I’m beginning to think I should have called my blog, “Bring Out Your Dead,” in an homage to a darkly funny scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” I’ll admit it: I enjoy writing about long-dead people and cemeteries and tragic accidents.
Morbid, I know, but interesting.
The other day, while driving through Lynchburg’s Presbyterian Cemetery with husband John — luckily, he enjoys this kind of stuff, too — we saw the grave of four children: Madie Vernon, Lillie Bell, William Jones and Louis Milner Kirk Stephens.
They were the children of James and Josephine Stephens.
All four children are buried beneath a single stone slab with four small, stone lambs atop it. Behind the grave is a life-size statue of a mournful-looking woman. Her chin rests in one hand and the other clutches what looks like a palm frond.
Figuring the palm frond was symbolic of something, I Googled “symbols on cemetery statuary.” I found this neat website, which said a palm frond was a symbol of “victory over death.” A lamb, as one might imagine, symbolizes innocence and is a common feature on children’s tombstones.
Because there were no dates on the grave, I wondered if they had all died at the same time, of diphtheria, typhoid, smallpox or some other disease that swept through the household. My friend, Chuck, who works at Jones Memorial Library, told me recently that in the early 1880s one of his ancestors lost five of their 10 children in one week to diphtheria.
Maybe that was what happened to the Stephens children, too.
At Jones Memorial, I searched the Virginia death records on microfilm and found the date and cause of death for two of the Stephens children. Lillie died of whooping cough on Feb. 21, 1882. Her brother, William, died of scarlet fever on Dec. 31, 1883.
I couldn’t find a death record for Madie or Louis. I did, however, find mention of Madie, Lillie and William in the Diuguid Funeral Home records. These records also can be perused on microfilm at Jones Memorial.
According to the records, Madie’s 1873 burial cost $12. Ten years later, Lillie’s burial services totaled $40. William’s 1883 record indicated he’d been “carried in,” which I guess is why the burial services were cheaper — $35 for what was described as “metalic [sic] case and burial of child.”
It’s also worth mentioning that there are many notable people buried in Presbyterian Cemetery, among them more than 200 Civil War soldiers, including Brig. Gen. Samuel Garland Jr. Folk artist Queena Stovall is buried there, too, as are Derek and Nancy Haysom, whose spectacular murder captivated people in Lynchburg and around the world in the 1980s.
It’s also a beautiful cemetery and worth a visit for that reason alone.