PUNTA GORDA — John H. Bowman, marshal of Punta Gorda, sat in his chair — the very chair in which he was sitting when he was shot through the window by an unknown scoundrel.
His blood-spattered shirt bore the evidence of the horrific crime for eternity. By his side stood his wife and little daughter, Betty, whom he had held in his arms at the time.
Mary Seward Sandlin dusted the graves of her children, including 14-year-old Mary Leah, who died from severe burns when her kerosene iron exploded. Meanwhile, Mary Seward asked all who passed by, “Have you seen Bessie?” That daughter’s grave is mysteriously missing.
Nearby, Thelma Johnson wrung her hands and searched the ground for her two-carat diamond ring. She’d gone boating with her fiancé and another couple when the boat was said to have capsized.
She and her fiancé, an Olympic-caliber swimmer, both drowned. When her body was found, however, the engagement ring she had pinned to her dress was gone, and so was the other couple.
These and other characters from Punta Gorda’s early history came to life Saturday night at Indian Spring Cemetery to tell their tales. Some died in tragic accidents, like Katie Sloan, who was eight months pregnant when she was mauled to death by dogs while walking in the street.
Or little Georgie Bryant, who died while on a walk with his parents near the ice house and a 600-pound beam fell on him.
“I come here every night to read him his favorite stories,” his mother said through her black veil.
This is the second year that the county’s second-oldest cemetery has “come alive” thanks to the Charlotte County Historical Center, its volunteers, board members and friends. Over 200 visitors bought tickets. The tours, which were conducted every 10 minutes and lasted an hour, were sold out for the night.
Proceeds fund the Historical Center’s other activities, like its Harry Potter Winter Wizarding Training Camp and special exhibits and speakers.
Not every spirit was morose, despite the surroundings. Though she died practically penniless, Virginia Taylor Trabue happily waited for her husband, Isaac, to join her for a game of chess.
“He often appears on nights like this,” she said.
Albert Gilchrist sipped a glass of wine and chatted amiably with 12-year-old T. Peabody McClain, the first to be buried in the cemetery. And Camilla Chadwick beamed as she declared, “I was delighted when my husband and brother developed Chadwick Beach and the dance hall.”
Some say she can still be seen collecting shells on what is now known as Englewood Beach.
“Big Six,” who ran a local brothel, gaily waved her fan despite the fact that at her death it was discovered she was male as well as female.
Mom McGraw, meanwhile, was curiously quiet. It was rumored, but never proven, that she had murdered her husband. “I’m not saying much about that,” she sniffed as she looked away.