Smiley, A Texas Ghost

Quiet, peaceful Mills Cemetery - by day
In the city of Garland, Texas, which just happens to be my hometown, is a creepy ghostly legend. Mills Cemetery, located on Commerce St. 1 block from the intersection of Rt. 66 & Centerville Rd., was established in 1860. Within this cemetery is an individual grave, a mass grave which holds all 5 members of a single family. It is well known locally as “Smiley’s Grave.” The poor, unfortunate members of the Smiley family all died on the same day and they share a moderate-sized individual tombstone which reads; Smiley – Mother Belle Hall, Oct. 30, 1890; Father Chas. Oscar, Mar 17, 1890; Daughters Lilath Merle, June 20, 1914; Greeta May, Oct 27, 1915; Charlena, Feb 20, 1926; All Died May 9, 1927. A family of 5 all buried in the same grave and all died on the same day? That fact alone begs an answer to the question of, ”What the hell happened?”

But maybe not so peaceful in 
the dark hours
The story goes that Smiley was a mean man; a very mean man. One dark, overcast day, for reason or reasons unknown, Smiley became a very angry mean man. So angry that in his rage, he killed his wife and three daughters. A short time later when his anger subsided and he realized what he had done, he hung himself in remorse.

The Smiley Family headstone
Mills Cemetery is peaceful by day; well maintained with lots of shade trees. After dark however, that is not the case. It is said that Smiley is still mean and still angry; so angry at what he did to his family and to himself, that his ghost roams this restless cemetery each night looking for someone to take out his anger on, another person to take down with him. There are sounds in the cemetery at night if you listen for them - a barely perceptible moaning sound as of wind through the trees even when there is not a breath of air flowing; footsteps on dry leaves when nobody is moving; twigs snapping when you are sure nobody else is there. Some have seen strange lights bobbing around that cannot be explained. And it is said, if you stand on Smiley’s grave in the dark, a sense of sadness will overcome you; you will have trouble keeping your balance and you may feel a cold puff of wind around your ankles. For those brave enough, or perhaps foolish enough, on Halloween at midnight, if you lay on Smiley’s grave, you will begin to feel pressure on your chest, a pair of cold arms encircling you, and it will be hard to rise up – you will begin to struggle and scream in terror as Smiley tries to pull you down into the very depths of hell with him.

The mass grave of the unfortunate 
Smiley Family
Nobody alive today knows the facts for sure. Some claim the whole family was killed in a tornado that ripped through Garland on May 9, 1927. Research reveals that indeed, a tornado tore through Garland, killing at least 9 people, including Garland’s ex-mayor. However, the Smiley family is not listed among those killed. Another story is that a developer in the area wanted to build a road through Smiley’s property, but Smiley would not sell to him. Trying to force his hand, the man intended to burn down the Smiley residence one night when the family was away visiting relatives. However, their plans changed at the last minute and they all perished in the house fire he set. It seems nobody knows for sure so perhaps the murder/suicide story is true after all. And perhaps, just perhaps, angry, tortured Smiley really does wander the cemetery all night, every night; looking to add another innocent victim to his family’s mass grave.

Grand Granite Grand

Tyler is a small, pretty city in east Texas. There’s a lot of roses grown around the area. If you buy a rose anywhere in America, there’s a good chance it either was grown in Tyler or was processed in Tyler. It has a beautiful public rose garden which you shouldn’t miss if you find yourself in the area, and hosts the fun Texas Rose Festival each year. It is known as the “Rose Capital of the Nation.” In 1985, the International Adopt-A-Highway movement originated in Tyler when the local Civitan chapter adopted 2 miles of U.S. Hwy 69. It is the home of at least 4 Miss Texas winners, a Miss America winner, Sandy Duncan, the actress, Dooley Wilson, famous for playing Sam in the movie Casablanca, Earl Campbell and numerous other professional athletes, musicians, actors, and Kelley Thompson, Playboy Playmate for the month of November, 2009.

Even though I was born and raised in and around Dallas, Texas, I’m not fond of cities. I try to stay away from cities. Too much traffic, too crowded. If I’m driving on a road wider than 2 lanes, then it’s because for some unavoidable reason I’m in a hurry or there isn't another way to get from here to there. Tyler is a city, but it is an exception to my rule. You see, my son and grandson live there. Plus there's some mighty good Bar-B-Que joints in Tyler so I go there as often as I can.

So why am I telling a story of Tyler? Because Tyler is also home to a story I like; a story about a person who was a little weird, a bit eccentric – right up my alley.

Madge Ward was a life-long player of the piano. She never obtained celebrity-hood during her 83 years, but she managed to make a good living taking her 1-woman show around the country to resorts, hotels, clubs and on cruise ships. She entertained the troops in World War II and when she wasn’t on tour, she taught children how to tickle the ivories. She had an interesting life, but relatively speaking, not that many people outside of her family really noticed or gave her a lot of thought.

Madge passed away on May 4, 1995 and was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery. Very soon after, lots of folks took note of her. As a matter of fact, she started a small war of words among the citizens of Tyler.

You see, a year before her death, she commissioned a Tyler memorial builder to design a gravestone that symbolized the love, the passion she had held with the piano her whole life. The result was the largest single-person monument in the cemetery; an 8-foot tall, 25-ton granite grand piano mausoleum, inside of which Madge will spend eternity. The price tag has never been revealed, but Madge told a few people she had saved for 35 years to afford it. Poor Madge never got to actually see it before being laid to rest in it. She saw pictures and drawings, but it was so big, the local maker couldn’t handle the job so it was actually cut outside the state and shipped to the cemetery shortly after her passing.

A good number of the movers and shakers in Tyler didn’t appreciate such a grand monument being in Tyler’s largest cemetery, which just happens to be the resting place for their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, the movers and shakers during Tyler’s earlier days. Seeing as how Madge had made her living as a ”B-list” entertainer didn’t help. But there was no law or even a cemetery rule against it and the grand granite Grand still remains.

Today, Rose Hill gets a lot of visitors, many of them stopping by to see the piano headstone of Madge Ward. Locals bring their out-of-town visitors to see it, people from around the country stop by, even tour buses cruise through and stop for their passengers to take pictures. Madge was an entertainer in life and, in Tyler, she’s still attracting an audience, even in death.