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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.

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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.

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Ghostly Appearance at the Pier

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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.
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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.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1467119652

 

 

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Elegant Sessums Monument with Galveston Ties

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.

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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.

Berlocher Building as it appears today

Alexander died at the young age of 43 in 1873.

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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).

“Broken branches” lay at the base, with individual inscriptions for Alexander and Mary.
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It’s well worth the trip to Glenwood to see this stunning sculpture in person.

CLICK HERE for a video showing the entire monument:

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Double-Sided Stone for Two Sweet Little Lambs

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).

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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.

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Nellie

“Angel”

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.

 

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Andrew

“Amen”

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.

 

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Star-Crossed Lovers

Judy Bell Burse

Died Jan. 24, 1924

Aged 27 Years

Asleep in

Jesus

An unassuming, concrete grave marker people might wander by, thinking surely not much of a story could lie here. They would be wrong.

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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 upshur-mapjust 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.

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 10.49.21 AMThe 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.UpshurCountyCourthouseGilmerTXPCTem

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.

 

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Christmas Spirits…Bottled and Otherwise

     A 1904 ad for a different kind of “Christmas spirit.” Henry Toujouse ran the bar in the basement of the Tremont Opera House (where the National Artist Lofts are now).

     His beautiful mahogany bar now resides at the Tremont House. It’s seen a lot of spirits in it’s day and is still reportedly tended by Toujouse, who committed suicide in 1918.

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The Floating Coffin

235px-charles_francis_coghlan_003Among the most famous and tantalizing stories to come from the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” franchise is one that begins with a death at the Tremont House Hotel in Galveston.

An Omen

The curious tale began when a young actor named Charles Francis Coghlan visited a gypsy fortuneteller. The mystical soothsayer told Coghlan that he would die at the height of his fame in a southern U. S. city – but that he would have no rest until he returned home.

charlesfranciscoghlanwikimcmmThe prediction tormented Coghlan, disturbing him so much that he repeated it to friends and co-workers numberous times in the course of his life.

Over the next thirty years, Coghlan became one of the most famous actors of his day, appearing on stages across the U.S. and Europe. During the rare weeks that he did not appear on the stage, he and his wife retreated to their beloved home on Canada’s Prince Edward Island.

Fate Enters

On October 30, 1899, Coghlan arrived in Galveston with his performing troupe, ready to present one of his own works,screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-10-52-18-am titled “The Royal Box.”

He never had the chance to appear on stage on the island, however. He became seriously ill with what doctors at the time diagnosed as acute gastritis. His understudy, Mr. Robinson, received wonderful reviews often mistakenly credited to Coghlan in print.

The actor’s wife remained with him, transcribing the first four acts of a new play, which he dictated while resting for four weeks. But, after an abrupt relapse of pain, he died in bed at the Tremont Hotel on November 27, with his distraught wife by his side. He was 57 years old and at the peak of his career.

His body was taken to the Levy Brothers Funeral Home, while his wife attempted to make arrangements in a strange city far from family and friends.

The grievcharles-coghlaning widow knew that her husband, upon his death, had wanted to be cremated and buried in New York. Galveston did not have a crematorium at the time, so she arranged for her husband’s body to be sh
ipped to the nearest facility in St. Louis.

By the time those preparations were made, a flood of demands from family and admirers insisted he be taken immediately to New York. It is no wonder that confusion exists about the final arrangements for the disposition of the actor’s body. Unfortunately, the funeral home records from this time were destroyed in 1979.

Her funds and energy exhausted, Coughlan’s widow had his remains placed in a temporary receiving vault at the Lakeview Cemetery until she could manage to have him sent to New York the following year.

In September of the following year, the infamous 1900 Storm hit Galveston, killing thousands and sweeping coffins out of mausoleums and vaults. Though300px-wea00586 the vault where Coghlan’s body was constructed of heavy granite blocks, it was washed away like so many other structures on the island.

Those coffins that were recovered were reinterred in the cemetery, but many were never found. Coughlan’s casket, which was among the missing, had been caught in the swift-running current and believed to have been swept into the Gulf of Mexico. The New York Actor’s Club offered a sizable reward, but the casket was never located.

Because his widow had purchased an elaborate cast iron casket for her beloved, it is highly unlikely it could do anything but sink in a body of water.

Going Home

In 1929, an edition of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” published a rumor that had developed in the years after the storm.

The original Ripley feature said: “Charles Coughlan comes home! He died in 1899, and he was buri00-01ed in Galveston. When the tragic flood came his coffin was washed out to sea and the Gulf Stream carried his around Florida and up the coast to Prince Edward Island – 2,000 miles distant – where he had lived.”

Ripley mentioned in October of 1908, fishermen spied a large box floating the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Snagging it with their nets, they pulled the badly damaged object to shore. A silver plate was revealed after cleaning off a few barnacles, which identified it as the casket of Charles Coughlan.

The legend tells that the actor was taken to his home church on Prince Edward Island and buried near the church where he was baptized in 1841. His wandering spirit was finally home.

Truth or Urban Myth?

Numerous books and articles have been written about the incident over the years, with slight to outrageous changes in the details. A brief internet search yields several versions of the story.

Local cemetery records of the small church on Prince Edward are considered to be complete and accurate. They show no sign of Charles Coughlan’s burial, and no gravestone exists.

It was reported that his daughter, actress Gertrude Coughlan Pitou visited Prince Edward in the 1980s and stated that her father’s remains had not been recovered or reinterred in Galveston. This report is seemingly eerie enough, since Gertrude herself died in 1952!

His sister, actress Rose Coughlan, was highly offended by the stories about her brother and she asked Robert Ripley for a retraction. Ripley, ever the savvy businessman, declined. He credited Sir Johnston Forbes Robertson, a Shakespearean actor and friend of Coughlan, for sharing the story with the publication.

The question remains: If Charles Coughlan is not at home at rest, and not in Lakeview Cemetery…where is he?

 

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SS Selma: Galveston’s Concrete Wonder

Concrete ships? Believe it or not, during World Wr I they became a reality, and Galveston is home to one of the few remnants of the era.

Please allow a few minutes for the pages to download – large files. Or you can read the article online in Galveston Monthly’s June issue at galvestonmonthly.com.

*One correction has come to my attention since this article was published. Raymond Dalehite has kindly let me know that it was his grandfather, Captain Henry Dalehite, who sold the ship and not his father as is stated in the article. I sincerely apologize for this mistake.

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Mystery Solved!

AlexanderIn 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.

ElizaIsrael 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:

p.txt 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 oUS706418-0r 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.

FullSizeRender-2 copy 3This 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.FullSizeRender-2 copy

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!

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