Pewee Valley Cemetery

Pewee Valley Cemetery
Burial Place of Kate Matthews, Polly the Parrot and Walker Hardin, the Old Colonel’s Man Servant

The gate into the main portion of Pewee Valley Cemetery is on Maple Avenue.

The Oldham County Historical Society provides the following brief information about the cemetery:

The Pewee Valley Cemetery located on Maple Avenue in Pewee Valley, Oldham County, Kentucky was established in May 1871. In 1904 the Directors of the cemetery authorized the subdivision of the cemetery into three sections, one section for the whites, one section for the black population of Pewee Valley and the surrounding areas and one section for the State of Kentucky to use for the interment of veterans from the Confederate Veterans Home located in Pewee Valley. N 38° 18' 12.0'' W 085° 28' 35.6'' 

A much more detailed history of the cemetery appears on the Pewee Valley Cemetery website. Burial/grave information for all Oldham County cemeteries is also available through the Historical Society.  Note that Pewee Valley Cemetery is cemetery #148 in their listings.

This photo was taken by Pewee Valley resident Norman Schippert and shows  the cemetery layout from the air.

In the aerial photograph above, the portion of the cemetery formerly designated for whites in 1904 was above Maple Avenue, while the section designated for blacks was below Maple Avenue. The Confederate Cemetery is the rectangular area in the "white" section that runs along Maple Avenue.  (photo on this site, too)  After the division was made, the white and black cemeteries kept separate records.

Two famous “Little Colonel” characters are buried in the cemetery’s “white” section: Kate Matthews (Katherine Marks in the books) in the Matthews family plot, denoted by the blue star in the diagram below, and the Little Colonel’s parrot, Polly, who was owned in real life by the Burges, relatives of Annie Fellows Johnston. Though we know from a newspaper article that Polly was buried with a marker listing her age as 58, we have as yet been unable to locate her grave.

Buried with Kate Matthews in the family plot, denoted by the star, are her parents, Lucien and Charlotta, and many of her siblings, including Florence, who was the inspiration for Flora, a minor character in the “Little Colonel at Boarding-School.” Also buried here, but in an unmarked grave, is Lillian Fletcher Brackett’s dog. Lillian was Kate’s niece and lived in Twigmore for many years with Kate’s sister, Charlotta Matthews Osborne, also buried here.

Buried in the African American Cemetery is another inspiration for a “Little Colonel” character, Walker Hardin. He was Annie Fellows Johnston’s model for the Old Colonel’s man-servant in the stories and was played by Bill "Bojangles" Robinson in the "The Little Colonel" movie released in 1935. Cemetery records for this section are spotty, and we have been unable to locate his grave.

The African American Cemetery is also mentioned once in the Little Colonel stories, in Chapter 10, “A Plot” in the "Little Colonel at Boarding-School," when the Shadow Club girls are contemplating “hoodoo-ing” Mittie Dupong for eavesdropping on a club meeting at Lloydsboro Seminary  and spreading the conversations she heard throughout the school:

"Yes," agreed Kitty. "We'll hoodoo her. That is the way."

Such a plan never would have been thought of in a Northern school. Even in this little Kentucky seminary it is doubtful if it could have been carried out had not previous events paved the way. There was scarcely a pupil in the school whose earliest impressions had not been tinged in some degree by the superstitions of some old coloured nurse or family servant. Even Lloyd had not escaped them entirely, in spite of all her mother's watchful care. Mom Beck knew better than to talk of such things openly before her, but she had hinted of them to the other servants in her presence, till Lloyd had a vague uneasiness when she dreamed of muddy water, or spilled the salt, or saw a bird flying against a window. From babyhood such happenings had been associated in her mind with Mom Beck's portents of ill-luck.

There was not a coloured person in the neighbourhood who could have explained why so many graves in the negro cemetery had bottles or fruit-jars placed upon them, inside of which were carefully sealed the whitest of chicken feathers. Undoubtedly they were the relic of some old African fetish…

Two views of the African American section of the cemetery
(click photos to enlarge)

 --page by Donna Russell