Wednesday, March 06, 2013

A Sheltering Grave: The Tale of Wylly Barron

In 2005, I wrote a piece about Magnolia Cemetery and some of the people buried there. One of the most interesting stories was that of Wylly Barron. At the time, I didn’t have any photos of Wylly’s grave. But I paid him a visit last fall and finally got some shots. So, I think it’s worthwhile to reprise the tale of Mr. Barron, now with the proper photographs to accompany.

Magnolia Cemetery, designated as such in 1818, is the oldest boneyard in Augusta. In fact, the first grave was actually dug in 1800. Wylly Barron, once the gambling manager at the Atkinson Hotel on Ellis Street, not far from the Genesta Hotel, is literally cemented into a concrete mausoleum there, the bitter end of his sad story.

The story goes that a gambler at the Atkinson killed himself following some heavy losses, but before he did he cursed poor Wylly, saying, "You have taken everything I have. When you die, may you not even have a grave to shelter you." This spooked Wylly to no end and he started enforcing all sorts of regulations in his parlor to ease his conscience. People that handled money for their jobs couldn't gamble (they might steal), nor could minors. He also secretly gave money to anyone that had fallen upon hard luck and asked him for help. But, perhaps most importantly, in 1870 he had a mausoleum built in Magnolia Cemetery so he'd be certain there WOULD be a grave to shelter him. Good thing he did, too.

While Wylly Barron had led an extravagant life in his younger days, by the time of his death on December 18, 1894 at age 88, he'd lost all of his wealth. He was so broke a proper coffin couldn't even be purchased and his body was simply sealed up in the mausoleum. Then the keys to the mausoleum door--which was sealed shut anyway--and the encircling iron fence were thrown in the Savannah River, as he'd decreed in his will, so no one could ever remove him from his sheltering grave. His final epitaph reads: “Farewell vain work, I know enough of thee. And now am careless what thou sayest of me. Thy smiles I court not, nor thy frowns I fear. My cares are past, my head lies quiet here. What faults you knew of me, take care to shun. And look at home, enough there’s to be done.”

And that's how Wylly Barron beat the curse of a vengeful gambler.

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