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Historic Elmwood Cemetery is the oldest active cemetery in Memphis, Tennesseemarker. It was established in 1852 as one of the first rural garden cemeteries in the South.

Origins

Elmwood Cemetery was established as part of the Rural Cemetery Movement of the early to mid 1800s. A classic example of a garden cemetery, it is notable for its park-like setting, sweeping vistas, shady knolls, large stands of ancient trees, and magnificent monuments.

On 28 August 1852, fifty prominent Memphis citizens each contributed $500 for stock certificates in order to purchase of land for the cemetery; they envisioned that this land would be a park for the living as well as the dead, where family outings, picnics, and social gatherings could occur. It was meant to be a place where beautiful gardens were tended and individual monuments celebrated both life and death. The name for the place was chosen in a drawing: several proposed names were put into a hat and Elmwood was drawn out, with the stockholders stating they were "well pleased" with the selection. Ironically, they had to hurriedly order some elms trees from New York to place among the native oaks of Memphis, since there were no elms in the area. After the American Civil War, the property was expanded to for another $40,000. In the 1870s, the original corporation controlling the cemetery was dissolved and it became one of the oldest nonprofits in Tennessee. .

The first burial occurred on 15 July 1853, when Mrs. R.B. Berry was laid to rest. Since then, more than 75,000 people have been buried at Elmwood Cemetery, with space still remaining for about 15,000 more. The cemetery's gardens include the Carlisle S. Page Arboretum. Beneath the cemetery's ancient elms, oaks, and magnolias lie some of the city's most honored and revered dead; flowering dogwoods and crepe myrtles are interspersed with Memphis history, those famous and infamous, loved and feared. There are veterans of every American war, from the American Revolution up to the Vietnam War, and there are people from every walk of life and culture, including Mayors of Memphis, Governors of Tennessee, U.S. Senators, madams, blues singers, suffragists, martyrs, generals, civil rights leaders, holy men and women, outlaws and millionaires and, of course, perfectly ordinary citizens.

Civil War burials

More than 1,000 Confederate soldiers and veterans are buried in Confederate Soldiers Rest, located in the cemetery's Fowler Section. Many other Confederates are buried elsewhere in the cemetery. The first burial in Confederate Soldiers Rest was William (Thomas) Gallagher on June 17, 1861, and the last interment was John Frank Gunter on April 1, 1940. Among the Confederate generals buried there are James Patton Anderson, a former U.S. Congressman who commanded the Army of Tennessee in 1862, Colton Greene, and William Henry Carroll.

Also buried here is Thomas Battle Turley, CSA private and U.S. Senator from Tennesse.

Union soldiers also were buried at Elmwood in the 1860s, but almost all were removed in 1868 and reinterred in Memphis National Cemeterymarker. Two Union generals, William Jay Smith and Milton T. Williamson, remain at Elmwood.

Yellow Fever burials

There were several outbreaks of yellow fever in Memphismarker during the 1870s, culminating in the devastating 1878 epidemic, with over 5,000 fatalities in the city itself and 20,000 along the whole of the Mississippi River Valley. Some 2,500 of the Memphis victims are buried in four public lots at Elmwood; among them are doctors, ministers, nuns, and even prostitutes who died while tending to the sick.

Visiting Elmwood

Elmwood Cemetery is located at 824 South Dudley Street, south of Crump Boulevard. The cemetery grounds are open from 8:00am to 4:30pm CST, seven days a week, including holidays. The cemetery office is open Monday through Friday from 8:00am to 4:30pm CST, Saturday from 8:00am to 12:00pm CST, and is closed on Sundays and holidays.

References

  1. In The Shadows of the Elms by Perre Magness
  2. Elmwood Cemetery History
  3. http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=S000632
  4. Confederate Soldiers Rest at Elmwood Cemetery
  5. Crosby, MC. 2006. The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic That Shaped Our History. Berkley Books. ISBN 0-425-21202-5
  6. Elmwood Cemetery Website


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