A shadow of doubt

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 9, 2002

Features Editor

For 100 years and more, James Madison McLaney and his wife, Margaret Mariah Melton McLaney, have rested in peace in Cemetery #141 at 707 South Brundidge Street in Troy.

Whether the couple will remain at peace there or finding another resting place is yet to be determined.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

A house razing and excavation project in the area have unearthed a dilemma concerning the gravesite of the couple. How it will be resolved is a matter of law and, perhaps, the wishes of the James and Margaret McLaney descendants.

When Melton Carter realized that an excavation was in progress that would disturb the graves of his great-grandparents, he alerted Troy city officials and the work has been halted until the issue can be resolved.

Alabama has strict laws governing the abandonment of a cemetery and the removal of human remains.

According to state law, notice must be given of abandonment and the proposed removal of human remains by publication in a newspaper. Notice must be mailed to each known living heir of any person whose remains are residing in the cemetery.There are also laws governing disinterring and transporting human remains subject to the rules and regulations of the board of health.

Carter said although he didn’t know the exact gravesite of great-grandparents, he knew they were both buried in the rose garden of their home on South Brundidge Street.

James McLaney’s obituary was recorded in The Troy Messenger

on Nov. 13, 1879 and stated: Another of our honored and respected citizens has passed to the eternal shores. Mr. James McLaney, on Tuesday last, passed peacefully away, and, today (Wednesday) will be interred at a spot of his own selection near his residence in the southeastern part of the city.

An account of the death of Mrs. McLaney was given in The Troy Messenger

on Nov. 19, 1891. The obituary read: There was a most distressing accident in Troy last Saturday night, resulting in the death of Mrs. Margaret McLaney, widow of Mr. James McLaney, a former well-known Trojan. Mrs. McLaney, who was bent under the burden of age, being nearly eighty years old, in some way fell into the fire and was fatally burned. She died on Monday and the next day was buried by the side of her husband on their residence lot fronting Brundidge Street. A good woman has gone to her reward in the great hereafter.

No one knows how long the graves of the couple were maintained.

Margaret Reeves Jones lived in the house next to McLaney homeplace and remembers playing around the tombstones as a child.

"We would play hide-and-seek and the tombstones made great places to hide," Jones said. "I remember they were between the two chimneys of the house and about 12 feet away. I can’t say exactly where they were, but I can say within a few feet."

Jones recollections served as a guide for the McLaney descendants when the issue of cemetery abandonment surfaced.

John Phil McLaney Jr.’s research of the McLaney family history has revealed some interesting information about his great-great-great grandparents.

"All of their children, nine of them, were named after presidents, generals and other great military leaders," he said. "That tradition continued until my generation. My name ‘Phil’ is a derivation of ‘Filmore’ who was one of their sons and, of course, Millard Fillmore was our 13th president."

McLaney said a biography of the couple’s son, Henry George, by Joseph Wheeler McLaney gave him insight into the spirit and spunk of Margaret Mariah Melton McLaney.

At the close of the Civil War, Union Calvary soldiers demanded a place to stay on the family’s property, which at that time was at Farriorville in Pike County.

"She (Mrs. McLaney)

met them on the front porch and said, ‘You are welcome to camp in the grove but you are not taking over my house without a fight and the first man that puts his foot on my porch, be he private or officer, will be shot.’" McLaney said. "According to the biography, the officer stood for a few moment confronting her and finally said he would respect her wishes."

The tombstones of this brave lady and her husband were, at some point in time, blown down by a storm and were later rescued from a pile of rubbish and placed under the house on South Brundidge Street until around 1975 when they were rediscovered, McLaney said.

The headstones were later moved to Carter Cemetery at Briar Hill.

The question now is whether the remains of James Madison McLaney and his wife Margaret will be left at rest on South Brundidge Street or moved to another final resting place at Briar Hill.

McLaney said he has his preference, but he’s not sure about the wishes of the other descendants of his great-great-great grandparents.

However, according to Alabama law, the fate of the couple will lie in the hands of the property owner who will make the final decision as to whether to abandon the cemetery or leave the remains of James and Margaret McLaney undisturbed in their ‘garden plot’ on South Brundidge Street.