A Conversation with Kathleen Driskell
What was the most striking piece of history you encountered when researching for Next Door to the Dead?
I’m interested in lots of history, American history, and the South, in particular, and couldn’t believe my luck a few years ago when Harry Girdley, a trustee of the Mt. Zion and a descendent of the church founders, dropped off The History of Mt. Zion Evangelical Church and Cemetery as Told through Documents and Deeds with Latest List of Burials, a book he researched and compiled with his sister Frances Christina Girdley Barker. Over the years, I had tried on my own to do a bit of research on the property, but as the church was nonprofit, I could find no tax records that established its origin. I regularly cornered folks visiting the cemetery, but memories were foggy and conflicting. Harry’s book provides deeds, church minutes, and burial records that have proved endlessly fascinating. I learned, finally, the church building we live in was dedicated in 1859. And for over a decade, I’d been taken with a brushy corner of the cemetery next door where I’d discovered four primitive-looking nubs of stone seemed placed haphazardly. It was only through Harry’s records that I learned they were the markers of a “slave family.” Much is still unknown about that family—did they die as slaves or were they a freed family?—but a bit of that particular mystery is filled in, and continues to engage my imagination.