Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Lady in Red, A Poem

A few years ago, I wrote a post on my other blog, Cemeteries of Dancing Rabbit Creek, about The Lady in Red, the body of a young woman unearthed in 1969 at Egypt Plantation near the town of Cruger, in Holmes County, Mississippi. Identification of the woman, dressed in red and encased for burial in a glass-sealed, cast iron coffin, was attempted, but was never made. Included below is a partial account of the event as it appeared in Jackson's Clarion-Ledger on August 2, 1969:

"The method of preservation used for The Lady in Red was common prior to the Civil War, when custom-made caskets, shaped to the body, were ordered as one would order a dress. The glass that sealed the coffin was placed over the body, and alcohol was poured inside until it was level full, and then sealed with a cast iron tip. When the back hoe machine hit the coffin, alcohol spilled from the casket and spots of the liquid were seen on the folds of the woman's dress."

No one knows how or why The Lady in Red was buried underneath the deep Delta silt and heavy dirt that make up Egypt Plantation's rich fields.Rumors have been rampant for years that her body may have fallen off a wagon on its way to be buried, that it had been lost in a flood, or that it had washed ashore after a steamboat that was transporting her body for burial was grounded after an accident.  Later, the young woman's remains were placed in a grave in the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Lexington, Mississippi, where they were marked with a small headstone that identifies the mystery woman simply as "The Lady in Red." In more recent years, a few people have claimed publicly and privately to either know or to be related to The Lady in Red. Certainly she must be someone's long lost ancestor, but her true identify remains a mystery still.

Recently, a distant cousin of mine, Arthur Pickett, who grew up in that area of Holmes County, told me he had written a poem in tribute to the unknown, but not forgotten, Lady in Red. I asked to read it, and I subsequently obtained permission from Arthur to reprint his work here today. So, with Arthur's permission, it is with pleasure that I introduce his beautiful and poignant poem. 

The Lady in Red, A Poem

One day workmen came to rake the earth
With backhoe; it was then they found her berth
As she patiently waited rebirth;
But not one knew her life's worth.

No marker was found to name her face;
None to tell when she went to grace.
Was a eulogy before God to make her case?
Was there a new star to mark her place?

From that time-worn home taken she was
By a coroner, an undertaker, and his entourage
Taken by them with a limosine'd barge
East to the Lexington hills in a wooden cooperage

Mourn no more for her oh ye mortal
For now she has a new heavenly portal
Amongst pauper graves with no body corporal
Given name by poets knowledgeable.

She is now known as The Lady in Red
No more is she unknown and dead
Perhaps someone, somewhere will be led
To give her an ancestral name, instead.

Rest in Peace, My Lady, you will never leave us
For yes, we have seen that new star in Cygnus.

Arthur Pickett
Copyright 2009

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Edward Arthur Branch Buried in Good Hope Cemetery, Madison County, Mississippi

Photo by J. Tracy
The Entrance to Good Hope Cemetery, established 1851, near the Good Hope Baptist Church in Madison County, Mississippi.

Good Hope Baptist Church Cemetery is located across a well-built and maintained wooden footbridge from the church. From the footbridge, a visitor can see deep down into a wooded ravine that is part of the heavily timbered countryside that provides a beautiful, serene setting for this old church and deceased members of its community who lived during the 1800's.

To get to the church and cemetery from Highway 51 North, turn right onto Highway 17 East, and travel about 6 miles to Rocky Ridge Road, a paved and scenic county road. Stay on Rocky Ridge Road for about 5.5 miles, passing Schrock Road on the left. Turn left onto Mullinville Road and travel approximately 500 yards to the church and cemetery directly ahead.

The cemetery is fenced, and on each side of the gate are engraved stones dedicating the cemetery to the memory of Barrett family who were instrumental in its establishment in 1851. The actual location of Good Hope Baptist Church and cemetery is in Madison County, Mississippi, but it is very near the line that separates that county from Attala County.
The tombstone you see here is located in the cemetery at Good Hope and was erected for Edward Arthur Branch, my paternal great-grandfather. Ed, as he was known to his family and friends, was born on November 15, 1874 in Madison County, Mississippi, and he died on November 2, 1915, in Jackson, Mississippi. The inscription on the tombstone states simply "Gone Home."

Ed Branch was only 40 years old when he was diagnosed with cancer. Two days before his death, he was admitted to a hospital in Jackson for surgery that doctors believed might save his life. He died of complications from that surgery, barely two weeks away from his 41st birthday. He left a widow and five children under the age of 18, and his only son, my grandfather, had just turned 16 years old.

Before he died, Ed Branch had been a member of an organization known as "Woodmen of the World," founded in Omaha, Nebraska in 1890 by Joseph Cullen Root. According to "Wikipedia," the organization's purpose was to help its members "clear away problems of financial security....," and one of the benefits of membership was the organization's free tombstones for its members.

My great-grandfather's tombstone, one of three present in the Good Hope Cemetery, and one of many in cemeteries across the state of Mississippi and the the country, is a reminder of the other men who worked in one of the earliest occupations in the United States, the wood and timber industry. Use of these tombstones, unique and shaped like stumps of wood that bore the Woodmen of the World logo, was discontinued by the organization sometime around 1920.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Finding the Fenners - An Update

Over two years ago now, I ran across the name of a book about the Fenner Family, The Fenner Forebears.  Privately published in 1987 by Ruth Leslie Barrett, now deceased, the book is currently out of print. So on a whim, I called the New Bern Historical Society in New Bern, North Carolina, where I knew the family had lived at one time, to see if the organization might have a reference copy.  A helpful person who answered the historical society's phone quickly referred me to the Kellenberger Room of the New Bern-Craven County Public Library. I chose to call rather than use the research room's online resources, since I wanted to ask a researcher some specific questions about Richard John Fenner and his wife, Anne Coddington Fenner. Richard and Anne Fenner, early New Bern residents, are likely my Irish-immigrant ancestors. Although the book was not available, Victor T. Jones, Jr., the research department head, gave me the legal description (Lot 89 of the Town of New Bern) for the old Fenner House. 

I told a friend of mine who lived in New Bern at the time about the house, and she offered to take a photo and send it to me. At the time the photo was taken, the owners, who are Fenner family descendants, were in the process of restoring the house. The town of New Bern, with three separate historical districts that contain some beautifully restored properties, takes preservation of historical structures seriously. And it shows throughout this beautiful old town. 

Digital Photo by Amy Vaupel

The Fenner House, located at 217 Hancock Street, is within an easy walk of downtown shops and sightseeing adventures that include historic cemeteries, Tryon Palace, the Territorial House of North Carolina, Its lovely gardens, and a waterfront with comfortable benches for people watching and restaurants that overlook the water. One can only imagine how New Bern looked in the mid 1700s when the Fenner family occupied this colonial residence. Missing its original small front porch, the remodeled/restored structure now resembles a New England salt box styled structure. According to various historical accounts, Richard John Fenner may have been appointed to a position in the North Carolina territorial government, a position he occupied until his death in 1756. 

During the past two years, I continued to search for a copy of Mrs. Barrett's book so that I might learn more about my maternal third grandmother, Rachel Fenner, who married William Neatherlin in Wilkes County, Georgia. My search finally paid off when John T. Leslie, a distant cousin contacted me by email and told me he owns a copy of the book. It seems that John T. (as his family calls him) and I are descended through two of the three sons born to Richard and Anne Fenner. Later, we talked by phone, and John T. generously offered to scan and email digital copies of the book's pages, which he has now done. And sometime soon, we plan to meet and further discuss our Fenner connections.

What a way to start off the New Year.....meeting a new cousin and getting to read a much-searched-for family history book!