Those who fought great battles, negotiated historic treaties, and wrote the laws that brought Texas into being lie at rest in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. So do a host of writers and educators, astronauts and athletes, Texas Rangers and elected officials. Even some rogues and scoundrels have a resting place at the State Cemetery. Texas is the only state with a cemetery dedicated to its heroes and public officials, and all of the State Cemetery's honored dead helped make Texas what it is today.
This book tells the stories of the Texas State Cemetery and of many noteworthy Texans who are buried in its peaceful lawns and hillsides. It opens with a history of the Cemetery, which was established in 1851 upon the death of Edward Burleson, commander of troops at the Battle of San Jacinto and Vice President of the Republic of Texas. Subsequent chapters provide short biographies of notable Texans buried in the Cemetery from the following eras and groups: the Republic of Texas and the Civil War, public officials, cultural figures, educators, and Texas Rangers. Each chapter is introduced by a prominent person who will someday lie at rest in the Texas State Cemetery, and an epilogue by Governor Rick Perry concludes the text. Magnificent color photographs by Laurence Parent, as well as historical photographs, offer an evocative visual tour of the Texas State Cemetery and its monuments.
This book is a chronicle of the Texas State Cemetery, a museum of history unlike any other in the state. There have been many stories about the Cemetery since it was established in 1851. Many are true, some fabricated, and some hybrid, but all are interesting and entertaining. A burial ground for Texas leaders who helped define our state, the Cemetery has changed over the years, but essentially remains the same as it was in 1851. There are new buildings, tours for visitors, and other additions caused by time. But it is still a cemetery. It is my hope that it will always remain just like it is today—a treasure for Texas.
The best time to visit the Cemetery is early on a spring morning just as the sun is rising. The eastern light illuminates a panoramic view of the history of Texas. You can see and feel some things at that early hour that might be missing later in the day. It is a serene time. The headstones and the inscriptions seem to mean more and there is a completeness about the Cemetery. Each morning when we open the gates, I usually reflect on the day Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock sent me to the Cemetery. It was in need of repair and he had a plan to restore it to its original grandeur. The restoration took three years. Most of what was done has proved to be worthy. A small part of the work needed to be corrected, which is normal in restoration projects, but the Cemetery is definitely a better place today than it was in 1994 when the work began.
During those years, I've been privileged to age with the Cemetery. I have a different feeling today than when I started. Maybe it is out of respect, maybe it is just age, or maybe, after all of the funerals and honorary events I've experienced, there is just a greater sense of appreciation for Texas. I've seen many different and interesting people since I began. People who buried their best friend, people who buried a Texas giant, and people who were political enemies all coming here for the final goodbye. There is finality at the Cemetery during a funeral. I once heard it remarked that no matter who is being buried—whether it is a governor, judge, senator, or someone who may not have been as well known—there is one thing certain. On funeral day, the ground is level for all of us. At each funeral you get that feeling: that it is the end of a life and of a contribution of work to Texas. No matter what we've done, we see life complete on that day.
Most of the things I've experienced at the Cemetery are good. Sometimes, though, because of tragedy, there is pain and sadness and, in some cases, suffering. In Viktor Frankl's book Man's Search For Meaning, which chronicles his days in a German concentration camp, he writes about experiencing sadness, disappointment, and suffering, all of which are common to a funeral service. Dr. Frankl developed the theory of how, even in our darkest moments, we can gain meaning and encouragement to keep going. He wrote, "There is meaning in suffering." I've seen this happen at a funeral. In some of the saddest moments during a service, I've seen families and friends gain strength from the memories of the deceased and vow to carry on. It is heartwarming and inspirational. It gives definition to the way the Cemetery is special. It's not just a place to hold a funeral.
The Texas State Cemetery is, and always will be, a place of history. But, it is also a place of hope and encouragement. Frankl wrote, "For life to be worth living you must turn outside of yourself and help others." This is what I see at the Cemetery each day. It is a place of memories and sometimes sadness. But, it is also a place where people reach out and help others in their time of need. This shows the true greatness of the Texas State Cemetery.
Superintendent, Texas State Cemetery
By Jason Walker and Will Erwin, with Helen Thompson
Walker and Erwin both work for the Texas State Cemetery. Walker is the Director of Research. He oversees research, educational programs, exhibits, collection management, and website management. Erwin is a historian at the Cemetery. His duties include taking photographs, producing promotional materials, maintaining the website and grounds, and curating the Cemetery's historical records.