In Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky, I came across a perplexing legal fragment on the monument of Daniel G. Parr (figure 1).

Figure 1. Parr monument. Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, KY. Photo: author.

My photos are subpar because of the light, for which I’m sorry.

Figure 2.:

Figure 2. Parr monument. Detail of reverse. Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, KY. Photo: author.

Daniel G. Parr
born in Alsace-Lorraine
Dec. 12, 1825
Jan. 19, 1904
Maria Marmaduke
wife of
Daniel G. Parr
May 14, 1828
Feb. 23, 1901
“O for the touch of a vanish’d hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still.”
William D. Parr
son of
Daniel G. and
Maria Marmaduke Parr
May 29, 1861
July 11, 1912

Figure 3. Burials near the Parr monument. Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, KY. Photo: author.
Figure 4. Infant burials near the Parr monument. Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, KY. Photo: author.

A bit more data from the burials fills out the tally of Parr children (figures 3, 4):

  1. Julia Parr (1848-1850) [figure 4]
  2. Virginia Parr (1852-1930) [figure 3]
  3. Sallie Parr (1956-1857) [figure 4]
  4. George Parr (1859-1860) [figure 4]
  5. William Parr (1861-1912) [figure 2]
  6. Birdie Parr (1865-1948) [figure 3]

So, one notes with regret that the Parr family felt the full force of the demographic realities of their day, losing three out of six children as infants. The survivors, who are important for this discussion, are Virginia, whom Parr seems to have called ‘Jennie’, William (‘Willie’), and Birdie. All three of these were alive when their father died.

On the obverse of the Parr monument (seen in figure 1), and therefore marked out as especially important, is a text purporting to be a copy of a short will made by Parr. It is in three sections: a preamble, a statement, and a location. My transcription marks line breaks with forward slash characters which are not in the original (figure 5).

Figure 5. Parr monument. Inscription on obverse. Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, KY. Photo: author.

This is to certify I, D. G. Parr, / being of sound mind and disposing / memory, have written a will in my own / hand, writing signed by witnesses / revoking will of Oct. 7th 1901 written / by J. T. O’Neal, and all other wills by me / made, and now confirm this will to / be my true last will and testament. /

——– Statement. ——– /

After much thought, and feeling I / have been influenced to be unjust to / my children, and fearing the wasting / of my savings of a life time, I have / given my entire estate, real, personal, / and mixed, to my daughters Jennie / and Birdie and son Willie, share and / share alike. But conditionally that / my son Willie’s undivided interest at / his death shall go equally to my / daughter Jennie and my daughter Birdie.
D. G. Parr,
Oct. 1903.

My Will is in my Safety Vault Box.

There’s a lot to take in here, despite the brevity of the texts. The surviving children are all present. Earlier wills are revoked, specifically a fairly recent one dated to 07 October 1901; the will on the stone is dated October 1903, some four months before his death, which he may well have felt approaching; the death at age 72 of Maria Marmaduke Parr, his wife, hangs over proceedings. She died on 23 February 1901, eight months before Parr’s revoked 1901 will. At her death he was aged 75, and probably felt the need to tidy up his affairs.

In the text of the will as given on the stone, Parr seems to repent of his earlier arrangements, stating that he felt he had been unjust to his children, and that he feared the wasting of his “savings of a life time.” His remedy is to divide up his estate, all of it, between his three surviving children, “share and share alike,” the latter term meaning that those heirs who survive Parr should have equal portions.

Interesting is that Willie’s undivided interest should go equally to the two daughters at his death. What this seems to me to mean is that the three children were to share a house, for example, and were Willie to predecease them (as he in fact did), they acquired between them full ownership of it: so Willie’s survivors could not force the sale of the house to liquidate assets for division. Both daughters married, as the tombstones indicate, so it seems as though they were not desperately in need of Parr’s house.

When was the monument raised? It means nothing that Parr’s death date is given in the midst of the anagraphic data: these things were regularly and easily carved in at need. Yet the text of the will occupies the monument’s prime real estate, sitting as it does over the large formal inscription D. G. PARR on the foundation. Note, too, that the headstones for the Parrs and their daughters all face in this frontal direction. Yet normally we would expect to find the anagraphic data here, rather than on the opposite side. The placement of the text of the will here, in this way, was a choice, and not a casual one.

I didn’t see a separate headstone for Willie, nor does Find-a-Grave offer a photo of one. His only marker is the anagraphic text on the monument. We might infer that this was sufficient for him; no spouse is recorded for him, either. Might this have been a sad necessity forced upon Willie in the pre-Obergefell era? Might Parr’s second thoughts about the disposition of his estate have been conditioned by a reassessment of his life and priorities following Maria’s death and a consciousness of his own inevitable mortality? Might Willie have put up the monument (with his sisters’ blessing) to commemorate his father’s change of heart by placing the text of the new, repentant will front-and-center? Might Parr’s condition that Willie’s share go to the daughters reflect that he did not expect Willie to marry (and therefore there were no grandchildren on that score to think of) whereas he did want to think of grandchildren from his daughters?

One alternative explanation occurs to me: might the children have placed the text of the will on the stone triumphantly or vindictively after winning a case challenging the will? One might imagine a challenge from a luckless beneficiary of the (seemingly) more detailed and careful 1901 will challenging its revocation by a crazy impromptu holographic will. Either way the text of the will is a sort of proof text of something, evidence of the inner life of a family. It’s a pity that the interwebs have not been kind to Parr and his family.

While looking through various Parrs in Find-a-Grave, I found the following on the page dedicated to Willie, though it refers to Parr senior:

“A condensed version of the story as published in Parr Memorial Baptist Church 2002 Directory. It was adapted from Mildred Rehkoph’s “Historical Record.” 

A great change to Immanuel Baptist Church came in 1901, when it received a gift from Captain Daniel G. Parr. The gift was given in honor of his wife, Maria Marmaduke Parr. She had been interested in the struggling little Petoskey church that she visited in the summer. 

Captain Parr had been a captain and owner of steamboats. He wanted to build a memorial in the form of a beautiful building for the church. Among the conditions of his gift was that the new church be built of stone or brick and have a window in memory of Maria M. Parr to cost no less than $15,000. (Today about $475,000.) According to the dictates of the gift, the church with the beautiful window was built on the corner of State Street and Waukazoo Avenue. It was renamed: Parr Memorial Baptist Church.

Now, as of the year 2020 approaches, there are those who say the Tiffany Stained Glass Window may be worth more than the building itself. The good news? Parr Memorial Baptist Church is still located in downtown Petoskey on the corner of State and Waukazoo––a sparkling gem in the midst of the towns most memorable and historic churches. Captain Parr’s gift remains not only a lasting legacy to his wife, but to the entire town of Petoskey.

Courtesy of Find-A-Grave member Petoskey History 1852-2002.”

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

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