Elmwood Cemetery

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Friendship can last into the afterlife.

A forbidden love led to mental breakdown, a murder
and far-reaching consequences for all involved.

It is sometimes hard for spirits to give up the work
they so enjoyed while alive, so they continue to hang around and watch the living.

ghosts

DESCRIPTION

Tom and I visited Elmwood Cemetery on our March 2022 road trip to get photos for our website, hauntedhouses.com.

To enter, we crossed over the 1903 bridge that had a vintage turn-of-the-century elaborate iron work sign in a beautiful decored arch above the entrance, stating “Elmwood Cemetery.” The sides of the bridge were built to last, made of cement four feet thick, with square designs on both sides of the bridge, which takes the visitor over the creek running below it into a beautiful rural Victorian cemetery, meant to uplift the living, and bring peace to the mourning and hopefully to the dead that rest here.

Directly on the right is the beautiful Victorian Late Gothic Revival chapel that has been kept in great shape, and renovated in the inside while keeping its historic architecture outside. It is used for services and other events.

Also of note is the cemetery’s office, located in a Victorian Carpenter Gothic structure now called the cottage. It certainly does look like a cottage, with its steep roof, semi-fancy railing and posts on its covered from porch and a parlor built on the side.

Both the entrance bridge and the cottage were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, an honor that is well earned.

The impressive cemetery grounds are like an English garden, with walkways, flower beds, and many beautiful trees. The Elmwood Cemetery is also considered to be an official bird sanctuary, and is the home to the Carlisle S. Page Arboretum. It also has eight hundred trees representing sixty-four species.

This Tennessee Department of Forestry Level 3 Arboretum also contains three formal gardens: the McCallum Garden, the Miller Garden, and the Butterfly Garden. No wonder the birds are fond of this place, as well as the people of Memphis.

Over 75,000 remains of people are buried here amongst the trees and beauty, a wonderful place to find peace and serenity while visiting a loved one’s grave. There are three mass graves in this cemetery: for Confederate soldiers far from home, for slaves who must have died in an epidemic, and for the victims of Yellow Fever. While no names are listed, each mass grave is clearly marked with a monument that honors the people buried at each spot.

The cemetery schedules regular walking tours of its huge grounds every Tuesday and Thursday starting April 7th through October. Walking tours are $10 for adults, seniors and students.

HISTORY

By 1852, the need for a new cemetery outside the city of Memphis became a high priority because the existing cemeteries in town were over-crowded and a huge road block to needed expansion for various businesses. Money to buy forty acres located two miles away from Memphis was paid for by just fifty wealthy businessmen, who each contributed five hundred dollars for one share in the proposed cemetery, which was a boatload of money for this era.

Names were put in a hat, and Elmwood was picked. As was the fashion of the day, the design of the cemetery was heavily influenced by the Rural Cemetery Movement, with a garden-like setting with flowers, “sweeping vistas, shady knolls, large stands of ancient trees, and magnificent monuments.”(Elmwood Cemetery.com). This beautiful park had graves for all the remains of people from every economic group in Memphis.

You will find buried here the well-to-do, the well-known people, Yellow Fever epidemic victims, soldiers from the from the American Revolution up to the Vietnam War, ordinary folks as well as infamous people as well. “You can find the graves of war veterans, prominent political leaders, martyrs, madams, spies, outlaws and murderers.” (Excerpt From: Laura Cunningham’s book, Haunted Memphis).

A streetcar line was built out to the cemetery so everyone could come and visit the graves of their loved ones.

When the cemetery park opened, the Victorian Gothic cottage building described above was the home and office of the cemetery’s superintendent, by the name of Samuel Phillips, who was on call 24/7.

After the Civil War, forty more acres were added doubling the size of the cemetery. In the 1870s, the original corporation founded by the original fifty investors was dissolved and it became a new non-profit organization.

By 1897, the cottage was transformed into the cemetery’s business office, and was no longer the home of the cemetery superintendent. It was improved in 1903, with the addition of a walk-in vault for cemetery records and a small parlor to be a place to meet with people preparing to bury their loved ones.

It has long been a beloved place. Its non-profit owners have kept it in great shape, raising funds through successful fundraising, and getting income for the grave plots. They have kept it true to its beginning as a garden, and rural cemetery of beauty and peace. On March 20th, 2002, the grounds of Elmwood Cemetery were listed on the National Register of Historic Places as project number #02000233.

 

Here is some of the background information of the people who are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

David Park Haden, Henry A. Montgomery and Archibald Wright and Napoleon Hill.

These four gentlemen were friends for years and enjoyed fellowship together every morning at the corner of Madison Avenue and Main Street in Memphis, while discussing politics and business. As a group they were well known by all in Memphis. In 1880, the painter C.P. Stewart did an oil portrait depicting these four gents on this very corner. They must have thought it pretty funny that someone would take the time and trouble to capture their special time together in this way.

The finished work was given to Henry Montgomery to hang on the wall, and was passed down after that by family members. His granddaughter, Geraldine Montgomery Jones, gave it to The Memphis Chapter of Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities, who hung it in the Woodward-Fontaine House.

All four were accomplished men in their own right. Napoleon Hill was a very successful businessman who was involved with the cotton industry, the grocery business, the selling of real estate, and the banking field.

David Park Hadden was a CPA who was the president of the Taxing District, serving from 1882-1890. He also was an inventor who came up with a gambling cup, Hadden’s Horn used to shake the dice. It insured that no cheating took place.

Archibald Wright was an accomplished Memphis law attorney who wound up being appointed to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Henry A. Montegomery started and owned seven cotton compresses in Memphis, and started the Montgomery Race track for trotting thoroughbreds. Henry had terrible stage fright when called to do public speaking, though he always got through it. His last public speech was cut short because he had a heart attack and died on the podium. His grave is marked by a statue of him giving a speech with his hands illustrating his words, along with a bale of cotton by his feet.

The four friends each bought a family plot in the cemetery on a flat, square plain on top of the tallest hill called Lenow Circle, each taking one of the four corner lots of this burial ground.

 

The Saga of Alice Jessie Mitchell and Frederica Ward

Alice Jesse Mitchell was the fourth child of George and Isabella Mitchell, who had hopes and dreams for Alice to grow up, have a family and apply herself in good works. However, what you dream for your children can go sideways. Alice was attracted to other women, not men. She found the love of her life, Frederica Ward, who loved her back.

Frederica Ward was the youngest child of Cornelia and Thomas Ward. Cornelia died in 1882, when Frederica was only seven, so her sister Josephine became like a mother to her, as the two oldest siblings were already up and out.

Alice and Frederica wrote letters to each other, were affectionate in public, which was accepted in 1892 society, as this was common among a lot of heterosexual women.

They had to hide their romantic love for each other from family and friends. In 1892, this couple decided to make a bold move, planning to elope to St. Louis. Alice would dress as a man and then they could be married and live freely as a couple. This plan was stopped cold when Frederica’s sister Josephine found the letters. She forced Frederica to give Alice back the ring and to break up the relationship.

Alice became undone, and planned a rash act that would bring pain to her family, to the family of Frederica, and lead to her own early death. When Alice came to say goodbye to Frederica on the steamboat landing, she cut Frederica’s throat, using her father’s shaving razor in front of several people, including sister Josephine.

The jury at Alice’s trial heard directly from Alice who testified, “I resolved to kill Freda because I loved her so much that I wanted her to die loving me, and when she did die I know she loved me better than any other human being on earth.” (Haunted Memphis, by Laura Cunningham).

Not only the jury but court on-lookers listened to reading of the love letters, and heard from other witnesses testifying about the relationship between Alice and Frederica. The jury took just twenty minutes to declare that Alice was insane. She was packed off to an insane asylum in Bolivar, TN, where she died six years later, a tormented soul.

The stress and shame that Alice’s father George suffered led to his death just four years later. Her mother Isabella weathered this disaster better and lived into her eighties; without the love of her life, George, by her side. None of Alice’s siblings married, perhaps because they had, through not fault of their own, became siblings of a crazy person and were deemed socially unacceptable for marriage. Alice’s brother had a fulfilling career as a doctor and enjoyed social clubs like duck hunting. Her sisters led productive lives and both lived to be in their 80s.

Frederica Ward’s parents and family were ashamed and mortified when the truth about the relationship came out in court. Her sisters married, continued with their lives and moved far away. Her brother stayed in town, married and had two children.

Alice Mitchell’s grave can be found in the Mitchell family plot beside her father, along with the graves of the rest of her family. Each grave has a gravestone, telling when they were born and when they died.

The Ward family plot is a communal plot with no headstones except Frederica’s grave. This must have been a choice made when they bought the family plot, because mother Cornelia was the first to die and she didn’t have a grave stone. A tree was planted in Frederica’s memory by one of the descendants of her siblings near her grave.

HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS

People with close ties of fellowship, who have enjoyed being with each other in life, sometimes continue to do so as spirits.

Brumder Mansion, WI (The spirits who were part of the 1923-1932 speakeasy crew in the basement of Brumder Mansion, still enjoy being together there).

East Wind Inn, MA (While alive, Masons who used to meet on the first floor of the East Wind Inn play cards. Apparently, they still do as spirits).

General Wayne Inn, PA (Spirits of Hessian soldiers have a blast here, as well as former spectral employees of this historic inn, as this was their favorite watering hole).

Elmwood Cemetery, TN (Four prominent male spirits who enjoyed a special fellowship every day, still meet together in their afterlife, dressed in their finest clothes, all in white).

 

Spirits can be attached to their grave stones and memorials for a variety of reasons, especially if their lives didn’t end well, and/or they suffered from a loss that they couldn’t get over. Gravestones can give comfort to the spirits.

Chapel of the Cross, MS (A young woman in love, about to be married suffered great sorrow and devastation when her beloved was killed in a duel. Although she eventually recovered and married another man. When she died, her spirit continued to mourn her loss by weeping on the young man’s gravesite. These two spirits have been seen sitting together on the branch of a tree in their graveyard).

Grapevine Farm, NY (The spirit of Mr. David Hiltz, who died soon after building this forever farmhouse, was encouraged to come inside when his gravestone was moved inside and placed in the basement when a former resident wanted to mow the grass and forgot to bring it back out).

Syracuse Oakwood Cemetery, NY (Apparently the oldest part of the cemetery, Dedication Valley, has restless spectral residents who visit their remains. Visiting their family tomb gives them comfort as they try to find peace for their restlessness).

Elmwood Cemetery, TN (The spirit of Alice Mitchell lingers near her gravestone where she has a clear view of Frederica’s headstone, and may feel some peace being among family headstones).

 

People who kill themselves find that they still suffer the emotional pain they had in this world.

Hassayampa Inn, AZ (A bride who was abandoned by her new husband at the couples’ honeymoon hotel, hung herself. She didn’t find peace from her heartbreak, still waits for him to return, and is ashamed of what she did).

Hotel Adolphus, TX (A bride who was stood up at the altar at this fine hotel, hung herself from the bannister in the hotel. She still mourns and is very lonely for people her age, and has been known to crash private gatherings).

Edgewood Plantation House Bed and Breakfast, VA (Lizzie Rowland suffered terribly in the loss of her beloved in the Civil War. She stopped eating and starved herself to death. She still pines away for her lost love).

Elmwood Cemetery, TN (Alice Mitchell wound up drowning herself in the hospital’s water cistern to try to escape her continuing emotional pain. Her restless spirit is still in mourning for the loss of Frederica).

 

Spectral family members sometimes visit or stay with their spectral family members stuck in this world, to comfort them and to even try to get these restless ones to leave with them to pass over to the spirit world.

Brumder Mansion, WI (The spirit of Dr. Henry, who was killed suddenly in a car crash in the late 1930s with his nine-year old son, Adam, refused to move on until he was finally persuaded to leave after many years by the spirit of his wife, Lisa, who visited him throughout the years as he stayed in his special room).

The Whaley House, CA (The spirits of Mr. and Mrs. Whaley stay in their forever home trying to comfort their daughter Violet, who killed herself after she discovered what a bum she had married when he deserted her. He turned out to have ulterior motives).

Old Allen House, Arkansas (The spectral members of the Allen family keep their distraught daughter LaDell company. After one too many failed relationships, LaDell poisoned herself. Her father visits, sometimes trying to convince her join him and her mother in the spirit world).

Elmwood Cemetery, TN (Spectral friends and family of the spirit Alice Mitchell may visit her to comfort her and try to get her to go to the other side with them. Though Alice’s murderous behavior hurt her family members during their own lives, they may have been able to forgive her as she was buried in the family plot which included a grave stone with her name on it).

 

Spirits can be attached to places of work that they loved while they were alive.

Brewery Arts Center, NV (This old Mason building that is now an art center has a spectral employee who while alive was a maintenance officer for the former Mason organization. He continues to do his job for the art center).

Crystal Palace in Tombstone, AZ (The spirit of Virgil Earp is still an involved lawman keeping an eye on problem people in this tavern and taking action when necessary by laying down the law firmly).

Cleveland Grays Armory Museum, OH (The caretaker had a heart attack in the middle of the drill auditorium, and is still working there today as a spectral employee).

Elmwood Cemetery, TN (The spirit of a former cemetery superintendent, a man who loved his job, keeps the cemetery staff company in the Cottage cemetery office, which was both his home and his office. This male spirit may be Samuel Phillips, or another cemetery superintendent who worked here).

 

MANIFESTATIONS

The Male Spirit of the Cottage

This cemetery office has a friendly spirit that lets the staff know that he is here.

One staff member was the only one working there one evening, catching up on paperwork.

She heard a loud whistle right outside the cottage’s front door.

Worried that someone living was just outside, she peeked and saw no one there.

More Experiences in the Cottage

Something was experienced by the living to let them know this spirit was a friendly male.

This male spirit is fascinated with the plumbing. For example, he likes to turn the water faucet located in the back of the cottage on and off. Perhaps when he was working and living here, he had to use a pump to get his water in his every day life.

People may feel an unseen presence keeping them company as they go about their business.

They may hear a man’s footsteps walking around the cottage.

They may hear a friendly disembodied voice, saying “Good Morning,” or “Good Evening,” or just a “Hello there!”

Spectral Fellowship

Four men who had a deep friendship amongst their group, continue to meet in style as spirits.

The living have seen the spirits of David Haden, Henry A. Montgomery, Archibald Wright and Napoleon Hill wearing white dress clothes, including top hats and tails.

The legend says that around midnight, these four spirits like to stand on Lenow Circle’s flat square area near their graves.

They delight in having their discussions and fellowship in this spot that they so enjoyed while alive.

One caretaker who was checking the cemetery grounds, saw these spirits. As he walked toward them, they merely turned and glided down the hill to another location.

Still a Troubled Soul

People have seen unexplained spirit lights hovering around Alice Mitchell’s gravestone.

Disembodied moans of mourning coming from a female are plainly heard by living witnesses.

A mist covers the headstone in pictures taken, making the resulting photo blurry.

Help Offered?

Orbs and flashes of light can be seen hovering around Alice’s headstone.

Perhaps the spirit of Frederica has forgiven Alice and they are together again. Perhaps not.

Perhaps spectral members of Alice’s family are trying to comfort her and get her to go with them to the other side.

Frederica’s grave is very near to where Alice was buried, so it makes sense that the spirit of Alice is still near her own grave. She stills mourns her beloved, and finds some peace being physically near Frederica’s headstone.

PARANORMAL FINDINGS

Staff and visitors have had many personal experiences with the paranormal activity listed above.

Some photos have been taken of Alice’s gravestone with odd results.

While paranormal investigation groups are not allowed in to investigate, every year around Halloween, the cemetery has volunteers dress up like some of the folks who are buried here, and tell the story of the person they represent. They represent a variety of people, from outstanding citizens to folks who were infamous. Some of the people represented by the volunteers are also some of the spirits known to be in residence. I would love to come to such an event here.

 

STILL HAUNTED?

Most Probably so! While there is no hard evidence like EVPs (recorded spirit voices), so many people have witnessed the paranormal activity listed above that this cemetery most probably has resident spirits who are still restless and looking for peace.

 

LOCATION

524 South Dudley Street
Memphis, TN 38104

SOURCES INCLUDE

  • HAUNTED MEMPHIS, BY Laura Cunningham, Published by Haunted America, a division of The History Press, 2009
  • https://www.elmwoodcemetery.org/history
  • https://npgallery.nps.gov/AssetDetail/NRIS/78002632
  • https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/15533150/alice-jessie-mitchell
  • HAUNTED ELMWOOD CEMETERY. https://www.tripsavvy.com/ghost-legends-of-memphis-2321670
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSqERLYTMEg
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