Roses for Eternity: Gravestone Symbols

Valentine’s Day isn’t the only day that roses represent love. Some carved in stone symbolize an eternal affection for a lost loved one.

But did you know that how the roses are represented on the grave marker can tell you a bit about the dearly departed?

Roses symbolizing love for a lost one.

The rose itself symbolizes love, hope and beauty.

The stage of bloom of the rose indicates the age of the deceased. A bud would have represented a child, a partially opened flower would indicate someone was a teen or young adult, and a rose in full bloom would symbolize the departed had reached maturity.

No matter which stage of bloom the flower portrays, the stem is often depicted as broken as a sign that the person was lost too soon – a life cut short.

Two roses joined together stand for a strong bond such as marriage, and often appear on the joint marker of a couple.

A wreath of roses symbolizes beauty and virtue.

A garland of roses, which may be held by an angel, indicates sorrow, and a bouquet of roses stands for condolences, sorrow or grief.

So the next time you see the depiction of a rose on a gravestone, take a moment to decipher what information it can share.

Happy Valentine’s Day!




GENEALOGY TIP TUESDAY: Bringing Inscriptions Out of the Shadows

It never seems to fail: you’ve searched endlessly for a particular gravestone, and when you finally find it…the inscription is in shadows with the sun at the back of the marker.

With a little preparation, this won’t be a problem at all.

For years I’ve kept a roll of aluminum foil in the back of my car, along with other “cemetery kit” supplies. Not because I wanted to always be prepared for a bar-b-que (although that might not be a bad idea, either!), but to use to reflect light onto dark gravestones during my spur-of-the-moment cemetery visits.

When the goal was to read or transcribe a marker but not necessarily photograph it, A simple hand mirror from the dollar store also serves that purpose.

This past Christmas my husband gave me a collapsible photography reflector so I could finally retire my box of foil. They are relatively inexpensive, small and portable so I highly recommend getting one.


When used to reflect available light onto the surface with an inscription (plaque, gravestone, cornerstone or other surface), previously illegible information can easily be read.

Watch the video for a quick demonstration of how easily and well it works.




The “Great Snow” of 1895

Today’s icy weather is definitely not the norm for this part of Texas. Our streets, tires and infrastructure is designed to handle heavy rains and heat, but not snow.

Sealy “Open Gates” Mansion blanketed in snow

But because it’s such a rare occurrence, photos of snowfalls from the past seem especially enchanting. On Valentine’s Day in 1895 Galveston was blanketed with over a foot of snow, bringing street car traffic to a halt, and closing the doors of banks and wholesale businesses.

Snow-covered Strand

The snow began to fall about one o’clock in the afternoon, and continued to fall for the rest of the day.

Carriage driving through snow at 17th and Postoffice

Shoes stores sold out of “gum boots” (rubber boots) and overshoes, as even the most sedate citizens took part in citywide snowball fights. Merchants, policemen, bankers carriage drivers, doctors an other adults took the opportunity to launch snowballs at each other, to the delight of onlookers.

Rear of the Kopperl Residence

Those trapped at the train station waiting for trains that had no way of reaching them were less amused.  The bright spot at the station occurred when Officer Perrett saved a yellow dog he found half-frozen in a snow drift, and warmed it by the waiting room stove.

Shoveling snow outside the Kopperl residence

A few ingenious locals attached temporary runners on their carriages and used them as makeshift sleighs. Others were the victims of icy falls and other mishaps.

Ball High School surrounded by snow

As evening fell Dr. Isaac Cline, the now famous Galveston meteorologist was busily answering telephone inquiries about the prospect of more snow, but were met with the news that the “worst” was over. Our generation isn’t the first to be excited over the prospect of snow or worry about it’s implications…and it certainly won’t be the last.

Photographs courtesy of the Rosenberg Library Archives.

Icy harbor




The Poignant Tragedy of the Battle of Galveston


A small, unassuming grave marker stands in the Trinity Episcopal Cemetery of Galveston, located at Forty-First Street and Broadway. Tough simple in design, it marks a New Year’s Day that encompassed the tragedy of the War Between the States; the day a Confederate officer embraced a dying Union officer, his own son.

When West Point graduate and military veteran Colonel Albert M. Lea moved to Texas in 1857 his son Edward remained in Maryland to attend the United States Naval Academy and continue the celebrated military tradition of the family; the same family that would be devastated by fighting each other within the very country they loved.

Albert Miller Lea
Albert Miller Lea

As a Texan and friend of General Sam Houston, Albert Lea applied for a Confederate commission in March 1861, just one month before the Civil War began. He wrote a letter to his then 26-year-old son advising him to follow his conscience when he made the decision regarding which side of the conflict to support, but added an ominous warning: “If you decide to fight for the Old Flag,” he said, “It is not likely that we will meet again, except face to face on the battlefield.”

Edward chose loyalty to the Union, telling his fellow officers he did not desire his family’s love if it involved being a traitor to his country.

After months of serving in a variety of locations, Colonel Lea was transferred back to Texas on December 15, 1862, staying with his wife and family at a relative’s home in Corsicana.

Once in the area, Lea learned that the Union vessel Harriet Lane on which he believed his son was serving, had been occupying the harbor of Galveston since the Union captured and occupied the island earlier in October. Lea hurried to Houston to long-time friend General Magruder’s headquarters, where he learned that a plan to recapture Galveston Island would be executed within a week.

During the pre-dawn hours of January 1, 1863, Lea helped to move six brass cannons of Captain M. McMahon’s battery across Galveston Island’s rail causeway. Afterward, Colonel Forshey posted Colonel Lea in one of the town’s tallest buildings near Broadway (some reports suggest a church, others Ashton villa) to observe and report the status of the attack.

A severe battle ensued, during which the Westfield, which had run aground off Pelican Spit, was blown up, and the Confederate gunboat Bayou City rammed the Harriet Lane near the wheelhouse, which allowed the Confederate troops to overrun the vessel. The remainder of the Union fleet fled to New Orleans, leaving three companies of the 42nd Massachusetts infantry on Kuhn’s Wharf to surrender. The rebels had retaken the city at a cost that was yet to be seen.

Colonel Lea rushed to Kuhn’s Wharf waterfront near where the battle had taken place. Once granted permission to board the Harriet Lane, he learned that her Union commander, Captain Wainwright, was dead and Lieutenant Commander Edward Lea, the executive officer, had been shot through the stomach.

Making his way through the soldiers pillaging the ship, Lea found his son lying in the cockpit, surrounded by dead and dying comrades.

Dr. Penrose, who was operating on a wounded man, handed Colonel Lea a flask of brandy for his son to sip, telling the grief-stricken father that the wound was mortal.

Cradling the young officer’s head, Colonel Lea said, “Edward, this is your father.”

“Yes father, I know you,” the young man whispered in return, “but I cannot move.”

In a desperate attempt to change fate, the Colonel went ashore to arrange for his son to be moved to the Sisters of Charity Hospital. After relating the events to General Magruder, whom he met along the way, Magruder offered his private quarters for his friend’s son.

While his father was absent, the lieutenant was told that his death was near and was asked if he had any last wishes. With his last breath, Edward replied, “No, my father is here.”

When Albert Lea returned, his brave son was dead. The next day an elaborate funeral procession that included Confederate and Union officers, sympathetic local citizens, a drum corps of prisoners from the battle and a group of Masons in full regalia solemnly carried

Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright II
Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright II

Lieutenant Lea and Captain Wainwright from Magruder’s headquarters to a service at the Episcopal Church. Colonel Albert Lea himself delivered the eulogy before the two men were buried with full military honors in a common grave, donated by local business leader W. Grover.

The fair city of Galveston had witnessed the true horror of Civil War violence on a personal level.

In 1866, the body of Captain Wainwright was reinterred with honors at the Naval Cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland.

A wealthy relative offered to rebury Edward Lea’s remains beside those of his mother in Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore, but

Albert Lea refused. He said he felt it was more fitting for his son to rest where he fell “in sight of the sea and in sound of the surf.”

Albert Lea remained in Corsicana, where he experienced several reversals of fortune in the cotton trade. On the morning of January 16, 1891, Lea died of heart failure sitting alone in his bedroom. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Corsicana.

Ironically, the Harriet Lane itself sustained little damage in the battle, and it visited Galveston as a cargo ship under the name Eliot Ritchie for years to come.A1-20180106_100411_DSC_0008

Of all who fought and died on the Harriet Lane’s decks only Lieutenant Lea remains in Galveston. A weathered sculpture of an anchor and binoculars lay on top of a stone that poignantly echoes his last words, “My father is here.”


To see photos from the 2018 re-enactment of the Lea-Wainwright funeral in Galveston, visit:



New Year’s Eve 1895

     On New Year’s Eve 1895, the Misses Caroline, Fannie and Josephine Kenison gave a cotillion for their young friends in this beautiful home at 1120 Tremont in Galveston. It was the home of their parents Alphonse and Ellen, originally from Louisiana.


     The lower floor of the residence was prepared for the occasion by stretching canvas over the spacious double parlor floors, and then taking up the carpet in the library and waxing the floors to create a dance floor.

     One can only imagine the other preparations that took place!

     At exactly 11:59 the young celebrants gathered underneath the chandelier and gave six cheers for the parting year. When the minute had passed, six cheers welcomed the new year.


     The house was filled even on non-social days, with a large family. Alphonse, the father; Ellen, the mother; daughterscreen-shot-2016-12-30-at-11-04-11-pms Josephine, Frances, Caroline and Lucie; son Alphonse Jr.; Lucy Sydnor, a boarder; Josephine Settle, Mrs. Kenison’s mother; and servant Belle Washington and her young daughter Hazel.

Alphonse was one of the first general insurance agents int he state of Texas. He and his wife lost two sons, Maximiliem and Wartelle, in infancy, but the rest of their children thrived.

     Josephine “Josie” (1878-1957) eventually became Mrs. Clinton G. Wells, and remained 127524196_1396805025on the island for the rest of her life, passing away in 1957. She had one son, named Clinton III, born in 1906. She is buried in Trinity Episcopal Cemetery. One wonders if she regaled her son with stories about the homes in her home when she was a young girl.

     From the 1910 census on, Josephine and her son lived with her parents. Her status on the records is listed as being a widow, her husband having passed away in 1908.

     Francis (1879-1968), known as “Fanny” to her family, married William Penn White, moving first to New York and then to New Jersey. They had three daughters.

     Caroline, called “Caro” by her family was born in 1879. She can be found listed in the society pages through the 1910s attending parties and volunteering in the community.

     Alphonse Jr. (1881-1934) married multiple times, and had two children.

     Lucie (1886-1973) married Herman Bornefeld in 1914, with whom she had a son and daughter.

     Graves of members of the family can be found in Old City, Old Catholic and Trinity Episcopal Cemeteries in Galveston.



New Year’s Eve Box Parties 1912

The Grand Opera House in Galveston was the site of festive “box parties” on Dec. 31, 1912.

A box party occurred when a host or hostess purchased tickets to an entire box at a theatre, and then invited their guests for a special afternoon or evening of entertainment.


Miss Mary Moody was presented with a box to the matinee performance of the play “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine” by Miss Charlotte Walker, a famous Galvestonian who was appearing in the production.

The play had opened the previous January in New York at the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway. Walker also appeared in the silent film version in 1916.

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Charlotte Walker

Mary’s guests were the Misses Allen, Phyllis Walthew, Anna Mosle, Libbie Moody and Ethel Sykes.


At the evening performance of the play, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Archer Robertson hosted their own box party with Miss Margaret Robertson, Miss Eileen Allen, Miss Jane Alvey, Miss Winifred Allen, Mr. Fred Austin of Houston, Mr. Charles E. Witherspoon, Mr. Gus I. Arnold, and Mr. Earnest G. Diehl of Cincinnati, Ohio.

This group was especially fortunate, proceeding from the play to the “watch party” (to await the New Year) at the fabulous Hotel Galvez.



Wishing you all every happiness in the New Year!


Mosaic Templars of America Grave Marker

I was thrilled this weekend to find a grave marker for a member of the Mosaic Templars of America, in Marshall, Texas.


The Mosaic Templars of America was an African American fraternal organization founded in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1882 and incorporated in 1883 by two former slaves, John E. Bush and Chester W. Keatts.mosaic-templars-john-bush-chester-keatts

The organization was established to provide important services such as burial insurance and life insurance to the African American community. Like many fraternal organizations, the Mosaic Templars’ burial insurance policies covered funeral expenses for members, both men and women, who maintained monthly dues.

By 1913, the burial insurance policy also included a Vermont marble marker. These markers are still found in cemeteries across Arkansas and other states. As membership grew, the Mosaic Templars expanded its operations to inclumt_img_endowmentdeptde a newspaper, hospital, and building and loan association. The organization attracted thousands of members and built a complex of three buildings at the corner of West Ninth Street and Broadway in Little Rock, Arkansas. The National Grand Temple, the Annex, and the State Temple were completed in 1913, 1918 and 1921, respectively.

Photo of the Mosaic Templar’s Endowment Office staff from the History of the Mosaic Templars of America and Its Founders and Officials.
Courtesy Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville.

A blank Mosaic Templars of America [MTA] Monument Claim Form.  In order for a deceaMTCC2013.01.004-MTAMC.jpgsed MTA member to receive an MTA marker, local chapter officers had to complete and sign the monument claim form to verify that the deceased MTA member had paid all dues and fees, and confirm that the deceased was a member in good standing.  They also had to submit the member’s information that was to be placed on the marker, and had to provide a delivery address for the completed marker.

According to their official 1924 history, the MTA authorized a Monument Department as early as 1911 to provide markers to its deceased members. Operations were managed by the state jurisdictions until 1914, when the MTA created a national Monument Department to centralize operations and cut costs. Members paid an annual tax to finance the department, and were promised a marble marker.

A traditional MTA marker had a rounded and forward-sloping top, with the MTA symbol cut into the top center. The name of the deceased member was carved below the symbol, with dates of birth (if known) and death. The name of the local chapter, the chapter number and the city where the chapter was located could be found on the bottom. MTA markers issued by the Modern Mosaic Templars of America appear exactly as the MTA markers except with the word “Modern” carved just above the MTA logo. The dimensions of the markers generally measured twenty-five to twenty-nine inches in height, fifteen to seventeen inches in width, and three to five inches in depth.

The name of the organization, taken from the Biblical figure Moses who emancipated Hebrew slaves, elected the Templars ideals of love, charity, protection, and brotherhood. The organization was originally called “The Order of Moses,” but the founders revised the name to “Mosaic Templars of America” in 1883 during the incorporation process. Modeled after the United States government, the organization consisted of an executive branch, a legislative branch, and even a judicial branch.

Members of fraternal organizations often wore badges as a proof of membership, and the badges of this organization displayed several symbols of tScreen Shot 2017-11-06 at 9.55.25 AMhe Mosaic Templars. The letters “M,” “T” and “A” denote the Mosaic Templars of America. The two crossed shepherd staffs in the center represent MoseMTCC2004.01.01_MTAbdge.jpgs and Aaron and Exodus story from the Bible. The “3v’s” abbreviates the Latin phrase “Veni Vidi Vici,” meaning “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Finally an ouroboros (snake eating its tail), representing the cyclical nature of life surrounding the symbol.
In July 1930, the Mosaic Templars of America went into receivership.

The organization struggled to regain its status, but by the end oMTCC2004.08.062.af the decade it had ceased operations in Arkansas.


But I want to also share a bit about Amy since it is her grave marker, after all.

She was born in Tennessee in 1864, to Abner Dollis and Celia Bloodsworth Dollis.

By the time she was 25, in 1860, she was working as a live-in cook in the home of Sheriff William Poland and his family. 

Just ten years later she had married, and was the widow of, “John” whose last name was not listed in the city directory. She had a two-year -old daughter named Cely, who was obviously named for Amy’s mother.

By 1912 she supported her daughter by working as a “washerwoman,” and lived at 805 Riptoe Street in Marshall, where only a couple of older homes still stand. 

Her death certificate lists her father as Abner Dollis, and her cause of death by apoplexy (the term commonly used for a stroke).

Her daughter Pearl (this was possibly a middle name for Cely), a public school teacher, married Rufus Brown. In 1910, the couple was living with Amy in her home.

Amy died of apoplexy (a term commonly used for stroke), in 1928.

Amy Dollis’ marker, the one I spotted in Marshall, is not in the database being created by the curator of the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center at this time, so I was thrilled to be able to share the find with them.

MTCC_logo_CMYK-HORIZWhen you’re in Little Rock, visit the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center museum at 501 West Ninth Street downtown.






Lost at Sea

The two recent hurricanes, Harvey – which hit my hometown and state, and Irma – which hit Florida, brought to mind an unusual antique photo that I ran across a couple of years ago.

It depicts what are obviously funerary floral tributes featuring seafaring imagery. I was intrigued enough that I needed to find out more about them — a task that was simplified by the fact that their full names were spelled out in the flowers

$_57-3Two marines, James Franklin Robinson of Ohio and Bardie Wayne Ray of Mississippi, were washed overboard and drowned when the United States’ battleship New Hampshire, proceeding to the Mexican coast, ran into a hurricane off the Florida coast in August 1915. The accident was thought to have happened somewhere just south of  the Florida coast in the gulf.

Robinson’s mother Mrs. W. A. Robinson, who lived at No. 222 West Street in Uhrichsville, Ohio and  Ray’s mother, Maude Ray Holcombe,were notified that the bodies were never recovered.

The ship was returning to exercises off the east coast to Vera Cruz.

The floral tributes were displayed onboard during a funeral at sea, held by his shipmates.


The immense hurricane proceeded through the gulf, striking Galveston. It would be the first great test of the island’s new seawall. Thankfully, the test was a success, and damage in no way resembled the horror that Galvestonians experienced 15 years earlier.


Ghostly Appearance at the Pier


Many people assume that the majority of Galveston hauntings stem from the 1900 Storm. While it’s true that the overwhelming loss of life during that hurricane contributed to the population of restless spirits of the island, entities were experienced long before the waves of 1900 washed across the city.

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Pier 33 in 1910

In January of 1894, Galvestonians were talking about the wraith of a woman seen on the West End. She was said to be the spirit of a woman who had drowned in the neighborhood years before.

Appearing at midnight and clad in a calico gown, she clutched a shawl that was drawn around her shoulders and beneath her chin. Moving slowly and deliberately she moved from the east end of Pier 33 to the west end, then going over the edge.

There were different theories at the time as to whether she had fallen or jumped, but no sounds of footsteps or a splash was ever heard. If witnesses rushed to the end of the pier to look, there was no sign of her in the water.

Was she distraught from the loss of a child during a Yellow Fever epidemic, or a husband lost at sea? Was she a victim of the harsh life experienced by many during the rough, early years of the city? It seems her identity and story will remain a mystery.

In 1894 that area, home of the newly constructed Moody Cotton Compress, was bustling with business and waterfront workers, but as 12 o’clock neared…no one ventured toward Pier 33, at one time called Western Wharf.

The sad spirit became such a regular occurrence, that even those who lived nearby avoided the area around the midnight hour.

Today grand cruise ships past the spot of the ghost’s appearance on their way to dock at the cruise terminal. I wonder if she even notices.


GOG-CoverRead more tales of Galveston’s spirited past in ‘Ghosts of Galveston’ from The History Press.