HISTORY MYSTERY: The mystery gravestone at Marler Memorial Cemetery

H. C. “Hank” Klein
Gravestone of Edward M. Knapp – 1871-1910

The Marler Memorial Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in Destin. It was founded in 1868 when Leonard Destin buried his 10-year-old son, William “Willie” Destin, on a plot of inland ground 200 yards east of his home.

All of the earliest families to settle Moreno Point (East Pass or Destin as it later became known) are laid to rest in the Marler Memorial Cemetery. One early gravestone stands out as not related to either the Marler or Destin families or any of the other early settlers.

The gravestone of Edward M. Knapp is the second tallest gravestone in the cemetery – the only gravestone taller is that of Leonard Destin, the founder of Destin. Just who was Edward M. Knapp and why is he buried in the Marler Memorial Cemetery? That is our History Mystery for this month.

Edward Knapp’s story is interesting and shows just what a tight-knit community Destin was in the early fish camp era, before roads, bridges, tourists, motels, and condos. It was a tight-knit community where a person who never lived in Destin could be buried in the local cemetery.

The Knapp Family – Edward’s father, John Sullivan Knapp, was born in 1844 in Illinois, and Edward’s mother, Christina, was born in 1853 in Missouri. Edward Morris Knapp was their oldest child. He was born in Asley (Scott County), Illinois, on Aug. 14, 1871, and grew up in Westchester (Scott County), Missouri, which is located just north of Asley.

Searching historical records for Edward Morris Knapp found him living in Saint Louis, Missouri, in the 1890s, likely attending school. On March 2, 1897, he married Cecily Flynn in Clayton (St. Louis County), Missouri. By the time of the 1900 federal census, Edward and his wife, Cecily, were living in Havana, Cuba, at the Headquarters, Department of Matanzas and Santa Clara Hospital Corps; Armed Forces-Foreign Company. Edward M. Knapp served in the Spanish- American War.

After the war, Knapp stayed in Cuba and he served as clerk, Engineer Department at Large, from April 17, 1899, to July 31, 1902, at the Engineer Office, Territorial Department. Then the same day, July 31, 1902, Knapp was appointed clerk in the classified service (Civil Service) in Cuba.

Edward Knapp continued working as a civil servant for the U.S. Army until Nov. 30, 1910, when he resigned. He and his family planned to join Edward’s parents in Northwest Florida, near Destin, when they returned to the United States.

Edward’s parents had staked a claim under the Homestead Act of 1862 on land in Shoals, Florida, (now called Miramar Beach) in 1909. They homesteaded Lots 1 and 2 in Section 29, Township 2-south, Range 21-west, containing one hundred and forty-four and 15/100 acres. One of these lots could have been where Edward Knapp planned to build his home.

Edward Knapp’s Relocation to Shoals, Florida — Edward Knapp resigned from civil service in Cuba with plans to relocate to Shoals (Washington County), Florida, on land that his parents owned. It does seem that he was in the area before 1910 because he was well known to the locals in Destin. In 1925, the population of Shoals was 32 and the population of Destin was also 32. They were the same size and very small towns. Destin had a post office and a store run by William T. “Billy” Marler. Billy Marler also took care of the local cemetery, made caskets, and took care of local burials.

On Dec. 26, 1910, four weeks after Edward retired from the government, he was in Florida moving his family to Shoals when he drowned in the Choctawhatchee Bay between Santa Rosa and Shoals. From an affidavit from William T. “Billy” Marler, we know what happened to him. Edward fell off a motorboat while moving furniture to his home in Shoals and died. He was pulled from the water, but no one knew how to resuscitate him.

There wasn’t a cemetery in Shoals, and everybody who came to Shoals came through Destin because the water around Shoals was so shallow. Billy built the coffin, helped conduct the funeral service.

According to an affidavit handwritten by Billy, he had been the postmaster of Destin since 1899 and had also been the light keeper for East Pass. Billy and his son, William E. Marler, both knew Edward and were friends of his and both were at his funeral.

The only thing that remains in the local area to remind us of the life of Edward M. Knapp, or the Knapp family, is that gravestone. It is the second tallest grave marker in the Marler Memorial Cemetery. That gravestone was ordered from the Woodman of the World fraternal insurance organization by William T. “Billy” Marler, and placed above Edward’s grave by his friend.


H. C. “Hank” Klein is a Destin historian, author, and speaker on local history. He visits often and lives in North Little Rock, Ark., with his wife (the former Muriel Marler of Destin). Klein recently published two Destin history books  — DESTIN’S Founding Father...The Untold Story of Leonard Destin and DESTIN Pioneer Settlers...A Land History of Destin, Florida from 1819-1940. Both can be obtained from Amazon.com, The Destin History & Fishing Museum in Destin, Henderson Beach Resort in Destin, The Indian Temple Mound in Fort Walton Beach, and Sundog Books in Seaside. Klein can be contacted directly at klein@aristotle.net.