15 Curious Facts About Spring Grove Cemetery

At least 16 prostitutes, one dog, and one Confederate general are buried here, but TV’s Superman is not.

As Halloween approaches, let’s take a long walk through Cincinnati’s best-known cemetery—and the third largest cemetery in the United States. Don’t worry, though, Spring Grove isn’t as spooky as you think…

Enclosing 733 acres, Cincinnati’s Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum is the third largest cemetery in the United States and is recognized as a U.S. National Historic Landmark.

Image digitized by Internet Archives and extracted from PDF by Greg Hand

Superman is not buried in Spring Grove

The earthly remains of George Reeves, the actor who played Superman on television during the 1950s, were held in a vault at Spring Grove Cemetery for a couple of months in 1959 while his mother sorted out what to do. Although she wanted a mausoleum in Cincinnati, it proved impracticable. Reeves’ body was cremated here and the ashes shipped to California.

Civil War Generals: 40 to 1

Spring Grove Cemetery provides a list of 40 Civil War generals buried within the grounds. Among them are distinguished names such as Cox, Hooker, Lytle, and McCook. The cemetery’s official list does not include the single Confederate general buried there, Philip Noland Luckett of Texas, who was appointed as acting Brigadier General in June 1863.

Fraternities forced pledges to break into the cemetery

Isaac M. Jordan met his gruesome death in 1890 by falling down an open elevator shaft at the Lincoln Inn Court on Main Street. He was a hugely successful businessman and politician, but was famous because he helped create Sigma Chi fraternity. Well into the 1970s, Sigma Chi pledges were ordered to sneak in to Spring Grove Cemetery, record the inscription on Jordan’s tomb, and report back by dawn.

Spring Grove once had a jail

The Norman Chapel was built in 1880 and originally housed a jail in the basement. A jail cell still survives, but is used today for storage. When it was functional, vagrants and reckless drivers—originally of horse-drawn carriages, later of automobiles—speeding in the cemetery were arrested and kept overnight. Cemetery watchmen were deputized by the county sheriff to enforce the law.

C.C. Breuer was not an optometrist

Almost every article, book, or blog post about weird Cincinnati sites directs readers to Charles C. Breuer’s grave in Spring Grove Cemetery. Breuer’s gravestone features a bronze bust of himself, with glass eyes that some folks swear follow them as they move. Most sources claim Breuer emphasized the eyes because of his career as an optometrist. Not true. Breuer was a salesman, commission agent, and real estate investor. He married three times, disowned his own daughters, tried to blow up one of his own buildings, was declared insane, and died in a mental hospital—but he was not an optometrist.

At least one man visited by telescope

George K. Shoenberger built the magnificent Scarlet Oaks mansion in Clifton for his wife, Sarah Hamilton Shoenberger, in 1867. When she died in 1881, he had a magnificent vault constructed for their eternal rest. Shoenberger remarried, in 1883, to a young Canadian woman named Ella Beatty. Still, he sighed for Sarah and often climbed into one of the Scarlet Oaks turrets to gaze upon her (their) tomb with a telescope. Legend has it that Ella had enough one day and locked George in his turret. When he died in 1892, he and Sarah were reunited at Spring Grove, while Ella married a Canadian composer.

Spring Grove has its own water supply

It’s called Spring Grove because the cemetery grounds are watered by several natural springs. Spring water is stored in a reservoir tower located near the north gate. The tower is not only picturesque but functional, providing a consistent supply of water.

It almost wasn’t called Spring Grove

A meeting in November 1844 to choose a name for the new cemetery adjourned when none of the suggested names attracted a majority of votes. Losing candidates were Cincinnati Rural, Makketewah, Machpelah, Rose Hill, Shade Land, Oakland, Mount Hope, Rose Dale, Fair Lawn, Miami, Walnut Dale, Silent Hill, Cincinnati Cemetery, The Elms, and Rosamont. A second meeting produced Green Vale, Mount Repose, Hope Land, Glen Wood, Willow Glen, Oakland Valley, Elmwood, Hazelwood, and Spring Grove.

Spring Grove is home to several “Ladies of the Evening”

There are at least 16 prostitutes or madams buried in Spring Grove Cemetery. While none are identified as such on the cemetery’s burial records, cross-indexing with Cincinnati death records and newspaper accounts confirm that prostitutes, “harlots,” and “sports” are buried there. Some rest in common, unmarked areas, some in family plots. In other words, the women listed here are not all buried together. There is no concentrated “red light” district in the cemetery.

Its ghost stories are lame

For a cemetery this big, this old, and this scenic, Spring Grove has inspired few spooky stories. One involves the Dexter Mausoleum, inspired by a Gothic church overlooking one of the cemetery’s picturesque lakes. Supposedly, if you sit on the landing of this tomb, two white dogs will run by. Or two white wolves. Maybe their eyes glow red. Sources differ. They will stare at you, glowing bright white, or maybe not. In any event, not very spooky.

For some “residents,” Spring Grove is their third resting place

Perhaps 1,000 or more Spring Grove “residents” died years, even decades, before the cemetery was opened in 1845. How is this possible? Cincinnati’s first burial grounds were located at the original outskirts of town, around Fourth Street. As the city expanded, the dead were relocated to more remote graveyards, such as the area where Washington Park is now located. The “new” confines quickly filled during the cholera epidemics of the 1830s and 1840s, and many of the burials were relocated again, to Spring Grove.

Spring Grove banned automobiles

Cincinnati funeral homes maintained horse-drawn hearses for a long time after motorized vehicles became available because no Cincinnati cemetery permitted automobiles to disturb the silence. Spring Grove finally relented in April 1911 and allowed motor cars, except on Sunday afternoons, but only if motorist followed strict regulations. Spring Grove finally replaced its own horse-drawn carriage with an automobile in 1915.

Although controversial when first proposed in 1850, the Lawler sphinx is among the most visited grave markers in Spring Grove Cemetery.

Image digitized by Internet Archives and extracted from PDF by Greg Hand

Headstones have always been controversial

In 1850, when David B. Lawler, among the founders of Spring Grove, attempted to place a sphinx in his family plot, some directors objected to the “heathen” symbolism, but it was eventually allowed. Ten years later, Alexander Latta, inventor of the fire engine, unveiled a headstone design with his invention sculpted on top. Spring Grove rejected the design as too commercial. As recently as 2014, Spring Grove found itself in a dispute over a couple of Spongebob Squarepants headstones.

At least one burial is not human

According to The Cincinnati Enquirer [December 8, 1905], a dog named Old Man is interred next to his late master, George E. Turner. He was quite attached to his canine companion, a dog allegedly skilled at mathematics and particularly adept at sorting correct change on command. Although cemetery rules prohibit animal burials, Superintendent William Salway was a good friend of Turner’s. As Turner lay on his deathbed, Salway agreed that, when the dog’s time came, he could rejoin his earthly master.

Spring Grove holds a patent on a tree

The white flowering dogwood tree (Cornus florida) is susceptible to a nasty fungus. The horticulture team at Spring Grove Cemetery bred a cultivar, or variant, of this species that appears to withstand fungal infection while producing abundant flowers and tolerance for hot and cold temperatures. Patent PP8500 was awarded in 1993.

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