Cemeteries are full of stories and mysteries. Here is a mystery I recently discovered at Maple Hill Cemetery in Portland.
I went over to Maple Hill Cemetery to practice some grave dowsing. If you don’t know about grave dowsing, it is where you take rods (I use coat hangers) and walk across the land holding them lightly and if they cross it means there is a grave below.
You can also tell the gender and if it is an adult or a child, (but I haven’t had much luck with that.) Anyway, I chose my ancestors plot to use, the Searcy and Payne plots in Section 7.
The Payne lot was bought in 1915 by James Payne, my great-grandfather. Not sure when or by whom the Searcy lot was bought, but the earliest grave in it is 1917. The first to be buried in the Payne lot was Buist Payne, he was killed by stabbing in Nashville in February 1915. He probably would have been buried at Pleasant Hill Church Cemetery in Robertson County, but it wasn’t established until 1917. The Searcy plot and the Payne Plot are side by side.
In the Searcy plot on the northeast side of the big stone is where R. H. Searcy, 1882-1968 and his wife Lizzie Searcy, 1888-1969 are buried. The were John’s brother and wife. The plot is two rows of five graves, so there are three empty spaces on this side.
On the other side beginning northwest I found a grave with no footstone on it. Now, my Dad had always told me that “Uncle John” Searcy had lost his leg in a tractor accident and that they buried his leg at Maple Hill, so I am assuming that his leg is buried in this spot.
The next space over is actually John F. Searcy’s grave and it says… 20 October 1880- 30 August 1954. On the next space there is a small upright stone with a lamb on top to designate an infant. This stone says Lesca E. Searcy, 18 October 1914 - April 1917, daughter of J.F. and Annie.
So, this was an infant that John and his first wife had together. Next is the stone of his wife and it says Annie L. Searcy, June 23, 1889 – February, 5, 1918. And then this leaves one empty spot on that row.
Now John’s second wife was my great-aunt, Ezra Lee Payne Tate Searcy. Aunt Ezra married Harold Tate, Sr. first and they had an infant who they named Buist Taylor Tate after her brother. This baby, about a month old, is buried at Mt. Carmel Church Cemetery Cross Plains beside Harold Tate, Sr.
Harold and Ezra had Harold Tate, Jr., Violet Tate Whitley, and Jenny Tate Fisher. By all accounts, Uncle John was a good stepfather to the children. Aunt Ezra died in 1994 at the old age of 99. She was an adventurous type and very active until her health started failing. At her 90th birthday party, she rode on a tethered hot air balloon.
The story goes that she did not want to be buried in the lot of either husband, so she is buried beside her brother, Paul Payne in the Payne plot. Her footstone reads, 1895-1994.
So, now we have started on the five-space row of the Payne plot. On the North East from the big Payne stone, next to Aunt Ezra is buried Paul Payne and his stone says 1895-1994, 3rd stone is “Pa Payne” James Payne, his stone says, 1857-1946; then his wife, “Ma Payne” Flora Lee Byram Payne is in the next space and her stone says,1868-1955.
The last stone by the driveway is Buist J. Payne and his stone reads, 1891-1915. I went to the other side of the big Payne stone and didn’t expect to find anything because there was not a footstone over there.
There should be five empty spaces, but to my surprise when I dowsed I came up with an unmarked grave directly behind the Big Payne tombstone. Now that’s the mystery, who is buried there? It will probably never be solved. Here are some of my theories:
1. One of the Payne siblings had a stillborn child who was buried there? (The space is larger than a baby though)
2. Someone was buried in that plot by mistake?
3. A worker for the Payne family was buried there because he had no place to be buried? (When the rods cross over it denotes a male buried there)
4. A special dog “Trixie” that was raised at the home place was buried there? (Space vertically is bigger than a dog)
And yes, dowsing rods will show where pets are buried too. So, on the east side of the Payne plot there are still four empty spaces with an unknown buried in the middle.
Let’s look at where the siblings are buried.
1. Pearl Payne Groves is buried at Maple Hill beside her husband Adolphus O. Groves in the Buntin Groves Section of the cemetery.
2. Lillie Mae Payne Wright is buried beside her husband, Davy Wright at Pleasant Hill Cemetery.
3. Van Alexander Payne is buried beside his wife, Mamie England at Elmwood Cemetery in Springfield, (no children).
4. Byram Adam Payne is buried beside his wife, Ruby Simmons at Elmwood Cemetery in Springfield.
5. Paul Payne, as we noted is at Maple Hill, (never married, no children).
6. Ezra Payne Tate Searcy is buried, as noted, at Maple Hill beside her brother Paul.
7. Ruth Hornberger is buried beside her husband, Richard Hornberger at Elmwood Cemetery, Springfield, (no children).
8. Naomi Estelle Payne Holmes is buried beside her husband, Russell Baker Holmes at Pleasant Hill Cemetery.
9. Clyde Alma Payne Jernigan is buried beside her husband, Will B. Jernigan at Pleasant Hill.
10. Olive Bernice Payne Hendrix is buried by her husband Raymond L. Hendrix in a mausoleum at Woodlawn in Nashville.
11. Buist, as we stated, is buried in the Payne plot, (never married, no children).
If anyone knows the answer to the mystery of who is buried in the Payne plot at Maple Hill please let the Cross Plains Heritage Commission know. Inquiries, questions and donations may be sent to P.O. Box 7 Cross Plains, TN. 37049. The Doctor’s House Museum is open for visits now on Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Paula Shannon is a member of the Highland Rim Historical Society.