Friday, July 17, 2015

Chattanooga and Forest Hills Cemetery

Strange that I recently got back from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and now its all over the news. Not for a good thing. A gunman opened fire on July 16, 2015, at a military recruitment center and killed four U.S. Marines (see link at end for more information). 

When I was there, I visited a few cemeteries, including the Chattanooga National Cemetery, which may be the final resting place of the four marines killed in the recent shooting. One of the other cemeteries I visited was Forest Hills, on the south side of the city, closer to Lookout Mountain (arguable the city’s main tourist draw).

Forest Hills Cemetery, Chattanooga, Tennessee

If you like Victorian-era cemeteries, Forest Hills is worth a visit. It’s got the marble statues, the angels, the bronze busts. It has many uniquely-styled mausoleums on its main road, with monuments galore populating its many hills and dales. The odd thing about Forest Hills, for me, is that I didn’t know any of this before I went to Chattanooga. The Forest Hills Cemetery website itself didn't give me a very clear picture of the beauty within (literally, there are no very clear pictures on the site!). I did find out, however, that the cemetery was established in 1880 and is actually in a Chattanooga suburb called St. Elmo.

D.C. Trewhitt, Civil War veteran
I had done some Internet research before my trip and only came up with two major cemeteries within the city proper - Chattanooga National Cemetery and the Confederate Cemetery (both of which I visited). Usually, you can find photographs on the Internet that people have taken in cemeteries, so you have some idea of whether a particular cemetery has a lot of Victorian mourning sculpture – which is generally what I find most interesting. However, I came up with nothing on Forest Hills ahead of time, save the name, and a few facts from its website. Certainly I knew nothing about D.C.Trewhitt, whose likeness is carved in stone at left. (Daniel C. Trewhitt, by the way, was a Chattanooga judge and resident, who enlisted in the Union Army's 2nd Regiment of the Tennessee Infantry during the Civil War.)

Marble statue detail with anatomically correct toes!

So how did I end up in Forest Hills? Purely by chance! I had actually planned to drive about two miles south across the Tennessee border into Georgia to visit the small family Dixon Cemetery, in Catoosa County. The only reason being so I could quote these directions from the FindAGrave website:
“It is reached by crossing the Tennessee-Georgia state line, Hwy 41 North, turn left at Scruggs Road, proceed one and a half miles and go under the bridge over I-75. Turn right through the gate to the Brainerd Optimist Club Drag Strip. The cemetery is on top of the hill adjacent to the interstate and to the right of a house.”
Since I was nowhere near Colbert County, Alabama, and it’s Coon Dog Cemetery could not be on my agenda (click link if you think I’m making this up), the five-gravestone Dixon Cemetery near the dragstrip would have to do. But that was before I found the brochure, “On the Glory Land Road – The Religious Heritage Sites of Southeast Tennessee,” published by the Southeast Tennessee Tourism Association. I think I picked this up near my hotel somewhere.

Paging through the brochure, I came upon a photo of a mausoleum next to a paragraph describing Forest Hills Cemetery. It said:

Magnolia, Forest Hills Cemetery
“Of particular interest to us is Forest Hills Cemetery (4016 Tennessee Avenue). Forest Hills is noted for its vast collection of stones, mausoleums and memorials carved in styles and depicting themes ranging from neo-classical to gothic to Victorian. At over 100 acres, the cemetery is also maintained as a botanical garden, containing a wide variety of fruit trees and other flowering plants.”

Odd. Why did I find none of this on the Internet, the source of all wisdom and knowledge? I decided to forgo the Dixon family cemetery near the dragstrip so I could check out Forest Hills. After the fact, I’m glad I did! Forest Hills is an absolute gem of a Victorian cemetery. Granted, it was hotter than Hades when I rolled through the main gates, which is not the most conducive climate for sight-seeing, but I managed to get in a solid hour there before heading for the airport. The cemetery has an office, and I wished I'd had the time to stop in, but I did not.

Mausoleum, Forest Hills Cemetery, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Forest Hills Cemetery is in a blue-collar neighborhood on the outskirts of Chattanooga. It is not in a sketchy, inner-city area where most of the best Victorian cemeteries usually are. It is populated with very large trees that provide some much-needed shade. A woman was walking her dog near this strange-looking mausoleum while I was there. Unlike the tree with the dates carved into it (photo below), the cylindrical mausoleum vault (above) totally "stumped" me.

Granite tree trunk marker, "1877 - 1887"
It was June when I was in Chattanooga, and the magnolias were in bloom. I’m not talking bushes, I’m talking the most enormous magnolia trees I have ever seen. It was quiet here, but hot. There was the singular large zinc monument among the granite and marble. There were twin, life-sized marble angels flanking a giant column. The statues of mourning women were in ample supply, as were the Woodmen of the World stones. This one, in particular, was rather interesting – it had the birth and death dates carved in granite twigs around a large stump.

Forest Hills Cemetery had many interesting details, though I had only an hour to try to see them. I liked the cobwebs on this bronze woman that was part of a mausoleum door. Although the monuments and other stones are quite old, and natural degradation is obvious, there seems to be no vandalism to speak of. Lawns are manicured and the entire place seems well cared for.

Had to get to catch my flight so I pulled out of the cemetery, drove down the road a piece, and stopped by a BBQ joint to pick up a pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw, and an iced tea. Figured I could eat this as I flew up Interstate 24 to the airport. Hadn’t expected a traffic jam, so I was able to manage the sandwich quite easily in the stop-and-go traffic. Why would anyone make a pulled pork sandwich on Texas Toast, though, I ask you? And in Tennessee, besides?

Read more about: Chattanooga shooting: 4 Marines killed, a dead suspect and questions of motive