The story goes: Teenage Laura Mitchell fell for town banker Clement Clay Kelly only to die at the young age of 38 years old. Clay, as he was called, was bereft with grief and commissioned an Italian sculptor to craft a 15-foot statue in her likeness to be erected in the family plot of the Kosciusko City Cemetery in Mississippi. Further, he requested—so the story goes—the builder of his beautiful Victorian house at 309 East Jefferson Street to add a third floor so that he could gaze blocks away upon his dead wife’s monument. Only, there are a few plot holes in this version.
Let’s begin with the details we know. Laura Mitchell was born on November 15, 1852. She did, in fact, marry Clay and bore five children. Laura did die at the young age of 38 on November 29, 1890. And, finally, Clay did erect a large statue in her likeness. The height is between 15-20 feet high.
The impressive statue shows Laura dressed in Victorian attire with a cane in her right hand. I could not locate the name of the sculptor or verify that Laura appears in her wedding dress. However, I presume it to be her wedding dress or a dress for a special occasion given the time period.
Sitting in the cemetery, the statue is a local landmark. There are recent articles where local young adults portray various famous townspeople every Halloween for an annual cemetery pilgrimage through the cemetery to hear the stories associated with these people. Although she lived a relatively short life, Laura has lived on in our imaginations for over 130 years. However, some are not as respectful when visiting her.
On at least two occasions, Laura’s stone right hand has been severed and her statue vandalized. In both instances, the community, along with her only remaining relative great granddaughter Laura Ann Hooff Kline, have contributed to a new hand being installed. The only ghost stories I’ve read associated with the statue involve circling around it. Never—and I mean NEVER—deface or vandalize a statue. Removing a hand—or any piece—from a cemetery monument is wrong.
Laura’s statue is called “The Lady in the Cemetery.” I wished it was more descriptive because her statue is truly unique and captures what I believe to be her likeness.
The family plot where Laura is buried had already gained two angels prior to her death: Sons Samuel (1874-1888) and Otho Lamar (1876-1877). Four years after Laura was buried, her daughter Lillian died a new wife on December 5, 1894. She was only 22 years old. Another son, Leland Mitchell, born December 7, 1882, died at the age of 35 on October 10, 1918. All are buried in the plot, surrounded by black wrought iron fencing. The only child to live through adulthood was Alta S. Kelly Clark. It is through this line that the only surviving direct descendent comes from.
I’m fascinated by women who die young, and Laura was one such woman. I was unable to locate a death certificate. Actually, I was unable to locate a lot of government issued documents to prove her existence. For instance, various family trees on Ancestry.com identify her mother as Martha Jones. However, the supporting document showing Martha’s marriage to Samuel Mitchell, Laura’s purported father, was after Laura’s birth. A couple years after. The data listed in the family trees show that Samuel was 12 years older than Martha. Given the time period, I’m inclined to think Martha was a second wife after the first wife, and mother of Laura, had died. Or Laura wasn’t Martha or Samuel’s biological daughter.
The dream home that Laura was in the process of building prior to her death has also yielded conflicting information. One blog stated the address as 310 East Jefferson Street. This house was built by George E. Wilson circa 1840-1845 and sold to John Atkins, who sold it to Laura. It is a lovely 2-story structure. You will the problem in the next paragraph.
The second home associated with Laura sits across the street at 309 East Jefferson Street. This is a stunning 3-story Victorian. Now, if I am reading the online stories correctly, it makes sense that the house at 309 was the home the Kelly family intended to reside in, as some stories suggest that Laura never lived in her dream home. This is further strengthened with the obituary of Alta Semiramis Kelly Clark, where the address is clearly printed.
Having possibly solved this conundrum only yielded a new one. Looking at the map of Kosciusko, the city cemetery is a ways—a long ways—away from Jefferson Street. If Clay was on the third floor, looking south, he would still need binoculars to see the monument. I’m not dismissing the heartbreak he felt and the story. I’m questioning the ability of Clay to see the statue. Maybe that area of Mississippi was clear-cut without any trees. My guess is that this is an embellishment in an already tragic story.
As if this wasn’t enough, I found three additional facts that stood out. When Laura died, Clay remarried, with at least one account claiming he remarried twice. Second wife, Lucy Leake Keirn Kelly (5.3.1861-9.10.1898) died at the age of 37. That seems strange. Quite the coincidence.
Lucy and Clay married in 1891 and had three daughters: Mary, born 1893; Rosa, born 1895; and Lucy, born 1897. Mother Lucy had the three girls and was visiting relatives in Lexington, Mississippi when she fell ill and died. She is not buried in the Kelly family plot in Kosciusko.
A few stories and various family trees list a third wife: Katie Cross Kelly. She’s even linked to Clay’s Find-A-Grave entry. However, I am unmoved that they actually married. I cannot locate a marriage certificate. If they were married, it would have been between 1899, after Lucy’s death, and 1918, before Clay’s death. This is dubious. However, I am always happy to update my blogs when provided with new information.
The final story that stuck out is truly heartbreaking. When Lucy died, she left three little girls aged 5, 3, and 2 months. The middle child was Rosa Hutter Kelly. Rosa was 3 years old when her mother died. In the 1900 Census, Rosa is residing with her widowed father and his children. He is a banker and owns his home. By the 1910 Census, Rosa remained in her father’s home, along with her sisters Mary and Lucy. On Valentine’s Day (according to online blogs but not verified) in 1914, Clay’s bank, the largest privately owned bank in Mississippi, closes and he is bankrupt. By 1918, Clay is dead. So is Rosa’s older sister, Mary. All Rosa has is Lucy.
Neither appear on a 1920 Census. However, in 1930, Rosa appears as a “patient” in Jackson at the Mississippi State Insane Asylum. Her status has changed in the 1940 Census: Now she is an “inmate.” That is the last time Rosa appears in any official document.
The tragedy continues. Thousands of patients at the asylums in Mississippi were buried in unmarked graves. The person who entered Rosa’s information in the Find-A-Grave database surmises, and probably correctly, that Rosa is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Cato, Rankin County, Mississippi. I hope that one day someone will uncover her resting place so that a proper tombstone may be erected.