By RUTH MORGAN
For Starkville Daily News
Marble columns enclosed with a wrought iron gate are the main entrance off University Drive into this beautiful burial ground with a gently sloping landscape filled with beautiful old trees and tombstones.
Odd Fellows is a Caucasian cemetery located on the Southside of University DR between Fellowship and Jarnigan Streets. It contains about 4,000 burials and is the largest cemetery in the county being 12.5 acres - about four city blocks.
The cemetery is divided into two parts: the Old part (north of Hogan Street) which has 15 blocks and the New Part (south of Hogan Street) which has 7 blocks. The oldest tomb in the old part is that of Jean Yonge McDowell in 1825, and the oldest tomb in the new part is that of Theodosia E. White Hartness in 1905.
Judge Carroll’s history of the county states “About 1831, a half-breed named James killed a white man near the site of the B. L. Magruder residence. The grave of the slain man is in the present Odd Fellows Cemetery, just South of the Magruder house.“ The Magruder house is due north of the cemetery and is currently occupied by Bill and Judy Davis.
Odd Fellows may seem a strange name to many. A youngster upon hearing the name of the cemetery asked if it was a cemetery for weird, strange people. However, the name comes from a fellowship of one of the world’s oldest voluntary societies for mutual aid, community and personal growth, which was founded before 1650 and is located in 24 countries around the world.
The motto of the Order is “Friendship, Love, and Truth,” and its objective is “To improve and elevate the character of man.” The four traditional duties of an Odd Fellow are:
u to visit the sick,
u to relieve the distressed,
u to bury the dead, and
u to educate the orphan.
Life was tough, often lawless or desperate. Medicine was still crude and in a primitive stage. Life expectancy was about 45 to 50 years of age. There were lots of sickness, orphaned kids, widows and plenty of graves to dig. Odd Fellows gave dignity to struggling families and provided support to the needy. When lodges were built Odd Fellows often purchased additional land to provide the local community with a cemetery. As a result there are many Odd Fellow Cemeteries located throughout the country.
In carrying out this mission, Odd Fellows of an earlier time founded orphanages and retirement homes, established cemeteries, pooled their resources and established innovative mutual-aid programs to help members who fell on hard times. Many of these duties have since been taken over by government programs.
So it was that the land for the Odd Fellows Cemetery was purchased and maintained by the Odd Fellows until it was given to the City of Starkville when the Order disbanded.
Cemeteries represent a stroll through history and each visitor comes with a specific purpose. Life has changed since 1825; however, death remains the same. The University students come to confirm history researching information such as infant deaths. The number of infant deaths in the late 20th century has changed drastically from those in the 19th century. Some of the tombstones mark the brief lives of some infants such as Margie Louise, daughter of R. and N. R. Walker, September 22, 1882 to December 20, 1882 and the infant daughter of M. F. and Mell Montgomery, January 12,1895 to January 20, 1895.
To family and friends, the monuments signify relationships that never die. Last month, I had a phone call from a family in Arizona who were coming to Starkville to visit Odd Fellows Cemetery to locate family burial sites and asked me to help them locate grave sites they wanted to see personally and photograph. To them, it was special to see the monuments and to remember their loved ones and take photos of their family by the tombs. People from far and near come to pay respect to their loved ones and to remember.
For many years, my Uncle Henry Patterson who was a longtime resident but later made Jackson, MS his home would visit our home on Hogan Street. On each visit he would walk to Odd Fellows and stroll around looking at all the tombs to see how many people he remembered and to see how many graves had been placed there since his last visit. He never came to Starkville without visiting Odd Fellows Cemetery. Now he comes once a month to place flowers on his wife’s grave. This cemetery has always held a special place in his heart. Lacey Mims comes frequently as far away as Midland, TX to visit the cemetery.
To many, the monuments create stories of the past and some have even become romantic. A few years ago, a young lady won a historical essay contest. Her subject was Cemeteries in Starkville in which she wrote of her father proposing to her mother in Odd Fellows Cemetery. It happened because the ring would not slide on her finger, so they took it to a nearby jewelry store and then walked over to Odd Fellows to wait for it to be resized. After it was resized, they drove back over to the Cemetery and parked on Hogan Street, which ran through the center of the cemetery and parked beneath two large oak trees near the graves of Clyde and Loula Henry where he placed the ring on her finger. They now call them “Uncle Clyde” and “Aunt Loula” as they tell their children the story of their engagement.
Have you ever wandered through a cemetery and wondered about the meanings of the designs carved on old gravestones? Thousands of different religious and secular symbols and emblems have adorned tombstones through the ages, indicating attitudes towards death and the hereafter, membership in a fraternal or social organization, or an individual’s trade, occupation or even ethnic identity. While many of these tombstone symbols have fairly simple interpretations, it is not always easy to determine their meaning and significance. We were not present when these symbols were carved into the stone and can’t claim to know our ancestors’ intentions. They may have included a particular symbol for no other reason than because they thought it was pretty. While we can only speculate what our ancestors were trying to tell us through their choice of tombstone art, gravestone scholars commonly agree upon these symbols and their interpretations.
The New Cemetery Survey of Oktibbeha County reveals burials in Odd Fellows of many war veterans in the American Revolution War, Spanish American War, Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War and the Iraq War.
Captain William Hillhouse is the only known veteran of the American Revolutionary War. Several tombstones identify veterans of the Civil War, and one, that of Charles William Lampkin, testifies to the death inherent in war. Lampkin “fell in battle of Harresboro, MS, June 14, 1864 age 18 years.” Different inscriptions indicate veterans of Civil War. Robert Holderness Spencer’s patriotism of the Old South can’t be argued: “He wore the Confederate Gray.” Harry E. Nash and Samuel J. Robinson, veterans of the 1898 Spanish American War as well as John Bruce Brown, Sr., veteran of the Korean War, and Samuel T. Polk, 1st Lt. Philippine Constabulary Capt., veteran of World War I.
Tombstones indicate the loss of life in World War II: 1st Lt. Garnet Steele Beattie, killed in Texpur, India, September 9, 1944; and 1st Lt. Lee Watson Johnston, 1911-1944, son of Lee W. and Margaret C. Johnston, killed in 1944. Johnston “fought in the Philippines on Bataan under McArthur in WW II. And was taken prisoner and in October 1944 met a tragic death in the South China Sea.” Albert M. Curtis, Jr. was a veteran of the Vietnam War. More recently, Robert Taylor McDavid, III, veteran of the Iraq War was laid to rest by his grandfather’s headstone.
The tombstone of Lovelace S. Foster, Sr. states, “Founder of Mississippi Baptist Orphanage in 1897. 1897-1903 Supt.” He was born in 1847 and died in 1913. Other markers indicate they were members of Woodman of the World, Eastern Star, Stars and Bars, Shriner, etc.
Oktibbeha County has 175 cemeteries with more than 20,000 burials. Copies of the New Cemetery Survey of Oktibbeha County are available from the Oktibbeha County Historical and Genealogical Society (OCHGS), P. O. Box 2290, Starkville, MS 39760. The cost is $50. Make checks payable to OCHGS.