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Food Among the Flowers: A Haunted History of a Former Funeral Home

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Food Among the Flowers
formerly Bartlett-Burdette-Cox Funeral Home

Several months ago, Spectral Research and Investigation was approached by April of The Charleston Ghost Tour Company to help investigate a ‘virgin’ location—a location right here in Charleston, West Virginia that had never before been investigated. Of course, we jumped at the chance, and made arrangements to meet with April, Gerry, and several other members of his staff to work out the logistics of a full-scale overnight investigation.

Walking into the location, I was already enthralled. From the outside, its a beautiful old building, and it’s big, but I don’t think you can really appreciate just HOW big until you really start to explore the maze of corridors and rooms that make up the two stories plus basement. Built on the west side of Charleston (Elk City District area) around 1930, the building began its life as Bartlett’s Funeral Home, later to be known as Bartlett-Burdette-Cox Funeral Home. Currently, the location is home to Food Among the Flowers, a florist and event planning/catering business. 

I have to give a shout out to Gerry and the rest of the staff at Food Among the Flowers. This is an awesome local business. If you’re planning a wedding, a graduation, or any other big event that needs food, flowers, or any other type of similar service, give them a call! If you need a beautiful bouquet of flowers sent to a loved one for any occasion, give them a call! If you’d like your home or business professionally decorated for the holidays, they can do that, too.  They do beautiful, professional work, and are just awesome people to boot. Plus, their showroom is just a really cool place to browse. Sprinkled among the tasteful silk floral arrangements and upscale lawn and home goods are hilarious, cheeky little gifts that are perfect for family and friends…or as a special treat just for you. Anyway….

From that initial meeting, we knew this location had a lot of potential. In fact, as we were standing around talking, we heard the distinct, disembodied sound of phantom keys jingling down an empty back hallway! We learned that we weren’t the only ones that had heard that, or similar sounds. Footsteps, items shifting, jingling sounds, were common, as were other minor occurrences such as two swivel chairs in the main first floor work area rotating on their own and stopping like they were facing the person talking. There was also some talk about the sound system being played with, as if the potential spirits in the buildings didn’t quite care for certain choices of music.

The elevator that always took one employee to the basement,
whether or not that’s where she wanted to go or not!
To the right is the shelf where Baby Grace’s body was
said to have awaited burial for so many years.

Overall, the activity described was not mean, scary, or malevolent in any way, although it could be a bit unnerving at times. We were told that one member of the staff hated using the elevator because even though she’d push the UP button to go to the second floor, it’d inevitably take her down to the dark, creepy basement where the old body storage units were found. Activity seemed to peak when the staff was staying late, and seemed more concentrated on the right side of the building where the living quarters/apartment section is located. It was described almost as if someone was watching them and knew that it was past hours, and therefore, time to be heading on out for the evening. 

As stated, this location WAS a funeral home from around 1930 all the way up until 2016 and I think the first inclination for some people is that, wow…that’s creepy. OF COURSE A FUNERAL HOME WOULD BE HAUNTED! But would it be? According to ghost lore, most ghosts tend to haunt places that meant something to them, such as where they lived or where they died, or even where they spent a lot of time (such as places they worked, or places they really enjoyed visiting in life). Why would they want to stick around with their bodies? There are a couple of theories that say its possible that the soul would stay with the body for a set period of time, or perhaps indefinitely if it had nowhere else to go…so what type of ghosts could possibly be haunting THIS location? That’s what SRI, joined with Charleston Ghost Tour Company and Mountaineer Paranormal set out to find during our investigation in late May. 

And one of the first stories we concentrated our research and investigation on was the tragic tale of Baby Grace. As the story goes, some time around the 1950s or so, the body of a baby girl was left on the steps of the funeral home. There was nothing left with the body to identify who the little girl was, or who her family had been. As with any other unclaimed body, the funeral home processed her as normal…but there was one difference. Generally, when an unclaimed body was brought into an area funeral home, it was processed by that funeral home and sent for burial at Charleston’s Spring Hill Cemetery, which had a ‘pauper’s cemetery’ section laid out for indigent individuals. For whatever reason, this baby girl’s body was embalmed, laid out in a little coffin, and put upon a high shelf in the basement. 

Bruce Bartlett, original owner and founder
of Bartlett-Burdette-Cox Funeral Home

There she stayed, on a wooden shelf, right by the staircase, until 1996, when John ‘Sonny’ Cox, the owner, sold the business to Stewart Enterprises (which later became Service Corporation International). Cox stayed on as the funeral director, but under the business’ new ownership, the staff was told that Baby Grace, as the little infant was now known, would finally need to be laid to rest. Supposedly, it was now time for her to take her place among the other unknowns in Spring Hill Cemetery. It’s a heart-wrenching story, and those with knowledge of the tale are adamant that the story is exactly as described. Unfortunately from a documentation point of view…we just can’t verify it. 

Sadly, there were a LOT of newborn babies found abandoned in the Charleston area, especially between the 1930′s (onset of the Great Depression) and the 1960′s (when most of the online records cease to be available). Going through the state archives, there are just pages after pages of unknown infants, many of them found thrown in the Elk River and the cause of death being hemorrhage due to the umbilical cord not being properly clamped. Several of these babies were brought in to Bartlett’s, but the death certificates all state they were promptly buried in Spring Hill. There is no mention of any NOT being buried, or any actually being found on the steps of the funeral home itself. Nor is there any publicly available record of such a burial in or around 1996 at Spring Hill. So, although we cannot say the story didn’t happen, we can’t prove as of this writing that it did. 

This 2nd floor apartment wing was the site of much
activity during our investigation. Motion-activated ‘cat balls’
continuously went off without any known source of provocation.

There’s another unfortunate story connected to the funeral home, one that happened rather recently. In 2016, there was a mix up. Two women, passing away around the same time, were ‘misidentified,’ and the body of one ended up being shown at the funeral for the other. Despite protests from the family that the body in the casket was not who it was supposed to be, she was put in the grave meant for that other woman. The mix-up was finally acknowledged and proven, and of course the funeral home was sued by both families. That same year, Mr. Cox decided to retire as funeral director, so both factors inevitably led to the Bartlett-Burdette-Cox Funeral Home being shuttered for good. 

Those two cases by themselves could theoretically be fodder for some hauntings, but to do our due diligence, we have to look at ALL scenarios. Based on the feelings of the staff and the concentration of activity in the apartment area, could the ghosts of the building be from those who worked and/or lived there? To learn a little more about that, we had to take a look at just who owned the building. 

The land that now sits at 513 Tennessee Avenue was acquired by Bruce E. Bartlett in 1928 for the purpose of building a stately new funeral home. Bartlett had come from a family of funeral directors, and had been in business since 1918 on the East End of Charleston with a man named Boyle. The new West Side funeral home was finished around 1930, with Bartlett serving as funeral director until the early 1960′s. He passed away in 1965, but his predecessor, Garnet Frank Burdette had already purchased the business…but not the building. The building actually remained in the Bartlett family until 1981 when John ‘Sonny’ Cox purchased the building. Cox had already been working there for years, and had purchased the business in 1976, right around the time Burdette passed away. These three owners/funeral directors were the main faces of Bartlett-Burdette-Cox, but they were joined by Harold Meadows, M.C. “Dugie” Tatum, and a host of other employees over the years.

Advertisement from 1974

Any number of these employees probably spent a great deal of time at the funeral home, working late into the wee hours of the morning, and probably spending more than a few overnights in the apartment wing of the building. It is interesting to note, however, that NONE of the buildings owners ever actually lived full time in the building with their families. Each owner maintained a separate private residence in another part of town. So, we speculate that the multiple bedrooms were either for those employees who were tasked with being ‘on-call’ or who had to work too late to make the drive home worth it…or perhaps as one newspaper ad from 1936 would suggest that those rooms were sometimes rented out to the public. There is a separate entrance on the side of the building which allows access to this section of the building. Could one of these former employees still be looking after the building that for so many years bore his name? It seems very possible, as throughout our evening the majority of the activity WE experienced on our investigation was concentrated on the second floor, especially in the area where the embalmings took place, and the hallway of the apartment wing. Most notably, we had quite a few odd noises picked up, and quite a few times where motion-activated ‘cat balls’ went off on their own. Personally, I felt extremely drawn to the stairway leading from the apartment wing to the outside exit, and as I was standing at the top of those stairs, our guest investigator who was conducting an Estes Method listening experiment stated that I should ‘go down there.’ 

Because of the experiences WE had, the potential evidence we caught, and the majority of activity reported by the clients, I feel inclined that there is a strong connection between the activity at Food Among the Flowers and the people associated with the daily operations of the funeral home. But, again we wouldn’t be doing our due diligence if we didn’t go back even another level…and take a look at the history of the location BEFORE the funeral home was even built. 

The pre-1930 West Side of Charleston was an interesting place. Prior to the Civil War, that entire area was home to several large plantations, including one named Edgewood owned by the James Carr family, and we do know that there was some minor troop movement probably directly through the area where the building now sits. Starting in the 1870s, however, is when the area begins to break up into individually owned plots of land, and the little town known as Elk City would be born. 

The crew prepares for our investigation!

In 1870, J.B. Walker moved to Charleston, West Virginia and began rapidly buying up land west of the Elk River, including land belonging to the James Carr family. He turned around and sectioned the land off, selling this particular plot to William Reveal in 1877. The land was in the Reveal family for ten years until it was sold to the James and Mary Cox family.  It was also owned by the Holians and the Higginbothams, before finally coming into possession into to Mr. Bartlett.  And, according to the Sanborn Fire Maps that are available, we know that at LEAST as far back as 1893, there was a private residence on the property–a two story wooden dwelling. Research is always an on-going endeavor, but as of this writing, I haven’t found any significant events involving any of the families that owned the property previously that would make me suspect that we were in contact with them, or did we? Messages about a fire, or being burned kept coming through. Similar feelings of heat, or suffocation, or other things that could be associated with a fire kept popping up. What happened to that wooden dwelling? Was it simply torn down to make room for the new or was it destroyed by a fire at sometime between 1893 and 1912 when we have confirmation from available Sanborn maps that it stood on this corner? 

Spectral Research and Investigations has just begun to scratch the surface into this fascinating piece of Charleston’s history, and we’re hoping that we will have many more opportunities to come in and gather evidence and continue to compile historical documentation which will let us share the stories that have been hidden among its walls for 90 years. We’ve already had a wonderful opportunity this past weekend, to rejoin Charleston Ghost Tours and Mountaineer Paranormal, along with teaming up with Haunted Beckley and Amber’s ParaWorld for a unique public event! Dining with the Departed: The Wake of Baby Grace offered patrons an eventful evening of delicious charcuterie, complimentary psychic readings, the premier of SRI’s evidence compiled into a feature-length video, tours of the building, ghost stories, and of course, a chance to break into groups a do a little hands-on ghost hunting! 

If you missed out on that opportunity, don’t worry…SRI’s episode of Locked In: The Wake of Baby Grace at Food Among the Flowers, a film shot mostly by, and produced entirely by SRI videographer Kaysee Brabb, has officially been made public on our YouTube page! And…I wouldn’t be too surprised if you see this location pop up as the venue for future public events. Stay spooky, everyone…and make sure you check out the links below to support the many people who pulled together to make this investigation and subsequent public event a reality. Stay spooky, ya’ll. 

Links of Interest:

Food Among the Flowers Blog by Brian Clary, SRI Founder (SRI Official Website) (Facebook)

Locked In: Food Among the Flowers Video by Kaysee Brabb (SRI YouTube Channel)

Food Among the Flowers Blog by Austin Stanley, Mountaineer Paranormal (MP Website) (Facebook)

Food Among the Flowers

Charleston Ghost Tour Company (Facebook)

Haunted Beckley 

Amber’s ParaWorld (YouTube Channel)

Sources: (Complete list coming soon!)

Glenwood Chronicles PowerPoint Presentation (PDF)

Elk City Historic District National Register Nomination Application (PDF)


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