Ask Rufus: Stories from Friendship Cemetery

 

One of the most iconic images of Columbus is Friendship Cemetery's weeping angel over the grave of the Rev. Thomas C. Teasdale. It was said that he was such a good man, even the Angels in heaven cried when he died.

One of the most iconic images of Columbus is Friendship Cemetery's weeping angel over the grave of the Rev. Thomas C. Teasdale. It was said that he was such a good man, even the Angels in heaven cried when he died. Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

Rufus Ward

 

 

Columbus' Friendship Cemetery is most noted for its association with the Civil War and Memorial Day, but there is a lot more history than that to be found there. With the talk of the Confederate monument at the Court House being moved there, a little history of the cemetery is in order.

 

Friendship Cemetery is actually a beautiful setting for a walk. Though a cemetery, it is alive with the stories of the fascinating people at rest there. The monuments there present a visual image of the past identifying people who range from a friend of Thomas Jefferson to an Oscar-winning Disney animator.

 

It is the Civil War period plots of the cemetery that usually first visually grab your attention. There are two plots within the grounds, in which there are a total of about 1,260 marble military headstones marking the graves of about 2,000 Confederate soldiers who died in or on the way to military hospitals in Columbus. There also were buried there about 40 Union soldiers, 30 of whom were removed to Corinth National Cemetery in 1867. Within those areas are beautiful huge old magnolia trees. Those trees themselves tell a story.

 

 

In 1869 the Ladies Monumental Association was organized at the Methodist Church to erect a monument to the Confederate soldiers buried in Friendship Cemetery and help care for their graves. The original burial plot for Confederate soldiers was in the southwest corner of the cemetery. It quickly filled up after the Battle of Shiloh, and a much larger plot opened on the northwest side of the cemetery. In 1869 the Ladies Monumental Association planted magnolias along the lane connecting the two burial plots, and it was named Magnolia Avenue.

 

I think my favorite story of Friendship is one my mother told me when I was a small child. It was a story her mother had told her and is about Mrs. Munroe.

 

Mrs. Munroe's resting place is a very old, white painted brick mausoleum in the original section of the cemetery. As the story goes, and it still never fails to happen, if you approach the mausoleum and call out, "Mrs. Munroe, Mrs. Munroe, what are you doing?" she will without fail say, "Nothing, nothing at all." And I have never taken children there and called out to Mrs. Munroe that she did not say exactly that.

 

Friendship is an old cemetery, having been established in 1849, but was not the first cemetery in Columbus. That distinction belonged to the Tombigbee Graveyard. That cemetery had been established around 1820 just south of the original city limits (a little north of where Riverview is located) on the bluff overlooking the Tombigbee. When Friendship Cemetery opened, it was said the graves were moved there.

 

The oldest graves in the cemetery were moved there from older cemeteries and include early settlers such as William Cocke who had been buried in the Tombigbee Graveyard. Cocke was a friend of Thomas Jefferson with whom he corresponded about Franklin Academy, Mississippi's first public school. Cocke had fought in both the American Revolution and the Creek Indian War/War of 1812. He was Tennessee's first U.S. senator and was a sometimes friend, sometimes political enemy of Andrew Jackson.

 

Also buried there is A.B. Meek, a prominent poet and writer of the mid-1800s. Meek wrote a poem, "Balaklava," honoring the bravery of a fateful charge of the British Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaklava. The poem initially won high praise, and it was said that Queen Victoria was so moved by it that she had copies printed to be distributed to the public. However, the poem was eclipsed by Alfred Lord Tennyson's now immortal poem, "The Charge of the Light Brigade."

 

The most iconic monument at Friendship Cemetery is the weeping angel at the grave of the Rev. Thomas C. Teasdale, who served as pastor of First Baptist Church in Columbus from 1858 to 1863. He so cared about children that he accomplished the near impossible during the Civil War. He was able to get both Confederate President Jefferson Davis and U.S. President Abraham Lincoln to sign the same document allowing him to carry needed supplies purchased in the North through the Union blockade to the Mississippi Orphans Home.

 

Today Teasdale is best known, not for his accomplishments, but for the marker at his grave site in Friendship Cemetery. The story I always heard about the marker is that he was such a good man even the angels in heaven cried when he died. His square in the cemetery is marked by the statue of an angel draped weeping over an altar. Teasdale was one of America's leading religious figures of the mid-1800s. The Knoxville (Tennessee) Daily Chronicle in 1880 referred to him simply as "the great evangelist."

 

Among the many others whose stories are worth retelling are Agustus Jones, who froze to death when the ill-fated Steamer Eliza Battle caught fire and burned on a freezing, flooded Tombigbee River in 1858.

 

There is Josh Meador, who came home from work one night with a bottle of bubble solution and a plastic wand. He gave them to his wife and told her to get on her hands and knees and crawl on the floor blowing bubbles so he could draw her picture doing that. She did and he went to work the next morning and redrew her picture. She became Cinderella surrounded by bubbles as she scrubbed the floor. Meador was the Oscar winning head of Animation Effects at Disney Studio during the golden age of Disney. He was for 29 years was the person who, Disney Studio Archivist Dave Smith said made Disney's animated characters come alive.

 

Clyde Kilby also found his final rest in Friendship Cemetery. He corresponded with and wrote biographical books on C.S. Lewis and was an editor for J.R.R. Tolkien. The list of the fascinating people resting at Friendship Cemetery could go on and on. There are so many stories to be told. And yet there are also untold stories such as a headstone simply marked "The Orphan Annie."

 

Many of the stories found at Friendship Cemetery are told each year during MSMS's Tales From the Crypt. If you haven't attended one of those performances, you have missed a treat for those fascinating people who rest in Friendship Cemetery once again come alive.

 

 

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]

 

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