It’s been nearly a century since former Paris Mayor Frank Balfour McNeill was buried in an unmarked grave at Paris City Cemetery, and more than a decade since his daughter, Frankaline McNeill, was laid to rest beside him in a likewise unmarked grave.
On Saturday, both wrongs will be righted as headstones for both father and daughter will be officially dedicated by the Henry County Cemetery Committee in a ceremony at 1 p.m. Saturday at the cemetery.
It’s an event that’s a long time coming, according to Stephanie Tayloe, Cemetery Committee president.
Born about two years after the end of the Civil War, McNeill was elected Mayor in 1930 at the age of 63, as the South and the rest of the country were mired in the Great Depression.
McNeill, who was a wealthy man, was instrumental in bringing a badly needed industry — the Salant & Salant garment factory — to Paris, providing many critcally needed jobs in the process.
“He brought the shirt factory here, and he insisted that women and men were paid the same salary,” Tayloe said. “You know, back then, women were not paid as much as men. And insisted that black women be paid the same as white women. They did the same work, and he said they should be paid the same. He was ahead of his time, and he was a fair honest good man who brought work and helped to improve the life of people black and white during the Depression.”
Those achievements were eclipsed however, when, one year into his term, he married a 15-year-old girl 48 years his junior named Myrtle Pauline Clark. On Oct. 22, 1932, the McNeills welcomed a daughter, named Frankaline. When she was barely 16 months old, her father died at 67, and her mother promptly abandoned her, Tayloe said.
“He left an estate worth over $30,000,” Tayloe said. “Well, in the Depression, that would be worth close to a million. One week after he died, (his wife) married a filling station attendant, and took off to Clarksville.”
Repulsed by his conduct and disgusted by his widow’s behavior, his family buried him in the family plot, but never purchased a headstone. For years, only a small headstone with the initials F.B.M. and a footstone marked his final resting place.
Tayloe isn’t sure what became of McNeill’s widow, or who raised the couple’s daughter.
What she does know that by the time Frankaline McNeill reached old age, the money was gone, forcing her to live on public assistance.
Mary Burns, Henry County Chancery Court clerk and master, eventually became her legal guardian. When Frankaline died at age 77, she was laid to rest beside her father —her grave likewise unmarked.
The Cemetery Committee, which is funded largely by donations, tried to raise money for a stone, but were unable to. Thankfully, Burns was able to locate a small amount of money still in the estate, which was enough to pay for two headstones.
On Saturday afternoon, both father and daughter’s stones will be dedicated with remarks by Tayloe, a program about McNeill’s life by Ray Harding, and a wreath-laying by Susan Stewart.
The 13 Paris mayors buried inside Paris City Cemetery will be honored, and all living former mayors have been invited.