Morgan C. Ketchum and Marion P. Kirkland met while attending Vanderbilt University. Miss Kirkland was the only women in her graduating class of 1898. She studied English Literature and German Philology. Her uncle was the chancellor there and he enjoyed hybridizing irises. A painting and photo on Vanderbilt’s website show Chancellor J.H. Kirkland with bearded irises nearby.
Mr. Ketchum moved to Memphis in 1898 and practiced law. Morgan and Marion married Nov. 7, 1900 and lived at 178 S. McLean near Overton Park in Central Gardens. E. H. “Boss” Crump resided near-by on Peabody. Both Morgan and Marion were avid gardeners and recognized for many iris hybrids.
Morgan walked from his home “in the suburbs” to the courthouse downtown and enjoyed morning walks with his friend and neighbor John W. Apperson. Morgan’s brother Adrian W. Ketchum was also an attorney and Morgan and A. W. had a law office together.
Morgan Ketchum became a Memphis judge in 1926 and in 1933 was Judge of the Court of Appeals for the Western Division of Tennessee.
The Commercial Appeal March 1, 1947, reported, “The long and outstanding career of Judge Morgan C. Ketchum, for nearly fifty years one of the leaders of the legal profession in Memphis, was terminated by death yesterday.” Taking a Fairgrounds streetcar, “Judge Ketchum left his home shortly after noon to keep his appointment with the dentist. He was stricken about 12:45p.m.” He was removed from the streetcar and taken to Methodist Hospital. He was 73 years old when he died. A memorial in the Bench & Bar stated, “He was a lover of flowers and he and his wife spent many happy hours together producing and cultivating prize winning species of Iris in the gardens surrounding their home.”
After Morgan died, Marion spend time gardening and traveling. Mrs. Ketchum was the first “American Iris Society” member in Memphis. She died July 31, 1953, while visiting Yellowstone National Park. Mrs. Ketchum was 76 years old.
A memorial in the American Iris Society bulletin dated Oct. 1953 noted, “Mrs. Morgan Ketchum, widow of the late Judge Morgan Ketchum, died suddenly while on an extensive western tour. She was the former Marion Kirkland, niece of the late Chancellor James H. Kirkland of Vanderbilt University who was one of our pioneer iris breeders in America. Mrs. Ketchum shared the enthusiasm of her uncle ·for irises and for years her garden has served to make Memphis iris conscious. Some of Mrs. Ketchum's own introductions include Cotton Carnival, Blue Tide, Swamp Fox, and Mistletoe. In 1953 four outstanding seedlings were selected for registration-Mystic Touch, white with a yellow haft; Coronation White, white self with a geranium red beard; Chickasaw, yellow standards and red-brown falls; and a tangerine bearded pink self. William Ketchum, son of Mrs. Ketchum, has given her extensive iris· plantings to the city of Memphis. The Park Commission has allotted five acres for development and will make this into a public planting in her honor.”
William Davis Ketchum, the only child of Morgan and Marion, was residing in Birmingham, Alabama at the time of his mother’s death. His uncle, A. W. Ketchum, was living in the house on McLean. They are both listed as executors of Mrs. Ketchum’s will and her son requested that his uncle be appointed as sole executor to handle matters in Memphis.
A decision was made to donate 2500 iris rhizomes to the city and the new park, Audubon, was chosen. The city said any location at Audubon could be utilized but the garden needed to be maintained. The Memphis Area Iris Society was formed. A.W. Ketchum died a year later after a long illness. The Ketchum home no longer exists at 178 S. McLean.
The Ketchum Memorial Garden was the beginning of planned beds and displays in the gardens at Audubon Park. In 1966 the garden area of Audubon Park was named The Memphis Botanic Garden.
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