Old Field Cemetery, Ben Hill County

Benton Memorial

The Old Field Cemetery is a rural cemetery located a few miles from Fitzgerald which has fascinated me since I first photographed it in 2009. It contains a mixture of commercial and vernacular memorials, with several significant vernacular memorials, including the unusual Benton Family cross [pictured above]. Old Field Cemetery predates the establishment of Fitzgerald; the earliest identified burial [1861] is that of Archabald McInnis (4 July 1816-7 July 1861) with several other burials dating to the 1880s. At least one pioneer family of the Old Soldiers Colony of Fitzgerald, the Hallett Rathburn family, is also associated with the cemetery. An historically white cemetery, it is also used today by a nearby African-American congregation, Fairview Missionary Baptist Church.

An interesting comment on the entry for Flora Ann Dixon McCall on Find a Grave fills in an important fact about potentially missing gravestones: Rumor has it (as recounted by Josie Mims McCall) that many McCall’s [sic] were buried in the Old Field Cemetery, however, a local man vandalized the cemetery and many of the grave stones were destroyed as he “cleaned” up the cemetery. He was upset that no one in the town of Fitzgerald helped him clean up the cemetery, after he placed an ad in the local paper to encourage all families to lend a hand, so he demolished most of it with a tractor during his “clean up.”

Vernacular Memorials of Old Field Cemetery

Cylindrical Memorial No. 1, Decedent Unknown

There are three cylindrical headstones in Old Field Cemetery. It’s an unusual form of grave marking that I’ve not encountered elsewhere .

Cylindrical Memorial No. 2, Decedent Unknown

All are made of poured concrete and two examples are ornamented by round stones placed on the ground beside them.

Cylindrical Memorial No. 3, Decedent Unknown

I don’t think these stones have any particular religious meaning but rather a practical one. I don’t believe they ever contained the names of the decedents and their identities may be lost to history.

Wooden Grave Marker, Decedent Unknown

Wooden markers were commonly used to mark graves in the past, especially in rural cemeteries. Wood is among the most vulnerable of all the materials used to mark graves and countless examples have been lost to the elements over time.

Benton Memorial, detail

The top left horizontal section of the Benton Memorial cross is actually signed by the maker, Jessie Morris. Morris may be responsible for several of the vernacular memorials in Old Field Cemetery. Signed vernacular stones are very rare.

Benton Memorial, detail

The top right horizontal section of the cross [see first photo in this article for an overall view] contains the words God Bless You All.

I cannot read the names of the Bentons buried here and have no idea if there’s a connection, but my father remembers two or three Benton brothers who lived in the general area in the 1950s. He recalls that they were bachelors and lived in a large old house on the Jacksonville Highway [U.S. 319] and were among the first people he knew of in Ben Hill County to grow and sell strawberries.

The original memorial marking the final resting place of Brinkley Bishop was surrounded by four cedar trees that have since been removed.

Brinkley Bishop (1811-1899), detail

It was replaced by a modern vernacular stone by his grandchildren.

There are quite a few simple vernacular memorials throughout the cemetery, like the two Hasty stones pictured above.

Baby Morris (birth and death dates unknown)

The headstone for Baby Morris features a butterfly and vine design. It possibly dates to the late 1930s, when considering the design of the Baby Beck memorial which is located nearby.

Baby Morris (June 1938)

I believe the two baby memorials may be the work of Jessie Morris, who made the cross for the Benton family.

Frank Cook (29 September 1870-4 April 1928)

The memorial for Frank Cook is a hybrid form commonly found in rural cemeteries. The headstone was poured into a mold and the lettering and shaking hands designs are created with stencils.

Commercial Memorials of Old Field Cemetery

John Sullivan (1842-?)

The headstone for Frank Sullivan notes that he was a Marine. It is in the government-issued style known as “Civil War” or “Recessed, or Sunken, Shield” and was in widespread use from the 1880s until at least the 1910s.

Alex M. McInnis (10 May 1881-31 July 1883)

The headstones for two of the six children of Daniel A. (15 December 1855-26 May 1906) and Elizabeth Tucker McInnis (14 February 1859-12 July 1934) are very common examples of one of the most popular commercial motifs of the Victorian era.

Mattie Thetis McInnis (4 July 1889-4 December 1893), detail

The lamb represents the Lord and also symbolizes innocence, hence its presence on numerous infant and toddler graves throughout the United States.

Mattie Thetis McInnis (4 July 1889-4 December 1893)

Infant and childhood deaths were common before the advent of modern medicine.

Mary Cook (1874-20 January 1949)

The five-pointed star represents Christ.

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