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Stories written in stone

POSTED: August 31, 2014 1:00 a.m.
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HARRIS BLACKWOOD/The Times

A pair of glasses are at the grave marker of William Duggan in the Pleasant Grove Primitive Baptist Church's cemetery in Moultrie.

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MOULTRIE ­— For some people, an out-of-town trip is not complete without a visit to a museum or art gallery. For me, it could easily be a visit to a cemetery.

The truth is, a cemetery is part art gallery and part museum. You can look around and learn something about a place.

Sometimes it is a reminder of how short the average life span was a century ago. It tells you about young men who went off to war and returned home to a spot in a graveyard.

But tombstones tell you much more. Historians use the term “funerary art” to describe tombstones.

Our own Alta Vista Cemetery has some great examples of funerary art. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A self-guided tour is available with a very nice brochure.

My favorite tombstone in all of Georgia is a sculpture of a gal named Nancy. She stands guard over the grave of William Duggan in the Pleasant Grove Primitive Baptist Church cemetery on the edge of Moultrie.

Nancy is an elephant, a white elephant. To be more specific, she is a white marble elephant sculpted out of marble from the quarries of Tate. She is said to weigh about 10,000 pounds. If William Duggan is resurrected, as many Christians believe, Nancy will have to be moved. If you are anywhere near Pleasant Grove on resurrection morning, you might want to steer clear of the Duggan grave. Nancy is a big girl.

William Duggan ran away from home when he was 12 to work in the circus. In 1950, he bought his first circus. While the circus was wintering in Florida, Duggan died. He bought the real Nancy for his new circus, but never lived to see her perform.

His son commissioned the tombstone, believed to be the only full-size elephant tombstone in the whole world.

Some other interesting grave markers are in this world.

Herschel Scott of Monroe was a devoted fan of the Georgia Bulldogs and attended 471 consecutive games. His tombstone has a doggone tribute: “A Bulldog born, Bulldog bred, here I lie, a Bulldog dead.”

A woman in Kentucky listed the birth and death date of her departed husband.

On her side, she had the stonecutter put an arrow to her husband’s death date with the inscription, “Happy since.” That’s a bitter editorial.

I knew a woman who had the words “Together Forever” placed on their combined stone when her husband died. She remarried and later chose to be buried with her second husband. Oops.

The tombstone of rock legend Duane Allman in Macon is a rather simple one. But folks who visit leave an assortment of mementos ranging from full cans of beer, marijuana cigarettes and guitar picks.

At the Lexington, Va., grave of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson, visitors leave lemons. Look it up, it’s a good story.

At the grave of William Duggan, there is a pair of eyeglasses. I don’t know if they are meant for Duggan or Nancy.

At times, I ponder what I want to be the remembrance of me. I have asked my wife to take me to a taxidermist and prop me up in the living room. She says no to that, as well as my desire to have an oil painting of me over the fireplace.

I think I’ll just have a nice tombstone with a memorable quote from me.

“I told y’all I wasn’t feeling good.”

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.

 

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