DAYTON — Matilda Joles Stanley was said to have a wonderful gift of telling fortunes and remarkable powers as a mesmerist. She was described in the press as a “plain, hardy–looking woman and having a manner indicative of a strong and pronounced character.”
Many of the Stanley family and other clans buried their dead in Dayton in Woodland Cemetery. On Palm Sunday 1877, one of Levi and Matilda’s daughters and her husband were buried in the family lot after a nine-mile long procession of colorful wagons and carriages through the rain. Newspaper stories of the time noted the “rather bright colors of apparel and the expressive features of these people standing in the rain without umbrellas” when the minister stood at the head of the wide grave, the only umbrella upraised was over his head.
Matilda died in Vicksburg, Mississippi in January 1878 after an illness described as cancer. Her body was embalmed and was sent back to Dayton. When she arrived at Woodland Cemetery, she was placed in the receiving vault. Here, her family would visit every day and receive visiting guests and onlookers and lay fresh flowers over her casket. It would be another eight months before Matilda was finally laid to rest.
During the time before her funeral, word was spread not only in the United States but also in Canada and Europe that the Queen of the Gypsies had died. Chiefs and their tribes came to visit and pay their respects to Matilda and the family. There was a steady flow of this unique group of people in and out of the city.
Matilda was buried on September 15, 1878. Several hundred gypsies from other parts of the United States assembled along the banks of the Mad River in the neighborhood of the present Keowee Street Bridge. Here the funeral cortege formed, carriages were provided by McGowan and Lake, a pioneer Dayton livery firm, to the attending mourners.
A Dayton newspaper reported the following: “The funeral services were very simple. The casket had to be removed from the vault to the grave. The procession assembled at 1:30 p.m. but the people began to go toward the cemetery at noon. They came from all over the city. Nearly 1,000 vehicles of every type were making their way to the cemetery. The street cars were not able to make their way down Wayne or Brown streets. Woodland Avenue and the streets and alley ways around it were clogged with horses and carriages. Once inside the gates, the crowds filled every space they could, covering the hills and strolling about the grounds. The Police captain had a large contingency of police officers on hand but it was difficult to control such a large crowd.”
The casket was carried from the receiving vault to the grave site. A mass of men, women and children were so tightly compressed that it was almost impossible to force a passage through them to carry the casket to the final resting place.
Matilda’s funeral attracted press coverage by the major newspapers of the country and was front page news. Four years after Matilda’s funeral, two more children were interred at Woodland, and the Dayton Democrat reported that the “attendance was quite large, tent-dwellers having come from all parts of the country – from New York to Mississippi – to be present at the funeral.” The story was picked up by the New York Times as well.
By the time that King Levi Stanley died in Marshall, Texas 30 years later, the national press did not even mention his passing. In an article on the arrival of his remains in Dayton by train, it was noted that the wealth of his family was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, made from horse trading and fortune telling. The family also owned substantial tracts of real estate, mainly in the north Dayton area. Levi’s burial was made in the spring and was attended by only thirty members of the family from around the country.
Today, the grave site of Levi and Matilda Stanley is one of the most visited sites in the cemetery. September 15 of this year will mark the 140th anniversary of the burial of Matilda Stanley. In her memory, a special event will take place on this day to honor Matilda and bring attention to the beautiful monument. The 20-foot granite column with the angel on top is in need of repair and restoration. Current conditions of the monument will lead to the dismantling of the structure out of safety concerns for visitors. It is Woodland’s hope that staff can do the repairs to the monument while it is still standing and in place without removal from the grave site.
Please join Woodland for an evening of Gypsy culture and heritage on Saturday, September 15 from 5 – 8 p.m. at Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum located at 118 Woodland Avenue in Dayton. Food, beverage, music by Tiempo Perdido, tarot card readers and fortune tellers and a historic candlelight walk tracing the original steps of the burial of Matilda Stanley are just some of the attractions of the event.
Tickets are available on line by going to: http://bit.ly/WoodlandCemetery. The fundraising goal for this event is $10,000. If you cannot attend, it is hoped you will consider making a donation. Sponsorship opportunities are available.
For more information please contact Angie Hoschouer at 937-228-3221 ext. 111 or [email protected]