There’s a pink elephant grave stone in Mary Love cemetery that has sparked curiosity and speculation in the community for years.
The grave belongs to Joseph Mitchell, who was born in 1904 and died in 1969, according to cemetery records found online.
Some people believe the gravestone was erected by the late Elizabeth Beacham Mitchell, as a final monument to her husband’s drunken escapades — during which he was “always seeing pink elephants.” Mrs. Mitchell is reported to have been a Hamlet native.
Others have heard that Mr. Mitchell was a steadfast Republican, and that the elephant was his favorite symbol because it’s a symbol of the party.
“I know where that grave is,” said Felicia Rheault, of Rockingham. “I used to walk through the cemetery just to see it, when I was a kid visiting my friend who lived near there. I heard that the man’s wife said he drank so much he saw pink elephants, and so that’s what she put on his grave.”
Meridith Holt, who works for Walker Marketing and promotes tourism in Richmond County, did some digging and came up with the real meaning behind the unusual headstone that has caught the attention of many over the years.
“I researched the grave and sculpture through Myrtle Bridge’s (web) page on Mary Love Cemetery, official cemetery records and old newspaper articles,” said Holt. “Articles in the Salisbury Post confirmed that Cohen Ludwig was the sculptor.”
Through her research, Holt discovered that “the most widely accepted version is that Joseph Mitchell was a die-hard conservative Republican, and the stone was his final wish. The trunk is lifted upward because it’s apparently a symbol of good luck.”
Holt learned that Mrs. Mitchell commissioned Ludwig to sculpt the elephant, and chose pink granite because she believed it to be the “hardest of all stone, able to withstand age.”
Although pink granite is not actually the hardest of all stone, the legend surrounding the sculptor of the piece will certainly withstand time.
Cohen Ludwig was a noted master carver, and is perhaps best known for his contribution to the completion of the confederate memorial carved into the side of Stone Mountain, in Georgia.
According to the memorial’s website, stonemountainpark.org, the sculpture that depicts Confederate President Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee and General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson is the largest relief sculpture in the world. It measures 90 by 190 feet, and is surrounded by a carved surface measuring three acres.
A profile of Ludwig in a 2011 edition of the Salisbury Post lists some of his other well-known sculptures as including: “The Woman at the Well” at Wittenburg Lutheran Church in Granite Quarry; the “Christ on the Wall” rendering for the Shiloh Reformed Church Educational building; and other works at the Rowan Memorial Park.
A 2003 article from the same publication noted, “The most unusual piece Ludwig made was a headstone for Joseph W. Mitchell. The headstone was that of a pink elephant. Mitchell was a committed conservative and requested the Republican Party symbol for his headstone.”
The website ncgenweb.us claims to have a news clipping from the Hamlet News Messenger, date unknown. The information on the page is said to be submitted by Diana Holland Faust.
The site states that Ludwig finished the sculpture in three months, but the uplifted trunk of the little elephant did nothing to improve the luck of the one who sculpted it. The sculpture was erected in 1970, and Ludwig died two years later.
The site went on to say that Ludwig told the widow that “finishing the job became an obsession with me, and I worked night and day on it,” and that she replied, “The monument was as perfect as if I had dreamed it.”
Holt called his death after finishing the “lucky” elephant ironic, and said that it was his last piece of artwork.
— Staff Writer Kelli Easterling can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 18, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.