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Graves, Ghouls And Ghosts Uncovered In Cincinnati History


Dying in Cincinnati didn’t always mean a final rest in peace. Two UC researchers unearth the architecture, the history and the legends of Cincinnati’s cemeteries, including the infamous 19th century body-snatchings in the spirit of education.

Date: 10/22/2004 12:00:00 AM
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos By: Tom White

UC ingot   An array of headstones – bodies not included – decorates neighborhood lawns as much as graveyards during the Halloween season. But if you’re looking for the real thing and the stories about the dead and buried in Cincinnati, first, you’ll want to browse through the new book section of your local book store.
Book cover

Historians Kevin Grace and Tom White – researchers at the University of Cincinnati – are co-authors of Cincinnati Cemeteries: The Queen City Underground.  The book, due to arrive in bookstores Oct. 25, is the latest addition in Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series that celebrates the history of neighborhoods and cities across the country.

The book is divided into four key sections as it explores “Death and Dying in Cincinnati,” the historic Spring Grove Cemetery, other “Notable Cemeteries and Monuments” and “Cincinnatians Worth Knowing.”

The culture of death and dying in Cincinnati was hardly peaceful in the 19th century. Often the dearly departed and freshly buried would be raised from the grave by “Resurrection Men,” a medley of macabre moneymakers who would disinter corpses for profit. “This area had at least a dozen medical colleges and they needed cadavers for research and teaching purposes,” White explains. “At the time, there was no legal way for people to donate their bodies to science, so medical schools would pay grave robbers to provide corpses for anatomy instruction.” Grace adds that when the freshly buried bodies weren’t available, an inebriated saloon patron who stumbled into the wrong dark alley could easily become the next victim of that involuntary body donation program.

White writes in Cincinnati Cemeteries that the area’s most famous grave-robbing victim was the youngest son of U.S. President William Henry Harrison and was the father of U.S. President Benjamin Harrison. The corpse of John Scott Harrison, who died in 1878, turned up at Ohio Medical College on Sixth Street downtown and the ensuing attention to the high-profile case led to legislation that legalized voluntary body donations.

A weather-worn statue of Carrie Hurley in Spring Grove Cemetery

The book explores Cincinnati’s history as a manufacturing center for hearses. The city’s Crane and Breed Casket Company produced the casket for President Abraham Lincoln. The company also made the nation’s first mass-produced motorized hearse.

The book notes the state’s oldest African American cemetery – the United American Cemetery on Duck Road. There’s also mention of St. Joseph Cemetery in Price Hill, New St. Joseph Cemetery (opened in 1911), United Baptist Cemetery, Wesleyan Cemetery, Calvary Cemetery, United Jewish Cemetery, Walnut Hills Cemetery, St. Mary Cemetery, Laurel Cemetery, Hillcrest Cemetery and others. But the authors add that with some more exploring, there might be a volume two to add to their Cincinnati cemetery history.

Spring Grove Cemetery, established in 1845, is one of the earliest garden cemeteries in the United States. Its scenery is highlighted in a chapter dedicated only to Spring Grove Cemetery, where many UC notables are buried.

“I think what sets this book apart from other cemetery books are the stories of the people involved,” Grace says. “These people are a part of our culture, yet we know little about them. They’re not the richest or the most famous or the most accomplished, but what they did has had an impact.”

The chapter about “Cincinnatians Worth Knowing”  features 49 names, including Louis Hudepohl, Barney Kroger, William Henry Elder and baseball great William “Buck” Ewing. UC notables include Charles McMicken, Annie Laws and Jimmy Nippert, the UC football player who was spiked in the leg during a Thanksgiving Day football game in 1923, and died of blood poisoning from the injury that Christmas. UC’s Nippert Stadium is named in his memory.

The Hoffner family plot in Spring Grove Cemetery

And, as UC’s Homecoming on Oct. 30 celebrates 100 years of the Mick and Mack lions on UC’s campus, Cincinnati Cemeteries features a family plot that also has two hauntingly familiar lions on the pathway. Real estate mogul Jacob Hoffner, who is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery, bequeathed his estate to the city of Cincinnati in 1894, when UC was still a municipal institution. The city offered one set of Hoffner’s lions to the university in 1904. They were positioned at the entrance to McMicken Hall, and named Mick and Mack.

“The architecture is beautiful, the stories are interesting, and we wanted to bring a little life to that,” concludes Grace.

Kevin Grace is head of UC archives and an adjunct assistant professor in the College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services. Tom White is head of monograph ordering for University Libraries. The two authors also collaborated on Arcadia Publishing’s Cincinnati Revealed: A Photographic Heritage of the Queen City, and  Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine.

Cincinnati Cemeteries: The Queen City Underground ($19.99) will be available online at Amazon.com, as well as Joseph Beth Booksellers, Borders, Barnes & Noble, the Cincinnati Museum Center, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Ohio Bookstore and the UC Bookstore.