Spooky in the City is a new series on Spooky Little Halloween. Each month Miranda will take you to a local haunt in Houston, her hometown, then teach you how to find similar spooky spots in your city, state or country!
Cemeteries and Halloween lovers seem to go hand-in-hand. Most of us can’t help ourselves – when we pass by a historic cemetery, we’re drawn to it. I love them for their quiet calm. And there’s something about wandering by each headstone, reading the epitaph and imagining what that person’s life must have been like.
If you weren’t looking for it, you’d never know it was there.
Olivewood is along I-10, an interstate that runs from Florida to California and right through downtown Houston, and sits right on the banks of White Oak Bayou. It’s hidden by a swath of trees, so you’d never notice it was there from the freeway, and once you’re on city streets, it’s set back behind a medical building – one I pass regularly coming and going from the Spooky Little Apartment to my parents’ house out in the suburbs.
While I absolutely believe cemeteries should be a bit hidden so those laid to rest are at peace, it can also mean these historic sites are forgotten as we build up around them.
And, unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened to Olivewood.
The cemetery is an important piece of Houston history: it was the first known cemetery for blacks and is the burial site of many influential African-Americans from the 19th century, including Reverend Elias Dibble, first minister of Trinity United Methodist Church; Reverend Wade H. Logan, also a minister of the church; James Kyle, a blacksmith; and Richard Brock, the cemetery’s founder and Houston’s first black alderman.
Brock purchased the land in 1875 and in 1877 he opened Olivewood as the first cemetery for black Methodists. Prior to its incorporation, Olivewood’s land had previously been used to bury slaves. (Texas slaves were emancipated just 10 years prior to Brock’s purchase of the land.)
According to the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance, burials continued at Olivewood through the 1960s. But sometime between then and the early 2000s, Olivewood fell into disarray. A victim of repeated hurricane damage, erosion given its proximity to the bayou and simply being forgotten, Olivewood looked more like an overgrown jungle than a cemetery.
In 2004, however, that all changed when Charles Cook and Margott Williams founded the Descendants of Olivewood, a nonprofit organization that began the long journey towards revitalizing the nearly forgotten cemetery.
Over the past 14 years, Olivewood has changed significantly. Its overgrowth has been tamed. Many of its headstones have been restored. There are even plans to build a cultural center.
But Olivewood still needs a lot of TLC. In a February 2018 interview with Houston Public Media, Charles and Margott both said the future of the cemetery depends on raising awareness and slowing erosion on its northern edge next to White Oak Bayou.
The day that I visited, I had the pleasure of meeting Margott who popped up to greet myself and Laura (@thehalloweencollector on Instagram) the moment we entered. She gave us a quick history of the cemetery, shared how their nonprofit is working to keep up the cemetery and even gave us a sneak peek of future plans, including Halloween cemetery tours.
In that same interview with Houston Public Media, Kacey French, an Olivewood volunteer, describes the moment she caught “Olivewood-itis”. The cemetery’s volunteers call their obsession with the cemetery this. They experience a moment when they visit, and it makes them want to come back again and again.
It’s a moment I experienced myself. As you walk the Olivewood grounds, you are amazed at the history and beauty of the property. Laura and I both commented how we wanted to repair so many of the fallen headstones.
I left Olivewood already wanting to return and learn how I could contribute to its legacy. I’ve already asked how I can volunteer. Olivewood is such an important piece of Houston’s history that must be preserved.
This headstone easily contains the most interest epitaph in Olivewood, noting that Reverand L.E. Jackson was murdered. Eek!
If the story of Olivewood has moved you, I encourage you to visit this page and donate to their cause. Even if it’s just giving up your morning latte or a lunch out, every bit helps!
How to find historic cemeteries near you:
Every city has historic cemeteries, and they may need your time and donations just like Olivewood. I encourage you to seek them out! Here are a few key phrases you can search with your city, state or country’s name to find cemeteries near you:
- historic cemetery/cemeteries + CITY/STATE/COUNTRY
- cemeteries in + CITY/STATE/COUNTRY
- CITY/STATE/COUNTRY + cemeteries
- cemetery volunteers + CITY/STATE/COUNTRY
- volunteer opportunities with cemeteries + CITY/STATE/COUNTRY
What historic cemeteries are near you?
Is your city, state or country home to a historic cemetery? I’d love to hear more about the ones near you. As always, share your story in the comments.
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