From Dukes to paupers, stones speak in silence

The Word From - Maplewood Cemetery

Staff WriterOctober 11, 2005 

A cool autumn rain pelts the broad leaves of a magnolia at the old Maplewood Cemetery, breaking the quiet stillness of the sweet hereafter.

This is a strikingly quiet place tucked amid the hum of urban life. Most of the people interred here have been dead so long that no living person would have met them, and visitors are few. The graves tell the Bull City's early history on their worn stones.

Near the heart of the cemetery lie the tiny white markers of about 20 men, each showing a name, home state and the tribute, "A Faithful Confederate Soldier." Several of the older stones lie on their backs, shattered and illegible.

Durham's first five commissioners are here, as are the remains of its first sheriff. Several of the names -- Morehead, Angier, Holloway, Markham, Parrish -- are likely more familiar to current city residents as downtown streets. A tall, gnarled cedar sprouts from one grave, its roots tilting the owner's stone. Other markers sit adorned only with grass cut so rarely as to have gone to seed.

The arrangement of the dead hints at the social status awarded them in life.

On the highest ground, surrounded by gracious oaks, is the grand mausoleum of Washington Duke and his sons Brodie, Benjamin and James -- farmers who became fabulously rich on tobacco.

All but Brodie, the eldest scion, were later moved to crypts inside Duke Chapel, its massive gothic spire visible through the trees towering over the university that lends the family name a measure of immortality. Their wives were left in Maplewood, encased in granite.

At the edges of the burial ground, only feet from the surrounding mill houses, are those relegated to the fringes of the city's once rigidly segregated society. A small plot holds the Fitzgeralds and a few other well-to-do blacks -- the only people of color buried here.

The stones tend to grow smaller down the hill. An open patch with no markers indicates the potter's field -- final resting place of those too poor to pay.

Tucked in an acre in the southeast corner, behind a spiked iron fence, are the closely packed plots of local Jews. Such names as Stein, Schlanger, Eisenberg and Freedman accompany passages in Hebrew. The ornate markers are topped with smooth, round stones placed there by those honoring the dead.

Throughout Maplewood, family tragedies are recounted in marble.

A little stone marked with a lamb recounts the short life of Philip Pendergrass, who died in 1914 at 4 months old. Next to him is the grave of his brother, marked by a tiny stone chair with a pair of empty baby booties in the empty seat. The second child died in 1918, a couple weeks after his first birthday.

There are also love stories here. A collection of elaborate statues was commissioned by the industrialist Julian S. Carr after the 1915 death of his wife, Nannie.

Local lore says that Carr rode the public trolley from his downtown office to visit the grave of his wife each afternoon, taking his seat on a wide stone bench now covered with circles of lichen. He lived 10 more years, until he was laid beside her in 1925.

By their graves, a marble angel kneels with poems bronzed on the backs of its wings.

Forgotten You?

Well, If Forgetting Be Thinking All The Day

How The Long Hours Drag Since You Left Me

Or Hearing Thro' All The Strange Babble

Of Voices, Now Grave, Now Gay

Only Your Voice

Can This Be Forgetting?

Staff writer Michael Biesecker can be reached at 956-2421 or mbieseck@newsobserver.com.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service