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10/19/2003 CHARLES JOHNSON: Recalling when cemetery at State Home destroyed!

About 100 feet inside of the attractive entrance to the State Home was a graveled road, lined with cedar trees, that curved to the State Orphans, Home cemetery. Our cemetery was shaded by some ancient cedar trees. In late spring it Was a lovely place when the petunias and pink crepe myrtles were in full bloom. Being adjacent to the peach orchard made for a fragrant pink oasis for contemplation. During my 14 years of residence in "the Home" there were numerous burials there. They were marked by types of metal scroll markers engraved with names and dates on them and driven into that blackland soil on a spike.

My first loss of a State Home brother to that cemetery was in 1937 during the hot "dog days" of August when Paul W. Mitchell, age 12, drowned in the "big tank", a stock watering pond. After a hot day of picking okra we boys made plans to all meet down at "the tank". We had built a raft out of old lumber and fence posts that we would use as platform to dive off into that deep murky cow manure-laden water. The weeping willow trees on the bank and on the island in the center of the pond provided the necessary privacy and shade that we sought. It was also against the rules to be there. When we arrived at the pond Paul was already lying buck naked on the raft and appeared to be asleep. We removed our work straw hats, our prison-made work shoes and finally our BVDs (a trademark for our one-piece cotton summer underwear). We silently stepped into the water and swam over to where Paul was asleep on the crudely built homemade raft, which was about 6-foot by 6-foot and was quiet heavy. We placed our hands on the edge of the raft and in unison we lifted and turned the raft over, throwing Paul into the black water. Paul did not come back up to the surface of that stagnant water. We were frantic: "Paul, come back up, you're a good swimmer".

Some of the boys swam under the overturned raft, but it was so dark under there they could not see anything.

Paul, my age and my best buddy, was buried in the State Home cemetery.

Robert W. Calvert, graduate of 1923, had entered the Home with his brother Grady and sister Maxie Lillian on October 10, 1913. Robert W. Calvert served as Chief Justice of Texas Supreme Court from 1961 to 1972. During the great influenza "flu" epidemic in 1918, Robert had a serious relapse from the flu and was delirious for several days, during which time his sister Maxie Lillian became very ill and died in the Home's hospital. He did not know of his sister's death and burial until several days later. Maxie Lillan was buried in the State Home cemetery.

It was early one morning about 6:30 AN during peach picking season in the 1920s when two girls looked out of the front windows of their dormitory toward the front steps and curb at the main drive and exclaimed: "Look, the boys have left some fresh peaches in a basket there at the curb!" They rushed down to the basket. They looked into the basket, and cried out: "There are no peaches in here. It's a newborn baby!"

There in the basket, wrapped in a baby blanket was a black-eyed, black-hair little baby boy.

The newborn boy died shortly after the girls handed him over to the State Home's nurses. During that period of time the girls had been attending classes taught by our beloved "Miss Bettie", who told Bible stories to the students after school hours.

"Miss Bettie, we would like for you to conduct the services for our little foundling that we have named "John The Baptist".

"John The Baptist" was buried in the State Home cemetery.

In the early 1960s when I was serving as President of the State Home Ex-students Association we were meeting with the superintendent of the Home for the purpose of making our plans for our annual June homecoming, and we requested that he have our State Home cemetery mowed and cleaned up before homecoming. He indignantly replied: "I'm the superintendent and T know how to prepare for homecoming'"

He did prepare for homecoming --- he plowed up the cemetery, removing all of those metal markers, including one marble marker. He also plowed up the adjacent peach orchard and blackberry patch. At homecoming there was no evidence that a cemetery had ever existed under those cedar trees.

The State Home Ex-student Association complained to the Texas Youth Commission and to the Board members who were appointed by the governor. The ex-students also went to Chief Justice Robert W. Calvert. The superintendent was relieved of his position. In Bob Calvert's book, "Here Comes the Judge, From State Rome to State House", he wrote on page 4, "-someone long ago destroyed the cemetery".

In 1967, a white marble obelisk was installed on what some of the State Home ex-students thought had been the original site of the cemetery. Bob Calvert made a brief dedicatory address as follows:

"Long since forgotten, perhaps, by most of those bound to them by ties of blood, they have not been forgotten, and this day are specially remembered, by those bound to them by ties of love. Whether we were kin or not, whether we knew them or not, they were our fraternal brothers and sisters. They lived in our home. They were members of our family. They shared with us a common experience.

So let this once desecrated plot be marked once again as testimonial of our love for those who lie buried here. And let this memorial stone remain through the years to come for all to see that our brothers and sisters, by blood or fraternity, were not forgotten people, but, by us, were remembered."

The white marble obelisk that serves as a testimonial for my State Home brothers and sisters is surrounded by a chain-link fence with a locked gate. On Friday, June 11, 1993, when I attended the 50th anniversary homecoming of my 1943 graduating class I was given a key to unlock the gate for my visit.

Of the thirty-four names carved into that marble obelisk I have only written of three of them, Paul W. Mitchell, Maxie Lillian Calvert and John The Baptist.

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Charles Johnson of Dunnellon, Fla., is a 1943 graduate of the State Home in Corsicana.

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Reprinted with permission of the Corsicana Daily Sun
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