History Mystery: The mystery behind gravestone in the Marler Memorial Cemetery

The Destin Log
History Mystery by H. C. “Hank” Klein

The gravestone of Edward M. Knapp is the second tallest gravestone in the Marler Memorial 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 could be buried in the local cemetery that actually never lived there. 

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. 

Pictured here is the gravestone of Edward K. Knapp – 1871-1910 in the Marler Memorial Cemetery in Destin.

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 & 2 in Section 29, Township 2-south, Range 21-west, containing 144 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 on Nov. 30, 1910, from civil service 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 Destin was 32. They were the same size. 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 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 motor boat 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, and ordered the Woodman of the World gravestone. According to an affidavit handwritten by Billy, he had been the postmaster of Destin since 1899 and had been the light keeper for East Pass for 34 years. 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. 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 lives in Bob Hope Village in Shalimar with his wife (the former Muriel Marler of Destin). Klein recently published two Destin history books - DESTIN Pioneer Settlers...A Land History of Destin, Florida from 1819-1940 and DESTIN’S Founding Father…The Untold Story of Leonard Destin. 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 atklein@aristotle.net.