Thursday, October 31, 2013

One of THE MOST interesting history lessons EVER!!

Today is the perfect day to tell you about our Sunday afternoon! Talking about a cemetery on Halloween seems just right!!  Our friend, Laura, asked us if we wanted to go with them to Oak Hill Cemetery on Sunday afternoon for a tour.   I remembered her telling us all about it last year and it sounded so interesting so we said, "YES."  I actually said yes even before I asked Mark.  I figured I could go alone if he wasn't interested.

We had our Celebration Sunday at church on Sunday morning and then went to Sunday School . . .and then scurried home to eat a bite of lunch and change our clothes.  (those of you who know that we usually eat with my mother-in-law . . .we were all supposed to eat at the church . . .she had the flu . . .)  After a quick trip home, we drove downtown to the cemetery.  Oak Hill is the oldest cemetery here . . .Oak Hill was established at the founding of Birmingham in 1871. 

There are lovely trees all throughout.  There are magnolia trees with huge roots which have caused a tremendous amount of damage to tombs and gravestones.  Now it is against the law (I think that is right) to plant Magnolia trees in a cemetery (at least in Alabama).

I took my "real" camera and only took the big lens with me.  I wanted to play and practice . . . and I did both.  I'm only showing you a few of the bajillion pictures that I snapped on Sunday afternoon.
The gates to the cemetery are so pretty . . .you can tell that it is downtown . . .the downtown streets surround the cemetery.
Here is our group waiting for the tour to begin.  I don't have a picture of me . . .but I was the smart one.  I had on shorts!!!  It was a lovely day. 
Here is our  tour guide . . .his name was Wolfgang - NO KIDDING!!!  Really!!  I know you don't believe me but it really is his name!!
He is hiding his plastic water bottle behind him . . .because of course, they didn't have water bottles back in the 1800's.
There are people dressed as many of the "occupants" of the cemetery.  As we arrived at each grave site, they told us "their" story and a little about the history of the time, etc.  Each person had done tons of research and knew all sorts of interesting facts about their "occupant."
Our tour guide also shared some interesting facts with us along the way.  This is a Victorian child's grave.  They made them to look almost like a "cradle" . . .see how the border is shaped in a "cradle" shape?  There were quite a few graves that were small.  Life was a lot tougher back then.
This lady told us a really interesting story.  Her name was Emma Hawes.  Her husband, Richard, murdered her and their two daughters . . .in order to marry someone else.  He spared the life of their young son by sending him to relatives in Atlanta.  There is an interesting article about the murders, the riot and the trial.
Here we have Charles Linn and John Milner.  They were quite entertaining.  One of them even handed out Reese cups (my all time favorite) so that we would say that his story was best.
Mark and I both thought that Charles Linn (Linn Park in downtown is named after his family) had an interesting story.   He was born in Finland and he stowed away beneath the deck of a ship when he was about six years old.  He then stayed on as a cabin boy (for a LONG time!!) and by the time he was 24, he had been around the world three times. 
John Milner (on the left . . .also the giver of Reese Cups) went to California to find gold.  He and his brothers were shipwrecked three times on their way back to the south.  He moved to Alabama and was an integral part of the railroads in Birmingham.  Of course, I loved that part because Mr. Milner became a train engineer also . . .and my daddy was a train engineer for the L & N Railroad.
I think these two guys are surely aspiring actors . . .or they have done this before.  They were good!
Mr. Linn spent some time telling us about his tomb.  There is a key on the inside . . .no key remains for the outside . . .which is the way Mr. Linn wanted it.  When "the rapture" comes, he wants to be able to unlock his door and step out!  Now that is cool, people.
The leaves started changing colors on Sunday . . .a few trees started a few days before.  I just had to snap this photo because the tree was so beautiful.  (as an FYI - today is windy and gray . . .and the leaves are falling quickly . . .and they have all changed colors!!)
There is some really cool architecture in the cemetery.  The monuments and stone work are pretty amazing.  There has been a large amount of vandalism . . .and also weather damage.  Someone in our group asked why the statues, etc. have not been repaired . . .our tour guide said they can't drill holes, etc. without risk of making the damage worse.
Gorgeous details on some of the monuments, crosses, stones, etc.  Our tour guide told us if we had to step over someone's grave, we should say, "Excuse me."  I loved that!!
This is one of my all time favorite characters.  Meet Madam Lou.  Yes, I do indeed mean "Madam" . . .and now I know why fourth avenue was always called the "red light district."  It really was!  Her brothel was on fourth avenue at one point.  There was a cholera epidemic in 1873 in Birmingham that killed lots and lots of people.  Madam Lou Wooster and her "girls" remained behind when others fled the city and turned the brothel into a hospital where they cared for the sick.
Madam Lou also told us that her life was the one who Margaret Mitchell's "Gone with the Wind" character Belle Watling, the prostitute with a heart of gold, was based on.  There are almost always fresh flowers on her grave . . . still today.  Even more importantly, there is an actual award still given today.  I got this info from the UAB Public Health page --
The Lou Wooster Public Health Hero Award is presented annually to recognize individuals, groups, or organizations who are unconventional public health hero. The award is named in honor of Lou Wooster, the 19th century Birmingham madam who risked her own death by staying in the city to care for the sick and dying during the 1873 cholera epidemic. Her courage went a long way toward assuring there was a Birmingham for the leadership to come back to. When she died in May 1913, hundreds of empty black carriages drove by the funeral home to pay respects to a local hero. Recipients are driven by a horse drawn carriage from the School of Public Health to Oak Hill Cemetery where Lou Wooster is buried.
I've lived in this city all of my life . . .which is quite a few years . . .and I didn't know this piece of info.  I had such a good time - can you tell???
I cannot remember the name of this couple.  I think I saved one of the programs but who knows where it is at this moment.  I do know this . . .they were the first couple to live at "The Grove" which is now Arlington (an antebellum home here in town).
I was lagging behind looking for photo opps . . .just had to shoot this one - Allen and Mark wearing their baseball hats so their heads wouldn't get sunburned!
Just a picture of another interesting cross.
This lady is the widow of one of the two Birmingham police officers (I can't remember which one!!)killed in the line of duty.  They were the FIRST Birmingham police officers killed in the line of duty in 1901.
 Several men (criminals!) used nitroglycerin to blow up a safe at Standard Oil in order to steal the money.  The two policemen went to try to capture them and they were killed. 
I'm just totally blank on this lady's name . . .she also had something to do with the Grove (Arlington) -- maybe she and her husband were actually the first ones to live there . . .there must have been a connection between this lady and the couple up above.
This grave  holds a politician of some sort . . .and he loved his signature so much that he wanted it on his tombstone/grave marker. 
This was as we were exiting the cemetery.  I thought these folks were "characters" . . .but they weren't . . .they were dressed this way to go on the tour.  Can anyone tell me what the guy is with the cup on his head?  A beer pong cup, perhaps?  He is dressed in a fancy suit.
Oh - I forgot to tell you about this lady.  She was a SURVIVOR of the titanic.  I had no idea that any of those folks lived in Birmingham either!!  She wouldn't get into the lifeboat without her brother!!!  They were both saved on the very last lifeboat.  He was able to go with her because they needed a man who could help row the boat!!!
If you are still with me, there were a couple of other interesting things - there was a potter's field where many of the cholera victims were buried . . .and now they are buried really really really deep - there is about 20 feet of dirt that got dumped on their graves at some point.
There is also a section for soldiers -- both sides!!  I believe they told us that more than 200 Confederate soldiers and about 100 Union soldiers are buried at Oak Hill . . .they separated them though!!
So thanks for hanging out with me this afternoon to hear about our cemetery tour.  It truly was one of the most interesting history lessons ever.
Have you experienced some great entertainment lately?  good movie?  good "field trip" . . .like our cemetery tour?  good play?  I would love to hear about it!
Our tour guide also does a Ghost Walk tour through downtown Birmingham . . .and I saw an ad for a Zombie night at Oak Hill . . . .ooooooooohhhhhhh!


Quiltbirdie said...

I love tours like that!

Stephanie Lincecum said...

That was really cool, Lisa! "When 'the rapture' comes, he wants to be able to unlock his door and step out!" << My favorite part. :-) I surely didn't know that about the Madam. Love Gone With the Wind (of course), and I have visited Margaret Mitchell's grave in Atlanta.