By Rick Palsgrove, Southeast Editor
A gray sky blended with the late October twilight as people gathered to tour the Groveport Cemetery.
The Groveport Heritage Society’s tour of Groveport Cemetery on Oct. 29 consisted of about three dozen people who gathered to walk the historic cemetery. The tour was lead by Groveport Public Works Superintendent Dennis Moore, who has worked for the city 23 years and also serves as the sexton of the cemetery.
“I’m a real estate agent of permanent addresses,” Moore said of his role as cemetery caretaker.
Groveport Cemetery dates back to 1809 when family members selected the site for the grave of Catherine G. Richardson, who passed away at age 22 that year. Hers is the oldest marked burial in what would become the Groveport Cemetery and her coffin shaped tombstone is one of the more artful and interesting markers there.
According to Moore there could be older graves than Richardson’s in the cemetery as there are many unmarked graves in the old sections of the cemetery. Records about long ago burials in the cemetery are sparse and many of the deeds to old plots are lost or never existed.
Moore said that, in the early years of the cemetery, it is possible that when someone died, their family took them to the cemetery and buried them without filing any records. Because of this, he said no one is really sure which unmarked grave plots are filled and which are not.
“There’s no worse feeling to be digging a new grave in the older sections of the cemetery and then hit an old wooden coffin or vault in an unmarked existing grave,” said Moore, who added that in the old days people who could afford it would line a grave with a brick vault.
He said the city used ground penetrating radar in an effort to find filled unmarked graves and found some, but it is an inexact process.
Tombstones of various styles dramatically fill the landscape of the cemetery. Many of the old stones there were made from stone quarried in Lithopolis.
“Those old stones and the sandstone ones don’t like acid rain,” said Moore in noting that years of erosion has erased the wording on some of the old tombstones.
One old section of the cemetery, which contains many unmarked graves, includes the final resting places of residents who died during the two cholera epidemics in Groveport that occurred in the mid-1800s.
Various disease epidemics sporadically swept through Groveport in its early years resulting in the loss of many lives. According to the historian George Bareis, in his book, “History of Madison Township, Including Canal Winchester and Groveport, Ohio,” “…a great deal of sickness prevailed, especially in 1823-24, when a terrible epidemic of fevers, ague, and chills reigned.”
Moore shared interesting facts about the cemetery including: there are 129 military veterans buried there; in a triangular section at the west end of the cemetery are older graves that were moved to Groveport from land where Lockbourne Air Force Base (now Rickenbacker) was built; and an earthen mausoleum, that was once accessible and is now sealed and covered by ground on the south edge of the cemetery.
Moore encouraged people to visit and wander through the cemetery, take time to look around, and discover some of the history of Groveport. The cemetery offers stories, art, and natural beauty.
“You’ll see many familiar names on these tombstones. These are the people who built Groveport,” said Moore. “Many streets and roads are named after them. Look around and you’ll find stories on tombstones that make you wonder, like the fellow who is buried here who came to Groveport from Germany in 1833. It makes you think about why he came here and what his life was like.”
In his book, “The Last Great Necessity: Cemeteries in American History,” David Charles Sloane writes, “Americans tend to think of the cemetery as a static institution, one that has existed, and will exist, forever. But the cemetery is dynamic. Cemeteries, like farms, cities, suburbs, theaters, businesses, and people, are born, live, and die. Anyone who has ever walked through the high grass and broken stones of a country graveyard or urban cemetery knows this.”
The Groveport Cemetery is well cared for by Moore and his crew.
“We’ve seen the Groveport Cemetery change and grow,” said Moore. “We have a great staff who respect it and who put care and love into it.”
The Groveport Cemetery is a place of memories and a place for one to be remembered. It is located along Wirt Road near Heritage Park and can be visited during daylight hours.