by Mike Roberts, Church Historian
Are you looking for a safe activity this fall that will not expose you to the COVID virus? How about taking a hike at Spring Grove Cemetery? That may sound like a macabre way to spend a few hours, but take a closer look. First, cemeteries are a very safe place to walk. You encounter few people and even if you do meet up with someone, there is abundant space to steer away from them. You can leave your mask in your pocket. Second, Spring Grove is more than just an accumulation of deceased Cincinnatians. It is a walk through the history of the city. Familiar names are abundant. Just to name a few: Morelein, Pogue, Stanton, Lytle, Taft, Procter, Gamble, Kroger, Longworth, Heimlich, Wurlitzer and that voice from the past, Waite Hoyt. (if you remember Waite Hoyt, you are as old as I am.) Over forty Civil War generals are buried in the cemetery, including “Fighting” Joe Hooker.
But, you will need a map to guide your walk. This cemetery is gigantic. It currently is the second largest cemetery in the United States with over 250,000 entombments. Only a Catholic Cemetery in the Bronx, New York is larger. You can get a map at the visitor center and it includes one mile, two mile and three and a half mile paths that you can tackle. Also, there is a walk highlighted on the cemetery website that takes you to about 50 of the most famous persons in the cemetery as well as some of the architectural wonders that have been erected there. All of these are located in the lower sections. Spring Grove has been designated a National Historic Landmark, one of only seven cemeteries in the U.S. to achieve that designation.
With our church’s commitment to green burial you might also be interested in visiting Spring Grove’s green burial area. It was opened in 2016, and Reverend Bill wrote a piece on this event in the May 2016 Heirloom if you would like to read about it. However, this section sits at the top of the cemetery, a one-and-a-half-mile uphill walk, so you may want to drive up to the site if the walk is too much of a challenge.
This cemetery is also an arboretum and garden extraordinaire. It has many varieties of exotic plants, state champion trees and even a number of trees especially bred for the cemetery, like the Spring Grove Dogwood. Flowers abound and in fall the colors should be astounding.
Since this is a newsletter for our church, there has to be some tie to Heritage. Two of our former ministers are buried here. John Gurley, minister from 1839 to 1842, is in Section 36. Gurley left the ministry to publish and edit the local Universalist newspaper, later served in Congress, became a general in the Union Army and was appointed by Abraham Lincoln as the first governor of the Arizona Territory. Sadly, he died of a burst appendix before he could head west to serve in Arizona.
Isaac Williamson is buried in Section 110. He served as our minister from 1854 to 1857 but also had many short stints as an interim minister. He was perhaps the most published writer on Universalist issues in his day and also served as a national officer in the International Order of Odd Fellows. He is buried next to Reverend John Cantwell another Universalist minister who never served permanently in our church but occupied the pulpit as a guest minister on many occasions.
A number of former members of our church are buried in Spring Grove, most prominently the Crosleys who rest in peace in Section 117.
There is also a good chance that relatives of yours might be buried in the cemetery. You can check through the cemetery website which has a search tool to find burials and also an excellent location system so you can easily find the correct grave site.
While a walk amidst 250,000 deceased persons might seem depressing, these people are still alive with stories to be told of their accomplishments, their highs and their lows. Many of those stories involve the history of our hometown from its beginnings to the present day. As you walk around the cemetery, listen for their tales.
Top image: Cemetery marker for Rev. John Gurley.
All images are courtesy of Mike Roberts.