More often than not, if you don’t live in a major city you always question people on why they liked your town as one to visit or move to. I can certainly say I feel that way about my home, Garland, Texas. If you look up things to do in Garland you’ll find suggestions of going to shopping centers, visiting parks and lakes, or maybe a water or trampoline park, so nothing special that you can’t do in most small cities. You have those options, or you could make the half hour drive to Dallas where there’s an assortment of science, art and history museums, and where you could also attend events such as concerts, conventions and festivals of all sorts. If you’re anything like me however, before you head to the big city, you might see if there’s any reportedly haunted locations you can visit. It’d be no surprise to find a cemetery on one of those lists, and just like any place, Garland does have their fair share of ghost stories, one of the most prominent ones centering on a man named Smiley in the Mills Cemetery. The name alone can give you chills, but if it doesn’t the details of the legend are sure to.
Growing up, it’s natural for children to tell each other scary stories, especially local ones. There are many versions of the Smiley story. When I first heard about the legend of Smiley I was told there was a grave in Mills Cemetery that held the whole Smiley family, who all died on the same day, when the father of the family murdered his wife and children, before killing himself. It was said that if you were to visit the grave at midnight on Halloween, and were brave enough to lay a top of it, you’d feel the sensation of someone trying to pull you under with them. Other versions of the spooky tale say Smiley roams the graveyard at night, causing trouble, and that if you even stand near or touch the Smiley tombstone you will feel ill.
What’s the truth behind the legend? Well, there is in fact a Smiley family grave that holds 5 members of the family who all died on the same day. However, their actual cause of death wasn’t a murder suicide, but a devastating tornado that killed 9-15 people in the Garland area on May 9, 1927. While Charles Oscar, Belle and three of the Smiley children were victims of the tornado, records indicate that they had two other children who survived and later lived with other family members. Yet, even some people who don’t entertain the murder part of the legend still believe the angry spirit of Charles Oscar Smiley haunts the cemetery and people who visit the grave because he is angry that a road was built through where his house once stood. On one blog post about the legend, a family suggests that if any visitors feel an angry presence, it’s simply because Smiley is upset about the lies spread about his family. Becky, who has visited the site, doesn’t believe the nasty rumors, and claims to have communicated with the Smiley family spirits through flashlights, saying they were “sweet”.
Sadly, the family has also reported several instances of vandalism to the grave site. While it’s fun to entertain these scary stories, in this case we need to keep in mind that that’s all this is, and that there are no merit to the claims of Smiley killing his family, and to be respectful in this resting place. If you are interested in seeing the grave for yourself, you can visit Mills Cemetery, located near highway 66, just off of Centerville at 1952 Commerce Street in Garland, Texas. According to the Find A Grave website, the Smiley headstone is in an area to the right of the front gate, and many people who have visited say it is very easy to find.
In 2016 the Mill’s cemetery was designated a Historic Texas Cemetery by the Texas Historical Commission. The cemetery was part of 640 acres of land a colonist, Edward C Mills received in 1847. Originally meant to be a family cemetery after his wife, Elizabeth passed away in 1854, Mills soon let neighbors bury there as well. In 1925 Garland cemetery was built next to Mills cemetery and eventually the two cemeteries were thought of as one, and are now maintained by the Garland Mills Cemetery Foundation. (Flook)
Flook, Jerry. Mills Cemetery receives historic designation and photo, https://thegarlandtexan.com/mills-cemetery-historic-designation/ July 21, 2016
Brown, EJ. Photo of tombstone. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/10171689/charles-oscar-smiley