Illinois Cemetery Adventure: Visiting Elgin’s Bluff City Cemetery, Part II

Last time, I shared some stories with you about how Elgin’s Bluff City Cemetery was established and the people buried there. I’ve got even more for you this week. This first grave marker is another example of what happens when you get curious and start sniffing around for answers. I often come up with something I wasn’t expecting.

This small monument caught my eye because it was made for a child and because it looked a bit unusual. Children’s graves usually feature lambs or cherubs. But this pillar marker is for Fern Wilder Metcalf, who was born on Feb. 10, 1895 and died of scarlet fever on Feb. 13, 1898 to parents Maynard Mayo Metcalf and Ella Wilder Metcalf.

Fern Metcalf’s monument caught my attention because it was not what I usually see for a child.

Famous Witness

Fern’s zoologist father has a special place in history. Maynard Metcalf was the only scientist allowed to testify on the stand as a defense witness at the 1925 Scopes anti-evolution trial. The likes of famous orator William Jennings Bryan (who died five days after the trial ended) and attorney Clarence Darrow were part of this history-making event in Dayton, Tenn.

Fern Metcalf’s father, Maynard, testified at the infamous 1925 Scopes anti-evolution trial.

The Metcalfs did not live in Elgin, but spent much of their time in Ohio when Maynard taught at his alma mater, Oberlin College. Fern died in Baltimore, Md. when Metcalf was teaching at Goucher College there. The Metcalfs did have another daughter, Mildred, who lived to adulthood. Maynard and Ella eventually retired to Winter Park, Fla. where he died in 1940. The couple is interred there at Oaklawn Cemetery.

Fern is buried near her grandparents and other Wilder family members.

Fern is buried near Ella’s parents so it’s my guess that the Metcalfs felt it was a proper place to bury her at the time. While Fern was only three when she passed away, I have no doubt they never forgot her.

Birth of the Elgin Watch Co.

I don’t know how I stumbled upon Augusta Gronberg’s simple grave since it’s flat against the ground and not flashy in any way. But like Fern’s, it was different and made me want to know more.

Augusta was one of many Elgin residents who worked at the local watch factory.

Born in Sweden in 1858, Augusta Storm emigrated to America in her early teens. She eventually went to work in the finishing room at the Elgin Watch Co., a mainstay of the community. The company was first incorporated in August 1864 as the National Watch Company.

Elgin was chosen as the factory site and the city was asked to donate 35 acres for that purpose. A derelict farm was chosen but the owners refused to sell unless the city purchased their entire 71 acres for $3,550. Four Elgin businessmen agreed and donated the required 35 acres to the watch company, which was re-organized in April 1865. The factory was completed in 1866 and the company officially changed its name to the Elgin National Watch Company in 1874.

Promotional logo for the Elgin National Watch Company featuring Father Time.

Finding Love on the Job

Augusta’s factory boss was a man named Oscar Gronberg and apparently, they hit it off. The couple wed in 1879 and would have at least six children together.

By 1888, the factory was producing about 7,500 movements per week and employed roughly 2,300 people.I learned that they were split 50/50 between men and women but not so in their pay. The women earned about $6 per week while some of the men earned as much as $3 per day and this was for a six-day workweek.

In 1896, Augusta contracted the tuberculosis that would eventually end her life at age 42 on April 25, 1900. Oscar remarried a year later to Ella Reed and they had a daughter, Grace. He died in California in 1929 but was brought back to Illinois for burial at nearby West Aurora Cemetery.

The Elgin Watch Co. factory employed hundreds in its day.

During World War I, the U.S. Army had the Elgin factory train more than 350 men to make the precision repairs required in the battlefields. During World War II, all civilian work stopped and Elgin made military watches, chronometers for the U.S. Navy, fuses for artillery shells, and altimeters/instruments for aircraft. The company was awarded 10 Army-Navy “E” awards, for fulfilling contracts ahead of schedule.

In 1964, the Elgin Watch Co. moved operations to Blaney, S.C., and the town was renamed “Elgin.” The original factory in Elgin, Ill. was demolished in 1966 and manufacturing was discontinued in Elgin, S.C. in 1968. By 1972, it was all over for Elgin. But the company had made a lasting mark on Elgin and the watch-buying world.

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

In the past, I’ve shared with you a number of tree-shaped markers in different sizes and shapes (from tiny stumps to enormous trees) at various cemeteries. Elgin has a number of them, too. The ones I’m featuring here don’t have the words “Woodmen of the World” on them, but some of the men had ties to the fraternal organization.

One of the most handsome is for New York-born dairy owner Phineas H. Smith (1811-1872) and his wife, Jane (1811-1902). Phineas was among the first Elgin residents to begin selling and shipping milk to nearby Chicago businesses in the 1850s. I’m not sure when this tree was made but I suspect it might have been after Jane died, not Phineas.

Phineas Smith started sending cans of milk to Chicago in the 1850s and many others began to do the same.

Then there’s the Henry family’s tree, which has individual log-shaped markers for the family members. I don’t know if any of the men were Woodmen members but the inclusion of an axe and mallet motif indicates at least one might have been.

The axe and mallet are symbols of Woodmen of the World so one of the Henry family may have been a member.
Catharine Leonard Henry’s marker is shaped like a log.

Tree stumps tend to indicate a life cut short but among the four Donaldsons buried at Bluff City Cemetery, none died particularly young. Steven Donaldson (1840-1904) hailed from Sweden and worked as a carpenter, so you could say he already had sawdust in his blood.

A tree stump usually indicates a life cut short.

There’s even a small twig-themed “D” marker in the family plot.

It’s hard not to love something this detailed.

The Gale monument, while it has no Woodmen seal, is (at least to me) a WOW one because of the axe in the top, along with the mallet and the dove above the inscription. All are WOW symbols. Ward Gale worked at the Elgin Watch Co. factory and I suspect he was a member of good standing in Woodmen of the World. He married Ida Keller in 1881 in Indiana, but they had no children together. Ida died in 1900 at age 42 and Ward died a year later at age 43.

Ward and Ida Gale both died in their early 40s.

Pioneer Log Cabin

Right in front of the Gale monument is a lovely rarity that I’ve yet to see before, a log cabin-shaped monument. Walter S. Arnold (the Elgin sculptor I met with before visiting this cemetery) has actually found 40 cabin-style monuments, mostly located in Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, and Michigan. He mentioned it to me as a “must see” at Bluff City Cemetery and he was right.

This is a replica of pioneer Benjamin Burritt’s 1837 cabin. Note the stone “stump” on the left.

I don’t know who created this amazing monument but it was built as a replica of pioneer Benjamin Burritt’s 1837 cabin located in Hanover Township (now Hanover Park). That’s about 10 miles east of Elgin. Benjamin was born in 1796 and died in 1880. So the cabin and its individual logs with initials on them were moved from the old Channing Street Cemetery to Bluff City Cemetery.

Benjamin and his wife Katy’s names and birth/death dates are on the side.

Benjamn Burritt held several civic positions in Elgin and acquired a good bit of land during his life. He and his wife, Katy, married in 1814 and had six children. Son Peter’s second wife, Rebecca McBride, was later known as the wealthiest woman in Elgin. At the time of their marriage, he was much older than she was. At the time of his death in 1892, she was only in her 30s and inherited his considerable real estate holdings. Peter is buried in Bluff City Cemetery.

Although she remarried to William Gilbert in 1894, Rebecca started construction of a downtown Elgin building as a tribute to her first husband in 1914. However, except for the street level, the upper floors of the Burritt remained unfinished for over 75 years. It wasn’t completed until the 1990s.

Rebecca McBride Burritt Gilbert started construction of this building in 1914 but it wasn’t completed until the 1990s, many years after she died in Miami, Fla. in 1944. (Photo source: HistoricElgin.com)
Benjamin Burritt’s individual grave marker bears his initials.

Another of Benjamin and Katy’s children was Josiah, born in 1820. He became a doctor and married Ellen Whitney in his 40s. Together, they had three children that lived to adulthood. A towering tree monument marks the graves of Josiah and Ellen.

Dr. Josiah Burritt and his wife, Ellen, have a towering tree monument near his parents’ cabin monument.

I still have one more installment coming in my Bluff City Cemetery series. I hope you’ll return to learn more about this special burial ground.

Vincent Lovell (1845-1892) married Englishwoman Eliza Hadwen (1844-1928) in 1876. He served one term as mayor of Elgin, Ill. They share this tree-like cross marker.

Illinois Cemetery Adventure: Visiting Elgin’s Bluff City Cemetery, Part I

After I finished visiting Walter at his studio, I was ready to head to nearby Bluff City Cemetery. It was a cold day with occasional flurries but the roads were in great shape for a driver like me not used to icy conditions.

Located about 40 miles west of Chicago, Elgin’s Bluff City Cemetery (BCC) has an interesting background because it is the third municipal cemetery in Elgin’s history. Before that, the Channing Street Cemetery located nearby had been the site of local burials. The land for BCC was formerly owned by the Gifford family and then the Whitcomb Family. Albert Marckhofff, the first sextant, laid out the first 12 sections, planted the trees and improved the land. I should add that the city of Elgin itself is located in adjacent Kane County while BCC is located in Cook County, Ill.

This picture of the Bluff City Cemetery gates was taken by the Elgin History Museum, when weather conditions were much more pleasant than the day I visited.

Because the Channing Street Cemetery was reaching capacity, they moved the graves from there to the new Bluff City Cemetery, which currently covers 108 acres and contains more than 72,000 burials (according to Elgin’s web site). I think that 72,000 burials figure is a capacity number since Find a Grave lists about 32,000 actual memorials. The new cemetery was dedicated on Sept. 8, 1889. So when you see a grave marker with a date before that, be aware that they used to be at the Channing Street Cemetery.

I learned that if there were no family members to pay the cost of moving the graves back in the 1880s, the remains stayed at Channing. That cemetery was officially closed in 1945 and two years later, the city declared all remains had been removed. But when the foundation for Channing School was dug in 1968, many remains surfaced during the digging and were brought to Bluff City for re-burial in a common grave.

A black granite marker now memorializes those souls that were once left behind. It was a project undertaken by author/historian Steven Stroud, who died in April 2019.

A Grand Receiving Vault

BCC’s large receiving tomb was built in 1903, that date is at the top. It was used to temporarily store bodies in the winter months when the ground was frozen so hard it was difficult to dig. From some postings on Reddit, I learned that they’ve opened it up during tours for people to look inside. You can find pictures here. From what I can see, it could hold at least 50 bodies at a time.

Bluff City Cemetery has a handsome receiving vault.

I have a soft spot for receiving tombs since I don’t see many of them in the South. It doesn’t usually get cold enough to warrant their construction. They served a useful purpose then that is now taken care of by refrigeration.

Gates of Bluff City Cemetery’s receiving tomb.

Death of a Mortician

Located not far from the BCC’s receiving tomb is a mausoleum that I noticed had some lovely stained glass inside. While the deceased passed away in 1950, I thought the stained glass was fairly classic in nature.

Born in Wisconsin in 1873, Fred Norris worked as a mortician in Elgin, Ill. for about 50 years. According to the book Elgin: Days Gone By (written by Elgin’s then-mayor E.C. Alft), Fred initially partnered with local mortician James Palmer. In 1915, Norris purchased a limousine hearse, the first in the city, and erected Elgin’s first “funeral parlor” at 226 East Chicago Street. When expanded and remodeled in 1926, it was said to be the largest in Illinois. Later known as Norris Mortuary, in 1935 it was the first building in Elgin to be air conditioned.

The bodies prepared by Elgin undertakers like Fred were often interred in Elgin-made caskets. Elgin Silver Plate Company, a casket hardware producer, was founded in Elgin around 1892. In 1926, the company was acquired by the Western Casket Hardware Company (founded in 1903) . Around 1928, the company’s production line was expanded to metal caskets, which more and more became the main product of the firm. For that reason, the company’s name was changed to Elgin Metal Casket Company.

After World War II, the company concentrated on manufacturing metal casket shells which it distributed through an organization known as Elgin Associates, which completed the casket shells with handles and/or interiors. In peak years, the company shipped up to 70,000 throughout the country. President Calvin Coolidge is buried in one and in 1963, Elgin provided the casket in which President Kennedy’s body was taken from Dallas to Washington, DC.

Fred Norris served the Elgin community as a mortician for about 50 years.

Fred married Blanche Crank in 1906 and they had two children, Russell and Dorothy. Fred and Blanche had divorced by 1930. Fred and the children lived at the funeral home according to the 1930 U.S. Census, a common practice in those days. Russell followed in his father’s footsteps and was a funeral director in the Elgin area for many years.

It’s possible that Frank was cremated and his ashes are inside the urn but I don’t know for sure.

Mystery of the Angel

Not far from the Norris mausoleum is a monument of an angel bearing a cross known as the Hendee-Brown monument. Vermont native Huldah Standish Washburn Hendee came to Illinois from Vermont sometime after 1850 with her husband, Homer, who was a farmer. Homer died in 1865 and is buried in New York. Huldah died at the age of 80 in 1874. Because of that date, I’m guessing she was initially buried in the Channing Street Cemetery and moved when BCC opened.

The Hendees and Browns were of modest means as far as I know. How could they afford such a grand monument?

Huldah’s daughter, Annette, married Samuel Brown in 1842. The only information I could find about Samuel was that (according to the 1880 U.S. Census), he traveled for a grocery store. The couple had one daughter, Hattie, who was a school teacher who married Arthur Curtis. Arthur is listed in the census once as a tinsmith and later as a radiator repairman.

What puzzles me is that I’m not sure how a family that appears to be of humble means paid for such a grand monument, which I believe was likely placed after Annette or her husband Samuel died. Annette died in 1903 and Samuel in 1896.

The book Elgin: Days Gone By notes that it was made of Italian marble and that “after it was placed on the Hendee-Brown plot, it was shipped to Paris for an exhibition at the expense of the Italian government.” A 1993 Chicago Tribune article stated that it’s made of pink granite and weighs 10,000 lbs.

A History in White Bronze

I am a huge fan of white bronze monuments (actually zinc) and I found one at Bluff City that I fell in love with. The Scofield family did what they could to record their history on one large white bronze monument. On it are the names of several Scofields, yet only three are buried at Bluff City.

There many names on the Scofield monument but not all of them are buried beside it.

A native of South Westerlo in Albany County, N.Y., David Chicester Scofield was born in 1803. He married Sally King in 1826 and they had seven children together (including a set of twins) before she died at the age of 33 in 1842. While her name is on the monument, she is buried in Mexicoville, N.Y. Their son, Reuben, who died in 1847 at the age of 7 is buried beside her. His name is also on the BCC monument. Their daughter, Louise Scofield Herbert, who died in 1866, buried in Roseburg, Oreg., is memorialized on the BCC monument.

David moved from New York after Reuben’s death and settled in Elgin, hoping to purchase land to start a tree nursery. At age 50 in 1854, he married 27-year-old Emily Larkin. He and Emily had one son, Frank, in 1855 but he died at the age of 9 in 1865. I suspect his grave was moved from Channing Street to BCC after it opened. Emily was active in church and missionary causes, especially the Christian Temperance Union.

The roots of the Scofield family history is summed up on one of the many panels.

The Scofield family’s history is detailed on their white bronze monument.

Other names on the Scofield monument are granddaughter Flora Scofield, the daughter of David Scofield’s son Lewis, who died in infancy. Emily Scofield, David’s second wife, died in 1884 at the age of 57. David would die in 1891 at the ripe old age of 87 having outlived both wives and a number of his children. Son Lewis died in 1905 and is buried in the BCC plot while daughter Charlotte died in 1905. She is buried in Florida with her family.

The doves on the Scofield monument are still intact.

The Scofields lived in a Romanesque Revival-style mansion on 50 N. Spring St. for several years. It was eventually purchased in 1892 for $12,000 by Samuel and Alfred Church, stepsons of Gail Borden (who was a man despite the feminine-sounding first name). The Church brothers wanted to memorialize their stepfather, who invented condensed milk. They donated the mansion to Elgin with the stipulation that it would always be known as the Gail Borden Public Library. The library was later moved to a new larger building in 1968 but the mansion still stands today. I believe a restaurant operates out of it now.

Undated postcard of the Scofield mansion, which became the Gail Borden Public Library in 1894.

A Curious Footnote

In doing research on the Scofields, I tried to find an obituary for David that might sum up his professional achievements. The only article I could find was this one, which while noting his nursery-owning history, ended by questioning the deceased man’s sanity. I have no idea if the issues regarding Scofield’s will were ever satisfactorily settled. The fact that Emily was deeply involved in missionary causes suggests his bequests were in keeping with her wishes when she was still alive. I’m wondering if adult children Charlotte and Lewis were unhappy about that.

This article from the Dec. 2, 1891 Belvidere Standard suggests that D.C. Scofield’s sanity may have been in question at the time he wrote his will.

There’s a lot more ground to cover at Bluff City Cemetery so I’ll be back with more soon.

On Sept. 22, 1877, Fredericka Geister accidentally fell into an uncovered cistern at her home. She was found much later, deceased. Her name is the only one on this family Geister monument. Fredericka was only 50, and the wife of successful entrepreneur and local alderman C.H. Geister. The couple had no children.

From the Studio to the Cemetery: Visiting Sculptor/Stone Carver Walter S. Arnold

(Note: Many of the pictures here are borrowed from Walter S. Arnold’s Instagram and Facebook pages, along with his web site. Some were photos I took during my visit to his studio.)

Today’s post is a bit different because I’m not featuring a cemetery. I want to share with you a visit I made to sculptor/stone carver Walter S. Arnold’s studio back in November 2018 when he was working on a double tree grave monument. Such monuments were quite popular from the 1880s to the 1930s but faded from the modern cemetery after that. I’ve seen my fair share of single tree monuments over the years, especially those done from Woodmen of the World patterns. But double trees like the one pictured below are a lot less common.

George and Martha Edmonds are memorialized by this lovely double tree monument at Graceland Cemetery in Blencoe, Iowa. A carver in Council Bluffs, Iowa completed it sometime in the 1890s.

I stumbled across Walter’s work on Facebook and was intrigued that a modern-day sculptor would take on such a project. So I was excited when I learned that because my husband’s grandmother would be celebrating her 90th birthday in November that year, we were going to Chicago to celebrate it with her. Walter’s studio isn’t far from the western suburbs where Chris’ family lives.

I reached out to Walter via Facebook and asked if I could visit his studio. I was thrilled when he agreed. I’m not sure most artists would be open to some strange cemetery junkie from Atlanta barging in on their work space, but he kindly did.

From Chicago to Italy to D.C.

Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, Walter started carving when he was 12. He spent a lot of his free time as a preteen and a teenager looking at details of the city’s old architecture and hanging out in museums. He knew he wanted to learn more about the craft from people who’d been doing it for generations.

Not knowing anyone there, at age 20, he headed for Pietrasanta, Italy to do just that. The carvers who took him under their wings told him if he wanted to see what was possible in this medium, he had to visit the monumental cemetery of Staglieno, two hours north in Genoa. So even in his early days, Walter’s work was influenced by cemeteries.

I asked Walter if he could speak any Italian before he got there and he said no. But it wasn’t really necessary. He learned by watching and doing. As a result, he got a hands-on education that’s impossible to receive in a college classroom.

By 1980, Walter was back in the United States and had earned a place on the team doing work on Washington, D.C.’s National Cathedral. Although construction began in 1907, work had started and stopped several times due two World Wars and other events. New elements were being added. Walter became especially adept at working on gargoyles and grotesques then, as this fun photo from his web site below shows.

Walter used a pneumatic hammer and a hand-forged tempered steel chisel to carve this chameleon for the National Cathedral. This was one of a series of pairs animals of Noah’s Ark, carved for the west front towers. (Photo courtesy of Walter S. Arnold’s web site.)

After his work in D.C., Walter returned to the Chicago area and opened his own studio. He’s not a sculptor you can put in a box and his work shows that when you scan his web site. Sculptures, architectural elements, fountains, and yes, memorials and monuments are among just some of the works he’s created.

Getting to the Root of the Matter

Walter had done one other double tree tombstone and a short double stump marker before this one, so it wasn’t a totally new world for him. I don’t know all the details but this is the basic story. Holly Parker approached Walter about creating a monument for her and her husband, Stephen, who died unexpectedly in 2015 at age 59. They both admired tree stump tombstones, and she wanted Walter to create one that told the story of their many years together.

The old tree markers featured traditional symbols like ferns, acorns, flowers, and ivy. Once in a while a dove or a squirrel might be included. Holly wanted some special features that were more modern. A picnic basket, books they loved, a violin, a tabby cat balanced on the shared branches. Stephen was blind and used a cane so Walter included that as well.

In October 2018, the 10,000-lb. block of Indiana limestone arrived at Walter’s studio. He soon had it pared down to 6,000 lbs. to work with in the coming months as the trees took shape. At completion, the monument would weigh around 3,300 lbs.

What started as a 10,000-lb. hunk of Indiana limestone was reduced to 6,000 lbs. before Walter began the detail work. (Photo courtesy of Walter S. Arnold, Instagram.)

Walter showed me the small clay model he made to work from in the early stages of the project.

This was the clay model Walter worked from in his studio.

He also had a sketch to guide him as well.

A small cat perches between the entwined branches.

Scenes From a Marriage

When I visited his studio in November 2018, Walter was in the early stages. The element he’d begun to work on was the Chicago Cubs baseball hat perched on the left-hand tree. Stephen was a huge Cubs fan and the couple attended many games together. Because Stephen was blind, he liked to follow the game’s progress on a radio he brought with him. That, too, was put into the design.

Walter had only had the stone about a month or so when I came to visit. You can see on the left tree that he’d begun working on the baseball hat.

On the finished piece, the Cubs hat looks like this. I’m using one of Walter’s Instagram photos to show you.

Stephen Parker was an avid Chicago Cubs fan and attended many games. He brought his radio to help him follow the action, which you can see perched above the hat. (Photo courtesy of Walter S. Arnold, Instagram.)

I think one of my favorite elements is the picnic basket with the teapot. Walter even included a sandwich! He posted these photos to Instagram while he was still working on the trees in the studio.

The detail on the weave of the picnic basket is mind blowing to me. Walter posted a video of that process on his Facebook page. (Photo courtesy Walter S. Arnold, Instagram.)

There are several animals included in the monument: a cat, a squirrel, lovebirds, and a crow. The picture below was taken after the monument was installed at Chicago’s Bohemian National Cemetery where Stephen is buried. This memorializes a couple who were life long lovebirds, and her favorite curious tabby is observing the birds.

A very alert cat has its eye on the lovebirds. (Photo courtesy Walter S. Arnold, Instagram.)

Here’s a side view of the cat.

I love this cat! (Photo courtesy Walter S. Arnold, Instagram.)

Then there’s that squirrel.

I’m sure the real squirrels at the cemetery probably thought this one was just one of their own at first. (Photo courtesy Walter S. Arnold, Instagram.)

Walter included a bunch of poppies as well.

These are poppies are nestled up against one of the trees. (Photo courtesy Walter S. Arnold, Instagram.)

Walter points out in his photos on Instagram that in the past, many such monuments had very little in the way of a foundation underneath them. Sometimes it was only a few pieces of flagstone buried in the ground. Over time, settlement, softening of the soil after heavy rains, and shifting, a number of them have fallen. Sometimes people mistakenly think it’s from vandalism, but more often than not it is for the reasons Walter mentions. I’ve included an example below.

This is an example of a single tree monument that has fallen off of its foundation. I saw it at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Omaha, Neb. in 2020.

To make sure that doesn’t happen to the Parker monument, two cubic yards of reinforced concrete base were poured for a four-feet deep foundation, extending well below the frost line to ensure long-term stability. The base of the stone is 4’6″ x 2’6″, and the concrete extends one inches larger on each side. A stainless steel stabilizing pin is also holding it in place.

This is how J&S Services delivered the double trees tombstone to Chicago’s Bohemian National Cemetery. Starting at his studio, they loaded the crate, weighing around 3,300 lbs., on a truck, and Joe Kowalski carefully drove it into the city. (Photo courtesy of Walter S. Arnold, Instagram)

The Finished Work

The double trees tombstone was finished and installed in September 2019 at Bohemian National Cemetery, located fittingly near the “Beyond the Vines” Chicago Cubs fans columbarium. I’ve visited BNC before but that was back in 2015. Hopefully, some day I can return to Chicago and see the Parker monument in person. But I can tell from the pictures that Walter did exactly what Holly hoped he would: tell the story of their marriage through a collection of elements in a beautiful way.

The Parker double tree monument was installed at Bohemian National Cemetery in September 2019. (Photo courtesy of Walter S. Arnold, Instagram)

You might be wondering how Walter carved this. Was it all done with hand tools? He does use pneumatic carving devices attached to hand tools at times, something the old masters did not have. But much of the detail work was done by hand with chisels, points, and hammers that he’s acquired over the years from different people in different places. Some even have the names of the former owner’s on them, people who once held them to make beautiful objects like Walter does today.

These are just a few of the tools Walter has acquired over the years.

An Art Form Worth Saving

Walter hasn’t forgotten his days in Italy and the Staglieno cemetery. He became increasingly concerned about the neglect and deterioration he encountered at the cemetery. In 2010, he and his wife Fely formed a non-profit organization American Friends of Italian Monumental Sculpture (AFIMS) to work with the city of Genoa, and find donors to help save these irreplaceable works of art.

In recognition of this work, in April 2019 the City of Genoa presented Walter with their highest award for those who help support and promote their ancient city, the Grifo d’Oro. Previous recipients include architect Renzo Piano, musician Peter Gabriel, Shimon Peres, actress Vanessa Redgrave, and Mikhail Gorbachev.

Walter is on the quiet side, but I feel like I got to know him a little better after spending time with him in his studio. He’s serious about his work but he also gets a great deal of joy from facing the challenges it can present. He’s aware that he’s one of a rapidly shrinking group of craftsmen in the world doing what he does.

In the end, Walter is leaving behind art that will endure long after he’s gone. Years after someone else is handling the chisels and hammers that he held, his skill in stone will continue to tell stories many people can see and treasure.

Thank you, Walter.

Little Boys, Gypsy Queens, and Trains: Remembering Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum, Part V

I’m reluctant to draw my Ohio adventure to a close with this final installment about Woodland Cemetery because there’s so much more to this place than what I’ve written. However, I’m encouraged by the fact that I’m currently planning a return to Ohio in September 2021 so I can revisit it and uncover more stories to share.

Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum has so many beautiful views and stories that it’s hard to get them all into one series of posts.

Today I’m going to share a few of those “why didn’t you include (fill in name here) in your series?” graves because some of them are indeed worth including. These people were not particularly well known outside of Dayton but their graves are among the most frequently visited.

A Boy and His Dog

Topping that list is the grave of little Johnny Morehouse. I preface this story with the awareness that some details attached to his death are part of a legend that’s evolved over the years. The people who would know all the facts are now deceased. We’ll never know the exact story.

Born in 1855, Johnny was the son of John and Barbara Morehouse. Johnny’s father was a cobbler and his shop backed up to an old canal that ran through the middle of Dayton. The Morehouse family is thought to have lived in the rear of the shop, so Johnny played with his dog along the canal often.

Legend has it that one day in August 1860, Johnny fell into the canal. His dog tried to pull him out but Johnny was dead by the time he got him out. Some versions of the story say the dog drowned as well. Others say the dog survived and stayed beside Johnny’s grave constantly until his death. There are those that even believe the dog is buried with Johnny but cemetery officials have always insisted that’s not true. Older newspaper articles have stated some Morehouse family members said the “dog tries to save boy” story wasn’t true at all.

Those variations don’t truly matter. This little boy and his dog hit you hard.

Johnny Morehouse’s grave is visited by thousands every year. People often leave trinkets behind. Some say if you you put your hand on the dog’s nose, it feels cold.

“In Slumber Sweet”

According to Woodland’s web site, Johnny’s monument was carved in 1861 by Daniel Ladow, the same fellow who carved the Beckel’s bee hive-topped monument that I wrote about a few weeks ago. A dog guards a sleeping child, dressed in period clothing. Little items like a top, a cap, and a harmonica are incorporated into the monument. On the side are carved the words “In Slumber Sweet”.

Fortunately, Johnny’s grave has never been vandalized and visitors often leave little trinkets behind. Coins, bracelets, and toys are common. It’s difficult to swallow the lump in the throat you get when you first catch sight of a little boy with his faithful canine watching over him. All I can say is that it strikes a chord with just about anyone who sees it, including me.

King and Queen of the Gypsies

One monument that gets a lot of attention is that of the Stanley family. If you’ve only seen the monument but don’t know the story of the lives (and deaths) of those buried beneath it, you don’t know why it reveals some truly unusual history.

Born in 1818 in England, Levi Stanley was the son of Owen and Harriet (also known as Maud) Wharton Stanley. Owen and Harriet were the original “King and Queen of the Gypsies” that came to Ohio when Levi was young. Gypsies, by and large, tend to be nomadic in nature and the Stanleys did their fair share of moving around. Gypsies are often referred to as “travelers”. But over the years, the Stanleys accumulated land in Ohio and made a good bit of money from horse trading. They chose Dayton as their summer home when they weren’t traveling.

Monument to the Stanley family. The long slab in front of it is for Levi Stanley, who died in 1908 in Texas.

Levi married Matilda Joles and Levi’s brother, Owen Jr., married Matilda’s sister Priscilla Joles. After the deaths of Harriet in 1857 and Owen in 1860, Levi and Matilda took over the titles of King and Queen, adding onto their wealth as more gypsies became attached to them.

Matilda was said to have the great talent of telling fortunes along with remarkable powers as a mesmerist. She was described in the press as a “plain, hardy-looking woman, with a touch of Meg Merrilies in her appearance, and a manner indicative of a strong and pronounced character.” Meg Merrilies was a gypsy queen in the Sir Walter Scott novel, Guy Mannering.

A Funeral Procession Like No Other

The Stanleys were in Vicksburg, Miss. when Matilda died of cancer in late January 1878. She was 55. Her body was embalmed and sent to Woodland Cemetery to be kept in their receiving vault. Embalming was still fairly rare at the time but it soon became evident as to why this was done. Over the next several months, scores of gypsies from all over the country (and some from overseas) came to Woodland’s vault to visit Matilda and pay their respects. It wasn’t until September that a funeral was finally held, and it was one Dayton would not soon forget.

This article in the Oct. 24, 1878 edition of the Marion (Ohio) Star describes the unique funeral procession for Matilda Stanley’s funeral.

According to newspaper accounts, over 20,000 people attended the funeral, filling the streets to capacity as they moved toward the cemetery. Many spectators came in hopes of witnessing strange and magical gypsy rites. But they were to be disappointed. The graveside service was presided over by the Rev. Daniel Berger, a prominent minister from the United Brethren Church, and was quite traditional in contrast to the colorfully garbed people attending the funeral. However, it’s unlikely many had ever attended a funeral where the people were pressed together so tightly that Rev. Berger had to stand on a wooden plank over Matilda’s open grave in order to officiate without being pushed by the crowd.

An angel with an anchor stands atop the Stanley monument with a calla lily beneath her.

Levi continued to lead the gypsies with some help from his son Levi “Sugar” Stanley, Jr. Levi Sr. was in Marshall, Texas when he died at the age of 96 in December 1908. As was the case with Matilda, he was embalmed and sent home to Dayton to be placed in Woodland’s receiving vault. His funeral was not held until April 12, 1909. His casket was borne from the vault by two snow white stallions. Again, the Rev. Berger was called upon to perform the funeral service at the graveside. Levi’s funeral was not as big of an affair as his wife’s but it was still reported on by many Ohio newspapers.

Levi’s grave cover has a great deal written on it but I could not make it all out.

Levi’s death marked the end of an era. While lauded as the new “King”, Sugar was not eager to fill the large shoes his father had left behind. According to his funeral notice, poor investments and other failures led to the disbanding of the tribe. Sugar, whose wife had died in 1911, was living in Memphis, Tenn. when he died at age 80 in 1916. His remains were sent to Dayton and unlike his parents, his funeral followed soon after.

A fundraising event was held at the Woodland shortly before I visited in October 2018 in hopes of getting funds to repair and refurbish the Stanley monument and Levi’s slab. Both are very faded. I don’t know what the status is of that project but it would a wonderful thing to see both brought back to their former glory.

Largest Obelisk in Woodland

I’m going for the big finish by sharing the story of veteran engineer John Alexander Collins (1815-1878). He has the distinction of being buried beside the largest obelisk in Woodland Cemetery.

Born in Staffordshire, England on June 8, 1815, John Collins came to America around 1825 and later became a locomotive engineer. He moved to Ohio in 1851 to open the Cincinnati, Hamilton, and Dayton (C.H. & D.) Railroad, remaining with the railroad until 1872. Marrying later in life at the age of 58, Collins wed Emma Jane Baird Turner Collins (who was either 37 or 47 and for whom this was her third marriage) in 1873. He died on Jan. 26, 1878 of tuberculosis. He had no children. Emma inherited most of his estate and died in 1894.

Although John Collins died in 1878, his monument was not purchased and placed until 1896 per his will’s instructions.

Not until August 1896, a good 18 years after John Collins died, was his enormous monument placed on his gravesite. Why? The article detailing the unveiling of the monument mentioned that Collins had left instructions in his will that $10,000 of his estate be spent on his monument. I discovered this week that in court proceedings at the time of his death, Collins requested that land holdings in Iowa be sold and placed in trust with a Covington, Ky. bank (just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati) for the monument and not used until after the death of Emma. That explains the delay.

The front of the monument details John’s life and also serves as a sort of memorial to his fellow railroad engineers.

John Collins’ wife, Emma, died in 1894. She is buried beside him.

I did notice an article on John Collins’ Find a Grave.com memorial that made me smile at the understatement. The newspaper reported, “It was not without some trouble that it was removed to the cemetery.” I can only imagine how difficult that task must have been.

My few hours at Woodland that day are precious to me for a number of reasons. One was that I spent it rambling over the hillsides with my cousin Christal Gray-Davis, who I’d always wanted to go hopping with. She and her husband, Ron, live about an hour from Dayton and drove over for the afternoon. I later apologized for the zeal with which I dragged her along with me since we only had a few hours to scour the place. I hope when I return in September that she’ll “hop” with me again if I promise to slow down this time.

My cousin Christal and I spent a lovely couple of hours “hopping” through Woodland Cemetery. I hope we can hop together again in a few months.

It was also special because Woodland Cemetery is where so many of my family is buried, some whom I knew and loved dearly, others who died long before I was born. They are branches in my family tree that rest peacefully in a place that was the first cemetery I ever remember visiting. Perhaps the seeds were sewn then for the passion I have now to tell the stories behind the stones.

Farewell, Woodland. I’ll be back soon.

The Long family monument at Woodland. Joseph Long, son of Isaac and Esther Miller Long, died in 1894 at the age of 47 from injuries he sustained from being kicked by one of his horses. A life-long bachelor, Joseph was a wealthy farmer and stock raiser. He is buried with his parents in the Long family plot.

Bee Hives and Bicycles: Remembering Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum, Part IV

Having dealt with some of the more famous residents of Woodland Cemetery, I’m going to share some of the monuments I just like for their visual appeal. This monument for the Beckel family certainly qualifies. It’s one of the few I’ve ever seen that has a bee hive on the top. I will add that I have seen an actual hornet’s nest on a monument but that’s a story for another time (and cemetery).

The Beckel monument has a flowered wreath. According to a Facebook post I saw from someone who recently photographed it, actual bees crawl in and out of the flowers holes.

A native of Cornwall in England, Daniel Beckel was born in 1813. At age 16, he assisted his step-father, a civil engineer, who worked on the construction of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Afterward, they became the contractors that constructed the great St. Mary’s Reservoir for the Miami Canal.

A 1912 postcard for the Beckel Hotel, whose construction began in 1853 by Daniel Beckel on property once owned by the Huffman family. Due to the Civil War, the hotel would not be finished until after Daniel’s death in 1862. (Photo source: Ebay.com.)

After that, Beckel came to Dayton and started building the Beckel House (a hotel) in 1853. The Civil War slowed its progress and it was completed after he died. In connection with William Dickey and Joseph Clegg, Beckel established a private bank and was almost the sole owner of the Miami Valley and Dayton Banks. Beckel was also elected to the Ohio Legislature (in 1851), was secretary of the Dayton Hydraulic Co. in 1845 and president of the first gas company, Dayton Gas Light & Coke Co. in 1849. To say he was a busy man would be an understatement.

Beckel married Ohio native Susan Harshman in 1845. They would have 12 children but only five would live past their teenage years. One of them, Daniel Jr., died in 1867 at the age of 14 in a much publicized carriage accident.

Daniel Beckel was only 14 when he died in a carriage accident. He shares an inscription with his sister, Mary.

Daniel Beckel Sr. died on Feb. 26, 1862 at the age of 48 from apoplexy. The biography I read of him surmised it was from overwork. Susan died in 1890 at the age of 66.

I noticed when I photographed one side of the monument that the name “Ladow” was inscribed on it. It’s a rare treat to find a stone mason’s name on a marker so I looked him up. Lo and behold, I found an entire newspaper article from the Nov. 19, 1862 Daily Empire describing it in great detail. That’s even more rare. It’s possible that Ladow wrote it himself and purchased advertising space for it to be published.

This article from the 1862 Daily Empire describes Daniel Beckel’s monument. It states that the monument was 20 feet high but it didn’t look nearly that tall when I saw it so perhaps the base was reduced.

One of Daniel and Susan’s daughters, Annie, would marry Torrance Huffman. Torrance was the son of William P. Huffman and brother of George P. Huffman, Sr. George started what became the Huffy Bicycle around 1892. Let’s go across the street to the Huffman family vault, which is definitely an eye-catcher.

Huffman Family Empire

There are 89 Huffmans buried at Woodland and many of them are connected to the family whose name is at the core to a bicycle empire. A monument on top of the Huffman vault bears the name and profile of William Huffman (1769-1866). A native of New Jersey, William married Lydia Knott around 1801. They would have one son and four daughters.

The Huffman family vault is rather unique for being an in-ground burial space with a monument on top.

William and Lydia gave their son, William P. Huffman, a good education. He read law with Warren Munger, Sr., however, with the view of not adopting the law as a profession, but as a means of being more thoroughly equipped for a successful business career. William spent 10 years in farming before devoting the rest of his life to banking, real estate, and in extensive building operations.

Lydia died at the age of 86 in 1865 and William died the following year at age 96. I don’t think it was his idea to create this vault but I don’t know for sure. I think it was likely son William who made the arrangements for that. I can’t say I’ve seen an in-ground vault like the Huffman one with such a handsome monument on top. I’m thinking it possibly came years later when grandson William Huffman, Jr., who was a limestone dealer in the 1870s, might have procured it. William Jr. is also entombed within the Huffman vault with his wife, Emily.

The Huffman monument, which bears the name of William Huffman and his wife, Anna, and his grandson William Jr. and his wife, Emily, is exquisitely carved.

William P. Huffman has his own monument in another part of Woodland and I didn’t have the opportunity to photograph it. His son, George P. Huffman,learned much from his father and studied law as he had. George was active in banking, real estate, and investing. It was he who started Davis Sewing Machine in 1892, which later became Huffy Bicycle (known then as Dayton Bicycle). One of the company’s first designs, the “Dayton Special Roadster,” was rolled out in 1899 on cylindrical ball hubs, 23-inch tires, and wooden rims. Like the Wright brothers with their successful bicycle shop, the Huffman were joining in on the bicycle craze of the era.

George, who suffered from the kidney malady Bright’s Disease, died young from a stroke at age 35 in 1897. His wife, Maude McKee Huffman, did not remarry and died in 1927. Their son, Horace (1885-1945) would guide the family fortunes into even greater success as Huffy Bicycles became a household name.

“To Live in Hearts We Leave Behind is Not to Die”

A native of England, George Jackson Roberts (1834-1910) was a water pump manufacturer. He and his wife, Adelia, had one daughter, Mary “Minnie” Roberts in 1865. Minnie would eventually marry John Jamieson in 1892, who went to work for her father. Minnie and John, along with their son, George, lived with her parents according to the 1900 U.S. Census.

The first person buried in the Roberts plot was Minnie’s younger brother, George Clarence Roberts. Tragically, he died in San Diego, Calif. from a sudden illness at the age of 30 in 1891 only three weeks after he was married to a woman named Nellie Gerkins. His body was brought back to Dayton to be buried at Woodland.

There’s a monument quite similar to this one at Atlanta’s Westivew Cemetery. A lone woman sits with her head propped up, gazing pensively down. Maybe that’s why this one pulls at my heartstrings.

It’s unknown when this monument was carved but the first person buried in the Roberts plot was young George Clarence Roberts, who died at age 30 in 1892.
Is this the likeness of Minnie Roberts Jamieson? I don’t know but it’s possible.

Minnie died in 1906 on March 23, 1906 at age 40. I was unable to find out what her cause of death was. Her father, George, died a few years later in 1910, at age 76 from a heart ailment.

John Jamieson remarried to Leonora Piper, who was 17 years his junior. Minnie and John’s son, George Robert Jamieson, made a name for himself as an artist, architect and book seller. He died on Sept. 9, 1929 at age 31 from a heart ailment. John Jamieson died in 1935 at the age of 73. His second wife, Leonora, is buried with her parents in another cemetery. She died in 1977.

The deaths of three members of the Roberts clan at relatively young ages is heartbreaking to think about. I suppose that’s why the words on the monument are rather haunting. “To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”

Inscription on the Roberts family monument.

I’ll be back next time to wrap up my series on Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum.

The mournful face of an angel on the McMillen family monument. Ceralvo G. McMillen, a popular owner and manager of hotels, served as mayor of Dayton in 1892 and 1894. He died in 1922 at age 74.

Diamond in the Gem City: Remembering Dayton, Ohio’s Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum, Part III

Last week, I shared how Dayton’s Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum was established. I also talked about Dayton’s own Erma Bombeck, and flight innovators Wilbur and Orville Wright. This week, I’ve got two more talented people to talk about that you may not have heard of before.

View of a hillside at Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum.

In the late 1840s, Major William D. Bickham of the Dayton Journal began a campaign to nickname Dayton the “Gem City.” The name was adopted by the city’s board of trade several years later. Poet Paul Laurence Dunbar referred to the nickname in his poem, “Toast to Dayton”, as noted in the following excerpt:

She shall ever claim our duty,
For she shines—the brightest gem
That has ever decked with beauty
     Dear Ohio’s diadem.

Poet of the Gem City

It’s fitting that I mention this poem because Dunbar is buried at Woodland. I’d heard his name associated with Woodland over the years but honestly knew little about him. I learned Dunbar was one of the first influential black poets in American literature, and was internationally acclaimed for his dialectic verse.

Paul Laurence Dunbar was the child of two former slaves. His father, Joshua, volunteered for the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the first two black units to serve in the war. The senior Dunbar also served in the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment. Paul was born on June 27, 1872. His sister, Lizzie, was born in 1873 but she died in 1876 at the age of two. By that time, Joshua had already left the family. He died in 1885 when Paul was 13.

Matilda took in laundry to support her and Paul while he attended school. He often read to his mother in the evenings, his interest in poetry and literature already apparent. By 14, Dunbar had poems published in the Dayton Herald. He was the only student of color at Dayton’s Central High School, where he befriended Orville Wright. Not long after, Orville dropped out of school to start a printing enterprise with brother, Wilbur. The brothers published the short-lived black newspaper, the Dayton Tattler and Dunbar wrote for it. But it folded after six weeks.

The only student of color at Dayton’s Central High School, Paul Dunbar was elected president of the school’s literary society, and became the editor of the school newspaper and a debate club member.

As a man of color, Dunbar struggled to find work and eventually took a job as an elevator operator, which enabled him time to write on the side. With the help of a former teacher, he gave his first public poetry reading on his birthday in 1892. A journalist was impressed enough that he published a letter of praise in various newspapers, garnering significant national attention for the young poet. Dunbar published his first book of poems, “Oak and Ivy”, in 1892. It was a combination of traditional verse along with poems written in Southern black dialect, the latter drawing a great deal of attention.

Expanding into Short Stories and Novels

Over the next years, Dunbar wrote more poetry and began to venture into short stories and novels. In 1893, he spoke at the World’s Fair and met Frederick Douglass, who called him “the most promising young colored man in America.” He moved to Toledo, Ohio and in 1896 published his second book of poetry, “Majors and Minors.” The book was a success and he was invited to present his poetry in England.

After returning, Dunbar married a young writer and teacher named Alice Ruth Moore. He took a job at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. for a short time but Alice encouraged him to focus on his writing so he quit. His first collection of short stories, Folks From Dixie (1898) had favorable reviews. But his first novel, The Uncalled, published that year was not as successful.

George Walker, Adah Overton Walker, and Bert Williams dance the cakewalk in the first Broadway musical to be written and performed by African-Americans, “In Dahomey.” Dunbar wrote the lyrics.

Dunbar’s essays and poems were published widely in leading journals, including Harper’s Weekly and the Saturday Evening Post. In collaboration with composer Will Marion Cook and author Jesse A. Shipp, who wrote the libretto, Dunbar wrote the lyrics for “In Dahomey”, the first musical written and performed entirely by African-Americans. It was produced on Broadway in 1903, and successfully toured England and the United States over four years

Sadly, Dunbar’s health suffered from his time in D.C. and in 1900 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, so he and Alice moved to Colorado. Their marriage was already crumbling as he turned to whiskey to treat his symptoms, something his doctors encouraged at the time. He and Alice separated in 1902 but never divorced. Dunbar returned to Dayton to be with his mother. He died on Feb. 9, 1906 at the age of 33. His mother died about a year later. She did not have a marker until 1940 when the students of Dunbar High School raised funds to provide one for her.

Despite dying at the young age of 33, Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote 25 books, 15 essays, over 100 poems, 35 song lyrics, 24 short stories, nine musical shows, and four plays. His sister, Lizzie, is buried beside him.

His gravestone along the roadside at Woodland is overshadowed by a willow tree planted there. That tree refers to a poem by Dunbar called “A Death Song”. The first verse is on his stone, but there were two more verses.

Lay me down beneaf de willers in de grass,
Whah de branch ‘ll go a-singin’
as it pass.

The second verse describes a lake that is now filled in. A stained glass window in the Dunbar room of Woodland Mausoleum shows the view explained in that verse. Had I known about it ahead of time, I would have looked for it when I went there in search of Charles F. Kettering earlier in my visit.

Innovator and Inventor

Across the way from Erma Bombeck’s grave is Woodland’s mausoleum, built in 1969. I wanted to duck inside to see if I could find the grave of inventor Charles F. Kettering, for whom the city where I was born was named. I ran into Angie Hoschouer, Woodland’s manager of development/marketing, and she pointed me in the right direction.

One of 12 stained glass panels inside Woodland’s modern mausoleum, finished in 1969. These windows were designed by Willet Studios in Philadelphia, Pa.

Born in 1878 in Loudonville, Ohio, Charles F. Kettering entered Ohio State University at age 22, dropping out in his sophomore year because of poor eyesight. Kettering worked for two years as a telephone lineman and then returned to Ohio State, graduating at age 28. He worked for the National Cash Register (NCR) Company, which would eventually become an industry giant. My great-grandfather, grandfather, and father all worked for NCR and it dominated Dayton until it (ironically) moved its headquarters to Atlanta in 2015. While at NCR, Kettering helped develop the first electric cash register.

During these years, Kettering invited other NCR engineers to join him on nights and weekends to tinker on cars at his associate Edward Deeds’s barn. They became known as the Barn Gang, and Kettering was called Boss Ket.

Kettering always regarded himself as a professional amateur. “We are amateurs,” he observed, “because we are doing things for the first time.” “Do something different,” he continually admonished, “My God, do something different.”

From Hand Crank to Electric Ignition

In 1909, Kettering founded the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company, known as Delco, with Deeds (also buried at Woodland). Kettering was involved in a number of research projects at Delco, inventing a portable electric generator and many important automobile innovations.

But the most important thing Kettering is credited with is inventing the first electric ignition system for automobiles. This development allowed drivers to start their car without going to the front of the car and turning a hand crank to start the engine. Kettering also invented electric lights for automobiles, enabling night driving.

Art piece in the Kettering family corner in Woodland Cemetery’s mausoleum.

General Motors purchased Delco in 1916 and Kettering was hired as the head of General Motors’ new research division. He became a vice president in 1920. Under his leadership, General Motors also developed diesel engines, safety glass, and the refrigerant Freon. Kettering’s home was the first house in America to have electric air conditioning, through the use of Freon. Kettering retired from General Motors in 1947.

Tomb of Charles F. Kettering. His wife, Olive Leora Williams Kettering (1877-1946) is entombed with him. So is their son, Eugene Williams Kettering (1908-1969).

Kettering also was interested in philanthropic endeavors. In 1945, he and General Motors president Alfred Sloan established the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, located in New York City. Kettering died on Nov. 25, 1958.

I’ll be back soon with more tales from Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum.

The gaze of German immigrant Adam Schantz, Sr. (1839-1902) greets you after you pass through the gates of Woodland Cemetery. Over the years, he operated a butcher shop, a brewery, and a water purification system he patented to create what he called Lily Water. He named it that because the Schanzt family flower was the calla lily.

First in Flight: Remembering Dayton, Ohio’s Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum, Part II

A few weeks ago, I got rather personal in my opening post about Dayton, Ohio’s Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum. In Part II, I’m going to share some history about how Woodland came to be. I should add that on the day I visited Woodland in October 2018, I didn’t have much time so I missed a few things. My photos of the Wright brothers’ graves are actually from a family trip in 2013.

Woodland was established in 1841 with an initial 40 acres in Southeast Dayton. The cemetery’s founder was John Whitten Van Cleve (1801-1858) and one of his claims to fame was being the first male child to be born in Dayton. That led me to look up when Dayton was founded, which was April 1, 1796.

View of Dayton’s skyline from Woodland Cemetery.

Renaissance Man

It appears Van Cleve was a bit of a Renaissance man, interested in doing a little bit of everything. He entered Ohio University at Athens at age 16, teaching Greek and Latin there before graduating. He studied law with Judge Joseph H. Crane, and was admitted to the bar in 1828.

Van Cleve was elected recorder in 1824 and 1828, served three terms as mayor of Dayton between 1830 and 1832, and also served as city engineer. In December 1828, Van Cleve purchased an interest in the Dayton Journal, which he edited until 1834. He was also involved in the druggist business, in partnership with Augustus Newell, their firm being Van Cleve & Newell.

In his later years, Van Cleve became an accomplished musician, painter, botanist, and geologist. As founder of Woodland Cemetery, he served as president of the Woodland Cemetery Association from its inception until his death from tuberculosis in 1858. He is buried at Woodland but I did not have a chance to photograph his monument. So I am taking the liberty of borrowing a photo of it from Find a Grave.

Monument to Woodland Cemetery founder John Van Cleve. His funeral notice describes him as “an old and eminent citizen” but he was only 57 when he died in 1858. (Photo source: S.G. Thompson, FindaGrave.com.

Not Just a Cemetery

Currently spanning 200 acres, Woodland is one of the oldest “garden” cemeteries in the country. It’s not only a final resting place for more than 110,000 people, but is home to a collection of 165 specimens of native Midwestern trees and woody plants. Ornithologists flock to Woodland to get a glimpse of a variety of birds, with special tours provided by Woodland to help those new to the hobby. During the spring, mother foxes and their kits are a common sight.

A few weeks ago, I shared that in all my years of coming to Woodland, I entered through the Waldo Street gate because it was the easiest way to get to my family’s graves. That entrance was created in 1912. The formal entrance of the Romanesque gateway, chapel and office, completed in 1889, are on the National Register of Historic Places. This is how it looked around the turn of the century.

This card, postmarked 1910, shows off Woodland’s Romanesque gateway, chapel, and office. (Photo source: hippostcard.com)

On this visit, accompanied by my cousin, Crystal, and her patient husband Ron (who drove us around), I went in through the front gates.

This is what Woodland’s entrance looks like today (minus the orange construction netting.) The office is on the right.

Woodland’s chapel contains treasures I was unfortunately not able to see because it was closed. But I wanted you to get a look at just one of the 16 Tiffany stained glass windows inside of it. I borrowed it from Woodland’s web site.

This is just one of 16 Tiffany stained glass windows in Woodland’s chapel, which also features a hand-cut Tiffany mosaic floor.

Close to Woodland’s front gates is the grave of a woman known to many around the world for her warmth and wit, author and humorist Erma Bombeck. I read her books in my teen years and while I couldn’t always relate until years later to her humorous tales of motherhood woes, they still made me laugh.

If Life is a Bowl of Cherries…

Born Erma Fiste in 1926, Erma grew up in the Bellbrook suburb of Dayton, just a few miles where I was born. She was an avid writer from her high school days, working for the Dayton Herald in a number of capacities, and got her degree at the University of Dayton. She met and married fellow classmate Bill Bombeck in 1949. They started a family and writing was put on the backburner until the 1960s.

Erma Bombeck made millions laugh with her wry musings about housework and parenting.

Erma Bombeck’s home during her married life was in Centerville, Ohio, where my paternal grandparents lived. Her neighbor was Phil Donahue. She resumed her writing career for the local Kettering-Oakwood Times in 1964, with weekly columns that yielded $3 each. The following year the Dayton Journal Herald requested new humorous columns as well, and Bombeck wrote weekly 450-word columns. After three weeks, the articles went into national syndication in weekly columns under the title “At Wit’s End”.

As Bombeck’s writing career took off, the family moved to Phoenix, Ariz. The books Just Wait Until You Have Children of Your Own (1971), I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression, (1974), The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank (1976), If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? (1978), and Motherhood, the Second Oldest Profession (1983) are among the many that followed. The Grass is Always Greener actually took life as a TV pilot in 1978 but it didn’t make it off the ground. She was also featured on ABC’s Good Morning, America from 1975 until 1986.

At the time I visited Woodland in 2018, this was the only marker for Erma Bombeck. A traditional gravestone with her name and dates (along with one for her husband, Bill, who passed away in 2018) was placed in 2019.

Bombeck was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease (an incurable genetic disease) when she was 20. She survived breast cancer and a mastectomy, and kept secret the fact that she had kidney disease, enduring daily dialysis. She went public with her condition in 1993.

On a waiting list for a transplant for years, one kidney had to be removed, and the remaining one ceased to function. On April 3, 1996, she received a kidney transplant. She died on April 22, 1996, at age 69, from complications of the operation.

Bombeck was brought back to her hometown and interred in the family plot at Woodland. A 29,000-lb. rock serves as her monument, brought by flat-bed truck from her adopted home in Arizona.

First in Flight

It’s probably bad of me to admit this but for many years, I had no idea the Wright Brothers were buried at Woodland. We never went to visit their graves. But during a summer visit in 2013, I wanted my husband and son to see them. Clearly, the Wright brothers are hands down the most famous pair buried in the cemetery. What started in a small bicycle shop in Dayton would eventually change the way the world traveled.

I spent a good bit of time on the Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company web site (which is excellent) and they make an assertion about the brothers that made me see them in a new light. The Wright brothers didn’t truly build the first airplane. The first fixed-wing aircraft (basically a kite on a stick) was created and flown almost a century before Orville and Wilbur made their first flights.

Neither Orville or Wilbur attended college. Orville actually dropped out of high school in 1889 and the brothers opened their own print shop.

What sets the Wrights apart is that they were the first to design and build a flying craft that could be controlled in the air. Every successful aircraft ever built since, beginning with the 1902 Wright glider, has had controls to roll the wings right or left, pitch the nose up or down, and yaw the nose from side to side. These controls enable a pilot to navigate an airplane in all three dimensions, making it possible to fly from place to place.

Early Days

Sons of Church of the United Brethren in Christ pastor Milton Wright and Susan Koerner Wright, Wilbur was born in 1867 and Orville was born in 1871. Both parents were well educated, with Susan having a mechanical bent. Because the Brethren’s prominence in Dayton, the Wrights moved to Dayton in 1884. Sadly, Susan would contract tuberculosis and died in 1889.

Unlike their parents, Wilbur barely graduated high school and Orville dropped out the year his mother died. But they were always tinkering on something and testing out theories. Together, they opened a printing shop that eventually expanded to a bicycle shop. Eventually, they concentrated on just making bicycles and did very well financially as the bicycle craze raged.

I’m not going to delve too deeply into the history of how the brothers went about testing out their theories in Kitty Hawk, N.C. and how they tweaked and developed their Wright Flyers from 1889 to 1906. There are plenty of books written about it that can give you a glimpse into that world. Needless to say, they eventually showed off their flyers and dazzled the world with their demonstrations of flight.

You can visit the Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretive Center (run by the National Park Service) in Dayton and drive around the original Huffman Field. This memorial to the Wright brothers is located there.

One place I visited on that 2018 visit was Huffman Field, the world’s first test flight facilities where the Wright brothers conducted a lot of their test flights after the Kitty Hawk ones. Wright Patterson Air Force Base is right next door. It was very cool to see where those early flights took place. Also located nearby is the Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretive Center, operated by the National Park Service. We also stopped by the memorial to the Wright brothers located on the grounds.

Orville and Wilbur are buried with their parents and twin siblings Otis and Ida, who died within days of their birth in 1871.

Battling Legal Woes

Sadly, once the Wrights had demonstrated their aircraft in public, it was easy for others to copy them and many did. The Wrights were dragged into time-consuming patent fights in Europe and America. Their legal troubles diverted their attention from the ground-breaking innovation and invention they specialized in. The brothers never married. Wilbur supposedly told reporters that he didn’t have time for both a wife and an airplane.

In 1912, at the age of 45, Wilbur died suddenly of typhoid. It was a major blow to Orville, who would eventually sell the business in 1916 and go back to what he loved: inventing.

Wilbur, the eldest of the two, died suddenly from typhoid in 1912. He was only 45.

Orville put together a laboratory and contracted out as a consultant on a wide variety of engineering projects. He did aeronautical work, helping to develop a racing airplane, guided missile, and “split flaps” to help slow an aircraft in a dive. He also tackled aerodynamic automobile designs, toy designs and manufacture, even a cipher machine for encoding communications.

Orville’s last major project was helping rebuild the 1905 Flyer III, which he and Wilbur had perfected at Huffman Prairie. This was put on display at Deeds Carillon Park in Dayton, Ohio in 1950. Orville did not live to see the ceremony. According to the Wright Aeroplane Company web site, he suffered a heart attack in 1948 after fixing the doorbell at his home and died a few days later.

Orville sold the business in 1916 and went on to work on new inventions, which is what he truly loved to do.

Hawthorn Hill was the post-1914 home of Orville, Milton (his father) and Katharine Wright (a sister). Wilbur and Orville intended for it to be their joint home, but Wilbur died before the home’s 1914 completion. The brothers hired the prominent Dayton architectural firm of Schenck and Williams to realize their plans. The Wrights named the property after the hawthorn trees on the property, of which there are at least 150.

Hawthorn Hill was the home of Orville Wright and his father, Milton, and sister, Katherine in 1914. Now managed by Dayton History, tours of it are held on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

The home was owned by the National Cash Register (NCR) Corporation after Orville’s death in until August 18, 2006, when the company donated the historic home to the Wright Family Foundation in honor of Orville’s 135th birthday and National Aviation Day. In March 2009, Hawthorn Hill became part of Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. In June 2013, ownership was officially transferred to Dayton History.

Next time, I’ll share the stories of another inventor and a poet.

Gustav Wiedeke, along with his sons, began a small manufacturing business that made furnace boilers. Over 100 years later, Elliott Tool Technologies Ltd. is the result of their efforts. His life-size statue is reported to startle the guards at night.

Climbing My Family Tree: Remembering Dayton, Ohio’s Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum, Part I

This week, I’m starting a new series on Dayton, Ohio’s Woodland Cemetery. It’s going to be a bit different because Woodland is the first cemetery I ever visited and have returned to many times. You’re going to hear some stories that I’ve not shared with many people before. Unlike most of my initial posts, this one is not about Woodland’s history. I’ll get to that next week. Hopefully, you won’t mind this detour.

My family moved to Georgia when I was five. But every summer, we would return to Dayton to visit family and go to places that were familiar to my parents. Woodland Cemetery was one of them.I remember we always entered at the back gate off Wayne Avenue because it was the closest entrance to where we were going. In fact, I didn’t even see Woodland’s front gates until maybe 10 years ago because of that.

The concept of a cemetery was foreign to my childish mind. I only knew I liked seeing the trees, the pond and especially the swans that lived there. It may have sparked my life-long love of swans, I’m not sure. But to me, it was a beautiful place. I don’t remember being afraid or feeling sad there.

We always entered Woodland Cemetery from the back gate off Wayne Avenue by the swan pond. My great aunt and uncle are buried close to the pond’s edge in the center of this photo.

To be honest, I didn’t know whose grave we were visiting when we came during those early years. Nobody would ever say and I was too confused to ask. I only knew that the woman’s marker we visited had my last name.

I would not know for many years that she was my father’s mother, Charlotte Grice Muller. She died on July 22, 1960 at the age of 44 after undergoing heart surgery. She suffered a serious stroke in 1955 when my father was in high school and her health deteriorated from that time forward. So much so that my father was sent to live with relatives and he graduated from a different high school.

A picture of my grandmother Charlotte Alberta Grice Muller in her youth.

I later learned that my grandmother’s death was so traumatic to my Dad that he never talked about it. His father, my grandfather, remarried less than a year later to a widow he knew from work, Wanda. She was the only grandmother I knew on that side of my family. She was always nice to me. But I never felt like a truly knew her.

Until I found a framed picture in a drawer of my grandfather sitting next to a woman I had never seen, I thought Wanda was my Dad’s mother. Maybe I was 10 or 12 by then. I gathered my courage and finally asked my Mom, “Who is this woman?”

“That’s Charlotte, your grandmother.”

My grandmother died at the young age of 44.

At last I knew. When I asked why nobody had ever explained that to me, I was told, “We thought you knew.” I believe that. It wasn’t a secret they were actively keeping. Maybe they did tell me but my young mind couldn’t grasp it all. But there was still so much I didn’t know, so much was left unspoken.

It came out in bits and pieces over the next years and many confusing moments began to make more sense. Tense times that had confused me. Dad had adored his mother and her death pulled the rug out from under him. I’m not sure he ever got over it.

As a result, I knew little about my father’s family’s background. That led to my getting a membership to Ancestry.com after my son was born and later my interest in FindaGrave.com. Soon after, my blog was born and the rest is history. So a lot of what happened at Woodland on those visits was building a foundation for what was to come.

A picture of Wanda and my grandfather taken during a visit in 1976.

I wish I had known Charlotte. My mother has shared a few memories of her. That she was a fashionable, beautiful woman who enjoyed life and spoiling my father. She was also a straight shooter and was known to get excited while watching a boxing match on TV. The stroke left her a changed woman and her last years would be difficult ones.

My grandfather Carroll, grandmother Charlotte, and Aunt Suzie are buried together.

Charlotte is no longer alone. My grandfather died in 1998 at the age of 81 and is buried beside her. My Aunt Suzie, who suffered from cerebral palsy from birth and spent most of her life in a group home, died in 2007 at the age of 60. When Wanda died in 2012, she was buried at Woodland with her first husband who had died in 1958. Their plot is in a different part of the cemetery.

My great aunt Esther Grice Wolf died a year and a half after my grandmother, her sister, in 1961.

Across the road next to the pond, Charlotte’s sister Esther is buried. She had the same history of heart trouble as her siblings. She died of a heart attack on Christmas Day in 1961 at the age of 51. She was my great uncle Eugene’s first wife and mother of my cousin Tom, whom I’ve always called my Uncle Tom. He’s always been something of a father figure to me and walked me down the aisle when I got married because my father was wheelchair bound by that time. He turned 81 this month and I love him dearly.

Tom’s father, Eugene, was not just my great uncle. He was a big-hearted giant of a man who earned the respect of everyone that met him. My Dad loved spending time with him and so did I. His second wife, Ruth, had no children of her own and they always spoiled us when we came down to visit them in Florida. She was a kind, classy lady who always had time for me. She died in 2019 and is buried at Woodland as well. I hope to visit her grave when next I visit.

My great uncle Eugene, great aunt Esther, and their sons, Ron (who recently passed away from cancer) and Tom. This would have been after Eugene returned from serving in the U.S. Army in World War II.

Eugene was close with his brothers-in-law, Cliff and Harry, and my grandfather Carroll. This photo from 1939 was taken after the Ohio River flooded in Cincinnati. They all piled in a car and went to take a look for themselves.

Eugene Wolf, Harry Grice, Cliff Grice, and my grandfather, Carroll Muller, pretending to dive into the Ohio River in Cincinnati after it flooded in 1939.

Eugene passed away in 1983 from an embolism and we were heartbroken. It was totally unexpected and I remember sitting in my journalism class the next day crying. Even as a teenager, I knew someone truly good had left this world and it would never be the same without him.

My great uncle Eugene Wolf died of an embolism while in the hospital for routine surgery.

One relative whose grave at Woodland I had never visited was my great-grandfather Bernard. He was another person I knew little about. He and my great-grandmother, Helen, divorced in 1938 and he remarried a few months later. I know that he was a carpenter who worked for the Dayton Wright Airplane Company in the 1910s (yes, the Wright brothers who are also buried at Woodland) and later for NCR. I still have a dresser Bernard made for my father, he wrote on the back of one of the drawers.

I believe this is a 1940 photo of Bernard (my great-grandfather), my father (who would have been maybe two) and my grandfather, Carroll Muller.

Bernard died in 1966. It wasn’t until 2012 when I was visiting Woodland with my mother and my aunt that I literally stumbled over Bernard’s grave. I was looking for someone else’s grave when I found it. He’s buried on the hillside northwest from the swan pond not far from where my other relatives are buried. All those years, I never knew.

My great-grandfather died in 1966, two years before I was born.

On the far end of the swan pond are my paternal great-grandparents, whom I mentioned a few weeks ago in my post about Old Greencastle Cemetery. Charlotte’s mother was Florence Claar Grice and she married my great-grandfather, Harold Grice, in 1906. I’m pretty sure that’s how my father ended up with the middle name of Harold. She gave birth to Charlotte in 1915. I believe the photo below is of Florence holding Charlotte on her lap around 1916.

I love this picture of my great-grandmother and my grandmother, Charlotte.

Florence and Harold died within a few months of each other in 1945. They were both 60 years old. They are buried next to each other. The first time I saw their graves was in 2012. I don’t remember visiting their graves with my family but it’s possible I don’t remember.

My great-grandmother, Florence Claar Grice, died at the age of 60.
My great-grandfather, Harold Grice, died in 1945 a few months before my great-grandmother.

That about sums up my family history at Woodland Cemetery. These people were not famous. You won’t find them in the history books like the Wright brothers, Erma Bombeck or poet Paul Dunbar. But they are MY history. So they mean a great deal to me.

I like to think of those early visits to Woodland as the unwitting first link in the chain to where I am today and what I try to do. Share the stories behind the stones so the people they represent are never forgotten. Because I can remember standing over a stone that was once a mystery to me and I now take comfort in the fact that I have many of the answers now that I didn’t have then.

Next week, I’ll share the history of Woodland Cemetery and introduce you to some of its more famous residents.

Two Soldiers, Two Fates: Returning to Dayton, Ohio’s Old Greencastle Cemetery, Part II

Last week, I shared with you my return to Dayton’s Old Greencastle Cemetery and some of my family’s history there. This time, I’m branching out into the cemetery to see what stories I can uncover. One of them is definitely bittersweet and involves a father and son who both saw military action but ended up with very different fates.

Phil showed me a Union soldier’s marker that was close to my great-great-grandfather Samuel’s for a man named Robert Fisher and that his was a story worth sharing. It is believed that Robert was a former slave who had escaped from his native Kentucky at the time of his enlistment.

Robert Fisher used a few different last names including Burditt and Johnson.

Born in 1837, Robert went by more than one last name. You can find him going by Fisher, Burditt (or Burdett), and Johnson. When I did research a few years back on some young men who had enlisted in the U.S. Colored Troops in Charleston, S.C., I learned that this was fairly common at the time.

Runaway Slave Enlists in the Union Army

Robert was 26 when enlisted at Camp Danville in Kentucky on Aug. 18, 1864. Camp Nelson was established in 1863 as a recruiting station and quartermaster supply base for military operations into East Tennessee.

In the spring of 1864, when African-American soldiers were finally allowed to be recruited and trained in Kentucky, Camp Nelson became the largest center for U.S. Colored Troops in the state. Thousands of slaves and free men of color flocked to Camp Nelson to enlist and train for the U.S. Army. Many of the soldiers’ families came, too, seeking refuge.

Photo of Camp Nelson, U.S. Colored Troops Barracks. Thousands of men like Robert Fisher flocked there after African-Americans were allowed to enlist in the Union Army in 1864. (Photo Source: Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park)

Robert was placed as a private with the Battery G of the 12th USCT Heavy Artillery. I don’t know exactly what Robert did or saw. But according to what I’ve read, the 12th served railroad guard duty at various points in Tennessee and Alabama on line of the Nashville & Northwestern Railroad until December 1864.

The 12th was attached to the 2nd Colored Brigade, District of the Etowah, Department of the Cumberland, to January 1865, with defenses of Nashville & Northwestern Railroad, District of Middle Tennessee, to May 1865. They were also involved in the 3rd Sub-District, District Middle Tennessee, Department of the Cumberland, to January 1866. Robert’s records indicate he mustered out in April 1866 in Louisville, Ky.

Return to Dayton

I don’t know what Robert married Emma Morgan but it was before 1870 and they had six children: Walter, William, Mame, Emma, Clara, and Robert. The 1880 Census lists them as living in what is now Huber Heights (a suburb of Dayton) at that time with Robert working as a farmhand.

Postcard of the National Home for Disabled Veterans in Marion, Ind. from around 1910.

By 1890, Robert had lived in the Old Soldier’s Home in Dayton briefly before moving to the newly opened Marion Branch, National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Marion, Ind. He was possibly suffering from wounds incurred during his time in the Civil War. He would have been 56 by then. It wasn’t until I uncovered what happened later that I realized his family situation had possibly deteriorated to the point that separating from them may have been by choice.

Robert and Emma’s oldest son, Walter (born in 1870), followed in his father’s footsteps when he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was assigned to Co. K of the Ninth Cavalry. Known as the Buffalo Soldiers, the Ninth was one of the Army’s four segregated African-American regiments. It saw combat during the Indian and Spanish–American Wars. During Westward Expansion, the regiment provided security for the early Western settlers and defended the American borders against Indian bands, Mexican encroachment, and criminal elements.

Walter Fisher served in Company K of the Ninth Cavalry, also known as the Buffalo Soldiers. (Photo Source: Black Valor: Buffalo Soldiers and the Medal of Honor, 1870-1898 by Frank N. Schubert)

I could find nothing about what Walter personally did as part of the Ninth Cavalry but I believe at the time he was serving, his company was stationed at Fort Robinson near Crawford, Nebraska.

Brother Against Brothers

By 1894, Walter was back in Dayton working in a the saloon the family owned on Auburn Street with his siblings. According to a newspaper article I read, it was located in a neighborhood with a bad reputation where brawls and shootings were common. There was bad blood between the youngest Fisher son, 15-year-old Robert Jr., and his brothers. The feud reached a boiling point on Aug. 21, 1894 when Robert walked into the saloon and shot Walter dead. He was 24 years old.

An additional article mentioned  that Walter’s girlfriend, Nettie Simpson, committed suicide by overdosing on morphine shortly after hearing of his violent demise.

By contrast, the article describes Robert Sr. as “a hard-working and honest colored man. He is of Herculean build, and yet is a peaceable and law-abiding citizen.” It made me wonder what happened to this family over the years to bring it to this sad state of affairs. Did Robert Sr. wash his hands of the situation and seek refuge in Marion, Ind. because of it?

Army veteran Walter Fisher was shot by his younger brother, Robert, in 1894. (Photo source: Dayton Herald, Aug. 21, 1894.

On Dec. 14, 1894, Robert Jr. was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to three years in the penitentiary despite his attorney’s request that he be sent to reform school. That same year, in October, William Fisher was accused of being involved with murdering two veterans with the assistance of two of his sisters. He, too, was charged with manslaughter. But if William served any time for it, he was back home by 1900 when the U.S. Census notes he was tending bar again on Auburn Street with his mother and siblings.

A veteran of the Indian Wars, Walter Fisher’s life was cut short by his younger brother.

Robert Sr. died in 1917 at the age of 80, his remains returned to Dayton for burial in Old Greencastle. He had no marker at that time but the SUV fellows ordered one for him. William died the same year at age 46 and is buried in an unmarked grave at Old Greencastle. Robert Jr. died in Michigan in 1929 and is also buried in an unmarked grave. Brother Henry died in 1939 and sister Mary in 1919, both buried in unmarked graves. I could not trace Emma’s whereabouts but she had moved to be near Robert Jr. in Detroit during the 1920s.

A Musical Minister

I did find the grave of someone who had an association with the original church connected with Old Greencastle Cemetery.

A native of Virginia, the Rev. William R. Rhinehart was born in 1800 and wed Barbara Bender in 1824. According to his Find a Grave memorial, he was composer of hymns and songs in addition to being a Church of the Brethren pastor. He, Barbara, and their son William were living in Clear Spring, Md. in the 1830s when he published a singing school book of songs.

Rev. William Rhinehart was a minister of the Church of the Brethren.

If you read my first blog post about Old Greencastle Cemetery, you know that its name comes from the “Greencastle Circuit” of the United Brethren churches (a sect from Germany that still exists today) to which the church belonged. The Greencastle plat itself predates 1826 and is one of the oldest in Dayton.

Portrait of the Rev. William R. Rhinehart, who died in 1861.

Rev. Rhinehart belonged to the United Brethren and his association with them eventually brought him to Dayton. I believe he was employed by the original Miami Chapel United Brethren Church that was next to Old Greencastle Cemetery. It is mentioned in his will. That church was torn down and rebuilt in 1912 but is unoccupied today. Son William married Elizabeth Felker in 1855 and worked as a carpenter.

Rev. Rhinehart died in 1861 at the age of 61. His wife, Barbara, died in 1881 at age 81. Both of them have markers at Old Greencastle. William died in 1914 but does not have a marker.

Rev. Rhinehart was brought to Dayton because of his association with the Miami Chapel United Brethren Church next to the cemetery.

Barbara Rhinehart passed away about 20 years after her husband.

An Anonymous Collection

I’m going to finish out this post with something I don’t normally do. As is typical of many cemeteries, you’ll find markers that may have had a name on them that has since worn away or been broken off. That doesn’t make them any less meaningful, but perhaps more mysterious.

This first heart-shaped one appealed to me because of the colorful glass pieces inserted around the edges. My grandfather used to have a stone bench at his house in Centerville, Ohio that looked similar. The hummingbird at the stop is especially whimsical.

The hummingbird at the top of this anonymous homemade marker gives it a whimsical feel.

Then there’s this cast iron lamb, which has seen better days. I am guessing it was meant for a child’s grave. There is no name on it.

This cast iron lamb was probably to make a child’s final resting place.

Then there’s this last one that I first saw in 2012 and fell in love with. I have no idea who this little stone house was built for but if you look closely, you can see the word “Father” on the roof. I had to take a picture of it again. Was this man a carpenter? A builder? I’ll probably never know.

This little stone house always tugs at my heart.

Saying goodbye to Old Greencastle Cemetery was harder this time because I had a stronger connection to it now and had met the people taking care of my ancestors’ final resting place. I am grateful to the local volunteers who come out for clean up days and the folks to the SUV, Sherman Camp #93 that continue to care for the graves as best they can. It’s not an easy task.

Old Greencastle’s future looks bright, despite the fact there are no funds to maintain it and the city has no interest in providing any. There are going to be times when it looks a little rough around the edges, especially during the summer when the grass grows quickly. But this is a fate common to many old, abandoned cemeteries facing similar circumstances. I feel blessed that this one is getting any attention at all.

Next time, I’ll be exploring Dayton’s Woodland Cemetery, where more of my family is buried.

 

 

 

 

 

A Grave Marker for Samuel: Returning to Dayton, Ohio’s Old Greencastle Cemetery, Part I

Today I begin a two-part series on a place I’ve written about before and that I have an ancestral connection to: Dayton, Ohio’s Old Greencastle Cemetery.

In October 2018, after a stop in Cincinnati at Spring Grove Cemetery & Arboretum, my mother, sister, and I continued on to Dayton about 50 miles north. Dayton is where my parents are from and the area where my sister and I were born. We moved to Georgia when I was five years old, but we’ve always returned to visit family and take trips down memory lane.

It wasn’t until around 2008 after my son was born that I started researching my family tree. There was so much I didn’t know and certainly not where most of my ancestors were buried.

That research resulted in a 2012 visit to Old Greencastle Cemetery that I wrote about in this post and then an update and then another update in 2014. It was in terrible shape in 2012 because the owner didn’t care about it and has since vanished. The only section that was mowed in any fashion was the veterans’ area.

This was how Old Greencastle Cemetery looked in November 2012.

Those posts detail the history of Old Greencastle and how my great-great-grandfather (1837-1912) Samuel Grice served as a Union soldier during the Civil War as a member of the 93rd Ohio Infantry. When he died of heart disease on May 11, 1912 at the age of 74, he was buried at Old Greencastle Cemetery with no marker. His wife, Margaret, doesn’t have one either. She died in 1919.

I had stayed in touch with Fred Lynch, senior vice commander of the Sons of Union Veterans, Major General William T. Sherman Camp #93, over the years, enjoying the updates he sent me on how the cemetery was doing. It’s been mostly thanks to him and the other SUV volunteers that any mowing, trimming, or repairs have been done. On occasion, Montgomery County Commissioner Debbie Lieberman has sent over the community pride clean-up trailer with landscaping equipment to help out.

I finally got to meet Fred Lynch and Phil Brandt, who were the ones responsible for getting a veteran’s marker for Samuel Grice.

I was thrilled in 2018 that I learned from Fred and Phil Brandt (who had been researching Old Greencastle for some time) that the SUV applied to get a veteran’s marker for Samuel and that it had been approved. We would be able to see it during our visit.

My mother, sister, and I met up with Frank and Phil. It was an emotional day for me, finally getting to meet two people who had done so much to help keep this abandoned cemetery from dying. The improvements to Old Greencastle were obvious as we looked around.

This is what Old Greencastle Cemetery looked like in October 2018.

It also has a nifty new sign, which I didn’t have a chance to take a picture of that day so I borrowed this one they posted on Facebook in 2019.

A new sign for Old Greencastle.

The first place they pointed us to was Samuel’s new marker, which they had recently placed. I was a bit teary eyes about it, frankly. It touched my heart that a group of people who had never met me or my family had gone to the trouble of applying for a headstone for Samuel, a man who had not had much in the way of material goods in his lifetime. I wish we had a marker for Margaret as well, but that may come later.

Although Samuel probably didn’t see combat during the Civil War, he did serve in the Union Army.

We had wondered how it was that Samuel and Margaret ended up buried in this cemetery. That mystery was solved when Fred located a property map that showed the Grices and Olingers (Margaret’s maiden name) had owned land in the same neighborhood as the cemetery. I had spotted Olinger graves during my 2012 visit.

The Grice and Olingers owned property in the Greencastle area. You can see it in the top right corner of the red square.

Two of Samuel’s sons Harry and Wilbert married two sisters, Florence and Cordelia Claar. These two women were the daughters of Louisa Elvira McCoy Claar and John Irwin Claar. That’s where my next Old Greencastle story begins.

The sisters were born in rural Jackson County, Ohio in the 1880s where the Claar family had lived for years. At some point after 1900, the Claars moved to Dayton. Florence married my great-grandfather Harry Grice just a month before her father John died in February 1906. He is buried in Beaver Union Cemetery in Pike County, Ohio.

Cordelia married Wilbert Grice a few months later. Sadly, that marriage would end in divorce some years later. They had one daughter, Margaret.

Cordelia, Vinton, and Mabel are in the front row. Edward, John, Florence, Louisa, and Everett are behind them. Florence, who is standing, was my great-grandmother.

The next years were hard on Louisa and the remaining siblings. The boys took jobs doing whatever they could, from making cigars to posting signs. Edward and Vinton never married. Mabel worked as a housekeeper until her marriage to Elmer Ellsman.

Edward died at the age of 37 in April 1919. By this time, the family had changed their last name from “Claar” to “Clair” in everything I’ve seen. My guess is that World War I made having a German-sounding last name quite uncomfortable.

The Claars became the Clairs sometime around World War I, when having a German-sounding last name could cause problems. (Photo source: Dayton Herald, April 8, 1919)

You can’t even read Edward’s marker anymore. When I came in 2012, I couldn’t find it amid the tall grass and weeds.

William Edward Claar’s marker is unreadable now.

Everett, the oldest, married later in life to a woman named Laura. They would move to Pennsylvania but had no children. He died in 1966 and is buried with Laura in Natrona Heights, Pa. in Mount Airy Cemetery.

Louisa was my father’s grandmother and I do have photos of her later in life. Early in my grandparents’ marriage and the first few years of my father’s life, they lived with my great-grandmother Florence and Harry on Milton Street. That’s about five miles from Old Greencastle. I’m sure Louisa lived nearby. This is the one photo I have of my father, Florence, and Louisa together.

My father, Florence Claar Grice, and Louisa McCoy Claar a few years before Louisa died in 1941.

It was this photo we took with us to Dayton on our visit. My mother was holding it as I knelt beside Louisa’s stone. Louisa died in 1941 at the age of 83 after what the newspaper called an 18-month illness. She was living with Cordelia when she died. I feel sad that her marker is homemade and falling apart. But at least she has one.

Paying homeage to Louisa Elvira McCoy Claar, our great-great-grandmother. I hope we’ve made her proud.

My great-grandmother, Florence, died in 1945. She is buried with Harry in Dayton’s Woodland Cemetery, a far larger cemetery than Old Greencastle. We’ll visit her grave in a few weeks when I explore that vast burial ground.

Vinton died in 1946 at age 56 and was buried with his mother and Edward. His marker is also in poor condition. Mabel, the youngest, died in 1982 at the age of 87. She is buried with her husband, Elmer, in Dayton Memorial Cemetery.

Vinton, the youngest son, died in 1946 at the age of 56.

It’s an understatement to say that these simple gravestone represent a lot to me. These were my ancestors, my family, whom for years I knew nothing about. My father and grandfather never spoke of them.

We dearly hope to provide a new single marker for Louisa, Edward, and Vinton so that something is in place once their markers disintegrate, which will sadly happen sooner than later. I’ve been looking into the expense and how to do it.

I’ve got some more stories to share from Old Greencastle that I know you’ll enjoy. Come back for Part II.