Montgomery cemetery gives up interesting stories
by Alvin Benn, Montgomery Advertiser
May 24, 2013 05:20 PM | 1640 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In a Saturday, May 18, 2013 photo, historian Mary Ann Neeley, right, gives information about people buried in Oakwood Cemetery as she leads a tour, in Montgomery, Ala. (AP Photo/Montgomery Advertiser, Alvin Benn)
In a Saturday, May 18, 2013 photo, historian Mary Ann Neeley, right, gives information about people buried in Oakwood Cemetery as she leads a tour, in Montgomery, Ala. (AP Photo/Montgomery Advertiser, Alvin Benn)
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — His name was Daniel Starr and he was a businessman who just couldn't keep his mouth shut when it came to secession.

The end result was his end and the Connecticut Yankee wound up as the featured attraction at a "necktie" party.

Vocal in his opposition to secession, he not only opposed the war, he also denigrated the South, the Confederacy and all that they represented.

His actions were dutifully reported in the Montgomery Mail, a Capital City newspaper with an editor who didn't much like Starr's views, especially when he repeated them to anyone within hearing distance.

A vigilante "committee" paid the Yankee transplant a "visit" one night, arrested him and ostensibly planned to put him on trial.

"It never happened because they felt it would be better to have him swinging from a tree than standing in a courtroom," said Mary Ann Neeley, who conducted a tour of Oakwood Cemetery recently.

Her historic narratives never fail to draw a crowd, even one that began in the rain as it did at the cemetery where colorful umbrellas provided varying hues in contrast to thousands of cement slabs.

The lure for the two-hour cemetery tour, sponsored by Landmarks Foundation, was "Vigilante Hangings, Misplaced Soldiers and a Strange New Orleans Rendezvous."

It cost $5, but was a great investment for amateur historians, especially when it came to Neeley's dry sense of humor that had them laughing at times as they walked through the sprawling site just across the street from the Montgomery Police Department.

Neeley's tours range from walks through downtown Montgomery to other interesting locations across the community.

She is particularly fond of the cemetery because there are so many stories to tell, so many unusual backdrops to relate to visitors.

The Civil War and secession ripped America apart and the result was a bloody price to pay — 600,000 lives lost to battles and diseases.

Oakwood Cemetery is the final resting place for many who wore blue as well as gray, and Neeley did her best to honor them for their sacrifices.

She also related other interesting tidbits about Oakwood's "residents." Some were pillars of the community while a few had reputations that might give the fatally loquacious Daniel Starr a run for his Yankee dollar.

Take, for instance, the case of one James Chastain who was described by Neeley as a suave young man from a good family in Eufaula.

She said he was known as a fashionable dresser given to wearing white gloves, especially at Capital City soirees where he was said to be an excellent dancer.

He did have one apparently big problem, however. According to Neeley he may have been a burglar of the first order.

What he did, she said, was basically "case the joint" when he attended the balls, parties and other social functions.

An Oakwood Cemetery pamphlet said Chastain was suspected of burglarizing the houses at which he had been an invitee.

"Conjecture was that he was addicted to morphine and it was discovered that he was living in a rundown hotel on North Court Street," according to the pamphlet.

Entering the picture was Adolphus Sanford Gerald, who had become suspicious of Chastain, and reports of the time said he caught him red-handed in the act of burglarizing a house.

"When Chastain attempted his escape, (Gerald) followed and shot him to death," said Neeley, who indicated that Gerald had done such a good investigative job he was made Montgomery's police chief.

During the tour, Neeley pointed to a bare spot next to two marked tombstones not far from the Ripley Street First Baptist Church. She said it's an unmarked grave said to contain the remains of James Chastain.

Some of the inscriptions on the stone markers tell stories of sad endings. One apparently was written "from the grave."

It involved the death of John Schockler, who ignored advice from friends to stay away from the Alabama River. He drowned there on May 27, 1855.

On his tombstone is: "Now I warn all young and old to beware of the dangers of the river and now I am fixed in the watery grave. I have got but two friends to mourn."

The inscription might have been written by one of those two.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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