Janice Williams

Tombstone Tuesday: John Valentine Lewis

In Gravestones, Tombstone Tuesday, Unity Ann Lewis on October 29, 2013 at 10:17 pm

This past Saturday I went on the Save Austin Cemeteries tour of the Oakwood Cemetery. It was a beautiful day to walk through a cemetery and hear actors and actresses tell stories of citizens that were murdered or had sad deaths.

But before I went there, I went to the cemetery just to the east, the Oakwood Annex. As far as I know, there is only one Cunningham family member buried in either of those old cemeteries:  John Valentine Lewis, Jr.  He was the son of John Valentine Lewis, the son of Unity and James Lewis. He, of course, was named after his famous uncle John Valentine Cunningham.

John V. Lewis married Gertrude “Gertie” Grindstaff in 1904 in Burnet. They made their home near Priddy in Mills County and then in Indian Gap in Comanche County. They had 5 children. The youngest was John Valentine Lewis, Jr., born in 1916 in Indian Gap.

I wish I knew more of the story of this family, and I am still  working on it. What I do know is that John Valentine Lewis Jr. died at age 21 in Austin of tuberculosis. When he died, he was living at the Austin State School and had been living there for 8 years (according to his death certificate) so since he was just 13. The State School at this time was primarily for mentally retarded individuals, so my assumption would be that he was developmentally disabled and his family moved him to the State School in order to be taken care of and get some sort of education. The school had a farm here in Austin and the boys lived and worked on their farm properties.

Two years after John Jr. had moved to Austin, his father died of tuberculosis at age 47. The family by then was living in San Angelo. I don’t know if they might have moved there because of his TB. He is buried in Newburg, but Gertie is not. I do not even know when she died, so she may have remarried.

John Valentine Lewis Jr. died in Austin of TB at age 21 and was buried in the Oakwood Annex cemetery. The State School had its own cemetery where many thousands of residents were buried, many with no marker or record. I make the assumption that the Lewis family must have bought a plot for him at the Annex cemetery.

Sadly, though, even though I knew clearly where he was buried (Section B-195, #7) there was no headstone for his grave. There are other graves around the area from 1937, too, so if there is any order to a cemetery (and there isn’t), people were being buried here in 1937. One grave near him is the grave of a 14-year-old newsboy who was hit by a car.

So there is no picture of the grave and no good picture of the cemetery gates or anything else to share with you this week.

John Valentine Lewis, Jr. born July 17, 1916 in Indian Gap, Texas. He died January 6, 1937, in Austin, Texas of chronic pulmonary tuberculosis.

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