…. The tiny community of Philadelphia sits on the cusp of two counties…. Monroe Co. and Loudon Co….. as such, it has always made researching ancestors from that area a tad difficult…… boundaries change, obviously, over time….. and county courthouse record rooms are weird and tangled places sometimes……

…. Jackson Petty, my Great Great Great Grandfather, lived on a small farm just outside Philadelphia, Tennessee until he became too tired and weak from the vagueries of old age and went to live with his son, Robert….. Robert’s daughter married a handsome fellow years later – and it is from her happy union (and fruition) that I am here to talk today…… many times removed, of course…… the family had no idea he was even buried there until I started researching our genealogy back in 1999……

…. So anyway, I decided yesterday morning, for no real reason, to begin my journey by covering a number of the back roads instead of taking a more well-beaten track…. and I was not disappointed….. following curvy, two-laned roads with the top dropped on a convertible is a wonderful way to spend a morning….. and with a country ham biscuit & large coffee from one of the local gas stations deftly positioned in my left paw, I set out…..

… it was a beautiful drive…. Passing fields of corn that were only chest-high since the season is so early, I gently coasted mile after mile…… old grain silos, horses, dairy cattle, duckweed encrusted ponds, the smell of wet soil….. it was nice…..

…. I crossed the railroad tracks and stopped opposite from what once was the main street in Philadelphia and took a few photos….. there really weren’t any “parking places”, so I just slid Sylvia into an area off the road in front of what was once their local furniture store…… here is what I saw when I looked to the east….


… and this was the view to the west…… an old ‘main street’ full of broken buildings with trees growing up through them….


…. And to the south?... kudzu climbing old water towers….. there had once been an old factory at the base of the water towers…. It had kept the people of Philadelphia employed years and years ago…. But it closed down ages back and is now in ruin as well….. the whole place is mostly residential now, and I guess everyone just commutes to Athens for work…..


…. Once I took the photos of the graves and noted their information for the replacement stone, I wandered around for a while…. Old graveyards are amazing places, really… here is a view to the south….


…. Apart from the stones, markers, columns, and plinths, one grave has always stood out to me in that cemetery…. And it stands out for three reasons…. Firstly, the name of the man who is buried there – John Lavender….. it is an unusual name for around here…. and I don’t recall having ever met another “Lavender”….. secondly, the date of his death…. April 1st, 1814….. 1814 is pretty damn early for Tennessee… sure, the land was settled by then and we were already a state, but it is rare to see graves from so early that are still readable…. (And April 1st always makes me wonder if Mr. Lavender perhaps perished while performing some badly-executed ancient April Fool’s day prank)…..

… and lastly, I just can’t get over the design of his tomb and the final inscription that rests upon it….. the tomb itself is made from roughly hewn granite stacked to form… no mortar is visible, and the weight of each block holds the structure together instead….. time - and the elements - has weathered the joints of each rock, and they are ragged where they touch…. Moss and lichen cling to each gouge of the cracking stones…… it really is quite impressive to see…..


… but the best part of the whole scene is his actual “marker”…. It is a thin piece of brown slate that lies on top of the tomb…. Cracked straight down the middle, it rests in stark contrast to the rest of the gray rectangle…. and on it is this simple inscription….

…. “John Lavender….. died April 1st, 1814….. age 52”…..


….. how marvelously elegant…. I just cant help but be intrigued by it….

…. I mean, who was this strangely named man?..... why is he the only one buried with such grand pomp in such a small, poor, and nearly forgotten cemetery?

…. That is what I was thinking about yesterday as I drove back to Athens for lunch…..

…. Everyone gets lost in the mists of time eventually, I guess…. Then again, maybe that’s not right at all…. maybe some descendent of his knows his story…. And knows exactly where he is laid to rest….. perhaps the fact that he is not surrounded by hundreds of other “Lavender” gravestones isn’t a sign – that I have wondered – that he died without family around him back in 1814…..

… I don’t really know, and I probably will never find the answer to that question…… but there is something wonderful about his tomb that I just can't put my finger on….

… it sparks the imagination like few others that I have ever seen….

by Eric on June 23, 2007 | Bullshit (13) | TrackBack (0) | Thinking
Bullshit So Far

Wonder if he's this guy?:

Near the bottom of page 11. He once wrote a letter to then-Governor John Sevier in 1800.

Bullshitted by Harvey on June 23, 2007 09:54 AM

We live in my dh's great-great grandparents house. Although they are buried in the village church yard, there is a graveyard in the middle of our soybean field. You can no longer read the stones. They are documented, there are records in the Munic office and the library.

Love old graveyards.


Bullshitted by farmwifetwo on June 23, 2007 09:58 AM

Posts like these are almost magical to a certain extent.
Part voyeur, looking over your shoulder as you type. Part historian, discovering the past, and making it come alive once again. Part explorer, discovering somebody new and intriguing, as we have with Mr. Lavender.
I bet he has some stories.

Bullshitted by Dick on June 23, 2007 11:18 AM

The graveyards around Charleston are beyond belief. Standing looking at the grave of some of the founding fathers will fill a person with awe .History is an ass kicker.

Bullshitted by james old guy on June 23, 2007 12:12 PM

Interesting - and how is it that the marker remains on the tomb?? It doesn't even look attached.

I am fascinated by old cemetaries - though I plan to be cremated and scattered to the winds... So there's that.

Bullshitted by Richmond on June 23, 2007 01:29 PM

Interesting stuff, dude.

Bullshitted by Cappy on June 23, 2007 04:55 PM

John Lavender doesn't have any named decendants in the area because he still walks the earth... at night... feasting on the blood of mortals.

The town, the businesses around there provided him with fodder, sustenance for years, but he soon grew weary of his unchallenging cattle. You have disturbed the first place he rested, though he does not spend the daylight hours there now. Be wary at dusk if the wind suddenly carries a soft, evergreen scent with a slight floral hint. He will be coming for you.

Bullshitted by RSM on June 24, 2007 06:56 AM

rsm... you are bad. heh.

Bullshitted by Jean on June 24, 2007 09:42 AM

Not to sound like a snooty art critic, but I love the heck out of the dichotomy that is your fancy shmanchy 21st century Sylvia against the backdrop of that old zombie-infested tree growing inside decrepit building. Amazing they even had appliances around the time that building was built. It looks like it predates dirt.

Bullshitted by Erica on June 24, 2007 12:09 PM

Sounds like some of the things seen by William Least Heat Moon in his book Blue Highways. Recommended reading if you haven't already.

Bullshitted by Rey B on June 24, 2007 04:09 PM

Just one of the reasons I love genealogy. Glad I'm not the only one who likes to wander through Gardens of Stone.

Bullshitted by Lemon Stand on June 24, 2007 06:07 PM

When we lived in New England, the local Boot Hill was populated with a remarkable number of graves dating back to the early eighteenth century and before. The history of the nascent USA was written there in those stones, marking as they did the final resting places of people who had fought in WWII, WWI, the Spanish-American War, the "Late Unpleasantness," on back to the American Revolution. There were a handful of stones that bore inscriptions dating from the late 1600's.

As I would look at those grave-markers, I would always wonder about those laid beneath them. What were their lives like? And what would they think of us, denizens of the shadowy World of the Far Future?

Geez, I oughta blog about this someday...

Bullshitted by Elisson on June 24, 2007 06:46 PM

I love looking through old cemeteries. Looking at the names and the dates. I always try to imagine what the person did in their life and what they looked like.

Bullshitted by Contagion on June 25, 2007 07:09 PM