Magnolia Cemetery, the Garden of the Dead. Like so many garden cemeteries in the south, Charleston's Magnolia Cemetery was founded on a former plantation. The Magnolia Umbra Plantation was a rice plantation owned by Colonel William Cunnington. The cemetery was founded nearly 170 years ago and is a beautiful example of a southern graveyard with large old live oak trees ladened with Spanish moss, ornate ironwork and the former plantation house serves as the Superintendent's office. The cemetery is full of notable burials that include former governors and other politicians, bootleggers, madams and planters. Join me as we explore one of the larger cemeteries in Charleston!
The Magnolia Umbra Plantation dates back to 1784. In 1805, Colonel William Cunnington built his home on the plantation. The structure was two stories and made from stucco-faced brick on the first level and clapboard-covered balloon framing on the second level.The north side of house has a two-story verandah. The windows had louvered shutters and the roof flared at the ends over the porches and were covered with standing-seam terne. That house still remains on the property and is used at the Superindendent's office. It is need of renovations and has termite damage though. Much of the vegetation here probably dates back to the plantation time. The live oaks are massive.
Magnolia Cemetery is laid out on 92 acres of the original plantation. The graveyard was founded in 1850 by a company formed by eight stockholders. Charlestonians opposed the establishment of a garden cemetery like Mount Auburn in Boston and Greenwood in New York. The town was filled with churchyards and that's the way they liked their graveyards. This company chose the plantation as their site and architect Edward C. Jones to survey and design the grounds. The Charleston Courier described Magnolia Cemetery in their paper dated July 30, 1850, "The grounds are already enclosed; the main avenues, embracing an extensive ride, are garded and constructed; the chapel, which is of the gothic style, is in rapid progress of erection; and a large portion of the ground has been laid out and surveyed into burial lots. The lake or lakes, which interest the grounds are to be supplied with water from Cooper River." The cemetery was dedicated with a religious ceremony, music and an address delivered by Charles Fraser.
The original design had a chapel, receiving tomb, formal garden and keeper's house. Three other structures were added in 1890. Only the plantation home and receiving tomb still remain. Magnolia is full of wonderful monuments and mausoleums. There is the Gibbes Mausoleum that was erected in 1888 and is a marble tomb that features the family coat of arms, an urn and two flanking angels that were sculpted in Italy. This is the final resting place of James Shoolbred Gibbes and seven of his relatives. His donation of $100,000 led to the Gibbes Museum of Art. He was worth over a million at the time of his death. What really makes this mausoleum unique is that it is sometimes called the Gibbes Mound because it has an earthen mound raised over its top. The plot is rather large with a wrought-iron gate around the perimeter.
Final resting places for children are some of the toughest to behold in a cemetery. Many have little lambs atop smaller than usual tombstones, reminding us of a life cut off way too early. The Raymond-White Plot is a stunning example of the heartache brought on by a child's death. Now imagine if you will, losing five of your eight children. That is the case for Blake and Rosalie White. Five of their children didn’t survive youth. One of their daughters, Rosalie Raymond, is immortalized in a portrait atop her stone cradle.
The W.B. Smith Mausoleum is Egyptian Revival in style and features a large pyramid tomb. William Smith left school at 15 and made his fortune in the cotton factor business. After his death in 1892, his body spent 30 months in the receiving tomb while his final resting place was designed by Edward C Jones and built by stonemasons of the Charleston Granite Works. There was a lot of thought put into this mausoleum. The front of the building faces true north, which allows maximum sunlight exposure to illuminate the Tiffany stained glass window of the south face. There is a rose colored mosaic tile floor and a hugh bronze door, with cast ornamental grates and panels with '18' and '94' on them for 1894, the year of construction. His wife had died before him and she was disinterred and joined him in the pyramid. Included in the tomb are their second daughter, a grandson, another grandson and his wife, a grand-daughter and a great-grandson.
Louis Comfort Tiffany didn't just design beautiful stained glass. He also created cemetery monuments at his Tiffany Studios. One of his pieces of funarary art is at Magnolia Cemetery and it was created for the wife of Charles Witte. Her name was Charlotte, but he called her "Lottie." At the top of the monument is a Celtic cross with the middle of the piece featuring the image of an angelic being. Some describe it as an angel, while others think this could be a depiction of the goddess Nike. The figure is holding a trumpet in her left hand and a palm branch in her right. The Wittes were a wealthy couple. Charles had immigrated to America from Germany when he was 22. He opened up Witte & Goodwin in Charleston in the mid 1800s as an importer and wholesale dealer in foreign and domestic wines, liquors and cigars. He retired, married Lottie who was 22 years his junior and had six daughters. He came out of retirement to become director and then president of the new People’s National Bank. Lottie died of cancer in 1890, at the age of 44.
The Vanderhorst Mausoleum was erected in 1856 and is also Egyptian Revival in style. This one is not pyramid in shape, rather it is just rectangular. The door has a Christian cross set into it, probably to soften the pagan overtones of the mausoleum. The cross is flanked with twin lotus columns. The Colonel William Washington Monument is a large fluted Doric column that was built in 1858. Rather unsettling is the rattlesnake that is entwined near the base. The monument is encircled by an iron fence. Hattie A. Bird's Monument has a fully sculpted, seated female figure and Ellen Turner's has a free standing angel writing in the Book of Death. The Elbert P. Jones Monument was designed by Francis D. Lee and features a pinnacled monument with central spire. The Micah Jenkins Tombstone is a large obelisk with a sword carved in relief upon it. Sally F. Chapin is buried here. She was an author and champion of the temperance and women's suffrage movement. Another interesting aside is that she sent a petition to the State Constitutional Convention to raise the statutory age of consent for women to eighteen years. The constitution was changed to sixteen years. Unbelievably,it had been ten years. St. Julien Ravenel was an American physician and agricultural chemist who designed the torpedo boat CSS David that was used during the Civil War to attack the Union ironclad USS New Ironsides. After the war, he pioneered the use of fertilizers in agriculture.
William Aiken Jr. is buried here. He was born in 1806 and served as the 61st governor of South Carolina from 1844 to 1846. He also served in the U. S. Congressand ran for Speaker of the House in 1856 in “the longest and most contentious Speaker election in House history.” He lost. Aiken owned the largest rice plantation in the state on Jehossee Island. This was the largest plantation there and eventually Aiken owned all of the island. Rice was the top crop in South Carolina and Aiken became very rich. After the Civil War, the plantation produced 1.2 million pounds of rice. Aiken died in 1887. His house, the Aiken-Rhett House, is part of the Historic Charleston foundation and is said to be haunted.
There are 850 Confederate servicemen buried in the Soldiers’ Ground.
Overlooking it is the bronze statue of a soldier marching northward. The
tombstones here are made of stone leftover from the Columbia, S.C.,
capitol building. And from World War II there are British war graves of five Royal Navy and Merchant Navy personnel.
Buried at the Hunley Circle are three crews of mariners who perished aboard the H.L. Hunley, which is considered the first submarine to sink an enemy ship. The story here begins in 1863 when H.L. Hunley and two Alabama Confederates decided to build the first fully submersible submarine. It was going to be used for privateering. The Hunley was a 40' by 4' torpedo-shaped tube that had a 20' spar carrying 90 pounds of explosive. Around eight men could fit in the sub and they hand cranked the center shaft to power the machine. The Hunley was brought to Charleston via train and crews started training. The spar made it possible that the submarine didn't have to fully submerge and a mine could be rammed against the side of the enemy ship. Unfortunately, the first crew forgot to close all the hatches and they drowned on their training run. They were so bloated when the sub was recovered that slaves had to dismember the bodies to get them out. They were buried originally in a mariner's graveyard that was found under The Citadel's Johnson Hagood stadium. They were relocated to the Hunley Circle in 2000. Another crew suffered the same fate later when the seacock was not closed. Eight men died, including the builder H.L. Hunley. This was the first crew buried at Magnolia Cemetery. The Hunley had its final mission when it went after the Housatonic. It successfully managed to damage the ship so that it was unsalvageable. The Hunley signaled to Sullivan's Island with its blue lantern that it had been successful and then it disappeared. Until the year 1995. Best selling author Clive Cussler funded a search for the Hunley that resulted in its discovery. It would not be raised until the year 2000 and all eight crewmen were found still inside. The were given a full military funeral with the longest funeral procession Charleston had ever hosted, in 2004.*Fun fact: After the Civil War, P.T. Barnum offered up a $100,000 reward for the discovery of the lost vessel.*
Magnolia Cemetery is beautiful and has many historic burials. At one time it was a favorite picnic site for families. This is one of those cemeteries that should be on everyone's list to visit in their lifetime. And that was just a little about the Stones and Bones found here!