Stone emojis? Well, kind of! These faces silently tell the story of an unrequited love in Ellis County long ago.
The courthouse itself is exquisite. This 1897 Romanesque Revival stunner was designed by architect J. Riely Gordon. If you’re a fan of Texas courthouses, you’ve heard his name before, since he designed 18 of them! But this one is undisputedly his masterpiece.
I promise to tell you more about this beauty another time, but for now we’re just going to talk about those faces! If you feel as if someone is watching you as your walk around the grounds of the courthouse square, you’re probably right.
The story goes that sculptor Harry Herley arrived in Waxahachie in 1895 to work on carvings for the courthouse project during it’s construction. The itinerant English artist moved into Mama Frame’s boarding house, where he met and fell in love with her beautiful 16-year-old daughter Mabel.
As his work continued on the courthouse, Harry’s love for Mabel grew, and he carved her angelic countenance to top the exterior columns of the courthouse.
But, as fate would have it, the love was unrequited and Mabel discouraged his constant attentions. As it became apparent to Harry that his love wasn’t returned, his disappointment slowly turned into bitterness, and the faces he carved to represent Mabel progressed from beautiful to grotesque and twisted. A lasting revenge for his broken heart.
The townspeople weren’t too happy about the unattractive faces on the courthouse they had spend so much money to build, and one story relates that the cattlemen and farmers even tarred and feathered poor ol’ Harry and ran him out of town on a rail.
It’s a sad, but terrific tale ripe for retelling through the generations.
Spoiler alert: If you’re charmed by the legend and would prefer
to leave it at that . . .you might want to stop reading this now.
Mabel’s mother Hattie, although a widow, didn’t seem to be running a boarding house according to the federal census. Even if she had been, the chances are that Herley never met the Frame family.
The biggest obstacle to this story were the characters were when it was supposedly taking place.
The stone sculptures for the courthouse were sub-contracted to the Dallas firm of German stonemason Theodore Beilharz. Hervey, who worked for the company at the time, is created with carving the exquisite red sandstone capitals perched atop the polished pink granite columns, but he also supervised other carvers who worked on the project.
The carvings would have been created in the Beilharz’s Pacific and Hawkins Stoneyard in Dallas and shipped to Waxahachie by rail as finished pieces, ready to mount in place.
So…if Hervey wasn’t actually in Waxahachie, he certainly wasn’t occupied falling in love with one of its residents.
There’s no record of Hervey coming to town until the summer of 1896, a year after his work for the courthouse was completed, to work on another stone carving assignment for a prominent businessman.
It was on this trip that he met local girl Minnie Hodges, whom he married in August of that year.
Many of Reilly’s courthouses feature faces and gargoyles, appropriate for the Romanesque style, and its likely that the design or at least the theme for the faces was under his direction. Unfortunately no records show what the intended meaning of the progression was meant to represent…which opens them up to storytelling.
It’s still a good story, and I bet if we checked back in a hundred years..it will still be told.
Most local lore has elements of truth woven into it. Does knowing the true stories “ruin it” for you, or make it more interesting?
And what’s a Texas legend without a song to go along with it? To listen to Jeremiah Richey’s ditty about the Eliis County Courthouse faces, click here.
This time of year, Texas travel can take on a spookier theme when tourists seek out the most haunted hotels in their area.
Our state has no shortage of hotels with stories of resident spirits and unnatural occurrences. Some are based in fact. Some are more of a “reach.” If you want to test your nerves by staying at a property that might be home to unearthly beings, here are a few to try:
The Hotel Galvez, Galveston
The Driskill Hotel, Austin
Sheraton Gunter Hotel, San Antonio
Menger Hotel, San Antonio
Nutt House, Granbury
The Excelsior Hotel, Jefferson
Jefferson Hotel, Jefferson
Baker Hotel, Mineral Wells
The Ott Hotel, Liberty
Renaissance Casa de las Palmas, McAllen
Gage Hotel, Marathon
Le Meridien Stoneleigh, Dallas
Queen Isabel Inn, Port Isabel
Of course, this list is far from complete, but it’s a good place to start…or a lucky 13 places.
If you’re planning to brave a potentially haunted hotel in hope of having your own other-worldly experience you may make your reservations pretty far ahead of your stay.
Read the stories about the resident spirit(s) and experiences of others. If there is a particular room in the hotel that is purported to be the center of the activity and you want to stay in it (like room 501 at The Hotel Galvez), plan to book your room MONTHS in advance. These rooms are incredibly popular! If you’re thinking about staying there in October, you may need to book even further out.
Don’t trust your own senses, but don’t have expensive “ghost hunting” electronics? No problem. Just download one of the many apps available that claim to detect the presence of spirits…but if the information they give you creeps you out, don’t blame me!
A few to check out:
Ghost Radar: Classic by Spud Pickles
Ghost Communicator by Andrew Gronek
Ghost Detector Free by Purple Penguin.com
Ghost Locator by Sebastien Mougey
Ghost Observer by AKEV
Ghost Recorder by MEDL Mobile, Inc.
Ghost O Meter by Adrian 3
But remember, if all of this ghostly talk isn’t your style, there’s no shame in checking into a brand new hotel, cuing up “Hocus Pocus” on pay-per-view and digging into some Halloween candy instead!
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.