Since January is the first month, I’d figure we’d spend the next few weeks on subjects relating to firsts for the cemetery. This week, we will pick up last week’s conversation regarding grave markers and stones.
The most famous monument is clearly that of Francis Scott Key, but I was surprised to find some cousins actually had the "first."
Up until last summer, no one could speak to the subject of first grave monument to appear in Mount Olivet Cemetery. Now I don’t know if people spent a great deal of time on this query, but it makes for an interesting trivia question among local history buffs. My imagination was first sparked when I stumbled upon a news article relating to the cemetery’s official opening in 1854. I found the following piece in the Frederick Town Herald newspaper, dated May 10 (1854):
So with no photograph, or “name in stone,” to go on, I set out to find this “elegant tomb of Parian marble.” But first, I had to figure out what Parian marble was? I soon discovered that Parian marble is:
“a fine-grained, semi-translucent/pure-white and entirely flawless marble quarried during the classical era on the Greek island of Paros in the Aegean Sea. It was highly prized by ancient Greeks for making sculptures.”
The geology/origin hint given by Wikipedia didn’t really help that much, but the news article’s geographical description of the gravestone’s location (within the cemetery) certainly did. I had to find an elevated site on the southern side of the cemetery.
I knew that the obvious high-water mark (literally and figuratively) of the cemetery is the area of present-day Founder’s Garden, between areas “G,” “F” and “Q.” Once the site of an observation tower and waterworks (something we will surely discuss in a future blog), this location boasts its prominence as the highest elevation point in Downtown Frederick. That’s right, I said it—this Downtown Frederick’s highest peak! And with the name Mount Olivet, this is the closest we come to legitimizing our landform moniker—aside from biblical connotations of course.
Many of the community’s most prominent residents of the late 19th and early 20th century would be laid to rest here atop the mountain-like hill. The iron-railed Potts family lot, the cemetery’s only “gated community,” is here as well. During the early decades of Mount Olivet, this locale would also represent the western boundary of the cemetery, as the grounds only encompassed one-third of what they do today. I simply started my search on the apex of the hill, intending to scour the southern slope, area “F.”
I began looking for “two fluted columns, entwined with a finely chiseled garland of flowers, surmounted by flaming censers.” If you were wondering what a censer is, it’s a container in which incense is burned, typically during a religious ceremony. Amazingly, I didn’t have to go far as I found something that fit the bill within seconds. It was adjacent a cemetery lane that runs through the center of the cemetery. I had traveled by this monument regularly by car, but more so when conducting walking tours through the grounds. So I now had something that fit the newspaper article’s given location and description, now I had to check the interments buried beneath. You will recall that the clipping stated that this monument was placed to honor “the memory of two maiden sisters.” This was it!
Mary Louisa Norris (b. 12/26/1834) died less than a week after her seventeenth birthday, on New Years Day, 1851. Eleven months later, Mary’s older sister Catherine Elizabeth “Kate” Norris would meet the same fate on November 11 (1851). She was just 23 years of age. Both young ladies were originally laid to rest in the old All Saint’s Burying Ground, located between East all Saints Street and Carroll Creek. Today this is at the top of another hill in downtown Frederick, one that overlooks an amphitheater and provides commanding views of the Community Bridge to the east, and William O’ Lee Unity Bridge to the west.
Plans for the creation of Mount Olivet would occur the next year (1852) with the founding of the Mount Olivet Cemetery Association. The girls’ grieving parents, Basil Norris and Jane (Charlton) Norris (1797-1871) decided that the new garden-style cemetery would be a more fitting resting place for two young women in the “spring” of their lives. Basil Norris (1788-1865) was a successful Frederick merchant who operated a grocery store for many years in the first block of West Patrick Street across from the City Hotel. Mrs. Norris was a first cousin of Francis Scott Key. (Basil Norris would purchase the City Hotel in 1854. The popular lodging site stood here until being replaced later by the Francis Scott Key Hotel.)
(c.1910) view of the first block of W. Patrick St. (looking east). The author believes the former Norris residence and grocery store were located in the twin three-story townhomes to the right of photograph. Charles F. Seeger would later start his hardware business at this location of 32 W. Patrick St. The Patrick Center sits on this site today.
Rain and thunderstorms delayed Mount Olivet’s official dedication ceremony on May 11. It would be rescheduled for May 23, 1854. Less than a month later, the Norris sisters would be carefully exhumed from All Saints Cemetery and brought to the Norris family lot in the town’s new burying ground. A beautiful monument was waiting their arrival, standing as a beacon to their memory, high atop Mount Olivet Hill. A biblical inscription (taken from Old Testament, second book of Samuel 1:23) can be found at the bottom of the monument. It reads:
“They were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided.”
Unfortunately, Mr. and Mrs. Norris would be forced to endure more heartache eight years later on July 1st, 1862, with the death of son Henry J. Norris who worked as a clerk in the family store. They erected another magnificent monument to the 25 year-old, placed to the immediate right of the Norris sisters. The stone depicts a broken column, a popular Victorian period design symbolic of a life cut short.