Oak Hill Cemetery, Evansville, IN

A Gypsy Funeral - History

by Kenneth McCutchan

"Ken McCutchan is a life-long resident of Vanderburgh County, Indiana, descended from pioneer families that entered the area in the early 1800s. He is veteran of WWII, having served with Army Corps of Engineers in both North Africa and Europe. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English Composition and Modern Language from the University of Evansville, a certificate in French Language and Culture from the Sorbonne in Paris, and an Honorary Doctor of Letters Degree from the University of Southern Indiana. His other books include: The Adventures of Isaac Knight, From then Til Now, Saundersville, An English Settlement, At The Bend in the River, and Dearest Lizzie. Mr. McCutchan's books may be purchased at Willard Library in Evansville, IN."

The burial of Elizabeth Harrison on April 1, 1896, brought out one of largest funeral gatherings ever seen in Evansville .

She was the was the queen of a tribe of Romany Gypsies that had emigrated from England in the mid-19th century. Mrs. Harrison died in November 1895, in Corinth, Miss., and her body was shipped to Evansville to be placed in the holding vault in Oak Hill Cemetery until her tribe could assemble from distant parts of the United States to attend the last rites.

As about 50 Gypsies began to arrive in their colorful wagons, they pitched their camp at Lake Park. A sort of picnic grove just off Harmony Way on Evansville’s West Side.

Early on the day of the funeral curious crowds began to gather to watch the caravan pass along the route from the campgrounds to the cemetery.

A newspaper reported that inside Oak Hill Cemetery more than 6,000 people awaiting the arrival of a procession.

Strange stories had been circulating throughout the city concerning how the funeral would be conducted. One rumor persisted that there would be a ritual burning of her wagon at her gravesite. This did not happen. Actually the ceremony was quiet and dignified, probably much to the disappointment of the assembled sensation seekers.

Four and a half years later, on Christmas Eve, 1900, the body of Isaac Harrison, the Gypsy King, was buried beside his wife. Today , those graves are marked by a tall, impressive granite obelisk.

Harrison had been tragically killed at Martin Station Ala. by a misdirected bullet while trying to break up a fight between his two sons, Harry and Richard.

People have asked , "Why did the Gypsies come to Evansville to bury their dead?"

At one time, Isaac Harrison and his bother-in-law owned a substantial piece of real estate north of Diamond Avenue on Evansville’s North Side, in the vicinity of Pigeon Creek and Stringtown Road. For a brief period the Harrisons lived in a large Victorian-style that once stood on the 500 block of Olmstead Avenue.

When that area was plotted off for a subdivision call the Stanley-Burbank Addition in the late 1920s. Stanley Avenue was named for the Gypsy Adam Stanley. He, too, lies buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.

Othe members of the tribe have been buried here as recently as September 1967. The present generation no longer roams the country, as they did in the old days. Now they are all settled permanently in various parts of the South and longer call themselves Gypsies.

Copyright ©2005 by Fred Kelso, all rights reserved.

Fred Kelso has done "a little research" on the Harrisons, a Southern "Gypsy" group with a burial site in Evansville, Indiana. Here is a link to an online article, and I have attached specific data on the burials. I also have census data on many of the clan if you're interested in that.

Detailed Harrison Burial Records (this is a huge file!)
Browning Database
Map of Cemetery Burials
1900 Census record Naylor HARRISON, possibly one and the same as the King of the East Coast "Gypsies", in Morris Co. Born about 1844.
1910 Census record Naylor Harrison

A Gypsy Funeral - History  (off site)

Submitted 17 May 2005 Copyright ©2005 by Fred Kelso, all rights reserved.

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