Can You Accuse Someone Of Murder On Your Gravestone?
This week: Three North Carolina stories of life, death, and Frank Sinatra.
A tombstone that went HARD
Clever epitaphs are the sort of thing you see at, say, the Haunted Mansion at Disney World, or on cheap Styrofoam grave markers that you buy as a gag at Spirit Halloween. I did not know that it was possible to accuse someone of murder with one.
It was! Once! Atlas Obscura has a headspinner of a story out of Lenoir, where a man named H. Lawrence Nelson was found dead in 1906. His two roommates were convicted of his murder in 1907 but pardoned a decade later after a witness’s testimony was contradicted and another man confessed. One of the men died not long after being released but the other, Hamp Kendall, had to deal with the fact that Nelson’s gravestone ACCUSED HIM OF MURDER. How could that happen? From the story:
Lawrence’s father, the Rev. John Hugh Nelson, who ran the church where his son was buried, had the gravestone inscribed with the accusation shortly [after Lawrence was buried]. “Most cemeteries would not allow that,” says Tanya Marsh, a law professor at Wake Forest Law School and co-author of the legal text Cemetery Law—whether or not it was considered legal at the time. The Rev. Nelson likely had a “conflict of interest,” Marsh says, since being both the father of the victim and the owner of the graveyard added an extra complication to what was allowed on the gravestone. The reverend died in 1915.
It took decades for the gravestone to go away after, in 1949, North Carolina lawmakers passed a bill making it illegal to accuse someone of a crime in an epitaph. The gravestone was removed in the early ‘50s and replaced with a more, well, boring one. Bottom Line: Putting an accusation on your tombstone isn’t legal in this state. You can, however, put a crossword puzzle on your grave if you’d like.
A morbid problem for the HOA
I’m a deranged man, because I love homeowners’ association meetings. They’re the most petty and consequential form of democracy in action. Once, in Charlotte, a man in my condo complex came up to announce that he’d found a beer bottle hidden inside of one of his walls, and demanded that the HOA hold the construction company responsible. This was in 2006. The condominiums were built in 1985.
Graves with human remains buried in a late-1800s cemetery threaten to topple off a 50-foot cliff into Lake Norman at any moment, the president of a waterfront homeowners association warned this week.
I did not have “Pontoon boats potentially dodging floating human bones on Lake Norman” on my 2024 bingo card. I blame a lack of imagination.
The cemetery near Mooresville predates Lake Norman, and the hillside below it is eroding, and the HOA is getting a lawyer, and it’s wondering if maybe Duke Energy (which made the lake) might pay for it. The Catawba Riverkeeper, when asked about this, told the Observer that even if the graves were to fall into the lake, the problem would be an ethical one, not an environmental one, adding “That is certainly an unusual question!”
Listen to Frank Sinatra if you want to live
If you would like to have the best chance of, well, not dying, a strong healthcare infrastructure is important. And yet, you can just feel your eyes glazing over after reading the words “strong healthcare infrastructure.” What if there was a way to make that concept really pop?
Enter Frank Sinatra and Dinah Shore. In the 1940s, North Carolina was short on doctors. Hospitals were segregated. More than half of the men were said to be medically unfit for the military. In response, the state created what it called the “Good Health Plan” to fix it. But the folks behind the plan thought that people would find the subject boring. So, they convinced two of the most famous people in the country to sing about it! The result:
As they used to say in the 1940s, this song slaps.
North Carolina Health News has the full story of the song, how it came together, and how it worked. The lesson here: If you want people to get AMPED UP over, say, changes to the earned income tax credit, all you need to do is get Ariana Grande and Da Baby to make a song about it.