How many times have you passed by a someone’s grave only to stop in pure admiration? Creativity never ends in death. While knowing all the reasons and stories behind each stone is impossible, the privilege is still ours in sight.
Upon first glance of this monument, one would surmise that a husband and wife found each other in the arms of death. Closer inspection details the grave bearing only one body and an empty side with a deeply mysterious story. Here lies Ouida Estelle Emery Hood, who some have unknowingly addressed as Ouida Prikryl Hood. Or were they right in revealing perhaps in serendipity or zemblanity of two star-crossed lovers carrying on an illicit romance?
Ouida. Her name is a variation of “famous warrior” and what a fitting name. Though rife with challenges most women never imagined at the time, Ouida was pitted against fate from the time she was born on September 19, 1883. A shadow looming overhead became an ever present indentation in life. Those who remember her describe a sensational beauty who was marred by heritage, an element uncontrollable used to marginalize her. At the urgency of conforming, Ouida became a baptismal Christian in her community, with sponsorship from prominent figures such as Frank Haywood and Margarent Busby Shipp at the Christ Church.
She never found her footing in Raleigh, living as a boarder here and there. Realizing that if she wanted to emerge from the shadows, a new city must be her home. Leaving for Richmond, Virginia, she later relocated to Norfolk. Perhaps she missed home because Ouida came back and married a local gentleman by the name of Wallace C. Hood.
During World War I, an army training camp localized near Raleigh. Here, Wallace met Franklin Prikryl, a real estate operator from Detroit. A fast friendship grew between these two. Franklin offered Wallace a job if the Hoods moved to Michigan when war ended.
The couple settled not far from Detroit and in a nearby farming community known as Frenchtown. Ouida found her dream country house while Wallace found success in the automobile industry through a partnership with Franklin. This new and benevolent friend moved in shortly after with the duo. Luck favored Franklin more out of the two men as he continued with other ventures while Hood found difficulties. The latter stayed in the industry and steadied himself through long time experience.
Even through their plight, the “family” displayed true generosity and community spirit amongst the town. Neighbors spoke of Ouida as a woman who always cared for others without complaint. Her dedication resulted in the building of a hall for the Frenchtown Grange organization and detailing the landscape with personal touches. She organized the Juvenile Grange and endorsed 4-H clubs for farmers’ children.
While the couple never had children of their own, her love for children proved genuine as she hosted numerous events such as a giant Easter Egg Hunt on a five acre field nearby. She became a voice for women through her organization of women’s clubs. Wherever she went, everyone knew of her reputation as the life of the party. In later years, a neighbor recalled she was “always doing something for somebody.”
Everyone adored the Hoods. Theirs was a seemingly apt marriage until he walked away from her years later. Surely, it was a surpise in the quiet community and a sad event to see the beloved couple bid adieu to one another. Ouida packed Wallace’s belongings one last time and he left Frenchtown. Out of this came a known secret by the town as a conscious uncoupling and one without animosity. Wallace deed the house to Ouida and no official divorce ever came to light. He lived under the radar and not many knew about him, but recent findings show that he remarried and lived the remainder of his life in Michigan. His second bride was a divorcée of Hungarian descent named Kathrine Kish.
The puzzling thing for folks was always the wonder of why Ouida stayed behind when she could have moved to a metropolitan area what with her charm and sophistication. There was no longer anything to tie her down. Except Ouida loved the community and stayed for the joy the friendships bought her, which was a stark contrast to Raleigh.
Franklin stayed as a boarder paying for his room and board. Soon, he reached local celebrity himself through involvement in the community. He spent tons of money working on building more to the Grange and the Juvenile Grange. Whatever organizations Ouida held an interest in, it seemed Franklin was never far behind to lend a hand. Once, he chartered a bus and drove a group of farmers into Detroit on a theater party.
For Ouida, she lived out her life peacefully but with declining health after an operation. Before her death, she deeded her house to her friend and confidant. On February 23, 1930, she suffered a sudden nosebleed which recurred on February 27, 1930, resulting in her death. Ouida never forgot where she came from as her last wish was to be buried there. Franklin took her body to the “City of Oaks” and also bought quite an amount of Michigan earth from her garden to bury with her. This small act was his gift to her and a reminder that she would always rest in the place where she found happiness and escaped the shadow of her childhood.
A grand monument was built and Franklin commissioned a work from the best German stone cutters. Made of granite and bronze, the fixture stands today with three angels and Ouida’s likeness in the middle. Her long ago Frenchtown neighbors contributed $500 while he paid for the rest.
When the memorial was completed, poor Franklin fell bankrupt. Luck turned as several business deals went awry such a stock failing at a Detroit bank. He sold the Frenchtown house and rented a one room farmhouse across the way. Much time was spent on remedying and investing in other business ventures.
After Ouida’s passing, Franklin planted ivy and cared for a grave for a time before asking families of the neighboring graves to care for it. One day without warning, he exited the city without a word just as Wallace did. All he left were gracious words about her in life on the stone. Perhaps, it was a way to remind people that she truly was a good soul who was misunderstood by her hometown.
Today, Ouida remains alone under the grand monument without Franklin who is interred at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California on July 17, 1962. Only the year of his birth and name indicates that he should have been in Raleigh. Many years ago, Oakwood spoke with his sister to find out why he never returned to Raleigh, only to discover that he never wanted to speak of the matter again.
What went wrong in the marriage between Ouida and Wallace? Was the outward cordiality between Franklin and Ouida more than words expressed on her stone? The odd story of the trio will remain a mystery for now. Some believed Ouida and Franklin carried on a relationship with more meaning than the outward cordiality. The two never clarified the status in life or death, so there is another part of an untold story.
As the first day of winter approaches, a familiar feeling cannot escape us: Christmas is coming. Amidst the festive decor and popular images of a certain old man in red and white, greenery of multiple shades of candy canes and treats grace the holiday season. The most familiar is the Christmas tree with cheery presence and shiny and glittery baubles hanging from fresh, sweet and citrusy smelling boughs. Then, there are the wreaths that carolers find on the doors of those lucky to hear the melodic sounds of traditional yore.
Wreaths of the holiday can trace its origins as far back as the time of the Etruscan civilization. Varying from gold, metal, ivy, oak, myrtle, vines, olive leaves and other offerings from nature, these wreaths were used more as jewelry. The word wreath itself comes from Old English for writha meaning band. Just as in the past, arrangements of leaves, flowers, twigs, jewels and ribbons can be seen today. The name could not be more appropriate as these circular fixtures never stray from their traditional appearance too often, though there are some wreaths of a new fashion coming in the shapes of crosses for religious ceremonies and more seasonal shapes such as Christmas trees, doves, bells, reindeers, etc…
Across cultures, wreaths play a role in ceremonial events or used purely as decorations. During Christmas time, assortments of meticulously fashioned evergreens can be found nearly everywhere in the city. Known for its piney scent, this foliage is so resilient that some last throughout the most extreme of winters. Latin terminology even remembers it binomially as sempervirens meaning always green.
During the ancient times, the Greco-Roman world was renowned for wreaths worn as crowns that adorned the victors of the Olympic games. Forms of laurel and olive leaves were intricately woven together as they were the most popular. Steeped in Greek myth, the laurel is synonymous with the god Apollo, who rules over life and light.
Nowadays, the arrival of the wreath visits town as early as Halloween and Thanksgiving. People buy harvest wreaths along with cornucopias and scarecrows as a part of the fall festivities. In celebration of a great harvest, Ancient Greece saw the weaving of rich blonde straw, abundant fruit and nuts woven in red and white wool as an amulet to guard against famine and a prayer for a fulfilling year of surplus in the next. The harvest wreaths then remained on the door for the whole year.
Something less familiar in name but more in sight is the Advent wreath. In Christianity, these wreaths tell of the return of Jesus Christ and its origins stem from 16th century Lutherans in Germany. Made of evergreens, the wreath lays horizontally with four candles on top and a fifth candle at the center. Red ribbons lay on top with pinecones or other arrangements are possible. The four candles are lighted on each Advent Sunday. The greenery represents everlasting life and hope for a new spring while holly can also be a part of the mixture as a sign of the crown of thorns Christ wore due to its prickly shape. The bright red berries of the holly means the blood that Christ shed.
In a cemetery setting, wreaths remain the funerary rite that is just as regular as bouquets of flowers and pictures. Here, wreaths represent the passing of a loved one and the hope of life in the next. Earlier this December, Oakwood Cemetery was honored in being a part of Wreaths Across America. This tradition consists of laying the circles of evergreen on the graves of the fallen soldiers in the Field of Honor as well as other parts of the cemetery. These men were remembered for the great service they devoted to their country while family members and fellow soldiers and veterans saluted them.
This year, Oakwood Cemetery placed over 400 wreaths on the graves as family members, fellow soldiers and veterans saluted the men for their great service and devotion to their country. A great thanks goes out to Sue Purkis, the Volunteer Coordinator of the event. The cemetery has been involved in Wreaths Across America for the past four years, with numbers of volunteers and donations growing each year. While this year’s event has passed, the hope for next December is for more wreaths and community involvement. But another hope is also for people to remember the men and women whose bravery is the most wonderful gift to their country and that their spirit lives on.
It is unbelievable how much symbolism there is in a wreath. But that is what makes it simply wonderful. In another time, displaying a wreath in one’s home meant waiting for spring to arrive and Christ to rise. It also held more meanings such as wishes for a good harvest and a somber message of remembrance for the dead. While the holiday continues its catching glow of joy and thankfulness, one thing cannot be forgotten. A new year is around the bend with surprising changes and wonderment, but it is very much rooted in fond moments from long ago.
A commemorative inscription. Laud. Poem. A sign of brevity.
Epitaphs travel the length and breath of each moment only to seek immortalization in the indentation of a lithic element. Words carry meaning and instill the vitality a living person once held in ways voice can no longer gratify.
The Historic Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, North Carolina resembles any other cemetery in that it serves one purpose: honor the dead. Whether through burials or cremations, each interment allows families to grieve and remember past lives. To the last words and the impressions left behind…
“We May Lose And We May Win, But We Will Never Be Here Again. Take It Easy…”
Some cemeteries display blooming gardens while others hold cinema nights. But no one has Bruce Miller. Oakwood Cemetery boasts the rights to a great historian whose dedication to little old Raleigh is nothing short of a blessing. Earning his tenure as a most knowledgeable guide to all things Oakwood Cemetery, it was only fitting to etch his memory and name on a street. Miller’s Magnolia Walk houses one of the oldest and famous patrons whose history the eponymous figure knows all too well. Here lies Sophia Patridge, the founder of the Confederate Cemetery at Oakwood, John Haywood, the first Treasurer and Raleigh’s first Intendant of Police (Mayor), and Ellen Mordecai, the author of Gleanings from Long Ago of the Mordecai family whose plantation bears a short walk a few blocks away.
On a Friday afternoon, Miller accompanied the Raleigh Governor’s Mansion docents through the maze of streets and stones. From far away, one would assume that this tour is rather quiet and normal. But Miller’s demeanor and presence turned even the most intriguing chit chat to a halt with his abundance of never ending wisdom. A true cognoscenti of his time, he never fails to enlighten the crowd with facts intertwined with lighthearted humor. If there is such a thing as a walking encyclopedia then he is it!
As the storyteller introduces each patron and their tale, one cannot help but wonder how this man can remember so much. The theme of the day revolved around the governors and state officials of Raleigh. From Robert Watson Winston to Charles Brantley Aycock, Miller’s genteel Southern introduction brings the past a bit closer to the present. At certain points, he goes on a first name basis with patrons. One can only surmise that given the chance, they would return the favor and tell their own stories about the man himself.
Throwing in a few unrelated tombs and their origins, the crowd hung on his every word as curiosity peaked. As revolutions around the former first park of Raleigh were made, the tour ended with the trademark humble Bruce Miller philosophy as capturing the “spirit of the place” and making a small contribution to a lively place. Miller is no stranger to the plenty of tours and even lectures at North Carolina State University. He is the author of Oakwood to Oakwood which can be purchased at Oakwood Cemetery for $15. A huge investment of time and research was spent on learning and collecting facts and anecdotes about the people and through his generosity, all proceeds go to the cemetery. The book provides an insight on past figures whose influence on the neighborhood remains a great feat to this day. As Miller puts it, the book kindly depicts, “The lives and homes of people who lived in or developed Raleigh’s Oakwood neighborhood — and stayed.”
Ever think about walking in the cemetery at night? Doesn’t it give you chills? Well, for those who are into the walking sans the feeling of shadows looming enjoyed a mild and family oriented annual Lantern Walk at Oakwood Cemetery. Processions of cars and an intrigued audience lined the pathways into the cemetery waiting for the night to come alive. Short, historical vignettes set against the beautiful backdrop of swaying oaks and Southern magnolias told visitors about life and death during the Civil War as the country felt the division between the Union and the Confederates. Along the path, luminaries revealed characters in period attire as each story unfolds into poignant and heartwarming moments. Soldiers spoke of lost friends while returning veterans found comfort in Southern hospitality and reflection years later. But a thematic approach to the storytelling consisted of laughter and empathy in scenes where Confederate and Union soldiers united in soft quibs at one another and end in a knowing of a shared humanity and camaraderie.
Around 1400 Confederate veterans rest in this part of the cemetery with a few Union veterans close by. Tours took a good hour and each group trekked up the hill every 15 minutes with their guides. A fond tradition, the tour is hosted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans with acting by local re-enactors and volunteers. Proceeds help Oakwood in the efforts to restore the Confederate Cemetery.
“I am dying to get home and take you in my arms again. You had better watch out darling…”
These are the words that captivated me as I read through stacks of letters from World War II from a soldier to his honey waiting at home. There are so many stories about love in literature that makes the heart swoon like The Notebook, Casablanca and The English Patient. But the one that resonates with me the most is the one I heard this morning. I had the pleasure talking to Charlene Stell, a volunteer at Oakwood Cemetery, about her parents who are buried in the Veterans’ Section. Charles Vlaskamp passed away in 1999 while Dorothy Vlaskamp also passed in 2014. Her father was a frequent visitor to Oakwood and enjoyed learning about the history of the Civil War. Charles and Dorothy married on March 27, 1944 in New York. It was a sudden decision when Dorothy took a train from California to see her lover, not knowing if he was going to be there. Once there, she married in the dress she arrived in to her waiting soldier. Soon, Charles shipped out to the next station as the war continued.
What is most endearing is the story of how they met. He was stationed in Twentynine Palms in California and on a night out with friends, the group decided to dance at a United Services Organization Center. She happened to be there at the right time. No one wanted to dance with her more than he did and another fellow. Coins were flipped and the rest is history. However, love is never easy in war and complications ensued. Charles would not be home for a very long time and marriage was a distant photograph. But their love never faded as he sent out letters to her wherever he went from Holland to Paris to Germany to Louisiana to wherever as he followed General George S. Patton’s path. Their love was tried by the adversities in life such as Charles going through a divorce when they first met and the war separating them thousands of miles from each other. But the two found a way to make it work.
Theirs is a story that the 1940’s relished because Charles and Dorothy reunited after the war ended in 1945. Home to a new America, the two built a life together lasting over three decades. Although the two divorced later in life, both remained great friends as well as wonderful parents and grandparents. In his spare time, Charles enjoyed a game of golf, read voraciously and nourished his gift for playing piano by ear. Dorothy remained on the crafty side of things and loved oil painting, making porcelain dolls and gardening. Stell remembered how her mother kept all of her father’s letters in a box. The letters accompany many stunning pictures of the duo in their younger years and are now preserved in an photo album created by Charlene’s daughter, Jennifer Knight, depicting their love story. Along with this is an album created in remembrance of Dorothy as a wife, mother, and grandmother. As for Charlene, she spends her days dedicating hours at Oakwood helping many whose loved ones are interred here and passersby with a sense of curiosity. She has also donated a generous gift by giving all of her parents’ letters and photo albums to Oakwood Cemetery as a way to preserve their love, memories so that others may remember how they once lived.
As I sat down with Sue Purkis, I can tell that a meaningful story is about to unfold. With a smile, she tells me that she is an advocate for Wreaths Across America, an organization dedicated to remember, honor, and teach about our brave military members and veterans. Each December, they lay wreaths on the graves at Arlington National Cemetery and many other veterans’ cemeteries across the country. After creating a chapter of Wreaths Across America at Oakwood Cemetery, she tells me that this venture has been quite successful in the past three years. Veterans and many of their families dwell in a section known as the Field of Honor where veterans are provided with a white, marble headstone marker by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs free of charge. Oakwood Cemetery’s purpose is to provide a low-cost burial space for veterans and their families while keeping a space that honors the lives of those interred.
Originally from Boston, Massachusetts, Purkis knew about WAA before coming to Raleigh. She considers herself as someone who is interested in cemeteries and also in the preservation aspects. In the past, cemeteries were places where families held picnics and gatherings. As someone who has worked in a hospice setting where taking care of ill and elderly patients were normal, death is not a hidden thing for her. She firmly muses,
“We all deal with it.”
Oakwood is a peaceful place of rest and life for her. When she has time, Purkis volunteers at events such as the North Carolina Science Festival: The Birds and the Bees and the Urn Art & Garden Faire held here. She hopes to see more local events that will create involvement for those who are curious about Oakwood.
On this year’s ceremony for WAA at Oakwood, the goal is to be able to lay more wreaths for all veterans who reside in other sections outside the Field of Honor. In the past, the Girl Scouts came to lay wreaths and Purkis hopes that more of the “next generation” will attend. Moreover, she tells me that if there was full representation from the Army, Navy, Coastguard, Airforce, Marines, and the POWs, she would feel complete and content on this year’s mission.
Oakwood Cemetery will host another Wreaths Across America event on Saturday, December 12, 2015 at 12:00 p.m.
If you have any questions, please call Robin Simonton at 919.832.6077
For those who would like to purchase wreaths this season, please visit:
Sponsoring Group ID Number: NC 0016P
Location ID: NC H0FH
Name of Cemetery: Oakwood Cemetery
You can also press on the link below: