Ring my “Bell”:
Today, with the help of one of her descendants, I uncovered a story of Mary Isabel Black, who is buried in the Dallas City Cemetery (aka Pauper’s Cemetery). This is another one of those situations involving a nickname. Mary went by the nickname Bell, which is no doubt short for Isabel. Her death certificate uses her Nickname instead of her full name. Her marker also uses Bell, which is all the info the Coroner’s Office would have had about her at the time of death.
FindaGrave.com was instrumental in pulling this together. Her descendant put in a photo request, which sadly has taken 2 years to honor. But the request only showed the name Mary Black, which didn’t appear in the records. The request has been lingering due to this as I hoped I would come across her somewhere during our Census. I didn’t and sent the sad news yesterday to her descendant.
She replied overnight and mentioned the nickname of Bell. I went back and instantly found her in my list and was able to immediately provide a picture of the marker, which fortunately is still intact in Block 18. Those who participated in the Census will likely remember the near complete devastation of Blocks 18 & 20 with so many markers lost to time and the sharp edge of a lawn mower blade.
Without the full knowledge of the situation, I wasn’t able to make this connection and resolve the request. I’m so pleased to be able to share this and put a face with the name. So, without further delay, let me introduce you to Mary Isabel “Bell” Black.
At the time of her death she was widowed by John Black and living at 908 W. 10th Street just 6 blocks from the Texas Theater in Downtown Oak Cliff. This Theater would be immortalized 27 years later as the place where Lee Harvey Oswald was apprehended after assassinating President John F. Kennedy. Today this address is just a vacant lot, but the house next door stands and will give you an idea of where she lived.
The exact circumstances of how she ended up at Parkland Hospital (incidentally where President Kennedy was treated 27 years later) are unknown to me. But more than likely she had no means to support herself after her husband passed. She was a Widowed housewife in a day when insurance was uncommon and at the height of the Great Depression. Our descendant has confirmed that the Witness Nora Pratt is Bell’s daughter, so some family lived in the city. However Nora was also already a Widow and must not have had the means to pay for Bell’s funeral. Additionally, Bell’s two other daughters had already passed away.
For whatever reasons, she has now been reunited with her kin and we can put a face to the name. There are more than 2000 such stories in this cemetery and I can’t hope to ever tell them all. But certain ones stick out as you pass them by and this time it ended well, even if it took 82 years to happen.
As an addendum to the story, I consulted with a friend who is also a doctor about the confusing diagnosis listed on the death certificate. You know it takes a Doctor to read a Doctor’s handwriting. The Ruptured Gall Bladder was easy to figure out, but the other words baffled me. He translated the diagnosis into English for me which follows:
Cholelithiasis = gallstones
Atrophic portal cirrhosis = end-stage liver disease. Part of her liver is scarred and withering away.
Additionally, here’s a pretty good description of the stages: https://www.floridahospital.com/liver-disorder/stages-liver-disorder
So she had chronic liver disease that finally killed her. Parenthetically, this is often the outcome of a chronic hepatitis C infection. If you’re dealing with an indigent or poor population, hepatitis was/is pretty common. And with poor public health practices, hepatitis becomes a real health problem. Dallas, especially south Dallas, has certainly seen its share. Alcohol abuse is another contributing factor, though we can’t speak to Bell’s temperance.
Photos of Mary courtesy of “Gypsy” at Findagrave.com
Street Photo courtesy of Bing Maps.
Death Certificate from State of Texas Death Certificates