Friday, September 15, 2017

The History of the Order of Knights of Pythias

The Knights of Pythias was founded during the Civil War in Washington, D.C. and was the first fraternal organization to be chartered by an act of Congress. Justus H. Rathbone founded the group based on the legend of Damon and Pythias, a Greek story of honor and friendship. 
Membership in the organization required a belief in a supreme being and was open to men in good health. According to the secret rituals of the organization, when a man was inducted into the group, he received a ceremonial sword usually bearing the letters FCB, which stood for Friendship, Charity, Benevolence – the three attributes of the organization. Their motto is “to speak the truth and to render benefits to each other."

Pythian Sisters
The fraternal group was comprised of three tiers – Castles made up local meeting places, state buildings were called Grand Lodges, and Supreme Lodges were the designation for national buildings. Officers included the Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Prelate, Secretary, Treasurer, Master at Arms, Inner Guard, Outer Guard and the Past Supreme Chancellor. The organization also had a women's auxiliary – the Pythian Sisters, along with the Pythian Sunshine Girls and the Junior Order of Princes of Syracuse for boys.

Knights of Pythias at the turn of the century
During the high point of fraternal groups, the Knights of Pythias had close to one million members, but once interest in secret societies died off, numbers dropped. There were fewer than 200,000 members by 1980. Today, there are more than 2,000 lodges in the world with membership over 50,000.

The Knights of Pythias of North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa (KPNSAEAA) was formed in 1869 after an African American lodge was denied membership. By the turn of the century, the KPNSAEAA had close to 40,000 members with lodges in 20 U.S. states and countries around the world.
By the 1870s, the organization began offering fraternal insurance benefits to members. In the 1930s, this endowment group broke from the mainstream Pythians and became the American United Insurance Company.
The Improved Order, Knights of Pythias began in 1892 as the result of a ruling that only English could be spoken at meetings. Many members also spoke German so in the 1895, the group fractured yet again but mended itself a few years later.

Louis Armstrong
Well-known Knights of Pythias included Presidents William McKinley, Warren G. Harding, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Vice Presidents included Nelson Rockefeller and Hubert H. Humphrey along with numerous Supreme Court justices, members of Congress and state representatives. Jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong was also a member.

The Knights of Pythias still exist in more than 20 states in the U.S. along with international groups. The Pythians provide camps for under privileged children, and homes for older members. The American Cancer Society is the national charity of the group.
Pythian Castle in Missouri
Pythian Lodge structures can still be found throughout the United States. Many of these grandiose castles and lodges have been listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and with the National Park Service.
Although a central register of deceased members does not exist, the organization is happy to answer genealogy questions. Contact them at
~ Joy

My new book The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide will be hitting bookshelves across the country this month. Click here for book information.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

It's National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, reports that each year in the United States, over 22,440 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. That means 1 in 75 women will develop ovarian cancer in her lifetime. More than 14,000 will die from it!  

I began researching this disease after finding the grave of Jane Todd Crawford in Sullivan County, Indiana several years ago. Jane was the first person to survive abdominal surgery – for a 22-pound ovarian tumor.

Jane Todd Crawford
It was December 1809 when Jane Todd Crawford became concerned about a pregnancy that was long overdue. At the age of 46, and as a mother of four, she knew something was wrong and that she needed medical attention.

Ephraim McDowell
Jane wrote to Dr. Ephraim McDowell in Danville, Kentucky, explaining her condition. McDowell traveled to Green County, Kentucky and diagnosed a 22-pound ovarian tumor. He was interested in performing an experimental abdominal surgery that might save her life, but he warned her that so far the surgery had never been performed successfully.  Knowing that her condition was fatal, Crawford agreed to allow Dr. McDowell to operate on her.

Dr McDowell's Surgery Tools
It was a harsh December day when she set out on horseback from south of Greensburg to Danville, Kentucky, a journey of 60 miles. McDowell had refused to do the surgery anywhere but at his home where he had the necessary assistance and equipment available.

The operation took place on Christmas Day in McDowell’s home. (McDowell hoped the church music and bells would diminish the sounds of Jane's agony.) Jane was strapped down to a table and given an oral dose of opium before being cut open. (Anesthesia did not exist yet.) Jane recited the Psalms while the operation took place. During the 25 minute procedure, McDowell removed a twenty-two pound tumor in two sections. This was the first successful abdominal surgery, and the first successful removal of an ovarian tumor, in the world!

Crawford’s recovery was uneventful. She returned home at the end of January 1810. A few months later, the Crawford’s’ sold their land in Kentucky and moved to Indiana. 

McDowell became famous as the pioneer of abdominal surgical techniques. He performed the same operation on two more women within the next few years and published his report “Three Cases of Extirpation of Diseased Ovaria” in 1817.  He continued practicing medicine until his death, ironically from an apparent appendicitis, on June 25, 1830.  His home in Danville, where the operation took place, is now a museum and National Historic Landmark.

Jane's Grave
Jane Todd Crawford died in 1842, at the age of 78, at her son’s home in Graysville, Indiana. She is buried in the Johnson Cemetery, near Graysville, Indiana in Sullivan County.  In 1871, the Women’s Auxiliary to the Southern Medical Association dedicated a stone for her grave.  In 1940, the American Hospital Association placed a granite monument near her grave.

Not only did Jane Todd Crawford make history as the first woman to survive ovarian surgery, she gave thousands of women hope concerning a disease that is slow, cruel, and still difficult to survive.

I am currently working on a full-length play about Jane’s life. Keep apprised of how the work is going on Facebook at A Grave Interest’s page.
~ Joy

My first book, The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide, will be out in bookstores nationwide the end of September. To order an advanced copy, visit Family Tree.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Ten Eclispe Superstitions

Monday is a much anticipated day for many around the world. This will be “The Event of the Century,” when the sun, moon and earth line up to create a total eclipse.
A total solar eclipse is a unique visual occurrence. In the US, it will be visible, in some form, in all 48 states. The eclipse will pass over North America, Western Europe, Northern and Eastern Asia, Northern and Western Africa, a large section of South America and the Arctic along with islands in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Millions of people will see it.

A lunar eclipse occurs about once every 18 months, but one of this magnitude that will be viewed by millions occurs approximately once every 375 years according to Belgium astronomer Jean Meeus. (Now you see why this is such a BIG deal!)

But our ancestors have always had a dubious relationship with the heavens. In fact, most people thought the world was ending when an eclipse – full or partial – occurred. 
Here are 10 superstitions that our ancestors may have harbored during an eclipse.

1. Gods Were Angry
Ancient Greeks believed that Helios, the Sun God, (or Apollo, take your pick) drove his fiery chariot across the sky each day, and could see and understand what was happening on Earth. He would then report this behavior to Zeus. When the sun disappeared during the day, the only conclusion drawn was that the people had offended the gods and were being punished.

2. Sun and Moon Quarreling
Ancient cultures in Togo and Benin believed that the Sun god and the Moon god were arguing. The only way to make amends between the two was for those on earth to set an example and let go of their grievances toward one another.

3. Sun Being Devoured
Photo from NASA
Each culture had its version of what was happening when an eclipse took place, and most of these ancient cultures thought that something was eating the sun. 

In Hindu mythology it was believed that the demon Rahu’s severed head was devouring the sun. When this occurred, the people would grab something to bang on in order to scare Rahu into coughing up the sun.
Ancient Egyptians thought that a sow had swallowed the moon.
In Korea, ancient dogs were blamed for taking a bite out of the moon as they tried to steal it.
Other societies would throw things into the sky to scare away the demon that was trying to swallow the sun.
Native Americans believed that an eclipse happened because the sun and a bear were quarreling. The bear grabbed the sun and bite out a chunk.
4. Spirits of the Dead
Incas thought that the souls of the dead, in the shape of a jaguar, had attacked the moon and once finished with it, would come to earth. In order to save mankind, they would throw spears into the sky to keep it away.

5. Danger to the Monarch
Kings and queens believed that their power to rule was in danger of being overthrown during an eclipse. To thwart an attempt, a person was hired to sit on the throne during an eclipse so nothing bad would happen to the ruler.
6. Sacrificial Offerings
The Aztecs believed that the gods were angry and must be appeased. People of lighter complexions were immediately sacrificed and any captives were killed to quell the god’s wrath and keep them from walking the earth looking for men to eat.

7. Trickery
In 1503 Christopher Columbus and his crew were stranded in Jamaica. The natives became tired of assisting them. Columbus, knowing that an eclipse was due, told the Jamaicans that his god was angry with their treatment and would take away the moon as punishment. When the eclipse occurred, the natives agreed to tend to the crew until help arrived if the moon was restored.
8. Deform Children
The Aztecs also thought that if a pregnant woman went outside to view the eclipse, her child would be born with a cleft palate in a similar fashion to the bite that had been taken out of the moon.
9. Karma
Tibetan Buddhists believe that during an eclipse our actions are multiplied one thousand times – be they good or bad.
10. Cause of Natural Catastrophes
The Chinese believed that an eclipse foretold of the coming of famine or disease. 

Others believed that the solar eclipse of 1652 caused the Great Plague in London. 

Modern astrologers report that an eclipse can cause natural phenomenon like earthquakes and storms.
Today, in certain cultures, an eclipse still portends evil, but most of the world will be celebrating the sight of the total eclipse on Monday. If you happen to miss it, mark your calendars because there will be an annular solar eclipse on October 14, 2023, and another total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024 that will be visible mainly in parts of the Midwest and the East Coast.
~ Joy
And a note: My new book The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide will be shipping out next Tuesday for early orders. Click here to get your copy.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Haunted New Harmony - Worth a Trip

New Harmony, Indiana is a quaint town with bustling businesses surrounded by two hundred years of history, and some spritely spirits. In fact, most of the buildings in the town are haunted. What could cause so much paranormal activity? A myriad of things, apparently.

Johann Georg Rapp
The first settlers to the area were members of the Harmonie Society, more than 800 German Lutheran immigrants who were followers of  Father Johann Georg Rapp. Also known as Rappites, the religious group believed in a literally interpertation of the Bible and sought Christian perfection by practicing celibacy while living highly ordered and productive lives. 

Rapp-Owen Granary
These men and women built more than 160 buildings including a church and graveyard,  school, cotton mill, grain mills, sawmills, tanneries, winery, brewery and other businesses. The Harmonists lived here from 1814 to 1824 when they returned to Pennsylvania to form another community.

Robert Owen

Then came another utopian group called the Owenites. This group was the polar opposite of the Harmonists. Founder Robert Owens wanted to establish a new moral social utopia, one that stressed education and the equality of men and women while shunning marriage and religion. Members of his movement, more than 700 people, came to live here along the banks of the Wabash River. Although the community lasted only a couple of years,  it established the first free school system in America including something known as kindergarten. The group completely disbanded in 1829 due to a lack of funds.

Wabash River
Two groups so radically different in their beliefs could make for an interesting paranormal situation. Then factor in the influence of the river and the beliefs of the Native Americans, and you have an interesting mix of beliefs and cultures. 

Destruction of Griffin, Indiana - nine miles away
Then there was the Tri-State tornado of 1925 . The mile-wide twister ripped through Missouri, Southern Illinois and Southern Indiana killing 695 people during its three hours on the ground. New Harmony was in its path and 52 people died here. Their bodies were taken to the Ribeyre Gymnasium so next of kin could identify them. That’s another spot with lots of paranormal activity.

The Harmonist or Rappite Cemetery
Native Americans seemed to know that the area was a hotspot of activity. The Harmonists didn’t mention it, but the Owenites, with their interest in science, would have been curious as to what was causing all the incidents.

Fauntleroy House
The first reported haunting was in 1848 in the Fauntleroy Home when a guest reported passing “the resident ghost” on the stairs as she was retiring for bed. The home was renovated a few years ago and paranormal activity has picked up. In fact, it's the most haunted house in town. One reason may be the adjacent cemetery. 

More than 200 Rappites are buried in the Harmonist Cemetery, all in unmarked graves due to the sect's belief in equality for all of its members. A wall constructed of bricks from the old Harmonist church surrounds the graveyard. Also located here are several burial mounds of Native Americans from the Middle Woodland period, about 2,000 years ago. 

Outside the Cemetery Wall
New Harmony, Indiana is worth a trip just to soak up the ambience, but don’t be surprised if you catch a shadow person pass by – it's a town where some residents never leave.

Friday, June 23, 2017

I Thought I Saw a ...Ghost?

Most people, if they're honest with you, will admit that they believe they've seen a ghost. Some of us have photos that show something in them that’s just “not quite right.” A ghost? An apparition? A shadow? There are times we know for sure there’s no other explanation and others when we are left wondering.

Here are 23 slides that will make you want to take another look at those recently snapped photos, because as you’ll see, you don’t have to be in a cemetery, an abandoned building or anywhere spooky – you just have to be observant to see a ghost.

Have a ghost photo you’ve taken? Share it at AGraveInterest on Facebook and let us know where you were when you took it.



Friday, June 9, 2017

St Ignatius Cemetery in West Baden, Indiana

The summer of 1929 was uneventful for the most part, but the date October 24, 1929 would be remembered for years to come. That’s the day the Wall Street Stock Market crashed. Word spread quickly throughout West Baden Springs Hotel. Within hours, panicked guest were checking out. The mass exodus continued for four days until everyone was gone; the life had literally been drained from the hotel.
West Baden Springs Hotel
Hotel owner Ed Ballard hoped the crash would be short-lived but as it drug on into the 1930s, Ballard realized that it was the end of an era for his beloved hotel. In 1934, after numerous attempts to find a buyer for the business, he sold the $7 million grand dame for $1 to the Society of Jesus - the Jesuits. Thus began thirty years in the hotel’s history as a Jesuit seminary.

Jesuit Brothers at West Baden
West Baden College became an affiliate of Loyola University in Chicago where priests, brothers and students were sent to train and teach. These Jesuits immediately removed or covered most of the hotel’s lavish furnishings and decorations to fit with their belief in simplicity. Anything that was considered too extravagant by this austere order was hidden from sight (but thankfully stored, and therefore preserved.) Even the regaled mineral springs were capped with concrete and turned into shrines for saints after tons of stone were dumped down into them. 
Path to St Ignatius
During their thirty years there, the Jesuits established a small cemetery in which to bury those priests who died while serving here. The first burial was for Eduardus J. McDonald, Scholasticus, and took place on August 26, 1935. 
The last burial was for Warner Richard Kerzmann, the first director of Northwood College, the institution that took over the structure from the Jesuits in 1966. Kerzmann was granted approval to be buried here in 1979 because of his deep ties to Northwood College. 
Those Buried at St Ignatius
In all, a total of 39 priests have been buried here over the years. In fact, Jesuits may still request to be buried in St. Ignatius Cemetery.
The seminary was closed in 1964 due to low enrollment and the high cost of keeping the building up. In 1966, Northwood College took over the structure, but the Jesuits retained ownership of St Ignatius Cemetery. 
The cemetery is located to the west of West Baden Springs Hotel in West Baden, Indiana. It may be visited by climbing a shrub-lined pathway of stairs which lead to the top of a hill. There you will find a large white cross with 39 marked graves; this is St Ignatius Cemetery, known locally as the Jesuit’s Cemetery. 


Friday, June 2, 2017

I'm Back!!

Hello Tombstone Tourists! 

WOW! Where has the time gone? It's been a busy six months, but I turned in my final book corrections yesterday so this seemed the perfect time to dive back into A Grave Interest. (And you wouldn't believe how I've missed it!)

Regarding the book, I already have a title and publication date so it finally seems real. In fact, Family Tree Publishing is taking preorders. The title is The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide and it will be released on September 22, 2017.

What's it About?
It’s full of tips and tricks to help you locate your ancestor’s graves plus those illusive death records that can lead to other clues in your genealogy search. Plus, I share some stories of how cemetery research has led me into some interesting findings; an unknown family member, a sudden profusion of ancestors, and a family secret of monumental proportions. Suffice it to say I'm excited! 

Jesuit Cemetery
Thanks for your patience while I tackled this milestone. Now, back to cemetery jaunts and writing about what I find along the way. Next Friday, we'll take a look at Jesuit cemetery tucked away at a resort.