Archive for the ‘Cemetery mysteries’ Category

Miller (3)

I think this is an urn, but I’m not sure. Any suggestions?

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What does the blank space on this monument signify? At the time the memorial was commissioned, someone intended to sleep eternally next to Catherine Blazek. Was someone interred there but the monument never engraved? Is the person the plot was intended for still alive?  Or did he or she die elsewhere after moving into another stage of life that changed their burial plans?

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These are the only three individual tombstones in the Sandusky Cholera Cemetery. Considering that the cholera epidemic victims were buried a mass grave according to every source I’ve looked at, it’s doubtful that the placement of the stones is very exact.

Fanson John

Ransom Joseph

Ransom Robert

Most sites that refer to these three victims of the cholera epidemic (or more accurately, the stones for these three men) refer to them as the Ransoms, but I would like to do some more digging.  The surname on two of the stones appears to be Ransom, but the last one (first on in my post), looks more to me like Fanson.  Even if the first letter of the last name is an “R,” the last letter appears to be an “n” rather than an “m.”  I also noticed that Robert and Joseph served with the Connecticut troops but John served with Vermont militia.  So what is it – a carving mistake?  unclear records? Was the third man a relative whose name spelling and pronunciation varied slightly?  Is it just a coincidence that would blend in a larger cemetery but is obvious in one where only a handful are honored with individual markers?

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Unknown Soldier

According to Vicki Blum Vigil’s Northeast Ohio Cemeteries book, this replacement stone really does mark the burial of Bay Village’s own unknown soldier. One day, the residents of Bay Village were surprised to find a body washed up on the lakefront beach. The man was clad in a Union uniform. He was never identified.

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I was flipping through my photos from Lake View Cemetery the other night when I noticed something unusual about this particular monument.

Lieut. Harold Higgins

Did you catch it?  Lt. Higgins served in the Royal Air Force.  So what is a young man who died while serving in a Royal Air Force during the First World War doing buried in a Cleveland cemetery?

Unfortunately, my research has presently come up short on that count.  I’ve found a number of mentions of Harold Higgins that match his name, basic rank (they state he was specifically a Second Lieutenant), date of death, and branch of service.  Except that they all state he is buried in a churchyard in the United Kingdom.  One such mention is on a page for Canadian Veterans Affairs, and another is on a website entitled Canada at War.   I’ve determined that the churchyard mentioned – St. Andrews in Cranwell, Lincolnshire – has a large number of military graves due to its proximity to an Air Force school.  At least one transcription has Higgins listed but with a different date of death in the same month and year.  So maybe this monument in Lake View is a cenotaph, or maybe there were two Harold Higgins whose information has become melded over the years.

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On this date, 103 years ago, tragedy descended upon Collinwood, Ohio. Sitting just east of Cleveland along Lake Erie, the previously fairly obscure municipality would be a household name within a matter of hours. On the morning of March 4, 1908, Collinwood’s Lake View School caught fire. Approximately 172 students, 2 teachers, and 1 rescuer died in the worst school fire in United States history.

In preparation for commemorating the anniversary of the tragedy, some members of the local community came together in what has now become the Collinwood-Nottingham Historical Society. The fire contributed to Collinwood’s absorption into Cleveland in 1910. Nottingham is the adjacent community, also now subsumed into the city.

The fire was one of the most significant events in local history, and it created a flurry of records in the form of things like newspaper accounts, death records, and memorials. It was a possible opportunity to find out what life was like in turn-of-the-20th century Collinwood. And so the Historical Society began to compile all the information they could about these victims. (I joined the Historical Society in 2010.) We wanted to see what the stories about their deaths would provide us about their lives, and we wanted to make sure those lives and tragic deaths were properly memorialized.

We’ve learned some things. We understand better the ethnic composition of the community at the time and have come to more strongly appreciate the influence of immigration in shaping the neighborhood. We’ve disproven the common assumption that all the school fire victims are buried at Lake View Cemetery. But mainly the answers to our questions seem to have provided us with…more questions.


We aren’t even sure the commonly accepted victim count of 175 is correct. No one actually knows how many children were in the school building that day when the fire started, and many of the victims were burned beyond the regular methods of recognition. Their parents and relatives attempted to match names to their loved one by a scrap of hair ribbon, an unsinged keepsake in a pocket, a shred of fabric. There are a number of lists that attempt to tally the school fire victims – and they don’t match. They do not contain all the same names and they do not contain the same number of names. Having 19 bodies ultimately determined to be beyond identification muddies the waters as well – no death certificates, no concrete list of who those 19 are assumed to be – after all, the parents still knew who never came home and must be somewhere among the dead. I’ve concentrated mainly on the cemetery research – if the children aren’t all buried in Lake View, then where are the rest? Sometimes finding a tombstone opens new doors for inquiry.

Mildred Schmitt and Emma

Why does this angel for Mildred Schmitt have this inscription on the side?

Emma (3 of 4)

Who is Emma? According to the obituary information I’ve found so far, Mildred was the daughter of Peter and Katie Schmitt, and she had only one sibling, a sister Lucy who was much older and wouldn’t have been enrolled in Lake View School.

Am I reading this inscription correctly on the Rostock tombstone at Euclid Cemetery?


Is the last word “unidentified”? Is Emil Rostock really in Euclid Cemetery at all? Or is he one of the unidentifiable children buried behind the memorial at Lake View Cemetery?

We probably won’t ever have all the answers to these questions. But someday, I hope we have more than we do now.

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The Swanson family lost three children in the Collinwood School Fire. Edwin, Hulda, and Fred rest along with their brother Paul, who died as an infant. (If you look along the side of the monument in the photo below, you can see the inscription for Paul.)


My friend Mary Louise, the president of the Collinwood-Nottingham Historical Society and driving force behind their research of the Collinwood school fire, was showing me the location of the Swanson children’s graves when she told me there was something else I had to see. She pointed out to me that their mother, Minnie, was eventually buried next to her four children.


There’s a space on the other side of the Swanson children’s stone where you would expect their father to be, but no grave marker. We found Mr. Swanson’s marker several feet away, looking out of place, and, worse yet, upside down.



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I found the inscription on this stone too interesting to ignore.


Here we have listed for all to see the man and woman who are buried here and the name of the one child of theirs who isn’t.  Seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it?  Wouldn’t you expect that the folks buried here would get their names listed?  I am certain there is a perfectly reasonable explanation.  Perhaps Sara’s husband was someone that the family considered prominent and so they wanted to have that surname on the stone.  Perhaps daughter Sara was the only child to live out of infancy. Maybe Sara or her descendants erected the stone long after the parents’ death and didn’t have the names of all the children that had been interred here.

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This is Willoughby Village Cemetery’s most famous grave. It was erected and maintained by donations from the local townspeople.

In the early morning hours of Christmas Eve in 1933, a young woman arrived in Willoughby and checked into a local boarding house. According to the landlady, Mary Judd, the woman came downstairs around noon, asked about local church services, wished her a merry Christmas, and departed. The young woman was dressed entirely in blue that complemented her blue eyes and was friendly to those she passed in the streets. Within minutes, she stepped into the path of an oncoming train.

In memory of the girl in blue

The citizens of Willoughby were saddened and captivated by the circumstances that would lead a pretty, friendly young woman to commit suicide by train (according to eyewitnesses, her actions appeared deliberate). She carried no identification – the only clue in her purse was a train ticket to Corry, Pennsylvania. They hoped that family would come to claim her, and when no one did, they paid for her funeral and monument themselves and maintained it. It was not until 1993 that she was identified as Josephine “Sophie” Klimczak.


Here are articles about the girl in blue.  Even today, her grave is well maintained, shaded by a donated tree, and surrounded by flowers.

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Sometimes a cemetery presents tantalizing mysteries that are not easily solved. Erie Street is mostly disused and poorly kept, but there is a tombstone there that was placed within the last few years.


This bright, new marker among the old is unusual enough, but then there are the circumstances it hints at. What took Mr. Herbst to Thailand? Is the epitaph simply a favorite saying, or an allusion to a life cut off?

And then there is the back of the stone.


Who or what is Machine Gun Jefferson? What does it mean?

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