Douglasville's City Cemetery has always intrigued me. It's hard to miss as you drive around town sitting at the corner of Rose Avenue and Church Street. The vista of granite markers, some tall and ornate and others a mere slab on the ground beckon the living to explore and walk among the dead.
When I walk around our city cemetery I feel as if I'm at home with old friends because many of the headstones represent people I've researched and used as subject matter in my columns. I often joke that I walk around many of the cemeteries here in Douglas County pointing to headstones saying, "Ah, I know your story" Sometimes I even say, "Ah, I know your secrets."
I'm always drawn to the iron fence underneath the tall magnolia trees because generally the older fences indicate older graves, but our city cemetery is a little deceptive as some of the older graves are also mixed in with more contemporary places of rest. It's best to just walk around and read the headstones.
Resting in Douglasville's City Cemetery are people such as Carolyn Upshaw, the 16-year-old daughter of Lucius Upshaw, a prominent businessman here in town and a former Douglasville mayor. Carolyn was tragically killed in 1922 when the roof at the Knickerbocker Theater in Washington, D.C. collapsed onto hundreds of theater-goers due to a heavy snowfall. Ninety-eight died including Carolyn who clung to life for a few weeks before she passed. She had been visiting her uncle, William D. Upshaw, a congressman from Georgia. The quotation on Carolyn's headstone states, "The nation's heroine, beautiful in life, beautiful in death, beautiful in eternity."
We have the ladies of the Civic League here in town to thank for the brick pavilion seen in the middle of the cemetery. The League began in 1914 with eight members, and by 1920 had swelled to 70 with names such as Peace, Selman, McKoy, Baggett, Abercrombie, Huffine, and Vansant on their membership roll. These same ladies can be given credit for the name Rose Avenue because they thought it sounded prettier than the street's original name of Cemetery Street.
One of the most unique grave markers belongs to Corporal Frank P. Dorris who was the first man from Douglas County to die in the line of duty during World War I. His granite marker includes a bust of Dorris' head siting high on a pedestal. He's wearing his uniform complete with campaign hat.
Stephen Edwin James is reputed to be the first burial in the city cemetery dating to July 1875, and was the son of J.S. James and Margaret Anna (Maxwell) James. He lived 1 year and three months. The next year he was joined by twin brothers who died on March 5, 1876. Today, the three graves are covered with one marker that says, "Children of J.S. and M.E.A. James." Mrs. James lies close to her boys as well as two daughters, but their father's grave has always had a bit of mystery surrounding it.
Many accounts of J.S. James death in January 1931 states that his only living daughter at the time, Eunice, buried her father in an unmarked grave and burned his papers. J.S. James was Douglasville's first mayor in 1875, and until his death, he was an ardent supporter of Douglasville, using his own money to finance the city's first hotel and bank. He owned the first cotton mill. He was a land speculator, had a thriving law practice, and was known across the state. Many have speculated that his daughter placed him in an unmarked grave because many of his political and business dealings weren't always morally and ethically sound. Many of his actions that were within the bounds of the law then are not allowed today. He served in the state Legislature and was appointed as the district attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, so James did have enemies. There are many theories regarding where the grave of J.S. James is located including that it might possibly be across the street from the original cemetery along the tree line. One thing is for certain -- his grave is unmarked.
Another missing grave has to do with a dog -- a poodle to be exact.
W. Milton Davis has been buried in the cemetery along with some of his children and a wife since May 1922, but in 1917, he had a major disagreement with then Douglasville Mayor Vander R. Smith.
One of Mr. Davis's daughters who lived in Atlanta had taken her dog, a poodle, to a pet sanitarium. That was the way folks described a veterinarian's office back then. Sadly, the dog died, and the daughter was naturally distraught. She boxed the dog up in a suitable casket and sent it along via auto to her father here in Douglasville for burial in the family's plot at the city cemetery. Some sort of funeral service was held at the cemetery Sunday, November 25th, and the dog was laid to rest. Apparently, Mayor Smith got wind of the dog's burial and two days later concluded that the cemetery was NOT the place for dogs. The Mayor ruled Mr. Davis could pay a fine of $20 or spend 20 days in jail. Either way the dog would be removed before sundown.
Mr. Davis elected to pay the $20, but I have yet to discover where the poor poodle was re-interred or if the dog's grave was ever moved.