To those of Huckabay’s day, cedar trees were part of a lexicon of symbols — tangible proof of eternal life, entirely appropriate for people of faith to place in a burial ground. Throughout the cemetery, there are monuments bearing other symbols also deep in meaning: stone angels signifying spirituality; columns expressing noble life; lambs representing innocent children.
The evergreen cedar is appropriate, too, for anticipating a new year and spring, when the City Cemetery will resume a green, park-like appearance. In the 1830s, when the cemetery was founded, such places were meant to be pleasant venues for visitors, and there are those today who hope modern visitors can indulge their interests in history, genealogy or recreational walks in peaceful surroundings.
Jonathan Dorsey, executive director of the Carrollton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, often conducts tours of the cemetery, and has helped prepare an interpretive brochure for a self-guided tour of its three sections. He believes the 38 acres of trees, paths and hills is a fitting place for visitors, much like those who visit Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, or Myrtle Hill Cemetery in Rome.
Dorsey is most interested in the stories the cemetery has to tell. Each monument, he said, “has a story behind that … the certain inscriptions that you see, they are all stories.”
Here are the names that live on in Carrollton’s streets, buildings and institutions: William Adamson, namesake of Adamson Square; the Hortons of Horton Bookstore; the Mandevilles whose mills made the city a major textile center. There are many names that are less familiar, but who, during their lives, played major roles in the history of West Georgia.
In the newest section of the cemetery, Pearl Street, is the grave of Nettie Talmadge Tyus (1886-1948), who, Dorsey said, is almost single-handedly responsible for the University of West Georgia being here. The key, Dorsey adds, is in Nettie’s maiden name.
Back in 1933, the state was seeking to establish a network of colleges and universities to replace the defunct system of A&M schools, of which the Fourth District Agricultural and Mechanical School in Carrollton had been a part. Dorsey said many communities had been vying to be the location of the new West Georgia College, but it was Nettie Tyus who got the attention of Gov. Eugene Talmadge – her brother.
“So, what she did was – according to legend – she went into his office and said, ‘Gene, I don’t know where the hell you think you’re going to put West Georgia College, but you’re going to put it in Carrollton,” Dorsey said. Perhaps it is mainly for this reason that Tyus Hall was named after Nettie.
In the older, Magnolia section is the grave of the last principal of the A&M school and first president of West Georgia College, Irving S. Ingram (1892-1981), who led the college through the turbulent segregationist era. Beside him is his wife, Martha. The inscription on her stone reads “Martha Munro, wife of Irvine S. Ingram,” showing that she decided to keep her maiden name in an era when that was very unusual. An academic building is named after her.
The name “Tanner,” appears in several places throughout the cemetery. The family patriarch, Dr. William S. Tanner (1813-1868) is in the Park Street section, while C.M. Tanner (1867-1953) – grocer and namesake of Tanner hospital system – is in the Pearl Street Cemetery, near that of his son, John Tanner (1902-1981), who, Dorsey says, brought in boxcars of Florida sand to build a beach at the lakes he built in his cornfields for the benefit of “farmers and local folks who couldn’t afford to go to Florida.”
One of the more infamous episodes in West Georgia history – the 1948 “Murder in Coweta County” – has two key players now at rest in the City Cemetery. Police Chief Rada Threadgill (1908-1986) unwittingly handed over the victim of that murder, Wilson Turner, to the man who killed him, John Wallace, based on an warrant from Wallace’s native Meriwether County. When Turner’s burned body was discovered in Coweta County, he was put on trial there, with Judge Samuel Boykin (1901-1972) presiding. During the trial, Boykin received a police escort from Carrollton to Newnan, every day.
To Dorsey and others who support the cemetery, these ties to history are what make the cemetery such a valuable resource to the community.
“These people lived and then passed as we all do; these (monuments) are just the last chapter of their story,” he said. “You look around town, look around this community and you see their names on buildings and streets, and events that are named after them, and their names live on. It’s interesting to come and walk among them and realize – oh, this is that Horton, this is that Mandeville and you make those connections. I think a cemetery is really like a 3-D history book.”