12: Cemetery
12:1 Old Cemetery Gives Way to 'Youth'
12:2 Tin Cans Litter Graves of Pioneers in Lakewood
12:3 Prized Lakewood Headstones Upset
12:4 Tombstones Await Final Resting Place
12:5 Founding Father's Cemetery Gave Way to City Parking


12:1

OLD CEMETERY GIVES WAY TO 'YOUTH'
THE CLEVELAND TIMES, 1925

There is an ancient cemetery out on Detroit avenue just west of Bell [sic] avenue. It has been neglected for many years. Many of the tombstones lie flat on the grass, tin cans have been thrown carelessly about in the tangled brush, which gives to this little plot of ground an air of utter desolation.

The property belongs to Mars Wagar, pioneer. Years ago the Wagars, Nicholsons and Halls made the tedious journey over the mountains from Connecticut to found the little community of East Rockford [sic], destined to be known as Lakewood.

Some 13 or 14 bodies have been laid away here.

But commerce and growth must be served. Busy business and residence sections have gradually encroached on the land. It has been decided to remove the remaining bodies to a plot of ground in the Lakewood cemetery.

The picture above is of one of the stones whose inscription has not been erased by the wear and tear of time.

[HEADSTONE IN PICTURE READS: JOSEPH HALL / Born at St. Ives, / Huntingtonshire, England / Jan. 25, 1793, / Died Feb 16, 1855 / Aged 62 Years ]

 

 

12:2

TIN CANS LITTER GRAVES OF PIONEERS IN LAKEWOOD
[unspecified newspaper], AUGUST 26, 1925

After Citizens Protest Conditions

Bodies of many of the stout-hearted pioneers who in the early part of the past century braved the perils of the wilderness to establish a little outpost of civilization in the Western Reserve will be removed from Wagar cemetery after Oct. 1.

This was the written report of Mayor Edward Wiegand to Lakewood city council after protests against the asserted sacrilege of the graves.

The land is the property of the heirs of Mars Wagar, pioneer, Wiegand pointed out in his report. There are 13 or 14 bodies still resting in the cemetery. The bodies cannot be removed before Oct. 1 because of orders of the state board of health.

Cemetery Hidden

Wagar cemetery is in Detroit avenue, just west of Belle avenue, in Lakewood. It is hidden in tangled underbrush on a little knoll rising from a bustling suburban business thorofare, dishonored and almost obliterated.

There were buried the Wagars and Nicholsons and Halls and members of other old families who emigrated from Connecticut and founded the little community of East Rockport, now Lakewood.

The headstones of the monuments have been knocked down and defaced. They lay ingloriously in the broken glass, tin cans and debris which a later and irreverent generation has dumped on the graves of its forefathers.

On the inscriptions can be deciphered honored names and dates of birth back in the late 1700's. One stone that somehow has been treated with more kindness bears the legend:

JOSEPH HALL
Born at St. Ives
Huntingtonshire, England
Jan. 25, 1793
Died Feb. 16, 1855

The paths that once were trimly bordered with flowers, evergreen trees and myrtle are erased. Rank weeds and grasses flourish instead.

Pits Like Shell Holes

Huge pits, like shell holes, dot the place. Not long ago steam shovels leveling adjacent land exposed bones and rolled tombstones down the bank. The sacrilege was hidden by merely throwing some dirt on them.

And the fate of even this ignominous vestige of the honored past now is weighed in the balance.

The property has grown valuable and is threatened by the invasion of commerce.

On the other hand, the Lakewood Historical society and many citizens urge the preservation of the spot as a memorial. E.G. Lindstrom has written several letters to Lakewood city council protesting the asserted sacrilege.

Lindstrom has announced his intention of appearing before council to appeal to civic pride to preserve the historic cemetery as have New York City, Boston, Cambridge and other cities.

"We have obtained the consent of heirs of most of the remaining persons buried there to transfer the bodies to a plot in Lakewood cemetery," Mars Wagar said. "There are some buried here who have no living heirs."

PICTURE

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12:3

PRIZED LAKEWOOD HEADSTONES UPSET
PLAIN DEALER, June 20, 1971

Ten grayish white marble pieces of history, gravemarkers some of which are over 100 years old, have been tipped over in Lakewood Park.

The headstones, bearing dates going back to before the Civil War, lie in a weed patch behind the park equipment buildings in the northwest corner of the city park on Lake Avenue. They were upright until vandals pushed them over.

Mrs. Margaret M. Butler, director of the Lakewood Historical Society, said the Lakewood service department moved them from a private cemetery that had been at St. Charles and Detroit Avenues.

OFFICES OF Second Federal Savings & Loan Association and the municipal parking garage between Belle Avenue and St. Charles cover parts of the cemetery site.

Mrs. Butler said the cemetery was a part of the estate of Mars Wagar, who was among the early settlers of Lakewood. Wagar's homes stood at what is now one of the city's busiest intersections, Detroit and Warren Road. St. Charles Avenue did not then exist.

As a courtesy to his neighbors and friends, Wagar permitted them to bury their loved ones in his family's cemetery. Nobody ever got a deed, but they did pay about $5 for the grave-digging plus cost of the markers. The first burial wa in 1828.

The historical society was "greatly distressed" in 1947 to learn the cemetery was unkempt and had become a dumping ground for rubbish. But the land had been divided among Wagar's heirs and the city could do little about it.

THE SOCIETY "started a tirade" to get the city to do something about the remaining eight or 10 markers, which contained historical information. Eventually the land was condemned and the city bought a part of it.

Most of the headstones and grave contents were removed over the years by the settlers' decendants [sic] and put in either Lakeview Cemetery which sprawls across Cleveland, East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights or Lakewood Park Cemetery which is in Rocky River.

When excavation for the garage began in 1966, workmen found many bones of early pioneers. All were taken to Lakewood Park Cemetery and placed in one grave.

The society had tried to save the cemetery as a historical site but, because it was a prime commercial location, could not.

The trustees then asked the parks department to set up the stones so they were accessible to the public.

Paul E. Kolesar, superintendent of Lakewood parks, told the society last week that eventually the stones will be set up in a memorial park. All will be imbedded in cement so that they can't be pushed over again.

THE STONES offer a glimpse into the past, when lives were not so long, when women married very young and names of every member of the family who died were chiseled into all sides of the tombstones.

Although some of the letters and numbers were difficult to read because they were partly obliterated by the years, the following are words from the old stones:

Sarah, wife of Joseph Hall
born at Chatteris, Isle of Ely
county of Cambridge,
England, Dec. 18, 1799
Died Dec. 21, 1877
Aged 78 years

* * *

Carrie Mabel
1869-1870
Sherwin Day
1871-1876
Children of J. and E.O.
1847-1872
Farrow
(on other side of same stone)
John Farrow, 1831-1891
Frances Olive, his wife,
 
 

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12:4

TOMBSTONES AWAIT FINAL RESTING PLACE
LAKEWOOD SUN POST, August 30, 1979

Six tombstones of Lakewood pioneers, moved in 1957 from Wagar Cemetery, St. Charles and Detroit avenues, to make way for a city parking lot, are still without a final resting place.

Instead, the granite and limestone tombstones of some of Lakewood's earliest settlers are stored among cracked sandstone sidewalk and broken sewer pipe beside the service garage behind Lakewood City Hall, 12650 Detroit Ave.

AMONG THE stones is that of Joseph Hall's family, after whom Hall Avenue is named, according Lucy Sekerka, curator of Lakewood Historical Society's Oldest Stone House.

The white limestone marker records that Hall was born in Huntingtonshire, England, on Jan. 25, 1793, and died on Feb. 16, 1855.

"How desolate our home bereft of thee," is the saying inscribed on the stone of Jonathan and Hannah Bates dating from the 1880s. Another stone is decorated with a sailing ship, and the gravestone of the Joseph Howe family records the death of the Howes' baby girl, at the age of 5 days.

The stones were moved to city hall following vandalism at Lakewood Park in 1972, Mrs. Sekerka said. They were saved by city officials in 1957 when the city, after notifying next of kin to remove their relatives' remains, razed the cemetery as a parking lot site. A parking garage now stands on the site.

NEWSPAPER ACCOUNTS report the clearing of the cemetery also unearthed 54 unidentified bodies. The cemetery dated from the 1820s, Mrs. Sekerka said, when settler Mars Wagar began it on his farm as a family plot, burying his daughter Mary there. Wagar later made it available to his neighbors.

In 1957, the city purchased the site rather than seeing it auctioned off for payment of back taxes.

Lakewood Historical Society trustees have been searching for a permanent home for the tombstones for the past two years, after a former resident notified the society of the existence and value of the stones, Mrs. Sekerka said.

The key hope the society has for tombstones is to erect them at Lakewood Park Cemetery, 22025 Detroit Ave., where many of the remains of the settlers were reburied, Mrs. Sekerka said. "It seems like the most appropriate place."

The society would be willing to finance erection of the monuments, she said. Mayor Anthony Sinagra said the city would give the stones to the society if it found a site for them.

HOWEVER, BOTH boards of trustees of the cemetery association and the historical society appear to be waiting for formal correspondence to them to act on the matter, Sun Post calls to both parties found.

A query was directed to the cemetery's board of trustees in 1977, Mrs. Sekerka said, but no answer to the historical society's board was received.

At the same time, Firmin Deibel, president of the cemetery's board, said he is waiting for a complete, formal proposal to be submitted to his board.

"I inspected the stones myself and found nothing wrong with them. They might be put in a memorial garden. But I have to see a proposal in writing directed to the trustees," Deibel said.

Ruth Byrns, a member of the historical society, researched the history of the stones and the reburial of bodies from the site to the cemetery, finding a total of 113 bodies were reburied. Some were moved by family members, others by the city.

In her research of cemetery records, she found that 84 unknown bodies -- not the 54 reported at the time -- were moved to section 2, lot 301, grave 5 in the cemetery. And she also found a memorial on the mass burial site.

It is a flat marble stone like the others lining the grassy, treed cemetery among trees which harbor dozens of robins.

PARTLY COVERED by yellowing grass it reads: "Early pioneers of Lakewood, originally buried 1830-1900, Wagar Cemetery, East Rockport, Ohio. Re-buried here, this 25th Oct., 1957."

PICTURE

CAPTION: No bodies are buried amidst the scraps of sidewalk and sewer pipe beside the Lakewood service garage which also stores these tombstones of Lakewood settlers. Robert Kleinweber, assistant public works director, inspects one of the stones.

 

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12:5

FOUNDING FATHER'S CEMETERY GAVE WAY TO CITY PARKING
LAKEWOOD SUN POST, Lakewood Lore by Dan Chabek, August 16, 1990

Parking lots and old graveyards often lock horns in the battle for precious downtown space.

Long ago, in Cleveland, Erie Street Cemetery on East Ninth won out; in Lakewood, the Wagar burial ground, once on the south side of Detroit between St. Charles and Belle Avenues, did not.

But for decades the question of what should be done with pioneer Mars Wagar's God's acre (actually it was a half-acre) was a lively topic of conversation among Lakewoodites.

Some thought of the resting place as "a mournful patch of land in the heart of Lakewood" that should rightfully give way to the currents of economic progress.

Others wanted it reverently restored to become a lasting historical site for those doughty settlers who struggled to build our fledgling community.

The first grave there was dug in 1826 for Lucy Wagar, mother of Mars Wagar. He came here in 1820 and bought 111 acres of land at $7 an acre from Detroit south to Madison between Belle and St. Charles.

Mars was originally from New York State. He was an educated man, a surveyor proficient in mathematics. He spoke several languages and helped put up the first log-cabin schoolhouse in 1830. It was at Detroit and Nicholson.

He opened the cemetery on his property initially as a family plot. Later, he extended its use to pioneer friends and neighbors. The last burial there was in 1894.

Through the years that followed, the cemetery was neglected. Hidden behind a diner, a billboard and a sand bank, it became a catchall for drifting leaves and a dumping ground, littered with tin cans and broken bottles. Eventually, its sixty or so headstones were knocked over by vandals and scattered in disarray.

In 1938, Mars' grandson, who then owned the land, said he could make no improvements because he couldn't dig up the ground until all the bodies had been removed. Unfortunately, there was no register and many of the graves could not be identified.

Finally, in the mid-'50s, to provide municipal off-street parking for Lakewood Hospital, the city bought the property, including a small, adjacent burial strip known as the Kidney family cemetery.

In 1957, workmen excavating for the new parking lot turned up parts of 54 human skeletons. These remains were subsequently reburied in a mass grave at Lakewood Park Cemetery. Headstones, meanwhile, were stored at various locations, with some ending up for all to see today in the herb garden behind the oldest Stone House Museum at Lakewood Park.

Vernon Lieblein, 88-year-old founder of Lakewood Electric Co., remembers a ghoulish boyhood a adventure he had at the cemetery in 1915.

"A teenage friend and I, while snooping around one day, saw that some coffins had been unearthed and broken by equipment used to take salable sand from the sand bank at the edge of the graveyard," Lieblein recalled.

"Next thing we knew we were carrying home two skeletons, which we hid in a chicken coop in my friend's backyard.

"When his father discovered the bones, he was horrified, and after a tongue-lashing, made us return them immediately," said prankster Lieblein.


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