The Mystery of Richard Elmer Person
They mystery involving the burial of Richard Elmer Person runs deep and long. It remains an unsolved mystery to this very day!
One should point out that Richard does not come up in the records for the Dallas Pauper’s Cemetery. The Medical Examiner’s office, who was in charge of The Cemetery for it’s active life as a burial ground, kept the records and there is no trace of his existence. Moreover, their record indicate a result that is very different than one might expect.
The Dallas City Cemetery was designation for those who couldn’t afford a proper burial for themselves. Richard is no exception to this, but for one reason or another doesn’t appear in the Master Book or the Platte Maps kept by the Medical Examiner’s office.
In Richard’s last days he would have seen and heard of two momentous events. He likely would have heard of the news that on January 19th, 1937 that Howard Hughes set a record by flying from Los Angeles to New York City in 7 hours, 28 Minutes and 25 Seconds. I’m relatively sure that modern airlines often struggle to keep up with this pace.
The other bit of news was that he would have heard in his final days was of the swearing in of Franklin Delano Roosevelt for his second term on as President on January 20th, but none of that would matter in very short order.
Richard’s death certificate lists his place of death at the City Jail in Waco, Texas (McLennan County). HIs Death certificate states that his body was removed to Dallas on 28 January 1937, two days after his death. They don’t list his burial location, but this is common for out of county burials. So, nothing out of the ordinary appears to have happened here. There is one question that we are unable to answer. Why did McLennan County pay to have the remains of a deceased inmate transferred to Dallas just to be buried in a Pauper’s Cemetery? Or conversely why did Dallas County pay to have the remains of an inmate pauper buried in their cemetery?
The first answers to this mystery come from the Waco Star-Tribune
So, the body was transferred to Dallas County for burial in the Mesquite Cemetery. Which is good News. Except that didn’t happen!
You see, Mesquite Cemetery was the most appropriate place for him to be buried with his family members. They lived and worked in this community on the far South-Western regions of Dallas County. There are a number of others from his family buried there and it remains an active burial location for the family to this day.
But something went wrong on the way to the forum and he didn’t end up buried there. Why? We don’t know exactly. But remember this is in the midst of the Great Depression and one might imagine that they spent all the money they have having him transported back to Dallas. Or that they somehow couldn’t afford the burial expenses after getting him home. Whatever the reason there is also no record of Richard’s burial in the Mesquite Cemetery.
Flash Forward to 2017
A group of 4 of Richard’s contemporaries lead a younger member of the family who is interested in finding the location of Richard’s grave. They arrive at a battered little plot of land which isn’t even identifiable as a proper resting place. This place is on the very opposite end of the city of Dallas.
They lead him to a location and point to a naked block of concrete and explain that this is where Richard’s real burial place lay. He takes a photo of the block of concrete never thinking it would serve much purpose but it allows him to have some sense of closure about the issue.
Meanwhile in another part of Dallas
Meanwhile, in another part of the city, I come to The Cemetery for the first time. Let me back up again (just about 6 months this time). I have used FindaGrave.com extensively in my research of the Babb surname. It is a completely free website driven exclusively by volunteers. The concept is that many people aren’t located near the graves of their loved ones and can’t easily make it to the location to honor their loved ones. But with the advent of “Crowd Sourcing” people from all walks of life can take pictures for those same family members who aren’t nearby. In return someone will take pictures of their distant loved ones graves.
I made a vow that I had taken enough from this site and it was time to do some giving. I signed up to be a local photo volunteer for the North West Dallas County Area. With a perimeter of about 5 Cemeteries I thought it would be a good place to start.
The 2nd request I received was for a cemetery I had never heard of. It was technically named the Dallas City Cemetery, but is commonly known as the Dallas Pauper’s Cemetery.
At this point, I had lived in this part of Dallas for over a half century and have never heard of it. After looking up the address and realizing it isn’t in a “good part of town” I ask a friend (Chad) to go with me just to make sure I’m not robbed as I enter. I wanted someone to drive the getaway car if need be. I later learned this is totally unnecessary and now frequent the cemetery with no regard only encountering the lonely Coyote that travels along the wooded area that runs along the perimeter. I was raised with a half Coyote/half German Shepherd and he was the most loving dog in the world. So, I’m not afraid of them, but they aren’t so sure of me. I get it! Fine!
Anyway, I show up with Chad and we are there for 10 minutes before being able to locate the first grave. I’m a Genealogist and have spent my adult life traipsing in and out of cemeteries.
Drafting Back to 1981
I spent my youth jaunting in and out of the oldest cemetery in Dallas County, which was known as Keenan Cemetery and has recently been renamed as Farmer’s Branch Cemetery. I never knew why I was so attracted to this place. In those days I didn’t know that I cared about History, which my 10th Grade Texas History (when you are in Texas you learn Texas History before you learn American History) teacher would have readily told you. I was failing his class and offered to do extra credit to improve my grade.
I knew that I wanted to see and touch history. Books just didn’t do it justice to me. But being able to go there and see it first hand made all the difference to me. He readily consented to let me tell a history of Farmers Branch and of Dallas.
As you might imagine Keenan Cemetery figured prominently into my story as did the Adolphus Hotel in Downtown Dallas which was a place that I always thought was the most beautiful place in the city. I was stunned to find that just by asking the owners of these historical establishments were most ready to share their little piece of history with you.
My world in those days was very small as you might imagine for a student of 16 years old. But with my brand new Driver’s License I set about this project and discovered a zeal for life amongst our past that has never been quenched to this date. I was able to see, smell and touch history for the first time. this made the entire difference for me and this project thrust me into an era that I hope I never leave until I pass from this earth!
Needless to say, I believe this is the first, and only the only, A+ I ever received and I cherish it to this very day! I am not sure of the Teacher’s name, but I believe it was Mr. Mason and I owe him for setting a fire cracker in my soul that continues to explode to this day!
Flash Forward to 2017
I first learned of The Cemetery through a website (Findagrave.com) that I had become a photo volunteer for. I have lived in the North West Dallas area since I was 2 years old and spent my developmental years in Farmer’s Branch, TX. I was always fascinated by cemeteries and think they are one of the most beautiful places on earth (It’s OK if you don’t see that yourself. I don’t mind, but I’m telling my story, not yours. So, hush up and let me finish telling the story.
Seeing that The Cemetery wasn’t in the best neighborhood I was a bit worried. I asked a friend t
Flash Forward to 2018
I begin my research on this cemetery about this time and go to the Archives Division of the Dallas Public Library because I’ve
assemble a team to create the first Census of the cemetery since 1989. In a departure from the previous Census which was created by the Dalla
Flash Forward to 2020
The young family member, no longer content with his findings contacts me to see if I can help with the identification of Richard’s Grave. I search the available records and find no evidence of the burial. I report this back and ask if the family is certain that this is the right place because I just don’t have evidence of the burial.
Instead of capitulating he sends me a picture of the bald piece of concrete that serves as someone’s marker. I immediately recognize that this is from The Cemetery. Along with it another picture arrives that immediately identifies the almost exact location of the grave. I’m told that 4 different family members took him to the cemetery that day and led him to this exact spot.
While this doesn’t signify much to most people it immediately identified the location to me. Beyond the tree on the right starts Block 20, which runs all the way to the ravine in the distance. Block 20 was the African American Section of the cemetery so he wouldn’t have been buried there. The Section numbers rise as we head toward the fence line as well, so I set my sights on Sections 7-9. Also, I know that we are looking for a space with a number approaching 10 or 20. This left me with a target area of just 30 graves with which this could be located.
Armed with this knowledge gained from the photos I start working to find some evidence of Richard’s Burial in the records.
I pull up the Master Book kept by the Medical Examiners office, but am unable to find anything to confirm the theory. But I notice that there are no vacant graves in the area with which he could have been buried except for the one where the tree stands. In the Platte map Sections are Lettered rather than Numbered. H is also Section 8 and J is Section 9. If you look closely at the records you will get a feel for the chaos that was in play
From my list of 30 graves I then begin searching for ones that still have the marker attached to eliminate them from the possibilities because we know that this grave does not have a marker attached. Next I also eliminated the ones where we had located the loose markers figuring that this would increase the likelihood of the records being correct (which at this place is a very real concern. Finally, I remove two more graves of infants that happen to be buried at the head of Section 7. This brings me down to just 7 remaining possibilities.
Filled with curiosity, I set up a meeting at The Cemetery with the family member for him to point out exactly which marker he was referring to. We had it down to 2 graves when we remembered to look at the picture of the bald stone that he had included. He had taken it 3 years prior and it bore some notable details.
Namely that the screws were still attached to the stone. In most cases the loosened screws were the culprit for the name plates demise and they are rarely still attached. There is also a feature that the top left corner was brighter (because it had been struck more frequently and there is a V shape over where the nameplate would sit. We compared his picture and finally had our direct match!
Richard Person is buried in spot 18-8-09…or so it might seem.
According to the Master Book and Platte Map May Salisbury is buried in this location. But, her plate has never been recovered and with it being loose wouldn’t itself offer conclusive proof. We have recovered almost half of the 1000 missing plates as of this writing.
One last thing
There is one more piece of corroborating evidence that lends much gravity to this theory. You see, Dallas City Cemetery, being a pauper’s cemetery is unlike most cemeteries where people buy family plots and bury people over many different years in various parts of the cemetery.
In this cemetery they would bury people in head to toe in the order they arrived at the cemetery. They would start with space 1 and work up to 10 in a long column. When viewing the list in Excel this is on clear display.
They started the new year on space 17-8-08. By February 1st they had arrived at space 18-8-01. We know that Richard wasn’t released from McClennan County until January 28th. Waco is a short 90 miles from Dallas and the family had intended to bury him in the Mesquite Cemetery. May Salisbury was laid to rest on Feb 19th, 1937, four days after her death. Given the dates of burial on surrounding graves it would indicate a burial in this location on or about this date. While it would make sense that Richard might have been buried further down the column it is at all possible that the family struggled with the decision for a bit before turning the body over to the City to bury. As refrigeration wasn’t that good in those days it wouldn’t have been a pretty situation, but is possible.
What is unmistakable are the 4 family elderly family members who visited this grave regularly and had family picnics under the tree. Their combined knowledge is on to something that can’t be denied. Worse case would be that he is a few graves further down the same Section.
Richard was survived by his wife Lillie and four children Lillian (15), Ruth (12), Richard (5) and Peggy (4). At the time of his death they lived on Factory Street in Dallas.
Three of these children were the ones that identified his grave.
Where in the world is Factory Street?
Factory Street isn’t an easy place to find. But we have been seeing it all of our lives. I got a hint that it was now part of Love Field. However, finding a quality image of old Dallas Maps online is a difficult task. Most were too new or too old. Early maps of Dallas don’t include this territory as it was not yet part of the city and in the later maps it had already been obliterated.
It was mostly as the name suggests a street lined with a number of factories. But there was apparently some housing too. I lucked into a close up image of Love Field in 1942 which shows its real location. It Intersected with Denton Drive from the airport side on the block between where Anson Road and Bombay Avenue also meet Denton on the Southwest side. From there it ran Northeast and made a left turn before terminating into Bombay Ave.
Another small section of the street lay between Thurston Dr. and Mohawk Dr. where the street terminated at Grauwyler Park. This is the section I believe they would have lived in. The only remaining portion of the street is now named Sheridan St. and it still meets with Grauwyler Park to this day.
The homes that stand there today were built in 1948 so what you see isn’t the way the neighborhood would have looked in those days. I’ve also marked up a modern map to help promote clarity.
What do you do with a problem like Richard?
There is simply no way to definitively settle this issue without starting to exhume bodies. I see no point in disturbing a number of graves on the off chance that we could prove it is a male in that place instead of a female.
However, the circumstantial evidence is strong enough to warrant that Richard should be remembered as part of this cemetery. There are, after all a dozen similar situations due to the shoddy record keeping and the confusion that reigned at this least desired final resting place.
So, I have included Richard in my records as having “reportedly been buried in this location by family members” Whenever we get to the point of ordering markers the plan is to have one made for him and placed next to May’s in order that we mark what we believe to be accurate.
The odds of someone walking to the exact spot in the cemetery more than 80 years later and pointing to the exact spot where they were burying people at the time of his death is proof to me that he deserves admission.
Maybe now he may finally rest in peace.