Magnolia Armchair Tour Features City's Historic "Garden" Cemetery
by Paul McNorrill
From comfortable seats in Augusta History Museum's theater, AGS members and their guests recently enjoyed an hour-long armchair tour of Magnolia Cemetery, Augusta's 200-year-old treasure.
The occasion was AGS's monthly meeting, with Carrie Adamson presenting an interpretive commentary to accompany Jerry Scott's color-slide photographs.
Carrie and Jerry have collaborated for several years to bring Magnolia's story to audiences throughout the South, as well as at national conferences. Their work won each of them a Certificate of Achievement from the American Association for State and Local History in 1995.
Multiple illustrations of information derivable from a cemetery were presented in a "book and chapter" format by Carrie to include historical background, tombstone art and architecture, symbolism, genealogy, local history, and epitaph humor. Carrie is well known for her interest in cemetery art and symbolism, and for conducting guided tours of Magnolia and Summerville Cemeteries in Augusta.
The superb viewing capabilities in the new museum's theater, where Jerry's magnificent photographs of Magnolia's tombstones were shown to their best advantage in a larger-than-life projection, were thoroughly appreciated by the audience. From elegant, tall marble Celtic crosses with intricate carvings of symbolic flowers to panoramic views of magnolia-lined streets and walkways, the garden-like atmosphere of Magnolia gave the audience a virtual tour of the historic spot.
It is felt that Magnolia is truly a Southern "Rural Cemetery" in the mode of the Rural Cemetery movement that began with Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1831. When early American towns were established, usually a relatively small site was laid out as the local burying ground, which would prove to be too small as the community grew. The new concept addressed the problem with new ideas, beginning with the thought that a cemetery should be in a pleasant park-like setting where families could gather to visit the dear departed, visit with other family members and friends, and enjoy the gifts of nature God had provided them as they contemplated their own mortality.
Benches were provided in the sections and picnics at the cemetery were commonplace. Their plot was regarded as an extension of the home, with fences around sections often of the same design as the wrought iron fences around their homes. "At Rest" or "Asleep in Jesus" and gravestones fashioned in bed designs convey the way many of our ancestors viewed death.
In addition to names and dates of birth and death, genealogists and historians may find marriages and family relationships on the stones. Epitaphs ranging in sentiment from sentimental to humorous were many times included. Of particular interest to genealogists also are symbolic devices decorating the sites. Indication of military or fraternal organization symbols, and devices indicating occupations, are useful clues to information sources about the deceased. The use of other symbolic devices, many originating in ancient times, reflected attitudes and beliefs of the families of the deceased. Examples were shown in the slides, and a handout was provided illustrating some of the more common ones, such as a draped urn for sorrow, a cross and crown acknowledging sovereignty of the Lord, winged hourglass symbolizing swift passage of time, et. al.
Inscriptions are voices of sentiments as expressed at the time by the families they left behind. One soldier's marble monument depicts a draped, unsheathed sword and scabbard, symbolically showing he died in battle. He did, at Petersburg, Virginia during the War. The inscription on one side of the stone notes, "What is worth living for is worth dying for," and on the other, "He was outnumbered, not outdone."
In addition to the graves themselves, such things as observation and reflection on the dates, ethnicity revealed in names, or non-English inscriptions such as Hebrew or Greek indicate composition and population changes in the community. Also, most large cemeteries have records of burials with comments often revealing cause of death, family relationships, or other useful information.
To fully appreciate the richness and variety of tombstone art and learn how to decipher the message hidden in a cemetery, one would need to actually view the site or see the pictures with a knowledgeable guide. The presentation by Carrie and Jerry was very informative and challenged the audience to learn more about this intriguing subject.
Cemeteries: A Genealogist's Last ResortOutdoor museums, they are; and places where you can reach out and touch history, they are. More important, the stone "documents" you find there may bear the only death records you will ever find on elusive ancestors.
AGS Cemetery ProjectHead off with a picnic lunch to spend the day in the open, recording old tombstone inscriptions. Members get to participate in important work, and AGS gives them the added satisfaction of seeing their valuable efforts in print! To date, AGS has recorded some 5,000 individual grave sites, with full headstone inscriptions, from old cemeteries in the Central Savannah River Area of GA and SC.
AGS Cemetery Research and Interpretation ProjectCarrie Adamson, honorary president of AGS, has conducted extensive research and interpretation of Augusta-area cemeteries since the 1970's. The approach taken in conducting tours since then is to instill in the participants an appreciation of old cemeteries, interpreting them as outdoor museums where community values and cultural attributes of the past may be assessed. One tour-goer described the tour as a "cemetery art-appreciation course."
Cemetery Slide Presentation:"On Reading a Cemetery"A favorite AGS project is Carrie Adamson's and Jerry Scott's "road show" of examples of tombstone art and architecture, symbolism, local history and genealogy, and epitaph humor from 1800 to the present. Carrie's commentary on the history of the Rural Cemetery Movement, symbolism as the silent language of our Victorian ancestors, and using cemeteries as community "journals" (and therefore alternate sources for local history and genealogical research), is joined to Jerry's magnificent photographs which fully illustrate these points. Carrie and Jerry won national recognition for their work when the American Association for State and Local History included them on their 1995 annual awards listing.
Summerville Cemetery Augusta GeorgiaSummerville Cemetery Augusta Georgia is a beautiful book of photographs and every-word inscriptions from stones in an old cemetery where Augusta's movers and shakers have been buried since the 1820's. No sextons' records exist, making this the only record available. An exceptional book.
Irish Nativities in Magnolia Cemetery is really a two-books-in-one publication, in that Part I is an every-word transcription of every tombstone in Magnolia Cemetery where the fact of an Irish nativity (county in Ireland, and sometimes even the name of the parish from which the deceased emigrated) is carved in stone. Part II consists of Magnolia Cemetery Sextons' Records from 1817 to 1900, where burials are transcribed from records where an Irish nativity is actually shown in the record. Includes name, date of burial, nativity, age at death, and cause of death.
Magnolia Cemetery Sextons' Records, 1817-1884, have been published as a serial in the Society's journals, Ancestoring I through Ancestoring XIII. The records include ALL burials in Magnolia Cemetery during the period mentioned above. These burial records cover name of deceased, place of nativity (generally state, country, sometimes city), date of burial, and age at death. Also in Ancestoring, there are cemetery surveys of nearly 100 cemeteries in Georgia and South Carolina's CSRA (Central Savannah River Area). Several more cemeteries have been surveyed by AGS teams and will be published in future Ancestorings.
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