By G. S. Norwood
G. S . Norwood peels back several different layers of history and mentions several projects in this post. Watch for her projects-in-progress over the coming months and years. Her Route 66 research in 2007 was part of her development work on a novel project which she has recently revived.
If you haven’t read Deep Ellum Pawn, the first of her ongoing urban fantasy series set in the Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas, TX, you’re missing a treat.
The graveyards turned up during her research for a contemporary mystery novel that’s about half-drafted as this post goes live. Stay tuned!
I love to do research for the stories I write. And I especially enjoy stumbling onto those places where multiple layers of history can be seen overlapping each other.
I loved standing on a peculiar looking driveway at the corner of East Kearney St. and Glenstone Avenue in Springfield, Mo, and recognizing it as part of an earlier roadbed for the legendary Route 66.
Deep Ellum Knights of Pythias Hall
I love watching the evolution of the first genuinely impressive building to rise above the barrel houses and pawn shops of Dallas’ Deep Ellum district. It was the Knights of Pythias Hall, built by African-American architect William Sidney Pitman, the son-in-law of Booker T. Washington, and opened in 1916 for a “colored” chapter of that fraternal order in the segregated South.
Over the past century it was an office building, a bank, and an abandoned shell. Now a new complex of residential and office towers is rising around it. The old hall has been gutted, but will rise again as a boutique hotel at the heart of the development. Will the people who stay there understand what it once was?
Little country cemeteries . . . no longer in the country
I expect to find historical layers like that in cities and towns where people have lived for more than 100 years, but I didn’t expect to find traces of the pioneer past in the middle of a brand-new planned community rising above the floodplain of the upper Trinity River. Back around 1845 there was a frontier community there called Roland that boasted a few houses and a small store, but Roland has been gone for nearly a century. Except, that is, for two tiny family cemeteries.
Research for the mystery novel I’m writing took me up to the Trinity Falls development a few weeks ago. I drove around, trying to get a feel for the layout of the place, and stumbled onto the two cemeteries when I spotted a little parking lot and a big historical marker almost hidden behind sagging fences and healthy weeds.
Who was Gus Wilson?
Signs identified the plots as the Wilson Family Cemetery and the Moore Family Cemetery. The historical marker all but filled the entry to the Wilson Family Cemetery. Its subject was Augustus M. “Gus” Wilson, who was born in 1845 in the log cabin his parents had built nearby. Gus lived there his entire life, never married, and devoted himself to business and philanthropy.
A little online digging produced an oral history biography of Gus that told of many good deeds he did for the friends and neighbors he felt were hard-working, honest, and worthy of a helping hand. His philanthropy ranged from money to build churches and schools to buying cars for people who needed reliable transportation, and paying off a widow’s mortgage.
A darn good dog
A step beyond the historical marker brought me to Gus’ graveside and his remarkable headstone. From the back it looked like there was a life-sized carving of a sheep on top. The “Lamb of God” is a fairly common symbol in old cemeteries, but when I got around to the front, I saw that the figure was some kind of border collie-like farm dog, with shaggy fur and semi-pricked ears. The name “Joe” was carved directly into the dog’s side, and a rough wooden cross marking the next grave over had a small stone that read “Old Joe.”
Gus’ epitaph read simply, “Joe and I are going home,” with Gus’ name and dates below.
The online bio I found made no mention of Joe, but it’s not hard to imagine an old man who lived alone taking comfort in the companionship of a darn good dog.
I can absolutely relate.
G. S. Norwood took the “layers of history” photos of the Route 66 fragment in Springfield, MO, and the three photos from the Wilson Family Graveyard in Collin County, TX. Re-post or reblog, but please attribute G. S. Norwood as the photographer, and include a link back to this post.
Many thanks to the Dallas Morning News and staff photographer Ashley Landis, for the photo of renovation work on the Knights of Pythias building in Deep Ellum, Dallas, TX. We’re also grateful to Andrea Orenduff and Richard Hollis for the historic photo of “Uncle Gus” Wilson. And finally, many thanks to Christine Lindsay via Facebook for the photo of G. S. with her dog Zoe.