Music teacher’s grave marker a grand piano mausoleum

Published on Sunday, 8 June 2014 22:52 - Written by EMILY GUEVARA eguevara@tylerpaper.com

Just inside the entrance of Tyler’s Rose Hill Cemetery, off of South Donnybrook

Avenue, a piano mausoleum marks the grave of Dr. Madge Ward.

Dr. Ward’s name is inscribed on the grand piano’s music rack with her birth and death dates — Aug. 22, 1911 and May 4, 1995 — inscribed on the left and right sides of the piano’s fall board.

The mausoleum, which caused some controversy at the time of its installation, serves as a reminder of a woman who spent her life using her musical abilities to entertain and teach.

“She was a very remarkable young music teacher,” Tyler resident and historian Mary Jane McNamara, who knew Dr. Ward, said. “She taught public school music for a while. She was a very, very lively person, interested in everything.”

A Centenary College graduate, Dr. Ward received a master’s degree from Southern Methodist University, studied at Fon-tainebleau in Paris and received a doctorate from Southern College of Fine Arts in St. Louis, according to her obituary, which ran in the Tyler Morning Telegraph.

The Cherokee County native served as a Tyler public school music teacher, but also used her talents in other ways.

In the early 1940s at the age of 30, she moved to New York City to work for a publishing company.

There, she served as manager of the Fine Arts Concert Bureau where she led piano workshops and prepared learning materials, according to the obituary.

She later performed one-woman shows at dinner clubs while under contract with MCA and American Broadcasting companies.

The Artists Corp. of Milwaukee, Wisconsin also awarded her a lifetime performing contract, according to the obituary.

Throughout her life, she graced the stage at hotel grand openings, resorts and on cruise ships.

Her entertaining and show business took her around the world. Something she did close to home was her time spent as special services director at Camp Fannin, the World War II infantry-replacement training center, about 10 miles northeast of Tyler.

In that role, she was on call 24 hours a day and was responsible for providing activities for the soldiers, according to an article in the Chronicles of Smith County,

Texas published by the Smith County Historical Society.

She worked at Camp Fannin for three years from March 1943 to

March 1946.

“I had the sponsors from neighboring towns and even bigger cities bring their groups of girls to the service clubs to socialize, dance, and be good friends,” Dr. Ward wrote in the article. “New groups of soldiers came and went constantly. They were shipped out when they finished their basic training in the camp.”

The soldiers came from varied backgrounds. Some were from small communities and had minimal education. She described them as homesick, na￯ve and lonely. They always were ready to sit and talk to her.

In contrast, some soldiers had much education, many skills and professional experience in the business world. These soldiers helped her work with the other ones, she wrote.

Upon finishing her work with Camp Fannin, Dr. Ward resigned from the Tyler Public Schools and transitioned to full-time entertaining and show business, according to her article in the Chronicles of Smith County, Texas.

Ms. McNamara said Dr. Ward talked to her about saving money for her piano mausoleum.

Ms. McNamara said the city and cemetery officials were unsure if they should allow the mausoleum.

However, it was allowed and ultimately became somewhat of an attraction for people.

“Tourists came from all over (the) U.S. and outside the country” to look at it, Ms. McNamara said.

The mausoleum is listed on the website WeirdUS.com, which touts itself as “Your Travel Guide to America’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets.”

The piano measures 8 feet tall and 13 feet long, according to an article by Tom Simmons in the book “Final Destinations: A Travel Guide for Remarkable Cemeteries in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.”

It weighs 25 tons, with the addition of 12 tons of concrete in the foundation, according to Simmons’ piece.

Dr. Ward’s casket lies under the piano legs, Simmons writes.

Coldspring, a company that designs and makes mausoleums and other memorials, has a picture of the piano on its website. Coldspring describes it as a piano mausoleum with white granite base and keys.

Ms. McNamara said the mausoleum stands as a reminder of Dr. Ward, who she described as outgoing, willing to do anything and generous.

“Every time I drive by and I look at it and think, ‘Well, Madge, honey, you won. You are right in the limelight where you always loved to be.’”