Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Visiting Madison's Forest Hill Cemetery, Part Four: A map of the stars and some men whose graves you shouldn't ignore

It doesn't matter if it's an ancient aphorism or a New Age nugget of wisdom, anyone who tells you, "It's about the journey, not the destination," is being disingenuous -- or hasn't had to spend 10 hours strapped into a middle seat on economy class flight that's encountered turbulence at least once an hour. And they certainly haven't driven hundreds of miles with a couple of kids who repeatedly ask "Are we there yet?" when they're not begging you to stop at a root beer stand, or, subsequently, find the nearest public toilet or secluded wayside "right now because I can't wait any longer!"

That said, I do sometimes like to wander because it's often a way from Here to There that provides pleasant surprises along the way. I'm the kind of traveler who's ridden London's No. 9 bus from one end of the line to the other, just to see where it went (and glad I did so while the old double-decker Routemasters were still in use). And I'm the kind of walker who likes to take different routes if I'm traveling between two places more than once.

Sure, sometimes I take a guided walking tour, or stumble about with a map. But when it comes to cemeteries and museums and zoos, I'd rather stroll around and enjoy whatever surprises I may encounter, than keep my nose poked in a map as I search for some object or sight that may not live up to all the hype nameless experts have bestowed upon it.

That said, I'm going to introduce you to a self-guided 1.4 mile walking tour of Madison's Forest Hill Cemetery. Published by Historic Madison, Inc., it's featured in a free brochure (shown above) available at the cemetery office on Speedway Road. It has facts and photos and a map highlighting the locations of graves of notable Madisonians -- only a few of whom may have Central connections, notably members of the Jackson family.

If your time is limited, using this map of the stars may be the way to see the graves of a lot of white males -- and some of their family members, most of whose names are not mentioned in the brochure. The only women mentioned are Gertrude Elizabeth Taylor Slaughter, wife of Moses Stephen Slaughter; Belle Case La Follette, wife of Robert Marion La Follette; and "a Louisiana-born widow" named Alice Waterman. A husband seems to be a mandatory asset for inclusion.

Two of the most interesting graves in Forest Hill Cemetery are not featured on the walking tour. But they're the subject of the rest of this post because I think you'll find them as interesting as I do.

"Snowball is like an icon," says Kathy Lange, the friendly, helpful woman who works in the office at Forest Hill Cemetery. She says people are always coming in to ask for directions to his grave -- and she's glad to oblige.




John Riley, a window washer known to several generations of Madison residents as "Snowball" is buried in Section 9 of the cemetery. If you don't know Snowball's story, click HERE to read Doug Moe's column about him.

Snowball's gravestone was designed and donated by the craftsmen at Pechmann Memorials, a locally owned and operated business with a long history of making generous contributions to the community without a lot of fanfare and self-congratulation. My first encounter with Pechmann Memorials came while I was writing a story about a student production of "Fortinbras" at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Pechmann Memorials had loaned the director a dozen genuine gravestones for use as props in this modern take on "Hamlet."

As you can see from the photo below, taken about week before Memorial Day, there are people who still care enough about "Snowball" to honor his memory with flowers.



Another grave of particular interest is that of a man whose name still provokes controversy in some circles: Eston Hemings Jefferson (1808-1856). His grave is located in Section 3 of Forest Hill Cemetery, in the Pearson Jefferson plots, as is the grave of his wife, Julia Anne, and several other relatives.



In 1999, DNA evidence confirmed that Eston and his children were direct descendants of President Thomas Jefferson and one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. However, some of Jefferson's descendants still do not accept the validity of this evidence.

Eston Hemings Jefferson and his wife and three children moved to Madison in 1852. According to Historic Madison's "A Biographical Guide to Forest Hill Cemetery," the family was listed as mulatto in the 1850 census, and as white 10 years later.

Eston Hemings Jefferson's gravestone is flat, embedded in the ground, not upright. It is also worn and deteriorated, as you can see both from the photograph below and the close-up photograph of a portion of the stone that follows it. Resist the urge to touch it, clean it, or pull up any of the plants that are growing in and around it. Doing so may cause harm to the already fragile marker.







I hope I've piqued your curiosity, and that, if you have the time, you'll stop to visit the final resting places of these two men, even though they're not on the walking tour map. Kathy Lange will be glad to give you directions to these two graves if you stop by the cemetery office when it's open on weekdays. If this is not an option, you can copy the outline map of the cemetery from my first post on "Visiting Madison's Forest Hill Cemetery" and refer to the section numbers I've listed in the text of this post to find them.

And while you're visiting Forest Hill, do take time to just wander around a bit. You're likely to be pleasantly surprised by what you may discover.

1 comment:

Mary Jo McCarthy said...

SNOWBALL WAS VERY MUCH A PART OF MY GROWING UP YEARS. I MUST ADMIT, AT FIRST I THOUGHT HE WAS "SCARY" AND THEN CAME TO KNOW HIM AS A KIND AN GENTLE MAN. WHEN I WAS A LITTLE GIRL, I REMEMBER HIM PULLING ME OUT OF A POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS SITUATION. I WAS PLAYING OUT FRONT OF MY GRANDMA'S HOUSE AND A MAN CAME UP TO ME - SNOWBALL WAS AS ALWAYS WASHING, OR TRYING TO WASH WINDOWS. THIS MAN TRIED TO GRAB ME AND SNOWBALL GRABBED ME, PICKED ME UP AND RAN ALL THE UP THE STAIRS OF MY GRANDMOTHER'S HOUSE, RANG THE BELL, WAITED UNTIL SHE CAME, THEN RAN HIMSELF. I WAS CRYING AND TOLD GRANDMA WHAT HAD HAPPENED AND HOW "SNOWBALL" PROTECTED ME. I NEVER REALLY SPOKE TO HIM AGAIN , BUT EVERY TIME I SAY HIM, I WAVED AND HE SMILED. HE TRULY MADE ME FEEL SAFE AND I WILL NEVER, EVER FORGET THAT GENTLE MAN. MARY JO MCCARTHY