A few weeks ago, as part of Pheonix Flies, Viv and I biked over to Sylvester Cemetery over by B & K’s house for a tour. We’d “discovered” this cemetery last summer with B one Sunday afternoon, but this was official. The tour was slim, but we learned a lot more than I ever expected and a fascinating tales of local residents. It is a beautiful hill, wooded but open beneath the canopy. Most family plots are walled off giving even more order beneath the trees than expected and the diversity of headstones and age of headstones lends a particular picturesque-ness to the spot that is one of the most peaceful places in our neighborhood. Knowing histories of the East Atlanta’s founding families new meaning is lent to this place.
Begun as the Terry family cemetery on this hill overlooking Sugar Creek and the mill (Terry Mill) the family owned, the current name is traced back to Sylvester (or Silvester) Terry who died as a young boy and his mother asked that the congregation that wanted to locate on the hill, name their church for him, hence the Sylvester Meeting House was established, later disbanded and the Sylvester Baptist Church establish. The current Sylvester Cemetery is a combination of the original cemetery, the Sylvester Church cemetery and another church cemetery or 2 that was located on this hill.
Another notable tale surrounds Jake Hall, former sheriff of DeKalb County in the 1920s. An acknowledged drunkard, he did not drive but was chauffeured around by less dangerous prisoners. He lived on McDonough in Decatur and later moved to Ormewood Park, perhaps with his second wife. His first wife, sad to say, died while he was on such a binge that he did not even know she had died until a week and a half later, well after her family had buried her. He sobered up later, perhaps as a result of this experience, perhaps influenced by the second wife.
Finally on the tour we came to Fiddling John Carson. He lived in Cabbagetown and worked at the Fulton Cotton Mill. Though he would later lose that job, become homeless and end his days as an elevator operator in the State Capitol where he was on familiar terms with all the legislators. He was also known as a moonshiner, but it was his fiddle playing which made him famous (though not rich). One day in the early 1920s he strolled into WSB radio studios with his dog and fiddle and sat down to play on the air. The playing continued and these were the first country music recordings, long before Nashville was music city.