Sanders Garden Memorial Cemetery in Hollandale, Mississippi.
In the Delta, the elemental world where survival reigns supreme and ashes to ashes and dust to dust truly means something, the earth took back on February 6, 1983, a friend it raised 84 years prior. Through the feelings of loss, the overriding sense of respect leaked out in the late 1990s, much like the sunlight peeking through the clouds in the overcast Delta sky. On March 14, 1998, the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund dedicated a memorial headstone for Sam Chatmon at Sanders Garden Memorial Cemetery in Hollandale, Mississippi. Over two hundred people attended the dedication ceremony at the Hollandale City Auditorium. The marker read “Sitting On Top of the World” and included an inscription by MZMF founder Skip Henderson. It was funded through the generosity of popular musicians Bonnie Raitt and John Fogerty.
Blessed with beautiful weather, the graveside service was a “pleasant one,” according to one observer. The Hollandale Fire Station hosted a subsequent reception in honor of Chatmon. With an abundance of food, including a cake in the shape of a guitar, the festivities included the screening of a film about the blues singer, a display of mementos relating to his life, several speeches of family and friends, and a live performance by Leland-based (Wilmot Born!) bluesman Eddie Cusic. Superintendent Howard Sanders said that while he knew Chatmon throughout his life, he “never looked upon him as a celebrity. I guess people at home all take things like that for granted. I had the opportunity to sit with him and talk about his music and his travels on several occasions. He was really a role model for the community, but he was never looked on as such. “I can remember that people from England and other countries would come to Hollandale and spend days with him, talking about his music. He was really well respected for his expertise in the blues.”
The first headstone for Sam Chatmon in 1998 contained a misspelling, but we managed to correct it and made it unnoticeable. Over time, however, the misspelled word became more and more noticeable, which required periodic correction. The cameo of Chatmon on the top of the marker also became a vague, dark square. It deteriorated significantly over the next seventeen years due to lawn mower damage and the unforeseen effects of erosion on the flat stone. The intense amount of weathering rendered the etched photograph of the musician unrecognizable—more like vanished in the dark black space.