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Evergreen Cemetery gives glimpse into Judsonia’s pastPublished October 31, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
JUDSONIA — In some Southern circles, they are called “cities of the dead,” and at this time of year, interest in them rises higher than an October harvest moon. In the case of Judsonia’s historic Evergreen Cemetery, though, folks are drawn by more than just macabre curiosity.
“It’s a peaceful place,” longtime Judsonia resident Mary Spurlock said. “You would be surprised at how many people like to come and walk around in here.”
Spurlock is a member of the cemetery’s board of directors, which is charged with making sure the cemetery grounds are maintained properly.
Majestic old trees are scattered among the burial plots and have been witness to many a funeral procession over the years. Spurlock recalled that her elderly sister had long ago been one of a group of young townsfolk who would gather under the “funeral tree” at the back of the cemetery to sing hymns at funeral services.
Unlike more modern cemeteries, where the graves are marked with almost identical stones, Evergreen’s many and varied markers provide a glimpse into the lives of those who rest beneath them. The image of a razorback is etched on one such stone, while a lordly lion keeps watch over another. The first burial in Evergreen is said to have been that of Cornelia W. “Nellie” Briggs, who die on Oct. 5, 1873. Many of the older stones have become so weathered that the names and dates can barely be read.
Passersby in Judsonia have no doubt noticed the statue of a girl near the front entrance of the cemetery. The statue marks the grave of Laura Lee Henson, who died on Nov. 25, 1914, at the age of 18. The circumstances surrounding the young woman’s death have become as faded as the poem at the base of the statue. However, it has been reported that she died from injuries sustained in a fire. Local legend has it that after darkness falls, the eyes of the statue take on a red glow.
One of the most famous markers in the Evergreen Cemetery is the Grand Army of the Republic monument that was dedicated in 1894. It is said to be the first of its kind to be erected south of the Mason-Dixon Line, and within the fieldstone wall around it are the graves of 16 Union veterans who were without families at the time of their deaths. The dark-gray monument has a cannonball top and is inscribed with the words, “In memory of the defenders of the Union, 1861-1865.”
After a tornado that flattened the town of Judsonia on March 21, 1952, work began almost immediately in the Evergreen Cemetery to clear the fallen trees and debris so a mass funeral could be held there. On the day of the service, 11 of the 44 storm victims were laid to rest in the cemetery. As recalled in the book That’s Judsonia, by local historian the late W.E. Orr, the service began with the reading of the 23rd Psalm and touched even the journalists who had been dispatched to cover the affair.
“Before the service, … and again at the end, in a grisly, winding 40-minute procession past open caskets, cries of grief welled uncontrolled from some of the women, … supported by their men, who for the most part remained dry-eyed and silent,” the book quotes from a newspaper article that recounted the funeral.
Whether it is to find the grave of a long-lost loved one or to marvel at the beauty of the massive trees and ancient stones, visitors to the Evergreen Cemetery will likely find it a place of history and peace.
None Tammy Garrett can be reached at .