Posts Tagged ‘drowning’

Morehouse (2)

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The most visited graves at Woodland Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio, are, not surprisingly, those of the brave early aviators Orville and Wilbur Wright. The Wrights are world-famous for their accomplishments, and countless people travel to see their final resting places. But if you ask the Woodland Cemetery staff to name the most visited grave of a person who was not famous in life, they will point you to the famous statue of a boy and a dog that marks the grave of little Johnny Morehouse. In 1860 (so the legend says), five year old Johnny, a cobbler’s son, was playing when he fell into the canal. He drowned, and when he was buried, his faithful dog refused to leave the graveside. The dog stands forever immortalized in stone, guarding over a peacefully sleeping little boy, a paw extended to shield him from harm.

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The statue is hard to photograph for all of the trinkets left over and around it. Most are children’s toys or books, things that Johnny left behind all too soon over 150 years ago.

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Spire of St. Patrick's near sunset

I heard another tale of a ghost dog from across the ocean that seemed fitting for this month’s series of tales. St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin (as well as Glasnevin Cemetery) are haunted by a ghostly dog. The black Newfoundland belonged to John McNeill Boyd, who is buried in the cemetery but memorialized inside the cathedral with a statue. Boyd, a sea captain, died trying to rescue sailors on the Irish Sea during a storm in 1861. His body was recovered, and following his funeral, his dog refused to leave the grave, eventually starving to death in the cemetery. Since then, the dog has appeared both at the grave at and the base of his master’s statue inside the cathedral.


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One of the things I have noticed is how often death by drowning is mentioned on a tombstone, like this on at Fort Meigs Cemetery in Perrysburg, Ohio.

F. X. Belanger Sr.

Only a fraction of tombstones make any mention of how the deceased, well, got to be deceased.  The practice was more common in the early 19th century, but drowning continues to show up after other causes of death have disappeared from grave markers.

The back of the Prentice stone in Chestnut Grove Cemetery in Ashtabula tells us that Charles J. Copeland drowned in Lake Erie in 1887.


We already looked at photographs of grave markers at Lakeside Cemetery and Erie Street Cemetery that specifically mention drowning.

Dr. Cudell’s stone at Lake View tells us that he drowned:
Adolph Cudell, M.D.

Why does drowning elicit special mention? Is it our relationship with water – an element essential to our survival that can nonetheless be deadly? Does it have anything to do with the symbolism of baptism for Christians, who all of these dead seem to nominally be? Or is it because drowning is so sudden, that fatigue and water can overcome even the strongest, healthiest man within a short time?

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Lake Erie

This was originally going to be a very different post. A few weeks ago, I drove up to a lakefront park in Willowick, Ohio, to get a photograph of the historical marker for the sinking of the Griffith.

Lake Erie

On June 17, 1850, a steamer called the G. P. Griffith was en route from Buffalo to Toledo on Lake Erie when a fire erupted in the dark hours of the early morning. The boat was a few miles out from the shoreline, east of the city of Cleveland. The crew attempted to steer to shore and lodged the ship on a sandbar. Contemporary accounts estimated that 286 people died out of the over 300 on board. Some burned, some were probably crushed by the paddlewheels or falling wreckage, and many drowned, a number probably increased by cumbersome clothing made weightier by concealed valuables. Many passengers were immigrants moving further west carrying money on their persons. Because there was no definitive list of passengers and crew, the number of survivors has been estimated as between 40 and 87.

I had planned to write about the historical marker because it is, for many of the victims, their only memorial. Following the disaster, the citizens of Willowick buried over 100 recovered bodies in a mass grave on the the shoreline. Over time, erosion reclaimed the grave and the remains plunged, for the final time, into the lake water.

The Griffith Disaster

Then, while walking through Fort Meigs Cemetery, I found a cenotaph for the captain and co-owner Charles C. Roby and his family


Roby, a successful merchant,  and another man, Studdiford, purchased the G. P. Griffith in the preceding winter, and Roby decided that he wished to captain the steamer for that voyage and take along a number of family and friends.


According to the accounts of the disaster, Roby asked crew members to help his family safely reach shore, but none were successful.  Roby, his wife, mother, and daughter all perished along with most passengers and crew. Some state that Roby’s second child perished on the Griffith, but the placement of his name on the monument in relation to the three confirmed dead in the sinking – Charles, Amelia, and Abby – suggests otherwise.  However baby Charles died, the monument in Fort Meigs Cemetery stands in memory of one family destroyed.  The historical marker in the park, while less personal, stands as the lone memorial to the families decimated on June 17, 1850, who were unable to leave such a marker for themselves.

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