A Monumental Mystery
Image by Houston Civil War Round Table member Bobby Dover, used with permission.
If you’ve been through Jefferson, in far northeast Texas, you’ve probably seen this Confederate monument on the grounds of the Marion County Courthouse. It’s fairly typical of the monuments found in towns across the South, but this monument had a bit of a mystery to it, according to Mitchel Whitington’s Jefferson: The History and Mystery of the City on the Bayou. According to the book, the monument was initially placed at Polk and Line Streets, facing south, with his back turned to the north (natch!), in 1907. Later, in the 1930s, the monument was moved to its present location at Polk and Austin, in front of the county courthouse. Now the soldier faces north, presumably to keep an eye out for perfidious Yankees. The inscription on the monument reads:
IN MEMORY OF
1861 — 1865
But there’s a large gap between the last two lines, where another line of text had originally been, that was very clearly chiseled off the stone before the dedication in 1907. For 75 years, no one in Jefferson knew, or admitted to knowing, what that line originally said or referred to. People tried all sorts of tricks – chalk rubbings, reflected light, séances – nothing revealed the mysterious, lost text.
Then in 1982, according to Whitington, a member of the Garden Club, Katherine Wise, used a puff and Fabergé makeup powder to reveal the hidden lettering:
IN OAKWOOD CEMETERY
Apparently the monument had originally been intended for the cemetery on the north side of town, where many Confederate veterans were buried. (Which also helps explain why the monument is dedicated to “our dead,” rather than to veterans more generally.) But sometime before the stone was delivered, the decision was made to place the monument in a more conspicuous location at Polk and Line, and the stonecutter was instructed to adjust the inscription accordingly. Who made that decision and why, remains lost to history; the solution to one mystery serves to create another.