Bob Barnett is assistant director of Elmwood Cemetery. In that role, he does a little bit of everything — meeting with families, selling properties, and working on events. One of those events is the Last Word tour, all about epitaphs, on Saturday, May 19th.
The tour goes beyond the words carved into stone. Barnett says that where the headstone is placed, how it was placed can communicate a message. He notes the grave of a prostitute that was moved in a spot across from the resting places of some prominent Memphians. The message, he says, is "don't judge her."
He also mentions the gravestone of a blues singer. Her funny epitaph: "Born who knows? Died who cares?" One epitaph that strikes Barnett as particularly sad is the one of a little girl who died in a fire in 1935. Her epitaph is rendered in stick-on letters.
A particular favorite is that of Ma Rainey, which goes, "I'm Ma Rainey #2. Mother of Beale Street. I'm 78 years old. Ain't never had enough of nothing, and it's too damn late now."
And, yes, Barnett is mulling over his own last words. "We all become stories in the end" sounds pretty good to him.
Last Word is a walking tour. It will take about 90 minutes.