I’ve visited Cincinnati, Ohio’s Spring Grove Cemetery & Arboretum twice. The first time was in June 2013 before my blogging career had really taken off, so we didn’t stay long. Plus my then five-year-old son’s attention span for cemetery hopping was pretty low.
The second time was in October 2018 when I came up to Ohio to visit family (and cemeteries) with my mother and sister. I purposefully planned our journey so that our first night was spent in Cincinnati so I could get up early the next morning while they were still asleep to visit Spring Grove with friend Ken Naegele (aka The Necro Tourist) as my tour guide. We’d met on Facebook some time before and he kindly offered to give me a tour with what limited time I had.
What I will be sharing with you in this series will include photos from both visits because some things I saw in 2013 I skipped in 2018 due to time constraints.
Birth of Spring Grove
Until the 1840s, Cincinnati had no large city cemetery to speak of but a collection of about 22 small church burial grounds. The growing metropolis had gone through a number of epidemics so some town fathers were concerned about having enough burial space.
In 1844, Cincinnati Horticultural Society members formed a cemetery association with the hope of creating a suitable park-like institution, a rural cemetery, close to the city yet remote enough not to be touched by expansion. They traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe visiting cemeteries as they planned a burial ground that would equal the famed beauty of Pere-Lachaise in Paris, and various outstanding cemeteries on America’s East Coast.
On December 1, 1844, Salmon P. Chase and others prepared the Articles of Incorporation. Chase persuaded legislators to grant a charter for a non-profit non-denominational corporation, which was granted by a special act on January 21, 1845. Spring Grove’s first interment was made September 1, 1845.
A bit of trivia for you, Salmon P. Chase went on to become a U.S. Senator, Governor of Ohio, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and a Supreme Court Justice serving from 1864-1873. He is buried at Spring Grove. Thanks to Ken, I saw his grave.
In 1987, Spring Grove officially changed its name to Spring Grove Cemetery & Arboretum to include the collection of both native and exotic plant materials as well as its State and National Champion Trees and its Centenarian Collection. Today, Spring Grove encompasses 733 acres of which approximately 450 acres are landscaped and maintained. It includes 15 lakes and an estimated 225,000 burials. I’m betting there’s more than that.
Spring Grove 2018
When I went to meet Ken, I ended up arriving through the North Gate in the rear of the cemetery. We managed to connect and knowing I didn’t have much time, he started showing me around.
Today I’m going to try to feature some of the more famous residents at Spring Grove like Salmon P. Chase. Another is a pair of gentlemen whose legacy continues to give millions a good night’s sleep even today. That would be mighty mattress masters Stearns & Foster.
Sweet Dreams Started Humbly
So how did this duo meet? Poor Kentucky native Seth Cutter Foster (1823-1914) moved to Cincinnati as a young man. After gaining some education by attending a night school, he found work in a dry goods store. That’s where he met Maryland native and prosperous printer George Sullivan Stearns (1816-1889). That meeting would lead to a partnership forged around 1846.Stearns, engaged in the manufacturing of printers’ ink and being naturally mechanical, was experimenting with producing cotton wadding and other cotton goods (especially in the cushions of carriages). Foster was selling cotton goods over the counter and he suggested to Stearns that he could find a market for the goods the latter was manufacturing.
Their factory first produced cotton wadding and was located at the corner of Clay and Liberty streets for about 15 years. They moved to Lockland, still retaining offices in Cincinnati. By this time, they were expanding to batting, mattresses, and other related cotton products.
At the Lockland factory’s peak in the 1970s, Stearns & Foster employed more than 1,200 people who produced 200 mattresses and spring sets daily under the Stearns & Foster and Sealy brands. It was acquired by the Ohio-Sealy Mattress Manufacturing Company on December 21, 1983. The mattress manufacturing operation at its Lockland plant was shut down in September 30, 1993. Sealy continues to market Stearns & Foster brand mattresses today.
Ken related the good news to me that Sterns and Foster are actually buried quite close to each others. Even in death, they were close.
George Foster died on Nov. 24, 1889 at the age of 74, leaving behind a widow (Amelia) and eight grown children (one child died young).
Seth Foster died on July 8, 1914 at the age of 90. His monument is a bit grander than his partner’s.
Candles and Soap?
Another great business partnership has its roots in Cincinnati and both men are buried at Spring Grove Cemetery.
A native of England born in 1801, William Procter got his start in the clothing trade. He made his way to America in 1830 and briefly manufactured candles in New York. His wife, Martha, died on the journey west in Cincinnati and he decided to stay. In 1833, he wed Olivia Norris. It was her father, Alexander Norris, that advised William to go into business with Olivia’s sister’s husband, Irishman James Gamble. James was a soap maker. The men started their business venture in 1837.
By 1858, Procter & Gamble sales reached $1 million with about 80 employees. During the Civil War, the company won contracts to supply the Union Army with soap and candles. In addition to the increased profits experienced during the war, the military contracts introduced soldiers from all over the country to Procter & Gamble’s products.
In the 1880s, Procter & Gamble began to market a new product, an inexpensive soap that floated in water. William Procter’s son Harley named it Ivory after reading Psalm 45:8: “All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad.”
An Empire Grows
Through the next decades, Proctor & Gamble would go on to bring more products into its lineup. These include detergents, soap powder, shampoos, toilet goods, and a long list of consumer staples.
William Procter passed away on April 4, 1884 at the age of 82. His wife, Olivia, died in 1893. Their son, William Alexander Procter, became president of Procter & Gamble in 1890. Sadly, William A. died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on March 28, 1907. He had been consumed with grief since the death of his wife, Charlotte, in 1903.
James Gamble died on April 29, 1892 at the age of 88. His wife, Elizabeth, had died in 1888. His obelisk is significantly larger than his business partner’s marker.
The last person I’m featuring may not be a household name like the others but Bishop Charles Petit McIlvaine holds a distinction that nobody else buried in Spring Grove can claim. I’ll get to that later.
Born in 1799 in Burlington, N.J., McIlvaine was the son of Joseph McIlvaine (later a U.S. Senator) and Maria Reed. McIlvaine entered the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), where he graduated in 1816. The following year, he entered the theological seminary attached to the First Presbyterian Church of Princeton.
Served as Senate Chaplain Twice
In 1820, McIlvaine was ordained to the diaconate in Philadelphia, and was soon after called to Christ Church in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. From Dec. 9, 1822 to Dec. 9, 1823 and from Dec. 14, 1824 to Dec. 11, 1825, he served as chaplain of the U.S. Senate. In 1822, he married childhood friend Emily Coxe. Together, they had 10 children. Two would die in childhood. Three of them are buried with their parents at Spring Grove.
From 1825 to 1827, McIlvaine served as chaplain and professor of ethics at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Among his students were Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis.
In 1832, he became the second president of Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, and also the second Bishop of Ohio. He was a leading advocate of Evangelicalism. Over the next years, he gained a reputation of being a wise voice by his peers in England.
Bishop McIlvaine was so highly respected internationally that soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, President Lincoln asked him to go to England to argue against British recognition of the Confederacy. He often had coffee at Buckingham Palace, lunched with faculty members at Oxford, spoke with cabinet members, and influenced debate in the House of Commons.
Bishop McIlvaine finished his 40-year term as Bishop of Ohio in 1873. He was in Florence, Italy that same year when he died on March 12 at age 74. His remains, carried through England on its journey home to Ohio, was honored for four days in Westminster Abbey. He is the only American to this day to lie in state at Westminster.
Here’s a rather strange footnote. The final journey of Bishop McIlvaine’s remains was incredibly long. His remains traveled from Florence (he died March 12) to London (first funeral) to Liverpool to New York City’s St. Paul’s on May 6 (second funeral) before arriving in Ohio at Cincinnati’s Christ Church on May 9 (third funeral) before burial in Spring Grove.
All I can think is that he had to be very well embalmed to withstand such a lengthy journey. Cremation was not widely available in those days but would be in the decades that followed.
Emily McIlvaine died in New York City on Feb. 19, 1877 (her 76th birthday), four years after the death of her husband.
I’ll be back next time with more stories from Cincinnati’s Spring Hill Cemetery & Arboretum.
Margot Monaghan said:
What a wonderful history of Spring Grove and explanation of who is buried there. I have family members buried there and always enjoy the lush settings. My father’s ashes are in the chapel mauseleum green house section! I always love going to visit him. It is immaculate and serene.
Hi, Margot! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I actually have a distant relative buried at Spring Grove, I was looking for his grave back in 2013 on my first visit. It is a gorgeous cemetery indeed!
Richard Kuhlman said:
Nice job, and I look forward to your next time. I have relatives buried in S.G., and my father taught me safe driving on the miles of curving lanes, usually on Sundays. I was always told it is the largest cemetery in the US behind Arlington.
Hi, Richard! So glad you liked my post. I can see how driving on those twisting roads would prove to be beneficial for a young driver! 🙂
Nancy Karlen said:
Bruce L. Mair said:
Live in Indianapolis and after reading your article I will make a day journey to this historic cemetary. Your story tell me much more than I would have known from just touring. I have visited Westminster twice. I’ll be certain my next trip to locate the plaque. Also been to Pierre la Chaise. (Too much to absorb in one trip) Thank you so much for the enjoyable reading.
Hello, Bruce! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. I think you’ll truly enjoy it. I’m jealous that you’ve been to Westminster twice. The one time I was there it was closed because the Queen was arriving to dedicate some new statues. At least I got to see HER, right? And I’ve yet to see Pere LaChaise. My plan was to go last summer but COVID ruined those plans. I’m also jealous you live near Crown Hill Cemetery, which is another cemetery I have on my “MUST SEE” list.