Elmwood Cemetery (Memphis, Tennessee)

Historic Elmwood Cemetery is the oldest active cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee. It was established in 1852 as one of the first rural cemeteries in the South.

Elmwood Cemetery, Office, and Entrance Bridge
LocationMemphis, TN
Coordinates35°7′19″N 90°1′45.52″W
NRHP reference #78002632; 02000233
Added to NRHPMay 22, 1978; March 20, 2002

A funeral scene in Paramount's 1993 legal thriller The Firm was filmed here.


Elmwood Cemetery was established as part of the Rural Cemetery Movement of the early-to-mid-19th century. A classic example of a garden cemetery, it is notable for its park-like setting, sweeping vistas, shady knolls, large stands of ancient trees, and magnificent monuments.

On 28 August 1852, fifty prominent Memphis citizens each contributed $500 for stock certificates in order to purchase 40 acres (160,000 m2) of land for the cemetery; they envisioned that this land would be a park for the living as well as the dead, where family outings, picnics, and social gatherings could occur. It was meant to be a place where beautiful gardens were tended and individual monuments celebrated both life and death. The name for the place was chosen in a drawing: several proposed names were put into a hat and Elmwood was drawn, with the stockholders stating they were "well pleased" with the selection. Ironically, they had to hurriedly order some elms trees from New York to place among the native oaks of Memphis, since there were no elms in the area. After the American Civil War, the property was expanded to 80 acres (320,000 m2) for another $40,000. In the 1870s, the original corporation controlling the cemetery was dissolved and it became one of the oldest nonprofits in Tennessee.[1][2]

The first burial occurred on 15 July 1853, when Mrs. R.B. Berry was laid to rest. Since then, more than 75,000 people have been buried at Elmwood Cemetery, with space still remaining for about 15,000 more. The cemetery's gardens include the Carlisle S. Page Arboretum. Beneath the cemetery's ancient elms, oaks, and magnolias lie some of the city's most honored and revered dead; flowering dogwoods and crepe myrtles are interspersed with Memphis history, those famous and infamous, loved and feared. There are veterans of every American war, from the American Revolution up to the Vietnam War, and there are people from every walk of life and culture, including Mayors of Memphis, Governors of Tennessee, U.S. Senators, madams, blues singers, suffragists, martyrs, generals, civil rights leaders, holy men and women, outlaws and millionaires and ordinary citizens.

Civil War burials

About 1,000 Confederate soldiers and veterans are buried in Confederate Soldiers Rest, located in the cemetery's Fowler Section. Many other Confederates are buried elsewhere in the cemetery. The first burial in Confederate Soldiers Rest was William (Thomas) Gallagher on June 17, 1861, and the last interment was John Frank Gunter on April 1, 1940. Among the Confederate generals buried there are James Patton Anderson, a former U.S. Congressman who commanded the Army of Tennessee in 1862, Colton Greene, Preston Smith and William Henry Carroll.[3] Other burials include Isham G. Harris, Tennessee's Confederate-era governor,[4] Thomas Battle Turley, CSA private and U.S. Senator from Tennessee,[5] and William Graham Swan, a Confederate congressman and mayor of Knoxville.[6]

Union soldiers also were buried at Elmwood in the 1860s, but almost all were removed in 1868 and reinterred in Memphis National Cemetery.[3] Two Union generals, William Jay Smith [7] and Milton T. Williamson, remain at Elmwood.

Also interred at Elmwood is renowned Civil War author Shelby Foote, famous for his comprehensive three volume, 3000-page history of the war The Civil War: A Narrative. He is buried beside the family plot of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest.[8] Forrest himself was also originally buried at Elmwood,[9] but in 1904 the remains of Forrest and his wife Mary were disinterred and moved to a Memphis city park originally named Forrest Park in his honor, that has since been renamed Health Sciences Park.[10]

Yellow Fever burials

There were several outbreaks of yellow fever in Memphis during the 1870s, the worst outbreak occurring in 1878, with over 5,000 fatalities in the city itself and 20,000 along the whole of the Mississippi River Valley.[11] Some 2,500 of the Memphis victims are buried in four public lots at Elmwood; among them are doctors, ministers, nuns, travelers, and even prostitutes who died while tending to the sick.[2][12]

Notable people buried at Elmwood

Visiting Elmwood

Elmwood Cemetery is located at 824 South Dudley Street, 0.4 miles (0.64 km) south of Crump Boulevard. The cemetery grounds are open from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm CST, seven days a week, including holidays. The cemetery office is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm CST, Saturday from 8:00 am to 12:00 pm CST, and is closed on Sundays and holidays.[13]


  1. In The Shadows of the Elms by Perre Magness
  2. Elmwood Cemetery, About us: History (use Microsoft Internet Explorer.)
  3. Cothern, John W. Confederates of Elmwood. Publisher: Heritage Books, Inc., Bowie, Md. 2001.
  4. Leonard Schlup, "Isham Green Harris," Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 2009. Retrieved: 5 October 2012.
  5. Biographical Guide to the U.S. Congress: TURLEY, Thomas Battle, (1845 - 1910).
  6. East Tennessee Historical Society, Mary Rothrock (ed.), The French Broad-Holston Country: A History of Knox County, Tennessee (Knoxville, Tenn.: East Tennessee Historical Society, 1972), p. 495.
  7. Biographical Guide to the U.S. Congress: SMITH, William Jay, (1823 - 1913).
  8. Boston Globe obituary, "," Retrieved: 12 September 2013.
  9. Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative - III: Red River to Appomattox, p.1052, Random House, 1974, ISBN 0-394-74622-8
  10. The park was renamed Health Sciences Park on February 5, 2013, by the Memphis City Council, despite attempts by a state mandate to prevent the renaming of the park. Sainz, Adrian. "Memphis renames 3 parks that honored Confederacy". Retrieved 6 February 2013.
  11. Crosby, MC. 2006. The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic That Shaped Our History. Berkley Books. ISBN 0-425-21202-5
  12. Kemp, Bill (2015-06-28). "Towanda's Mattie Stephenson celebrated yellow fever martyr". The Pantagraph. Retrieved 2016-04-18.
  13. Elmwood Cemetery Website
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