the show, making final arrangements for the 30 or so vehicles and approximately 100 circus people. A former rodeo  man, whose home was Hugo Oklahoma, never saw the circus road show performances, as he was always ahead of the tour on the road. The last time he would see the acts was during dress rehearsals in the spring.
     His wife Lucille was a juggler and had a huh wire act with their young daughter, Mary.
     The circus wagon etched on their marker bears their initial "C," and the slogan "With It and For It" is emblazoned across the bottom of the stone.

1945 - 2001

     Ken "Turtle Benson" was an elephant man with several shows, but spent his last years with Roberts Bros. Circus. He was so dedicated to the shows that he left a VA hospital in his last days to return to the Roberts Bros. Circus. He passed away shortly afterward.

1933 - 2008 

     Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate any information about Lillie Jean in old newspapers or circus publications. 
     She was certainly a lovely lady, and many admirers stop by to look at her photo. 
     If you know anything about her life or career, please share it with us.


     Samuel was a member of the famous Perez Family from Mexico City, who perform with the Kelly Miller Circus. He was a dynamic trapeze and acrobatic performer whose act included jumping rope on top of a spinning wheel known as the "Wheel of Death," shown on the back of his marker. 
     He suffered an untimely death due to illness. A piece of acrobatic equipment had been left on top of his marker along with the beautiful floral arrangements.

     There are many other fascinating grave markers and stories in Hugo's Showman's Rest cemetery that I will share in the future. For now, I think it's time to move to other areas and stories. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Showmen's Rest - Part 3

There are so many fascinating lives behind the stones in Showmen's Rest, from the people who performed under the big top shows to those who ran the business behind the scenes. Here are a few more of their stories.

1888 - 1966

     A long-time animal superintendent, Dutch was famous for showing his "blood sweating hippo" from the River Nile, named "Miss Oklahoma." A hippo has to be a big (pun intended) part of your life to feature her on your tombstone!


     Kennedy Swain was born in a railroad show car and brought up on show business. He performed in vaudeville and stage and including being a comedian in Plunkett's Variety Show.
     His wife "Snooks" came from a long line of famous circus people, the famed Plunkett family, and was drummer in the circus band. Their son followed them into the business.
                   "Kennedy Swain and his Musical Mavericks," featuring Kennedy on trumpet, performed opening music for the Harley Sadler Tent Show.
     The World War II Air Force veteran also worked as a sideshow manager for the Al G. Kelly-Miller Brothers circus and the announcer for the Carson and Barnes Circus. 

     Zenda's talent is proudly displayed on her marker next to Kennedy's.

1923 - 1998

   Born and raised in Indiana, Bonnie "Jean" loved her work with Chimpanzees so much that she is forever depicted with one. She died in 1998 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

1907 - 1988

     "Flo," was a circus performer with a number of shows including Barnett Bros., Clyde Beatty, King Bros. and Kelly-Miller. She died at age 81. Just imagine the stories she could have shared with us!

1915 - 

     Grace is a businesswoman who was ahead of her time. 

     She was raised by bareback rider Elizabeth Romig, a family friend. Her mother had died when she was young and her father, a circus baggage stock handler was on the road with Sells-Floto. 
     She became a trapeze artist at age 12, and later married circus superintendent David McIntosh, circus superintendent. After her husband's death she purchased the M&M Circus with Charles Marine. When Marine passed away, she ran the circus alone. 
     This beautiful marker is still waiting, because she still has things to do. She celebrated her 99th birthday last month!

1926 - 1980

   John Carroll, known as the "Elephant Man," was a famous elephant trainer and handler.

     At age 15, he was a cage boy for Terrell Jacobs, then joined the Kelly-Miller Circus around 1948. He died of a heart attack at age 54 while in Jacksonville, Texas with the Carson & Barnes Circus.
     His funeral services were held in the spotlighted center of a circus tent. 
     Carroll left his life savings to establish the "John Carroll Showmen's Rest Trust Fund, to provide gravestones for show people who could not provide their own. 
     Several of the markers in Showmen's Rest are inscribed with the fund's name.

1927 - 1999

     Ted Bowman started his circus career with the Terrell Jacobs Wild Animal Circus in 1949, and also worked for Royal American Shows, Fairyland Circus, Gil Gray Circus, and the Al G. Kelly - Miller Bros. Circus. He served as the general manager of the Carson & Barnes Circus for 17 years.
     His unique marker at the front of the Showmen's Rest section depicts an old-fashioned circus wagon wheel, with the poignant inscription:

"There's nothing left but empty popcorn sacks
and wagon tracks…the circus is gone."