Monday, October 24, 2016

The ghost of Della Barnes

Della Barnes' truncated statue
PADUCAH, Ky.
     Della Barnes was a heartbreaker. One man gave her an expensive engagement ring, but she chose to marry another. The jilted man was so enraged that he cut off Della's ring finger, and she bled to death. 
     Or so the legend goes.
     The true story of Della's demise, as reported in the Paducah Daily Sun, is just as haunting. One summer night in 1897, Della told a friend that she didn't feel well and was going to take a dose of calomel, a mercury compound that is now known to be toxic but back then was used to treat various ailments. By accident, she swallowed morphine instead. Della went to bed and never woke up.
     The heartbroken man in this real-life tragedy was her father, Major George Barnes. A Tennessee native who remained loyal to the Union throughout the Civil War, he rode with the 12th Kentucky Cavalry in Stoneman's Raid and was mentioned in the New York Times for his leadership in the invasion of Boone, N.C. After the war, Maj. Barnes married 17-year-old Anna Robinson and became a successful coal merchant and city councilman in Paducah, a city on the lower Ohio River across from Illinois.
Della's original monument
     Della was born in 1874, when her father was 38. He had three other daughters (two grew up to marry and one died at age five), but Della was his darling, and after she died on June 27, 1897, he never got over it. To mark her grave, he commissioned an Italian sculptor to carve a life-sized statue of Della holding a rose over her heart.
     Over the next year, grief engulfed him, while his business failed and his debts mounted.
     On November 3, 1898, Barnes bought 30 grains of morphinethe same drug that had killed Della. That's enough to kill 10 men. To get so much, he had to go to two apothecaries, and he told one of them he needed it for a sick horse. Instead, he swallowed it all with a bottle of whiskey. Hours later when his family found him, they called the same doctor who had tried to revive Della, but it was too late.
     Barnes, 62, left a note written on paper that had wrapped the morphine, explaining that he had no domestic trouble, but that he took his life because of financial embarrassment and his grief over Della's death. He asked God to have mercy on his soul and take care of his little grandson.
      According to his obituary:
The deceased was a good, conscientious man, and highly esteemed by all who knew him. His friends were numbered by the hundred, and among them are not only his old comrades at arms in the Union army, but the men who fought on the other side as well, and for whom he always showed the highest regard and friendship.
      Major Barnes was buried in an unmarked grave next to Della in Paducah's Oak Grove cemetery.
     Today, Della's grave is barely recognizable. Her monument has disappeared, piece by piece. After vandals broke off her ring finger, people swore they saw the statue bleeding or crying. Then her head and torso disappeared. Now, all that remains is the marble foundation, decorated by flowers.
     But some people say ... if you dare to visit the cemetery at night on the anniversary of her death, you just might see Della's pale ghost walking the darkened paths through the old oak grove, clutching a blood-red rose over her heart.




Paducah Daily Sun, June 28, 1897
Paducah Daily Sun, Nov. 5, 1898



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