Archive for April 5th, 2010

Schmitt Angel
Flowers at older graves interest me.  By “older,” I mean those graves where it is extremely unlikely that there is anyone still living who met the person.  Two Decembers in a row, I have discovered an artificial poinsettia clutched by an angel in Lakeview Cemetery.  I’ve gone past the grave in all seasons of the year because I find it particularly poignant, so I know that a new flower had to placed for the second December.

The monument tells a sad story.  Underneath the angel, the monument reads “Our Dolly – Mildred – Daughter of Peter and Katie Schmitt – Born October 29, 1897 – Died March 4, 1908 – In Collinwood School Fire.”
– ”  The side of the monument tells of a double tragedy – it reads simply, “Emma – unidentified.”  On March 4, 1908, fire erupted at Lake View School in Collinwood, Ohio, just east of Cleveland.  The likely cause was a hot steam pipe too close to wood joists. The fire spread quickly, and soon 175 people had perished – two teachers, one rescuer, and 172 children.  The fire devastated Collinwood in a way that is difficult to conceive for those of us who have not lived through something similar.  Parents watched helplessly as their children burned or suffocated in front of them.  Families lost two, sometimes three children at a time.  There were not enough ambulances, not enough coffins, not enough undertakers, not enough hearses. Even in a world more accustomed to childhood death than we are in a modern, industrialized nation, the tragedy was overwhelming.  Out of approximately 350 students that the school housed, 172 were dead in the span of an hour.

Mildred Schmitt was one of those unfortunate children, and she was laid to rest under this protective angel in Lakeview Cemetery.  Eventually, her mother Katie was buried nearby.  But Emma – we don’t even know who poor Emma was.  It seems unlikely that the family would erect a monument  to two children lost at different times without noting that, and there are a limited number of occasions in which a child could be known to have died but be listed as “unidentified.” Assuming she is a Lake View School fire victim, she must have been one of the children too burned for identification – contemporary accounts state that there were 19 of them.  But her surname was not recorded as Schmitt – there is no Emma Schmitt listed among the dead of Lake View School.  There are some Emmas listed, and some other similar names, but right now Emma is twice unidentified.  She could not be laid to rest in 1908 with her family, and now, a little over 112 years after the event, we aren’t even sure of her name or her resting place.

Every year someone comes to this angel and places an artificial poinsettia in her hand.  Someone remembers Emma and Mildred even though both were almost certainly dead before the giver was ever born.  I’d like to meet this person.  Anyone who considers it important to place flowers on the monument for two little girls who died in a 1908 school fire is probably a kindred spirit.

Mildred and Emma Schmitt tombstone (1 of 4)

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A Grave Concern consists of my personal musings on graveyards, gravestones, and questions of memory.  I have long been interested in the ways in which we memorialize the past and specifically, our deceased.  I find cemeteries fascinating.
I’m a cemetery photographer and amateur historian, so this will be a mixture of photographs, stories, and whatever thoughts enter my head while visiting cemeteries or reviewing my photographs.  I hope some of you decide to come along for the ride.

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