Monday, January 31, 2011

Shopping at Elmwood

On Friday I was too sick with a flu to even write. Couldn't even read the newspaper, or do the crossword puzzle, which is a daily ritual with me. By Saturday I was dehydrated and went to one of those Emergency Clinics to get a litre or so of intravenous fluids, kind of like re-hydrating a dried out sponge. By Sunday I was feeling better, and it was a beautiful day outside, high in the 60's, so I decided to go out.

Earlier in the week Sue had read an article in the local paper, a column by Mark Washburn, which told an unusual story about a grave in Elmwood Cemetery, located in the northern part of Charlotte, and about 25 minutes from our house.

The grave mentioned was that of one John King, known locally as the "Elephant" King. The story is quite unusual. According to the article by Mr. Washburn, whom I have no reason to doubt, there were, during the years before and through, the Great Depression, a number of circuses touring the area between here and Florida. They all had elephants, which, as all living things must do, sooner or later, pass away. This required them to be buried. In the case of these circus elephants, some were buried in unmarked graves, leading to the conjecture that someday, when scientists discover these remains here in the southern part of the United States, they will draw the incorrect, but comical conclusion that elephants once freely roamed the countryside. Our story concerns only one of these elephants.

"Chief" was an Asian elephant, and according to the article by Mr. Washburn, was captured in 1872 and sold to the John Robinson Circus. He was an unruly beast, unsuited to captivity. He came to Charlotte on September 27, 1880. The Observer of the time reported that the "Chief" became enraged while being unloaded from his rail car and turned on John King, his handler, pinning him to the side of the car and crushing him. He then turned on the assembled crowd, who were by then already in flight. "Chief" was eventually captured and spent 10 more years in the circus before passing away in 1890. Our poor Mr. King was not so lucky. He never made it through to the following morning, and was buried here in Charlotte at Elmwood Cemetery.

Around the corner from this Coca Cola sign is one of the city's best kept secrets- Elmwood Cemetery. Elmwood is the second eldest of two cemetery's located in Uptown Charlotte. The first one is about a generation older, and much smaller, being confined largely to the grounds of an adjacent church. That site is very different in flavor from Elmwood. As one of the earlier places of interment, it houses an inordinate number of children who died from diseases such as cholera, etc. It can be a bit depressing to wander around there. But Elmwood is a much more diverse and sprawling location, located only a few blocks North of the churchyard. It houses such a variety of gravestones and memorials that is has become a veritable park, which plays host to walkers, bicyclers, and even the just plain curious on any given day.

This log cabin mausoleum is a perfect example of the variety of markers to be found in Elmwood. There seems to be a Woodcutter's of America Society that many of these deceased belonged to. Some of the markers take the form of tree trunks cast in stone. There is also a marker with the names of all the members of the Association buried in Elmwood. I will have to look them up sometime and read about the history of the Woodcutter's.

Elmwood is a veritable outdoor art gallery, though some might find it a bit morbid. The whole atmosphere of the place is the same as Central Park in New York, with many different types of people strolling around, walking dogs, pushing baby carriages and riding bicycles. There were even joggers in the cemetery, which I found to be mildly amusing, as if by running through, they could somehow outrun death itself!

My favorite monument is the one known as "The Weeping Woman, eternal home to the Bryan family. One of their daughters, born in 1895, passed away in 1919 at age 24, presumably as a result of the flu epidemic. Buried on the other three sides of the monument are her parents and a sibling. "The Weeping Woman" still sits in testimony to the sadness and grief that must have encompassed this family. No parent should ever have to bury their child.

There are so many things, and stories, in Elmwood, that are of real interest, for me to write about, and not enough room here. But this is a great link to the Elmwood Cemetery site, which has some more pictures and a history of Elmwood Cemetery itself;

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