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Magnolia Cemetery Is THE Place to be Dead

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Charleston’s Magnolia Cemetery is one of those hidden places. In a bad neighborhood……well, we now LIVE in that neighborhood, but MTM calls it a ‘cemetery ghetto’ because several other cemeteries surround it. A stone’s throw from the old Charleston landfill. Flanked by dilapidated industrial buildings and a housing project that is so bad it is perpetually blocked off by the Charleston police.

So, why am I recommending this place???

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Magnolia Cemetery is Charleston’s oldest public graveyard not attached to a place of worship. Almost everyone who’s been anyone in South Carolina lore is buried there, but I’m not impressed by the size of their monuments over rotting corpses.

I’m glad I can enjoy that marsh view while I’m still alive.

On Sunday, we took a picnic. Gates are open from 8am – 5pm seven days a week, and dawdling is welcome.

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The entrance to Magnolia Cemetery, with its namesake tree as an accent

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The Huger family plot

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I tried to find an actual alligator to photograph, but they were uncooperative

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An ornate tomb at Magnolia

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This is Roger Stowell’s fault

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Because every cemetery needs a pyramid……..

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The view from Magnolia Cemetery…..yes, Carnell…….I see the train tracks in the picture

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Tombstones at Magnolia Cemetery

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What the heck is a Receiving Tomb??????

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Reading material for our picnic at Magnolia Cemetery. Debra Fetterly sent me the book.

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Light and shadow on the bridge at Magnolia Cemetery

A Charleston series. The first post in the series is here, the second post is here, the third post is here, the fourth post is here, the fifth post is here, the sixth post is here, the seventh post is here, the eighth post is here, the ninth post is here, the tenth post is here, the eleventh post is here, the twelfth post is here, the thirteenth post is here, the fourteenth post is here and the fifteenth post is here. Thank you for reading.

40 Comments Post a comment
  1. I love Magnolia Cemetery. It is one of my absolute favorite places in Charleston – an in the world. Doesn’t hurt that it was one of the original trolley destinations in Charleston either. People would take the trolley out to the place that was on the far outskirts of town, visit the dead relatives, and enjoy a day in the park like environment away from the dirt and grime of the city.

    When I was a kind I used to go out there with a church group and help keep some of the plots cleared of weeds and trash. The Irish cemetery next door and the Jewish one across the street are also quite fantastic.

    And thank you for the train track shot!!

    February 26, 2013
    • I really love the Jewish cemetery, too. It’s tinier. Not quite so overwhelming.

      February 26, 2013
  2. Excellent pictorial about Magnolia Cemetery. I love that place.

    February 26, 2013
    • Sunday was an excellent day to be there. Today, on the other hand……………I think I’d have to swim to get there.

      February 26, 2013
      • Yes. Even the ducks were swimming in the road here yesterday.

        February 27, 2013
  3. OK, another item for my list of places yet to visit in Charleston. I have lived here 14 years and reallllllllly need to get out to some of these spots. So hard to break away from the daily wine tastings….hehe.

    February 26, 2013
    • Take your wine in some other container and taste it with your picnic, Lou.

      February 26, 2013
  4. That bridge looks cool. I think I’d be a little edgy if I had a meal near a suspected gator hangout. You’re living on the edge!

    February 26, 2013
    • The gators move pretty slowly when the water is cold and the air isn’t hot. I mean, I wouldn’t get IN the water there, but if we saw one, it would’ve been sleeping in the sun.

      February 26, 2013
  5. I, too, was 14 years in Charleston, Lou, and never visited there either, I’m sorry to say. Lindenwood Cemetery is also beautiful, quiet, and on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s where our Mom and Dad, our Mom’s parents and our grandmother’s parents rest, side by side. This video gives only a hint of the older, more heavily treed center areas of the cemetery, but it does give a glimpse of the old stone chapel; a beautiful little place in its own right.

    While looking for a possible listing for gravesites this morning, I did learn that Lindenwood also shelters a member of the infamous Dillinger Gang: Maybe you should start digging for stories here, Andra! :)

    February 26, 2013
  6. NancyCarnell #

    I love Magnolia Cemetery. We have gone for picnics, exploring and it is a wonderful place to go for school history architecture projects; kinda like one stop shopping for architecture subjects. Corinthian columns, Ionic columns, Doric columns, spheres, Greek Revival, Baroque………ETC, and where else in Charleston are you going to find a pyramid. It is beautiful, quiet and just a tad melancholy.

    February 26, 2013
  7. The moss on the trees tells its own story, doesn’t it.

    Great pictures.

    February 26, 2013
    • It’s another place for your list if you come here in a few months.

      February 26, 2013
  8. Hi Andra,
    Loved this post on Magnolia Cemetery. I am so lucky that my grandparents are buried there. This cemetery, to me, vibrates with wild, overgrown, Southern Gothic energy. I definitely get the feeling that the dead rise and relive their former glory at night when the herons are nesting in the trees!
    Thanks for the beautiful pictures and memories.

    February 26, 2013
    • Dorothea, like you, I definitely think the people flutter around at night out there. Not in a bad way. It would be hard to stay buried in such a pretty spot.

      Thank so much for your comment, and for reading.

      February 26, 2013
  9. You gave me quite a treat to see the book being read, Andra. :-) I do want to know what a receiving tomb could possibly be, and I love the pyramid…so NOT expected in such an old and historic cemetery. There must be a story there! I can’t imagine that we won’t one day come back to visit Charleston, Andra. I think it’s a remarkably interesting place. I love the sign about the alligators. LOL!

    February 26, 2013
    • I’m almost done with that one, Debra. I’ve gotten a couple of really good things out of it. I’m looking forward to reading the others. Thank you for sending them to me.

      Charleston is an interesting place to visit. I hope you will make the journey someday.

      February 26, 2013
  10. I like exploring a nice cemetery every now and then, Andra. Magnolia Cemetery looks a nice relaxing place. Although the alligators are a tad off-putting. I don’t know why, but I didn’t associate South Carolina with alligators…

    February 26, 2013
    • We have lots of gators, Tom. We co-exist with them pretty well. :)

      February 26, 2013
  11. Lovely post! I adore the pyramid.

    February 26, 2013
  12. I would explore Magnolia Cemetery. Yes, I would. We live about 5 miles from one of the oldest Catholic cemeteries in Cook County. In in rest many Irish who worked on the Sag Canal and the railroad. It is high on a hill and it amazes me each time we visit as I wonder how in the world they got the caskets up such high embankments. Now, there I go again, rambling on and on. Curious as to what that receiving tomb is. Could it be where caskets are first brought before a funeral?

    February 26, 2013
    • That is an excellent hypothesis, Penny. I have resisted googling to see what others thought.

      Is that the cemetery that was at the beginning of “Sleepless in Seattle”? I have always loved that shot, the way they moved the camera.

      February 26, 2013
      • I think that shot in Sleepless in Seattle was filmed in the city of Chicago, Andra. Not far from the cemetery I mention, St. James on the Sag,about a mile, is Maple Lake. “The Lake House” was filmed there. They built the house just for the movie, then dismantled it. It is supposed to be Lake Michigan (but we know the truth here on the Cutoff).

        February 26, 2013
  13. I finally made it here! Dang work got in the way, and yet, it was worth the wait. LOVED the pictures and your lovely words (my brain is too tired to come up with a “prettier” word to describe your prose). I love cemeteries. When we went to Ireland we were told that people were buried by churches and in the church yard because they believed that the closer you were the better chance of getting into heaven. Thank you for sharing Andra.

    February 26, 2013
    • They must believe that the world over, Lori. Some people are buried IN the floors of the churches here……which is kind of creepy, given that they aren’t grand spaces like some of the European models.

      February 26, 2013
  14. I love the pyramid . . . and your picnic looked FAB!

    February 26, 2013
  15. The French are very keen on cemeteries, and there’s a pretty big French influence in your part of the world. Taking a picnic in a cemetery is not in my remit, but I remember a lot of friends doing just that in Highgate Cemetery, in London, where Karl Marx is buried along with other illuminati. I think that if I was going to take a light collation in a garden of the dead, I’d share with Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde, an odd couple if ever there was, at Pere Lachaise.

    February 27, 2013
    • You inspired the cheese course, Roger, though not necessarily the location. :) It is dang hard to look at your lovely pictures of cheeses without buying my weight in the stuff.

      I bet Jim and Oscar would’ve been great friends. I need to make it to that cemetery the next time I’m in Paris.

      February 27, 2013
  16. I want to be there.

    February 27, 2013
  17. The receiving tomb is where the dead hold their cocktail parties and audiences, natch.

    March 1, 2013
  18. My mother and I are cemetery picnickers.
    And I dragged Mark into Bonaventure when we were in Savannah, though we didn’t have lunch with us… your Magnolia feels similar from the photos.

    March 1, 2013
  19. This is the best post title, possibly ever. I have never been to Magnolia Cemetery. And I’m wondering, during this delicious picnic, where did you sit? Did you peek inside the receiving tomb? :)

    March 1, 2013
  20. The Pyramid is of the family W.B. Smith of Charleston: at the time the News and Courier listed him as the most wealthy of Charlestonians. He is my great, great great Grandfather from my father’s side.(the Simons, Rhett, Whaley, Smith side). ….Bio and Links
    The Whaley Family is proud to honor the final resting place of its ancestors, by sponsoring some of their Find A Grave memorials. One of its patriarchs was William Burrows Smith. Smith was an industrious man, leaving school at the age of 15 to seek his fortune in the cotton factor business (a sort of business agent for the cotton planters to use to sell their cotton harvests to the various milling interests). His final resting place is within the Smith Pyramid Mausoleum located at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, SC.

    After W B Smith’s death in 1892, the pyramid was erected by his family in 1894, and his remains entombed, along with those of his wife. His crypt is behind the marble panel at the center back wall, under the stained glass window. His wife Frances Susan Jones Smith (1820-1886) is entombed directly below his crypt.

    To the left of the door, are three kin: At top left, is grandson Rep Richard Smith Whaley(1874 – 1951), who served in the US Congress 1913-1921, and later was appointed by the President in 1930 to the bench as a U.S. Federal District Court of Claims Judge. In the middle-left side crypt is the Smith’s daughter, Helen Jones Smith Whaley(1847-1906), [wife of William Baynard Whaley,Jr], who died from typhoid fever at age 59. In the bottom crypt on the left side, is Lillian Heyward Nylander(1877-1944), one of the daughters of Frances ‘Fannie’ Smith Heyward (Helen’s older sister).

    To the right of the front door, in the middle crypt, is another of Helen Smith Whaley’s sons; Dr Thomas Prioleau Whaley[The Good Physician]. Immediately above him is his wife Henrietta Righton Robertson Whaley. On the bottom right side is Heyward Champion(1905 – 1934), who died fairly young at age 29. He was a manager at Worthington Arms Co. He was the grandson of Fannie Smith Heyward, and brother of the famous South Carolina naval aviator, Carleton Cole Champion, Jr.

    All these names are documented and have memorials on the web on Find A Grave. They were a fascinating and very accomplished family. The pyramid mausoleum is featured on Ted Phillips book about Magnolia Cemetery ‘City of the Silent’.*****Helen Jones Smith Whaley(W.B. Smith’s daughter) is my great-great-great grandmother who passed two years after her own daughter’s passing in 1904.(Mrs. Helen Whaley Rhett)

    June 22, 2013

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