Cemeteries have much to teach us


Life Moments column
By Christine Bryant

After doing research for a story I wrote on gems of Reynoldsburg – places that people may not know exist right in their own backyards – I came across something I didn’t expect.

Though I’ve lived in the city for several years, I had no idea right down the street from where I live are the final resting places of soldiers who served in the Revolutionary War.

Though thousands pass by Seceder Cemetery every day, it’s a good lesson that reminds us we can learn a lot from the least likely places.

Hidden behind commercial property along  Route 256 heading out of the city, the cemetery is a wealth of information and stories. The tombstone of James Crawford is one of several nestled in the small cemetery.

Born in 1757, Crawford married Martha Dickey in 1776 in Nova Scotia, and soon after they came to America, James joined the American Army. According to several history websites, he became a prisoner during the Revolutionary War and was chained in a dungeon at Halifax.

He and his wife, who waited upon the prisoners, came up with a plan to escape. Leaving her 6-month-old child behind with her parents, Martha successfully got her husband aboard a steamer after a successful escape and the two returned to Nova Scotia to get their baby before eventually settling in Cambridge, N.Y.

Crawford died in 1838 and is one of five Revolutionary War soldiers buried in Seceder Cemetery. Several more are buried throughout central Ohio – not to mention the countless soldiers who served in the wars that followed.

Several cemeteries also hold the stories of other people who played a role in our history, from Camp Chase on the westside to Green Lawn Cemetery outside downtown Columbus.

I’ll never forget as a student at Ohio University nearly two decades ago, I went to visit the Ridges one afternoon. Sitting on top of a hill that overlooked the campus, is a once abandoned mental health center – originally known as the Athens Asylum for the Insane when it opened in the late 1800s. Walking around the property, I came across a cemetery behind the building.

Very few of the gravestones featured names. Instead, just numbers.

According to the site, forgottenoh.com, roughly 2,000 people were buried in the Athens State Hospital burial grounds before 1972. The burials ended with Female #847 and Male #1117.

Apparently, tombstones only featured names if the family of the patient who died paid for the stone. If not, the tombstone reflected the patient’s number.

Due to missing records, the identities of the male patients with numbers 1 through 63 are lost to history.

It was a sobering place to visit at the time, and though parts have been since demolished while others have been renovated and turned into classrooms and office buildings by the current owner, Ohio University, I imagine it is still somewhat sobering to drive up the hill and be greeted by the eerie Victorian-era buildings.

Throughout the year, the Southeast Ohio History Center offers walking tours of the grounds and cemeteries, allowing visitors to learn about what life was like for the residents, as well as the employed, at the Asylum.

Here in central Ohio, Green Lawn regularly hosts events and tours, as does the Columbus Landmarks Foundation at other cemeteries in the city such as Mt. Calvary, the oldest active Catholic Cemetery in Columbus.

Cemeteries are a final resting place – and should be respected as such. They’re also a way for us to get to know the history of not only our local community, but the nation as a whole, simply by getting to know our neighbors a little bit better.

Christine Bryant is a Messenger staff writer and columnist.


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