King Solomon of Kentucky
I have a passion for travel, especially to remote, exotic places like Tibet and Burma. But sometimes travel-worthy sites with an intriguing story can be found closer to home . The other day I visited Lexington National Cemetery. Located in the middle of downtown Lexington, the cemetery houses the graves of several generations of Lexingtonians, including Henry Clay, and is the final resting place of soldiers from several wars. King Solomon is also buried there.
Solomon was a white vagrant who supported his drinking with wages earned as a digger of cisterns, graves, and cellars. In the spring of 1833, as punishment for his vagrancy, Lexington officials put Solomon up for sale as a slave for one year. He was bought by Aunt Charlotte, a slave brought to Lexington, KY in the late 1700s. After her owners died, Aunt Charlotte was freed and inherited property. She supported herself by selling fruit and baked goods at the open market. She and Solomon had known each other in Virginia. Aunt Charlotte bought Solomon for $13, outbidding two medical students who wanted to invest in a future cadaver.
Aunt Charlotte set Solomon free, but he managed to get liquor immediately. After drinking his fill, he made his way back to Aunt Charlotte's home where he passed out on a Thursday. He woke on a Saturday to find that many had died or were dying of cholera. Those who could were evacuating the city. Aunt Charlotte was preparing to leave, but when Solomon refused to go, she stayed also. People were dying quicker than they could be buried, since the grave diggers were among those evacuating. Solomon found his shovel and began digging holes to bury the dead. His dedication probably prevented further spread of the disease. Both Solomon and Charlotte survived the epidemic.
When Solomon returned to court at the end of his year of slavery, the judge shook his hand, and others thanked him for his heroic deed. He died in the poorhouse in 1854. In 1908, a large tombstone was placed at his grave. No one knows what happened to Aunt Charlotte.
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For more see "King Solomon of Kentucky" in Flute and Violin and other Kentucky Tales, by J.L. Allen; and "King Solomon, Heroic Gravedigger" in Offbeat Kentuckians, by K. McQueen.