EDGEFIELD, S.C. — Some of Tonya Guy’s favorite people are dead. They lie beneath the magnolia trees in Willowbrook Cemetery, and Guy enjoys taking visitors to see their final resting places during the tours she conducts in the historic graveyard on Church Street in Edgefield.
“There are illustrious individuals here who led such fascinating lives,” said Guy, who is the grants and promotions coordinator for the Edgefield Cemetery Association. “To be able to introduce them to others is an honor and a privilege. I never get tired of telling their stories.”
Four South Carolina governors are buried in Willowbrook, along with some other notable politicians.
One of the most unusual tales associated with the cemetery’s denizens belongs to someone less famous — Dr. James Adams DeVore, who died in 1895. His grave has a trapdoor made of iron that has rusted.
“He was a very eccentric character,” Guy said. “According to local legend, he is buried sitting in a chair behind glass. Under this door, there is supposed to be an archway and a tunnel that leads to him.”
Guy doesn’t know for sure what exactly is down there because the opening below the door has dirt and debris in it.
“A preacher didn’t like people going to see DeVore, so he supposedly filled it in, probably in the 1960s,” she said.
Since then, a big stone cross from another burial site has fallen on top of DeVore’s plot, possibly causing damage to structures beneath the ground’s surface.
“People who were growing up here in the 1950s remember when an individual was dared to go down there, and he saw DeVore,” Guy said. “One day, we would like to do an excavation and see if we can get back there.”
Not too far away from DeVore’s grave is the final resting place of Matthew Calbraith Butler, who was a Confederate major general during the War Between the States.
Butler lost his right foot in an 1863 battle in Virginia. He returned to duty only a few months after being injured.
“He had a wooden foot made, and he went back and served the rest of the war,” Guy said. “But what’s really unusual is that he had his real foot embalmed. He kept it in a box, and when he died, the embalmed foot was buried with him because he had asked for it to be.”
Behethland Pawnee Butler Bacon was only in her 20s when she died. Her grave in Willowbrook used to have a small summerhouse made of wooden latticework on it.
“Her childhood toys and seashells were put in there, and children would come and look inside,” Guy said. “People thought for a long time that she had died as a child, but that’s not true.”
After the latticework deteriorated and rotted, a vault was built that is still there today.
A tall monument marks Thomas Glasscock Bacon’s final resting place in Willowbrook. He was a colorful man who raised racehorses and game chickens.
He fought in the Second Seminole War, and during the Civil War, he was a colonel with the 7th South Carolina Volunteer Regiment. He later became a state senator.
“He never forgot the men he served with in the War Between the States,” Guy said.
When Bacon died, his final words were, “Let me go. I want to go to my regiment,” and they were carved on his monument.
A large, rough-looking rock sits atop the burial site belonging to the Rev. John Lake. He was a missionary who started a leper colony on an island in the South China Sea, and the stone is a souvenir from that colony.
“I love talking about everybody out here,” Guy said.
But the most special, to Guy, are a physician named Elbert Bland and his wife, Rebecca.
During the Civil War, after Bland was wounded twice on the battlefield while supporting the Confederate cause, Rebecca didn’t want him to continue his military service. But Bland didn’t grant her wish. In 1863, during the Battle of Chickamauga, Bland got hurt again; and he died.
“Rebecca loved him dearly, and for the rest of her life, she grieved and mourned,” Guy said. “She dressed in black, and even though she had many suitors after the war, she wouldn’t have anything to do with them.”
Rebecca died in 1891.
“At her request, her husband’s grave and coffin were opened,” Guy said. “She was laid on top of his bosom, and that’s where she rests. All she asked for was a small footstone with her name on it at the end of his grave. I think the sweet romance of it all makes it a beautiful story.”
For more information about tours of Willowbrook Cemetery, call Guy at 803-637-4010 or visit www.oedgs.org and click on the Willowbrook Cemetery link near the top of the home page.
This feature was written by Dede Biles, who writes for the Aiken Standard in South Carolina.