Oh, the shame! Flossie McNabb playing the part of Mrs. E.J. Shepard, knocks on a monument to show that it’s hollow! E.J. Shepard, a funeral director in the mid-1800s, insisted on having for his own grave the newfangled metal monument with plaques that could be unscrewed and removed for updating. Little did he know that moonshiners later would discover this unique feature and unscrew the plaques so they could stash their wares in the hollow memorial for their customers to pick up!
The last of Knox Heritage’s fun “Summer Suppers” was one of the year’s best! And it was held in one of the most historic places in Knoxville — Old Gray Cemetery on Broadway.
Established in 1850, Old Gray contains the graves of more than 9,000 people, including those of some of Knoxville’s most influential citizens. “To walk through Old Gray is to travel through 170 years of Knoxville’s history,” said Knox Heritage’s executive director, Kim Trent.
Most of the graves in Old Gray were dug between 1860 and 1910, a time when Knoxville’s marble industry was in its heyday and when the fashion was for elaborate monuments and statuary. This makes Old Gray a fascinating setting for an evening party on a pretty day.
The event for 60 guests sold out quickly — even at $100 per person. Everyone gathered at the gate and proceeded to the empty fountain for appetizers and cocktails. Then, it was on to a twilight stroll and a delicious picnic supper. Some of Old Gray’s inhabitants actually joined the visitors throughout the evening! Come along and see for yourself!
The entrance to Old Gray Cemetery.
Three of Old Gray’s famous inhabitants. From left, Mrs. E.J. Shepard (Flossie McNabb), Virginia Rosalee Cox (Amy Hubbard) and Eliza Boond Hodgson (Judy Loest). More on them later!
Gathering at the fountain for nibbles and sips.
Russell Kuhlman, one of the hosts, welcomed everyone.
Serving drinks at the fountain were hosts Scott and Lynne Fugate.
Soon, we were greeted by Catherine Wiley (Laura Still in real life!). Wiley was one of Knoxville’s best-known artists. She would be our tour guide.
Parson Brownlow (Bill Lyons), a Knoxville newspaper publisher and former governor, told of his life and support of the Union during the Civil War.
His nemesis was John H. Crozier (Brent Minchey), an attorney and Confederate sympathizer.
Then we met Evelyn Hazen (Deborah Franklin), famous for successfully suing her fiance who had refused to marry her after he seduced her.
And Appleton Dickinson (Stuart Cassell), a Knoxville resident who was the nephew of poet Emily Dickinson.
Time to move on!
The setting for dinner was beautiful.
Lovely long tables were set. Everyone was given a place card and told to select their seats. (This was a great system, by the way.)
From left, hosts Neill Townsend, Melynda Whetsel and Ginger Browning.
Hosts Vince Fusco, left, and John Fawaz.
Grave sitting. Leon and Barbara Franks.
I liked this gravestone shaped like a tree. (That’s my pinot grigio!)
Martha Kern and Greg Austin in the catering tent.
Guests Mary and Dan Holbrook.
Guests Melinda Derrick and Deborah Sams.
From left, host Bob Whetsel with Thom, Wesley and Beth Mills.
Laurens and Polly Ailor Tullock.
Leon and Barbara Franks.
Jerry and Peggy Faerber.
Host Jennifer Montgomery and Katie King.
Allyn and John Schwartz passing appetizers.
John Bradley with more appetizers.
Alan Carmichael, center, with Cathy and Mark Hill.
The cutest guy there! Kim Trent’s little Charlie Chaplin.
Host Gaines Pittenger, left, and Jerry Faerber.
From left, Jolie Gaston, J.D. Clayton and Nancy Campbell.
From left, John Haynes, Doug McKamey, Mark and Cathy Hill and Linda Haynes.
Kim Trent and Hayden Brackeen. Trent portrayed Sophie Harrill, who opened Knoxville’s first antique shop in the 1920s.
The buffet was lavish.
Tombstones identified the dishes. That’s caterer Holly Hambright.
Bill and Katherine Dabbs.
Cathy Briscoe-Graves and Alan Carmichael.
Two other visitors were Eleanor Audigier (Karen Kluge), left, and Lawson McGhee Williams (Kelly Conley). Audigier was an avid art collector and traveler who donated a postcard collection to the University of Tennessee. Williams died young and her father donated funds to establish the Lawson McGhee Library in her honor.
Mary Pom Claiborne, here with Bill Lyons, portrayed Mary Utopia Rothrock. Rothrock established the branch system of the Lawson McGhee Library.
Eliza Boond Hodgson (Judy Loest) was the mother of Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of “The Secret Garden.” She’s buried at Old Gray.
This is William Martin (Stuart Cassell), the first person buried at Old Gray. He was firing the cannon at Asylum Hill for Knoxville’s Independence Day celebration in 1851 when the cannon exploded and took off his arm. He died a few days later. He was buried at Old Gray in an unmarked grave for 150 years.
Eleanor Audigier (Karen Kluge), left, and Virginia Rosalee Cox (Amy Hubbard). Cox finished writing her second novel, “The Embassy Ball,” in Knoxville. (Critics thought it made the upper classes look like drunkards!)
Gay Lyons portrayed famous Knoxville literary figure Mary Boyce Temple, who also is credited with saving historic Blount Mansion.
Artist Lloyd Branson (Brent Minchey) also is buried in Old Gray. He was a mentor to Catherine Wiley.
Robin Smith, left, and Debbie Emery during dessert.
We finished dinner in the dark.
The cemetery’s permanent residents bid us adieu.
And our friend Cathy Briscoe-Graves showed us her family’s plots as we left Old Gray after a charming evening.