“Lasting for eternity: the perpetual fires of hell.”
That is the way my American Heritage dictionary defines the word “perpetual.” That also is the way so many graves plots were sold to Logan Countians over the years at the now totally abandoned 20-acre Logan Memorial Park at McConnell—the final resting places for many trusting souls, including the ghostly remains of Logan’s most well-known murdered person, Mamie Thurman.
While Mamie’s grave bears no marker, it should be noted that there are many marked graves with headstones and even tombs which contain no bodies or any remains, although just about all of them used to. Fact is, for the fortunate souls whose families could afford it, their remains were removed to other graveyards after the McConnell site was abandoned and there was no upkeep. Other graves remain mostly the same, while still others have noticeable and sustained damages. Some plots, including two purchases by longtime Circuit Judge C.C. Chambers, were sold when the demise of the cemetery seemed imminent. Here’s the story for the shameful place:
Jones Land Company, which had previously obtained the mineral rights to much property in Logan County, was incorporated as Logan-McConnell Realty June 15, 1928. The Charleston based company obtained the surface rights to the 20 acres in October of the same year from Ella Aldridge, a former Logan resident then living in Huntington, and the widow of George Aldridge. E.B. Dyer became President of both the Logan-McConnell Realty Company and Logan Memorial Park Company. On August 24, 1928, a front page story’s headline read: “Twenty-Acre Tract at McConnell to be Beautiful—Perpetual Care Assured”
“A modern cemetery where perpetual care for the dead will be guaranteed is to be established at McConnell,” was the opening line of the story. The article went on to say that the President and Vice President of Kanawha National Bank in Charleston were chiefly behind the project, along with another banker, who was President of the Bank of Milton. These men had already invested in opening the Ridgelawn Cemetery at Huntington and Sunset Memorial Park in Charleston. Both cemeteries were described as “modern perpetual-care burial parks.”
It should be understood that since the finding of certain chemicals during the later years of the Civil War, which allowed for the preserving of dead bodies, undertakers and funeral homes across the nation became enormously popular because of the embalming process that allowed preserving the corpse for several days. Prior to the embalming process, bodies needed to be buried quickly. In Logan County, R.B. Harris Feb. 24, 1899 was the first person in the area to be granted a license to practice “the science of embalming” by the State Board of Embalmers. Harris, who would open a business on the upstairs floor of Logan Mercantile on Main Street—which now is the structure where the Logan Public Defenders’ Offices are located—later bought the former home of Logan Judge J.B. Wilkinson, also on Stratton Street, and converted it into a funeral parlor. Today the business is known as Honaker Funeral Home.
Another factor that led to large public cemeteries was the fact that for many years, particularly in the rugged mountains of Appalachia, family burial sites like that of the Hatfield Cemetery at Sarah Ann were on private property and were used only for family and some close friends. Still, church graveyards usually required the person buried there to be a member of the church. So it was that large cemeteries became a nationwide business.
E.B. Dyer of Charleston received a certificate of incorporation for Logan Memorial Park Oct. 26, 1928. The principal place of business for the operation was 815 Quarrier St., Charleston, WV. Authorized stock was $75,000, divided into 750 shares at $100 each. There were just five stockholders: four men in Charleston and one in Milton. Dyer was given power of attorney in most decision making and was President of the company.
Work on the property began in early 1928, ironically just a few months after the KKK organization was finally incorporated in Logan County (Jan. 4, 1928). By November of the same year, The Logan Banner was praising the site: “……It tells a story of how a rough, unattractive site has been transformed into a burial park so attractive, even now, that it is confidently opened to your inspection.” The Banner cited a cypress white painted fence, a concrete entrance roadway, and an “immense flower bed” at the upper end of the driveway where 2,000 perennial bulbs had been planted. The Banner reported there was 7,000 privet hedges planted, as well as “scores of rose bushes.” Many more were to be planted the following spring.
Advertisements in The Banner invited people of all nationalities to purchase grave plots. However, it was made clear that the cemetery was for “Caucasians only.” Offices were opened and a map of the cemetery was in the O.J. Morrison building in Logan, which is the former National Bank of Logan building on Stratton Street that is now owned by Jackie Tomblin. Hungarians, Czechs, Italians, and others—some with their native language inscribed on their tombstones—can still be viewed at the site. Examples of some people who either are still buried there or who at least purchased plots, include R.R. Eiland, Alex DeFobio, Victoria Azystef, Dante Belladonna, Margaret Bainbridge, Anna Gent, Mary Goff, Pearl Hackworth, Albert and Ann Klele, John Kovach Sr., Mary Nesbit, Lilly Oakley , Mrs. Emmett Scaggs, George and N. E. Steele, Hugh Avis, John Triola, Harriet Wysong and J.A. Washington; just a few of the 188 recorded grave sites at McConnell. The entire graveyard was surveyed and mapped, including every grave plot.
The Depression caught up with Logan in about 1932, and in 1933 there was unpaid balances on 88 burial lots and several contracts were forfeited due to people’s failure to continue payments. Like every business, the burial park struggled. However, it survived because death is certain and proper funerals were a necessity. In April of 1945, while World War II was still raging, the cemetery was sold. Mr. and Mrs. E.E. Von Peachy bought the property and the rights to all the plots. There was no selling price listed in the deed. It would be the beginning of the end for the final resting places of those who had been interned and promised perpetual care.
Described by Logan attorney Eddie Eiland as “fine people,” Lucille Von Peachy was a teacher at what was then Cherry Tree Grade School. There are few people remaining today who can describe what led to the abandonment of the graveyard. What is on record is that in 1951 the American Legion of Logan purchased numerous plots in a section of the graveyard to be used by indigent military veterans’ families. Also, on record is the fact that the last recorded sale by the Von Peachy’s was to Floyd Noe May 11, 1956. The deed was recorded in 1958 and spells out certain conditions, and perpetuity was not one of them. The deed required that a “marble or suitable marker” must be erected and that “upkeep was accepted by the purchaser.” It went on to say that the “sellers were absolved of any maintenance of any Kind.” In reality, the cemetery was then doomed.
By 1948, Forest Lawn Cemetery was opened and is today owned and operated by Lajeana Aldredge, who remembers the McConnell site. “It was a beautiful place,” she said, explaining that several families had their family members moved from there to her cemetery, including the remains of Dr. N.E. Steele, who had purchased a huge monument for him and his wife, Maude, which still stands at McConnell. Mrs. Steele had her husband removed from the cemetery leaving behind a concrete structure that cost $10,000, but in today’s times is the equivalent of $100,000, according to Aldredge.
“There were no laws back then in regard to cemeteries,’’ Aldredge explained. “The story is that a son took off with all the money and even all of the records of the cemetery, and he just disappeared. He just took off with everything. You can’t do that today.”
So the cemetery that promised perpetual care and holds the remains of many fine people, including J. Cary Alderson, who opened the first bank in Logan County, is covered in growth each summer, but reveals its secrets in autumn and early spring. Perhaps not all of its secrets can be displayed.
Testimony in the 1932 Mamie Thurman murder trial of Clarence Stephenson revealed that her body was buried at the McConnell location. However, there was never a headstone placed at her gravesite. Was it because her husband, Jack Thurman, a Logan police officer, was angered at her cheating ways? Or was it for some other reason? The key question might be who provided the cemetery plot?
As to her exact location in the cemetery, here is the best evidence that can be provided. Ed Burgess, who was 75 years old when I interviewed him in 1985, and lived near the cemetery, said his father, Elzie Burgess, was the longtime caretaker of the cemetery. Burgess said he was 19 years-old when he helped dig Mamie Thurman’s grave. Burgess said he and his father averaged digging two graves a day at the cemetery in the 1930’s.
“There’s no question about it, she’s buried here. I even helped cover her up,” Burgess told me. He said there was never a tombstone placed at the grave. Explaining that the cemetery is divided into three sections—A, B and C—he pointed out that Mamie Thurman was buried in the B section in the vicinity of the huge Steele monument. “To the best of my knowledge, she was buried about middle ways up in that section,” he declared.
While Burgess, like all the characters involved in the pitiless murder of Logan’s “mistress of the night,” in 1932 are all gone and mostly forgotten, MAMIE LIVES ON—in one form or another, some 83 years later, while her murderer surely burns in hell.