From the dead: Angels on the Bluff digs up more cemetery tales

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — Sue Burkhalter and Sam Jones, above, will portray Octavia Dockery and Dick Dana, two Natchezians that became famous for their involvement in the infamous “Goat Castle Murder.” They will tell their tale this weekend along with other actors during the annual Angels on the Bluff cemetery tour.

Raising the dead in Natchez isn’t as difficult as one might think.

In fact, the infamous stories of some of Natchez’s most well-known residents will soon be told by those who know the stories best during this year’s production of Angels on the Bluff.

Actors will portray people buried in the Natchez City Cemetery this weekend in the annual fundraiser.

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Sue Burkhalter will bring Octavia Dockery, also known as the “Goat Mistress,” to life.

Dockery and Dick Dana, who will be played by Sam Jones, rose to fame in Natchez after their involvement in the “Goat Castle Murder.”

The story goes, Burkhalter said, that Dockery and Dana were thrown in jail in 1932 for the murder of their estranged friend Jennie Merrill after Merrill’s body was found at Glenwood, or the “Goat Castle.”

The home, Burkhalter said, became known as the “Goat Castle” after Dockery began raising goats and chickens to support herself and Dana.

“The goats and chickens just took the house over,” Burkhalter said. “They were eating the books and stuffing out of the chairs. At one point, it was a really fine home with all of these furnishings that belong to Robert E. Lee.”

Merrill had reportedly shot and killed a few of the goats, Burkhalter said, so everyone suspected Dockery and Dana were responsible for Merrill’s murder.

But the two were never convicted.

“They could never get a jury together, I guess everyone in town liked us,” Burkhalter said as she spoke in character.

It was discovered that a man from Arkansas named George Pearl was actually responsible for Merrill’s death, and Burkhalter said when Dockery and Dana were released from jail they became an overnight sensation.

“People came in droves to the ‘Goat Castle,’ to see this dilapidated mess and the goats roaming around,” Burkhalter said.

For 16 years, Dockery and Dana charged 25 cents to come on the grounds at Glenwood and 25 cents to tour the “Goat Castle.”

Portraying Dockery, Burkhalter said, is a lot of fun.

“It actually says the ‘Goat Castle Mistress’ on her tombstone,” Burkhalter said. “All of the stories of Angels on the Bluff, they are all so fascinating.”

And this year organizers of the fundraiser have made some of the cemetery’s best stories available year round.

An Angels on the Bluff audio tour CD is now available, and Micki Hartley, who helped put the CD together, said the CD is something everyone in Natchez should own.

The Rev. Joseph Stratton, a longtime minister in Natchez, and the Turning Angel, the cemetery’s famous statue, guide listeners on a 22-stop tour of the cemetery.

The tracks on the CD match a map provided in the insert of the CD and feature stories from famous Natchezians including John A. Quitman, Don Jose Vidal and many more.

Hartley said the CD allows anyone wishing to tour the cemetery with its most famous residents to do so anytime of the year.

“Everyone in Natchez should have one of these for yourself as well as any out-of-town guest you might have,” she said. “It’s an available tour of Natchez’s most colorful history right there in your house or car. And it is certainly entertaining as well as educational.”

The CDs will be available at this year’s tours.

The tours will also feature:

  • A tribute to several soldiers buried in the cemetery who fought in the War of 1812.
  • Stephen Odell, a New York native who became one of the most successful gunsmiths in the region.
  • Margaret Stewart, who died tragically at 17. Actors will recreate the lavish funeral arranged by her grieving parents, Mr. and Mrs. William Percy Stewart.
  • Dr. Charles H. Dubs, Philadelphia-born Charles H. Dubs was a well-known dental surgeon in mid-19th-century Natchez.
  • Clarence “Bud” Scott, Bud Scott, a musician who led one of the most popular dance bands in the Miss-Lou in the early 20th century.
  • Second Lt. Aaron “Tip” Stanton, who served under General John C. Breckenridge, a well-known horseman in the Army of Tennessee.

Angels on the Bluff tours are Friday and Saturday. Tickets are sold out. Extra tours could be added if there is enough interest in tickets. Call 601-446-6345 to inquire about tickets.

For more information about Angels on the Bluff or to purchase an Angels on the Bluff CD or T-shirt, visit the Natchez Visitor Reception Center or call 601-446-6345.