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As everyone knows, Robert E. Howard and his parents are buried in Brownwood’s Greenleaf Cemetery. The cemetery is located on Highway 377 just south of Howard Payne University. It is named for Greenleaf Fisk, the founder of Brownwood. Fisk donated the land for Greenleaf to the city and is also buried in the cemetery.
On June 14, 1936, Robert and his mother Hester were buried side by side in plots located not too far from the cemetery’s entrance. Some eight years later, Isaac joined them, reposing next to Hester.
It is common knowledge that Robert bought the adjoining plots several days before his death. But is that indeed the case?
All known accounts of Robert being the purchaser of the plots likely arose out of these two paragraphs from Isaac’s letter to H. P. Lovecraft, dated June 29, 1936.
I buried both in the Greenleaf Cemetery at Brownwood, Texas. I selected caskets exactly alike. He had purchased a burial lot a week before this happened. This was in a restricted portion of the cemetery. The purchase carried with it a perpetual up-keep.
When he bought the lot, he went to the Sexton and wanted to know if it was a bonafide contract and if it would be taken care of. He said to the Sexton “I want to know if the lot will be kept in order. My father and I will go away and never come again. Mr. Bass, the Sexton, was under the impression that he contemplated something in which we would all go, but he did not expect to kill me, but knew the shock would kill me. He was careful to keep nurses and doctors around me, but no doubt I would die from shock … (corrected for spelling)
I wanted to verify if what Isaac wrote was indeed fact, so I contacted Vonne Cornett of Friends and Relatives of Greenleaf to see if she might be able to locate any records associated with the plots. She obtained this index card from the business records of Greenleaf Cemetery that records the transaction and subsequent updates for the Howards’ burial plots.
As shown above, Isaac is listed as the owner and purchaser of the plots and the perpetual care. The three burial plots were paid for on June 14 and the perpetual care was purchased on July 12.
I suppose an argument could be made that Robert picked out the plots several days to a week before he died, but I just don’t see that being an option. If he was going to the trouble of leaving his dying mother’s side and take half a day driving to Brownwood to buy burial plots, he would have bought and paid for them while he was there. Remember, according to Isaac, Robert expected him to drop dead from the shock of losing both his wife and son on the same day. If that scenario had played out, then who would have been left to pay for the family’s burial plots? Clearly, Isaac was the person who actually paid for them.
But why would Isaac tell Lovecraft that Robert bought the plots when it is apparent that he purchased them after Robert’s death?
As the newspaperman Maxwell Scott put it in the classic John Wayne western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
Isaac was doing a bit of legend making himself by embellishing the details surrounding Robert’s death. Much like his son, Isaac was doing some of his own exaggerating and storytelling in his letters to perpetuate a vision of Robert and the events of June 11 that best benefited him.
In the weeks and months following Robert’s death, Isaac destroyed Robert’s will, which left everything to his friend Lindsey Tyson. He also contacted Farnsworth Wright and submitted two stories, one of which was supposedly finished minutes before Robert shot himself. In fact, both stories (“Dig Me No Grave” and “The Fire of Asshurbanipal”) had been written years earlier and Robert had not completed a weird tale in nearly a year. Since Weird Tales owed him in excess of $1,300, he had shifted gears, submitting his yarns to markets that paid on time. Isaac also aggressively went about collecting the money Wright owed Robert and filed papers with the probate court in Baird naming himself executor since Robert died intestate (or so he told the court).
Howard scholar Patrice Louinet focuses in great detail on these actions and other aspects of Isaac’s behavior following the deaths of Hester and Robert in his “Grief & Greed?” essay, which I highly recommend. Also, both Rob and Brian have written about Greenleaf here on the blog.
Of course, we can never be 100% certain if Robert had anything to do with choosing the burial plots, but given the index card from Greenleaf Cemetery, it is evident that Isaac made the actual purchase. In the end, this is just another piece in the complex puzzle that is the life of Robert E. Howard.