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A Walk Through Woodland

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News
on May 23, 1992



Roz Young

            On a day such as this I can think of nothing half so interesting a family could do as pack up and go for a walk or drive through Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum. Beautiful hills and flowers are everywhere along with a lake and ducks and a splendid view of the city. But more than that, the history of Dayton is written on the monuments.

            We owe Woodland to John Van Cleve, son of Benjamin and grandson of John Van Cleve. Dayton's first cemetery was on the northeast corner of Third and Main on two lots donated by Daniel Cooper. In 10 years the lot was filled, and Cooper again gave land on the south side of Fifth Street between Ludlow and Wilkinson. That cemetery lasted 30 years. Then John Van Cleve went far out into the country and found a farm of 40 acres that could be bought for $60 an acre. In 1841 he secured $100 each from 50 subscribers, bought the land, put the rest of the money into the bank for labor and materials, wrote the Articles of Association and surveyed and platted the acreage. He served as president of the Woodland Cemetery Association from 1841 until his death in 1858.

            In Woodland's 150-year history there have been only 12 presidents. Their names are a roster of the city's historic families: John W. Van Cleve, Robert W. Steele, John G. Lowe, Jonathan H. Winters, Samuel W. Davies, John S. McIntire, Henry S. Mead. Robert C. Schenck. William P. Huffman, William P. Patterson, James M. Woodhull and Jervis S. Janney, the incumbent.

            Norris D. Hellwig, who served as assistant manager of the cemetery from 1973 to 1987, has written Woodlands, a 73-page booklet just published to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the cemetery. It is illustrated with color and black-and-white photographs of many of the more picturesque sights and famous monuments. He tells the story of Woodland with pleasing narrative style. He also has included an article on the arboretum, description of some of the monuments, John Van Cleve's list of trees in the arboretum, a list of the original subscribers, the Articles of Association, and a list of noteworthy monuments.

            In "Monuments Old and New" Hellwig identifies the kinds of monuments. I'm an old cemetery hiker and have been looking at monuments for years, but after reading this article, I am going to be more intelligent next time I go. A marker is flat or horizontal, while a headstone is vertical. A ledger is a slab that covers the whole grave. Tablets are modern versions of the monolith. A vertical tablet denotes aspiration; a horizontal table denotes rest. Obelisks come from the Egyptian obelisks, a cenotaph is a monument or tomb honoring a person who is buried in another place. Freestanding columns are sometimes used as pedestals for statues. An exedra is a kind of garden bench and comes in elliptical, semicircular or rectangular styles. Mausoleums are complete buildings holding crypts. A sepulchral sarcophagus can accommodate one or more entombments. The monolithic capstone is a compact variation of the mausoleum but contains no doorway. Then there is the cometarium, a slab which covers a subterranean vault or tomb. The slab or capstan is removable.

            A list available at the cemetery gives 190 distinctive or historical monuments. They are also listed in Hellwig's book, which is for sale at the cemetery office.

            Visitors to the cemetery most often inquire directions to the Wright bothers' plot, Paul Laurence Dunbar's and third, Elizabeth Richter's.

            In the listing, Hellwig's book says, "Richter, Elizabeth (aka Lib Hedges). Dayton's own Belle Watling - monument inspired Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel.

            When I read that I wondered how Wolfe ever knew about the statue. Well, I think somebody at Woodland will have to stand a little twitting about this. We all make mistakes; I have been getting some deserved joshing about having written in the flood story here recently about the "levy" that runs along Riverside Drive. Surely Thomas Wolfe was more familiar with the works of John Milton than with a statue in Woodland Cemetery. It is line 163 of Lycidas: "Look homeward, Angel, now, and melt with ruth."

            But that doesn't really matter. Go out to Woodland and see if you can find an example of every kind of monument. If you do, stop in at the office and Jim Sandegran will give you a prize.