Monday, June 13, 2011

Wesleyan Cemetery (1842)

Dear George,

I felt like taking photos the other day, so I took a trek to the Wesleyan Cemetery on Colerain Avenue in Northside. While I’ve driven past it a zillion times, it was only recently that I thought about it as a photo site. At first I worried that being interested in cemeteries was some sort of senior citizen morbid aberration. But then I realized that I was fascinated with Menominee’s Riverside Cemetery as a kid, Steven and I regularly opting to ride our bikes through the cemetery on our way home from school. There’s something about being in the midst of thousands of corpses that is eerie, even a little tension-inducing.

The Wesleyan Cemetery is the oldest continuously operating cemetery in Hamilton County. It’s on 24 acres of land purchased by the Methodist Church in 1843 when their other cemeteries had filled up. About 17,000 people are now buried there, including a thousand veterans. While most people think of Spring Grove as Cincinnati’s first cemetery to be created in a park-like style, Wesleyan actually predated it by several years. There are seven veterans of the Revolutionary War buried there, including one who held a rank equivalent to today’s Surgeon General. There’s also a section for Civil War veterans. Wesleyan is Cincinnati’s first racially integrated cemetery, burials of African-Americans and whites dating back to years before the Civil War. It was used back then as a stop on the Underground Railroad, with abolitionists faking funerals so escaping slaves could slip away along the nearby Mill Creek.

Wesleyan Cemetery began going downhill as early as 1912, and by the 1950s there were problems with unmarked and mismarked graves. In 1992 people reported finding unearthed bones in discarded piles of dirt. Most recently the previous cemetery owner, a 62-year-old unordained minister, was found guilty of pocketing the $97,000 endowment meant for the cemetery’s upkeep. When Hamilton County took it over, the grounds were suffering from waist-high grass, debris, and sunken or lost graves. It’s doing much better these days. Here are some photos.



G-Mail Comments

-Vicki L (6-26): Hi David, Remember digging for arrowheads at the cemetery (along the river bank)? I was recently contacted by an archeological group and gave permission for them to dig (and refill) a couple of holes in my bank on the river to see if they thought it might be a site for Indian relics. I get to keep them if they find any! (Just what I need...more relics...). Also, have you seen Greg's many photos of monuments he's designed and are now installed both here and abroad? They're very interesting and quite beautiful, I think. You can see them on Facebook. Wonder if Wesleyan would allow these modern versions of headstones, given it's historical bent. Love, V

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