‘Tis the season for ghostly fun…and boy did we find some in Richmond!
As a cemetery historian and author of a couple of books about cemeteries and ghosts, October is understandably a busy time of the year for me – filled with giving tours and presentations. So it was a special treat last night when my husband and I took time for ourselves to TAKE a ghost tour of the historic district of Richmond, Texas. It’s one I’ve been wanting to see for years, and now I can’t wait to go back with friends next year!
Richmond is filled with history, which usually – in turn – means that through the years tragedies and unfortunate events have affected the lives of those who lived there. We found out that even the clock tower of the Fort Bend County Courthouse (where we got our marriage license many moons ago) has a story of death and a haunting attached to it.
We were lucky enough to have Jessica Avery, programs coordinator for the Fort Bend Museum, as our tour guide – assisted by a charming group of other museum employees and volunteers.
One of the things I appreciate about ghost tours organized by historical society groups is that they have a respect for true history as their basis. (Read that as “they don’t just make up a bunch of stories and get their references to history muddled – -I’ve seen that done way too often.) Though the Fort Bend Museum does historical tours of their properties throughout the year so you can learn about the historic aspects of them, their ghost tours focus on the tales and legends associated with the places. So . . . much . . . fun.
And no, I’m not going to share the stories they worked so hard to gather here. I want you to hear them for yourselves in the spots where they occurred!
It was an easy-paced walking tour as we followed Jessica through the streets nearby Moore Mansion and into old downtown Rosenberg as she pointed out different sites and shared their stories. Used to documenting with school groups, she has a lovely, clear speaking voice that was easily understandable even over the occasional street noise. The museum staff has visited with local business owners, so they’re able to share their unexplained experiences and sightings as well.
Several charming small buildings that belong to the group such as the McFarlane House are included, and attendees are encouraged to peek inside the windows! Charming by day, certain places with so much past can contain rooms where even the most serious-minded history experts may become so unsettled they have to gather their things and leave when darkness falls.
One of the properties even has a gravemarker in the front yard. What’s better is that it belongs to Texas hero Deaf Smith “The Texas Spy!” His name may sound familiar to you if you took Texas history in school. I had no idea such an illustrious person’s commemoration would be found inside the white picket fence of the property. There may even be more unmarked graves beneath the house, which was moved to the property much later.
Our final stop of the evening was at the fascinating 1883 Moore Mansion, home base for the Fort Bend Museum. And they definitely saved the best for last!
If you haven’t heard it before – but you probably have if you read my blog – funerals “back in the day” were held at home, and the staff had set up an entire Victorian funeral scene in one of the rooms complete with a mounting wreath, coffin, samples of mourning jewelry and announcements, and draped mirrors and pictures. Beautifully done, and very appropriate for the Halloween season.
The house was lit throughout only with battery operated candles and hand held flashlights, which added to the mood. Our guides gave us a tour upstairs and downstairs while telling us some eerily intriguing tales, then let us wander through the large home by ourselves for a bit.
Sign up early – they do sell out. You can choose to do a Halloween tour of the Moore Home or a ghost tour of the area. We chose to do a combo tour of both because . . . who wants to choose?
The Fort Bend Museum has events throughout the year for all ages. You can check the upcoming plans here.
A state as big as Texas is bound to have a lot of ghost stories. . . luckily for us!
The first tale I’ll share this October is probably one of the most famous to native Texans, and takes place in Bailey’s Prairie.
If you happen to be motoring south on Highway 35 and see a bouncing orange glow . . . it’s probably Old Brit Bailey in search of his jug of whiskey!
James Briton “Brit” Bailey was more than a real person. He was a real character. Known for his eccentric personality, love of drink and penchant for brawls, life was never dull in his presence. At six feet tall (quite a height for the time), was an imposing figure with his jet-black hair and broad brimmed hat.
“Brit” was born in North Carolina on August 1, 1779 in North Carolina. After fighting in the War of 1812 the pioneer came to Texas in 1818 with his second wife, Dot, six children and his slaves, settling in what came to be known as Brazoria County. Several years later Stephen F. Austin would arrive with the “Old Three Hundred” to settle parcels of land in the area.
Not one to pass up a fight or give ground on a cause he believed in, Brit was also a veteran of the Battle of Jones Creek in 1824, and the Battle of Velasco in 1832.
Locals love to share a story about the rowdy rancher that captures his personality. It seems that he shot at a traveling preacher’s feet to watch him dance. After the episode when the men were sharing a drink, the preacher took the opportunity to grab Brit’s gun and made the same demand. Roaring with delight, Brit jumped onto a table and energetically danced a jig while onlookers applauded.
His temper was as legendary as his humor, and one night he apparently set fire to all the buildings on his own property except the main house.
On December 6, 1832 Brit passed away quietly in his own bed from fever that many think may have been cholera.
Peculiar instructions in his will provided one more surprise for the community. He had requested to be buried standing up (now that took a deep hole!), facing west with his rifle over his shoulder, powder horn by his side, and a jug of whiskey.
Brit didn’t want anyone passing by his grave saying, “There lies Brit Bailey” and he figured if her was standing up….they couldn’t!
He was buried in a grove near his home and though all his instructions were followed, his jug whiskey was omitted from the coffin. His widow objected to that item, saying he had imbibed enough in his lifetime.
According to legend his ghost in the form of a strange light roams his old homestead at Bailey’s Prairie looking for the lost jug of whiskey. Many describe it as having an orange glow and bobbing around about four to six feet above the ground – the eight a lantern might be held on horseback.
Back when the story originated, it was said that Old Brit searched the prairie every seven years, but either people weren’t paying attention or he’s getting thirstier because now Bailey’s Light is seen on a regular basis.
Naysayers theorize the glow is caused by puffs of natural gas escaping from the ground, but you’ll be hard pressed to convince witnesses of that.
Bailey’s Prairie, Brit Bailey Boulevard (FM 521) and even a local chapter of the DAR are named for this unique figure in Texas history.
Texas State Historical Markers telling Brit’s story can be found just outside the gates of Munson Cemetery. Unfortunately, someone has vandalized the emblem off of Brit’s marker. (Hope that Brit chased them!)
Are you brave enough to search out Bailey’s Light on a dark night on the prairie?
Subject a real person: Confirmed
Location: Bailey’s Prairie, Brazoria County. Stretch of Highway 35 between Angleton and West Columbia
Texan artist Tra Slaughter painted this mural of Sam Houston on the back of a building in downtown Brenham, facing the railroad tracks. If this image of Houston seems odd to you, you may not be familiar with his connection to the Cherokees.
In 1809 at the age of 16, Sam Houston ran away from home in Tennessee and lived among the Cherokees. He was adopted by Chief Oolooteka and given the name Colonneh or the Raven.
Although I grew up in Texas, I first heard about this other name while attending the university named after this Texan forefather. The name cropped up often around Huntsville in business names.
While I was learning more about Houston, I found that his Cherokee wife’s name was Talahina “Tiana” Rogers . . . a name that sounded pretty darn familiar to me. Always fascinated with my mother’s Cherokee lineage, I started researching her genealogy when I was just 12.
Sure enough, Talahina‘s great grandparents William Emory and Mary Suzannah Grant were my seventh great grandparents. So while it is a distant connection, I was happy to learn that I had a personal link to this fascinating woman.
Talahina’s mother Elizabeth was the sister of my 6th great-grandmother Susannah. Both were born in Houston’s home state of Tennessee to William and Mary Emory.
Sam Houston had three wives, but for obvious reasons, this one is a special interest of mine.
This mural is spectacular, and also features an actual raven and a Mockingbird, the state bird of Texas. Art is such a terrific way to relate pieces of history.
Have you done any research on your family tree? You never know what or who you’ll find.
Driving through Central Texas recently, I made a detour to visit a Fairy . . . and the tiny town named after her.
In a state that likes to brag that “bigger is better,” the town of Fairy Texas in Hamilton County named themselves after a surprisingly diminutive member of their community.
Originally known as Martin’s Gap it was named after James Martin, a settler killed by local Indians in the 1860s while driving cattle through a “gap” between two mountains in the area. He was buried at the foot of one of those mountains.
As you can see from the map, it isn’t “on the way” to anywhere particularly…but it’s worth a road trip diversion.
When a post office was requested for the town in 1884, locals renamed it “Fairy” to honor Fairy Fort Phelps (1865-1938), the daughter of Sallie and Battle Fort, a former Confederate Army Captain and lawyer.
One of the smallest Texans ever, Fairy was just 2’ 7” tall and weighed about 28 pounds. Her size didn’t stop her from leading a somewhat normal life and becoming one of the most beloved people in her community.
Her namesake town once had a cotton gin, school, general store, café and businesses to serve the ranchers in the area.
Fairy had four younger brothers: Henry; Hugh Franklin; William “Battle,” Jr; and Walter Herbert – all of whom were average heights.
Fairy and her father taught area children at a school in their home for many years. One story reflects how respected and well liked she was by her students. The tale states that it became necessary for Fairy to paddle an unruly student, but she couldn’t high enough. The student himself lifted his teacher onto a chair so she could paddle him.
The petite young lady even married twice, once to William Y. Allen in 1892 and again to T. J. Phelps in 1905, but both marriages ended in divorce. Probably not surprisingly, she never had children, but she did live into her 70s and is buried with her parents at…yes…Fairy Cemetery. The sign on the gate alone is enough to back you look twice.
Fairy’s post office closed in 1947, and the school consolidated with Hamilton schools in 1967. A Baptist church, community center, volunteer fire department, a few homes and one historic cemetery are all that endure.
The stories of a petite woman who lived life to the fullest remain with the residents, and those who stop to visit her gated grave.
The tiny town’s cemetery is interesting on its own for a variety of style of distinctive, handmade grave markers. Many exhibit expert stone carving skills, but others include one constructed of petrified wood and another meticulously covered with sparkling, local minerals.
Oh….and if you’re curious what locals are called, they are “Fairians.” How cute is that?
In our last blog visit to the cemetery, we were pondering whether Elizabeth Israel’s husband was ever laid to rest beside her or if he had been interred away from his beloved wife.
I am happy to report that I received a reply to my question from a genealogist whose husband is related to the Israel couple.
She shared that they had been told that Alexander died while visiting his sister in St. Louis, but that they had discovered a receipt for his burial next to Elizabeth. The receipt had the payments broken into monthly payments, so it may be assumed that the engraving was too expensive for the family to undertake at the time.
I am so grateful to know that the couple is together. I don’t know about you, but these situations can make me grieve a bit for those involved, even if they are no relation to me. Yes, people interred in cemeteries are “real” people who led very real lives. I would rather find out about them than read a fictional account of someone who never actually existed.
I’ve added Alexander’s name and information to the Findagrave database for anyone who has the same question in the future.
I was also glad to be able to share a bit of fun information about Alexander with our informant, as well. Although her family knew that he had a registered patent for a washing machine, they had not yet seen a picture of it. Here it is:
Alexander was quite ingenious, and surely his blacksmithing skills came into play with the design.
The description of the machine is in Alexanders own words, so it gives an insight into his engineering skills.
“…the clothes are thoroughly washed or scoured and boiled at the same time. The clothes are thoroughly cleaned without danger of injuring or tearing the same, and the machine is adapted for washing the finest fabrics – lace curtains and the like. The water is kept constantly boiling by the heater and s continuously circulated throughout he revolving drum an brought into contact with the clothes contained therein. The clothes are constantly carried upward and dripped by means of the radially-disposed ribs and are at the same time subjected to the scoring or rubbing action of the rotary washboard.”
It actually sounds quite like our washing machines today!
Thanks to Jan for solving our mystery.
This story has now come full circle, and I got to meet Jan and Eddie in person this week! Eddie even brought me a copy of the undertaker’s bill for Alexander’s funeral. Though the spelling is a bit amusing, once you realize that the funeral cost was quite high for the time it becomes clear that the family probably couldn’t also afford to have his side of the gravestone engraved at the same time.
Jan and Eddie are looking into having the stone engraving completed.
After having lunch and hearing more about their family genealogy, we went to see the home where Eddie’s family survived Galveston’s 1900 hurricane.
It has been restored, and is adorable! That’s Eddie and his lovely wife Jan standing on the porch.
They weren’t able to find out who currently owns the home, but are very interested in finding out. Now the only thing left undone is to hopefully someday see the inside. Hey…it doesn’t hurt to dream!
(I’m re-posting this from my former blog “Headstones and Footnotes” because I have some fun updates to share as a follow-up!)
While walking through the LaPorte Cemetery in Harris County, Texas this gravestone caught my attention. It’s a lovely marker in wonderful shape, despite being over 100 years old. But what intrigued me is that someone seems to be missing.
Only half of the stone is engraved.
“Eliza, beloved wife of A.C. Israel”was interred here in 1910, having passed away at the age of 64. The other side of the marker was obviously left blank in wait for the passing of her husband…but where is he? Unless he is breaking a Guinness World record for age, surely he has passed away by now.
“A.C. Israel” was Alexander Charles Israel, who was born in Ohio in 1844 to native residents of that state. The family also lived in Meigsville, Ohio (1850 census) and St. Louis Missouri (1860).
On September 8, 1864 Alexander married Elizabeth Williams, who was born n 1845 in New York. She was the daughter of Henry Williams (b. 1823) and Harriet (born 1825).
Alexander and Elizabeth lived in Concord, Missouri (1870 census) ad Rock, Missouri (1880) before moving to Texas. They had three daughters together:
Elizabeth “Lizzie” Harriet Israel (Serface) b. 1867-1913
Emma Florence Israel (Serface) b. 1869 – 1954
Cora Belle Israel b. 1871 – 1923
Family photo shows : Alexander Charles and Eliza and their daughters Emma Florence (left), Libby (top) and Cora Belle (bottom).
Elizabeth died in 1910, leaving Alexander a widower.
He was recorded as living in LaPorte, Texas by the 1910 census with his occupation listed as owner of a blacksmith shop. A 38-year-old servant, Lillie Brown, and her six-year-old daughter Helen lived with him. He was still living in Harris County at the time of the 1920 census.
Alexander passed away on May 22, 1922 in Harris County, Texas.
I can find no record of his burial in the LaPorte Cemetery, or in the cemeteries where Elizabeth Harriet (who died just three years after her mother and is interred in Houston) or Emma Florence rest. I have found no grave listing for little Cora.
So the mystery remains…where was Alexander buried. It’s possible that he was laid to rest beside his wife and the engraving was never ordered. It’s sad, but I’ve seen it happen several times.
I have contacted a descendant of the family in an attempt to find Alexander, but haven’t received an answer. Perhaps someone reading this will have a clue.
Until then, his resting place remains a mystery.
Is Eliza still waiting for her beloved husband to join her? “Stay tuned” to find out…
During the Thanksgiving holidays, we are surrounded by symbols of harvest and bounty. One of the most popular symbols of the season’s bounty is a sheaf of wheat, which is why it is often incorporated into decorations.
The image is so connected with bounty and prosperity that it was at one time used on United States currency.
Religiously, the image of wheat has a deeper meaning. Wheat is baked into the Eucharist, a motif of everlasting life through belief in Jesus. Therefore when wheat is used on gravestones or memento mori, it represents a divine harvest – being cut to resurrect the “harvest” into everlasting life or immortality.
Wheat has also been symbolic of love and charity in the bible, and was a popular emblem used by Masons.
The wheat sheaf can also signify a long and fruitful life, often more than 70 years.
So the net time you see an image of wheat on a grave, check the lifespan of the person who the stone memorializes.