Tales told ’round the table

I have an invested interest in New Salem Cemetery as there are several generations of my family buried there.  I was once told by my grandmother that everyone buried there was related, either by blood or by marriage.  Everyone.  Of course this was back in the early 1990s, when the cemetery was still fairly small.  Now there are people buried there I’ve never even heard of.  Probably still related, barely.

A very dear friend of mine was also a very dear friend of my grandmother’s, and was also a distant cousin in my Gass family line.  Her name is Merlene Walker.  She is the walking encyclopedia of New Salem Church and Cemetery, and the surrounding community.  She is over 90 years old now (don’t tell her though 😉 ), and in a local nursing home.  But I spent my formative years at her kitchen table, looking through church records, old pictures, and just listening to tales.

Of course, one shouldn’t call them tales.  Better genealogical history.  She was born Agnes Merlene Botts, on June 9, 1917.  Her husband, Johnnie Walker was the caretaker of New Salem Cemetery for many years, and then she took the job over when he died.  Before Johnnie, her father, William Earl Botts, took care of it.  So she knew the cemetery better than just about anyone else around.

My interest was in the Meeks.  My great great grandfather, James Meek, was a circuit preacher, and they lived nearby.  His second wife was Lecta Hicks, and they had four children.  He had six by his first wife, Nancy Crockett, and one of them was my great grandmother, Mallie Dugard.  She had a sister named Ellie, who married Ben Nifong.

One evening in the spring, back in the early 90s, in fact I think I was pregnant with Charlene at the time, I had dropped in at Merlene’s to take in the nice evening and ask a few questions about Ellie and her husband.  Merlene was glad to see me, and brought me in for some of that day’s biscuits with her homemade elderberry jelly.  That’s a whole story all on its own!

She told me of the Nifong family, who were buried just up the little country lane she lived on, mainly a dirt track over the hill to the old Brent Meek place.  Brent was a grandson to James Meek, a son of Bishop Meek by James’ second wife Lecty.  The Nifong Cemetery was on the Brent Meek farm, in the field close to the road, with no markings.  She said to the best of her knowledge, there had never been markings, as the Nifongs were very poor.  She mentioned that Mr. Ben was buried there with his mother, brother, and sister, but Mrs. Ellie was buried up Salem with her family.  She didn’t know why.  But she told me that the story back from the old days was that Ben took his sister Emily out in the woods and hung her.  She pointed out a window in her kitchen, which faced the direction of the Meek farm, and noted an old gnarled tree in the distance.

I had heard this tale before, so I went in search of some answers in the old microfilm of the Glasgow newspaper.  It is interesting to note, my great grandmother and her son died in the 1918 Flu epidemic, and her step-mother also died in 1918, on Christmas Eve.  James had died the day after Christmas in 1914, and Lecty never got over his loss.  They say she died of a broken heart.

To make another note, Ben and Ellie’s daughter-in-law and their son’s three children also died in the flu epidemic, and are buried in the Nifong Cemetery.  So there was enough tragedy to be going on with.

The following is taken in its entire original form from the Glasgow Times, dated Tuesday, July 2, 1918.  It was a weekly subscription then.

Emily Nifong hung herself at home 2 and one-half miles from town on Tuesday night, June 27, 1918.

The body was found Friday  morning around 7:oo a.m. hanging to a chestnut limb in a wood about 100 yards from her house by Emily Nifong, her niece.

She cut the rope off of an old-fashioned bedstead and got a ladder from the barn.  She tied one end of the rope around her neck in a draw knot, climbed the ladder, wrapped the other end around a limb, then jumped off the ladder.

She was 62 years old and resided in the immediate neighborhood of her death all of her life.

Several days ago her brother, Ben Nifong, nailed her up in her house and kept her there ten days without sufficient food, saying she was crazy.  Neighbors reported the matter to the sheriff, and Deputy Shaw and Dr. Smock went out and broke the door in to free her.  Dr. Smock pronounced her sane.

She owned 65 acres of land, and her brother owned five acres adjoining the tract, and there seemed to have been trouble between the two as to who should manage the land.  A few days before her death, she deeded the tract to her brother, and the trouble seemed to be ended.

On the afternoon before she hanged herself, she read her Bible, sang several songs, helped pick beans, and seemed in the best of spirits.  She lived within a few yards of Ben’s house, and usually took her meals there.  Friday morning, so the story goes, they took her breakfast to her at 5:00 a.m. and she was gone.  The search began immediately and she was found at 7:00 a.m.

The rope she hanged herself with was wound around the limb fifteen times and tied in six knots at the top side of the limb.  She was barefooted and her feet were within five inches of the ground and were torn and bruised.  Body was in a decomposed state, and was the most gruesome sight one could imagine.

Internment was made in the family burying ground on Saturday afternoon, at 4:00 p.m.

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About Gclee

I am a long time genealogy and local history hunter from Barren Co., KY. I have many stories to share that may be of interest to other local genealogists and history buffs. I enjoy this as a hobby and hope I can be of encouragement to others. I also hope everyone enjoys my stories as much as I have enjoyed learning about them.
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2 Responses to Tales told ’round the table

  1. Terri Williams says:

    Merlene Walker was my grandmother. She was full of knowledge of Barren County. I miss her stories and her dearly….

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