Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Happy 4th of July!

There's more than one way to fly the flag on this 4th of July weekend! As you enjoy the weekend, think about the reason we celebrate the 4th of July.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Last One Standing

I never wanted to be the last one standing. If it were left up to me, my parents and brother would still be here with me. Life, however, had other plans and they are all gone now.

The natural order of events has the children outliving their parents. My father passed away over 30 years ago and, while his death was hard on my mother, she accepted the loss and went on. “Losing a child is different,” she used to say. Mother had not stopped mourning the loss of my brother when she died two years ago.

Today was my brother’s birthday. I find myself remembering little things we did as children and later as adults before his death in 2001. The memories are there, but they are becoming soft around the edges. That is unsettling.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Tombstone Art and Symbols

I attended a class on "Tombstone Art" this afternoon. Our instructor discussed the meanings of different tombstone symbols and he had a variety of examples as shown on stones from Oak Hill Cemetery, one of my favorite local hangouts.

He told us that for a figure to truly represent an angel, the figure can give no indication of the gender. The angels represent “messengers from God” and often hold a wreath, which symbolizes victory over death. Other popular tombstone symbols are the cross and anchor, which signify Christ as the “hope we have as an anchor of the soul.” Different flowers have different meanings, with the lily, which is common on tombstones, symbolizing purity.

We were also told that some more modern tombstones have symbols that have particular meaning to the decedent. In view of this, I have decided that on the back on my tombstone I want a large glass of sweet tea, a couple of cats, a computer and an open book. That just about says it all.

Oh, the photo above was taken in Fernwood Cemetery 2 June 2009. There is no indication whose grave it is marking, but I figure it must have been a good person as there is a variety of religious symbols on the tombstone.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Funeral of Gypsy Queen

The following article appeared in the Evansville [Indiana] Courier, on the 2nd of April 1894, page 4.

Mrs. Harrison's Burrial [sic].

The Largest Funeral Procession
Ever Seen Here.

The remains of Mrs. Isaac Harrison, better known as the "Gypsy Queen," were interred at Oak Hill cemetery yesterday afternoon. Never has a larger crowd assembled at one time in that burying ground than on yesterday afternoon. Many people who were present through curiosity were unable to get within hearing of the services which were held at the grave. The drive-way, from the gates of the grounds to the grave, were lined with people, and estimates made place the number at from 6,000 to 10,000.

At the grave the ceremonies were simple and appropriate. Dr. E.G. McLean, of the First Cumberland Presbyterian church, delivered the funeral address. He spoke of the good Mrs. Harrison had done among her people and how she was loved and revered by them.

At 2 o'clock the procession formed at Lake Park and several thousand people were gathered there at the time. Buggies, carriages, cabs, moving cars and every kind of vehicle that could be used in transporting people were to be seen in the procession, which was one of the largest, if not the largest, seen here in years. There were about fifty Gypsies in attendance. The remains, which have been in a public vault for nearly five months, were carried to the Harrison family lot and the last ceremonies were performed. Beautiful music was furnished by the double quartette composed of Misses Nellie Cook, Hae McMcCutchan, Sophia Schenck and Cora Smith, and Messrs. Harry Scott, Elmer McCutchan, Wallace Cook and Julius Jorgenson.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Death of King of the Gypsies

Isaac Harrison
Born 1837
in Scherfield, Eng.
Killed Dec. 1, 1900
at Martin Station, Ala.

Elizabeth S.
Wife of
Isaac Harrison
Born May 17, 1831 in England
Died Sept. 20, 1895

Father and Mother Have Gone to Rest
The Ones We Loved So Dear
A Place is Vacant in our Home
Which Never Can Be Filled

Tombstone of Isaac and Elizabeth Harrison, King and Queen of the Gypsies, Section 23, Oak Hill Cemetery, Evansville, Indiana.

I moved to this southern Indiana city the summer I became 11 and it wasn’t long before I heard our city was the summertime residence of a caravan of gypsies. I understand Rom is the politically correct name today, but in my child’s mind they were gypsies and that is the term that was used. Anyway, according to what was said, they wintered in the South and came to Evansville when the leaves began to unfurl and the breezes became warm. It was said they camped in a park, but I never saw the vehicles in which they traveled.

When I began working at the downtown branch of our local library during my early college years, another employee used to regale us with stories of her friendship with a gypsy fellow and the places they went and the fun they had. She made him sound very glamorous and full of life.

A couple of years ago I decided to do a little investigating to see if the stories I had heard could be true. Most of the information I found came from newspaper articles and obituaries.

It was said that Isaac and Elizabeth Harrison were the King and Queen of the Gypsies and even though both died elsewhere, their bodies were brought back to this city and buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. It was also said that when the families came here, they all camped at a park, living in their colorful wagons until it was time to head South for the winter.

In every article I read, it was stated that the Harrison and Stanley families were highly regarded and Stanley Avenue in our city was named for one family member. I am still tracking down information to verify these stories, but I wanted to share a little about the King and Queen of the Gypsies now. Each family has its sorrow and shame and one such event in the Harrison family was the death of Isaac in 1900. Below is the newspaper account, which appeared in the Evansville Journal, Tuesday, 4 Dec 1900, page 1.

Of All the Gypsies in the United

Isaac Harrison Killed
Saturday at Selma, Ala.

Well-Known in Evansville Where
He Camped Every Summer.

He Was Slain By His Son.
The body Brought Here and
Placed in a Vault.

Elaborate Funeral Ceremonies to
Be Held Next Spring.

The remains of Isaac Harrison, leader of all the gypsies in the United States, and who was killed by his son, Harry Harrison, at Selma, Ala., last Saturday, arrived in Evansville yesterday and were placed in a receiving vault at Oak Hill Cemetery. The burial will be made next spring and the funeral ceremonies will be of an elaborate character.

The body was escorted to this city by Mr. Harrison’s oldest son, Richard, Maria Harrison, daughter of the deceased, and Mrs. Will Harrison, his daughter-in-law.

They brought the first news of the tragedy which will arouse all of the Gypsy camps. In Evansville, the announcement will cause great regret, as the murdered man was well known to a large number of citizens as an honest man.

The murder of the old man was a most distressing affair. It seems that Harry Harrison and his oldest brother Richard had not been on speaking terms for several years, Harry believing that their father was partial to Richard.

The sons had a quarrel in the camp at Selma about 10 o’clock Saturday morning and the father attempted to make peace. He separated the sons and Harry securing a Winchester rifle shot his father in the abdomen. The wounded man was given every attention, but he lived only a few hours. The murderer escaped, but is being [illegible] by a sheriff’s posse which started out from Selma. He is about 35 years old.

Isaac Harrison was born at Sheffield, England, sixty-four years ago, and had been a resident of the United States since 1860. He was very successful as a breeder and seller of horses and in trading and leaves a fair-sized fortune to his children, Richard, Valley, Will and Ben Harrison, Maria Harrison and Mrs. Belle Stanley. The latter is with her camp somewhere in Florida and the burial of the remains will not be made till she can come to Evansville, which will probably be early next spring. Mr. Harrison’s wife, who was known as the queen of the gypsies, died in Ohio five years ago. Her remains were brought to this city and buried in the Harrison lot at Oak Hill after a ceremony of great pomp, according to the gypsy rites.

The son Harry will, of course, be ruled out of all camps and the other children have offered a reward of $500 for his capture.

The Harrisons and Stanleys intermarried and came in the spring of every year with Isaac Harrison to Evansville, where they made their headquarters at Lake Park. Their winter camp has always been in Alabama, and the party escorting the leader’s remains to this city returned to Selma last night. They were deeply affected by the tragic death of their relative.

Mrs. Maria Harrison stated that she and her baby would make their home in future with her brother, Richard.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Hazardous Duty

Never let it be said that genealogy is only for the old, the weak and the faint of heart! Why, I can tell you stories of being chased by wild animals, attacked by killer insects and I even survived a dangerous earthquake! What? You don’t believe me? Well, let me tell you the details.

I have this friend in Kentucky who shares my given name. We also share a love of locating and recording abandoned cemeteries in her home county. To get to our destination on one such trip, we parked the car, climbed over a fence and started off across a pasture toward the top of a hill, the logical spot for a family cemetery. About half way across the pasture, these big beasts - cows, I believe they are called - started chasing me. They ran, I ran faster. Looking over my shoulder, I saw my so-called friend doubled over laughing. “Stop, Brenda. They are running after you because they think you are going to feed them.” Humph! I knew that. I was just running to get a little exercise.

Another day, the first day of April, if I am not mistaken, we were in another part of the county recording a cemetery that was nothing more than a large clump of woody brush in the middle of an old corn field. We both sat down on fallen tombstones to record inscriptions. Apparently, some predators that live in such an environment found us and decided to go home with us. The next day I called my friend, “Brenda, do you itch? And do you have red bumps around your waist and ankles?” Yep! Those killer insects (aka chiggers) had attacked both of us.

Neither of those events was quite as scary as the morning I sat in the basement of one of my favorite Kentucky courthouses and witnessed my first earthquake up close and personal. First the metal stairs began to rattle and moan. Then the floor above my head started to wave - just like it is does in the movies - and then the windows rattled. Well, if I was going to be taken out by an earthquake, at least I was in my favorite place and doing the thing I loved most. I worked on until the county clerk came downstairs to check for damages and found me happily transcribing records. It seems the employees upstairs had run outside when the rattling began, not knowing that I was still in the basement.

You have to be made of tough stuff to be a genealogist and I believe I have passed the test.

Friday, June 5, 2009


How often have you heard “Beauty is only skin deep” or “You are as old as you feel?” Have you wondered where those statements originated? Sorry, I don’t have the answer. I can tell you, though, that many of these statements have become such a part of our speech patterns that there is a special name for them – proverbs. By using these proverbs, we are repeating a script written long ago and used so many times that these words are now accepted as truths and are part of our culture.

Are they really true? Who knows? Maybe there is a kernel of truth, but has anyone ever tried to test them to see if they are valid? Because we humans like to repeat ideas and words that tickle our fancy, these statements may have just been passed from one person to another, from one side of our country to the other. Repeating something over and over makes it true, or does it?

How many of the following proverbs are part of your vocabulary – and beliefs?

  • Red sunset at night, sailors’ delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors’ take warning.

  • A dimple on the chin means there’s a devil within. [Often accompanied by a twinkle in the eye!]

  • He can’t see the forest for the trees.

  • The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.

  • Every path has its puddle.

  • If you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas.

  • Never start a project on Friday as it will never be finished. [My Kentucky grandmother swore by this proverb!]

  • Can you think of a new proverb? How about these:

  • A child praised in his youth will honor his parents in old age.

  • Speak rashly, apologize slowly.

  • If you have one or two or three, please share with us.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009

    No Thoughts Or Words

    There's a thief in the house and all of my thoughts and words have been stolen. I'll return when they have been recovered.