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
Two 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.
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.
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.
Read more tales of Galveston’s spirited past in ‘Ghosts of Galveston’ from The History Press.
When I found this amazing (and immense) Woodmen of the World grave marker in Glenwood Cemetery in Houston, I had no idea that the person who rests here had important ties to Galveston.
Alexander Sessums (born in 1830 ) came to Texas and married Mary Howell Runnels (born 1835 in Houston) in 1854.
He became an important cotton and wool factor in Galveston, eventually also purchasing the wholesale grocery supply on the Strand from Ware & McKeen. Sessums also ran a mill in Houston.
Sessums’ office was upstairs in the John Berlocher Building (2313 Ships Mechanic Row, across from the Tremont Hotel) which was built in 1858. At the time, the Berlocher was four stories, only three of which remain.
Alexander died at the young age of 43 in 1873.
His monument at Glenwood definitely signifies his success in business, towering over surrounding markers. A beautiful example of Wo
odmen of the World gravestones, the marker shared by Sessum and his wife features morning glories (symbolizing resurrection), roses (symbolizing beauty, for Mary) and acorns (symbolizing immortality for Alexander).
It’s well worth the trip to Glenwood to see this stunning sculpture in person.
CLICK HERE for a video showing the entire monument:
Having wandered through countless cemeteries in the past forty years, I can easily recognize most of the common iconography or symbolism used to decorate the markers. That makes it especially exciting to see something new (to me).
This unusual marker in Galveston’s Calvary Catholic Cemetery features two lambs resting their heads together, marking the grave of two siblings, each of whose inscriptions is featured on opposite sides of a double-sided stone.
Happily the children’s names are on the stone. So many markers of this type only identify small children as “Son of” or “dau. of” and give the parents initials or names. Their parents remain a mystery however, for the same reason.
Born June 29, 1888 and died Sept. 30, 1888.
Dearest loved one, we have laid thee
in the peaceful grave’s embrace,
but thy memory will be cherished
till we see thy heavenly face.
Almost exactly one year after their daughter’s death, a son was born to the couple. But that joy was short-lived as well.
Sept. 10, 1889 and died Dec. 26, 1889
‘Tis hard to break the tender cord
When love has bound the heart
‘Tis hard so hard, so speak the words
Must we forever part
Losing a child so close to Christmas always seems especially poignant.
There are almost two full pages of Andersons in the local directory during this time period, and unfortunately no further clues as to the identity of the parents at this time. Looking for other Andersons in the same cemetery failed to provide more leads as well due to the number of seemingly unrelated individuals with that surname.
Both of the children were just three months old. I wonder if the couple had any more children who survived, but likely will never know.
Although I occasionally run across a rare exception, lambs on gravestones denote the resting place of children and symbolize purity and innocence. This symbolic use of the lamb pre-dates Christianity, being used first by the Egyptians.
Many lamb figures on grave markers from this time period are missing their heads, or so severely eroded that they appear more like a lump than a small animal. This one is lucky, perhaps because of the strength of their necks resting against each other, to still be intact.
I wonder if there are any family members left on the island to visit this poignant remembrance.
Judy Bell Burse
Died Jan. 24, 1924
Aged 27 Years
An unassuming, concrete grave marker people might wander by, thinking surely not much of a story could lie here. They would be wrong.
The first clue that this is no regular grave is in its location: the Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery in Huntsville, Texas. This cemetery is located about a mile southeast from the Walls Prison Unit and contains over 2,000 graves of inmates who either died in Texas prisons or were executed Graves of inmates whose bodies weren’t claimed by family or friends.
The male graves far outnumber the female sites, which makes them especially intriguing.
Though her marker states her age as only 27, she was actually 34 years old (born in 1895)…still so young to die.
When she was just a teenager, Judy Bell Tally married Jessie Burse. The couple lived on a farm in Gilmer, in Upshur County, Texas and had a daughter named Estelle in 1913.
It was not a happy marriage though. Jessie had a terrible temper was abusive to Judy, even whipping her.
Judy sought consolation in another man’s arms. Her lover, George Anderson, was enraged by the whippings and stated to friends that he was going to “get his meanness on” and kill Jessie.
After spending the day at the home of Judy’s father, Will Tally, George and Judy left around midnight to walk to her home. They had no idea they were being followed.
The couple stopped in a plum thicket to make love (three times, according to court records), and afterward were sitting together talking when her husband Jessie came up the path. Judy cried “There’s someone with a gun,” and Jessie, brandishing a stick in one hand and a gun in the other, yelled “I’ve ****** got you!” He raised his gun to take aim but George shot first, killing Jessie immediately.
According to trial records, George explained, “when he done that of course, I, just like any other man would do to protect myself, I shot. She insisted on me taking the gun to kill her father a rabbit, that’s why I taken the gun.”
He and Judy Bell then picked up Jessie’s buckshot ridden body and carried it to a thicket about four hundred yards away. It was a dark night, and no one else was in the area.
The body was soon found by accident, and by April the couple was being tried for murder.
George Anderson pled not guilty, but was sentence to 99 years. Upon arrival at the Darrington Prison Unit in Huntsville he was assigned inmate number 49518.
Judy Bell Burse also pled not guilty. She was convicted on August 12, 1922 and sentenced to 40 years. She was incarcerated at the Goree Prison Unit in Huntsville, which was a women’s prison at the time. Her inmate number was #48471.
Judy was considered an ideal inmate and was soon named a trustee, being given special responsibilities in the prison. Unfortunately, she died of pancreatic cancer in January of 1929, never seeing freedom again. She must have “fibbed” about her age, as her marker lists it as being 27. She was 34.
On the other hand, George was constantly getting in trouble for his temper, imprudence and “laziness.” The harsh punishments of the day didn’t deter him, and probably fueled his rage. His second escape attempt, on June 26, 1924, was successful and he was never recaptured. The last word in his prison log is “Gone”.
I wonder if he knew or cared that Judy died five years later.
And there is no trace of what became of Judy’s daughter Estelle. She was perhaps the most poignant and certainly the most blameless victim of the crime.
There’s always so much more to the stories behind the stones than an inscription can reveal.
Having escaped from an abusive marriage to an alcoholic husband, Elizabeth Percival started a new life with her two step-daughters Florence and Jessie. She opened a restaurant named The English Kitchen, serving the English dishes from her childhood with a boarding house on the floors above it. In the following months she and the girls gained a loyal following of customers and friends.
In March of 1881, Elizabeth and her daughters invited their friends to join them at their restaurant, which was right on Galveston’s Mardi Gras parade route, for a night of fun and fellowship.
They had no way of knowing the night of revelry would end in tragedy.
Elizabeth’s ex-husband hid among the floats and marchers in the parade. As he passed the restaurant, he took aim and shot Elizabeth in front of all who loved her. Her step-daughters, who she had rescued from their natural father, were grief-stricken, and erected a beautiful marker over her grave.
I stopped by Trinity Episcopal Cemetery to leave beads for Elizabeth. While the island of Galveston is in the middle of Mardi Gras season, I didn’t want her to be forgotten.
I hope you’ll enjoy more of Elizabeth’s story, along with other amazing stories behind the gravestones of Galveston in my book, “Galveston’s Broadway Cemeteries,” from Arcadia Publishing. Available on Amazon.com.