Paris’ Evergreen Cemetery is an approximately 100-acre resting place for some 40,000 souls, and has a history as rich as the verdant grounds located at South Church Street and Jefferson Road. Founded by charter in 1866 by some of Paris’ most influential personalities including George Wright and Sam Bell Maxey, it was established in response to the growing needs of the city, expanding beyond the resources of the city cemeteries. The original cemetery was composed of only 16 acres, sold to the cemetery association by George Wright for the sum of $320. When it was chartered, it had already had a history as a family cemetery, and since that original land sale, it had grown exponentially through grants and sales of land. However, even with the 40,000 interred, it’s expected that the cemetery can easily continue at its present size for some 150 years.
The oldest known grave in Evergreen dates to 1861. At one time, the cemetery was home to a center pavilion and a greenhouse, where members were able to grow their own plants for adorning the graves of loved ones. Today, Evergreen Cemetery is best known for the evocative headstones, elegantly carved tributes to the loved and lost. They are emblems of history, art, and a window into the lives of the interred and their families. Gustave Klein, interred there himself, carved many of the early, exotic headstones located in the older part of the Cemetery. Among these are a variety of angels, both winged and not, young and old, each carved with a care and elegance rare in the crafts of the modern world. There are also plants; leaves, ivies and broken trees. Perhaps these are a testament to the love of the natural world that someone once had. As well, there are anchors and chains, a carved newspaper front page, a variety of sheep, and a resting buffalo. The most famous of these headstone effigies is likely the twelve-foot statue of “Jesus in Cowboy Boots,” a take that involves Jesus bearing a cross with boots peeking out from under his robes.
The names of those buried at Evergreen read like a history of the area and city, and the grounds provide a sort of lush splendor for an eternity of rest. Evergreen Cemetery is open to the public, and art classes from local Paris Junior College sometimes take trips to create artistry based upon the local flora. It’s open from sunrise until sunset, seven days a week.