Mention Mollie Moon and many older Caddo residents will tell you a story that begins with “I remember sneaking out to see her…” One told me she ventured into the mausoleum when she was just fourteen. “I was too frightened to see much,” she said. “I remember a glass-covered casket, a lady with long hair. It wasn’t skeletal remains, but skin covered. Looked kinda like dried to the bone.”
Mollie Cox Moon, was the wife of successful Caddo businessman, William Judson Moon, who operated a large general store selling groceries, dry goods, furniture, and caskets. In addition to his own store he also constructed several properties that were leased by other merchants. By all accounts Mr. Moon was an enterprising, ambitious man worth over $100,000 and respected by his community.
In 1904 Mr. Moon had just started construction on a new hotel and went off to St. Louis on business. He often went on buying trips for days or weeks at a time, sometimes alone, sometimes with employees. While he was away Mollie committed suicide. What William did upon his return to Caddo became a legend … reported by newspapers nationwide and recounted by local residents to this day. In fact, for years Mollie Moon was an unofficial “tourist attraction.”
The standard version of the story is that William was so devastated by Mollie’s death that he had her remains carefully preserved, clothed her in her favorite dress, placed her in a $500 glass-covered casket, built a $2,000 brick mausoleum to protect her, and visited her daily. He even put her diamond rings and pins on her, and placed a gold watch on a chain around her neck. “You see, Grandfather Moon handled jewelry in his store and he always liked to see his wife wearing diamonds,” stated his granddaughter Valentine Moon Craig. (The jewelry was later removed by the family.)
At first Mr. Moon visited his wife to comb her hair and occasionally to change her clothes and shoes. Later a caretaker took over the task of protecting her remains. The mausoleum was open to the public, but after a rabbit died inside the walls Mr. Moon had a lock placed on the door. The caretaker continued to unlock it for people, but eventually vandalism forced Mrs. Craig to have it sealed; bars were placed on the windows and the door welded shut. Mrs. Moon hasn’t gotten much attention lately, perhaps because people think they know what happened to her, but the real story of her life and death remains shrouded in mystery.
Mollie and William married as teenagers and lived in Texas with his mother Rebecca Womack Childress Moon Cobb, according to the 1880 census. They had two sons, William and Oscar, before moving to Caddo sometime after 1887. The earliest mention of them in the Caddo paper is in 1899. By that time William was already established as one of Caddo’s most successful businessmen and had built a residence considered an “ornament to the neighborhood.”
What is curiously absent from the local newspaper is any mention of Mrs. Moon. At a time when the social activities of every leading family were chronicled weekly in the local paper, I can find no mention of Mollie Moon, with or without her husband. There are countless items about William and even a few about Will (William Jr.) and Oscar.
The only clues we have about Mollie’s personal life are found in statements made by her nieces, Carrie and Hattie, which were recorded by local historian Erma Taylor. Hattie stated that Mollie owned a beautiful surrey with two pretty Spanish horses and Hattie went with her to the “black springs” somewhere near Hughes Springs, Texas, to “pray for Uncle Moon.” “I think she was brave,” Hattie said, “She just married the braver one.” She also said that Mollie instructed her sons to “Never tell a lie. Never drink.”
The major newspapers that carried the story of Mollie’s death focused so completely on William’s unusual behavior that none bothered to question why his wife of 25 years committed suicide. The San Francisco Call reported that he was away on a hunting trip when Mollie died and because he could not be located, the neighbors buried her. When he returned, he appealed to some local women to help him dig her up and clothe her in a black dress he had given her as a birthday present.
But he repeated the gruesome act “again and again and again” until the white women refused to assist him and he was forced to hire “two old colored mammies” to help him. This report is totally at odds with one in the St. Louis Republic that states Mr. Moon was “called to St. Louis on a business trip, returned home three days later to find his wife “lying on the floor, rigid in death” and a bottle of “carbolic acid” on the nightstand. The article also says that she left a note saying God would forgive her and “be the judge between them.” It also mentioned that they had had some “domestic trouble” earlier and that Mr. Moon had returned from his trip with presents for her. The Washington Times stated, “There is a story that he had a serious quarrel with his wife.” The St. Louis paper reported that Mr. Moon had his wife interred in an ordinary grave for the two months that it took to construct the mausoleum and then had her transferred to the vault. The article goes into great detail about the construction of the vault and devotes four paragraphs to the embalming of Mrs. Moon, commenting that “the mummification is as complete as any the Egyptians ever accomplished.”
We will never know why Mollie Moon chose to end her life, but it is worth noting that William Moon recovered from his devotion to her and remarried in January of 1906. In June he placed his new wife, Pearl Bedtelyon Robinson, on the train without “necessary clothing to enable her to appear in a decent and respectable way” and sent her back to her family in Michigan. She later sued him for divorce, and accused him of “beating her and kicking her and using vile and opprobrious epithets towards and about her.” In 1910 he was found guilty of adultery with Lula Manning and fined $250. They were later married, but that’s a story for another day.
Rest in peace Mollie … if you can.
Mary Maurer is an avid Caddo historian who previously wrote an article on Gethsemane Cemetery.