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Cemetery Mixtape Posts

Elizabeth Keckley and Jefferson Davis’s Dress

Here’s one that, until very recently, would have had be called “Cemetery Mixtape: Unmarked.” Elizabeth Keckley (or Keckly) was born a slave, bought her freedom as an adult, and became a modiste (dressmaker) for Mary Todd Lincoln throughout her years in the White House, eventually becoming a confidante of both Mrs. Lincoln and the President. Her whole life story is wonderfully told in her 1868 autobiography, Behind the Scenes. While her time with the Lincolns and the book have made her a relatively well-known historical figure, it’s not as well remembered that, before coming to work for the Lincolns, she…

The Bones of Button Gwinnett

For this month’s podcast, we take a deep dive RIGHT into the grave of Button Gwinnett. Button Gwinnett was one of America’s least illustrious founding fathers. Though his very brief political career put him in the right place at the right time to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776, he lived less than a year beyond the signing before challenging Lachran McIntosh to a duel. Lachran won. No record of Button’s burial survives, but there’s no reason to doubt he would have been interred at Christ Church Cemetery, the only graveyard active in Savannah, Georgia at the time. His exact burial…

Bring me the Head of George Frederick Cooke

By some accounts, George Frederick Cooke was the greatest tragedian actor of the late 18th and early 19th century; his portrayal of Shakespeare’s Richard III was second to none. Whether he was Scottish, Irish or British was debated in his time; his epitaph reads “Three kingdoms claim his birth / both hemispheres proclaim his worth.” But all who knew him had a few things to say that weren’t quite so complimentary – his biographer, William Dunlap wrote in his diary that Cooke was “a coward, a braggart, a hypocrite, a backbiter, fearing death… yet rushing on to meet him with the…

Frederick Douglass (and the Garfield Grave Robbers)

Now on Spotify! Several years back, I took a trip to Cleveland just to see the tomb of President Garfield after hearing a news story that someone had broken into the crypt and stolen several commemorative spoons. This, I had to see for myself! It’s a fantastic tomb, with a tower you can climb, and relief sculptures all around, including one of Garfield on his deathbed, surrounded by doctors getting ready to poke him in the liver! In the course of setting up the episode, I noticed that Garfield appointed Frederick Douglass as the Recorder of Deeds for Washington D.C.,…

Joseph Wicher, Killed By Jesse James

In the Pinkerton Detective Agency lot at Graceland, most of the graves are worn down and illegible.   Which is probably why it took me so long to find out that a victim of Jesse James is buried there!  Joseph W. Wicher, killed by the James Gang in 1874, is buried beneath the grave on the left below, in a section that looks appropriately like something from the “Wild West” . You can almost make out the name: What’s remarkable about the lot is, though it certainly served as good advertising for the agency just by existed, we know very,…

Charles McKnight, Alexander Hamilton and The Doctors Mob

Charles McKnight, buried at Trinity Church in lower Manhattan, was a revolutionary war surgeon and, at times, physician to George Washington. Was Alexander Hamilton among the founding fathers who protected him from an anti-grave robbing mob in 1788? You can read several letters to and concerning McKnight on Founders.gov, the National Archives site that makes letters of Washington, Adams, Jay, etc. available. Get ready to squint trying to make out their handwriting! The Doctor’s Mob, 1788 In April of 1788, America experienced what some have called its first real riot. Passions had been inflamed against grave robbing by a series…

Kathryn Evans, Who Saw Lincoln Shot

Kathryn M. Evans had the first line in Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater the night that President Lincoln was assassinated there. She went on to a long career, eventually retiring in Chicago, where she once had a reunion with another old cast member at a play about Lincoln at the Blackstone Theater (now the Merle Reskin). One lingering mystery is what became of her theatrical memorability; stories about her in her old age say that her apartment was full of it. Perhaps her probate record is on file in Chicago and might give us a clue! Her grave and story…

Coming Soon!

A new podcast from Adam Selzer of Mysterious Chicago, digging up tales behind graves he’s researched all over the United States, including: A detective murdered by Jesse James. The woman who had the first line onstage the night Lincoln was shot. A doctor who was once protected from an anti-grave robbing mob by Alexander Hamilton (or was he?). A flapper who set Chicago on fire before becoming a mystery novelist. At least one president. The man who killed Andrew Jackson (in a way) A deadball era Hall of Fame baseball player. The soldier who’d LOVE being erroneously credited with inventing…