KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A Cades Cove woman died with a simple request. Bury her earthly remains in the cove’s Brown Hill Cemetery. Place her coffin so that her unfaithful husband must walk across her bones to see his mistress.
The woman, nor her husband, nor her husband’s paramour, aren’t named in Gail Palmer’s new book “Cemeteries of the Smokies,” published by the Great Smoky Mountains Association.
No, this is a mountain story, one of many intriguing tales Palmer tells about graveyards — and the people buried in them — in what’s now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Another Tennessee woman, again unnamed, was buried in an unusual position. Legend says neighbors one day discovered the Greenbriar woman sitting dead in a chair on her front porch. Her Bible was in her lap, one finger eternally stopped at the verse she’d been reading.
The story, Palmer writes, goes that rigor mortis had already set in, so the woman’s body couldn’t be stretched out for burial. Instead, she and her chair were placed in a coffin; the book doesn’t detail its shape. The woman was buried in the upright position in which she died.
Dolly’s ancestor buried in park
Both tales are intriguing. But while “Cemeteries of the Smokies” includes several such accounts, this isn’t a book of just stories. Palmer is a descendant of Cades Cove pioneers; that cove’s Sparks Lane is named for her ancestors. She’s also an author and exacting researcher who spent years compiling detailed information of more than 150 graveyards throughout the national park.
Palmer visited about 95 percent of the cemeteries created in Tennessee and North Carolina in the generations before residents’ land became a national park in the 1930s. Her stories about finding graveyards involve hiking through woods and climbing to ridge tops.
Among the stones she lists is that of Benjamin C. Parton, a great-great-grandfather of country superstar Dolly Parton.
Benjamin C. Parton was 83 when he was buried in 1916 in the Greenbriar community’s Chris Parton Cemetery. Most of the graveyard’s 25 tombstones bear the names of Parton’s. Benjamin’s is a military marker that notes he served as private in Company K of the Union Army’s 9th Tennessee Cavalry.
A graveyard guidebook
At its core, “Cemeteries of the Smokies” is a graveyard guidebook. Each known cemetery is listed with GPS coordinates and exact directions on how to get there as well as who is buried there and the inscriptions on tombstones.
The book is divided into cemeteries in the park’s North Carolina and Tennessee sections. It lists 77 known cemeteries with 2,726 graves within Tennessee boundaries and 75 graveyards with 2,011 graves in North Carolina. A 96-page list contains graves relocated or flooded because of the 1940s construction of the Fontana Dam in North Carolina.
Some cemeteries’ locations underscore that thriving, large communities once lived on this land. Several graveyards hold more than 100 graves; a few contain 200 or more.
A story of ‘Jennifer’
Other wooded spots are small family plots. Others have only one, sometimes two graves. Among them is the single marked Cosby, Tennessee plot in woods off an overgrown, old roadbed. Here, a simple stone marker reads only “JENNIFER.”
The grave is believed to be that of a young woman, whose last name could have been Sutton, Palmer says. Jennifer may have died in childbirth; Palmer believes it’s possible her child is also buried there. The marker, which has no dates, was placed in the ground in 1984 on what was once a mountain farm.
Some stones note the importance of the people whose graves they mark. The shared stone of John and Lurena Oliver in Cades Cove’s Primitive Baptist Church cemetery notes they were the cove’s first permanent settlers.
Not far in the churchyard is the flat stone of Russell Gregory, whose name is remembered in the park’s Gregory’s Bald. That stone says that Gregory was murdered in 1864 by Civil War rebels.
Periwinkle may mark the spot
But not every person’s final resting place is known. Palmer says mysteries are buried in the hills.
Some solitary graves are likely long forgotten. Small family plots may have disappeared as marking field stones were carried off or wooden crosses rotted away. At least four plots are known to have existed but aren’t marked in Cades Cove, she says.
Sometimes, though, the earth hints at what’s beneath. Often, Palmer says, it can be difficult to recognize some cemeteries until a person is standing in the midst of headstones or river rocks. But sometimes the blue or white flowers of the non-native periwinkle plant signaled a graveyard location.
Some European settlers believed periwinkle kept evil spirits away. The plant was introduced from Europe into the United States in the 1700s. Perhaps mountain people planted periwinkle for its protective powers or simply because it made cemeteries pretty and more pleasant, Palmer writes.
‘Gone but not forgotten’
Stories in stone are detailed in “Cemeteries of the Smokies.” The book lists tombstone inscriptions that offer hints of lives past.
“Gone but not forgotten” and “In loving memory” are often repeated, but the stones’ inscriptions vary widely. Some are crudely hand carved, with slanting letters marking the name of the deceased. Others are ornate, with carvings of fingers pointing to heaven, hearts, flowers or birds.
In Cosby’s Tritt Cemetery, a childlike angel stands over the 1926 grave of Margie Costner. “Another little angel” reads the inscription.
A stone lamb sits atop the stone for Cataloochee, North Carolina, residents D.W. and Jessie Caldwell’s infant twin daughters. The girls were born and died June 5, 1913.
A family’s love for a child or parent can still be found on cemetery stones. Ardella Welch was 10 when she died and was buried in a Hazel Creek cemetery in North Carolina. Her stone reads the child is “gone to a fairer land, of pleasure and love to join the bright band of angels above.”
Sarah Miranda Price was 79 when she died in 1934 and was buried in Greenbriar’s small J.P. Price cemetery. Her children marked her grave with a stone that reads, “She was the sunshine of our home.”
Greenbriar resident Charles Rafield’s stone, set on his grave after his 1891 death at age 65, sent the living a different message. His headstone bears the lyrical words “Remember me as you pass by. As you are now so once was I. As I am now so shall you be, therefore prepare to follow me.”
Information from: Knoxville News Sentinel, http://www.knoxnews.com