muriel j smith 120 2018Cemeteries tell as many stories as the people who are buried there, and Hill Crest Cemetery in historic Holly Springs, MS, is a master story teller on its own.

The Cemetery is as old as the city itself, its aged tombstones and wrought iron surrounded family plots are spread among trees and rolling hills.  It is the final resting place of Senators and Congressmen, Confederate officers and enlisted soldiers, those who died in infancy, in old age, in war or in peace. More than 300 victims of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878 are entombed in an unmarked trench, even more in family plots, so necessary was it to bury so many dead in the dark of night before the next onslaught of victims also had to be laid in the ground.

Newspaper editors and reporters who died during the epidemic are remembered with a tall obelisk honoring each, are buried at Hill Crest, along with  the six catholic nuns and priest who died ministering to the fever victims. The religious are gathered together, each with an individual tombstone and a tall memorial so all will remember they were martyrs in their kindness.

And in their final resting place, in a city where US Grant set up headquarters, and Confederate General Earl Van Dorn obliterated the Union supplies, the cemetery is also home to both black and white residents of Holly Springs,  former slaves and civil rights activists a well as the men who founded the city to produce successful cotton plantations made from their labors.

It’s the final resting place for Beulah Cawthon, the Spirit of Linden Hill, now the home of Jim and Stacey, transplanted northeasterners who lovingly live in and care for Beulah’s one-time Greek Revival home and weekly go to Hill Crest Cemetery to place a fresh flower on her grave so all will know she is remembered.

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PHOTO: Beulah's gravesite

Although not buried with any family member she ever knew….she is buried with her father’s first wife and their daughter, Alice, both of whom preceded Beulah’s birth….Beulah is in impressive mixed company at Hill Crest.

Jim and Stacey were so moved by Beulah’s story, they stretched out to learn more about her life, and through it all, made new friendships with the daughters of Nana Aikins, the woman who purchased Linden Hill from the Cawthons and who was introduced Beulah to her granddaughters as the woman who died  after living in an insane asylum for 40 years but appears to be lively and content in the antebellum home now owned by Jim and Stacey. The tours through Linden Hill that have attracted hundreds in the past couple of weeks have also given visitors an idea into what it is like to live with a lively spirit in the house.

Through their investigation, Jim and Stacey also learned more about the historic cemetery where Beulah rests with heroes and villains, politicians and crooks, saints and sinners.  

They well know that a  tomb tells a story on its own and they treasure them all. As Northerners, however, the cemetery has given them a new insight into a war this Nation should never have fought.

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PHOTO: Confederate graves at Hill Crest Cemetery

Collectively, the Confederate Generals buried at Hill Crest call to mind the horror of the Civil War when men who studied, worked and learned together at West Point each followed their own cause and ended up in battle with each other.  Many of them came out of the War unscathed, then were elected to the Congress of the nation they had fought so hard against.  Of the seven known buried at Hill Crest, only General Christopher Mort at Williamsburg and Samuel Benton at Atlanta,  died in the Civil War, Absalom West went on to become president the Central Railroad and a candidate for US vice president. Winfield Scott Featherston became a US Congressman, as did Edward Walthall and Kinloch Falconer made it through the war only to be felled by the Yellow Fever. General Daniel  Plat lived until 1911.    Each plot holds a story of mystery, intrigue, bravery and sacrifice.

There is another monument to the Confederate military in this cemetery; it is surrounded by more than 300 unknown Confederate soldiers; there are other graves marked simply “Unknown Soldier.” And another monument to the dead Confederates from Marshall County,  where the city of Holly Springs is the county seat.   It is understandable why the cemetery has been tagged the “Arlington of the South.”

There was only one civilian casualty of Van Dorn’s Raid on Grant’s supplies during the Civil War, and that was a nine year old boy, George Spradley. He is buried here, close to the Yew tree planted to honor  the Rev. Joseph Ingraham, a religious author, scholar and former rector of the Christ Episcopal Church who died two years earlier of an accidental gun shot wound.  Even the Yew tree is unique at Holly Crest and in a sense, still alive.  Known to be toxic to humans, the University of Mississippi has permission to obtain clippings from the tree to continue research into cancer and chemotherapeutic treatments.

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PHOTO: Stacey at Beulah's grave.

There are other stories as well, poignant, unique. There’s the tomb of Mitti Manning, a four-year-old youngster whose mother refused to bury her when she died. When she was finally entombed, a window was added so her mother could continue to view her. There’s Charlie Wells, a little boy who died lying on the back of his family dog; the monument shows the dog, with Charlie lying on his body.   There’s also the Coxe plot, the tomb containing the graves of some infamous brothers of 19th century fame, as well as the family’s former slave and later housekeeper. And the Crump family plot holds the graves of many members of the influential Crump family, including E H Crump, the father of the longtime Mayor “Boss” Crump of Memphis, Tenn.  E.H. Crump was yet another victim of the Yellow Fever epidemic. The oldest plot in the cemetery is that of Sally Williams Chalmers, who died in 1837 and was the daughter of US Senator Joseph Chalmers, who was buried alongside his daughter 15 years later.

Among the literary and artistic remembered here are Katherine Sherwood Bonner McDowell, an author and companion of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; and while not buried here, Ida B. Wells-Barnett,  born a slave in the city and later a nationally famous journalist and Civil Rights activist is honored with a family monument at Hill Crest. The Mississippi Press Association monument honors the writers who died reporting the Yellow Fever epidemic, and Kate Freeman Clark, an impressionist artist famous for landscape and portrait paintings is also buried here.

Holly Springs is a fascinating and history-filled city…its cemetery is even more so.

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PHOTO: Autry Tombstone