Monday, March 18, 2019

A Vintage Piece of Our Past

Today, while perusing the local thrift store, I spotted a book with a white and gold textured cover. Upon picking it up and inspecting it, I discovered that it was something very unique. This book was an unused memorial book from a funeral home called the Pim Funeral Home that once operated in Wooster, Ohio. The illustrations are in pale, pastel colors that are reminiscent of the 1940s or 1950s:

Turning the pages of this book revealed poems by Alfred Tennyson, William Cullen Bryant, John G. Whittier, and other anonymous authors, as well as passages from the Bible. All of these passages focus on the nature of death as a part of life that should not be feared:

An article in the Akron Beacon Journal in the 1970s about the home itself reads as follows:

“Built in 1860 by a Civil War captain, George P. Emrich, this house on N. Market Street in Wooster has retained its basic design over the years. It now is the Pim-Endres Funeral Home and is owned by James and Patricia Endres. The outside walls of the house are 23-inch solid masonry, and the inside walls and partitions are the originals. The third floor was once a ballroom. It is known as the Anna house, named for William and Vinnie Harper Annat, the second owners, who at one time were active in local and state Republican politics.”

The home still stands, and it is a grand, white Victorian mansion that is now home to a law office. I am not sure when the home stopped being a funeral home, but this was a cool discovery that helped me learn about a home in my community that I’ve always been interested in!

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Love-Crazed Maiden of Charlie's Puddle

The Rittman Historical Society presented an incredibly well-researched, informative, and spine-tingling group of Halloween tales at their monthly meeting last night, held in the old Knupp Church.

My favorite tale was about the Indian maiden who was driven mad after her love was killed in a skirmish with another tribe. It is said that, each year, as the hour grows close to midnight on October 21st, the love-crazed spirt of this woman "... rides a canoe up and down the River Styx and into the center of Charlie’s Puddle... before disappearing (Rolik, 2011)."

The 21st of October is fast approaching, do you think her spirit will emerge for a midnight ride this year?

Here is a full article published by The Daily Record about the maiden, as well as a ghostly train said to recreate its final, fiery ride off of a train trestle not far from the maiden's haunting grounds:

San Felipe de Neri Church

Built in 1793 and on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, this church is one of the oldest buildings in the entire city of Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is still a functional Catholic parish. According to the church website, the original church collapsed in a rainstorm in 1792. This earlier church stood to the West of the town's plaza, with a cemetery to the East. In 1869, all of the burials that could be located at this cemetery were moved to the newly founded Mount Calvary Cemetery. There are stories of forgotten burials being found during ongoing construction projects (Source: Ghosts of Old Town Albuquerque by Cody Polston). The site of the cemetery is now a quaint plaza with specialty shops and a fountain. I can't help but wonder if there were coffins under my feet as I browsed...

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Endless Winter: The Short Life of Fort Laurens, Ohio's Only Revolutionary War Fort

In the 1770s, Ohio was not yet the agricultural, political hub in our nation's heartland as we have come to know it. Ohio was not even a part of the United States because this union did not yet exist. Colonists who longed to govern themselves in a country of their own had turned a decades long dispute with the British monarchy into a physical battle for independence only 3 years earlier. Ohio in the 1770s was a frontier which was populated by many complex groups of people with diverse intentions. Many of the Native Americans in the Ohio Country, such as the Wyandot tribe, aligned themselves with the British and their military stronghold to the Northwest, Fort Detroit. Christian missionaries from Moravia had come to Ohio in the early 1770s and established the first permanent settlement, Schoennbrunn, where converted Delaware natives lived alongside their Moravian brethren and teachers. Schoennbrunn and other subsequent Moravian settlements in the Ohio Country were neutral in the conflict due to their religious beliefs. Fort Laurens came to be because American commanders saw a potential to utilize these natives and their unique relationships with Westerners to make the Ohio Country play a dramatic part in the war. However, Fort Laurens would end up being considered a failed venture.

Fort Laurens was named after the current president of the Continental Congress, Henry Laurens. Laurens was a close friend of the man who would lead the campaign in the Ohio Country, Lachlan McIntosh, who was commander of the Western Department of the Continental Army. McIntosh had successfully defended the Pennsylvania frontier at Fort Pitt, and he believed he could do the same at Fort Laurens. By December of 1778, construction on the fort was complete. Americans hoped Fort Laurens would be able to provide safety for settlers and friendly natives who lived in the Ohio County and Pennsylvania, who were subject to frequent raids by natives who were allied with the British. It was also hoped that a strong American victory might rally neutral natives and settlers to take up arms in the name of patriotism. McIntosh and the Continental Army also hoped the fort would provide a force capable of destroying Fort Detroit and any British presence in the Ohio Country, restoring order, safety, and freedom to everyone who lived there. 

However, from the very beginning, Fort Laurens faced numerous challenges. Completing construction on the fort and deciding to attempt to make it livable in the middle of the winter was a foolish idea. McIntosh also decided to wait until spring to launch any attacks against the British, a decision that would come back to haunt him. The Continental soldiers who were coming to serve at this fort rose up against the crude and unforgiving environment created by an Ohio winter. McIntosh had to take most of his men back to Fort Pitt just to keep them from starting a mutiny against him. McIntosh started East towards Fort Pitt with the majority of his men, leaving a little over 100 men under the command of Colonel John Gibson with little supplies or hope. A mutiny was nearly risen against Gibson, because of harsh conditions and lack of supplies. The winter continued to get worse when a British liaison to the natives in the area, Simon Girty, led a band of natives in a reconnaissance mission to Fort Laurens. Girty's men came across a group of soldiers from Fort Laurens as they were hunting. Two of the Continental soldiers were killed, and another was taken captive by Girty. This captive revealed to the British that the men at Fort Laurens were starving, desperate, and had no definitive plans to attack the British until the spring. The British would use this information to their full advantage. 

Knowing the men at Fort Laurens were weak in body and spirit, British Captain Henry Bird devised a plan. The fort was surrounded by British soldiers and their native allies. and no one was permitted to leave or enter the fort. Reinforcements from Fort Pitt arrived after the fort had already been surrounded, and these soldiers turned around and went back to Fort Pitt out of fear for their lives. The men in the fort began to starve, eating their own clothing at times. Even the British forces surrounding the fort were also starving because they were quite far from Fort Detroit, and it was the middle of winter.

On Match 20th, 1779, British forces gave in and allowed a relief force to make its way to Fort Laurens. Over the winter, 30 men had died as a result of violent altercations, disease, or starvation. General Washington was informed of the fort's general inadequacy, and he gave orders for soldiers to retreat, and the fort was abandoned. The last of the soldiers left in August of 1779, less than a year after the fort had been built. In reality, the fort was too far from Fort Detroit to attack it with any strength, and waiting an entire season to launch an attack would never have worked to the Continental Army's advantage, anyway. Ohio settlements in Schoennbrunn and Gnadenhutten were too far from the fort to be protected by it, as well. Essentially, Fort Laurens was doomed from the beginning. Building a fort far way from the targets it intended to attack or protect set it up for failure. Starvation and lack of morale were the final nails in Fort Laurens' coffin, and there would never be another attempt to use the Ohio Country as a major playing field in the war. Local militia took the task of protecting citizens unto itself, and any plans to attack Fort Detroit were forgotten. 

Eventually, Fort Laurens was dismantled by local farmers looking for sturdy timber. The site was reclaimed by dense Ohio woodlands, and a section of the land that the fort had once sat on became part of the Ohio and Erie Canal. Today, none of the original fort remains above the ground. Archaeological digs have revealed where the fort stood, and an outline is marked in the ground so you can walk the outline of the original fort. Historical markers along the path tell you more about the fort, and point out where various structures in the fort were located. A small museum is also on-site, and holds some artifacts recovered from the site that help paint a picture of what life was like at the fort. 21 of the men who lost their lives at Fort Laurens are entombed in a temperature controlled, above ground crypt, which is located in the museum:

The bodies are stored in this manner to keep the bones preserved. Scientists or historians may need to study the bones, and this gives them the opportuity to do so. Some of the bodies found on the grounds could not be identified. The Tomb of the Unknown Patriot of the American Revolution honors these men who rest without a name: 

Here is more information about Fort Laurens:

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Death of Quentin Roosevelt


This lonely grave on a broad plain hard by the little village of Chamery, near the city of Reims, in France, will ever be sacred to American young manhood because it contains the remains of one who embodied in his own person to an eminent degree those qualities of heart and soul which led so many thousands of them to cross the seas and to face for their country's sake death and mutilation in a foreign land. 

Quentin Roosevelt, the youngest of Theodore Roosevelt's children, a lieutenant in the 95th American Aero Squadron, First Pursuit Group, fell in single combat with a more experienced adversary, at Chamery, near Reims, on July 14th, 1917. Although new to the flying game he had but three days before won the Croix de Guerre by a daring exploit typical of the man. While scouting over the German lines he became separated from his companies and, on dropping through a patch of cloud, found himself in the rear of six German machines. Prudence dictated an about face and retreat, but it was never Roosevelt's way, to retreat, and he resolved to attack. When within shooting distance he opened on them with his machine gun and had the satisfaction of seeing one of the enemy lurch to a side and fall. Instantly veering in a wide arc he flew for the Allied lines, pursued by the five remaining German planes. Bullets flew overhead and on every side, but fortune was with him that day and he escaped without a wound. 

One of our own doughboys, in the cap and ulster we so well remember, stands by Lieutenant Roosevelt's grave in silent tribute to the dead, as many Americans will stand in the years to come. 

-Inscription on the back of Keystone View Company's stereopticon card depicting the grave of Quentin Roosevelt (Roosevelt's death date is actually July 14th, 1918)

Quentin Roosevelt's death at the tender age of 20 provides us with a unique glimpse into how Americans viewed not only the Roosevelt family, but World War I as well. As I read this small piece, the first thing I noticed was that the writer lists Quentin as Theodore Roosevelt's youngest child. It was certainly common knowledge that Roosevelt had had a daughter, Alice, with his first wife, Alice Lee, who died shortly after the birth of her daughter in 1884. Perhaps the author meant that Quentin was the youngest of Theodore and Edith Carow Roosevelt's children. Or, could the author have been omitting Alice from his statement because of her keen ability to attract scandal? It is impossible to know...

The writer's statement also glorifies the service of Quentin and other doughboys without giving in to the shocking brutality and seemingly needless loss of life that came with World War I. We aren't given an account of Quentin's death, but his heroism in other instances is documented in detail. Making sense of his death by emphasizing the heroism he had shown, great service he had done for his country, and example he set for other young men to follow was integral for justifying the great loss of life. 

The death of Quentin Roosevelt came about after he was shot down by German Fokker Chasse airplanes while he was out on a patrol in his Nieuport 28. The plane in this photo is quite similar to the one Roosevelt flew: 

Roosevelt was buried where he fell by German soldiers, which is the gravesite that is depicted in the photo (One of his original burial crosses is also displayed at The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, OH). In the 1950s, his body was exhumed so it could be buried next to his brother, Ted, who perished during World War II. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Zoar's Society of Separatists: Equal in Life and Death

The village of Zoar lies in Tuscarawas County, Ohio, about half-way between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, on a branch of the railroad which connects these two points. It is situated on the bank of the Tuscarawas Creek, which affords at this point valuable water-power. The place is irregularly built, and contains fewer houses than a village of the same number of inhabitants usually has; but the dwellings are mostly quite large, and each accommodates several families. There is a commodious brick church, a large and well-fitted brick schoolhouse, an extensive country tavern or hotel, and a multitude of sheds and barns. There are, besides, several mills and factories; and in the middle of the village a somewhat elaborate, large, square house, which was the residence of the founder and head of the society until his death, and is now used in part as a storehouse.

Zoar is the home of a communistic society who call themselves "Separatists," and who founded the village in 1817, and have here become quite wealthy. They originated in W├╝rtemberg, and, like the Harmony Society, the Inspirationists, and others, were dissenters from the Established Church. The Separatists of southern Germany were equivalent to what in New England are called "Come Outers"—protestants against the prevailing religious faith, or, as they would say, lack of faith.

These German "Come Outers" were for the most part mystics, who had read the writings of Jacob Boehm, Gerhard Terstegen, and Jung Stilling; they cherished different religious or doctrinal beliefs, were stigmatized as fanatics, but were usually, I judge, simple-hearted, pious people, desirous to lead a more spiritual life than they found in the churches.

Taken from The Communistic Societies of the United States by Charles Nordhoff
(Read more here)


The community of equals which existed in Zoar from 1817 to 1898 came to be because of a rebellion against the Lutheran church in Germany. The Separatists who came to Zoar found truth in the works of a man named Jakob Bohme. Bohme was a mystic, meaning that he believed that each human being had the capability to communicate with God on a personal level, outside of and independent of the church and its minsters. A quote from Bohme's work The Way to Christ summarizes his beliefs perfectly:

For he that will say, I have a Will, and would willingly do Good, but the earthly Flesh which I carry about me, keepeth me back, so that I cannot; yet I shall be saved by Grace, for the Merits of Christ. I comfort myself with his Merit and Sufferings; who will receive me of mere Grace, without any Merits of my own, and forgive me my Sins. Such a one, I say, is like a Man that knoweth what Food is good for his Health, yet will not eat of it, but eateth Poison instead thereof, from whence Sickness and Death, will certainly follow. 

What this passage points out is that a belief in Christ is not enough for a Christian. Humans have the power to realize they have fallen from God's grace, and they can show their struggle against evil through the deeds they do and choices they make. This belief was very different from most German Protestants who believed in the concept of sola fide (Latin for "by faith alone). This concept tells its followers that they have fallen from Christ and nothing they do can save them. Their only salvation is through belief. One could be a model citizen under this belief, but unless they had complete faith in Christ, they were damned. The German Separatists saw value in their deeds and counted them as part of their salvation. Their rejection of sola fide led the Separatists to:

  1. Reject baptism and confirmation (Being a mystic, one had a personal relationship with God that no church or clergy could give to you; it had to be undertaken personally, through personal prayer and your own works and deeds) 
  2. Practice pacifism (Killing or fighting another human being was a deed that showed you were against God's Word ; to reject killing was to show that you were personally fighting against the evil and sin brought into the world by Eve) 
  3. Celebrate no religious holiday, other then the Sabbath (Simplicity was a hallmark of the Separatist's beliefs, and removing holidays that weren't directly laid out in the Bible from their repertoire allowed for more focus on God) 

These beliefs led to years of hardship, physical abuse, and uncertainty for the Separatists. When they finally came to settle along the Tuscarawas River in 1817, they became a communal settlement purely through circumstance. As individuals, the roughly 200 settlers could not afford to make a living. They decided to make a community of goods in order to survive. This decision and their choosing of Joseph Bimeler, a charismatic orator and teacher, as their leader, probably saved the community. Every person in the community was an equal, and everyone worked to serve everyone else, and was taken care of by the community in turn. A bakery made loaves of fresh bread for every man, woman, and child. Sugar, cloth, and other goods were passed out according to need. Crops were grown and distributed evenly. The Separatists truly believed in the importance of their daily work in the eyes of God, and made sure that they lived as equals and cared for each other with a spirit of kindness, charity, and forgiveness. This equality they grew to rely on and take solace in extended beyond this life. 

When death came for one of the Separatists, the earliest settlers wanted to be as equal in death as they were in life. Zoar Cemetery, which is a short drive from the present day village, has an expanse of seemingly unused burial ground. No headstones or decor of any kind mark this space as being the resting place for any person, but the first to be buried in the cemetery decided to forego any kind of marker. These simple people rest peacefully, all equally decorated by the autumn leaves that have begun to fall. 

Zoar Cemetery: Here, in what has been described as "God's Acre", is the final resting place of the members of the Society of Separatists of Zoar (1817-1898) as well as today's descendants and residents. The early Zoarites' simple religion forbade headstones, believing all were equal in death. These early burials, including fifty who perished in an 1834 cholera epidemic, are to your left. The headstone of Zoar leader Joseph Bimeler was erected later

In the 1860s, the Separatists began using wooden markers, now deteriorated, and eventually limestone and marble memorials. The early graves were laid in chronological order, not in family plots. Three additions in 1900, 1925, and 1996 have enlarged the cemetery. The road, which formerly followed the shore of nearby Zoar Lake, was changed to its present location in 1925. 

However, the outside world made its way into the community. When the Civil War broke out, young men from the community wanted to fight. They had never known the Germany where their parents and grandparents had seen bitter religious persecution, and could not understand why their parents were heartbroken by their willingness to fight for their country. As more and more of the outside world crept in, the worldly beliefs that were taking a stronger hold in the community began to be reflected in the use of burial markers. The earliest markers were made of wood, and impermanent, but even this small change was evidence of a changing of beliefs in the community (Joseph Bimeler had died in 1853, a decade before the wooden markers went into use. So, it can be said that a lot of the religious zeal of the community died with him).

The grave of Joseph Bimeler. The headstone was erected long after his death. Would he have appreciated having such a huge stone marking his burial place?

An example of one of the several remaining wooden headstone, with no etchings or markings of any kind still visible

Another wooden gravestone

As the 19th century wore on, wooden headstones turn into simple stone markers adorned with both 5 and 8-pointed stars. In Christianity, the 5-pointed star is symbolic of the nativity and the star that marked Christ's birth. The 8-pointed star is symbolic of regeneration and baptism, which could be viewed as a departure from the Separatists initial rejection of baptism.

A 5 and 8-pointed star on a headstone

Another 8-pointed star

Another 5-pointed star

By 1898, the communal nature of the village had fallen apart, and everyone voted to have property and wealth dispersed into private ownership. Today, many of the buildings serve as part of the Zoar Village Historic Memorial and Museum. There are also shops and private residences that house around 75 people in the village. I visited on a rainy fall evening, and it was still beautiful and full of the energy of those who settled it. Zoar has actually been threatened by a failing levee, and if the levee fails, the village will flood. The history that would be compromised and destroyed with the neglect of the levee is frightening, and I encourage you to read this and inform yourself on the subject: 

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Last Journey of Abraham Lincoln, and The 2015 Lincoln Funeral Train

The death of Abraham Lincoln came at twenty-two minutes past seven in the morning on April 15th, 1865. He had been shot by John Wilkes Booth on the evening of April 14th as he enjoyed the play My American Cousin with his wife, Mary, and companions Clara Harris and Henry Rathbone. When the president drew his last breath in a simple lodging house near Ford's Theatre, plans to honor the dead president went into action. America had just emerged from a horrendous civil war, and the death of the man who had reunited the country was almost unimaginable.

What did the American people feel when they learned that they had lost their president? We had never lost a president to assassination before, and Lincoln had become so much more than an elected official. Lincoln was the final casualty of a bloody civil war, a war that brought about "... a new birth of freedom" (In the words of Lincoln himself), and upheld the belief that all men are created equal. The ideas Lincoln stood for took root in the hearts of many Americans. The peace that Lincoln had worked to create was now uncertain, especially for African Americans, who had looked to Lincoln to protect and progress their cause. No one knew what would happen now that the Great Emancipator was gone. Before anything else could be done or thought of, Americans wanted to pay their respects to the fallen president. 

After a period of visitation and state mourning in Washington, Lincoln's body departed the capital on April 21st. He was to be carried by train on a nearly 2 week long journey that would take him home to Springfield, Illinois. The route the train was to take was very similar to the trip he took upon his inauguration:

(Lincoln's inaugural route is in black, while the funeral train procession is a dashed line)

A funeral of this scale and grandeur was unprecedented in the U.S. The funeral train that bore the president home consisted of 9 cars, one of them being a personal car constructed for Lincoln that he never used in life. In death, the car was transformed to hold not only Lincoln's casket, but that of his 11 year-old son Willie; they were to be interred together (Willie died in 1862 at the age of 11). The car underwent a transformation, and was covered in black bunting and draping. It is said that a light shone upon the casket in darkness so it was constantly illuminated. A lone engine steamed ahead of the funeral train to ensure that the track was clear, and the funeral train never went over 20 mph to avoid accidents.

Schedules, such as this one, were distributed ahead of time so mourners could gather to see the train pass by:

Crowds gathered along the tracks for a glimpse of the train as it passed by. People from all walks of life were brought to the tracks by crude and sturdy roads alike. They built huge bonfires to illuminate the night and better see the funeral train pass. When the funeral car stopped in large cities, Lincoln's body was seen by hundreds of thousands of Americans. An embalmer traveled with the funeral procession in order to keep Lincoln's body as presentable as possible. It must have been a moving experience, waiting in the night while making fellowship with neighbors. Then, the sound of a steam engine would over power the crackling of the bonfire and harmony of the hymns being sang...

After Lincoln was laid to rest, the train car that had taken him on his final journey was not preserved. The car saw many different owners, and eventually was destroyed in a fire in 1911. A replica of the car has been built, to nearly 85% accuracy to the original. The car is truly amazing, and the men who built it over a four year period are very proud of their creation. No plans or photos of the interior of the car exist, so it took great care and hard work for the car to be rebuilt. The car has been travelling the country in honor of the 150th anniversary of the president's death. If you have not yet seen the car, the schedule and information can be found on this website:

Endeavors such as this one bring history to life! When you think of history as it was lived and as though it is still happening, that's when you gain a real appreciation for it. A tangible link to the past helps people appreciate history as being a part of our present instead of one dimensional facts and figures in a dusty textbook. As you enter the car, a replica of Lincoln's casket lay inside, just as it would have in 1865. Seeing even a replica of the casket moved me, and made me consider how the hopes and dreams of the America of the 1860s could have been reduced to this black box... or were they? Lincoln's death, to me, showed that his dedication to freedom, truth, and the preservation of the Union did not die with him, and lived on in others who read his words and lived his principles.

I thank the Warther Carving Museum and everyone who helped bring the train to Dover. The only thing better than seeing the train was seeing children get excited to learn about Lincoln and history in general!