This weekend, Old Gray Cemetery is hosting its popular, always different and always memorable Lantern and Carriage Tour, for the first time in a couple of years. The cemetery at 543 North Broadway--better park across the street at Emory Place; the entrance was made for carriages--is one of Knoxville's most interesting places, and a perfect place for a Sunday-afternoon stroll.
Established in 1850, Old Gray is not as old as some churchyards, but was
Knoxville's first big comprehensive cemetery. Its name has nothing to do with the Civil War; it's named for Thomas Gray, the English poet who wrote "Elegy in a Country Churchyard." At the time, believe it or not, Old Gray was out on the edge of the countryside, and people liked the imagery of Mr. Gray's pastoral poem.
It was East Tennessee's first nod at the Garden Cemetery Movement, an international approach to rethinking graveyards as beautiful places. Although Old Gray has suffered some damage from both man and nature in recent years, it's still a beautiful place. And a pretty fascinating one. It's one of America's few cemeteries that hosts both leaders of the Confederacy and the Union. Parson Brownlow himself is buried here, under the cemetery's tallest monument--unless that's the Tyson Monument, another obelisk were General and Senator Tyson and his son McGhee, the World War I casuality for whom our airport is named, are buried.
Several mayors, senators, and tycoons are buried here, and many of them are from English or Scots-Irish background, but look around, and you see Italian, French, German, Irish, and Greek names. And there's the impressionist Catherine Wiley, and baker-Mayor Peter Kern, German conductor-composer Gustavus Knabe, and Cornelius Coffin Williams, playwright Tennessee Williams' troubled father.
The Lantern and Carriage Tour at 4 this Sunday is the privately owned cemetery's annual fundraiser, not held last year due to road construction and repair. Old Gray is planning a major effort to rehab the cemetery.
This year, actors highlighting "stories of adversity and accomplishment" will interpret the graves of Knoxville's original preservationist, Mary Boyce Temple; the eye-catching Woodmen of the World graves; and perhaps the most heartbreaking memorial in Knoxville, the beautiful statue of Lillian Gaines, who died of a fever at the age of 8.
The event's always held rain or shine, and reservations aren't required. For more, see oldgraycemetery.org.