Posts Tagged ‘cleveland history’


Gretchen Dorn was 10 years old when she perished in the Collinwood School Fire. Her stone shows signs of severe weathering, and I don’t know that I would have recognized it for what it was if I didn’t already know that she was buried in Woodland Cemetery not far from the Swanson children who died in the same tragedy. Gretchen is one of the children that we have a surviving photograph of, which is uploaded to her Find A Grave entry.


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Ness Monument

One of the most nationally famous monuments in Lake View Cemetery is for Eliot Ness. When I first spotted it, I made a mental note of how new it looked, wondering why. It wasn’t until later that I found out that Eliot Ness didn’t come to Lake View until about 40 years after his death.

I admit that the image of Eliot Ness I grew up with was Kevin Costner in The Untouchables. For my mother’s generation, he was linked with Robert Stack, kicking ass and taking names of gangsters on tv. Eliot Ness was larger than life, heroic.

But in Cleveland, Ness’ legacy is more complicated. After his victory (or at least his association with the conviction of Al Capone), Ness ended up in Cleveland as the Public Safety Director. He cleaned up the police and fire departments and shut down many of the notorious illegal gambling venues and gangs. He even improved traffic safety. But he wasn’t able to solve the most famous case of his Cleveland career – the Kingsbury Run murders. Someone in Cleveland was murdering and butchering people and leaving their remains in a poor section of town frequented by vagrants. Only two of the dozen or so victims (there are debates about exactly whether some murders should be included) were ever identified. As the number of killings attributed to the mysterious murderer increased, Cleveland’s citizens demanded that Ness and his police force do something – but what? With incomplete and mutilated corpses that often couldn’t be identified and forensic investigation still young, the police didn’t have a lot of leads. Serial killing like this wasn’t well understood They tried, but Ness ended up resorting to ineffective strategies like arresting the homeless and then burning the shanties that lined Kingsbury Run. The actions may have deterred the killer temporarily, but they didn’t lead the police any closer to figuring out who he actually was. It does appear that Ness and his men finally identified a possible suspect in one Dr. Frank Sweeney, but there was only circumstantial evidence, the doctor was too well-connected, or both. Officially, the murders remain unsolved. After a period of time, the bodies stopped turning up, and the “Mad Butcher” appeared to have moved on or stopped.

Ness eventually resigned as Public Safety Director. His life began a slow decline – he tried his hand and business, but he did not have the knack for it that he had for law enforcement. He ran for mayor of Cleveland as an independent but lost to the popular Democratic incumbent and spent most of his savings on the campaign. The one bright spot was his marriage to third wife, Betty, and their adoption of a son, Robert. Ness died of a heart attack at home in Coudersport, Pennsylvania, in 1957.

This brings us to the travels of Eliot Ness after death. Ness was cremated, his ashes provided to his wife and son, and for forty years he had no monument or grave marker. Son Robert died of leukemia at a relatively young age in 1976 and wife Betty passed away 1977. For the next twenty years, the ashes of one of the most famous Treasury Department agents in history, his wife, and son passed from relative to relative. No one seemed to know what to do with the earthly remains of the Nesses. Eventually, someone doing research found out about this situation, and a local monument company paid to erect a monument to Ness and his family. In 1997, Ness received a full police funeral and his and his family’s ashes were spread over the pond in Lake View Cemetery, an honor not generally permitted.

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I don’t often encounter anyone else at all when I am visiting smaller cemeteries to explore and photograph – large cemeteries that encourage tourist traffic are different. Sometimes there will be mourners visiting a particular gravestone or family plot, but most of the time I find myself completely alone. Occasionally, though, I will see evidence that someone else has been here before, motivated as I am to preserve the past and the memory of the dead.


An unknown person took the time to create this sign, marking Morrison J. Cannell as a Civil War soldier. Private Cannell had only been in the 7th Ohio Volunteer Infantry for five months and one week when he died at Newburg, Ohio, according to A History of Cuyahoga County, Ohio. If the information on this site is accurate, he was 20 at the time he enlisted and was part of Company A, the Cleveland Zoave Light Guards, which would have put him under the command of William Creighton and Orrin Crane, the two highest ranking Clevelanders to die in the Civil War (buried side by side at Woodland Cemetery). That he was in Company A is verified by the placement of his name on the 7th OVI monument in Woodland Cemetery(possibly misspelled). There are no notations in the records I have seen that reference his death as resulting from a particular battle, and the personal site dedicated to the history of the 7th OVI attributes it to disease.

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Cudell Monument

This post started because I was trying to source the epitaph on the monument: “Our goal must be to attain perfection through spiritual beauty.” I wasn’t successful, but in the process, I discovered that F.E. Cudell was a prominent enough figure to have his own entry in Case Western Reserve University’s Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Born Franz Cudell in Germany, he immigrated to the United States as a young man and was known as Frank. He partnered with fellow architect John Richardson to create the firm Cudell and Richardson and they designed a number of significant Cleveland buildings, including churches, the Jewish Orphan Asylum, the Tiedemann House (now infamous as Franklin Castle), the Root & McBride-Bradley building (now the main office of my husband’s employer, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority), and the Perry-Payne Building (a photo available on this page).

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Chief Thunderwater

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Rodolphus Edwards was a member of the 1798 Western Reserve surveying party who remained in the Cleveland area. Rodolphus originally built his log cabin on what would become Superior Street in Cleveland, but moved to Doan’s Corners to avoid the diseases (mostly malaria) associated with the swampy land. His father, Adonijah, a Revolutionary War veteran, came to live with the family and eventually died with them in Cleveland at the advanced age of 92, and his son (also Rodolphus) became a prominent Cleveland citizen.

Annals of the Early Settlers Association of Cuyahoga County, Volumes 1-2, Cleveland: Mount & Carroll, Printers and Stationers, 1880.

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Alfred Williams, newsboy

Next month, one of these photos of the grave marker of newsboy Alfred Williams will appear in Catholic Digest, accompanying a column where the writer will talk about growing up in the Cleveland area as a paperboy. From the request I received to use my photo, it seems that the paperboys’ boss at one time took a group of them to Erie Street Cemetery to see the grave and hear the tragic story of Alfred Williams.


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Irish immigrant John Grady and his family fled the potato famine in his native land. He found his place in his adopted home of Cleveland working for the fire department starting in 1881 and became the captain of Engine Company 1 in 1889. On November 15, 1891, he was trapped under falling debris and killed while fighting a fire at the Short and Foreman Company. It took several days for crews to recover his body for burial.

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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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