Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Sunday Stroll Through Knoxville's Cemetaries - Part II (Free!)

A Sunday Stroll - Part II

We wanted to visit the Winstead Cottage and the historic confederate cemetery, but discovered it was closed on Sundays. Instead, we visited three other cemeteries nearby.

First, we strolled through the Catholic Cavalry Cemetery. We couldn't find much information about this cemetary online, but there were graves with dates from the late 1800s. 
There are two really beautiful features in this cemetery, a priest's mound in the middle where the fathers are interred, and a series of monuments for the Stations of the Cross. Unfortunately, we couldn't take pictures of either, because we wanted to be respectful of several recent interments.

Next we visited Knox County Potter's Field. This cemetery was where the county interred the poor until the 1930s. It's estimated there are 18,000 graves, but there are no maps of the plots and very few gravestones. Walking through this cemetery was a sobering and powerful reminder of how often our country has fallen short of the promise of equality for all.
Several of the gravestones we were able to find appear to be homemade. Monument companies did make concrete markers, but many families couldn't afford a professional gravestone. Instead, a relative or neighbor would pour concrete into whatever could serve as a mold, and then impress or carve letters into the wet cement.

The third cemetery we visited was the Odd Fellows Cemetery. The property was purchased by three organizations in 1880 and was one of the first African-American cemeteries in Knoxville. Sadly, a lack of funds and clear ownership of the property (The Odd Fellows organization disbanded during the Great Depression) meant the cemetery fell into disrepair.  

There are over 5,000 graves, but less than 500 have gravestones. There are several prominent Knoxville African-Americans, like Cal Johnson, buried here. There are also at least 34 Civil War soldiers from the Ohio unit, which was an African-American regiment.

 The Cemetery of Life is an award-winning short feature video about The Odd Fellow Cemetery and its rich history.

 There is a monument, erected by Knoxville in 1935, to honor those laid to rest in this corner of Knoxville. You can read the entire description here. Truly honoring the dead in these two cemeteries finally began in 2008, when UT and Knoxville began working to reclaim this cemetery. 

Gravestones have been cleaned, the overgrowth cleared, and the students have installed a walking path and put up barriers to prevent further erosion. When we visited, students had also hung their grave rubbings along the new path. To be honest, we found their fluttering papers a far more appropriate memorial.


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