It’s that time of year again: Fall Carnivals, Pumpkin Patches, Hayrides, the Chestnut Square Ghost Walk and Halloween. Halloween…. Literally derived from “all hallows eve” – the evening before All Saint’s Day, celebrated by many Christians. So much history and culture surround this time of year. Some Mexican and Latin American cultures celebrate Dia de los Muertes (Day of the Dead), a festival honoring the lives of deceased family and friends. The festivities often begin Oct 31 and end on Nov 2nd, coinciding with All Saint’s Day, All Soul’s Day, and of course overlapping with the popular Halloween traditions of costumes, candy, and spooky decorations.
Tombstones are common yard decorations used to increase the creep factor beckoning Halloween trick-or-treaters to the door. The idea of ghosts and goblins makes cemeteries the spookiest of places, and we have all encountered this imagery in movies and books. Yet, at the same time, I find cemeteries a peaceful place of respect and reverence for the beauty of life (okay, in the daytime!). Inspired by Halloween tradition, the religious & cultural celebrations honoring the deceased, and my curiosity about the people who are deserving of remembrance for their impact on early McKinney, I embarked on an historic tour of Pecan Grove Cemetery. You can read more about the cemetery here.
In her book, The Way It All Began: McKinney, Texas a History, Helen Gibbard Hall writes, “Touring this cemetery is much like taking a stroll around the little pioneer town that McKinney was a hundred or more years ago. Beneath each stone is the story of people who endured privations, loneliness, disease, and hardship, all the things it takes to carve out a civilization.”
Joined by my son on this adventure, we used Hall’s book as our tour guide and began looking for the stones erected to McKinney’s earliest citizens. The tall monument recommended as the starting point was that of George White (1820-1886), a New Englander who arrived to McKinney with the first wave of settlers.
Further down, we found Jesse Shain (1849-1906), a merchant who became McKinney’s first millionaire. His life was not without hardship. His father (a sheriff’s deputy) was killed in the line of duty, and at a very young age Jesse assumed responsibility for the care of his family and the running of the family farm. By the end of his life, he was a prosperous businessman who owned property all over Collin County.
We learned about the tragic death of Nathanial Graves, a young man killed by his best friend in a duel. The Graves boy challenged the duel, defending the honor of his sister after learning of his friend’s comment about her “pretty ankle” which was exposed as her skirt blew on a windy day. When the boys met, Graves’ friend got off the first shot. Nathanial Graves’ final words as he lay dying are engraved on his tombstone. “Pa I am bound to die. Is Mother coming!”
We found the plot of Dr. Gerald Foote, the county’s first doctor, and Mary Standifer, a widow who came to McKinney with her children and owned much of east McKinney by the time of her death. We looked desperately, but to no avail, for the small stone with a child’s shoe on top; remembrance of a little girl who died when she choked on a button from her shoe. We circled several times searching for the grave of Tuck Hill. He was one of the most talked about local characters of the Civil War, possibly because his two cousins also served with him; the infamous Frank and Jesse James. I understand there are quite a number of interesting stories about the James brothers’ visits to McKinney.
Finally, we stopped at the vault-like grave of Abe Rhine, who was an early merchant in McKinney. Many youth in the late 1800s reported seeing a filmy figure of a young woman standing at this grave and then disappearing.
In a strange way, we enjoyed our early morning scavenger hunt, tromping through the gravel road and wet grass, looking for people who represent the past. I felt as though witnessing the reality of the stone monuments was validation of these beautiful people and their stories now buried. Though we can’t know the details of their lives, by our presence there, I felt connected to their existence and the contributions they made to our community.
“Live in the present and make it so beautiful that it will be worth remembering.”
– Ida Scott Taylor
photos courtesy of Ryan Palczynski
FYI: November 1st is the deadline to sponsor wreaths for our McKinney historic cemeteries: Ross Cemetery and Pecan Grove Cemetery, for Wreaths Across America Day, December 16. Wreath laying ceremonies coordinate with Arlington National Cemetery, to honor our veterans, through the John Abston Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. It is the first time that Ross Cemetery has been honored in this way.