Texas traditions can originate from almost anywhere in the world, thanks to our diverse history of immigration. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that some of Mexico’s customs have been brought north of the border. The most colorful, and thought by many to be mysterious, celebration is Dia de los Muertos.
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When I first approached a group of friends about having a Dia de los Muertos party, they were a bit hesitant. “Isn’t that kind of morbid?” “Isn’t that a celebration of death?”
The simple answer is no – it’s something much more upbeat than you may think.
Luckily, a few of them had seen the Disney Pixar movie “Coco” that familiarized American audiences with the celebration through a powerful story about family, community, tradition and remembrance. Think about Memorial Day, and the concept doesn’t seem so strange.
The gist is to celebrate the lives of our ancestors, rather than mourn their passing, by incorporating food, drink and activities they enjoyed in life. Family members create “altars” in their homes with photos of loved ones surrounded by offerings of food, flowers and mementos. Others visit family cemeteries to decorate ancestors’ graves and share stories about their lives. The days of the celebration surround the Catholic “All Souls Day” on November 2. (So it isn’t really a ‘Halloween thing” like many think.)
Many of us no longer live in the communities of our ancestors, so circles of friends tend to become our new families. That’s why I thought having our own Dia de los Muertos celebration together would be a fun chance to celebrate all of our families and have some fun and great food at the same time! (Plus, I have some talented friends, so we’re always up for a reason to celebrate together!)
You can easily put together your own party as well.
Be sure to incorporate photos of loved ones who’ve passed, and share their stories. It keeps their spirit and your family lore alive.
I not only included photos of my mother, who we lost last year to Alzheimers, but also made tissue paper flowers for decorations – a craft she taught me as a child.
Attention to the smallest details can make a theme like this really come together. The talented Evangeline Event Designs made adorable sugar skull invitations and colorful menu cards, and I found some adorable small decorative accents, as well as a beautiful embroidered skull dishcloth at Hendley Market. The bright Fiestaware plates and platters are from Yesterday’s Best.
No Mexican theme meal is complete without tamales. We loved these from Pennie’s Tex Mex Takeout.
Alicia from The Kitchen Chick made chorizo with apricot sauce, Bob Armstrong queso (from the “Queso!” recipe book she carries in her store), and an amazing Blackberry Mezcal Smash Cocktail.
Our friend Stacy, otherwise known as the Hurried Hostess, made amazing fruit tacos and a churro bar. Yum-ola!
But the item that really had us all gasping in disbelief were the gorgeous cookies created by Jennifer from Good Gosh Ganache. I mean, really…look at these beauties!
Our friends Hailey and Tamara used their styling talents to help our buffet look amazing. Making this event such a group effort made it even more special.
Many communities in Texas offer the opportunity to experience Dia de los Muertos, including San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Victoria and Austin. Check your local community calendar to see if there’s one near you, and celebrate!
An article I wrote about the history of Magnolia Grove Cemetery (established 1871) will appear in the September issue of Galveston Monthly Magazine. Now, lost this once elegant, Victorian Era cemetery was the most beautiful burial ground on the island.
Not all of the bodies were moved, but the grounds of the cemetery now lie beneath the runways of Scholes Airport and the back nine fairways of the Moody Gardens Golf Course.
My investigation led me to many of the usual resources for history in Galveston, such as the Galveston & Texas History Center (always wonderful), but led me on new research paths as well. No single source seemed to have all of the pieces of information, and many whom I contacted had no knowledge of the lost cemetery at all.
There unfortunately simply wasn’t room to include all of the fascinating information that I found about the lost cemetery, so I will list some of the details here for those who are interested or researching their families.
Magnolia Grove was comprised of 100 acres, divided into 25 sections. They were identified as Sections A through X, and City Circle, otherwise known as Rest of Honor. This circle was reserved for the interment of people of distinguished merit or achievement. The first two burials in this section were the first and last presidents of Texas, David Burnet and Aaron Jones, who were moved from previous burial sites.
Sections 6 and 7 (also known as F & G), which were located on the waterfront, were consecrated by the Catholic Church and reserved for exclusive use of members of that faith.
A portion of Section 2 (B) was purchased by the Masonic lodges and used for burials of Masons and their families. The Tucker family, headed by the president of the Magnolia Grove Cemetery Association, was also located in this section.
Many of the larger lots in the cemetery were purchased by wealthy families and organizations.
Less expensive public lots for white “clients” were located in Section 4, and for “colored” loved ones in Section 5 of the Eastern Division of Magnolia Grove.
The Spanish Benevolent mausoleum still stood after 1900 in Section D on lots 31 and 32, which was part of the southern half of lot 258. Although heavily damaged by weather and vandalized, the mausoleum still stood in the 1920s.
Galveston’s Fireman’s Relief Association purchased a portion of Section B for their members in August 1878.
Plots in Section J were purchased by Joseph W. Rice and David Guthrie; Section M included family plots for Adriance and Trueheart; Section N for August Kleinecke; and Section P plots belonged to the Sealy, Ball and Hutchings families.
General Wigfall’s plot was in Section Q, and J.P. Davie purchased four lots in Section R.
Section S was home to the The French Benevolent Society lot, as well as the Nahor Biggs Yard and Grover families.
Adolph Flake chose his plot in Section T, but now rests in the Historic Broadway Cemetery District.
John Sidney Thrasher, who married the widow of Galveston’s founder Michel Menard, was buried in the City Circle in 1879.
Of the many illustrious citizens in Galveston who were interred in Magnolia, some remain on the grounds, some were moved to other cemeteries, and some were lost to weather events.
Among the well-known Masons interred at Magnolia Grove who remain there are Henry S. Pearce, First Master of Hope Lodge in another part of the state; Adolph Cycoski, a Civil War veteran and teacher of French in Galveston, also a prominent Mason; and Dr. Benjamin Ball, a prominent businessman who was buried with Masonic ceremonies Feb. 13, 1880.
French native Achilles Mingell; Captain John Price, who formerly owned part of this property, and a residence in the early days; and Isaac McGary, veteran of Texas Revolution,; Mexican American War: and the Battle of San Jacinto are just two of the illustrious people whose graves wer never relocated and are now lost.
David Burnet (pictured at left) , the first president of Texas, was moved from Magnolia Grove and now rests in the Sherman plot at Lakeview.
William Tennant Austin of early Texas revolutionary fame, was moved from Magnolia to Lakeview Cemetery.
Anson Jones (pictured at right), the last president of Texas, was originally buried in Trinity Episcopal Cemetery, moved to Magnolia Grove Cemetery five miles away in 1871 as part of the opening ceremonies. His remains were moved to Glenwood after 1892.
After the article runs in Galveston Monthly, I will share more information about this fascinating, and sad, loss of history.
(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.
Today is the 115th Anniversary of the tragic 1900 hurricane in Galveston, that took thousands of lives. I thought it was only proper for today’s post to pay tribute to a veteran who lost his life in that storm.
Johann “John” Karl “Charles” Seidenstricker was an immigrant who proved his allegiance and dedication to his new country soon after his arrival.
Born on September 7, 1842 in Bad Duerkeim, Pfalz, Bayern, Germany, Johann immigrated to America by himself when he was only 18 years old. He arrived in New Orleans aboard the ship Kate Dyer on February 4, 1861, just two months before the Civil War began.
He served as a private in Company F of the 31st Massachusetts Infantry, while they were stationed in Donaldsonville, Louisiana south of Baton Rouge. In December, joined by companies from nearby Fort Pike, the unit was armed and equipped as cavalry and stationed at Carrollton.
From there, Johann took part in the Red River campaign and was engaged with loss at Sabine Cross Road on April 4, 1864. He re-enlisted during the winter and left on July 21 for furlough in Massachusetts, returning to Donaldsonville in November.
The regiment took part in the operations against Mobile, Alabama and occupied the city after the surrender. Johann remained on duty there until he mustered out on July 31, 1865.
Johann was naturalized in New Orleans on April 30, 1866, no doubt largely in thanks to his service to the country during the war.
While in New Orleans he met NOLA native Married Elenora Johanna Phillippi (1842-1906). They married on September 10, 1866 at St. Matthew’s Evangelical Church in Carrollton, Louisiana.
Johann, now known by his Anglicized name John, and his wife moved to Galveston, and raised a large family, which included Charles Louis “Carl Ludwig” (1868-1925), Elenora Johanna (1869-1962), Emma (1872-1958), Anna Elizabeth (1874-1945), Bertha (1876-1946), Frederick Godfred (1878-1946), Henry William (1881-1952), and Maude Louise (1883-1953).
He became an active member of the community, and was eventually elected a trustee of Knights of Honor’s Goethe Lodge No. 2976, one of two lodges of this fraternal beneficiary society in the city.
The building where he worked is now part of the historic Strand shopping district, on the second floor above Head to Footsies, The Admiralty and the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.
In 1900, the couple and four of their children (Bertha, Frederick, Henry and Maude) lived together at 1209 Avenue N, very close to what is now Stewart’s Beach.
On September 8, 1900 a hurricane which is still the nation’s worst natural disaster struck the city, smashing buildings and killing thousands of people. John was one of those lost in the tragedy. It was the day after his birthday.
Because of the debris, bodies were found for months, and even years, after the storm. With John missing, I can only imagine his family checking the listings of identified bodies found each day in the local newspaper…praying for an answer.
John’s body was eventually discovered and identified by his son Charles. He was buried on Oct. 20, 1900 in Galveston’s Lakeview Cemetery.
Johanna died November 10, 1906 at her home at 1202 Church Street at the age of 54. She is buried at Lakeview as well.
Oscar Farish was born on December 18, 1812, in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and emigrated to Texas in October, 1835 to pursue his profession of land surveyor. He joined Captain McIntyre’s Company of Col. Sidney Sherman’s Regiment, and participated in the Battle San Jacinto. He was one of the last surviving veterans.
In 1837 he was elected engrossing clerk of the First Congress of the Republic of Texas. Mr. Farish was elected to be the first Clerk of Galveston County in 1856 and was holding that office when he died May 25, 1884.
Farish and his wife rest in Galveston’s Old City Cemetery, one of
locations included in “Galveston’s Broadway Cemeteries,” releasing in July from Arcadia Publishing, and available for pre-orders on Amazon.
Mount Olivet Cemetery
Recently I was thrilled to be able to visit one of the famous cemeteries on my “visit one day” list: the Showman’s Rest section of Mount Olivet in Hugo, Oklahoma.
Hugo has been the winter home of traveling circuses since the 1930’s and the retirement place of many performers and others associated with the circus/carnival profession. It’s known as “Circus City, USA.” Hugo is also home to “The Endangered Ark Foundation,” the nation’s second largest herd of Asian elephants.
It’s fitting that many who have moved on to the big top in the sky find their final resting place in the local cemetery, in a special section bordered by elephant statues on granite pedestals.
The day I visited the cemetery it was raining quite hard, but I refused to be deterred. (Thank heaven for rain ponchos!) The water did affect some of the photos and the clarity of some lettering on stones. It also prevented me from gently cleaning some stones as I normally would, since I was concentrating more on protecting my camera from the rain.
Conditions aside, it was an exciting visit filled with imagery I had never seen on gravitons elsewhere. The statues and photos bring back fond memories of carnivals from childhood.
I’ll share some of my favorites with you in my next few blogs, and hope yo enjoy them as much as I did.
Jack B. Moore
1919 – 1969
One of the first headstones visible as you enter Showmen’s Rest is a three-dimensional replica of a circus tent. Moore was born in Marshall, Texas and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. dimensional replica of a circus tent.
After the war’s end he launched a small show conducted under a canvas tent. The Clyde Beatty motion picture show was enjoyed along with a trained chimp, wrestling bear, pony show, a singing and dancing number by his daughter Wanda, and Happy Hanks hillbilly Show. It must have been amazing to many of the small towns they visited.
As the years passed, the show evolved to include larger and more exciting acts. The name changed as well, to Banner Bros., Jack Moore’s Tex Carson Jamboree and eventually to the Carson & Barnes Circus.
By 1961 the show needed 20 trucks to move the show that included 5 elephants, a moderate sized menagerie, and a Big Top that was 100 ft. round with three 40 ft. middles.
“The Great Huberto”
1914 – 1991
He also performed with his wife as “Los Latinos”(which is engraved on the back of his grave marker) – first with Chatita (Chata) Escalante (1911-1985) then his second wife Maricela Sanchez Hernandez.
Thomas Edward Sink
If the Thomas Edward Sink I found in my research is the correct one, he had a bit of a troubled life in his earlier years. Regardless, he reinvented his life into a beloved figure who brought joy and laughter to crowds as Popcorn the Clown.
These are only a handful of the amazing markers in this cemetery. I’m looking forward to sharing more with you in the days to come.
There are many facets to saving the history held within cemeteries; not all of them chiseled in stone.
During a cemetery workday when volunteers were busily cleaning gravestones and picking up trash, I went into one of the old buildings on site to ask a question of one of the men in charge. A new friend greeted me with a handful of crumbling papers and a horrified look on his face. “Look at this! They’re everywhere.”
Sure enough, the original sexton records for the cemetery were scattered across the floor and heaped in a corner. Unfortunately, they had obviously been there through hurricane flood waters, insect and rodent feeding frenzies, and currently had paint cans and scrap wood laying on them. The disintegrating bits of paper had seen better days.
Most of the scraps were smaller than a fingernail with only a letter or two visible. I carefully lifted the partial and mostly full pages and stacked them for removal. The heartbreaking realization was that only a few could be retrieved. And yes, even those that I picked up were extremely fragile, and covered in feces. But they HAD to be saved!
It will take quite a while, even with the little stack rescued, to gently separate and scan the papers, transcribe the information, and store the originals in an archival manner.
The exciting thing that I have noticed about the few that I have looked closely at, is that there seems to be no other record of the burial.
The set of cemeteries these records are from is quite unique. I am very familiar with them because I am currently writing a book about them called “Galveston’s Broadway Cemeteries” for Arcadia Press. It is due out in July 2015, so I am still finalizing research.
Appearing as one large, two-city-block cemetery, it is actually seven distinct cemetery that have been through a number of grade raisings…therefore losing the location many of the burials.
Using a variety of records, including transcriptions over the years, old photos, plot maps from different sextons and additional “treasures” of information like these slips of paper, we can more fully understand the history of our cemeteries and reconstruct who is at rest there.
PLEASE NOTE: I AM WORKING WITH THE CITY, WHO OWNS THE CEMETERY, TO RESTORE RECORDS. If you are not working directly with the owner of the cemetery, please notify the correct authorities of your discovery for permission to remove (even temporarily) any paperwork from a cemetery.
So while transcribing the grave markers in graveyards and cemeteries is vital to saving there history, there are other sources I hope you’ll consider including in your research…and OF COURSE share the results with others!
Let me know what surprises you have found in cemetery research!