Historic Elmwood Cemetery

            ...Memphis at Rest since 1852


Elmwood Cemetery was established in 1852 as part of the Rural Cemetery Movement which swept the nation in the early to mid 1800s.  This movement envisioned that the land would be a park for the living as well as for the dead, a place where family outings could occur.  It's a classic example of a garden cemetery with a park-like setting, with sweeping vistas, lush shady knolls, large, ancient, towering trees, and magnificent sculpture and monuments.   The cemetery was originally 40 acres, but was expanded to 80 acres after the Civil War.   The name "Elmwood" was chosen in a drawing.


The first burial occurred on July 15, 1853 (Mrs. R. B. Berry), and since then, more than 75,000 people have been buried at Elmwood Cemetery.  There's currently space for about 15,000 more.  Buried here are some of the city's most honored and revered dead - those loved and feared.  There are veterans of every American war, from the American Revolution to the Vietnam War.  And there are folks from every walk of life, including Mayors, Governors, U.S. Senators, madams, blues singers, suffragists, martyrs, generals, civil rights leaders, holy men, outlaws and millionaires, and of course, ordinary citizens.  The cemetery is located at 824 S. Dudley Street in Memphis.



Sincere thanks to Woody Savage for his excellent photos of Elmwood Cemetery.




Click on small photos for an enlargement


The beauty of Elmwood  Elmwood is the oldest active cemetery in Memphis.  It is home to over 1,500 trees.  Since 2002, the grounds have been on the National Register of Historic places.


Morgan Bridge                Morgan Bridge    

              Miller Garden

Stokes Columbarium

Phillips Cottage                    Lord's Chapel





The sculpture of Elmwood 
During the Victorian Era, the popular view of death became romanticized; death was represented by symbols including angels, flowers, and plants.  These ideas are reflected in the many magnificent monuments, mausoleums and life-sized figures in the cemetery.  The grounds are an open air museum of sculpture.



Snowden Snowden Overton Overton Camp  

Falls Porter Porter Montgomery Gov. Harris Laukhuff


Seypell Bedford Lemmon Goodlett McHall Partee








The Architecture of Elmwood  The way man has memorialized the dead has always been a reflection of society's evolution.  Today, Elmwood cemetery represents an open air museum containing many worthy memorials to the deceased - a virtual treasure trove of art, architecture , design, and history.


            Grosvenor Hadden Campbell Ayers -


Morgan Bridge Wrought Iron Work Norfleet Bell

Lord's Chapel

Phillips Cottage

Snowden Napoleon Hill Erquhart Hughes Arnold

Church Vault

Wessendorf Vault

Treadwell Vault

Louden Vault

Donahoe Vault


Humes Vault McGhee Vault Montgomery Vault Leatherman Vault

Howard Vault




Memorials of Historic Events and Tragedies...

Civil War Burials    Over 1,000 Confederate soldiers and veterans are buried in Confederate Soldiers Rest, in the Flowler Section.  Many other Confederates are buried elsewhere in the cemetery.  The first burial was in 1861 and the final internment was in 1940.  Union soldiers were also buried here in the 1860s but almost all were removed in 1868 and re-interred in Memphis National Cemetery.  Two Union generals remain at Elmwood.   There are 20 Confederate generals buried here.




Confederate Rest          Marker Monument Confederate Rest

Yellow Fever Burials   There were several outbreaks of Yellow Fever during the 1870s which practically wiped out the population of Memphis.  There were over 5,000 fatalities in the city.  Some 2500 of the Memphis victims are buried in four public lots at Elmwood; among them are doctors, ministers, nuns, and even prostitutes who died tending to the sick.  The 4 mass burial areas are referred to as "No Man's Land".  There is a plaque identifying the area.


Yellow Fever Plaque


Slave Burials   From the beginning, Elmwood was open to all and there are African Americans buried here - both free and slave.   Sadly, the 300 slaves buried here were buried in unmarked graves.   Now a plaque has been added to identify this area.  This was one of the darker times of American history.


Sultana Riverboat Explosion   The Sultana Riverboat Explosion of 1865 was the greatest maritime disaster in U. S. History.  1,800 were killed, most of them Union soldiers returning home after the end of the Civil War.  The explosion occurred when 3 of the ship's boilers exploded and the ship sank very near Memphis.  This disaster received diminished attention, as it took place soon after the assassination of President Lincoln during the closing weeks of the Civil War.  Many of the victims are buried here and there's a Memorial Plaque in place.


Howard Association  This is a monument to the Howard Association's heroic efforts in raising money and recruiting doctors and nurses during the Memphis yellow fever epidemics.  The Howard Association was a volunteer group of young businessmen who organized a medical corps of volunteer physicians and nurses from all over the country.   Each doctor carried his own medicines (no drug stores open) and instruments in mule carts.  They saw up to 150 patients in a single day and then met at night to compare notes.  It's not surprising that so many of these volunteers fell ill and died of the fever.




Medical Research   This section of Elmwood is reserved for those who donate their bodies to aid medical research at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine.  Among those are Fred Dreifus, founder of a well known Memphis jewelry store, and Myra Dreifus, known for her work with needy children, including providing free breakfast, lunch, clothing, and tutoring programs.


Tennessee Children's Society Victims is a monument for Nineteen child victims of the notorious Tennessee adoption agency that operated as a black market for babies in the 1940s.  "In memory of the 19 children who finally rest here unmarked if not unknown, and of all the hundreds who died under the cold, hard hand of the Tennessee Children's Home Society.  Their final resting place unknown.  Their final peace a blessing.  The hard lesson of their fate changed adoption procedure and law nationwide."



The Angels of Elmwood  Many beautiful angels stand guard over the graves at Elmwood.  It's the most symbolic statue throughout the cemetery and represents the "Messenger of God, transporting the dead to heaven".  There are tales of some angels  who have left their stone pedestals and taken flight around the cemetery and it's said that some visitors leave money on the tombstones to insure that the angel will continue their duties.  Below are just a few of the many angels guarding Elmwood.



"Angels are symbolic of spirituality.  They guard the tomb, guide the soul, pray for the soul, and direct the living to think heavenwards.  They  also carry objects such as torches, trumpets, palms, and swords" ... Elmwood Cemetery Guide



The Obelisks of Elmwood  Obelisks rose to popularity during the age of Egyptian Revivalism, which began after Napoleonís invasion of Egypt during the late 1700s. The design was considered tasteful, with its uplifting lines, associated with ancient greatness and it could be used in relatively small spaces.  That made it a natural for elaborate sculpted monuments. 

Originally, the obelisk was associated with sun worship by the ancient Egyptians.  They knew the sun gave life to plants and to man and looked upon the sun as a god - the great life giver.  They also felt that upright objects such as the obelisk had a sexual significance.  Modern scholars of anthropology, sociology, and feminism have pointed out the symbolic nature of such phallic architecture as symbols of male domination, power and political authority.


 Perhaps the Christian culture found it fitting to incorporate the obelisk into its culture to represent fatherhood, strength and power?  Today the meaning of the obelisk symbol is the hope for rebirth, regeneration, and everlasting life.




The Tree Stones of Elmwood  

Tree stones were popular from the 1880ís to 1920ís and there are many tree-shaped headstones at Elmwood .  They are related to a time when men joined fraternal organizations and the chopped tree symbolized a life cut short by death.  If you see tree stones with the acronym W.O.W. on them, it means the stone came from Woodmen of the World a 19th century fraternal organization that provided the stones to its members.buried there.



Tree stones vary in size and height from tiny childrenís stones, to a soaring 10 to 12 feet high tree trunks.  Symbols found on the tree stones include axes, mauls, wedges, any type of tool used in woodworking, flowers, vines, animals, chairs, buckets Ė anything that helped tell the story of the person. .


Joseph Root was the founder of Modern Woodmen of America (1883) and Woodmen of the World (1890,).  They both became well known as the members began using tree gravestones.  Only if the organizations initials or logo is located on the stone does it indicate that the deceased was a member of one of these organizations.

      WOW Logo Elmwood WOW Elmwood WOW


Gravestone Symbols of Elmwood  Cemeteries can tell stories without words.  In most cases a gravestone will have the deceased's name, date of birth, and date of death inscribed on them, with perhaps a personal message, or prayer, but they may also contain funerary art, especially details in stone relief.  This is where the Cemetery becomes a virtual encyclopedia of symbolism.  Thousands of different religious and secular symbols and emblems have adorned tombstones through the ages.  Many of these tombstone symbols have fairly simple interpretations, but it's not always easy to determine their meaning or significance.  Below are some of the symbols found on the gravestones at Elmwood Cemetery - along with their meanings.


Lily - Palm - Cross

Doves - Cross Broken Column Circle - Rose Circle - Ivy Angel Lily - Ferns


Shroud Ivy Lily Lion Books

Urn Wreath Tree Triangle Anchor Torch



The Costume Twilight Tour at Elmwood  Elmwood is the final resting place of those who created Memphis history.  Once a year on Halloween, the cemetery stages an outdoor walking tour that is a History-based Drama.  The Elmwood Players, dressed in period costumes, represent people buried at Elmwood and recount their stories as the tour moves around the cemetery.  It's a GREAT introduction to the history of Memphis.

The Photos of the Elmwood Players are from the Elmwood Cemetery website *


*  Please visit the Elmwood Cemetery website:  Click Here



Ward Ellis
Vincent Astor Phyllis
Ward Ellis
D. T.
Hart Smith
Cora Price


The Famous and not so famous of Elmwood

Click on the Names below to see their graves  (Still searching for a few...)

FIRST GRAVE: Mrs. Mary E. Berry, July 15, 1853

E. H. Crump A. B. Taylor 1852 John A. Johnson Enoch Banks
John W. Leftwich Wm. Graham Swan (Knoxville) George Guess (Dallas) John Overton
      Edgar McDavitt   
 (Interin Mayor 1868)

Patton Anderson John Calvin Fizer Alfred J. Vaughn Robert V. Richardson
Lucuis M. Walker Gideon J. Pillow William M. Gardner George W. Gordon
Preston Smith Elkanah Greer William H. Carroll Otho French Strahl
Wm Y. C. Humes   William Smith (Union) Milton Williamson (Union)
BLUES SINGERS: Ma Rainey II (Lillie Mae Glover), the "Mother of Beale Street"

Jimmie Lunceford,  "Big  Band" Leader of the 30s and 40s.
Herman Frank Arnoldwrote the score for "Dixie"
Wayne Jackson, Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winning trumpet player.
OUTLAW: Kit Dalton, a member of the notorious James Gang and Younger Gang, who later reformed...
SLAVE DEALER: Wade Bolton, was killed in Court Square in a family feud.  The statue on his monument depicts him as he actually appeared - one shoe untied and his vest mis-buttoned.

Annie Cook, stayed in Memphis during the Yellow Fever epidemic and took care of the sick - later succumbing to the disease.  She became known as "Mary Magdalene of Memphis".


Emily Sutton (Fannie Walker), another Memphis Madam who died of Yellow Fever in 1873.  Her many grieving patrons erected the monument shortly after her death.

MILLIONAIRES Robert Church, Sr, the first African American Millionaire
  Robert Church, Jr, Son and businessman, who helped organize the Memphis NAACP.

Ginny Moon, after the Civil War, she moved to California and was featured in a couple of movies and then returned to Memphis.

Isabella Buchanan Edmondson, "Belle" smuggled goods and information to Southern encampments during the Civil War.


Roberta Church, daughter of Robert Church, Jr.  1st Black Congresswoman from Tennessee
Jacob Thompson 1839 James Trezevant 1825 Hiram C. Young 1875
Joseph B. Heiskell 1870  Asa Hodges (Arkansas 1867) James Phelan 1887
William T. Avery 1857 William C. Dunlap 1833 Henry T. Ellett (Miss1847)
David M. Currin, 1864    
Spencer Jarnagin, 1843 Kenneth D. McKeller 1916 Thomas Turley 1879
Stephen Adams 1852    


D. T. Porter, Doctor, Pharmacist, Statesman.  A great person in terms of success and generosity.  His name lives on with the Porter Building and the Porter-Leath Orphanage.

Napoleon Hill, Merchant and Cotton Man 
John McClanahan, Editor Memphis Daily Appeal.
Colton Greene, Business Magnate
Henry Montgomery, promoter and backer of the old Montgomery Race Track and Fairgrounds.

Samuel T. Carnes, Businessman responsible for bring electricity, the telephone, and the automobile to Memphis.

George W. Lee, Author, Businessman, historian, leader of Black Republican Party.

Joseph N.  Oliver, Businessman with partner James Finnie founded the old Oliver, Finnie Grocery Co which was in business until 1961.


Henry Luehrmann, German Immigrant who ran one of the best and most successful Memphis Hotels, Saloons, and Restaurants.


Hu Brinkley, Member of the distinguished Memphis family who served in state legislature, connected the Memphis-Little Rock Railroads,  annexed the Memphis suburbs, and built the old Memphis Lyceum Theatre.


Cora Price Taylor, Early African American Educator

Annie Christine Reudelhuber, long-time principal of the Old Market Street-Smith School, and after Reudelhuber's death, the CHRISTINE SCHOOL.

Blair T. Hunt -  Principal of Washington HS and founding pastor of Miss Blvd Christian Church.

Benjamin Hooks, NAACP leader
Lide Smith Meriwether, women's activist .  suffragist
Sister Thea Bowman, Religious Leader
Shelby Foote, Noted Memphis Historian and Novelist and PBS commentator.
Virginia Frazer Boyle, Author, Poet Laureate
Isham Green Harris - Governor of Tennessee when the Civil War began.
James C. Jones 1841
DOCTORS: R. H. Tate, first African American doctor to practice in Memphis...
LAWYERS: Marion S. Griffin  first female lawyer in Tennessee, 1st woman elected to TN Gen Assembly.
PATRIOTS: Dorothea Spotswood Henry Winston, daughter of Patrick Henry

Andrew Jackson Donelson, nephew of President Andrew Jackson
Chinoe Hart Smith, Daughter of General Hart.  He was murdered by Indians when she was a child.
Forrest Family - Younger brother and other members of the Nathan B. Forrest family.
SPORTS: Monroe "Dolly" Stark, Major League baseball player

Col John Smith, husband of Chinoe Hart Smith.  He is the only verified Revolutionary War Soldier at Elmwood.



Lloyd T. Binford, notorious Memphis censor from 1928 to 1955.  Binford banned any film that featured train robberies, and any film starring Charlie Chaplin or Ingrid Bergman.  In addition he either banned or cut scenes showing blacks and whites on equal footing.  All scenes featuring Lena Horne, Cab Colloway, or Duke Ellington were cut from any films shown in Memphis.

LANDOWNER: Geraldus Oscar Buntyn, Landowner and successful corn-cotton plantation owner who owned 40,000 acres around Buntyn.


Historic Photos and Memorabilia of Elmwood

1874 North Entrance

1865 Daily Burial Record

1938 Map

1890s Cottage

1925 South Grove


   1910 Elmwood Postcard

1905 Certificate

2018 Map

Sultana Survivor

1908  Postcard


1874 Elmwood Book

<         ELMWOOD:  Rules, Regulations and By-Laws - History of the Cemetery

This 260 page illustrated book was originally published by Elmwood Cemetery in 1874.  A copy is in the Library of Congress and they made a digital version of the now "Public Domain" book available on the Internet.  It's a beautiful book with excellent illustrations.  The complete book is posted in the "flipping pages" format.  Click on the small book to the left to open it.

The Legacy of Historic Elmwood ... by Shelby Foote

Cover Inside Cover Page 1 - 2 Page 3 - 4 Page 5 - 6 Page 7


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The "Historic-Memphis" website would like to acknowledge and thank the following for their contributions which helped make this website possible:  Woody Savage, Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis Public Library, Memphis University Library, Memphis Law Library, Memphis Commercial Appeal, Memphis Press Scimitar, Shelby County Register of Deeds, Memphis Business Men's Club, Memphis Chamber of Commerce, Memphis City Park Commission, Memphis Film Commission, Memphis Heritage Inc, Beale Street Historic District, Cobblestone Historic District, Memphis Historic Districts, Vance Lauderdale Family Archives, Tennessee State Archives, Library of Congress, Lee Askew, George Whitworth, and many individuals whose assistance is acknowledged on the pages of their contributions.  Special thanks to Memphis Realtor, Joe Spake, for giving us carte blanche access to his outstanding collection of contemporary Memphis photos.

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