Monday, November 23, 2009

Looking for the Cantrell Child






Last Friday seemed like a good day to explore a graveyard. My brother was visiting from Alabama and I enlisted him to go with me to look for the Cantrell child's grave.











But first, some back story . . .






I posted a picture of the Walnut church cemetery a few weeks back and Nancy Meadows, the friend who so kindly shared her aunts' diaries with me, wrote to say that she remembered a playhouse with dolls in it built atop one of the graves in that cemetery.












Well, of course I wanted to know more and soon Nancy replied that it was the grave of a little girl -- a Cantrell.

Nancy said, "The family lived over on Straddle Top Mountain and there were a number of children (I believe that Jeter Cantrell is the last surviving child but could be wrong). The parents left the children alone to go to the store and the girl (who was 3-4 years old at the time) got out of the house and walked off with one of the family dogs. She was found frozen to death in the woods with the dog still beside her. My brother said that Daddy told him you could see the lanterns of people looking for her on Straddle Top Mountain. "




What a heart-breaking story!

Nancy is making inquiries to find out more. The play house is gone but I was hoping to find the grave so my brother and I wandered about, looking for Cantrells.













Some of the markers were illegible and some graves were marked only by rocks.


At least one gravestone was broken . . .



We never did find the Cantrell child's grave -- and I thought of those lanterns flickering on the slopes of Straddle Top Mountain as the searchers criss-crossed the dark slopes, calling the lost child's name.

And I thought of the sorrow that must have come with the morning light.


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19 comments:

Merisi said...

Such a heartbreaking story on those beautiful mountains! I like the images with the morning mist still hanging in the trees, but the sunny ones are poignant too. I think of my little girls and cannot imagine what it must have meant for the Cantrells to lose their little girl under such tragic circumstances. There for the Grace of God we go, we truly do.

Merisi said...

Such a heartbreaking story on those beautiful mountains! I like the images with the morning mist still hanging in the trees, but the sunny ones are poignant too. I think of my little girls and cannot imagine what it must have meant for the Cantrells to lose their little girl under such tragic circumstances. There for the Grace of God we go, we truly do.

Hélène Glehen said...

What a moving story very well illustrated with these photos reflecting the same mindset.

Martin H. said...

Vicki

This is a heart-breaking, yet fascinating story. Have the events surrounding this poor child's death ever been written up in book form? Is it a project you might consider?

Pat in east TN said...

What an interesting, yet sad, story. I've seen many graves decorated, some quite elaborately, but none like you described. Maybe someone reading your blog will come up with some more helpful information.

My Carolina Kitchen said...

How heartbreaking for the family to lose a child by just wandering off. The marker must have been interesting in its time. It's a shame graveyards aren't kept up anymore. My great grandfather's headstone in Arkansas is a Civil War marker and over the years the mowers have broken off most of it. Sad.
Sam

Vicki Lane said...

It's sad indeed. Nancy is trying to get in touch with a friend who may be able to add some details -- if she does, I'll do another post.

Martin, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see this story wind up somewhere in one of my books.

Carol @ TheWritersPorch said...

What a sad but beautiful story!
There is an old country graveyard about 30 miles from here where a little girl's grave was covered and it had a picket fence around it.Someone left dolls and toys there all the time. I haven't been to that cemetery in probably 25 years but your post has me curious about it now!Do you plan to look more?

willow said...

A sad and intriguing story. I was hoping, as I read, that you found the stone and some remnants of the doll house. Perfect inspiration for a book, Vicki.

Vicki Lane said...

I'm going to go back and look some more, once I get a better idea from Nancy of where the grave was located.

Reader Wil said...

How terrible to lose a child and especially in this way. Walking on a graveyards reveals many family tragedies. The cemetry where my husband was buried has a special corner for children.It breaks my heart when I read the messages written on the little tombstones of babies.
Your photos are so appropriate and great for the post. The first photo is very beautiful and full of mystery.

Vicki Lane said...

The old cemeteries here are full of those infant graves -- often with a little lamb on the stone -- when the family could afford a stone at all. The 'summer complaint' (dysentery) killed many babies before antibiotics were widely available.

Pepper Cory said...

Oooo--you might like this one Vicki http://gosoutheast.about.com/od/historicsitesculture/ig/The-Old-Burying-Ground/Girl-Buried-in-a-Barrel-of-Rum.htm

NCmountainwoman said...

Every day is a good day for wandering through old cemeteries. We find so many little family graveyards during our hikes through the mountain trails. I always stand there and reflect on how hard their lives must have been living here so long ago.

tipper said...

What a fascinating post. I recently visited one of the old graveyards that was isolated by the TVA building Fontanna lake. Such old gravestones-some broken-some still standing.

I once heard a story about a little house-that looked like a playhouse being built over a grave of a child in east TN-the lady told me she remembered it from childhood.

Vicki Lane said...

Well, that's pretty neat, Pepper. I think Nelson's body was preserved in a similar manner after his death at sea.

Mountain woman and Tipper -- I see I'm not alone in enjoying a grave yard ramble.

I just visited your blog, Tipper, following a Google trail in search of Appalachian burial customs. Very interesting!

Tammy said...

Old cemetaries are fascinating, and so many stories---some lost to time, I'm afraid. Every year we head over to 'homecoming' or 'decoration' to my Mom's side of the families' cemetary. We walk about and put flowers on the graves in the spring and hear all the stories again. Stories to us, but at one time tragic circumstances for our ancestors. There are the two little rocks--just big stones really--that mark Alan and Alta's graves--my Grandmother's siblings who died when they were just wee things--these things I will remember, or the little cousin that died from appendicitis when he was eight. However the whole story is now lost to former generations.

So sad that the little girl perished on the mountain--I hope you can find out more of the story. It seems like every few years a small child wanders off around here, even now, and usually with a dog or two. Last winter it was a little Amish girl whose father stepped out of the buggy, horse spooked and ran away. The horse and buggy were recovered but the little girl was not found until the next morning. It was grim bitter cold night. She was spotted in a ditch not far from where she was lost, huddled up in her warm woolen dress and coat. She was fine, and the entire community rejoiced in that.
Have a great Thanksgiving!
Tammy

Miss_Yves said...

"A little lamb on the stone..."very moving symbol.
In France , Christian infants graves are adorned by an angel.

Vicki Lane said...

Miss Yves -- in my next book, a character has many children who died at birth, all of whom she named for angels - Michael, Gabriel, etc.

Oh, Tammy, I'm so glad your story had a happy ending! Happy Thanksgiving to you too!