By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
This is the sixth in a summer series of interesting places to visit in Northeast Mississippi.
By Patsy R. Brumfield
History dwells in Northeast Mississippi’s myriad of cemeteries.
From Civil War generals and Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth, allegedly, to the Falkner/Faulkner clan, stories are as numerous as the gravemarkers.
Opera and blues singers, politicians and athletic greats also abound in the region’s burial places.
But finding centralized information about prominent, or at least interesting, resting places takes a bit of time for the average tourist.
Places to start include Internet searches on Google.com or www.mississippihills.org and inquiries to local visitors’ bureaus or chambers of commerce by phone or online.
Famed black soprano Ruby Elzy – born Feb. 20, 1908, died June 26, 1943 – is buried in Pontotoc City Cemetery.
A star on Broadway and in films, she created the role of Serena at the Sept. 30, 1935, world premiere of George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.” Reared in northern Mississippi under poor conditions, she learned spirituals at a young age and first sang in public at her church when she was 4.
Just outside Guntown, a private family cemetery holds a marker raising questions about whether President Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, may be buried there, as local lore suggests.
As tourists wind their way through the region’s prominent Civil War skirmish and battlefield sites, a must-visit is Corinth’s National Cemetery – with gravesites of 1,793 known and 3,895 unknown Civil War soldiers. Interments represent 273 regiments from 15 states.
Other prominent Civil War burials include multiple generals in Holly Springs’ Hill Crest Cemetery, Brig. Gen. Claudius W. Sears in Oxford, Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s brother Jeffrey in the Old Aberdeen and Odd Fellows Rest Cemetery and Iuka’s Shady Grove Cemetery mass burial site of 263 Confederate soldiers killed in the Battle of Iuka.
Okolona lays claim to what it calls the region’s “largest Confederate Cemetery” near downtown just off Highway 45.
Native American burial sites and ceremonial mounds have been discovered throughout the region.
Nobel laureate William Faulkner’s family adds its colorful lives and deaths to the region’s lore, too.
The “Old Colonel,” William Clark Falkner, his great-grandfather, killed two men, then was shot and killed on the streets of Ripley. He is buried in Ripley Cemetery.
Oxford/St. Peter’s Cemetery is the final resting place for the Nobel Prize winner, his parents, siblings and his grandparents.
Numerous sports greats also are buried throughout the region, including Ole Miss’ famed Coach John H. Vaught and Poole brothers Buster and Ray, all in Oxford/St. Peter’s Cemetery, pro football player Ken H. Kirk and MLB infielder Andrew Jackson “Randy” Reese, both in Tupelo’s Glenwood Cemetery, and MLB pitcher Guy Bush – who gave up Babe Ruth’s final two homers – buried in Shannon Cemetery.
Historically Marked Cemeteries
ABERDEEN – Odd Fellows Cemetery notable, Brig. Gen. John Gregg. Old Aberdeen Cemetery established in 1836.
CORINTH – Corinth Cemetery, earliest evidence of Corinth’s settlement
and oldest cemetery in city with first burial dated 1842 Corinth National Cemetery of Civil War, other military dead. Forrest Hill Cemetery predates the Civil War. The cemetery, still in use, is the resting place of many prominent black families of the Corinth area including the city’s only black mayor, E.S. Bishop.
CALHOUN COUNTY – Near Paris, Memorial Garden Cemetery for freed blacks and descendants, members of the Hawkins, Pearson,
Reese, Steen and Shipp families buried here.
HOLLY SPRINGS – Hill Crest Cemetery, burial site of 13 Confederate
generals including Maj. Gen. Edward Cary Walthall, Brig. Gen. Winfield
Scott Featherston, Brig. Gen. Samuel Benton, Brig. Gen. Daniel
and Chevilette Govan. It’s also the burial site of heroes and heroines
of the 1878 yellow fever epidemic and Hiram Revels, the first African-American elected to the U.S. Senate.
INDIAN BURIAL MOUNDS – Three markers two miles south of West
Point on Highway 45-Alternate. Natchez Trace also marks others.
OKOLONA – Confederate Cemetery, burial site after the Battle of Shiloh in 1862.
OXFORD/ST. PETER’S CEMETERY – Notables: L.Q.C. Lamar, statesman; A.B. Longstreet, author, educator; William Delay, veteran of
three wars; Sarah Isom, first southern university faculty woman; Nobel laureate William Faulkner and others.
STARKVILLE – Oddfellows Cemetery, one of the oldest black
cemeteries in Mississippi. Here are buried many who made significant
contributions to the growth of Mississippi and the advancement of the black race. Restoration began in 1975.
PONTOTOC COUNTY – South of Toccopola School, Betty Allen, as
Chickasaw wife of John L. Allen, won a famous lawsuit over title to a slave held under Indian law. As a result, in 1839 the state led the English speaking world in legislation protecting spousal property. Pontotoc Cemetery’s earliest known burial was in 1836, including soldiers of all wars since 1812, including 123 Confederate dead.
RIPLEY CEMETERY – William Clark Falkner moved to Ripley in 1842.
A lawyer, soldier and president of the Ripley Railroad Co., Falkner wrote several books, including The White Rose of Memphis. He is believed to have been the inspiration for his greatgrandson William Faulkner’s novel “Sartoris.”
TUPELO – Glenwood Cemetery includes grave of Pvt. John Allen, prominent lawyer and U.S. congressman, among others.