Sunday, March 28, 2021

...ghost stories connected to a family cemetery...

Capitol building, Williamsburg, Virginia

 I first learned of the Jones Cemetery in Colonial Williamsburg in 2016. Each time we visit Colonial Williamsburg, I make a point to visit this cemetery, which is behind a brick wall with a locked iron gate. It does not stop me from standing on my toes to peep over that wall or from looking through the gate.

I was working on other research this morning when the cemetery came to mind. I wrote a post about taking the Williamsburg Ghost Tour via the mobile tour app and in that post, I discussed how I learned about the cemetery.

The Jones Cemetery/ Secretary’s Office was the last stop on the tour, which turned out to be my favorite stop because I had been to Colonial Williamsburg since I was a kid and never knew about the cemetery.

Jones Cemetery

As I shared in my original post, there are seven family graveyards in the historic area of Colonial Williamsburg. If you’re curious about those other cemeteries, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has a Historic Area Graveyard Study that goes into more details. The research was conducted in 2005 so the graves may not match the appearance of those in the photos.

The graves in front of the Secretary's Office belong to the members of the Jones family. I have seen the cemetery referenced as Jones Cemetery or as the Secretary's Office Graveyard although, there is no church on the premises.  

Each grave consists of a marble slab and an accompanying urn. Each inscription follows the pattern including the name, the parents' names, and a short verse. The graves do not include birth or death dates.

Again, the cemetery is surrounded by a wall and has a locked gate. Visitors walk right by the brick walls without noticing the small cemetery.

The Secretary's Office building was established as a safe place to store government documents after a 1747 fire at the Capitol Building destroyed many public records. This building was made of brick with the floor being stone. Without an attic or a basement to cause moisture, the two fireplaces in the building were intended to keep all of the paper documents dry and mold free. The building was not needed after the capital moved to Richmond in 1780. Virginia's first capital was Jamestown, which was relocated to Williamsburg in 1699.

The Secretary’s Office building would later become the residence of David Rowland Jones and Mary Ann Tinsley Jones along with their children. From the ghost tours that I have taken in Colonial Williamsburg including the mobile app tour, the Secretary’s Office is included on the stop most likely because it is part of the Duke of Gloucester Street and it is right by the old capitol building.

Secretary's Office building in background

There are two associated stories as part of the ghost tours and then numerous mentions of paranormal activity. First, as legend has it the Jones were said to be reclusive and were seldom seen anywhere but church. They had seven daughters, none of whom were married. Today, I learned this was not true for a few reasons. First, I read the obituary for Mary Ann Tinsley Jones and it reads nothing but nice things about David Rowland Jones, not to mention that it does not portray the family as loners. Quite the contrary, really. For Emma’s obituary, it reads that she had “many friends.” Helen and Ida were beloved school teachers as was their sister Virginia who attended the College of William and Mary. Their daughter Mary was involved with civic and religious organizations and had been involved in educational work in schools. Second, of the seven daughters, one was married. Eudora not only married but she was the mother of two daughters and two sons.   

The ghost story with includes an apparition of a young girl being seen running toward the road concludes with one of the daughters, “Edna”, which would have had to have been a nickname since none of the girls were given this name. Edna was killed by a carriage while trying to secretly leave her home and go out to meet a guy. As with most ghost stories, I have so many questions- why did she not see the carriage when she was running toward the road? Was this at night? If at night, why were there carriages? Based on their obituaries, none of the daughters died from being run over by a carriage.

  • Helen, N Jones d. 1901- had been ill for several months and had to resign from her teaching position the prior year because of her health

  •  Emma A Jones d. 1902- not noted in obituary

  •  Ida M Jones d. 1903- died in her “mother’s home” after a “lingering illness”

  • Rosa L Jones d.1915- died in the home after a long illness

  • Eudora Jones Armistead d.1940 * married

  • Mary R Jones d. 1943

  • Virginia W Jones d. 1964

None of the stories mention the two sons: Fitzhugh Calvin Jones d.1926 and Earnest Tinsley Jones d. 1942. And based on the inclusion of a carriage, automobiles were common by the 1920s so the ghost story would only make sense if it were before that time. Perhaps Emma was “Edna” since her obituary does not include any mention of illness but I highly doubt that since old newspapers can include the most gruesome details.

When I originally heard the story, I considered how frightening it was that all of the daughters were forced to stay at home against their will forever since they are buried just feet from the home where they lived, and how sad it would have been to have such an awful father who would not allow his family to leave home. It simply isn’t true, and Eudora is not even buried in the family plot. She’s in Cedar Grove Cemetery with her husband. 

Returning to the research today after several years, I think about how frightening it must have been for the mother, Mary A. E. Jones to have had lost her husband and figure out how to make ends meet in a society where widows were not necessarily looked upon so favorable, and then have three of her daughters ill in their family home during three consecutive years. The next time I head to Williamsburg, I may toss some flowers over that wall or at least whisper kind messages toward the graves.

excerpt from Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg, Virginia) 07 Jul 1906, Sat, Page 8

Sunday, March 14, 2021

... stories continue after cemetery vandalism...


Last night before heading to bed, I learned that at some point over the weekend, Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia was a target for vandals. They destroyed numerous gravestones, many 120+ years old, in Presidents Circle where Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler are buried along with some prominent-in-their-day members of Richmond society. The area is a small part of the 135-acre garden cemetery but as one could imagine, much damage can be done within a small area.

I have run River City Cemetarians since 2017. It’s a group of individuals who like visiting old cemeteries and my focus has always been on getting folks into the cemeteries for a visit. Outside of the pandemic, I give tours and raise money for the Friends organizations that help preserve these historic spaces. A common explanation is for the group name, which is because Richmond, Virginia is known as the "river city," and because I like alliteration. There are actually two ways to spell the term cemetarian/ cemeterian. The latter spelling is commonly used because it looks more like “cemetery.” I tend to go with the former spelling because, as an English professor, I prefer the Latin suffix: -arian, meaning “having a concern or belief in a specified thing.” While all of our words are, arguably, made up, they are rooted (pun intended) in other languages. The etymology of the term “cemetery” can be a bit complicated and it is believed to be derived from Old French “cimetiere” (graveyard) and from Late Latin “coemeterium.” Because the term is most likely based in Latin, I use the Latin suffix.

Another common question is, “why cemeteries?” Today my answer is something like, “the dead don’t go around destroying things.” Honestly, the answer is more complicated. I have always loved cemeteries. As a grandchild of a genealogist, some of my earliest and best memories included helping my grandfather look for family members in old cemeteries. These visits always included my grandfather making connections to the family tree and, if we were lucky, a good story about our family members. Today, as an English professor, I still love a good story although I find that as I get older, nonfiction holds my interest a bit more. I also love being outdoors. I returned to graduate school for Public History when my university called on faculty to become more interdisciplinary in our teaching. My research throughout that program focused on historic cemeteries. Since completing the program in 2018, I have taught a few interdisciplinary courses focused on cemeteries along with dark tourism and ghost stories and haunted history, which focuses on my love of literature, folklore, and history.

The weekend vandalism is painful but I spent this morning focused on telling the stories of those interred in the grave-markers that the vandals targeted. My day has been filled with explaining that cemeteries are still safe places to visit for families.

Mount Hebron Cemetery
A few months ago, I nearly fell in a hole while walking the grounds of Mount Hebron Cemetery in Winchester, Virginia. They have so many beautiful pieces of art that I really should not be faulted for looking up instead of looking down but I did need to pay attention. I met the culprit- a giant groundhog! He’s done some serious damage. Here’s the infamous hole that I noticed and damage to the ground under another grave. I peeped in the holes to see how deep they were. He’s done some damage. It’s frustrating to see cemeteries targeted by human vandals because our cemetery workers and volunteers are already struggling with nature.
the hole I nearly fell into
Sometimes it's easy to think that vandalism and disrespecting cemeteries is a new occurrence. Not so. Here's an article from the Richmond Dispatch, July 26, 1860 about a daughter trying to remove dark pencil marks from her mother's white marble grave in Shockoe Hill Cemetery.


Richmond Dispatch, July 26, 1860.

Vandalism can also feel very personal. I remember standing at a gravesite of one of the loveliest pieces of art and just two weeks prior to our July 4th visit of Bruton Parish Episcopal Church in Williamsburg, Virginia, vandals had attempted to destroy this grave marker. This one stone was pure beauty. How can people be so awful? Destruction for what purpose?

It’s a reminder to go out to the cemeteries now. Visit them today while they’re here. Visit your favorites. Find one you’ve never noticed before. Appreciate them when you can.

Bruton Cemetery gravestone in 2015 before vandalism

Bruton Cemetery, photo taken in 2018