One sunny day during Christmas vacation, I couldn’t resist going outside with my camera. But where to? Time for another location that I go by regularly, but have never stopped to look at. Something new, even if I have lived here for most of my life. Most people that spend any amount of time on Clemson’s campus will walk or drive by Cemetery Hill, eventually, but they probably don’t even know it’s there. Or some of us can name it, but still have never gone to look and see. I even had a sneaky suspicion that it was an actual cemetery, but what if it had an odd name for some other reason? I would never know.
It was a bit odd being on campus during vacation, but my usual parking lot was still pretty full. I felt sorry for all the professors and graduate students that were still working, studying, or experimenting, before they would be able (or allowed) to go home. I made a brief visit to look at my favorite trees (see previous posts), and then walked uphill. Oh, and I was reveling in being on campus and NOT in my work clothes. A little bit of you wants to find someone who sees you regularly and say “See! I don’t wear that awful work shirt all the time! I’m normal, and I look like my own age in my everyday clothes!”. Unfortunately, they’re all busy in their buildings, and I’m left to have my inner tantrum all to myself.
For some reason, the presence of those huge “steps” at the front of the cemetery had always made me think that whatever was up there would be much further up the hill. I’m not sure why. An optical illusion, maybe? And why the giant steps, anyway? They certainly looked like the front door steps for a giant.
There are some books that always leave you with the impression that cemeteries and graveyards are creepy places. Of course, I don’t generally read ghost stories, but L. M. Montgomery (author of Anne of Green Gables) was good at adding ghostly elements to some of her stories. But she also wrote about Anne visiting cemeteries and writing love letters to Gilbert, while perusing the epitaphs and admiring some of the monuments. If your only exposure to these locations are in ghost stories, you should think again. They’re places full of memories and sayings, memorials left by loved ones, flowers and flags… and remember, it’s “dust to dust”. The people buried there, their spirits are elsewhere.
My first thought when I came up to the grand entrance was that I had no idea that it was called Woodland Cemetery. If you came to this post, under the impression that I was going to write about Cemetery Hill in Gettysburg, then I apologize. Woodland Way may intersect with Cemetery Drive, right in front of the “giant steps”, but I was never aware that it had another name. I doubt any student would know it, either.
Right inside the iron gate, I was confronted by a lot of names that I recognized. Holtzendorff, Earle, Edwards, Littlejohn, Riggs, and Daniel. Wait a minute… why hadn’t it occurred to me that past Presidents of Clemson were probably buried here? We recognize all of those names because they’re on all the campus buildings, and even local schools. Riggs Hall is right next to where I work, and I’m pretty sure that Earle Hall was on the Disc Golf course we played the other week. I used to have piano recitals (torture sessions) in Daniel Hall. Littlejohn Coliseum is where all college students graduate, as well as all local high school students.
If you happened to grow up in Clemson, Central, or Six Mile, then you went to R. C. Edwards Junior High (now Middle School) and D. W. Daniel High School. When I was a teenager, I even knew what their initials stood for (Robert Cook and David Wistar), but did I ever stop and look at a display on the wall, telling me what they were known for? Edwards was President of Clemson from 1958 to 1979, and Daniel was a Professor of English at Clemson from 1898 to 1947. Ok, so they weren’t all school presidents.
Clemson’s history is buried here! How strange a thought. Of course, there’s a history to everyone that has died, but finding myself surrounded by memorials to past school presidents, while in the shadow of Death Valley Stadium… it left me feeling kind of amazed. What were they like? What was Clemson like, back then, when it was still primarily a military college, though known for being an agricultural college (still working out how those go together)? And when did football enter into the scene?
Slowly, I meandered my way up to the wrought iron fence at the top of the hill, curious about what the plaque by the gate said. I could see the name Calhoun written on the biggest stone inside the enclosure, even at a distance. As you can see, John C. Calhoun and his wife, Floride Colhoun Calhoun (no, I didn’t misspell those) were NOT buried here, but their descendants were. I was left, again, with that “Did I know that?” feeling.
At what age did they teach us, in school, about the history of the surrounding area? Was it in elementary school, or later? Because if it was right after we moved here (I started 3rd grade in Clemson), then I wouldn’t have soaked up much of it. I was still peeved about having moved, and dealing with Southern kids who thought a “Yankee” was someone they could tease regularly. I knew Thomas Green Clemson was John C. Calhoun’s nephew, but only recently have I become aware that Fort Hill is on Clemson’s campus. Did I know, at some point? I’ll cover more about this in a later post, but as a professed history buff, I’m a bit annoyed at my lack of knowledge… or forgetfulness.
For any non-Americans reading this, John C. Calhoun was a famous Southerner, our 7th Vice President, and famous for his fiery speeches in Congress. He was adamantly in favor of states’ rights and heavily involved in the “Nullification Crisis” that occurred before the Civil War. When the federal government was exerting powers that South Carolina believed to be unconstitutional, they nullified the laws. It’s a bit complicated, so I won’t try to explain too much. But somewhere in there, Calhoun decided that he could no longer serve as Vice President, and resigned. His paths and the President’s were no longer in line.
Calhoun spent many years in the Senate, and then died about 15 years before the Civil War. But his legacy lived on, and his admirers were heavily involved leading the way to secession from the Union. Of course, South Carolina was the first state to secede.
Anyway, after Calhoun’s death, his wife Floride inherited Fort Hill, and eventually, much of the plantation property was passed to her daughter Anna, who had married Thomas Green Clemson. And Clemson is the one that, with no living heirs, stated in his will that he wanted the land used for a college of agriculture. And in 1943, the town of Calhoun was renamed Clemson, in his honor.
And there I stood, looking through the iron bars of a gate into South Carolina’s past. Families that lived and died before the Confederacy was created, and before the South lost the war. None of Thomas and Anna Clemson’s children lived very long… were they all buried here? I couldn’t see far enough into the enclosure to tell.
I circled further around the paths, looking at more and more names that I knew. Through the bare trees, I could see the lake in the distance, which I tend to forget is so close, where you are in Clemson. It’s always hiding behind the trees, somewhere. And as I wandered, I saw a headstone that didn’t look as formal and stark as the rest. It looked positively friendly, in comparison, if you can describe a headstone that way. I went to get a closer look, and discovered that it isn’t only Clemson faculty buried on Cemetery Hill.
Lucia White was buried in Woodland Cemetery. I never knew her, except that she was a cheerleader (or maybe a volleyball player) when I was in Junior High. But I’ve never forgotten who she was. My older brother reminded me that the car accident occurred on a Super Bowl Sunday in 1995. I wouldn’t know that because I was barely aware of the existence of football, at the time. But our school was in shock, after it happened. We didn’t know that kids our age COULD die. Did we? That only happened to older people. All the students went home and were hugged more tightly by their parents, as they were grateful that we were coming home to them.
And several nights later, on the night of the memorial service, another student was walking to the funeral home, in the dark, when he was hit by a car and killed. My house is right by Pendleton Road, where he was walking, and the funeral home was just up the street. This accident occurred within a couple hundred yards of my house.
I had forgotten about this. It’s been almost 20 years since it happened, but do you ever forget the first time you become aware that you are not, after all, immortal? Ok, I mean that our bodies aren’t immortal, don’t get picky with me. Now, I don’t mean that we should spend our lives worrying incessantly, but there comes a time when you realize that caution can be a good thing. I’m not saying that these two young people were doing anything foolish, far from it. But at a young age, you can find out that life is a precious thing, and you don’t want to lose it.
It was a bit of a sober note to come to, so I was glad of the sunshine, that afternoon. I drifted back down the hill, thinking again how incongruous it seemed to have these gravestones overlooked by the football stadium. But then again, every faculty member buried there, they loved their school. They were buried near their school, where their lives had such an impact. And though most visitors to Death Valley don’t know Woodland Cemetery is there, maybe a few of them have walked over to take a look at the reminders of Clemson’s history.