Written by Terry Zawacki
Towards the back of Elmwood Cemetery (Block 1st Alley East, Lot 45, Space 14), lies a small headstone. The name is almost completely worn away after 124 years. This unassuming headstone would be overlooked by those not knowing the tragedies associated with the tiny body that lies beneath. It belies its former glory as a remembrance to a three-year-old child, Marie McKay.
Marie McKay was born on May 1, 1890, the only daughter of Hugh and Nannie McKay. They were married in 1889. Hugh was from Scotland and his occupation was listed as “clerk.” Nannie was born in Virginia.
Marie was known as “The Strawberry Girl,” attributed to her love of them. Her father was very proud that he was able to procure the fruit in early spring. Sadly, Marie fell ill after eating them on a Thursday, and passed away early on Sunday morning, March 26, 1893. The Norfolk Death Register listed her cause of death as “gastritis.” So very tragic that something considered to be a minor illness today would cause her demise.
Her obituary stated that “she was a remarkably bright child for her age, and was loved by all who knew her.” We can only imagine how devastating her loss would have been to her parents. As a loving tribute to Marie, her parents had a beautiful marble statue placed on her headstone. It shows Marie with a head full of long, flowing curls, and she wears a little cross on her necklace. She is holding her skirt and she gazes down at it filled with roses, the Victorian symbols of love, beauty, the brevity of life, and “promises unfulfilled.”
The statue continued to be a remembrance to Marie until June 1996, when it was noted to be stolen. After a bit of time, the statue was found at a home and garden store in Portsmouth, and lovingly returned to Marie’s grave. Imagine the appalling news that Marie’s statue was AGAIN STOLEN in 2001. It has never been recovered, and the McKay family descendants have chosen not to replace it.
Unfortunately, it is quite common for cemetery art to be stolen and sold to unscrupulous salvage dealers. The statues are broken into pieces to make molds for cheap concrete copies. A NSCC historian has reported that copies of Marie’s statue have been spotted all along the Eastern Shore to North Carolina.
Marie lies today between her parents, Nannie and Hugh. How wonderful that we have photographs of her beautiful statue to remember her by. I have to thank Marie and her story or introducing me to the magnificence of Norfolk historic cemeteries and the great work that is needed to preserve this wonderful heritage.