Friday, October 28, 2005

Here Lies Eliza Poole

After a long hiatus, I've returned to occasionally jog in Tower Grove Park, a Victorian-style walking park laid out in the 19th Century on the original estate of Henry Shaw, who also donated the land for the nearby Missouri Botanical Garden, commonly referred to by St. Louisans as Shaw's Garden.

In his will, Shaw, an early mercantile mogul, specified that "colored" people, who were then still slaves, be prohibited from using the park. That part of his last wishes is obviously no longer honored, but the quasi-public park is still governored by an independent board of governors who oversee park policies and maintenance of the land.

The narrow parcel between Magnolia and Arsenal runs for a mile and a half, from Kingshighway on the west to Grand Avenue on the East. Its rolling landscape was long ago planted with a wide range of trees, including Ginkos, Osage Orange and Sweet Gum, to name a few.

Among the mysteries harbored in the park is the tombstone of Eliza Poole, which can be found in the southwest sector in a grove of trees that allows dappled sunlight to filter through in autumn. According to the carved stone, Eliza died in the 1870s, if memory serves me right. Instead of "rest in peace" or some other typical inscription the word "oak" was chiseled above her name. Perhaps it's not a grave marker at all, but a monument to a tree named in Eliza's honor. But nowadays there is no oak tree by the stone.