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A BIT OF HISTORY PRESERVED
By Marshall McClung
Several residents of the Atoah community and others have been busy recently doing their part to see that some local history is kept intact at the Metz Cemetery. The headstone for the grave of Viola Metz, the first person to be buried there, had fallen and broken, and was barely readable. Thanks to concerned residents, the stone has been cleaned, re-lettered, and reset in concrete and stone. The stone is beautiful and a fitting tribute to the person the cemetery is named for.
Metz Cemetery got its start as the result of the tragic death of a heartbroken young girl. Viola Winnona Metz was only 15 years old when she died. I was born and grew up in the Atoah community and lived less than a mile from her grave. I spent quite a bit of time as a young boy in and ·around the cemetery. Billy Corbin, Jack Gregory, and I would ride our bicycles up the steep hill to the top of the cemetery, "walk the pedals" back down the hill to see how far we could coast without pedaling again. God must have had our guardian angels on the job, for I don't ever remember looking to see if a car was coming as we entered the highway.
The fact that this girl died when she was young like us did not escape me. It made me realize at an early age that death held no respect for age, that I was as subject to die as the elderly folks in the community. I was curious as to why she died so young and began to ask questions. I was told she had taken her own life over being in love with a boy. I decided that love must be a serious thing if it could make you take your own life. At the time, I was so shy around girls that I could hardly imagine even talking to them, let alone falling in love with one.
Down through the years, and even more lately, I picked up more information on Viola Metz. She was born April 7, 1872, the same year that Graham became a county. She lived in a large two story house with a big evergreen tree in the yard. The house stood on a small hill near the present home of Ethel Garland. The cemetery overlooks Viola's homeplace a short distance away.
Viola fell in love with a young man named Johnny Ammons. For reasons unknown, Viola's parents objected to Ammons and forbade the couple to marry. One Sunday afternoon, Johnny came by Viola's home on horseback. Viola told her parents "I am going to marry Johnny." The reply was to the effect "No you are not." Viola turned and went upstairs. Sometime later, they heard Viola moaning and groaning. They rushed upstairs to find that she had poisoned herself with strychnine. In a short while she was dead. The date was July 3, 1587.
Sometime after her death, the Metz family moved west. One account says Arizona, another Oklahoma. Why they moved is not certain. Perhaps saddened and heartbroken by the loss of their only daughter, they wanted to get far away. Viola remained in their thoughts, though, for they had colorful stones shipped back here and mounded on her grave. The stones have long since disappeared. It is said they were carried off over time by different individuals as souvenirs.
While working on this story, I visited Metz Cemetery and walked among the graves. I chose a time for this when no one else was around. It was quiet and peaceful. A gentle breeze was blowing, comforting after the hot day. As I read the different headstones, it was like taking a walk back into my childhood. There were familiar names: Eller, Wiggins, Mcclung, Orr, Garland, Rogers, Campbell, Hice, McRae, Bridges, and Hyde. I had known many of them personally.
In addition to redoing the Metz headstone, a beautiful sign has been erected at the entrance to the cemetery. There had been no sign before. Earlier a gate had been installed due to problems of people using the cemetery for a lover's lane. Helen Bridges and Ruby Orr who have husbands buried in the cemetery purchased the gate. Douglas Campbell and Maurice McClung installed the gate.
John Ralph Edwards did the block and rock work on the sign and headstone. Pearlie Hice, Helen Hice, and Lynn Stewart were involved in making the nice wood sign. Betty Corbin worked with design and coordination of the project. Richard Brooks, Eddie Stewart, Kenneth Eller, Joe Lewis, and James Lewis helped in ground preparation. Daniel Stewart and Cedar Cliff Baptist Church gave some used carpet backing for a weed barrier. Clifford and Helen Bridges will donate azaleas. Ruby Orr, Janice Millsaps, and Jerry Orr worked at various jobs during the project. Atoah Freewill Baptist Church sponsored the project along with other outside donations. Jean Taylor of Taylor's Greenhouse and Jan Rogers and Jerry Carver of the Lawn and Garden Center provided flowers and materials at reduced prices. People passing by while the work was going on stopped with cold drinks and words of encouragement during the hot weather.
The workers summed it up by saying they thanked all these for their support but first thanked God for giving them the means and opportunity to do this work for the community, the loved ones already at rest with Viola Metz, and the ones who will share this place in eternal rest.
Thanks to the hard work and dedication of these people, a young girl who died so long ago, even though her family is long gone, will be remembered and take her place in history:
WINNONA A. METZ
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