City’s History Vividly Told On Headstones
Wind-Swept Hillock Marks Site of Oldest Graveyard
By: Hoyt Hager
Cemetery history in Corpus Christi dates back 100 years to the dedication of Colonel Kinney of Old Bayview on a wind-swept hillock at West Broadway and Waco.
The old graveyard – last resting place of many prominent pioneers – was laid out in 1846 around the interred bodies of seven soldiers. They died when their troopship “St. Mary’s” exploded off the coast of Port Aransas.
Mrs. Sam Rankin who has sought for several years to have Old Bayview designated a state shrine, recently provided information on its dedication. Ulysses S. Grant, Col. Franklin Pierce (later to become president) and Gen. Zachary Taylor stood in a beating rain that day in 1845 to witness burial of the seven soldiers.
No evidence of these early burials may be seen today at Old Bayview, which is maintained by the city park department. Henry Clark has been caretaker for 14 years.
As late as 1941 Eli T. Merriman was buried there in a plot reserved by himself for many years. Most of the other graves are 40 to 80 years old.
Memorial to First Mayor
In 1935, the city administration raised a granite memorial to Corpus Christi’s first mayor, Ben F. Neal, who died in 1852. Another old memorial there is that of George Washington Hockley, inspector general of the Texas Army at San Jacinto, and Texas Secretary of War Under the Republic, who died in 1854.
Within five feet of the caretaker’s back door is an imposing monument about 15 feet high. It is dedicated to William Gambel, “A soldier of the Republic of Texas” who died in 1877. He was born in County Donegal, Ireland.
Stone monuments are mute testimony to tragedy in the lives of the Staples family. Three children died before reaching the age of two years. Another died at 22. This was before the turn of the century.
Inscribed in Spanish is the memorial to Rev. Alejo Hernandez, first native-born Mexican of the Methodist Church. He died in 1876.
Early Catholic Influence
Holy Cross Cemetery, though opened subsequent to the dedication of Old Bayview, eloquently reflects Catholic influence in the early history of Corpus Christi.
Events of the earliest local history, the Civil War, the yellow fever epidemic of 1867 and the hurricane of 1919 are recorded on the headstones of many graves there.
Ireland and Old Mexico appear hundreds of times on the inspections. Many early Corpus Christians left these foreign soils to pioneer development in South Texas.
One section of Holy Cross was closed by the State Board of Health 30 years ago, according to Caretaker E. L. Green, because many of the victims of the 1867 yellow fever were buried there.
In one group of Dunns are memorials to victims of yellow fever, bandits and Union soldiers. Five headstones, representing eight individuals, tell the story of deaths for those pioneers of 1867 to 1889.
Maxwell P. Dunne, funeral director who has lived in Corpus Christi 65 years, says Holy Cross Cemetery was dedicated in the early 60's. It was a 30-acre plot donated to St. Patrick Church by Mrs. Katherine Bray. Mrs. Bray who is buried at Holy Cross was born in Cashel, County Tipperary, Ireland, and died in Corpus Christi oct. 5, 1883 at the age of 87. Buried beside Mrs. Bray is her daughter, Mrs. Ann M. Peterson.
Origin of Hebrew Rest
Hebrew Rest, the Jewish cemetery on Brownlee near Agnes, dates back some 70 years to a day when those of that faith were too few in Corpus Christi for group religious activities.
Dr. D. N. Grossman, co-chairman of the Temple Beth El cemetery committee, ascertained the approximate date of dedication to be between 1873 and 1878.
In 1873 the mother of Joseph Hirsch, local insurance man, died here, Dr. Grossman said. There was no cemetery for those of the Jewish faith so Mrs. Hirsch was interred at Gonzales, the nearest Hebrew burial ground.
Shortly after the death of Mrs. Hirsch, Capt. Richard King, founder of the King Ranch and grandfather of Richard King, president of Corpus Christi National Bank, gave the present site of Hebrew Rest to Mrs. E. Morris and J. Henry. It was to be used as a Jewish burial ground. At one time it was under the supervision of A. A. Lichtenstein, Sr. In 1938 it was deeded to the Jewish Cemetery Association and in 1941 the deed was transferred to Temple Beth El.
Perhaps the earliest burials were of children, Helena Henry in 1878 and Eva Lichtenstein in 1880.
Other early burials at Hebrew Rest reflect the origin of Corpus Christi’s early Jewish Colony. Moritz Lichtenstein who died in 1904 was born in Wettstock, Prussia. Selina Egg Lichtenstein who died in 1911 came from Zurich, Switzerland.
A group of four tall marble monuments stand in one row. They mark the graves of David Hirsch, for whom the elementary school here was named. Hirsch was born in Grafenhousen Hessen Darmstad, Germany. He died in 1902. Beside him is his wife Olivia, who died in 1920. Also in the group are Jacob Benedict, who was born in Albersheim, Germany, and died here in 1889, and his wife Matilda, who was born in Paris and died in 1880.
One of the most recent burials at Hebrew Rest is that of Lila Belle Gugenheim who died this year. She is interred in a massive tomb beside her husband, Simon who died in 1942. There are some 120 graves in Hebrew Rest.
Removals From Old Bayview
New Bayview Cemetery is located on Kennedy Street in Hillcrest. Divided into two sections, a tennis court and park separates the areas.
At Kennedy Ave. and Summers are graves dating back to 1886 but of the 100 or so there, most of them are marked 1900 to 1915. Many of these are said to be removals from Old Bayview. Another section of New Bayview is at Kennedy Ave. and Winnebago. Grave markers are dated from 1910 to 1925 and show a predominance of Latin Americans.
Both of these are maintained by the city park department though some of the monuments are leaning in the soft loam or already have toppled over.
The 32-year history of Rose Hill Cemetery seems brief when compared to Old Bayview, New Bayview and Holy Cross and the Jewish burial ground. Rose Hill, however, is the last resting place of many noted Corpus Christians of recent years.
Rose Hill was dedicated Feb. 7, 1914. Robert O. Turner, caretaker for the past 30 years, says a carpenter who broke his neck in a fatal fall from a scaffold, was the first to be interred there.
Since then, there have been 7,400 interments at Rose Hill. Superintendent C. J. Mauren estimates there is enough space left to accommodate Corpus Christi for another 50 years.
Three former mayors of Corpus Christi are buried at Rose Hill. They are Roy Miller, who died in 1946, Clark Pease, 1929, and Dan Reid, 1909.
Among other enduring names on monuments there are A. E. Spohn, who died in 1918 and for whom Spohn Hospital is named.
Two impressive Italian marble memorials mark the graves of John W. Scott who died in 1867, and Charles George T. Baron de Lovenskiold. The latter was born in Coppenhagen and died in Corpus Christi in1 1875. These two graves hold remains originally buried elsewhere (probably at Old Bayview) and later transferred to Rose Hill.
One of the most noteworthy memorials in any of the Corpus Christi cemeteries is the Rodriguez monument at Rose Hill. It is dedicated to the memory of Martin Rodriguez, Navy gunner’s mate 3rd class, who died at sea, and Army Private first class Julio B. Rodriguez, who is buried in a foreign country. To their memory was erected the monument on which a jungle scene and a torpedo attack at sea are etched in color.
An eight-ton rock of granite at Rose Hill marks the area set aside for unidentified victims of the 1919 hurricane here. There are no individual grave markings and the plot has the appearance of an open lawn.
In another small group are former Catholic priests and sisters of the Catholic church. The Navy has a section containing 23 graves of men who died at the Naval Air Station. Most of them are foreigners – from Brazil, Argentina and Chile.
In one area known as Babyland are 460 little graves. None of the graves is more than five years old.
There are five mausoleums at Rose Hill. Inscribed above the doors are Carver, Jones, Foster, Dunkerley and Dunn. Another is planed by the Donigan Estate as soon as material is available, Mauren said.
Rose Hill is owned by Rose Hill Park Cemetery Association of which W. H. Johnson is president. David Peel is vice-president, C. C. Stone, secretary, C. A. Mauren, treasurer and director. Ernest Mills also is a director. Operated on a perpetual care basis, Rose Hill has no subsequent tax assessment. Some of the lots sold when the cemetery first was opened are costing the association maintenance over and above original collections, Mauren said.
Corpus Christi’s newest cemetery is Seaside memorial, located on the south end of Santa Fe.
Owned by W. R. Reid, Seaside Memorial is operated on a 100 per cent perpetual care basis. Dedicated in 1936, it was not until 1942 that Reid, recently named Texas Cemetery Association president, started beautification. At the present time there are 215 interments there. A tall memorial has been erected there to mark the resting place for World War II veterans. A garden of Gethsemany with a crucifixion group is set aside for those of the Catholic faith.
Thus far only 10 of 44 acres in Seaside Memorial Park have been developed. At a normal rate of occupancy, Seaside Memorial Park should be in operation nearly 100 years from now, officials believe.
The chiseled words on stone monuments found in Corpus Christi’s seven different burial grounds are startling reminders of the brief recorded history of South Texas. Only four generations have lived here, and many of the pioneers came from Germany, Ireland, Denmark, Switzerland, Mexico, Sweden and Prussia.
As yet the graves of World War II veterans are few and far between. Still in process of arrangement is the return from foreign cemeteries of World War II casualties. The first bodies should arrive next year, probably from European theatres.
When they get here, new memorials will spring up along those to the soldiers of the Republic of Texas, the Confederacy, Spanish American War and World War I.
They will not be forgotten.
Source: Corpus Christi Caller
Transcription by: Rosa G. Gonzales