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William Woodson Hendree
Buried: Live Oak Cemetery Division C Lot 73E
"The Boy Poet of Selma"
Graves in all three city owned cemeteries in Selma are being individually evaluated to determine if they are being taken care of or if they’re in need of repairs. As we go through this process we stumble across many unique circumstances. The Boy Poet of Selma, William Woodson Hendree, is an interesting example. This newspaper article from 1890 by JEAN VAUEAN is so strikingly true even today when she wrote “at last they all sleep together in that decaying vault in the Selma cemetery” referring to the Hendree family in Live Oak Cemetery. The pictures show the condition of this vault today. It appears that it was repaired on one or more occasions after her article but is in sad condition again. Cemetery Preservation Group will try to restore and preserve this historic resting place using period materials.
I hope you enjoy her article as much as I did.
The Weekly Advertiser
29 May 1890, Thu • Page 9
“J.E. HENDREE FAMILY. For The Advertiser. Last Sunday a week The Advertiser contained a memoir of William Woodson Hendree, of Selma, the only poet the Central City of Alabama, famous for its literary accomplishments and its orators and men of letters, has ever produced. In the limited space allowed, much that was interesting much that touching was of necessity omitted and the sketch with many imperfections and many broken joints was given. But as incomplete as it was the public mind has been awakened to a fresh interest in the life and works of the child genius who has slept for nearly twenty years in the cemetery at Selma, and The Advertiser has received some inquiries about him and his work as a sign of wakening interest. Woodson Hendree as he was known to the school children of I860 and later to the lads and girls of 1870 resembled in the sad tragedy of his life and in his work, his prototype, Thomas Chatterton and had he lived in Chatterton's day he would have achieved a fuller measure of that fame that was so justly his due. That the idle, languid youth who was unsophisticated enough to find a charm in every bank of violets and whose heart-strings were attuned to Nature's chords, possessed the feu sacre, the true fire of genius, Selma would not have believed; that this boy, he was scarcely more than that, had stored away down in the depths of his soul a wealth of song and fancy, why that was preposterous! Here was a strange contradiction. A heart thirsting and pining for encouragement too timid to ask for it! But the world never will understand or appreciate the disposition of the poet, or the artist. Eighteen hundred years of civilizing influences have not yet taught how those possessed with the divine afflatus, can be sensitive! Poets are expected to proclaim their genius from the street corners like your modern scissors-grinder and if they don't auction off their wares they are forgotten. Woodson Hendree has been almost forgotten. I say almost advisedly for In a few faithful hearts his songs still echo and the light of his genius still burns; After his tragic death in July, 1872 Dr. and Mrs. Hendree awoke for the first time to the full realization of the genius of their dead son. So carefully had he concealed his work that they had not known of a single production. In fact they did not know he had ever written anything until too late to give him that loving encouragement for which he had thirsted so long! But what they then could do they did. Alf of his stray contributions to friends and the press, little sonnets and fancies written on the fly-leaves of books or the backs of envelopes were all faithfully transcribed and compiled into a neat little memorial volume. The collaborators left nothing undone to make the little work complete. - The edition thus printed under the personal supervision of his parents has long since been exhausted and not a copy can be obtained now. From it, however, is taken what was considered, ' his own story of his life told with a pathos that bring tears to eyes of those familiar with his history. He was truly....
CROWNED TOO LATE
Long time ho stood beneath a cloud of sin
And wrong and sorrow still upheld by pride
And he grew wasted, hollow-eyed and thin
With toil without and lighting fierce within.
And bowed himself down into the dust and died.
"Long time the fury of the storm he braved
"And 'gainst its rudest peltings rburied his breast,
"And thrusting from his lips the cap he craved
He cast away the joys he might have saved
Till weary of the strife he sank to rest.
"Stern and unyielding to the very last.
He hurled defiance to the wintry sky
And struggling madly with the bitter blast
He scorned the future and ignored the past,
And caring not to live he dreaded not to die.
No woman's love was his, no man his friend.
He stood alone upon the sands of time,
No other love or life with his did blend,
Sufficing to himself even to the end,
In nature proud, in intellect sublime!
Unloved, unloving passed he on his way
Stern, haughty, careless of his mighty strength
Still working onward to the better day,
Unaided and alone until all prone he lay,
Stripped of his glory in the dust at length.
And then the world his mighty genius found,
And all conspired his pean loud to raise
And his cold brow with deathless bays they crowned
Ana shouted out his name with such a sound
That all the earth re-echoed with his praise.
A strange fatality pursued the Hendree family. In the close of the seventies Mrs. Hendree died very suddenly in Atlanta, Ga, of heart disease, leaving Dr. Hendree, the father of the poet, to fight the rest of the battle alone. This poor, broken-hearted man, with the snows of many winters on his head, and a load of grief in his heart, could no longer live in Selma, and so moved his residence to Dixie, a little station on the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Road, about forty miles from Selma. There he pursued the even tenor of his life for several years, and in the peace and quietude of that rustic community, he tried to find a balm for the sorrow gnawing at his heart But one Sunday morning while at church with his heart lifted to God in prayer, his spirit was lifted too, and joined those of his family. They found him thus, in the attitude of prayer, with bowed head between his hands. . He was the last of them. "The whole story of the Hendree family, here but briefly outlined, is pathetic. They all died suddenly, without any warning, and at last they all sleep together in that decaying vault in the Selma cemetery.” by JEAN VAUEAN.
Thanks to all who are helping support our efforts in Selma,
Cemetery Preservation Group, Inc.