Living in MOBILE

PARKS AND RECREATION


The Story of Magnolia Cemetery

Welcome to Magnolia Cemetery, Mobile’s third oldest municipal cemetery. The devastating yellow fever epidemics that filled Church Street Cemetery necessitated that a new city facility be opened immediately. Thus, in 1836, a small parcel of land, then lying outside the city limits, was acquired -- the first of a number of land acquisitions that now encompass Magnolia Cemetery’s more than 100 acres. Although it was established at the height of the “rural cemetery movement” marked by such notable expansion cemeteries as Mt. Auburn in Boston, Magnolia Cemetery is not truly of that type. Neither is it a “graveyard” in the traditional sense; rather, it is a unique and vast urban cemetery which evolved because of circumstance and need.

The oldest section of Magnolia Cemetery, the focus of this tour, is bounded by Ann, Virginia, Gayle, and Fry Streets. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. The rich architectural and artistic assets include important Victorian funerary art reflecting the eclecticism of the period, especially of the Neoclassical revival. Expressions of the 19th century Christian piety abound in the beautiful funerary sculpture. Among the approximately 100,000 individuals interred here are local, state, and national historic figures; rich and poor from many ethnic groups; and veterans of American military conflicts.

Magnolia has always been a place of change, as it continues to be today, with restoration underway and new burials still taking place. In 1987 the friends of Magnolia Cemetery officially contracted with the City of Mobile for the cemetery’s maintenance; a long-range plan for its perpetual care has begun.

Laid out in 36 squares in a grid pattern, Magnolia Cemetery is oriented east-west, a standard Western burial practice, a tradition so old that the exact meaning is not known. Magnolia offers considerable variety in its tomb sculpture, illustrating many once typical images or symbols associated with death and religion; for example, the broken column, indicating the end of a family line; obelisk, symbol for renewed life; Christian crosses and angels; hourglass, symbol of the rapid passage of time; flowers of various types.

These images are reflected in paintings and writings of this period. Much as 19th century architectural pattern books spread styles at the time, paintings and literature have functioned to disseminate appropriate symbolism associated with death and religious beliefs.

Where are the earliest burials at Magnolia? Although records are at present incomplete, it appears that most early burials are in the squares nearest to the cemetery office. Many of these burials may actually be reinterments from Church Street Cemetery. Colonel John Hinson’s burial site (9), dated 1821, is one such case where information is incomplete. The three-dimensional hand carved weeping willow, a symbol of mourning because they were planted in marshy old-world graveyards to draw up water, is dramatically presented on this traditional “bed board” marker. The Hinson family plot contains several other hand-carved markers which are signed by Jarvis Turner (note the “J.T.” in the lower right hand corner), a local stone carver of considerable repute who was active throughout Alabama in the early 19th century. Mr. Turner (5) is himself buried at Magnolia

It is especially unusual that at Magnolia there are numerous group association plots. These many have been common because fraternal and social organizations, predating burial insurance companies, looked after their members even in death. Symbols associated with a particular trade or organization mark various plots; for example, the Baymen’s Benevolent Association (1) monument’s sailing ship and cotton bale; the Woodmen of the World’s (25) various tree forms and timber tools; the Workingmen’s Timber and Cotton Benevolent Association's (23) full scale figure beside the cotton gin. Unique to Mobile are those organizations associated with the city’s Mardi Gras. The marker of Michael Krafft (3) depicts symbols of the Cowbellion de Rakin Mystic Society; he and George Huggins (10), also interred at Magnolia, founded that first mystic society in the 1830’s.

The cast iron industry, active in the 19th century Mobile, is represented in fences, markers, mausolea, and even in full scale sculpture. Two identical cast iron over brick mausolea recorded by the Historic American Buildings Survey are found in the cemetery and are thought to date from c. 1860. The Slatter mausoleum (4) is still complemented by its elaborate cast iron gate.

The Pomeroy family’s mausoleum (15), now lacking its fence and gate, displays the same classical detailing in stock panels that were available commercially from a Philadelphia firm. A “scarabaeus” shaped cast iron cover marks the grave of D’Ornellas infant (6). A tomb cover such as this was not uncommon in 19th century funerary art. Cast iron occurs at Magnolia in sculpture as in the realistic cast iron setter (8) in the Anderson plot, symbolizing watchfulness and fidelity. The origin of the cast iron statue of a woman (27) is unknown, although several local folk legends exist; one story tells of her looking to the south toward the grave of her husband buried in the National Cemetery; another tale relates that she summoned storms whenever attempts were made to repair her. She remains on of Magnolia’s mysteries.

The Rouse Monument (2), marked by a classically robed mourner placed beneath a low profiled gable supported at the four corners by columns, is one of the cemetery’s finest examples of funerary art. The concentration of outstanding examples of the more elaborate statuary lessons towards the cemetery’s eastern border since that section was opened later. The 20th century’s tendency to avoid the reality of death is reflected in these later burials which are, for the most part, marked with modest, uniform stones bearing simple inscriptions.

Confederate Rest (13) with its 1100 war dead is a major focus of Magnolia Cemetery. A full figure statue of a Confederate solider was completed by Matthew J. Lawler (c. 1871) as a prominent element in this section. After it was damaged by lightning the upper portion of the figure was reinstalled in the cemetery on a pedestal base (13) (A). Confederate rest is bounded by monuments to the Alabama Artillery (13) (B), the Mobile Cadets (13) (C), an obelisk commemorating the men who died on the Hunley (13)(D), and General Braxton Bragg (13) (E). General Bragg was a participant in the Chattanooga / Chickamauga conflict of the Civil War. He resided in Mobile for a time with his brother. Judge John Bragg , at the Bragg-Mitchell House at 1906 Spring Hill Ave.

The Obelisk marking the Robert Williamson family (12) presents an unusual combination of death symbols. The obelisk placed on a classically detailed base with egg and dart moulding which refers to birth and death is surmounted by an hourglass, symbol of fleeting time and mortality. The Smith family plot (11) includes an animal statue in the form of a lion. The lion (11) (A) was traditionally considered to be a guardian of the dead and was associated with the concept of resurrection. Throughout Magnolia plantings of various trees, shrubs, and flowers form an important element and an integral part of the recognition’s of one’s loved ones. For example, the cedar tree is an American variation of the ancient British practice of placing a yew at the grave site. Here the cedar tree (11) (B) offers protection to the Smith family. Note also the flowers marking Florence Smith’s 1865 marker (11) (C). Flowers were common symbols of the ephemeral nature of life, and various flowers were associated with Christian virtue. For example, the lily represents resurrection and purity.

Deeded to “Congregation of Israelites of Shara Shuhmayen” by the City of Mobile on June 22, 1841, the Jewish Cemetery (16) within Magnolia Cemetery, is marked primarily by simple bed-board shaped stones bearing Hebrew inscriptions.

Mausolea, like those of the Pomeroy and Slatter families, form an important element in the cemetery’s landscape. The Tardy mausoleum (7) is one of the very early brick, classically inspired mausolea constructed by local artisans. Contrast the later Owen Farley mausoleum (17) with its monumental and sever style reflected in its roughly textured blocks. The interior contains statues, cast iron lawn chairs, and even photographs of family members. The Caldwell mausoleum (19) is a striking example of a Gothic revival styles mausoleum. Note the interior angel, plucking the flower, taking it to heaven. A very different mausoleum is the Egyptian Revival styled one of the Wilson family (22). There is a beautiful blue bouquet in the stained glass rear wall.

Reminders of the infant death, so painfully common in the 19th and early 20th centuries, are a manifest in markers throughout the cemetery. One example is the LeBlanc memorial (20) to two sisters who died in infancy and whose maternal grandmother commissioned the statuary in their memory. These cherubic figures have their origin in ancient Greece, with Renaissance painting and sculpture providing early precedents. The life size seated angel marking Marie Rubie, daughter of J.J. and M.J. Crowley (18), is another memorial to a child. The beautiful figure is bowed in reflection and carries a bouquet of flowers. The inscription at the base reads, “So Dearly Loved. So Early Lost.”

Poignant epitaphs were a common element of markers. The epitaph to local writer Augusta Evans Wilson (14) refers to her literary accomplishments. “Dead, in ripe fullness of years and of fame. What has she left? High on a roll of fair Duty a name. Love, friends, devoted as few mortals claim. A nation bereft.”

The National Cemetery (21) includes a gatehouse constructed c. 1881 and a brick stable enlarged to accommodate rest rooms and storage. Interred in this cemetery are dead from various national conflicts. In addition, a number of Apache Indians held prisoner in the Mt. Vernon Arsenal and Cantonment between 1887 and 1894 who died during their confinement are interred here. Many were made members of Company I of the 12th infantry, a company formed by the U.S. Army in an effort to incorporate these Indian prisoners into the social mainstream. Chiefs were excluded from membership in this Company. Geronimo’s son, Chappo Geronimo (21) (A), is among those Indians buried here.

The Bellingrath-Morse monument (24), a classically inspired colonnade, is one of the cemetery’s tallest and most well-known monuments. The family founded Bellingrath Gardens.

Black burial sites are known to be situated throughout Magnolia. There is no evidence to suggest that these burials are concentrated in any single location, and since interment records do not include race, identification of Black Mobilians interred here is difficult to determine. Bettie Hunter’s marker (26) is one of several exceptions. She was a prosperous Mobile Citizen, and her home on St. Francis Street is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places

Study of Magnolia Cemetery provides much insight into Mobile’s 19th and early 20th century social history. The tombs and funerary sculpture erected in Magnolia reflect religious beliefs, the socio-economic conditions of the time, and attitudes about honoring the dead. The 19th century’s approach to death helped produce the size and quality of monuments present here. The picturesque and romantic attitudes toward death during that period meant elaborate monuments and unique funerary sculpture. These remain for us a guide to better understanding our forebears and ourselves.


Board of Trustees

Mr. Sumner G. Adams
Mrs. Charles Bancroft
Mr. John D. Baumhauer
Mrs. Rosamond M. Boykin
Mrs. Mark Bradley
Mr. Agee Broughton III
Mrs. George Carwie, Jr.
Mr. H. Stewart Cobb
Mr. Fred Crown
Mrs. Henry Fonde
Mrs. Alma Foster
Mrs. Autry D. Greer
Mr. Toxey Haas
Mrs. Greg Leatherbury
Mr. Stewart A. LeBlanc, Jr
Mr. Wade Lott
Dr. Frank McCloskey
Mr. Thomas McGehee
Mrs. Jack Miller
Mrs. John Morrissette
Mrs. Warren Norville
Mrs. Gary Oswalt
Dr. Samuel Richold
Mrs. Guy Rutledge, Jr.
Mr. David Sanders
Mr. Thomas Sharp III
Ms. Violetta Simpson
Mrs. H. C. Slaton
Mr. John Sledge
Mr. Selwin H. Turner III