Since it’s officially fall and the start of the spooky season, I feel compelled to tout the many attributes of my new favorite Staunton haunt, Thornrose Cemetery.
This 12-acre final resting place with its rolling hills, gorgeous statuary and jam-packed historical figures of long ago, is nestled on the West side of the city. It was founded in the mid 1800’s after the city’s original cemetery located at Augusta Parish Church (now Trinity Episcopal Church) became too packed (standing room only?).
It’s renowned for the Confederate dead who are buried there, but I have a much juicier story to share about one of its residents (in a minute).
I can walk to the cemetery from my house in about 15 minutes, and did so one fine September morning. I’ve always felt drawn to cemeteries for their peaceful nature, well-manicured lawns and artful headstones. The older the headstone the better, too! Why did some young girl die at the age of 24? Was it due to childbirth, or one of the illnesses which were fatal at the time but are now totally treatable, like tuberculosis (consumption as it was called years ago)?
So much history and so much speculation – which appeals to my creative mind. There’s a small, innocuous stone of an infant who died with a small lamb statue on top. Then there’s the “show off” families with ornate obelisks which would put the Washington Monument to shame. I mean, really!
You have to also realize that in the last century, cemeteries were considered walking parks, and picknicing near the dearly departed was not out of the ordinary. Thornrose has ample places to sit and meditate and unplug. A wonderful thing in this hectic day and age.
The Main Entrance was designed by famed Staunton architect T.J. Collins and built by William Larner & Company in 1896, this stone arch and gatehouse mark the main entrance to Thornrose Cemetery. William Larner’s stone and brickwork also survives at Oakdene. The quarry that supplied the Thornrose limestone on Middlebrook Road opened an entrance to what became known as Staunton Caverns. This short-lived commercial cave, lit by acetylene gas lights, opened in 1907.https://visitstaunton.com/visit-staunton-on-foot-thornrose-cemetery/
I’ve been on the hunt for a particular gravesite since I started my walks in Thornrose. In the early 1900’s a circus trapeze artist named Eva Clark was in town with her troope. This young girl was having a tempestuous affair. Her husband shot her in the stomach while taking aim at her lover. Eva languished in a local hospital for three weeks before succumbing to an infection caused by her wounds. The town chipped in and buried her in Thornrose Cemetery. It is said circus folk passing through town would leave flowers on her grave for many years after.
You can have your Civil War generals. They are a dime a dozen in Virginia cemeteries (no disrespect). I love the drama of this story of the young circus performer. Did they meet in Staunton after a performance in the corner of a saw-dust floored tent? How long were they carrying on? How did the husband find out? Why was he such a lousy shot?
I would love to know the answers to these questions. It is said she never told the police that her husband had shot her, remaining loyal to the end. But the drama of her death is not the main reason I love this tale.
It’s what happened after. You see, it gives me another reason to love Staunton. A city which rallied more than a hundred years ago around a young stranger who had met with a tragic end to provide her with a beautiful spot to lay her head for the very last time.