The Greenwood Cemetery in Jackson is one of those weird places where you’re conflicted about how much to explore, where you should wander, and confused about what sort of history exists. I assume that history is rich but couldn’t find anything online about the cemetery (immediately). To be fair, I only researched on my phone while parked on the side of the road because I arrived in Jackson, got in the car, and explored what I could of the city before it got too dark.
The cemetery is surrounded by dilapidated and abandoned houses. This was my first introduction to Mississippi, once the 4th richest economy in the world, it’s now poor, run-down, and empty. The anger and tension felt by locals is palatable, and seething under the surface of every conversation I had.
The history is conflicted too. The population of the city is 80% African American, but the focus of the online history is on the white lawyers, politicians, military leaders, plantation owners, and novelists. I did find some interesting stories in the archives related to Mississippi… but nothing about the people buried in the Greenwood Cemetery.
This is one of the key cities on the Mississippi Blues Trail, the heart of slavery in the U.S., and a major player in the Civil War. The city has seen racism, the KKK, floods, hurricanes, a tuberculosis outbreak, bombings, and plenty of social unrest. Where are these stories? Where are the folk heroes and interesting characters? Jackson is known as the city with a soul. So, where’s the soul?
I wasn’t in Jackson long enough to find it’s soul, so I focused on photographing snippets of odd things in the Greenwood Cemetery. I wish I’d had more time to explore the depth of the city.
The Coffin Receiving Place
This is one of those things that you’d expect to find in a country like Canada where the ground is frozen for one quarter of the year (on a good year). Perhaps these do exist, but this is the first time I’d encountered a receiving vault. My historic relatives just lay in the parlour of a relative’s house until it was warm enough for a burial.
Now, I can’t help but think back to many of the mystery structures I’d seen in Brazil, Colombia, and in Europe, and wonder if these were receiving vaults… or just how people are buried in that country.
A receiving vault is used as temporary storage for caskets that are waiting for permanent burial in a cemetery. The reasons for “waiting” can vary. As mentioned above, one of the main reasons is the inability to dig in frozen ground… a problem that was solved with the advent of large digging/warming machinery.
Other reasons to need a receiving vault are a sudden increase in death numbers (due to disease or disaster), a family’s lack of financial means for burial, or lack of capacity (for a period) when the cemetery runs out of space. Receiving vaults are rarely near the entrance, and are usually located in a place where they can blend with their surroundings.
At the turn of the century in Jackson, it was Hiram Karr Hardy who managed the receiving vault for Jackson’s cemetery. Hiram was born in Arkansas in 1860 and married the daughter of Brandon, Mississippi’s Irish born postmaster: Mary M Kernaghan (November 9th, 1882).
For many decades, Hiram worked as Jackson’s mortician, while his wife and eventually son (William) took on the role of embalmers.
The structure you see in the Greenwood Cemetery is appropriately named “Hardy’s Receiving Vault” and dates to the turn of the century. In my digging through historical records, all I could uncover was that the Hardy family were still working as morticians and embalmers in 1920, and after this, they disappear into the mists of time. It’s likely that they sold their business (in 1920 Hiram would have been 60) and retired elsewhere.
Those Stump Gravestones
Have you ever noticed those gravestones in cemeteries that resemble stumps, logs, or mini trees? Ever wonder why certain people have these for headstones?
I’ve seen them around North America, admired their beauty (some are extremely intricate in detail), and not given them a second thought. However, during my wandering around the Greenwood Cemetery, I noticed that some of these stumps have placards that stay, The Woodsman of the World.
Now… trying to understand the origin of these headstones is where things get confusing.
In 1883, a man by the name of Joseph Cullen Root founded a white only, fraternal organization called “Modern Woodmen of America” in Lyons, Iowa. The idea was to provide insurance/support to families who lose their primary breadwinner. However, because of internal strife, infighting, and dissent, Root was eventually expelled from the group.
In 1890, he moved to Omaha and founded an almost identical white only, fraternal organization called the “Woodmen of the World.” And, even though the “Modern Woodmen of America” (Iowa) and “Modern Woodmen of the World” (Omaha) share the same founder, business model (insurance), and relatively same name, the two are separate and unrelated entities… both extremely profitable.
The Woodsman of the World (Omaha) immediately allowed for the creation of auxiliaries (called circles) that admitted women. It wouldn’t open it’s doors to other races until much much later.
The Omaha group immediately lost the word “Modern” and eventually changed its name to WoodmenLife in 2015. It’s this group that provided the stump/tree headstones to its members.
The headstone program ended by 1930, so any “Woodmen” stump headstone you see is from between 1890-1930; it is possible to find later headstones that contain the organization’s logo, like the one below.
There are snippets in Jackson’s history about the owner of this headstone, George Harris Terrett. He shows up in one census as a freight clerk, in another as a paperhanger (as in wallpaper), and then in another as a local decorator who “owns his own business.” He married Donnie/Donia Houston on Feb 7th, 1899 in Hinds, Mississippi.
In September 1918, he dutifully showed up in the draft office in Jackson City, Mississippi and registered a U.S. World War I Draft Card. He was 44-years old and unlikely to see war because of his age.
The card was nullified less than a month later with the Armistice on Nov 11th.
After this, George Harris Terrett also disappears into the mists of time.