"If you are walking in Charleston, you are walking on someone's grave."--Sue Bennett, Charleston tour guide

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Church Graveyards Full of History and Mystery

Students investigating the Cathedral Church graveyard
Our class visit to two old church graveyards just blocks from campus went great- the weather was nice, we heard from an archivist and even encountered an Outer Banks shipwreck tragedy.

We headed first to the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul on Coming Street.  The church and its graveyard date to the early 1800s.

The graveyard is small but is rich in at least a dozen different types of grave markers and memorials.
Had to get a class photo! 
I tasked the students with finding and photographing at least 10 different kinds of markers, such as ledgers, obelisks, sarcophagi, mausoleums, box tombs and others.

Broken die on socket marker

Another type is called the die on socket marker. It's very similar to a regular headstone or tombstone, except that, unlike those, the die on socket is two pieces.

This photo shows the base which has two short rods sticking up upon which the headstone attaches.

Unfortunately, this one is broken.  It is the grave of Mary Ellen Reeves who died in 1866.
Linda McCants speaks to the class 
Cathedral Church volunteer archivist Linda McCants says she would like to see the Reeves stone and other damaged ones repaired some day.

McCants is working to better document the hundreds of people buried here.  It's a challenging project, she says.

"The records were taken to Columbia because it was feared (Union Civil War General) Sherman would burn Charleston," she said.

McCants says she grew up in Charleston just a few blocks from the church
Instead, Sherman in 1865 burned Columbia. McCants says the church records, including the graveyard ones, were destroyed.

McCants, who has been member of Cathedral Church since 1972, does time consuming research, online and elsewhere, to try to find out about congregants from the past interred on these grounds.
Grimke Box Tomb

For me, the find of the evening was this large marble box tomb.

Here lies the remains of Navy Lt. Benjamin Grimke, 27, and his infant daughter Mary Augusta, just 13 months old, who both perished when the Schooner Harvest became stranded on Nov. 18, 1825 off the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Three others aboard the vessel would die. It was heading to Charleston from Norfolk, Va.

Sad shipwreck inscription
Mary, Benjamin's wife and Mary Augusta's mother, survived the tragedy.

The inscription she had carved into the tomb gives some of the sad story.  More details can be found on this site that documents shipwrecks off the Outer Banks, an area known for treacherous waters.

"They didn't have Live 5 News back then," to warn of pending weather problems, quipped McCants.

The bodies of Lt. Grimke and his daughter were never found. The box tomb at Cathedral Church is an example of a cenotaph, which is a gravesite that does not have the remains beneath. Cenotaphs often honor those lost as sea or killed in war whose bodies are never returned home.

The Harvest disaster is mentioned on a Wikipedia site that lists shipwrecks in 1825.  The schooner is mentioned but provides no other details, other than, my goodness, there were a lot of shipwrecks and other at sea disasters that year!

Graveyard at St. Patrick's Catholic Church 
After our visit at Cathedral Church (thank you Linda McCants!) we walked a few blocks to St. Philip Street to see the old graveyard at St. Patrick's Catholic Church.

While not very large, St. Patrick's gave us another look at how many church's back then had their own final resting places for their members.
An open box tomb- anyone home? ;-) 
It was fun to take my students outside the classroom and see firsthand a few examples of Charleston's many graveyards.

More field trips are forthcoming!
St. Patrick (no not me, the church!) 
 We finished our outing just before it got dark.  I hope the students didn't have any scary dreams that night!

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