Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Visit to Rodney, MS: The Cemetery

This is the third and final chapter of my story about a place called Rodney, Mississippi. If you missed the first two chapters, I suggest you read them before reading this one.

Chapter 1: A Place Called Rodney

Chapter 2: The Rise and Fall of the Rodney Presbyterian Church

Today, we're going to take a hike up the hill behind the Presbyterian Church to the Rodney Cemetery (notice I used the word hike, as opposed to walk).

The hill is very steep, the path, rough and heavily-rutted, but if you enjoy exploring old historic cemeteries, it is worth a little huffing and puffing along the way to see this one.

My husband has back problems and didn't attempt the climb, and as I reached the top of the hill I have to admit that it felt a little eerie to be alone in the cemetery, which was overgrown and desolate. It was a dreary day, too, which didn't help matters.

I can't think of a better word to describe what I saw than the word desolate, which Webster's defines as:

  • Devoid of inhabitants and visitors.

  • Joyless and sorrowful, as if through separation from a loved one.

  • Showing the effects of abandonment and neglect.
  • As I stood on the hilltop, taking it all in, I was saddened to see that such a beautiful and historical place had been abandoned and neglected, its gravestones literally crumbling and sinking into the ground, soon to be hidden forever ...

    But, as I walked around and began taking pictures, I realized that, amongst the ruins and briars and brambles, there was also beauty and a quiet peacefulness underneath those old trees.

    I loved the old iron fences which surrounded the family plots, some plain and simple ...

    Yikes! — look at those spikes!

    And some not so simple ...

    I was disappointed that this manufacturer's plate didn't have a date on it ...

    While carefully trying not to step on any of the graves, I went inside a few of the fences to get a closer look at some of the headstones and inscriptions. The oldest person I found in the area where I was, was a lady named Maggie Welch Burkley, who lived to be 92.

    Here are a few more stones that caught my eye ...

    Julia A. Reitz, 1865-1928
    "A precious one from us has gone,
    A voice we loved is stilled.
    A place is vacant in our home,
    Which never can be filled."

    This lady was born in Germany in 1820, and lived to be 81 years, 9 months, and 9 days old, according to the inscription on her headstone. Wouldn't you like to know what circumstances brought her to Rodney, Mississippi.

    Here are a few more inscriptions I was able to decipher:

    "A kind and noble man has fallen,
    Sweet be thy rest beloved husband and father.
    Angels guard thee until we meet to part no more."

    And this simple, but sweet, epitaph read:
    "We will meet you, darling ... beyond the river."

    Headstones like the next one always make me teary-eyed. This one is for a baby girl who lived for seven months ...

    "Our little darling enjoys the sleep,
    From which none ever wake to weep."

    This last inscription is my favorite (and was the hardest to decipher). As near as I can tell from the date, which is hard to read, the young woman died when she was 23.

    "Sweetly she sleeps, the pure and gentle hearted,
    Where no rude footsteps mar her tranquil rest.
    Sweetly she sleeps, from sorrowing loved ones parted,
    In happy trust on her Savior's breast."

    Isn't that beautiful — that alone was worth the climb up the hill!

    I spent about an hour roaming around the cemetery, but didn't venture too far into the overgrowth.

    There are literally hundreds of graves scattered over the hilltop, most of them hidden amongst the palmettos and briars and wild Jonquils, and I would love to go back some day and visit each and every one of them. I can just picture the hill in the springtime, alive with thousands of colorful wildflowers and dogwoods and redbuds in full bloom. But, unfortunately, springtime also brings poison ivy, snakes, red bugs, and ticks ... so I guess I'll just be content that I was able to see it on that cloudy Saturday in January.

    Even though it was disheartening to see the neglect, I'm glad I could capture some of the beauty of the cemetery during my brief visit. And as I started down the hill, I noticed that the dreariness of the day had lifted, giving way to patches of blue sky and billowy white clouds.

    And waiting for me at the bottom of the hill was this cheerful little clump of Jonquils ...

    And this cute little guy who was happily clamoring at my feet while I was taking a couple of shots of the church with the blue sky in the background ...

    Though nothing can bring back the glory days of Rodney, I'd like to think that its story will have a happy ending.

    I understand that The Rodney Center Historic District and the Rodney Presbyterian Church are listed on the National Register of Historic Places ... so, perhaps, there is still hope that someday funds will become available to restore what is left of Rodney. I just hope it won't be too late, and all that will remain is a paragraph or two in history books and a few sad, ramshackle old buildings fading away at the end of a dirt road in Jefferson County, Mississippi.


    Deb said...

    loved it....such history...and such poetry on the headstones...thank you for sharing..

    The Quintessential Magpie said...

    Janie, this was a very moving post. I adore old cemeteries, and I hate to see them fall into neglect. That happened so often in the Deep South, and some have long been reclaimed by the elements. I can think of several. And some have been plowed under by horrible people. That happened with TWO I can think of, and they ought to be ashamed and arrested.

    I hope that someone will do something to help Rodney, but it looks like so much has been reclaimed by the earth already. There's not much left to reclaim, but I hope what's there can be saved.

    Love this...



    racheld said...

    Earth's reclaiming goes on.

    I cannot take all this in, right now, for I spent a great time last night delving into a little mystery of a broken stone in the Vicksburg cemetery. It feels as though I've entered a gentle mourning, myself, for all these long-ago names being lost to time.

    The drab day and the falling snow are calling for music and activity now, so I'll look more and return later. Thank you for this wonderful glimpse, and for the work you've put into the chronicling of such an interesting place as Rodney.

    ExamplesOfAnything said...

    That last headstone really is touching. I wonder what took her from this world at the age of 23. It really speaks to me because I am also in my early twenties. I love the fact that the headstone also mentions that she was the wife of Thomas Castleman. It makes me wonder how he continued in his life as a widower. Was he a good husband? Did he mourn her loss for long?... I love that no one really knows any of the history for certain, and that it leaves the imagination open to so many options

    Jenni said...

    This series of posts about Rodney has been absolutely fascinating. Thank you so much for parting the veil of time that has shrouded this seemingly forgotten town in mystery, and allowing us to take a walk through the pages of history with you......

    Don't you LOVE history? And I, too,enjoy trekking through ancient graveyards (we have plenty here in Texas, as well)

    One day my family and a friend came upon an old one near Washington - on - the Brazos (which played a big part in Texas history) and found the grave of a historical figure, near the back of the cemetery...
    It was really neat....
    Thanks, again, Janie for sharing so many interesting things with us!

    momflack said...

    These pictures of Rodney are fascinating. My great-great grandmother, Rosa Griffing Emanuel, is buried there. I don't yet have the date of her death, but her tombstone is said to read/include "an Israelite Indeed"

    jessicafc said...

    I ran across this site while doing some research on Rodney. Don't give up on this great cemetery yet. We have organized the first of what I hope will be several volunteer clean ups of the Rodney cemetery. We'll have the first one in two weeks, the weekend of March 26th. Dr. Ian Brown who is an archaeologist, a good friend of mine & the president of the Assn. of Gravestone Studies, is bringing a group of about 25 students from the Univ. of Alabama. With the help of one of the residents of Rodney, we're going to camp there & spend the weekend cleaning. My favorite grave there is that of little Julius H. Weis, b. Aug 5,1893, d. Nov. 27, 1893. The stone says "How many hopes lie buried here."

    Southern Lady said...

    JESSICA: Thank you for sharing this information about the cemetery. I'm so glad to hear about the clean up project, and wish you sunny skies next weekend. I hope to return to Rodney sometime and would love to visit little Julius' resting place.

    Best wishes to you and your friends for a safe and memorable weekend.

    P.S. -- Be sure and take "before" and "after" pictures!

    Amelia said...

    Thank you for adding your "final" post about Rodney; however, I truly hope it is not really the last. Perhaps since an effort is being made to clean up and save the cemetery from ruin, you will return there to report on the progress and be "eyes" for those of us who are too far away to see it for ourselves.

    Two of the headstones you have pictured in the blog are those of my ancestors. Julia A. Rietze was my great-grandmother. The 7-month-old baby girl was Onienta, eldest daughterof Julia and her husband George Schober. Following the death of Onienta, the Schobers went on to have two more girls, Alma Heartsease (1892-1974) and Lora Maye (1896-1963). Alma married William E. Wood and lived most of her adult life in New Orleans. Lora married Frank Leake Barrow of St. Francisville, LA, and they made their home in Baton Rouge. Lora was my grandmother. Through the 1960's Alma and Lora and their respective families continued to visit Rodney and stay in the family home as often as possible. All the cousins have tales to tell of wonderful family gatherings in Rodney.

    Years ago I questioned my grandmother about her deceased sister Onienta. All she knew about her death was that she died of a fever.

    George and Julia Schober's home is no longer standing. It was originally on the corner lot across the side street from Alston's store. The house sat a little way up the hill. I have a photo of the house and a couple of the out-buildings. If you would like to see them, I can email a copy to you.

    I know that both Alma and Lora were active in the efforts made in the 1950's and 60's to restore and preserve the Presbyterian Church. I'm happy to hear that the project is still alive.

    I look forward to additional posts about Rodney.

    Wayne P. Weddington III said...

    My forebear R. C. Weddington, my great grandfather was a resident of Rodney and left in approximately 1870 to become the principal of schools in Red Lick, MS. After, he landed in Arkansas City and became a congressman in Arkansas. I have been trying to trace his forebears but I can imagine that the Rodney MS records are not plentiful. From what I can ascertain his wife was Francis Paul. I would be grateful for any resources on Rodney you may have.

    Southern Lady said...

    Wayne, thank you for leaving a comment about my post featuring Rodney, MS. I'm afraid the only source I can suggest for tracing your forebears would be the records of Jefferson County which are housed at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Fayette, MS. I wish you success in your search.

    Me mccarthy said...

    I have made several trips to Rodney over the last couple of years, the most recent being this weekend. (1-4-14) Sad to report that the old building seem to be fading fast. The steeple on the old Presbyterian Church is about gone and I am afraid that the church wont be far behind. Sure hope that something can be done to preserve what is left of this historic old town before it is completely gone. The cemetery hasnt changed much since I have been going.

    Southern Lady said...

    ME McCARTHY: I appreciate you sharing your visit to Rodney, and the update. I'm so sorry and saddened to hear about the rapid deterioration of the last few buildings, especially the steeple on the old church. It's very frustrating to have to watch it crumble and not be able to do anything about it ...

    I'm glad that the cemetery seems to be "holding its own."