In This Issue: Fall 2015

Along with the usual book reviews, this edition of the Northeast Ohio Journal of History features an exhibit that touches on the intersection of several historical phenomena readily visible to residents of Northeast Ohio. “Understanding Tombstones in Cleveland: Religion, Memory, Social Status, and Gender in Cemeteries” by Frank Jastrzembski traces the ways in which tombstones of area cemeteries reflect the social, cultural, and economic realities of the eras in which they were made, as well as their changes through time. With numerous representative photographs of tombstones used as examples, this piece revives the “virtual museum exhibit” that had been a regular feature of this journal since its first issue.

This issue also takes advantage of our new, more streamlined website interface.  We hope this will make future editions easier to produce, and will be working to make all back issues readily available in the new format.  As always, if you have questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact the editor at

Kevin Kern

Feature Article: Exhibit: Understanding Tombstones in Cleveland: Religion, Memory, Social Status, and Gender in Cemeteries
By Frank Jastrzembski

Book Reviews

Do They Miss Me at Home? The Civil War Letters of William McKnight, Seventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry. Edited by Donald C. Maness and H. Jason Combs. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2010. xv, 271 pp. Hardcover. $ 35.96. ISBN 9780821419144.
By Andrew J. Carlson

Andrew Welsh-Huggins. No Winners Here Tonight: Race, Politics, and Geography in One of the Country’s Busiest Death Penalty States. Ohio University Press Series on Law, Society, and Politics in the Midwest. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2009. x + 222 pp. Acknowledgements, introduction, notes, selected bibliography, index.
By Charles F. Casey-Leininger

The Untried Life: The 29th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War. By James T. Fritsch. (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2012. 516 pp.)

By Natalie Hall-Hiles

Book Review: The Untried Life: The 29th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War. By James T. Fritsch. (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2012. 516 pp.)

In The Untried Life: The 29th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War, James T. Fritsch provides an in-depth and extensive chronological regimental history of the men involved in the creation and sustenance of the 29th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.  Fritsch’s goal is to provide an accurate and comprehensive history, which he argues is critical to understanding just how important and unique a role these men played in the war.  The only previous history of the regiment was written in the 1880s by a man named J. Hampton SeCheverell, who spent a mere six months with the regiment before being mustered out of service.  That fact alone was not the only early regimental recording’s weakness; according to Fritsch, the history was a mere 130 pages and had a very triumphalist tone.

Fritsch sought to do more.  His ambition covered fifteen years of research and writing, attempting to give as complete a picture as possible of the regiment’s origins, its battles, and its dissolution.  Moreover, he believed it absolutely necessary to explore not only the highlights and triumphs of battle, but also the darker side of war, where desertion, flagging morale, and questions of morality always lurked.

The regiment’s soldiers came primarily from two counties in Ohio: Summit and Ashtabula, both of which were notorious hotbeds of anti-slavery sentiment and outspoken abolitionists like Joshua R. Giddings.  The area was so closely associated with the abolitionist movement throughout the nation that the 29th OVI became concerned about their own safety, as they feared they would be hanged if captured by the enemy.  The creation of the 29th was largely based on the disappointment they felt as part of the 19th Ohio Volunteer, where in their short time served as part of this regiment, they were not paid and were expected to enforce the Fugitive Slave laws; in effect, making proud soldiers with a history of abolitionist sentiment into slave catchers.  Giddings, who largely influenced the creation of the 29th in the first place, saw their purpose not as a fight to salvage the broken Union, as so many others of his day saw the purpose of the war, but instead saw the soldier’s sacrifice as the beginning of the end for slavery.  In a letter to Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, he wrote that, “The first gun fired at Fort Sumter rang out the death-knell of slavery.” (p.14)

Fritsch’s account also highlights the changing attitudes with which soldiers confronted the hardness and unforgiving nature of war.  In the spring of 1862, soldiers had backtracked their steps a number of miles to repair a fence that the soldiers had damaged.  They did so because they did not want to offend the owner of the fence.  A year later, in the summer of 1863, between the Chancellorsville and Gettysburg campaigns, the 29th was camped near Leesburg.  A farmer nearby vocalized his support of the confederacy, and subsequently had his home and mill burned to the ground.  The Union soldiers “let it be known that others in the neighborhood would fare the same if they did not keep shut.” (p.249)

Fritsch’s account follows soldiers through the many years of war, including their participation and action in well-known battles as Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.  Their largest loss of life came at a place known as Dug Gap in May of 1864, where approximately 120 men were killed or wounded. While the number of total causalities varies for the 29th, approximately 126 men were killed outright in battle, while many others died of either wounds sustained during battle, fatigue, or disease.  In the SeCheverell history, 541 men were listed as killed, wounded, captured, or missing.  In the beginning, their numbers were around 1,000 soldiers.  As they came home at the war’s end, a parade in Cleveland showcased a mere 235 soldiers of the 29th. (p.377)  War had been hard on the families and friends of Summit and Ashtabula counties.

Fritsch’s work is an honest account of the history of the 29th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.  As he argues in the preface, his purpose was to give an even-handed account of the trials and tribulations of the regiment that was not strictly black and white, but rather highlighted the variety of triumphs and failures felt by these men.  In this, he succeeds.  His attention to detail through extensive archival research creates a description of these men that is thorough and satisfying.  Although no doubt a lengthy account of the 29th through its inception, war years, and dissolution, this work reads easily.  In addition to his close attention to detail, Fritsch’s narrative flows easily throughout the account, pulling the reader into this narrative he has expertly woven.

Natalie Hall-Hiles

University of Akron

Book Review: Andrew Welsh-Huggins. No Winners Here Tonight: Race, Politics, and Geography in One of the Country’s Busiest Death Penalty States. Ohio University Press Series on Law, Society, and Politics in the Midwest. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2009. x + 222 pp. Acknowledgements, introduction, notes, selected bibliography, index.

Although published six years ago, this volume by Andrew Welsh-Huggins remains a valuable examination of the national debate about capital punishment, using Ohio as a case study. With an accessible writing style and solid research, the author, an Associated Press reporter on Ohio’s death penalty beat, deftly uses representative cases to humanize and provide context for the legal and ethical debates around the death penalty, including the variety of arguments for and against it. Welsh-Huggins concludes that despite numerous efforts in recent years to decrease its unpredictable execution, “capital punishment is carried out unevenly not only in Ohio, but across the country” (3-4).

The author begins with a history of the death penalty both in Ohio and nationally. Throughout the nineteenth century, governors, legislators, and the public often questioned capital punishment and the ways in which it was carried out, a debate that continued into the twentieth century. Indeed, as late as 1949, the Ohio House voted 69 to 35 to repeal capital punishment. This bill died in the state senate, however.

Nevertheless, after 1963, a virtual moratorium on capital punishment developed in Ohio as a number of challenges to it wound their way through the state and federal court systems. In 1967, federal court decisions led to a national moratorium. In 1971, the Supreme Court, by a 5 to 4 vote, found in Furman v. Georgia that Georgia’s death penalty statute and by extension, statutes throughout the United States violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. This emptied death rows across the country. However, only two of the justices in the majority found the death penalty unconstitutional on its face. The other three justices in the majority found death penalty statutes unconstitutional because they resulted in uneven and unpredictable application of capital punishment. States then attempted to craft death penalty laws that would pass constitutional muster and in 1976 executions resumed after the high court approved death penalty statutes in Florida, Georgia, and Texas. In Ohio, executions only resumed in 1999 as ongoing challenges delayed executions. Since then Ohio has become, in the words of the book’s title, “One of the Country’s Busiest Death Penalty States.”

Despite rewritten laws, the unpredictable implementation of the death penalty has persisted. As the title to the book notes, this capriciousness has been largely due to “Race, Politics, and Geography.” Numerous statistical studies clearly show that the race of the killer and the victim both have powerful influences on who is executed. Killers of whites, especially African Americans, are far more likely to end up on death row than killers of blacks, regardless of race. Proponents of the death penalty agree that this may be racist, but that the cure is to prosecute killers of blacks more effectively. Opponents argue that racism is so endemic that fair imposition of the death penalty is impossible. For its part, the Supreme Court has decided that statistical evidence of the extent of racial prejudice is insufficient by itself to bar capital punishment in individual cases. Moreover, the court has argued that barring the death penalty on statistical evidence would inevitably bring into question convictions for a wide array of crimes and bog down the whole justice system in the U.S.

Welsh-Huggins also shows that geography can have a profound impact on whether a killer will face the death penalty. Prosecutors in Ohio’s three largest counties, Cuyahoga, Franklin, and Hamilton, seek the death penalty at much different rates. Hamilton County, with its ardently pro-death penalty prosecutor, has the largest number of convicts on death row. Prosecutors in the other counties seek the death penalty at lower rates. Although opponents of capital punishment cite such wide variations as an argument against it, supporters argue that differing community standards are an inherent right of local communities. Moreover, they argue that the failure of some prosecutors to consistently seek the death penalty may mean that some criminals are getting away with murder. Prosecutors, for their part, argue that where evidence is weak, plea bargains resulting in non-capital sentences may be the only way to take killers off the streets. Moreover, they point out that persuading killers to plead guilty to non-death penalty charges can protect witnesses or families of the victims from distress surrounding trials.

As controversy over the death penalty has grown, legal challenges have caused lengthy delays between sentencing and execution. Indeed, in many states and at the federal level, lawmakers, executives, and judges, responding to public pressure, have sought to shorten the appeals process by placing restrictions on it. Moreover, governors have found that granting clemency or commuting death sentences can result in political backlash to such an extent that in Ohio and many other states both Republican and Democratic governors have increasingly refused to grant commutations and then only if there is some indication that the case against the condemned is severely flawed.

Welsh-Huggins does note that recent changes in Ohio law apparently have to a decreased imposition of capital punishment. These changes permit prosecutors to obtain sentences of life without parole for capital crimes. Previously they had to choose between capital punishment and sentences with the possibility of parole.

For those wanting to explore the issue of capital punishment, Welsh-Huggins’s book provides a solid foundation. Some may want to pursue the debate more deeply in academic, legal, and research institute studies, but this book is a valuable introduction for the interested public and for secondary and post-secondary classes and its extensive notes provide additional sources for further inquiry.

Charles F. Casey-Leininger

Department of History

University of Cincinnati

Book Review: Do They Miss Me at Home? The Civil War Letters of William McKnight, Seventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry. Edited by Donald C. Maness and H. Jason Combs. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2010. xv, 271 pp. Hardcover. $ 35.96. ISBN 9780821419144.

Donald C. Maness and H. Jason Combs’s edited volume, Do They Miss Me at Home, is an absolutely fascinating collection of 108 letters, written mostly from William McKnight to his wife, Samaria, between 1862 and 1864 when he was with the Seventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry. From the larger perspective of the Civil War drama, McKnight’s life story may be most interesting because John Hunt Morgan and his raiders stayed at his home in Meigs County during their famous ride across Indiana and Ohio in July 1863; and then in June of 1864 McKnight was killed in battle as Ohio’s Seventh Volunteer Cavalry chased Morgan and his men from Cynthiana, Kentucky.  But the valuable contribution of this book is the raw and unfiltered glimpse it provides into the emotional life of an ordinary soldier as he silently communicates through letters with his wife.

The authors organize the letters into five chapters that correspond to McKnight’s sojourn from military camps in Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, where he spent most of the 22 months of the 3-year term he signed up for in September 1862. Maness and Combs note in their introduction that the Union army handled a remarkable 135,000 letters daily, clear evidence of how important written correspondence was to soldiers and their families. (1) The introduction provides a useful overview of the McKnight family, the Ohio Seventh Volunteer Cavalry, and the role of Ohio in the Civil War. Reproductions of letters and photographs, five appendices, and three maps round out the book.  Exhaustive footnotes make sense of problems with dating and geography and provide insight into topics such as diet and battle histories.  The bibliography is not exemplary.  The index is thorough.

William McKnight did not fit the profile of the typical Civil War soldier: single, between the ages of 18 and 24, and native born.  He was married, the father of six children, 29 years old, and born in Canada in 1832 to parents who had immigrated from Scotland to New Brunswick just two years before.  In 1836 his parents moved with their five children to Meigs County in southeastern Ohio.  There they had six more children that they raised in Pomeroy and Langsville, small towns near the Ohio River.  William became a blacksmith and, at age 25, married Samaria Braley, whose family had moved to the area from Maine in 1816.  By the time McKnight joined the Seventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry in September, 1862, he and Samaria had four children.  Twins girls were born in the summer of 1863.

McKnight volunteered for service out of duty to country. He did not mention the issue of slavery and only used the term Negro on two occasions.  (217, fn11) In the first year of correspondence Samaria’s voice is heard only as William responds, for example when he defended his decision to volunteer “against your wil.” (55) McKnight answered her: “I hope you might be Proud of me to know that I had honor and spunk enough to go defend our countryies rights.” (56)

But he was conflicted by the emotional trauma his decision brought Samaria and  the children: “Oh how bad it makes me fell to think of them sweet little children of mine crying for papa and especially that dear little one… crying for me…. It is for them that I feel the most hurt for no one but God knows who wil take Care of them if their Pa falls a victim to this rebelian….” (56) Samaria’s letters often brought William to tears.(56, 58)

McKnight’s age, business skills, and literacy made him a natural officer. Appointed as a first sergeant of Company K in September 1862, he was promoted to second lieutenant in April of 1864.  Killed in action two months later, he was never commissioned at this rank. He complained to his wife that promised promotions and pay raises did not come through. In December 1863 he wrote: “May [My] just Dues from the Government set to the present amounts to over $600.00 dollars & I need it & cant get a cent.” (149) In his second to last letter to Samaria, on June 3, 1864, he wrote that “it is now eleven months past since I recd any pay….” (185)

To support himself and his family McKnight traded horses, sold other goods, and borrowed.  (154) He also hounded Samaria to collect fees owed from his blacksmith business. (129) Samaria collected some of the old bills, much to William’s satisfaction, but she also relied on her own and William’s families.  William often suggested chores for family members and neighbors, including cutting firewood and planting corn.

McKnight comes across as needy and demanding, keeping score on his own and Samaria’s letters: “There was a mail come through for the Regmt.  All the Boys got letters but me.  I don’t see why that I am slited.  I write every chance I get.” (135)  “I have long anxiously awaited a letter from you but in vain….” (137) “I have not herd from you for a month or more & the only by Bro Johns letter…. Please write to me at least once a week & I wil write as often as I can if it is evry other day.” (157)

A major theme is news from Meigs County via old newspapers, letters, and gossip from men who have travelled home for a week or two.  William asked Samaria to date her letters because they did not always arrive sequentially due to problems with transportation and the Seventh’s movements.(128) William also has news for Samaria about what has happened to men from his area, whether it is desertion or injury or death or encounters with the Confederates. (72)

William wants the correspondence to be conversational.  In February 1863 he began a letter: “Oh Samaria. Samaria.  Do you hear me if you do I want you to listen to me a little while….”(52) A year later he wrote: “I recd a letter from sister Mary last night.  She informs me that you have red 6 letters from me lately which I am glad to hear & anxiously look for a letter from you.  Then I may have something to found a letter upon.” (158) On several occasions William also asked for “likenesses” or “photographs” of his family.  (3, 152)  Samaria wrote to him: “Thoes Potograps cant be beat….I have one of them whare we can se it all the time….” (183)

Some of the gossip from home underscored how serving in a company of men from one’s own county limited privacy.  In December of 1862, Samaria apparently wrote to William about local gossip that he had been with other women.  William wrote back: “I think the folks at home must have very little to do and you dear Wife inflicted a severe wound in my Heart when you intimated that I had been unfaithful to you God bless.”(31) In the spring of 1863 McKnight wrote to Samaria that he had heard folks at home were gossiping again and tried to defend himself: “I never did run after Bad Women but even if I did there is no reason for any such report to get afloat about me.” (88) Over the next few weeks he signed off penitently: “Your absent and almost Broken Hearted William” (89) and “your unworthy Husband” (90).  When Samaria did not write to him, he became nearly desperate: “Oh how I study over it think of evry thing but cant imagine why am so neglected.  I know I deserve nothing better but stil I did not expect to be entirely neglected by every one…. It is a bad state of things when a soldier has to defend his caracter at home and his life abroad one at a time is enough.” (91-92)

Samaria forgave him.  At least McKnight went home for two short furloughs in the summers of 1863 and 1864.  And in the two letters in the collection from Samaria to William, written in the last month of his life, she wrote: “I have but one falt to find with your letters love and that is they ant long enough or you don’t write half as mutch as I like to hear.” (177)  “Oh let me hear from you often.  If you dont get a letter for every one you write so be a good man and I will do the best I can until then.” (184)

Samaria McKnight raised their six children by herself and never re-married.  When she died, in 1905, her son asked the U.S. Pensions Agent in Columbus to direct the last two months of William McKnight’s pension to the daughter who had stayed at home to take care of Samaria. (193)

Collections of letters are not easy fare for undergraduates or even more mature readers.  But Do They Miss Me at Home is in many ways more compelling than fiction or a carefully wrought historical monograph. There is William McKnight, by himself, writing to his beloved Samaria, about the most difficult situations of his life, hoping that he will be lucky enough to once again join her and the children back in Ohio.

Andrew J. Carlson

Capital University

Exhibit: Understanding Tombstones in Cleveland: Religion, Memory, Social Status, and Gender in Cemeteries

An old, dilapidated cemetery is often viewed as an eyesore by a community due to the oddly shaped, tilting, snapped, and flaking markers littering the unbalanced landscape. It can serve as a nuisance to a community’s expansion or linger on as a wasted parcel of land. However, cemeteries and tombstones provide a wealth of knowledge to historians, architects, geologists, archeologists, and sociologists. A cemetery can reveal much about the social and cultural attitudes of individuals buried within its borders. The diverse motifs, expressive inscriptions and distinct architecture of tombstones provide a lens through which to view these attitudes. The goal of this study is to examine the social and cultural attitudes towards death in the nineteenth century reflected through pictorial evidence of cemetery iconography, epitaphs, and architecture of tombstones in Northeast Ohio. Attitudes toward mortality and spirituality, the significance of perpetual commemoration, the emulation of social status and gender, and the subtle transition of attitudes toward death leading into the twentieth century are the focal points of this study.[1. Kenneth L. Ames, “Ideologies in Stone: Meanings in Victorian Gravestones,” The Journal of Popular Culture 14, no. 4 (Spring 1981): 641; Mary Ellen McVicker, “Reflections of Change: Death and Cemeteries in the Boonslick Region of Missouri” (PhD diss., University of Missouri-Columbia, 1989), xi; Edwin Dethlefsen, “The Cemetery and Culture ChangeArchaeological Focus and Ethnographic Perspective,” in Modern Material Culture: the Archaeology of Us, ed. Richard A. Gould and Michael B. Schiffer (Academic Press: New York, 1981), 138-140; Thomas C. Meierding, “Marble Tombstone Weathering and Air Pollution in North America,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 83, no. 4 (1993): 568; Ray Hargreaves, “Graven on Stone: Epitaphs as Windows on the Past,” New Zealand Journal of Geography 103, no. 1 (April 1997): 1.]

Heavenly Comfort

From approximately the mid-1600s to the mid-1700s, cemeteries in North America were a utilitarian place. They were used as a highly visible reminder of the brevity of life and the uncertainty of the afterlife.[2.  Gregg G. King, et al., Historic Cemeteries Preservation Guide (Canton, MI: McNaughton and Gunn, 2004) (accessed December 20, 2013), 27; Vicky M. MacLean and Joyce E. Williams, “The History of the American Cemetery and Some Reflections on the Meaning of Death,” in vol. 2 of The Handbook of Death and Dying, ed. Clifton D. Bryant (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc., 2003), 744.] They were generally located in urban areas for all passersby to contemplate mortality, rarely encouraging remembrance of the deceased.

Eighteenth century tombstones were unadorned, usually made of unattractive brown or gray slate, with little biographical evidence carved into them. Individual tombstones provided a warning to the living of the closeness of Hell through grim carvings of death’s-heads and fearful epitaphs. The tombstones reinforced the fear of premature death and eternal damnation encouraging people to live morally without sin.[3. Gary Laderman, The Sacred Remains American Attitudes Toward Death, 1799-1883 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 23.]

With the religious revival movements of the First (1730-1750) and Second Great Awakening (1790-1840), there was a shift away from the Calvinistic fear of definite damnation in Hell toward an increased emphasis on salvation. People began to doubt they were wicked enough to deserve perpetual pain and damnation, and began to minimize the inevitability eternal damnation.[4. Patricia Jalland, Death in the Victorian Family (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 60.] The stern, rigid, and oppressive sensibilities of the Puritan past gave way to softer, romantic, and sentimentalized attitudes.[5. Laderman, The Sacred Remains American, 5355; Marilyn Yalom, The American Resting Place: 400 Years of History Through Our Cemeteries and Burial Grounds (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008), 15.] Grim death’s-heads carvings common on tombstones before the First Great Awakening began to be replaced by hospitable angelic faces with wings.[6. Yalom, The American Resting Place, 15.]

Neoclassicism became the vogue in Europe and North America by 1750.[7. Blanche M. G. Linden, “The Willow Tree and Urn Motif,” Markers 1 (1980): 150.] Americans paid homage to ancient cultures such as the Romans and Greeks, merging the classical and Christian worlds. The revival of past cultures influenced politics, the arts, and philosophy. Classical revival symbols taken from the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians became popular in architecture, reflecting timeless principles of past civilizations and presenting a divine logic blended with intellectual and aesthetic appeal.[8. Peggy McDowell and Richard E. Meyer, The Revival Styles in American Memorial Art (Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1994), 24.] Similar to the Ancient Greeks, the use of marble became popular in America. In Ohio, the developments in transportation greatly facilitated the movement and demand for marble to the Cleveland region and the rest of Ohio.[9. Andrew Bauer, et al., “Distribution in Time, Provenance, and Weathering of Gravestones in Three Northeastern Ohio Cemeteries,” The Ohio Journal of Science 102, no. 4 (2002): 93.]

As religious and intellectual views evolved as a result of the First and Second Great Awakenings and the rise of Neoclassicism, motifs and epitaphs on tombstones evolved. Historian James A. Hijiya argued these cultural changes toward death in the 1820s were the “single most important turning point in the history of mortuary art.” For New England Puritans intense bereavement was viewed as a rebellion against the will of God, and mourning was censored. In contrast, nineteenth century Americans saw an evolution toward a ritualistic grieving process that focused on expressing sadness for the loss of others. Jesus himself was rumored to have wept at the tomb of Lazarus.[10. James A. Hijiya, “American Gravestones and Attitudes Toward Death: A Brief History,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 127, no. 5 (October 14, 1983): 351, 354; Karen Halttunen, Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle-class Culture in America, 1830-1870 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983), 30.]

The evolution toward a ritualistic grieving process was embraced in motifs and epitaphs on tombstones. Epitaphs moved to verses of consolation rather than damnation. Motifs such as willow trees and urns bridged the transition from past Puritan religious attitudes toward death to a new Evangelical emphasis on Heaven.

The willow tree and urn motif of Greco-Roman and Christian roots were blended and adopted in cemeteries. The Romans were known to have kept the ashes of their beloved ones in urns and to have encouraged mourning. The urn came to symbolize bereavement and heavenly union with God to Christians. The willow tree peaked in popularity in the 1820s, following the report that the exiled Napoleon sat under one for daily meditation on the island of St. Helena, and asked to be buried on the sacred spot.[11. Linden, “The Willow Tree and Urn Motif,” 153.]  To the Ancient Greeks, the willow tree had a dual meaning of life and death.[12. Frederick J. Simoons, Plants of Life, Plants of Death (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998), 294.] In Christianity, the willow tree is associated with the gospel of Christ, as the tree is said to flourish no matter how many branches are cut off.[13. Douglas Keister, Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography (Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith Publishers, 2004), 67; Hijiya, “American Gravestones and Attitudes Toward Death,” 352.]

The Erie Street Cemetery, the oldest existing cemetery in Cleveland with burials dating back to 1827, has evidence of urn and willow tree motifs, as well as sorrowful epitaphs.[14. The Erie Street Cemetery was founded in 1825.] On the slate tombstone of Horatio Nelson Flint, who died in 1832, the epitaph reads, “This stone is erected by an affectionate wife to the memory of her lamented husband.” The tombstone of the eighteen year old Elihu D. Rockwell, who died in 1823, has a single willow tree motif and an epitaph that reads, “Good friends for Jesus sake forbear, to move the dust enclosed here (Figure 1).” Bereavement was enthusiastically encouraged, progressing away from the harsh Puritan principles that shunned these sentimental attitudes.


By mid-century the urn-and-willow began to phase out, and attitudes toward death were encompassed by the belief that death was a stepping stone to eternal life. Individuals felt they would find a rendition of the same life they had on Earth in Heaven. The popular consensus was the deceased were resting in “eternal sleep.” They were comforted by promises of eternal union with God and a reunion with departed family and friends.[15. Jalland, Death in the Victorian Family, 271; Mark S. Schantz, Awaiting the Heavenly Country: The Civil War and America’s Culture of Death (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008), 2, 265.]

Motifs and epitaphs provided comfort to grieving families reiterating that the deceased family members had joined God in Heaven. In an era when literacy was less common, carvers relied on symbols to convey messages of mortality and spirituality to individuals unable to read verse.[16. Laura Suchan, “Momento Mori: Bringing the Classroom to the Cemetery,” The History Teacher 42, no. 1 (November 2008): 45.] The carver or the family of the deceased carefully chose motifs in order to convey messages about their religious attitudes. Some imagery, such as angels and crosses, are obvious indicators of the attitudes toward mortality and spirituality. Some iconography has spiritual connotations not so easily indicated.

A once popular motif in this period was a hand pointed upward, intended to convey the ascension into Heaven.[17. Keister, Stories in Stone, 108; Sharon DeBartolo Carmack, Your Guide to Cemetery Research (Cincinnati, OH: Betterway Books, 2002), 137; Loren Neslon Horton, “Messages in Stone: Symbolism in Victorian Grave Markers,” Palimpsest 70, no. 2 (Summer 1989): 66.] The tombstone of Philinta Baxter, who died in 1873 and was buried in the Beebe Town Cemetery, is one such example (Figure 2). A common indicator of gender can be determined by the sleeve of the carved hand on Frederika Fisher’s tombstone (Figure 3).[18. The sleeve of the carved hand appears to be of a female on the tombstone of Frederika Fisher, who died in 1880 of typhus, and was buried in the St. Paul Lutheran Cemetery of Berea. Fredericka Fisher Death Record, St. Paul Lutheran Parish Records, 1866-1905, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Berea, Ohio. Note: This translated version of the original records was provided by Pastor Tom Henderson and the office secretary, Rae Batig. The original 325 page book is laced in gold, and is located in the church storage area. The original is written in German. Also included in the book are records of the baptisms, constitution and list of adherent members, births, confirmations, adherents/communicants, communion to the sick, weddings, and deaths. The death records are located on pages 287-325. The records will hereafter be cited as St. Paul Lutheran Parish Records, 1866-1905.]



Two hands locked together was a representation of a heavenly welcome from God or an earthly farewell.[19. Carmack, Your Guide to Cemetery Research, 138; Keister, Stories in Stone, 108.] The obelisk of Heinrich L. Bentz, who died in 1873, is an example of an unspoiled motif of two clasped hands together (Figure 4). Mr. Bentz had been a resident of Middleburg Heights about twenty-one years before he passed away, according to the Grindstone City Advertiser.[20. Ohio Genealogical Society, Births, Marriages, and Deaths Reported in Newspapers Published at Berea, Cuyahoga County, Ohio: November 1868 – January 1879 (Strongsville, OH: Southwest Cuyahoga Chapter, 2001), 72.]


Angel motifs and carved sculptures on tombstones gave mourners a sense of religious comfort. Angels were viewed as God’s messengers and guardians as they gave guidance to souls in their journey to Heaven.[21. Carmack, Your Guide to Cemetery Research, 139.] The Lakeview Cemetery is the last resting place of many high-profile individuals from Cleveland’s history, and is a testament to some of Cleveland’s greatest sculptures and carvings of angels. Sculptures clutter the cemetery with angels tilting in grief, or triumphantly raising their hands toward Heaven (Figure 5). Woodvale Cemetery, located in Middleburg Heights, has some conspicuous evidence within its borders. On the tombstone dedicated to the memory of Mary C. McDermott (who died in 1881), and Mary Florence (who died in 1886), stands a towering marble sculpture of an angel leaning on a tree stump shaped as a cross. This sculpture is a beacon to modern drivers who pass by on Engle Road (Figure 6).



The most commonly identified symbol of faith carved and sculpted on nineteenth century tombstones is the cross. The cross is the definitive representation of the deceased’s faith in God.[22. Carmack, Your Guide to Cemetery Research, 141.] Crosses are found in a variety of shapes, styles, and sizes. Even the lowliest of society have crosses ornamenting their tombstones. A carved marble rustic cross serves as a marker in the Polish St. Adalbert Cemetery for eighteen year old Anna R. M. Kuta, who died in 1900 (Figure 7). In the Irish St. Mary’s Cemetery located in Berea, Ann Mary Sneider, who died in 1863, has a large cross carved on the back of her tombstone surrounded by a wreath of funerary flowers (Figure 8).



A sculpture of a book on a tombstone represents the Holy Bible or the book of life.[23. Carmack, Your Guide to Cemetery Research, 30.] An open book, with one or both pages blank, suggests the final acts of life have been written.[24. Horton, “Messages in Stone,” 71.] A flat open book with the words “Rest in Peace” on the left side of the book adorns the bedstead of a burial plot located in the St. Adalbert Cemetery (Figure 9). In the Woodvale Cemetery, located near a marker with the family name of Wcotter, there is a small propped book made of marble with indecipherable inscriptions inside (Figure 10).



Religious epitaphs aided in conveying messages of resurrection or eternal sleep. Julia A. Terrill died in 1840 at the age of five, and Anson Terrill died in 1827, at only twelve days old. On their simple tombstone, the epitaph reads, “They are not dead but sleep.” This is in reference to Luke 8:52 and Matthew 9:24 of the New Testament that referred to deceased Christians resting in eternal sleep until the day of resurrection (Figure 11). The tombstone of Hanna and Benjamin Strickland (both of whom died in 1889) reminds the Christian reader, “I am the resurrection and the life, he that believeth in me, tho he were dead yet shall he live,” referring to John 11:25.


High infant and child mortality rates were common in the nineteenth century due to miscarriages and infectious diseases such as cholera, dysentery, pneumonia, and diphtheria. Children were encouraged to think about their own death, and the death of others.[25. Geoffrey Gorer, “The Pornography of Death,” Encounter (October 1955): 50.] Parents interpreted a child’s death as a test of the parents’ own relationship with God, and found consolation in the belief they rested in “eternal sleep” in Heaven.[26. Jalland, Death in the Victorian Family, 139.] As society generally thought children who passed away had died in a state of innocence, this would then permit them to enter indisputably into Heaven. As a result, children’s tombstones had distinctly spiritual and comforting motifs and epitaphs.

The small St. Paul Lutheran Church community of Berea and Middleburg Heights from the late nineteenth century is a specimen of a small parish plagued by child fatalities. The German Pastor George Heinrich Fuehr left detailed records of the deaths in the church that began with the establishment of the cemetery in 1866. His wife, Christina Ann, died during a failed childbirth in 1870.[27. Pastor George Heinrich Fuehr noted in the church death records in regard to the death of his wife that, “It was a very hard delivery and after birth, she had gotten bed fever. She was a faithful and loyal servant of the Lord. Always held on to her faith. Fall asleep blessed.” Christina Ann Fuehr Death Record, St. Paul Lutheran Parish Records, 1866-1905.] These records continued with the church’s subsequent pastors until 1903. One prominent characteristic was the high rate of child mortality within the church community between the years of 1866-1903 (Chart 1).


Chart 1: The mortality rates include still born deaths, and deaths to infectious diseases. The recorded data displays this trend until1903. Prominent spikes can be seen from 1875, 1887, and 1893. In 1870, 1876, 1881, and 1886, there are six fatalities of children within the church community for those years. Infant and child mortality rates did not see a slow decline until the second half of the nineteenth century There is a steady decline in fatalities from 1894-1903.

It was common for a family to suffer the loss of multiple children, as evidence suggests in the St. Paul Lutheran community. Anna Augusta Carolina Eikhorst died at less than a month old in 1873. Pastor Fuehr noted in the records, “This child already is the 10th child that the Lord has taken from the parents.”[28. Anna Eikhorst Death Record, St. Paul Lutheran Parish Records, 1866-1905.] She was not the last child that Johann and Wilhelmina would lose and then bury in the small cemetery. Her older sister, Sophia Eikhorst, died of diphtheria at the age of twenty in 1875 (Figure 12). Pastor Fuehr recorded, “The daughter was the 11th child of the parents Johann and Wilhelmina that death took her from them. She was the only daughter.”[29. Sophia Eikhorst Death Record, St. Paul Lutheran Parish Records, 1866-1905.]


Evidence of high child mortality can also be found in the St. Patrick Cemetery of West Park, located adjacent to the church that bears its name. William and Martha Code had ten children, five girls and five boys. Seven of their children died within seventeen years.[30. Peggy Cavley Patton, “The Code Family of St. Patrick’s Parish,” West Park Times 17a (2001).] The tombstone of Mary Ann Code is alone standing in the cemetery as the only evidence of this family’s loss (Figure 13).


Families sought ways to cope with the grief for their deceased children on tombstones through motifs and epitaphs. The epitaphs and motifs were meant to alleviate the pain of premature death with reminders of Heaven. A message on a tombstone of a child was usually selected by the survivors to communicate their own sentiments and reflect the survivors’ needs for consolation.[31. Deborah A. Smith, “Safe in the Arms of Jesus: Consolation on Delaware Children’s Gravestones, 1840-99,” Markers 4 (1987): 85.]

Bud and seedpod motifs, which represented the fragile beginning of a life cut short, are common on tombstones of children.[32. Keister, Stories in Stone, 43; Smith, Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” 96.] The buds and seedpods can be found on numerous tombstones of the children buried in the St. Paul Lutheran Cemetery. Friedrich Heimrich Richart Sasse, who died of dysentery in 1876, has a bud carved on his tombstone (Figure 14). Carl Heinrich Poertner, who died in 1870 at the age of one month and five days of a “lung problem,” also had a bud carved on his tombstone (Figure 15).[33. Friedrich Sasse Death Record, St. Paul Lutheran Parish Records, 1866-1905; Carl H. Poertner Death Record, St. Paul Lutheran Parish Records, 1866-1905.]



The lamb was another popular motif found on children’s tombstones, since lambs represented purity, gentleness, and innocence.[34. Carmack, Your Guide to Cemetery Research, 141.] A lamb is connected with Christ as he is depicted as a shepherd, and also referred to as the Lamb of God.[35. Keister, Stories in Stone, 74.] The sisters Anna Storch, aged two, and Catharina L. Storch, aged five, died within six days of each other of dysentery in November of 1874.[36. Anna and Catharina Storch Death Records, St. Paul Lutheran Parish Records, 1866-1905.] Their tombstones are joined with the motifs of a resting lamb and seedpod (Figure 16).


The dove motif represented a winged messenger of God.[37. Horton, “Messages in Stone,” 45.] The dove also represents purity and peace.[38. Keister, Stories in Stone, 79.] Clydie Lovejoy died in 1879, aged nine months, and his sister Stella Lovejoy died in 1881, at the age of fifteen months. They share the same white bronze (zinc) tombstone marked with a dove and a lamb. The epitaph reads, “Our Darlings, Infant son and daughter of Alfred and Mary A. Lovejoy.” The dove is sometimes present as fallen or in a sleeping state, here represented on a marble tombstone dedicated to a baby in the Woodvale Cemetery (Figure 17).


The Cult of Memory

The intensifying degree of ostentation in the nineteenth century coincided with the shifting attitudes toward bereavement.[39. Philippe Aries, Western Attitudes Toward Death (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1975), 67.] The importance placed on memorializing deceased loved ones in Western society increased dramatically during the Victorian era (1837-1901), and this is commonly referred to as the rise of the “Cult of Memory.”[40. Jerry Moore, Cynthia Blaker, and Grant Smith, “Cherished Are the Dead: Changing Social Dimensions in a Kansas Cemetery,” Plains Anthropologist 36, no 133 (February 1996): 76.] Mourners sought to keep their loved ones’ memories alive as vividly as possible through portraits, drawings, photographs, busts, and death-masks.[41. Jalland, Death in the Victorian Family, 288.] The newly-industrialized funeral industry produced a large variety of mortuary merchandise,, such as coffin and funerary hardware, which provided a way for mourners to express sentiment through the use of material products.[42. Barbara J. Little, Kim M. Lanphear, and Douglas W. Owsley, “Mortuary Display and Status in a Nineteenth-Century Anglo-American Cemetery in Manassas, Virginia,” American Antiquity 57, no. 3 (July 1992): 414.]

Victorians viewed the importance of expressing sentiment through material products as a way to perpetuate the memory of loved ones. Victorian mourners sought to keep their loved one’s memory alive as vividly as possible. The Victorians believed that as long as one’s memory was kept alive by someone else’s grief, one was not entirely dead.[43. Hijiya, “American Gravestones and Attitudes Toward Death,” 354.] Victorians cherished the importance of continuing the memory of the deceased and talking about their loved ones in order to aid their consolation.[44. Pat Jalland, “Victorian Death and Its Decline: 1850-1918,” in Death in England: An Illustrated History, ed. Peter C. Jupp and Clare Gittings (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998), 245- 246.]

Bereavement played a role in emulating respectable social stature to the Victorians. Mourning was regarded as sign of a mourner’s Christian devoutness. Weeping was believed to assist God in preparing the heart to receive divine grace. Mourning the dead had the same social connotations as exhibiting the proper dress or abiding by the principles of well-mannered social behavior. Proper mourning was viewed as an indication of a person’s upright character.[45. Halttunen, Confidence Men and Painted Women, 124, 130, 135.]

The importance of venerating the deceased extended into the cemetery. Visiting the graves of family members was an important source of consolation and a vital part of the process of mourning for many bereaved families.[46. Jalland, Death in the Victorian Family, 292.] Cemeteries acted as a place of commemoration that evoked a sense of closeness to the deceased and perpetuated memory.[47. Lita Tzortzopoulou-Gregory, “Remembering and Forgetting: The Relationship Between Memory and the Abandonment of Graves in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Greek Cemeteries,” International Journal of Historical Archaeology 14, no. 2 (June 2010): 285; Jalland, “Victorian Death and Its Decline: 1850-1918,” 247.] Families carefully chose gravestone inscriptions to make sure the deceased were fittingly memorialized. Gravesites became a form of property, protected from commerce, and presumed to be owned in perpetuity.[48. Aries, Western Attitudes Toward Death, 67.]

The Victorian attachment to classical and romantic values played a role in emulating immortality and perpetual ownership in the cemetery. The Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans all built lasting monuments to their dead. The Victorians emulated huge classical monuments on a reduced scale in cemeteries in order to embody the dignity and splendor of past civilizations.[49. Michael Parker Pearson, “Mortuary Practices, Society, and Ideology: An Ethnoarchaeological Study,” in Symbolic and Structural Archeology, ed. Ian Hodder (London, Cambridge University Press, 1982), 107.] Monuments constructed to rival the architecture of ancient civilizations helped to solidify the notion of immortality.[50. Aries, Western Attitudes Toward Death, 72.]

Conditions in cemeteries remained similar to the conditions they had been in the colonial period.[51.  Blanche Linden-Ward, “The Fencing Mania: The Rise and Fall of 19th Century Funerary Enclosures,” Markers 7 (1990): 39.] Tombstones toppled over and fields were left to grow wild, with little concern for upkeep. Overcrowding and cramped quarters in urban cemeteries was a common occurrence. Families were distraught to find the remains of their loved ones neglected by poor management. This mismanagement of cemeteries posed a threat to the appropriate memorial of the deceased.

Families were horrified to find the remains of their loved ones targeted by thieves. Mismanagement led body snatchers or “resurrection men” to easily gain access and raid urban cemeteries to exhume and sell corpses for dissection to medical students. Citizens were outraged when corpses disappeared from cemeteries. One incident was noted in 1851, when “the mangled remains” of a body was found in a cesspool near the Homeopathic Medical College in Cleveland.[52. Michael Sappol, A Traffic of Dead Bodies: Anatomy and Embodied Social Identity in Nineteenth-Century America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 136.] Angry cities stormed the medical school and a riot ensued against the students.[53. The Interment Registers from the City of Cleveland, Erie Street Cemetery, No. 101.] Four anonymous burials are listed in the records as “Remains from the College at the time of the riot.” The body was viewed as sacred, and the secret removal of bodies robbed the community control of their dead triggering a call for reform.[54. Laderman, The Sacred Remains American, 82.]

By the 1830s, dilapidated and unkempt urban and church cemeteries were viewed as potential health risks to the community. The noxious fumes produced by exposed corpses and decrepit vaults, toxic gases called miasmas, were said to have escaped from seething graves and thought to cause outbreaks of dysentery and cholera in cities.[55. James Stevens Curl, The Victorian Celebration of Death (Detroit: Partridge Press, 1972), 73.] With the rise of cholera outbreaks in the 1830s and 1840s in the United States, the claim that urban cemeteries were contributing to the spread of disease was only validated in the public eye. In Ohio, a cholera epidemic struck Cleveland in the 1830s, while in Cincinnati, cholera killed roughly 7,500 residents from 1849-50.[56. Robert Anthony Wheeler, Visions of the Western Reserve: Public and Private Documents of Northeastern Ohio, 1750-1860 (Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 2000), 201-206; Kip Sperry, Genealogical Research in Ohio, 2nd ed. (Baltimore, MA: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2003), 9.] The health risks caused by urban cemeteries combined with the movement toward thwarting the threats to perpetual memory, helped to initiate individuals to seek burial grounds outside urban cities.

These factors contributed to the rise of the visually enticing and spiritually consoling rural cemeteries, spawned in Europe. The Rural Cemetery Movement (1830-1855) had its origins in England and France, where it was influenced by the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, established in 1804. The prototypical rural cemetery in North America became Mount Auburn Cemetery, founded in 1831. Rural cemeteries consequently were established in other Eastern cities: Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, 1836; Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore, 1838; Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn and Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York, 1839; and the Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, 1845. Members of the Spring Grove Cemetery hired the landscape architect Adolph Strauch in 1855 in order to beautify it.[57. Elisabeth Walton Potter and Beth M. Boland, “Guidelines for Evaluating and Registering Cemeteries and Burial Places,” National Park Service, (accessed, April 10, 2015), 41.]

A natural and rustic setting outside of the city seemed to be an appropriate place for a cemetery, far from the horrors of unkempt urban cemeteries, body snatchers, and illnesses. Such landscapes ensured the dead would be fittingly honored. Rural cemetery gateways established a separation from the ordinary world, isolated from the confined and foul dwellings of urban cities.[58. Potter and Boland, “Guidelines for Evaluating and Registering Cemeteries and Burial Places,” 41.] Plants and trees were seen by the innovators of the rural cemetery movement, such as John Loudon, as the best means by which “mephitic vapors” from decomposition and “miasmas” could be absorbed.[59. Curl, The Victorian Celebration of Death, 126.]

Rural cemeteries provided romantic and serene places for mourners visiting their deceased loved ones. The natural setting of rural cemeteries was viewed as a holy place capable of eliciting a spiritual response within the soul of the visitor.[60. Liden, “The Willow Tree and Urn Motif,” 151.] Visiting in this kind of landscape was viewed as conducive to meditation and consolation. Personal recollections of the deceased were viewed as assisting in generating morally uplifting thoughts of family, love, and Heaven.[61. Laderman, The Sacred Remains American, 72.] Memory of their loved ones would continue in these spiritual oases that had the appearance of stability, duration, and the physical qualities of Greek landscapes of immortality.[62. Colleen McDannell, Material Christianity: Religion and Popular Culture in America (New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press, 1995), 114, 117-118.]

The Lakeview Cemetery, established in 1869, was Cleveland’s first rural cemetery. The 285-acre cemetery was located on the outskirts of the city in a location known for dramatic natural landscapes enhanced by a sloping site, streams, ponds, artful plantings, and carfully designed monuments. It provided an escape from the pollution and congestion of urban Cleveland.[63. [1] Marian Morton, Cleveland’s Lake View Cemetery (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2004), 7; Joseph T. Hannibal, “Teaching with Tombstones: Geology at the Cemetery,” in Proceedings of the 40th Forum on the Geology of Industrial Minerals, May 2-7, 2004, ed. Nelson R. Shaffer and Deborah A. DeChurch (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana Geological Survey Occasional Paper 67, 2007), 83.]

With the rise of the rural cemetery movement, an increase of homelike and commemorative epitaphs and motifs were carved on tombstones surrounded by beautiful landscapes. The draped urn was the most common nineteenth century funerary motif, viewed as a symbol of the veil between Earth and the Heaven.[64. Keister, Stories in Stone, 137.] An extravagantly sculpted draped urn is located on top of the tombstone of Edward and Phelina Collins, surrounded by the tranquil landscape of Lakeview Cemetery (Figure 18).


The obelisk was a popular symbol taken from Egyptian architecture, and represented a ray of sunlight to the Egyptians.[65. Keister, Stories in Stone, 16.] The obelisk symbolized the ability to withstand the test of time and eternity.[66. Hijiya, “American Gravestones and Attitudes Toward Death,” 355; Richard VFrancaviglia, “The Cemetery as an Evolving Cultural Landscape,” Annals, Association of American Geographers 61 (1971): 507.] Obelisks were carved in variations, such as the vaulted or pedestal obelisks scattered throughout cemeteries of Northeast Ohio (Figure 19).


Drapery carved on tombstones intended to give the cemetery a homelike appearance and to give the impression the gravesite was in a comfortable setting of a Victorian parlor.[67. Carmack, Your Guide to Cemetery Research, 141.] It represents the material relationship to household furniture of the Victorian era.[68. Horton, “Messages in Stone,” 68.] This style of architecture provided a comforting setting for family members of the deceased visiting the cemetery. The tombstone of Lydia Gadner Lunn who died in 1869, and William Lunn who died in 1882, has an impressive sample of an ornately draped tombstone, located in Woodvale Cemetery. The tombstone appears similarly shaped and decorated as a Victorian era armoire (Figure 20).


Those who were able to purchase their own lots with a fenced border in a particular cemetery viewed it as private property. By the nineteenth century, there was a general consensus that an individual’s burial plot should belong to oneself and one’s descendants in perpetuity. This attitude related to the modern view of private possession.[69. Paula J. Fenza, “Communities of the Dead: Tombstones as a Reflection of Social Organization,” Markers 6 (1989): 140.] This phenomenon is also related to the emerging nineteenth century attitude towards the personal identity that continued even after death.[70. Sarah Tarlow, “Landscapes of Memory: The Nineteenth-Century Garden Cemetery,” European Journal of Archaeology 3, no. 2 (2000): 229, 234.]

By the 1840s, coinciding with the Rural Cemetery Movement, family burials were separated into clearly marked plots, often complete with iron fences or stone borders, known as curbs.[71. Dethlefsen, “The Cemetery and Culture Change,” 152.] Blanche Linden-Ward refers to this popular trend as the “fencing mania.” It became popular due to advances of metallurgical technology, the rise of the cast iron industry, and mass production of ornate fences. Iron fences and stone curbs were put into place to give the physical appearance of private ownership and domestic space.[72. Linden-Ward, “The Fencing Mania: The Rise and Fall of 19th Century Funerary Enclosures,” 35, 39, 47.] Fenced plots gave families a place of coziness to gather and mourn.

Due to the rapid oxidation of these iron fences, surviving evidence of these popular enclosures is rare. These fences become expensive to the families and for cemeteries to maintain. A large majority were removed in later years. The fenced plot of the Janowicz family marker located in the St. Adalbert Cemetery, is evidence of the only surviving iron fence in all nine of the cemeteries analyzed (Figure 21).


Emulation of Wealth

Monument architecture and motifs were used by numerous individuals to represent socio-economic status, asserting they had a social identity past the point of their death.[73. Tarlow, “Landscapes of Memory,” 227.] Many middle-class individuals of the nineteenth century sought to emulate their worldly significance through the construction of museums and other temples dedicated to the arts and the sciences.[74. Jay Ruby, Secure the Shadow: Death and Photography in America (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995), 61.] They saw it necessary to maintain the standards of one’s class in death as in life, and to even use death as a means of further social advancement.[75. John Morley, Death, Heaven, and the Victorians (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971), 11.]

Cemeteries of the early eighteenth century had few indicators that stressed differences in social status among individuals. Tombstones looked identical in shape and size. There was a surge in the dimensions of tombstones that began during the American Civil War, and continued until the close of the nineteenth century.[76. Randall H. McGuire, “Dialogues With the Dead: Ideology and the Cemetery,” in The Recovery of Meaning: Historical Archaeology in the Eastern United States, ed. Mark P. Leone and Park P. Potter, Jr. (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1988), 435-480; Francaviglia, “The Cemetery as an Evolving Cultural Landscape,” 505.] During this period, elegant designs were carved on tombstones, and large tombstones were erected to signify the economic success in life of an individual.

Those with the socioeconomic means left magnificent tombstones that represented success in life. Tasteful or expensive monuments were admired, and the names of the deceased and their family noted and discussed by viewers.[77. Tarlow, “Landscapes of Memory,” 229.]  Lakeview Cemetery is a testament to the extravagance of tombstones during the Victorian era. Silas S. Stone (1815-1884) was a real estate dealer during the Civil War. He left a lasting impression with a gigantic sculpted statue (Figure 22). The founder of Standard Oil, John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937), left a seventy foot marker made of granite that towers over other tombstones in the cemetery (Figure 23).



Most of the deceased during the nineteenth century did not have the economic means to leave such extravagant markers. By carefully examining cemetery records complemented with cemetery architecture, the socio-economic status of a deceased individual can be determined. While famous or wealthy individuals may have had larger tombstones, a more modest family may share one average-sized tombstone.[78. Dethlefsen, “The Cemetery and Culture Change,” 139.] There are examples throughout Northeast Ohio of whole families buried with small markers surrounding one modest sized family tombstone.

Modest tombstones can be an indication of a low socio-economic class. Many of those buried in Northeast Ohio from St. Paul Lutheran, St. Mary’s, and St. Adalbert Cemeteries were immigrants from Polish, German, and Irish backgrounds who worked in the Berea sandstone quarry in the late nineteenth century. By 1873, the jobs available in the quarries brought in a steady influx of laborers, mainly of German and Polish descent. The section outside the village limits of Berea to the northwest became a large settled area of foreign families. The handling of gunpowder, operating machinery, and the inhalation of sandstone dust took a heavy toll of lives and health and left many widows with small children to support.[79. Walter F. Holzworth, Men of Grit and Greatness: A Historical Account of Middleburg Township, Berea, Brook Park and Middleburg Heights (Berea, OH: Walter F. Holzworth, 1970), 75.]

Large concentrations of immigrant burials from the nineteenth century can still be identified in the cemeteries of Berea and Middleburg Heights. A number of unadorned and badly corroded obelisks, similar in shape and style, are located in the St Paul Lutheran Cemetery. German Gottlieb Ueckert was killed by a fallen rock during dynamite blasting on April 17, 1880. He was most likely working in the quarry of Berea when he was killed. Ironically his modest tombstone is made of Berea sandstone.[80. Gottlieb Ueckert Death Record, St. Paul Lutheran Parish Records, 1866-1905.] A concentration of German and Irish burials can be found in St. Mary’s Cemetery, located next to the uninviting railroad tracks and within the poorly irrigated property.

Inequality in Death

Tombstone epitaphs allow researchers to understand the inequalities of the American society in the nineteenth century that trailed into the cemetery. The history of death in nineteenth century urban American demonstrates class divisions, racial prejudices, and gender distinctions.[81. Laderman, The Sacred Remains American, 40.] Attitudes toward gender can be identified in cemeteries when epitaphs and inscriptions are closely examined. The higher status of men was affirmed even in the cemetery.[82. Jalland, Death in the Victorian Family, 292.] There are subtle differences in the symbolism on women’s tombstones which suggests that women occupy a secondary status relationship to that of men.[83. Fenza, “Communities of the Dead,” 152.]

In the world of mourning in the nineteenth century, women had a disproportionate function in funerary customs. Women were exposed to a harshly regulated set of proper mourning customs, which included staying at home in seclusion while their husbands could attend funeral parties.[84. Morley, Death, Heaven, and the Victorians, 63.] In the peak of the Victorian mourning customs, a widow was expected to mourn for an average of two and a half years.[85. Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (New York: Random House LLC, 2009), 148.] As widows, women were blacklisted from potential suitors and subject to a permanent loss of the status as a wife. Most widows became regulated to a lower level of social hierarchy.[86. Jalland, Death in the Victorian Family, 249.]

Maternal bias is present on tombstones in North America dating back to the eighteenth century.[87. Edwin Dethlefsen and James Deetz, “Death’s HeadsCherubs, and Willow Trees: Experimental Archaeology in Colonial Cemeteries,” American Antiquity 31 (1966): 509.] A married women’s name on a tombstone was usually correlated to her husband. Women are almost always identified in terms of their husbands or fathers with epitaphs of “wife of,” and “daughter of” carved on tombstones. In some instances, two or more wives were buried on each side of a husband’s grave, but never were multiple husbands buried beside a wife’s grave. A study of seventeenth and eighteenth century tombstones in the Boston area revealed that more than 70 percent of kinship references were for women.[88. Yalom, The American Resting Place, 21-22.]

Even though the burials within the cemeteries studied in Northeast Ohio did not date before the nineteenth century, material bias was still customary. Some of the clearest inscriptions indicating gender inequalities are present within the borders of the cemeteries studied. The tombstone of Betsey Vaughn, who died in 1855, is one of the many tombstones representing gender inequality in Northeast Ohio (Figure 24).


The inequalities on tombstones did not disappear until after the turn of the century. With the rise of lawn park style tombstones of the modern age, epitaphs diminished. By the 1920s, most tombstones were identified with only the name of deceased, and in some cases, with only the identification of “mother” or “father.” More contemporary research may indicate these inequalities actually disappeared, or possibly the change in tombstone architecture has hidden these social inequalities.

Distancing the Dead

One major cause of the digression from the candidness of dealing with death in the second half of the nineteenth century was attributed to the decline of religious faith in individuals. The argument has been made by some scholars that the distancing from death began with the rise of monuments centered on individualism and the attempt to emulate their own earthly importance.[89. Hijiya, “American Gravestones and Attitudes Toward Death,” 357.] The growth of urbanization, industrialization, and the developments in science helped to contribute to secularism.[90. John C. Waller, Health and Wellness in 19th-Century America (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2014), 57-58.] An example of conspicuous earthly importance would be the Rockefeller Monument located in the Lakeview Cemetery. Consequently, as Christian faith declined, mourning rituals that were an essential part of a Christian’s response to death in the nineteenth century also declined.[91. Jalland, Death in the Victorian Family, 371.]

Another cause of the shift in attitudes can be attributed to the rise of the funeral industry after the American Civil War. During the 1860s, the gradual displacement of the presence of death in daily life began. During the war, Union families sought to return the remains of their loved ones who died on Southern battlefields for proper burials in the North. Embalming preserved bodies as they were transported over long distances. A class of mediators emerged as embalmers came between the body and the family.[92. Laderman, The Sacred Remains American, 7, 157.] Funeral directors took the place between the dead and the living in the 1870s and 1880s, disconnecting the close relationship that formally existed between the ceremonies around the deceased.

The improved standard of living and public health practices contributed greatly to the rise in life expectancy following the American Civil War. The advances in medicine and science helped to improve the chances of recovery.[93. Judith Walzer Leavitt and Ronald L. Numbers, Sickness and Health in America: Readings in the History of Medicine and Public Health, 3rd ed. (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997), 4-5.] The improved standard of living (diet, nutrition, and shelter) had an even greater influence on improving life expectancy. These included advances in public health reforms such as water and sewer lines, vaccinations, and cleaning up of urban areas.[94. Vicki L. Lamb, “Historical and Epidemiological Trends in Mortality in the United States,” in vol. 2 of The Handbook of Death and Dying, ed. Clifton D. Bryant (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc., 2003), 189.] The pioneering research conducted by microbiologists, such as Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch, identified the specific causes leading to deadly diseases such as tuberculosis and cholera.

These influences contributed to death becoming credited to a specific disease rather than divine intervention.[95. Jalland, Death in the Victorian Family, 6.] Individuals no longer had the same fear of death. Instead of accepting death as God’s will, people began work toward recovery and survival.

The trauma of World War I (1914-1918) played a large role in destroying mourning customs.[96. Jalland, Death in the Victorian Family, 6; Martha Pike, “In Memory Of: Artifacts Relating to Mourning in Nineteenth Century America,” The Journal of American Culture 3, no. 4 (June 2004): 658.]  In total, 116,516 American soldiers died during World War I.[97. Anne Leland and Mari-Jana Oboroceanu, “American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics,” Congressional Research Service (February 26, 2010): 5.] Many soldiers died far away from home or went missing in action. The government decided against bringing home the bodies of deceased soldiers.[98. Michael Parker-Pearson, “Mortuary PracticesSociety and Ideology: An Ethnoarchaeological Study,” in Symbolic and Structural Archeology, ed. Ian Hopper (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982): 109.] People did not know how to react to the massive volume of deceased soldiers who would never provide a body for proper burial. Two major wars (the U.S. Civil War and World War I) shifted the social attitudes toward death within fifty three years.

These combined factors facilitated the attitudes that initiated the resignation toward death in the twentieth century. The dead are now disposed in a quick manner with a funeral staff now handling the deceased. Cremation has become one of the most popular forms of disposal of the dead and is continuing to rise.[99. Parker-Pearson, “Mortuary Practices, Society and Ideology,” 108.] The loss in the meaning of death has also been a loss in the meaning of human life, a cultural problem which post-Christian societies are still trying to solve.[100. Jalland, Death in the Victorian Family, 357.] The attitude toward death has become more distant and fuller of tension.[101. Aries, Western Attitudes Toward Death, 106.] Society will continue to struggle on how to cope with death as the old approaches to dealing with it have faded away.

Modern tombstones bear testament to the digression from death in the twentieth century. By the 1920s, most modern tombstones had little or no religious symbolism. Most have limited epitaphs and motifs. Modern tombstones are often flat to the earth in the lawn park style (Figure 25). With inclination to use flat tombstones, the elegant architecture found in the cemeteries has disappeared. Ironically, tombstones of the modern era have become so uniform and simplified that they possess some of the same characteristics as tombstones of the eighteenth century.


In conclusion, the cemetery motifs, epitaphs, and architecture of the nine cemeteries examined from Northeast Ohio embody the changing social and cultural attitudes towards death in the nineteenth century. Cemeteries are museums, and individual tombstones are relics of the past. They are delicate remnants of the past that must be well maintained to provide further research for future generations. When passing a neglected and overgrown cemetery, take into consideration the historical significance and aesthetic beauty of the open-air museum.