Monday, October 30, 2006

A pre-Halloween walk through the graveyard

Not everyone wants to go tiptoeing through an old cemetery just before Halloween. But for the past 10 years in Chapel Hill, Bland Simpson has led an increasingly popular public tour of one of the most remarkable burying grounds in the state.
Simpson – associate professor at UNC Chapel Hill, head of the creative writing program, author, songwriter and flat-out ace pianist and vocalist with the Red Clay Ramblers -- created the tour of the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery a decade ago as part of an American studies class on the university’s history. It’s always a few days before Halloween, perhaps heightening the tenuous link between this world and The Other Side as All Hallow’s Eve approaches.
The cemetery – its first burial was in 1798 – contains the earthly remains of some prominent figures in North Carolina history, including university presidents Edward Kidder Graham and Frank Porter Graham, newsman Charles Kuralt, Cornelia Phillips Spencer, who legend says rang the bell atop South Building when the university reopened during Reconstruction; big band leader Kay Kyser and Pulitzer Prize author Paul Green.
It also includes the gravesites of some less-well-known but equally important folks: Harriet Morehead Berry, a key figure in the development of North Carolina’s large state-maintained road system; Isaac Hall Manning, dean of medicine and founder of what eventually became Blue Cross/Blue Shield (and grandfather of Leandro school-funding case Judge Howard Manning Jr.), and Frederick and Adeline McCall, two founders of the N.C. Symphony.
One part of the cemetery is walled off by a low rock wall – a line demarking the old segregated part of the cemetery, Simpson said. An obelisk that once marked the on-campus grave of university president Dr. Joseph Caldwell now marks the grave of ex-slave Wilson Swain Caldwell, who started the first school for blacks in Chapel Hill.
The grave of Edward Kidder Graham, Simpson noted, was unusual for its simplicity and modesty. Graham, who died in the worldwide influenza epidemic in 1918, occupies “a modest spot but his thoughts were very grand indeed,” Simpson said. It was Graham who once suggested that the boundaries of the university and of the state itself be regarded as the same.
There’s the grave of William Meade Prince, an illustrator and writer who popularized the description of Chapel Hill as “the Southern Part of Heaven.”
And there was the grave of Nell Pickard, Simpson went on, a woman who was a good friend of his mother. Nell Pickard died and was buried in her family plot just a few weeks before the death of Charles Kuralt in 1997, Simpson said. UNC President Emeritus Bill Friday arranged with the Pickard family for Kuralt to be buried in its plot. Nell Pickard “would have been most amused if she had known she would spend the rest of eternity lying next to Charles Kuralt,” Simpson said.

10 comments:

krusenrelative said...

A nit:
Blog mentions the 1919 flu epidemic.
A more accurate characterization would be the 1918-1919 flu pandemic.
Most popular references, like "The Great Influenza" book, generally call it the pandemic of 1918, though it's highly possible it hit N.C. mostly in 1919.
Of course, that book also slurs Dr. Wilmer Krusen, calling him a "political appointee" and blaming him for making wrong decisions that helped spread the pandemic in Philly. He weighed the need of raising war bond money with a parade versus quarantining his city, and made his choice based on available information.
Individuals take note, if needed in the future.

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