Unique death stories told in 'What a Way to Go' cemetery tour - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Unique death stories told in 'What a Way to Go' cemetery tour

(Source: Steve Cook) (Source: Steve Cook)

(WMC-TV) - With 75,000 inhabitants at Elmwood Cemetery, it is not surprising that some went out with a bang – such as death by a snowball.

An upcoming tour at Elmwood Cemetery this Friday the 13th will share more than just insightful stories about how people lived in Memphis – it told the tales of how people died. Find out how to join the event here.

This slideshow serves as a sample of the tour, but it does not come close to the real thing.

— As told by tour guide Cookie Swain, Wade Hampton Bolton – the founder of Bolton College, which is now Bolton High School in Arlington – died because of stubbornness.

Bolton was a part of the largest cotton, slave trading firms in the south during the mid-1800s. He was also a major player in a rivalry involving Thomas Dickins – which killed at least eight other people.

A dispute over a slave led to Bolton taking a bullet in the chest, and other places, by Dickins.

Bolton rode his horse home clasping his wound, refusing medical attention. He told his wife he wanted to die so that Dickins would be charged with murder.

Bolton died shortly after. His wife demanded to have a statue made replicating his exact features, including his fingers crossed behind his back and a misplaced button on the front of his vest.

Dickins was never charged for the murder, but he also died from being shot multiple times. Bolton High School, which stands on the Hoboken Plantation, is the only public school in Tennessee with its own endowment – begun with the bequest of Bolton in 1869.

— Birdie Winchester lived right before the peak of Yellow Fever in Memphis in 1877, but it was not the deadly disease that took her life; it was an icy snowball that landed her an unmarked grave at a tree.

Birdie's family had taken in an orphan whose parents died from the epidemic. The orphan was notorious for odd anger fits, which sometimes involved throwing scissors.

Birdie, the orphan, and other children engaged in, what would seem to be, a harmless snowball fight one snowy evening.

The orphan packed a snowball on the side of the house and held the snowball in hand waiting for a target. Although, as the orphan waited water dripped off the side of the house onto the snowball – forming a ball of ice.

As Birdie eventually ran by, the orphan threw the icy snowball.

With the impact of a rock, it hit Birdie in her temple immediately knocking her over. Virginia Lee "Birdie" Winchester died a few weeks after the hit.

— Henry A. Montgomery died at his own race track, located at what is now Tiger Lane in Midtown.

Montgomery organized the New Memphis Jockey Club in the 1880s. The track was originally constructed on a plantation, but later became the Montgomery Park Race Track. On the day he died, he was riding on a horse in a heated race.

Montgomery won that race, and after crossing the finish line he fell off his horse.

Spectators thought he passed out from excitement, but then discovered he was dead, according to Swain. Although, other stories tell that he fell dead at the club while welcoming guests at a podium.

— Described as a newsboy and small for his age, Claude Pugh lived during a time in Memphis when public safety was not well thought out – which played a role in his death.

According to what was then the Memphis Daily Appeal, Claude was playing with a toy boat in the Court Square fountain. In 1884, the fountain was six feet deep, and there was no railing.

Claude tumbled in the fountain. The fountain was sloped, and slippery from algae.

He could not regain his footing, and despite it was a busy day downtown no one noticed his struggle. It took a crew from the fire department more than 15 minutes to recover the boy's body from the water. He does not have a marker in Elmwood Cemetery.

— E. H. Crump, who served as Memphis Mayor during the early 1900s, did not necessarily have a bizarre death. But he did have a bit of a bizarre obsession with his headstone.

Crump had his headstone installed before his death. Swain said he would bring a picnic blanket and eat lunch admiring it. He noticed pigeons took a liking to his marker.

Crump, who called these creatures "rats with wings", decided this simply would not do.

He had the top on his stone carved with an extra sharp point, in effort to kill them if they swooped down. After his death, his daughter later married a man with the last name Pigeon. Now, Crump is "surrounded" by Pigeons, or at least their markers.

As Swain put it, Elmwood is the final resting place of those who created Memphis history. A bell rings for every new resident, regardless of how they died.

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