Sunday, October 30, 2016

Who's In Charge Here?

I'm sort of obsessed with Memphis history these days, and after visiting one super cool cemetery here in town, I was on a mission to find more over the weekend.

What I found was definitely intriguing!

The Bettis family, second to settle in Memphis nearly 200 years ago, is buried in Midtown. Not a weird fact on the surface, until you realize where in Midtown they are buried: nestled between the Home Depot and the Piggly Wiggly-turned-Cash Saver Food Outlet. Not exactly the most peaceful setting!

I parked on Angelus Street, thinking I was way off base in finding this little cemetery. But there it was, tucked away behind the buildings, protected by a short red brick wall. You can even see the tallest tombstone peeking above the enclosure.

It's obviously not a large piece of land, hardly bigger than a little church cemetery. It's all that's left of what was once a pretty sizable farm that would have covered a huge chunk of Midtown Memphis from Poplar to Union and McNeil to Cooper. The tombstone for Tillman and Sally Bettis is believed to be the oldest tombstone in Shelby County.

Tillman Bettis (1788-1854)
Sally Bettis (1784-1826)

According to one local researcher there are at least eight people buried within the wall, and possibly more in the grassy field leading up to it. But they are not the only ones resting here. There were at least two homeless camps set up inside the wall, one on top of what appeared to be a memorial slab on the ground. I felt very intrusive.

Drury Lyon Bettis (1814-1854)
So who's in charge here? Turns out Home Depot now owns and maintains the land. That said, homeless people flop here, there's poop all over the ground (watch your step), shopping carts are shoved in each corner, and tombstones are smashed and strewn. It really is a shame.

After leaving Midtown I went to find the Winchester Cemetery, reportedly the oldest in the city. The original location at Poplar and Third Street was moved a few miles up the road to this spot off North Parkway and Danny Thomas:

There are no grave markers, as most of the bodies were moved to Elmwood Cemetery. Most, but not all. Apparently the remains of Marcus Winchester, the very first mayor of Memphis, can be found somewhere under the city's Office of Fleet Management (formerly a horse barn) next door to Winchester Park.

Why so disrespectful? I couldn't find a clear answer. There is speculation that Winchester's marriage in 1823 to a woman who was reportedly 1/16th African American led to his unceremonious eternal resting place. Who's in charge here? In this case, who knows.

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