A General Invitation
January 17th, 2013
In 1852, local speculators bought some rolling land about three miles out of town and started a cemetery. They were part of the rural cemetery movement in America, creating spacious, park-like, landscaped environments away from the cramped churchyards and the hustle and bustle of cities. Families could come here not only to pay respect to loved ones but to enjoy the outing, to picnic, to listen to concerts – to recognize death in celebration of life. They named it Elmwood.
Early on, Nathan Bedford Forrest rode out to Elmwood and bought lots for his entire family.
It’s time to return.
As published in The Daily News, January 18, 2013, and in The Memphis News, January 19-25, 2013
COME ON BACK TO ELMWOOD, GENERAL FORREST.
And bring the missus and the horse along. The family’s waiting.
After all, you bought the Elmwood lot yourself in 1854 and you were buried here in 1877. Your wife was, too, before some folks named a park after you and moved both of you there in 1904, parking one of the finest equestrian statues anywhere right on top of you in 1905.
Your brothers Jeffrey, William and Jesse are here, and your son, William. You rode with all of them in life and in war, and you should rest with them in the Forrest family lot. Not in honor of any cause lost or otherwise. Not in praise of military genius or wizardry in the saddle. Not in the disgrace of trading human beings as property or murdering them as they surrendered at Fort Pillow. Not in the infamy of founding the Ku Klux Klan or in the endless spin to justify and glorify your fascinating and darkly polarizing life.
Not because of any of that but in recognition of your place in history, here in a place of history, where respect is given for what must come to all of us and judgment is left to history itself and to the passage of time and not the passion of moments or movements.
Those who would continue to defend a park in your name in denial of the life you actually lived, those who would cause so much pain to propagate romantic mythology, should hear what I’m sure your neighbor in the plot next door at Elmwood, Shelby Foote, would say:
The Civil War is history. Rest in peace.
Come home, General. Everyone’s here.
You’ll be among 21 generals from both North and South, Southern spy Ginny Moon and “Mother of the Confederacy” Sarah Chapman Law, the editor who published the Memphis paper from boxcars a step ahead of the Union army and guerilla fighter and later outlaw Kit Dalton.
You’ll join veterans of every American war, next to our most famous and infamous, saints and scallywags, black and white, madams and mayors, our brightest stars and darkest memories.
You’ll be part of the soul of Memphis history, 75,000 souls strong and counting.
As to that park –in the middle of nothing significant in the Civil War but at the very center of everything significant in medicine – let’s name it Healing Arts Park, and rededicate it to our rich history in that regard. Our medical implant companies can recognize Dr. Willis C. Campbell who, quite literally, wrote the book on modern orthopaedics. UT can honor Dr. Lemuel W. Diggs, a pioneer in sickle cell anemia, creator of the South’s first blood bank and facilitator in the founding of St. Jude. The Med can acknowledge thousands of fragile new lives saved by the dedication of Dr. Sheldon B. Korones.
The story of so many more, and more yet to come, can be told in this park, an inspiring story of progress.
I’m a Memphian, and healing is better for us.