Saturday, January 29, 2011


Ford's Theater, draped in mourning crepe---Matthew Brady

On first looking at the tumbled, broken stone, it took me a few moments to decipher the inscriptions; I’ve always had some kind of weird spot in my brain for filling in letters in words---anything that looks like a gap-toothed Wheel of Fortune game is my kind of puzzle.

It was plain to see, then all those hours spent drilling German in that dizzy-hot drone which was class with Herr Eichorst, led to a natural “H” in the SCHELLER. My age probably accounted for a quick read of the rest: Ladies of my day all knew that “Master” was the title given to a boy, usually one under ten, and customarily used only in correspondence, which is why the title on the stone just broke my heart---to think she’d lost her little child, as well. I suppose anything in the teens served to use the name at that time.

And one more: Some reasoning, especially in our Founding Fathers, led to their shortening the perfectly plain “John” to “Jno.” I have never understood how that shortened anything, anyway, for it’s the same number of spaces, and it’s always just looked funny and affected.

I leave the details of their last days unknown, as they were to their friends and colleagues who might have comforted them, for I feel as a friend, cloaked in their lives for this great time of learning, walking in their steps from their faraway countries across our great land, to spend their final days and their rest so coincidentally in the place I was raised.
And so, there they have lain, together beneath that stone---first a pure white, standing tall and proud, just-graven with its sweet, sad message, and then after the topple, the break, the yield to the grass. Of the reason that so many of the gravestones and markers are melting back into the earth, Marty says, “I think the ground of Vicksburg still trembles.”

Perhaps word of the deaths did not reach Milton Nobles and other stage dignitaries except in a small mention in one newspaper or the other. One, from a writer in the West, perhaps one connected with a theater which had enlisted Mme. Methua Scheller for an engagement:

This was Madam Scheller's last appearance at this theatre. She and her husband, Methua Scheller, went East from here, and died in Memphis (sic) in 1878, during the yellow fever contagion of that dread disease.
The cemetery records do not list Guido Methua as “interred”---naming only his wife and son.

The RECORDS (scroll down). The mention of another child in the same plot, and of a stone apparently placed for her by Mr. Nobles, had escaped my notice until now, and she will remain in the soft shadows, remembered only by the angels and those who loved her.
From the New York Times, just after the placing of the stone:
Mr John Guido Methua, a scene painter, his wife, Mrs. Marie (Schiller) (sic) Methua, an actress, and their son fell victims of the yellow fever at Vicksburg, Miss., last Summer. During a recent visit to that city Mr. Milton Nobles learned the fact, sought out their graves, and caused suitable marble slabs to be set up to mark their resting places. The Vicksburg HERALD, noticing the act, says that Mr. Nobles, when a mere youth, found in Mrs. Schiller, who was playing successful engagements in the West, a true friend, a kind adviser, and a generous help, and he formed for her then an esteem and admiration that time has not effaced.
Tomorrow: Epilogue and Curtain


Kat said...

I find myself smiling and then sad faced when reading your reports. You have successfully brought them to "life" again. I can tell you really enjoyed it too. And so did I sweet friend.


Cape Coop said...

This is fascinating!

Southern Lady said...

What a beautiful and compassionate tribute to the memory of Madam Scheller and her family, Rachel. I can tell you put your heart into writing it, and I wish it could be placed near her grave so visitors could read about her.

The next time I'm at Cedar Hill, I will try to find the stone and pay my respects. I wish the stories of all the souls resting there could be told as beautifully as you told this one.

Beverly said...

I must admit to feeling sad due to learning of their deaths. So many lives were lost during this time.

You have made them into someone we feel like we knew and loved.♥

Kim Shook said...

I'd like to echo Southern Lady. Everyone's life deserves such a beautiful retelling.