Jeff McElroy’s Story and Comparison of Clark and Lewis Monuments

“A walking historian”

A month after the Jerry Garrett interview for the article about William Clark’s monument, Jerry took Jeff McElroy on a full cemetery tour that concluded at Clark’s gravesite. It should be noted that Jeff, 61, was on his own Lewis and Clark expedition. His adventure became a 10,247-mile auto excursion from his home in Sequim on Washington’s Olympic peninsula to Marathon in the Florida Keys. In Marathon, Jeff, a retired boat captain, visited his daughter Jasmine.

During an expedition of his own that took him to Lewis and Clark sites and afforded him the opportunity to paddle his canoe in the same rivers used by Lewis and Clark, Jeff McElroy took a tour of William Clark’s monument with Jerry Garrett. “He’s a walking historian of Lewis and Clark,” Jeff says about Jerry. “He knew the answer to every question I asked.”

Jeff’s journey took him to Lewis and Clark sites and afforded him opportunities to paddle his kayak in the same rivers traveled by the explorers.

As with Jerry’s background story about how traveling and reading fostered his interest in Lewis and Clark, Jeff’s story reflects one of innumerable paths that can lead people to the story of Lewis and Clark. In Jeff’s case, his daughter Jasmine launched his interest.

As a young student, Jasmine did a school project about her favorite hero, Sacagawea of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Jasmine’s interest led to visits with her father to Fort Clatsop and created in him an enthusiasm for the expedition.

Jeff says the two-hour tour with Jerry Garrett was a highlight of his trip. “It was spectacular,” Jeff said in a telephone interview for this article. “Jerry has so much knowledge. He’s all about history. He’s a walking historian of Lewis and Clark. He knew the answer to every question I asked. When we drove around the cemetery and saw all of the monuments and mausoleums, he talked about how some of these people were directly or indirectly involved with William Clark.”

Comparison of Monuments

During his journey, Jeff visited another historically important gravesite, that of Meriwether Lewis along the Natchez Trace Parkway near Hohenwald, Tennessee. Lewis died there, at age 35, on Oct. 11, 1809, as he traveled by horseback toward Washington, D.C. The mysterious cause of death—either murder or suicide—is often a major topic of discussion when Lewis and Clark aficionados gather together.

Charles Wilson Peale's portrait of Meriwether Lewis

Charles Wilson Peale’s portrait of Meriwether Lewis

The Lewis monument is a sharp contrast to Clark’s grand shrine. In 1848, the Tennessee legislature provided $500 to build the monument in a field that is now part of the small Pioneer Cemetery. Gravesites there are marked by tiny flat metallic squares unobtrusively sunken into a grassy lawn—all, that is, except Lewis’ monument. It is the main visual feature in the graveyard.

Unlike Clark’s monument, the tribute to Lewis is simple in style. There is an unadorned circular column that has a broken top to represent a life cut short by an untimely death. Nearby is a historical marker of modest size.

Lewis’ gravesite seems to be more of a place to stop for a break while driving along the Natchez Trace Parkway. In comparison, Clark’s monument is a destination site that can be challenging to locate. Without stopping in Bellefontaine Cemetery’s headquarters to learn directions to Clark’s monument, a first-time visitor might end up driving around, endlessly searching. The Clark monument blends in with the cemetery’s many exquisite memorials.

The Lewis monument in Hohenwald, Tenn., during a ceremony honoring the explorer

The Lewis monument near Hohenwald, Tenn., during a ceremony honoring the explorer

“The juxtaposition of the two gravesites is incredible,” Jeff acknowledges. “Clark’s monument is spectacular and the Lewis grave has broken statuary.” He says this with the knowledge that the broken top of the Lewis obelisk was done on purpose.