A Grave for Great-Great Grandma: The Tragic Side-by-Side Burials of Willie and Eva Knight

Most people don’t even know one great-grandmother growing up, but I knew three of mine. My great-grandmothers died in 1973, 1997, 2003, and 2008. I was born in the 1980s, so the three great-grandmothers who were alive when I was born were more than just foggy memories from toddler-hood to me, they were women I knew. I was in my twenties when my mother’s mother’s mother passed away a few months shy of her ninetieth birthday.

The one great-grandmother I never knew at all was my maternal grandfather’s mother, Rosa May (Callaway) Lyons, the only one who died before I was born. I never even saw a picture of her (that I knew of) until I was about thirteen. I was staying with my grandparents for a summer visit, and Granddaddy–who worked as a printer and graphic designer for most of his life–had gotten himself a brand new scanner. He was touching up old photos when I walked into the den.

“Wow, she looks so much like mom. Who is that?”

“That’s my mother,” Granddaddy said in his dulcet Southern baritone, “so your mother looks like her.”

James Morgan Lyons and Rosa May (Callaway) Lyons, circa 1940s; digital image, January 2012, privately held.
James Morgan Lyons and Rosa May (Callaway) Lyons, circa 1940s; digital image, January 2012, privately held.

My mother remembers Rosa May, but only just, since mom was about eight years old when her Grandmama died. When I’ve asked my mom, or my uncles, or other family members about Rosa May–well, no one ever wants to speak ill of the dead, but the general consensus is that she had some…rough edges.

Maybe those edges started roughening up when Rosa May was ten years old. That’s when her mother died.

Rosa May’s mother, my great-great grandmother, Willie Elizabeth (Knight) Callaway died late in the evening on October 10, 1913 in Macon, Georgia.1 When news of Willie’s death reached her sister, Eva, in Mobile, Alabama the next day, Eva’s heart gave out and she died on October 11, 1913.2

My granddaddy was born in 1939, so he never knew his maternal grandmother Willie. (He never know his paternal grandmother either, but that’s a story for another day.) After we buried Granddaddy in 2012, I made a photo request for Willie’s headstone on Find A Grave. Dennis aka “Popeye,” a volunteer extraordinaire from Macon, Georgia, trekked out to Cedar Ridge Cemetery to snap a picture. Unfortunately, Willie’s grave wasn’t marked. Her husband, Rosa May’s father Lucian J. Callaway Sr. (L.J.), died in 1948.3 There was a blank in-ground slab to the left of L.J.’s marked grave, and Dennis supposed that Willie most likely rested beneath it.4

In late 2016, my Grandma gave me a big ol’ pile of paper and scraps that Granddaddy saved from his mama’s house when she died. Aside from the photographs, about half those bits of paper are related to Great-Grandaddy Lyons’s work on the railroad, or his time in the Navy during WWII. The other half is mostly related to the dirt track racing careers of Buddy and Foggy Callaway, Rosa May’s ne’er do-well rum-running big brothers (another story for another day). But amidst all the ephemera about the menfolks, there were two small newspaper clippings:

By the time they came down to me, these clippings were over one hundred years old. The clipping on the left is fractional, but the list of surviving siblings is intact. Of particular importance to today’s story is Mrs. J.W. Best, aka Jessie Knight, sister of Willie and Eva.

Like most genealogists, I often correspond with distant cousins from time to time. One of those distant cousin penpals is my second cousin, twice removed: Jessie (Knight) Best’s granddaughter, Glenda, who worked with Dennis aka “Popeye” to place markers on Willie and Eva’s graves in 2017, over a century after their funeral5,6:

And so, over one hundred years after their tragic, almost simultaneous deaths, Willie and Eva’s final resting places will speak their names for as long as the stones remain un-weathered and unbroken–all thanks to Glenda, the grand niece who never knew them, and to Dennis, who who watches over Cedar Ridge Cemetery.


1. Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/85962482/willie-elizabeth-callaway : accessed 1 March 2018), memorial page for Willie Elizabeth (Knight) Callaway (1875-1913), Memorial no. 85962482, created by Margaret C.; citing Cedar Ridge Cemetery, Macon, Bibb County, Georgia; accompanying photographs by Dennis “Popeye” Roland.
2. Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/89503258/eva-mae-liles : accessed 1 March 2018), memorial page for Eva May (Knight) Liles (1885-1913), Memorial no. 89503258, created by Eileen Babb McAdams, managed by Glenda Smith; citing Cedar Ridge Cemetery, Macon, Bibb County, Georgia; accompanying photographs by Dennis “Popeye” Roland.
3. Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/35252310/lucian-josiah-callaway : accessed 1 March 2018), memorial page for Lucian Josiah Callaway (1872-1948), Memorial no. 35252310, created by Dennis “Popeye” Roland, managed by Margaret C.; citing Cedar Ridge Cemetery, Macon, Bibb County, Georgia; accompanying photographs by Dennis “Popeye” Roland.
4. “Popeye” to Margaret C., 4 March 2012, Find a Grave member message, privately held.
5. Glenda Smith to Margaret C., 15 Feb 2018, Find a Grave member message, privately held.
6. “Popeye” to Margaret C., 28 Feb 2018, Find a Grave member message, privately held.