Greenwood Cemetery

My family were not “Old Jackson”, so I had no local kin buried in Greenwood Cemetery, but I grew up near it. It was the view from the sleeping porch at our house on North Congress Street. We could look right down on it. I used to go over there and play. Of course, back then nothing was citified. There was no city look to Jackson then. It was a country town.” (Eudora Welty)

View looking south toward the New Capitol building

** “There’s nothing like bones to remind you of your Heritage.” **

Graveyard / cemetery / catacomb / coemeterium / columbarium / mausoleum / tomb – these terms represent varying forms of human burial processes and procedures throughout recorded history.  Human beings have always wondered what happens afterwards … after our brief time on earth is completed.   But as urban populations have swelled, society has been forced to deal with death NOW, not just as an intellectual or religious exercise but as a health concern – an immediate need to deal with a deceased body.  A dead, decaying, smelly corpse that obviously MUST be separated from those of us still alive – what are we to do? 

How do we respectfully say goodbye to our dearly departed loved ones, while we also maintain a healthy distance … obliging the Biblical datum that they “will return to the dust” ?

You will sweat and work hard for your food. Later you will return to the ground, because you were taken from it. You are dust, and when you die, you will return to the dust.” (Genesis 3:19)

The ancients embalmed (preserved) the body to delay decay in preparation for the afterlife, or the next life.  The process would take days.  But the Israelites buried their dead on the very day of death.  They wrapped the body with a 12” wide, 60-foot long cloth soaked with spices to overwhelm the stench until the body could be placed inside a cave or stone sepulcher.  In more modern times, a similar embalming process is used to give family mourners time for a memorial funeral event.  But funerals are quite expensive, so many families are turning to cremation as the “body disposition” of choice. Cremation simply speeds up the process – we become dust again, either way. 🙂

In the earliest days of Jackson, Mississippi, one can look back to history’s record and perceive what were the imperative priorities of the city, state and national founders.  While Jackson’s master plan was created in 1822 by Peter Van Dorn, (according to NRHP research documentation) the original city plan neglected a provision for a public burial ground.  To rectify the omission, the Federal government ceded adjacent lands in 1823 to the state who subsequently ceded the acreage to the city of Jackson in 1837.  As a contextual reminder – the young city’s namesake, Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), was one of the most famous personalities in America, and the world, at the time.

Early city plan for Jackson, Mississippi

For decades it was simply known as The Graveyard or the City Cemetery, which was expanded about 1850 to the current 22 acres.  The name was changed to Greenwood Cemetery in 1899, and is considered today as the city’s oldest historic site … its soil accepting the first burial in 1821.

Wild flowers blanket the ground in the early spring 2019

“Within its 22 acres lie seven governors, 15 Jackson mayors including the first, 6 Confederate Brigadier Generals, 6 State Supreme Court Justices, clergymen, the first presidents of both Belhaven and Millsaps Colleges and the noted author Eudora Welty.  Up until the turn of the century nearly everyone who died in Jackson was buried in Greenwood Cemetery – rich, poor, black, white, slave, free, for it has been an integrated burial ground ever since its inception.  Even some of the State Penitentiary prisoners who paid for their crimes by hanging are buried there.”  (page 4, Voices Heard from the Grave)

Did you catch that? It was integrated from the very beginnings … almost 200 years ago! Greenwood Cemetery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a Mississippi Landmark, and remains the largest green space in the city of Jackson.  The city owns the cemetery, but much of the maintenance is done by the Greenwood Cemetery Association which also raises funds for ongoing repairs, landscaping maintenance, as well as organizing rehabilitation and improvements projects.

This old Oak, Magnolias and Crepe Myrtle trees are extraordinary … especially in the center of an urban environment.

Urban garden cemeteries are an integral piece of American cities, and as densities increase, these inner city green spaces deserve loving attention – Greenwood Cemetery is no exception to this trend and need for recognition. A Philadelphia, PA news outlet, recently speaking of the national movement for urban cemetery revitalization, states “People used this place(s) as an escape from the city and as a park before the park system existed. They came to look at the trees, to look at the art, visit famous people and their loved ones. It was a tourist destination. Other Victorian-era cemeteries around the country are taking the same approach, in hopes of fostering community within their spaces rather than languishing into forgotten, weed-ridden sites.”

Imagine, while we maintain respect for those interred here, if we used this green garden park as exactly that – Jackson’s Central Park ? Why don’t we enjoy it as a regular location for outdoor movies (“cinema in the cemetery”), group dog walks, stargazing, yoga, Easter egg hunts, family picnics, and more.

Cemetery detail – official map of the city of Jackson, MS / Daniel, Henry C. / 1875
http://www.mdah.ms.gov/arrec/digital_archives/series/maps/detail/191409

Greenwood is looking at those same aspects and options to reinvigorate local interest and daily enjoyment of this beautiful and historic green urban park space. Join the effort! Give a financial donation or dedicate your talents to the goal of making Greenwood Cemetery into Jackson’s valuable beautiful & green “central park” garden destination. Visit and support now https://www.facebook.com/Greenwood-Cemetery-Association-Jackson-MS-320287349696/

Beautiful craftsmanship illustrated in this cast iron family plot enclosure.

References:

** Quoted from the 2011 documentary film: Monumental: In search of America’s National Treasure

Uploaded March 2019 – DTW’s Blog #0044

D. Tracy Ward, Architect

Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2019 by D. Tracy Ward and Benchmark Design, PC.  “By wisdom a house is built, And by understanding it is established; And by knowledge the rooms are filled With all precious and pleasant riches.
Proverbs 24:3-4 

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