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.