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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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Is Elizabeth Eternally Waiting?

(I’m re-posting this from my former blog “Headstones and Footnotes” because I have some fun updates to share as a follow-up!)

ElizaIsrael 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).

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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).

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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…

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Fashionable New Year’s Visits

Calling Cards For Greeting New Year in the Victorian Era (1)

In genteel Victorian-era society, making visits or “calls” was the fashionable thing to do on New Year’s Day.

Gentlemen would don their finest attire and make the rounds, visiting all of the ladies of their acquaintance.

Ladies were discouraged from sending invitations for them to do so, as that would seem “desperate.” Instead, the local papers would often print lists of homes that intended to receive callers that day.

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Upon arriving at a home (preferably in a carriage), the gentleman would be invited to remove his hat and overcoat. His gloves were often left on his hands, as the visits, to be considered polite, must be kept fairly brief. – not exceeding then or fifteen minutes.

The gentleman would then send his calling card with a servant to the host, announcing his arrival, and would be ushered into the reception room.

b2014_1_29_detail_categoryBaskets or receiving trays would hold the cards of each day’s callers. This beautiful example is in the Bishop’s Palace in Galveston.

Calling Cards For Greeting New Year in the Victorian Era (12)

Ladies could receive guests at their own home, or come together in small groups to receive callers together. Young ladies visiting for the holidays partook in the visits of their hostesses’ homes.

They would have spent the previous day making the parlor as inviting as possible with a warm fire, and small table with refreshments such as fruit, cakes, tea and coffee. Alcohol was never served.

Fashionsfor1845Common visiting hours were from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. which, although it was enjoyed, must have been quite exhausting. Because of the constant “change of faces” due to the coming-and going of guests, they were to receive each as politely and pleasantly as the first. Thankfully, callers knew to avoid lunch and dinner hours.

Calling cards were kept by the hostesses, and often reviewed later. In addition to reminding the hostess of the caller’s name, much could be discerned from the quality and style of the card.

The two or three days succeeding New Year’s were the ladies’ days for calling, “upon which occasion they pass the compliments of the season, comment of the festivities of the holiday, and the number of calls made.”

IMG_0926AAlthough the ladies’ visits were considered to be less formal, they would also include refreshments, finery, and by today’s standards seem quite formal.

Whatever you are doing this New Year’s Day, I hope 2016 brings you laughter, adventure and fun glimpses into our fascinating history!