Parsons Cemetery will offer tours of masterpieces

Carol Smith, a volunteer member of the Parsons Cemetery Advisory Committee, examines the detail on the Webb family Celtic cross memorial stone. The stone, entirely hand carved, features intricate complex panel designs that are not duplicated on the marble monument. The finely detailed carving makes for a one-of-a-kind stunning work of art. Smith and others are busy researching the history of the thousands of tombstones in the cemetery.

There’s a multi-million-dollar art exhibit in Salisbury that’s so unique that bus tours are planned to bring spectators to see handmade treasures of the past.

It’s said the largest public display of art can be found in cemeteries across the nation, and Parsons Cemetery here has some masterpieces in stone, custom-made iron fencing and porcelain grave photos.

The collection includes a one-of-a-kind memorial by the famed Tiffany Studio of New York that Carol Smith, a volunteer with the cemetery’s leadership committee, called “magnificent.”

The 15-foot white marble cross, entirely hand-carved, marks the grave of Maryland Gov. Elihu Jackson, who died in 1907.

In the graveyard are delicate flowers, complex Celtic knots, figural carvings, even an-18-foot pink column made of the rarest marble in America, some of the finest stonework in the state, found right here in Salisbury.

Seven self-guided walking tours of Parsons Cemetery — organized to raise awareness of the importance of its beauty and history — are drawing interest in the community.

“We are doing exactly what other historic cemeteries are doing, turning their cemeteries into outdoor museums,” said Smith.

The Parsons Cemetery Advisory Committee operates the graveyard, established in 1873.

Anyone interested may tour the grounds and gravesites from dawn to dusk, using as their guide a map at the cemetery entrance.

Information is also on the website, at

Using cell phones, visitors can look up graves of those who were prominent in Salisbury.

The tours are free and titled: The 1800s: Parsons Cemetery Historic Section Walking (Bus) Tour; Through the Centuries: Continuing the Historic Walking Tour Throughout Parsons Cemetery; Parsons’ Heroes and Veterans:  Parsons Cemetery’s Military Walking Tour;

Art, Culture, and Symbolism Through Periods of Prudence, Opulence, Wars, and Depression:  Parsons Cemetery’s Interpretive Tour;

The New Millennium: Parsons Cemetery Today, Tomorrow, and Always; The History Mysteries:  Parsons Cemetery’s Folklore, Mysteries, Observations; and Meet the Trees: Parsons Cemetery’s Tree and Garden Tour.

There has been a Chesapeake Ghost Tour, not because the grounds are haunted but because those who enjoy ghost tours also like old cemeteries, Smith said.

And, tours are being planned through the Wicomico County Tourism Department.

Tourism officials “walked through the cemetery and loved the Jackson Family plot, a 120-space plot with beautiful white marble monuments,” Smith said.

“They told us they want a bus tour. They were very excited,” she said.

“The tours are up and running. We have installed flag holders so American flags on veterans’ graves stand up higher to help visitors find the graves,” she said.

Maryland Gov. Jackson’s monument, which Smith characterized as unusual, is marked Tiffany Studio, N.Y., N.Y.

“His wife and son’s monuments are complimentary.

“With only one exception all the grave markers in the Jackson lot are white marble, as is the curbing defining the lot. This lot has recently been restored through a family trust,” Smith said.

“It’s mostly historical. When groups come in, usually there are things or specific graves they want to see, but it’s basically historical. People are genuinely interested in the history,” Smith said.

The grave of Dr. George W. Todd, who established Peninsula General Hospital in 1897 with six beds in an old home, is among the most popular, as is Dr. William J. Holloway’s.

The former Salisbury High School principal founded the State Normal School, which opened Sept. 7, 1925, with 105 students.

“Dr. Holloway’s story is an amazing story, what he did to keep that going during the Depression in the late ’20s. The Greers, Fred Sr. and Fred Jr. And we have a ton of politicians,” Smith said.

In 2004, the Parsons Cemetery Advisory Committee formed to run the operation instead of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. The waterfront area that had been wooded was opened, creating 2,200 plots on two acres. Plots are still available.

Spread over 18 acres, with 13,000 graves, the cemetery dates back before Parsons Cemetery was bequeathed to St Peter’s in 1873.

“Before then Benjamin had opened his family cemetery to others during the Civil War. But the graves date far earlier due to reinternments from other burial sites.

“In the mid-1800s, urban cemeteries were considered a public health hazard, urban growth was competing for land and the first garden-type cemeteries planned in rural areas became very attractive to the Victorian culture. Reinternments were common,” she explained.

The Edward H. Nabb Research Center at Salisbury University is working with committee members and the county’s tourism department is planning bus tours.

“We are encouraging people to share with us their family histories,” Smith said.

“With 13,000 graves out there, we’ve been receiving calls from people who want to be sure we include their relatives, so they are a work in progress.”

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