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.