Southern cemeteries with craggly Live oaks dripping with Spanish moss are mysterious places with stories to tell.
“See ya later,” the marker of a teen buried at a D’Iberville cemetery declares.
“She hath done what she could!” reads an epitaph in the Old Biloxi Cemetery for a woman who bequeathed her money to support preachers, their widows and orphans.
“Tis sad to part with those we love, to lay them in the grave, and say farewell to a dazling child, we would have died to save,” is no doubt a parent’s message on the gravestone of a child who died at age 5 and 11 months.
Indeed, there are sad stories — a single date on the marker for a child who was born and died the same day, or the identical date on the side-by-side graves of an infant and woman who died in childbirth.
But then there are mementos like a can of Budweiser on a grave, or a sign at the grave of an Ocean Springs Greyhounds fan, that are reminders the person buried there is loved.
An internet search for the list of cemeteries in the three Coast counties returns more than 100 locations, and still more family plots probably don’t make the list.
Each cemetery has its own spirit and personality — and some are legendary.
The Garden of Hope Cemetery on a back road in Gautier is private and locked, but it’s on several lists of scariest cemeteries in the state and country. Legend has it that a man who killed his wife and five children with an ax are buried together there. One of the daughters has been seen wandering the cemetery in a blue dress.
The Rock ‘n’ Roll Graveyard, as it’s called, is down a country road dappled with sun rays through the trees, not far from downtown Ocean Springs. Amid the pretty setting, people claim to be spooked by a woman in white sitting in a rocking chair.
“It ain’t the dead ones you’ve got to worry about,” said Tony Murphy, evoking an often-used quote.
He’s worked in cemeteries for 25 years at Murphy’s Monuments in St. Martin. Recently at Evergreen Cemetery in Ocean Springs, he and his crew were restoring the O’Keefe family plot, where former Biloxi Mayor Jerry O’Keefe was buried recently.
The cemetery meanders among the trees and has views of the bayou.
“It’s a fine piece of property,” Murphy said.
He sandblasts names, dates and epitaphs into the granite, and recently inscribed one for a woman about an elevator ride to the top.
The epitaph costs $5 a letter, he said, so a simple “Beloved wife” runs a little over $50 while a “Hold my drink, you’re gonna’ love this,” is more expensive — and more of a statement.
He’s done too many stones for young children, he said, but not many little lambs. Those that sit atop tiny gravestones are made out of marble, which he said is three times as expensive as the granite.
The new style is to embed a photograph of the deceased in the granite or engrave the stone with deer, footballs or bulldozers.
Fall is the time for cemetery tours in South Mississippi to recall those made a difference in the community. It’s also a good time to wander through the cemeteries and see others who left an impression.
Famous last words
Actors, musicians and other famous people often give their fans one the last word on their lives with an epitaph that sums up their career:
Actor and musician John Belushi: “I may be gone but Rock and Roll lives on”
Gangster Al Capone: “My Jesus, mercy”
Actor Rodney Dangerfield: “There goes the neighborhood”
Actor Bette Davis: “She did it the hard way”
Actor Mel Blanc: “That’s all folks” (Trademark line of cartoon character Porky Pig, whose voice was provided by Blanc for many years.)
Actor Curly Joe DeRita: “The Last Stooge” (He was the last surviving member of The Three Stooges.)
Statesman Benjamin Franklin: “The Body of B. Franklin, printer. Like the Cover of an old Book, Its Contents torn out, And stripped of its Lettering & guilding, Lies here food for worms. For, it will as he believed appear once more, In a new and more elegant edition, Corrected and improved by the Author.”
Comedian Jackie Gleason: “And away we go!” (Trademark catchphrase from his television shows.)
Television producer Merv Griffin: “I will not be right back after this message” (He ended the final episode of his talk show, which ended in 1986, with these words.)
Martin Luther King Jr.: “Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty I’m Free At Last.” (Lyrics of an old African American Spiritual he frequently quoted.)
Singer: Dean Martin: “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime.” (Title of one of his songs.)
Actor Leslie Nielsen: “Let ‘er rip”
Actor Will Rogers: “If you live life right death is a joke as far as fear is concerned”
Baseball player Babe Ruth: “May That Divine Spirit That Animated BABE RUTH to Win the Crucial Game of Life Inspire the Youth of America”
Singer Frank Sinatra: “The best is yet to come” (Title of one of his trademark songs.)
Actor Studs Terkel: “Curiosity did not kill this cat”
Author Kurt Vonnegut: “The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music”
Actor John Wayne: “Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.”
Actor H. G. Wells: “I told you so, you damned fools.”
Author Billy Wilder: “I’m a writer but then nobody’s perfect.” (”Nobody’s perfect” is the final line of the movie “Some Like It Hot.”)
Robert Frost: “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”
Edgar Allan Poe: “Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore’”