William Faulkner wrote about them in his short story, Sepulture South: Gaslight. Depression-era photographer/photojournalist Walker Evans snapped pictures of them. Director Norman Jewison featured them (along with Bruce Willis) in his 1989 movie, In Country, based on Kentucky author Bobbie Ann Mason’s novel of the same name.
The Wooldridge Monuments.
Known collectively as “The Strange Procession That Never Moves,” the Graves County landmark depicts 18 life-size statues striking a pose in Mayfield’s
Maplewood Cemetery, a family reunion of sorts captured in sandstone and marble. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
There’s Civil War Col. Henry G. Wooldridge toward the back of the group, his likeness captured not once, but twice—sitting on his horse, Fop, and standing atop a lectern. Wooldridge was the eccentric mastermind (and the money) behind the memorial. His family moved to the county when Henry was 21 years old.
Haunted Graves celebration this October
An added attraction this year is Mayfield’s inaugural Haunted Graves celebration of all things Halloween, which takes place throughout the month of October, featuring more than a dozen events, including Pumpkins in the Park, 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Saturday, October 16, co-sponsored by West Kentucky RECC; and the Independence Bank I-B Scared 5K on Saturday, October 23, that runs past the Wooldridge Monuments. More details here. (INSERT URL www.visitmayfieldgraves.com/haunted-graves)
“He lived in south Graves County until his family died and then he moved to Mayfield and started on the monuments,” says Jennifer Beck Walker, executive director at the Mayfield-Graves County Tourism Commission.
Nearby are Henry’s mother, Keziah Nichols; sisters Narcissa Berryman, Minerva Nichols and Susan Neely; brothers W.F., Alfred, Josiah and John; and great-nieces Maud Reeds and Minnie Neeley. Even the family pets are remembered, with monuments to Tow-Head and Bob, Wooldridge’s hunting dogs.
Suspiciously absent? The colonel’s father.
“That to me is the most fascinating thing of all, the mystery of why his father was not memorialized,” says Beck Walker. “Nobody knows why, but you know there’s a story there.”
Horse breeder, farmer, fox hunter. The lifelong bachelor whom some might accuse of having more money than sense commissioned the group of statues in 1892. They were built over the next seven years, until his death on May 30, 1899. All were positioned within the wrought iron fencing at the site Wooldridge had chosen as his final resting place. And make no mistake, it is his final resting place; he is the only member of this funereal entourage entombed here.
“There’s a legend that when they brought the statue of Col. Wooldridge and Fop into town on a railcar, the town drunk hopped on it and rode on in behind him and his horse,” says Beck Walker. “It’s one of the stories the locals like to tell.”
The storytelling isn’t limited to the locals. The Wooldridge Monuments were featured in an episode of Ripley’s Believe It or Not TV show. Author Jeffrey Scott Holland put an image of Wooldridge astride Fop on the cover of his book, Weird Kentucky. And according to an August 8, 2002, article in The Mayfield Messenger, Wright Wilson Frost, a Wooldridge relative, wrote the book, The Descendants of Josiah and Keziah Nichols Wooldridge and Their Ancestors. Published in 1973 and available on Amazon, it includes a chapter on the monument.
The ice storm of January 2009 that impacted 10 states in the Midwest and South wreaked havoc and destruction on the monuments, including one of the Col. Wooldridge statues.
“When the storm brought a nearby tree down, it brought down his head and some of his animals,” says Beck Walker, noting the City of Mayfield was awarded $131,000 in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds for repairs.
“When someone comes into my office and asks what’s to see, the first thing I do is put them in the car and take them to the Wooldridge Monuments,” she says. “It’s so unique and eccentric—the kind of thing people are fascinated to see.”
Wooldridge Monuments at Maplewood Cemetery
408 N. 6th Street, Mayfield
Gates are open daily, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.