Thursday, August 17, 2017

Story of the Tombstones

Here is where my grandfather's story takes a somewhat depressing turn.  

I know the above tombstone is not easy to read unless you enlarge it.  My Grandfather Albert L. Wall ("Old Man Al") is buried on the right.  His wife (my grandmother) is buried on the left.  Grandpa died in 1969, not 1968 as I originally wrote.  He was born in 1882, which means he was 87 when he died.  At least I was close when I made my original estimates.

It's been a few years ago and my memory is not getting any clearer.  There are some things I am certain about.  I remember it was a very cool night - a wear-a-sweater kind of night, which means it must have been in the fall or winter.

I was walking down the sidewalk in front of Wilkerson's Funeral Home when it was in the old home on the corner of Main St. and Harrison St. in Reidsville.   I remember I was crying because my grandfather was in a coffin in Wilkerson's.  I was outside on the sidewalk because I didn't want anyone to see me crying.

I was never told much about the circumstances of Grandpa's death.  He was sent to Annie Penn Hospital.  He was there a few days and then died.  There was talk about a case of diverticulitis, which means his intestines fell apart and infection took over his body. 

I remember Grandpa's body was brought to his home (where I now live) and lay "in state".  I remember looking in his casket and seeing his body.  

I only recently learned the "living room" where Grandpa was laying was originally called the "death room" in the 1800s and the early 1900s because it was often used to display deceased relatives.  I suppose it was changed to "living room" because "death room" sounds too creepy.  I know my grandmother never used that room for anything other than to accommodate an overflow crowd on Thanksgiving Day.  

The room was so pristine that the furniture was covered in tight-fitting plastic to protect it from dust.  I can remember going to Grandma's every Sunday and crashing in her "living room" on her "plastic" couch because I was so exhausted from playing in a band on Saturday night and getting up and going to Mass at 9 AM on Sunday and then driving an hour to Grandma's.  It never bothered me that only a few months earlier Grandpa had been laying "in state" in the same room.

My wife now watches TV in the "death room".

This is the headstone for Albert D. Wall, my great-grandfather.  I believe the "D" stands for David.  It should be much easier to read.  He was born in 1833 and died in 1922, which means he was almost 89.

I've heard that he fought in the American Civil War and his age is right for the period.  He would have been about 30 at the time.  Why the man went into battle is something I will never understand.  He had no slaves.  I suppose he was drafted and needed the money paid by the Army.

Whatever the reason, he was wounded, but survived the conflict and went on to have seven children.

I've also heard that he raised horses for the Confederate Army and made moonshine liquor for the troops.  He supposedly also ran what might be called a "convenience store".  It was located just yards from his house.  Part of it still stands today.

Who knows what's true.  Maybe it's all true.

He built the house that my grandfather eventually owned and lived in.  It is (or was located) just a few hundred yards from my/Grandpa's house.  Before it burned down, I went in it a time or two.  It was a large wooden shack (two stories, I believe) where Grandpa housed tenant farmers.  These were farmers who raised Grandpa's tobacco for a share of the crop when it was sold.  

I am told the staircase had secret compartments that held a nest of liquor bottles, evidence of his possible bootlegging past.

I remember a hand-dug well in the yard behind the house with a bucket and a rope.  It was probably dug soon after the Civil War.

That well is now located underneath a house that I now own.  The shack burned down and Grandpa replaced it with a cheap house and then my wife and I built a much nicer house around the cheap house.  The top of the well has been shaved off and it has been covered in concrete, but the unused hand-dug well is still under my house and is still filled with water.

My Mother owned the house and property for about 10 years before selling it to me.

We now rent that house out.

My past is not refined.  I am living only a step or two beyond some very roughed, hard-living people.

This is the tombstone for my uncle.  He was Grandpa's eldest child.  His name was Albert J. Wall.  I've never heard him called anything other than Al Joe.  I assume the "J" stood for Joseph which is interesting because my middle name is Joseph. 

I was always told I was named after Joseph H. Christ, the father of Jesus H. Christ, but now I am getting suspicious of that story.  My birth certificate actually has no middle name on it - it just lists me as Richard Moore.  I adopted my middle name when I was 12 years old and confirmed in the Catholic church.  I'm not sure "adopted" is the right word.  I'm not even sure what "confirmed" means, other than I went to a special "confirmation" class for about a week where I learned how to kneel and kiss the Bishop's ring.

"Given" my middle name is probably more correct.  I never understood why I had no middle name when all the other kids, even the Catholic kids, had middle names.  

I went by Richard J. Moore for a very long time - high school, college, work.  My social security card even says I am Richard J. Moore.  The only things that don't have my middle name are my birth certificate and my drivers license.

My older brother had the same experience with his middle name.  However, in his early twenties he made the effort to have his birth certificate changed to reflect his confirmation name.

Growing up Catholic was a very strange experience.  The Catholicism came from my father's side, not my mother.

Anyway, back to Al Joe.  If you enlarge the photo you will see he was a very young man when he died - 19 years plus 7 months and 14 days.  

When visiting the cemetery, I noticed a lot of older tombstones list the years, months and days of life.  You don't see that so much these days.  

 Al Joe served in World War II.  He fought in the Battle of the Bulge.  The Battle of the Bulge was Germany's last great stand against the allies.  The battle began on Dec. 16, 1944.  Al Joe was killed on Dec. 20, 1944.  The war with Germany ended in May, 1945 when Hitler committed suicide.

My wife and I were married on Dec. 20th.

If you look at the top of the tombstone, you can barely make out a very worn photograph of Al Joe.  The photograph above is what is on the tombstone.

I am told it was many years before Al Joe's body was returned home from Europe.  My older brother says he remembers it.  A soldier stood guard over Al Joe's body as it rested in the "death room" at Grandpa and Grandma's house.  My brother remembers eating breakfast with the guard, a breakfast made by my Grandmother.

At some point a detachment of soldiers came to Grandpa's house and fired a three round salute to Al Joe.

The body was eventually moved to the cemetery where my Grandfather, Grandmother, Al Joe, and another uncle are now buried.  

When I was a young boy I can remember my Grandmother showing me a copy of a 1944 Life Magazine.  The issue contained a large photograph of American troops marching into Paris.  Grandma said one of the soldiers at the front of line was Al Joe.  Unfortunately that magazine and Al Joe's Purple Heart disappeared when my Grandmother died, along with a lot of other memorabilia. 

I won't mention the name of the other uncle buried in the same cemetery because he was crazy as hell and mean as a rattlesnake.  He too lay "in state" at my house, but for an entirely different reason.

There were also two daughters that are buried elsewhere.  One was my mother and another my aunt.  Later on I will show you a photo of my Mother's grave.

I noticed a lot of children less than 10 years old were buried in the cemetery with Grandpa.  I think the youngest was one day old and another two days old.  Many were five or six.  It was not an easy task to grow old in the past.  My grandparents were lucky, which means I too was lucky.

This is the tombstone for one of my Grandpa's brothers.  He was born in 1879 and died in 1951.  His name was Bam L. Wall.  I guess that was his full and proper name.  He is the only person I've ever heard of named "Bam".  

Isn't "BAM!" what Chef Emeril Lagasse used to say whenever he threw a little cajun spice on whatever he was cooking?

There is another of Grandpa's brothers buried in the same area.  His name was Thomas.

One of Grandpa's sisters is also buried nearby.  Her name was Rosa.  I understand she died as a result of being over the head with a frying pan wielded by her husband.  He served some time for that incident.

That accounts for four of great-grandpa's seven children.  There may be others buried there also, but many of the tombstone's are nothing but rocks with no markings.  Times were tough in those days.

Quite coincidentally I found a copy of my great-grandfather's will on the same day I wrote my first "Old Man Al - Part 1" story.  I have printed the will above and below.  It's not easy to read nor is it very interesting, but I thought I should preserve it here.

If you do read it, you will see great-grandpa left a sizable estate of 440 acres.  Over the years Grandpa somehow ended up with more than 300 acres.  He bought some of it, traded for some of it,  and finagled for some of it.  I don't think his siblings were very well off and Grandpa seized on the opportunity to buy them out.

Since Grandpa and the unnamed uncle passed on, the estate has dwindled down to pretty much what my wife and I own, which is two houses and about 50 acres of land.

Notice the will is dated in 1915 when great-grandpa was 82 years old. 

Also notice he stipulates that "no one of these 7 lots shall be sold or pond for spirits or liqors of any kind only from a prescription from a dr."

I have no idea what "pond" means.  The only reference I can find is to water.

The notion of a prohibition of selling or ponding doesn't seem to jive with someone who supposedly made "liqor" for the Confederates.

More of my Grandfather's story to follow.

Click images to enlarge


  1. I believe you mean lie in repose instead of state. Lying in state is usually for dignitaries while the rest of us everyday folks just lie in repose. Back in the day when bodies were at home before burial, people would sit up all night with the dead. Food was brought to the house to feed the many people that would usually show up to help the family, including those who sat up all night with the dead. My grandmother also said that all the clocks were stopped and mirrors covered with cloth until the burial. Great article, Richard!

    1. What you say about the clocks and mirrors may be true. I simply don't remember it. I also don't remember anyone sitting up all night with my grandfather. It's possible, but I don't recall. Of course a soldier guarded my uncle.
      You are also correct about "lie in repose" rather than "state".

  2. I too agree that was a great article Richard.The only comment I have is about the other posters comment about All the clocks being stopped. I was told it was only one stopped, so the coroner would know approximately when the person passed away.Keep up the good work.

    1. My grandfather died in Annie Penn hospital, so I doubt a clock was stopped for the benefit of the coroner.

      Thanks for reading the story.

    2. Have a look at You might find some old pictures there. Hope this helps.