In previous posts, I've highlighted stories of some of the remarkable people we've met along our RV journey, but for this post I'd like to introduce you to a few people we've encountered that are not among the living.
The first, is this unassuming individual:
His name is Jacques Marquette.
We first learned of him in New Orleans, where a hotel bears his name. Our paths crossed again in parks and monuments in Little Rock, then again in Chicago, and Detroit. We seemingly were pursuing him northward like bounty hunters in search of a bail jumper. Next came Milwaukee (where there's a university named after him), and lastly in the northern most point of our trek, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan on the Canadian border, 1300 miles north of New Orleans.
Who was this explorer who had such a powerful impact on this region? Well, if I had paid more attention in fifth and sixth grade history class (instead of creating MAD magazine like comic books), I might have known the answer to this but being as it may, I turned to Google. After a couple of keystrokes, I had my answer. Father Jacques Marquette was a Jesuit priest and missionary who explored the Mississippi valley in the 1670's. With his ability to speak six indigenous languages, he established friendly relationships (and trade routes) with many of the Native American tribes as well as founding many Catholic missions.
And when I saw a map of his route, it became clear to me why his ghost seemed to follow us:
We were actually following the route he took southward, just in the opposite direction! Of course, he did it without the comfort of a 36' RV, which is probably why he died at the young age of 37.
Here is a statue dedicated to him just outside Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island, Michigan.
Public Enemy #1
Anybody want to guess where the depression-era gangster labeled "Public Enemy #1" is buried?
I would have guessed some place like Chicago or Boston, but as it turns out we found his grave at the Crown Hill Cemetery in the town in which he was born and raised: Indianapolis, Indiana. It's a small unassuming tombstone located on a family plot next to his father, mother and sister.
Although glamorized by some, in reality he was a ruthless murderer. In the months between September 1933- July 1934, he and his violent gang brutally killed 10 men and wounded seven, and robbed over 24 banks and four police stations (because that's where the weapons are). RIP? I think not.
What were you doing at Eight years old?
Also at the Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, lies the grave of Edward Black:
"Little Eddie" is considered the youngest serving soldier of the American Civil War! He was recruited at the age of eight, on July 24, 1861, as a drummer boy for the 21st Indiana Infantry. About a year after he enlisted, President Lincoln abolished the regimental bands. He was told to return home and did as told. He returned later that year and enlisted again, but this time with his father. He was captured at the Battle of Baton Rouge, but was freed when the city fell in September 1862. He re-enlisted in February 1863, and served with the 1st Indiana Heavy Artillery until January 1866. He died shortly after his 18th birthday of war related injuries.
"A Most Unusual Wound"
This next one is the strange and twisted story of the unethical medical practices of Dr. William Beaumont..
..the father of modern gastroenterology.
We learned of him when visiting Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island, Michigan.
The British built this fort during the Revolutionary War in order to control the strategic Straits of Mackinac between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
Our story begins in 1822, Dr. Beaumont was the young physician stationed at Fort Mackinac. One day, as fur traders and trappers were gathering to conducted business, swapped stories, and toasted a profitable hunting season, a gun accidentally discharged sending a musket ball tearing through the chest of an employee of the American Fur Company Store, a twenty year old Canadian fur-trader named Alexis St. Martin.
The ball tore through the skin and ribs just below his left nipple.
The trappers rushed the injured young man up to the nearby army post. Dr Beaumont was summoned. Seeing there was little he could do medically, and with the prognosis looking grim, he did the best he could to make Alexis comfortable. But a strange thing happened, as the doctor waited for Alexis to die.. he didn't!
As the doctor began giving Alexis tiny morsels of food to eat, he noticed a strange occurrence: the chewed up food would dribble out the open wound in his chest. Although Alexis fully recovered from the accident, the wound in his chest and stomach never closed!
The ambitious young doctor immediately began experimenting on Alexis by tying morsels of food to a string and lowering them into the open wound to measure the amount of time it took various types of food to disintegrate and the effects digestion had on stomach temperature. Like a fisherman returning to a productive watering hole, the doctor performed over 250 experiments on the reluctant patient.
Sounds diabolical doesn't it? Read on..
Although St Martin did get paid a minimal amount for his participation in these experiments, the doctor never actually made good on his original plan to sew closed the hole in St Martin’s stomach.
Over the next ten years, by using dubious measures to keep St. Martin from returning permanently to his wife and six children in Quebec (including having St. Martin, an illiterate, sign an open ended contract), Beaumont freely placed objects of questionable sterility (spoons, thermometers and other medical utensils) deep into his patients stomach. The experiments often left Alexis lightheaded, nauseous, constipated and with a headache.
In 1838, Beaumont published his landmark work Experiments and Observations On The Gastric Juices and Physiology of Digestion.
His research had concluded: "that vegetables were digested more slowly than meat, that milk coagulated early in the digestive process, and that digestion is aided by a churning motion within the stomach." Beaumont's research into gastric juices was cutting edge proving once and for all that digestion was a chemical process rather than mechanical.
While the doctor went on to become world famous (and very wealthy), St. Martin became nothing more than a side-show freak, displaying his wound at various medical facilities in order to make ends meet.
Upon his death in 1880, his family delayed his burial until the body began to decompose in order to prevent his "resurrection" by medical men, some of whom wished to perform an autopsy. He was later buried in an unmarked grave.
As we see, the advancement of medicine hasn't always been pretty. It's full of grisly accidents, dubious partnerships, inhumane behavior, and ambiguous ethics. Rest in peace, Alexis St. Martin, where ever you lay.
SpongeBob and the reluctant Cemetery
We came upon an unusual grave marker in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, Ohio. It is the burial marker for Sergeant Kimberly Walker.
Sgt. Walker was a U.S. army veteran of the Iraq war. Tragically, She was the victim of domestic abuse. After her death in February of 2013, her parents set about to create a headstone that would commemorate her remarkable life. Since Ms. Walker loved SpongeBob SquarePants, they had two seven-foot grave stones made in the cartoon character's likeness (with Nickelodeon's approval) wearing military uniforms (the second one is for her -still living- twin sister who serves in the Air Force).
Although the cemetery originally approved the design, when they saw the actual markers, they had them removed saying they were inappropriate for such a historic cemetery.
After months of legal wrangling and intense public pressure, the cemetery relented, and the parents were allowed to have the ($13,000 each) grave markers reinstalled.
On the reverse are two beautiful poems penned by Kimberly Walker, herself. I feel they are well worth reading:
The right marker reads:
IN LOVING MEMORY OF SGT. KIMBERLY R. WALKER
IF YOU ARE READING THIS POEM IT MEANS THAT I AM NO LONGER WITH YOU IN THE SENSE THAT MY BODY IS NOT NEXT
TO YOU IN A PHYSICAL STATE.
BUT I AM STILL WITH YOU IN YOUR HEARTS AND
YOUR SPIRITS AND YOUR MEMORIES.
SO PLEASE DO NOT MOURN THE END OF MY PRECIOUS LIFE
BUT REJOICE IN THE BEGINNING OF MY NEW LIFE.
I HAVE RISEN TO HEAVEN TO BE AMONGST MANY ANGELS.
I HAVE TO ADMIT MY NEW LIFE IS FULL OF EVEN MORE COUNTLESS
BLESSINGS THAN I COULD EVER IMAGINE.
SO TODAY CELEBRATE THE GOOD MEMORIES THAT
I HAVE SHARED WITH EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU.
THINK ABOUT HOW I HAVE IMPACTED YOUR LIFE AND
HOW YOU IMPACTED MINE.
WHEN YOU THINK OF ME: THINK OF ME AS A DETERMINED
AND LOVING FRIEND, MOTHER, SISTER, DAUGHTER, AND SOLDIER.
CHERISH MY MEMORIES AND ALLOW ME TO LIVE ON WITH YOU FOREVER.
DO NOT MOURN THE LOSS OF MY LIFE.
SMILE AND KNOW THAT I WILL ALWAYS SMILE
DOWN ON YOU FROM HEAVEN IN RETURN.
CHERISH EVERY MEMORY.
LIVE EVERYDAY AS IF IT IS YOUR LAST.
NO ONE IS PROMISED TOMORROW. SO WHEN THAT DAY DOES COME:
ENSURE THAT YOUR PRESENCE ON EARTH HAS MADE A DIFFERENCE.
IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO GET GOD ON YOUR SIDE AND LIVE RIGHT.
ENSURE THAT YOU WILL COME JOIN ME AT THE PEARLY GATES ONE DAY.
THE CHOICE IS YOURS AND IF YOU HAVE NOT STARTED
YOU CAN ALWAYS START TODAY.
BY Kimberly Walker
The left marker reads:
WHEN DO YOU LEARN
WHEN DO YOU LEARN TO PUT ALL YOUR WORRIES IN THE LORD’S HANDS.
UNDERSTANDING THAT WALKING WITH FAITH WILL TAKE YOU VERY FAR?
WHEN DO YOU LEARN TO FORGIVE AND FORGET.
FOR YOUR SAVIOR FORGIVES YOU FOR YOUR SINS?
WHEN DO YOU LEARN THAT NOTHING IN LIFE WILL BE PERFECT?
THERE WILL ALWAYS BE UPS AND DOWNS.
IN LIFE WE MUST ADAPT AND OVERCOME.
WHEN DO YOU LEARN THAT SOCIETY WILL ALWAYS JUDGE YOU.
BUT YOU CAN NEVER LET SOCIETY’S STEREO–
TYPES BECOME YOUR LIFE’S REALITY?
WHEN DO YOU LEARN THAT NOTHING IN LIFE IS GIVEN?
EVERYTHING COMES AT A COST.
YOU HAVE TO WORK FOR WHAT YOU WANT.
WHEN DO YOU LEARN THAT PEOPLE SHOULDN’T BE CLASSIFIED BY COLOR?
ONLY A STRONG INDIVIDUAL CAN TAKE LIFE’S MISHAPS AND
MAKE THEM LIFE’S MEMORIES.
THE BEAUTY TO LEARN AND LIVE LIFE FOR YOU IS THE
GREATEST THING YOU COULD EVER GRASP.
WE ARE NEVER TOO OLD OR YOUNG TO
MAKE CHANGES AND LEARN NEW THINGS.
NO ONE’S LIFE WILL EVER BE PERFECT.
BUT THERE’S ALWAYS A NEW DAY TO WORK TOWARD PERFECTION.
SO WHEN YOU LOOK IN THE MIRROR AND ASK YOURSELF
‘WHEN WILL I LEARN?’ SAY TODAY I WILL LEARN TO TAKE A NEW JOURNEY.
I WILL LEARN TO UNDERSTAND ME AND WHAT MAKES ME, ME.
ONCE I’VE LEARNED ME, I WILL LEAVE IT TO THE WORLD TO UNDERSTAND ME.
I CANNOT ACCEPT WHAT LIFE THROWS MY WAY IF I NEVER ACCEPTED ME.
SO TODAY I WILL LEARN ACCEPTANCE COMES FROM WITHIN.
ONCE I’VE ACCOMPLISHED THAT I THINK EVERYTHING
ELSE TO LEARN WILL FALL INTO PLACE.
BY Kimberly Walker
An accused Murderer, a President and a little Bear!
We came across this grave marker while walking through the decrepit Live Oaks Cemetery outside of Greenville, Mississippi. (if interested, you can read my blog post about our time in Greenville by clicking here)
This is a story of a chance encounter that might have altered (ever so adorably) the course of history. Meet Holt Collier.
Probably the greatest hunter and cowboy this country has ever produced.
Blurred by time and folklore, it was difficult to find corroborating evidence for some of the details of this man's life story but from what I could piece together, he was born around 1846 as a third generation slave to the influential Howell Hinds family of Mississippi. As a boy, he was tasked with hunting food for his master's dinner table. He proved to be an able marksman and a daring hunter killing his first black bear at the age of 10!
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Howell Hinds and his seventeen-year-old son, Tom, enlisted in the Mississippi militia and were sent off to Tennessee. Holt, now thirteen, begged to go along but his Master refused. Holt, determined to stay with his master and his son, jumped aboard a passing river boat and found his way to Memphis, where the three were reunited. He stayed on as their personal servant.
During the battle of Shiloh, when union troops were closing in on the Hinds' position, he grabbed a rifle from a fallen soldier and took up arms against the Northern army! Acknowledging his skill and bravery, he was (reluctantly) accepted in the 9th Texas Brigade. He eventually became a trusted aide and sharpshooter under Confederate Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest.
After the war, he worked at various odd jobs: ranch hand, cattle driver, farrier and so on, but he found he could make more money hunting bear. He quickly earned the reputation as the most able hunter in all of Mississippi.
In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt came to Mississippi on a hunting trip. Hearing of Holt's reputation, he quickly hired him as a guide.
During their excursion, Holt tried to keep the President out of harms way. At one point, Holt went on ahead and single-handedly lassoed a 250 pound bear. He sent for the President to come and shoot the bear. When Roosevelt saw the bear tied to a tree, he refused to shoot it stating that it was be too unsportsmanlike.
A reporter traveling with the President's party, heard of Roosevelt's compassionate refusal and chronicled the event. As the resulting news story spread across the country, a candy store owner in Brooklyn, NY, quickly formed a piece of plush velvet into the shape of a bear. And thus was born the "Teddy Bear".
The toy became so popular that the inventor, Morris Michtom left the candy business and devoted his time to the manufacture of the stuffed bear.
Oh, in case you were wondering, after the war Holt Collier was accused of murdering a notorious carpetbagger. Union Captain James King who was part of the local occupying force during reconstruction. As Hinds and Collier were walking down the street, King said something that insulted the honor of the much older Howell Hinds, a fight ensued with King getting knocked down numerous times. As the story goes, when King drew a knife on the unarmed Hinds, he was shot dead by an "unnamed onlooker". Since it was unclear who actually fired the pistol, Holt was acquitted of all charges by a military tribunal.
In his lifetime, Holt is credited with killing over 3,000 black bears. You don't find many people in early American history with the courage and character of a Holt Collier.
"Know what I mean, Vern?"
You might remembered him as the character 'Ernest P. Worrel' in the various "Ernest" movies from 1983 to 1998, as well as in numerous television commercials.
Jim Varney, a chain smoker, died of lung cancer. We found his gravestone while walking through the Lexington Cemetery, in Lexington, Kentucky.
Good bye, funnyman.