Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Maple Hill Cemetery Stroll

This may be the longest post ever by Nat…

The Maple Hill Cemetery Stroll takes place once a year – typically the first Sunday in May. This past May, the stroll was rained out, which made me so very sad because I had really been looking forward to going. A few months ago, Erika and I went on a downtown walking tour (can you tell I like learning about the history of my city?) and I overheard that the cemetery stroll had been rescheduled for October 18! I was so overjoyed I thought I was going to cry! Not only had they rescheduled it, but they had rescheduled it for the fall of the year – the weather would be cool! How wonderful is that?

Maple Hill is one of the oldest cemeteries in the state of Alabama. It was founded in 1822 on just two acres, but now encompasses nearly 100 acres. It is a very fascinating and beautiful place. I would venture to say that it is one of the prettiest cemeteries I have ever come across. Maple Hill is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and is the final resting place of five Alabama governors, five United States Senators, 10 members of the United States Congress, six Confederate leaders, and many other notable figures. If you are interested in reading about some of the people buried in Maple Hill and a little more on the history of the place, check out my trusted source, Wikipedia. Here’s the link:,_Alabama)

You may be asking what exactly a cemetery stroll is, and that’s why Nat is here, people! The cemetery stroll is where history comes alive! Costumed people dress up in period clothing and share the stories of the person they are portraying. Some of them are famous and some of them are not, but they all have an interesting story to tell. It’s fun to hear what these people did while they were alive and also to find out how they died. Have you ever looked at a tombstone of someone you didn’t know and wondered what they might have been like or how they died? Well, at the cemetery stroll, you can find out. There are about 65 or so people that dress in character and tell about the life of the person they are portraying. There is also usually a band or two playing period music to “liven the mood.” Pun intended.

The cemetery stroll is definitely an interesting and worthwhile adventure. The best part is that admission is free. Donations are welcome, of course, and any money received goes towards restoring old headstones and monuments in the cemetery, which is a great cause – that way many more generations can enjoy the beauty and history of the Maple Hill Cemetery.

The cemetery stroll is organized and conducted by the Huntsville Pilgrimage Association. For more information, check out their site at:

This is Private Turner Mayes (1893-1918) – he was a member of the Rainbow Division, and was killed in France during World War I. His body was originally buried in France and eventually brought to Maple Hill. The Army wrote his mother (who had died six days before Private Mayes) and asked her if she wanted his body brought back to Huntsville. It was his sister who eventually wrote back and as a result he is now buried at Maple Hill.

This is Nora Davis (1861-1936), she was a novelist, best known for her book, The Northerner, a parody of Virginia Clay Clopton (who is also buried at Maple Hill).

This is Luke Matthews (1796-1875), played by my friend Mark Sharp! I didn’t even know Mark was playing a character this year so I was pleasantly surprised when I walked up to this grave. Luke Matthews was an early settler who owned Cotton Hill and Oakdale Plantations.

This lady is Virginia A. Betts (1836-1892) she is the grandmother of JAG Edward C. Betts who organized the Nuremburg War Trails in World War II (which are a very long and interesting read by the way).

This is Clement Claiborne Clay (1817-1882) and his wife, Virginia Clay Clopton (1823-1915). Mr. Clay was a United States and a Confederate States Senator, and was charged and imprisoned with complicity in the assassination of President Lincoln. Mrs. Clay Clopton was instrumental in Mr. Clay’s release from prison. While her husband was a U.S. Senator, she enjoyed attending social functions in Washington, D.C. She remarried after her husband’s passing, and spent the last years of her life on their plantation in Gurley, AL, and also in Huntsville. You can find a good amount of information on the internet about these two.

This is Maria Howard Weeden (1847-1905), you may know her as Howard Weeden. She was a poet and an artist. Her house still stands in downtown Huntsville. It supposedly has ghosts in it (see the ghost walk post). Her house was occupied by Union soldiers during the War of Northern Aggression. She and her mother and sister were forced out of their home and had to live in the slave quarters. They eventually escaped and went to live with another of her sisters and returned home to Huntsville after the end of the war. Ms. Weeden painted beautiful pictures of the slaves that worked around her home in Huntsville and also wrote poems and stories about them.

These are some of the portraits Howard Weeden drew.

She drew this picture of a slave. So beautiful.

Here is LeRoy Pope (1764-1845) and John Williams Walker (1783-1823). LeRoy Pope is known as the “Father of Huntsville” – and he is not ashamed to remind of you that. He was a lawyer, planter, and wealthy land owner. He was also a swindler and conniving business man. He donated the original two acres of Maple Hill for the city to start a cemetery. There are a lot of ghosts on his property – some of slaves and one of a lady. Mr. Walker was a son-in-law of LeRoy Pope. He was a lawyer and U.S. Congressman and he also was president of the convention that framed the Alabama constitution in 1819. Walker County, Alabama is named for him.

Here is Tallulah Bankhead. She is visiting the grave of her mother, Adelaide Bankhead (1880-1902), who died shortly after giving birth to Tallulah, who was born in Huntsville. Tallulah, as I’m sure you know, was a famous actress, and is Huntsville’s most famous citizen.

Dr. William H. Burritt (1869-1955) left his home to the city of Huntsville, and is now known as the Burritt Museum. He has a mausoleum in Maple Hill which has room fro seven bodies. At the time of his death, the city believed there to be only two bodies in the mausoleum. The arrangement Dr. Burritt made with the city was that he would donate his home to the city as long as the city allowed his ashes to be put in an urn atop the archway leading up to his house. After his death, the city decided he would go in the mausoleum that he had constructed since there were still five spots available. However, when they opened the door, there were seven bodies inside, and Dr. Burritt’s ashes were set on the floor. No one knows who the other five bodies belong to!

I don’t remember who this guy was. This was towards the end of the day and I just took his picture because he looked funny in that uniform.

Here’s Lt. Albert Russel, who was played by Chase Sharp, son of my friend Mark. Lt. Russel died of typhoid fever in Barancas, Florida during the Civil War.

Here's Mollie Teal (1852-1899), she was Huntsville's Madame. Men could pay $2.00 for a service of their choice, or $10.00 to stay all night! Such a bargain! She donated her establishment to be used as a hopital by the City of Huntsville.

Well, that’s it for the photo recap. We saw a few other graves, but since this is the longest post of all time, I’ll wrap things up there. Next year, if you have time, you should visit cemetery stroll. It is such a fun and interesting day!


Sara said...

Hey, I know four of those people! The people portraying the Clopton's are parents to one of Blaine school friends. She actually introduced herself to me at the grocery store the other day and I recognized her voice from the Cemetery stroll. We went to this the year before last, I believe. The big boys really enjoyed it and the little one made so much noise while people were talking that they were probably ready to throw us out. We talked about going again but never find out about it in time. And wasn't that nice of Mollie Teal, seeing how they all probably needed to be treated for STD's? hahaha!

Candy said...

I wanted to go to this! I hated that it was on a Sunday and a Sunday that Andrew worked. I hope to go next year. How do you become an actor in this? Andrew was wanting to know how Mark and Chase got involved.

Naomi said...

What a lovely event! I'm a big fan or re-enactments and I'm quite fascinated by headstones and monuments, and I'm sure beautiful ones were in abundance here. Also, I know that Legacy Headstones has been in business since the 1920s and they're a great company with quite a history- you would probably like to check them out!