Kaleidoscope: A visit to cemeteries, old factory sites in Stark Co.

by KEN LAHMERS | EDITIOR Published:

Many people find cemeteries creepy, and certainly not fun places to visit. But I enjoy strolling through them because of their history.

Every city has a cemetery where people have been interred for decades. Some have burials dating to the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Cleveland has the sprawling Lake View Cemetery on the far east side, and Akron has Glendale Cemetery on the near west side.

Both are beautiful places to visit, with acres of graves, interesting tombstones and stately buildings such as Lake View's James A. Garfield Memorial and Glendale's Civil War Memorial Chapel.

Those old cemeteries comprise the resting places of many famous residents of the past -- public officials, wealthy businessmen and other "movers and shakers."

Recently, I visited two cemeteries I hadn't been to before -- the 67-acre West Lawn in Canton (incorporated in 1861) and Massillon Cemetery on South Erie Street (incorporated in 1846).

After walking up and down the 108 steps at the William McKinley Monument adjacent to West Lawn, I headed next door.

Not far inside the old entrance is the Werts Receiving Vault, built in 1893 and named after Frank M. Werts when his wife paid for the construction after his death.

It was used to briefly hold caskets after they arrived. In the winter, they could remain there for a couple of months until the ground was soft enough to dig the graves.

After his assassination, President McKinley's body stayed there from 1901 to 1907, when it was taken to the nearby monument. McKinley's wife Ida visited the vault daily until she died in 1907.

Both of their bodies are now at the memorial, along with their two daughters, who died during childhood and were relocated from West Lawn.

During the years McKinley's body was in the vault, it was protected by an honor guard of federal army sentries.

Among famous names found in West Lawn are Timken (roller bearings), Harter (banking), Belden (brickmaking) and Dueble (jeweler).

I checked out a plot of graves where Cornelius Aultman, founder of a large Canton farm machinery manufacturing firm in the late 1800s-early 1900s, and members of the Harter and Miller families are buried. Aultman Hospital in Canton was named after Cornelius, who died in 1884.

Other famous people buried there are W.H. "Boss" Hoover (died 1932), founder of the vacuum cleaner company; H.H. Timken (died 1942), who organized the Timken Rolling Bearing Axle Co.; Ed Langenbach (died 1934), who began a steel plant which later became part of Republic Steel; Joshua Gibbs, who patented a bar share plow in 1836.

James Murray Spangler (died 1915), who invented the vacuum cleaner later manufactured by the Hoover Co.; Charles A. Dougherty (died 1944), a real estate agent who convinced many influential firms to locate in Canton; former U.S. Rep. Frank T. Bow (died 1972); and John Saxton (died 1871), founder of the present day Repository newspaper in 1815.

Ironically, a family with the name Frankenstein is buried in northwest corner plot within view of Mercy Medical Center.

After leaving Canton, I ventured down West Tuscarawas Avenue and Lincolnway East to Massillon to check out the Erie Street Cemetery.

It's located between Erie Street and the Route 21 freeway, just east of the Tuscarawas River. A website called Stark County Supernatural Center states the cemetery "is plagued by supernatural manifestations of a wide variety."

I encountered no ghosts.

The first burials took place in 1848. In 1879, a gothic-style three-story stone building was erected at the cemetery's entrance. It's the perfect backdrop for a cemetery; it looks like Dracula's castle.

I don't know whether it is still used by the cemetery board, but it has undergone some renovations in recent years.

Across the main entrance road from the building is a Civil War Memorial established in the 1870s. It features a tall statue of a soldier surrounded by small white burial tablets, including those of Civil War Medal of Honor recipients Robert Pinn and William Richardson. Ohio Historical Markers nearby tell their stories.

The cemetery is laid out on two tiers, with several masoleums on the lower tier built into the hill forming the second tier.

At the back of the cemetery looking down on Route 21 is a "paupers" section, where many former residents of Massillon State Hospital, just down the road, are buried.

The state hospital was created in 1898. Only about a dozen of the original buildings remain, including McKinley Hall and the superintendent's house. Heartland Behavioral Healthcare operates in newer buildings.

REPUBLIC STEEL PLANT GROUNDS

Just across the four-lane Route 21 from the Erie Street Cemetery is a large parcel of vacant land with a lot of rubble on it. The 400 acres there wasn't always vacant.

It once was the location of the thriving Republic Steel Corp. plant. Most of the buildings have been leveled, but the large four-story office building remains, although it appears to be vacant.

When I was a youth in the 1960s and my family traveled north to watch Cleveland Indians games, we'd pass the plant, which was Massillon's largest employer.

Back in the early 1940s, my now 96-year-old uncle worked there, driving up old Route 21 each day from New Philadelphia.

In 1909, the first sheet of steel was rolled at what was then the Massillon Rolling Mill Co. It became the Central Steel Co. in 1915 and was acquired by Republic Steel in 1930.

The company went through several name changes, including Bethlehem Steel and eventually became Republic Engineered Products Inc. The Massillon plant closed in 2002.

Republic Engineered Products Inc. still manufactures cold bar steel at a plant across the Tuscarawas River from the now defunct plant, but the employment numbers don't come close to those of the 1950s, when the firm employed half of Massillon's workforce.

A riot occurred July 11, 1937 in Massillon during a Steelworkers strike. Police pumped tear gas and opened fire into a crowd gathering in front of the union hall, then destroyed the hall and arrested every suspected unionist they could find. Three men were killed and hundreds were injured.

An Ohio Historical Marker was erected in 2004 in front of City Hall in memory of the "Little Steel Strike" of 1937.

C.M. RUSSELL & CO. FACTORY

Another famous company in Massillon that I'm familiar with was C.M. Russell & Co. A couple of its ancient buildings still stand on the east side of Erie Street south of the Norfolk Southern (formerly Pennsylvania) railroad tracks.

The firm was established in 1842 by three Russell brothers, and later three more brothers joined the ranks. The business manufactured threshing machines, steam traction engines and other farm equipment.

Many Russell steam traction engines are abundant at steam shows around Ohio, including the Dover Steam Show that I attend each year at the Tuscarawas County fairgrounds. Russell's logo was a holstein bull known as "The Boss."

In the 1800s, the company also produced train cars. Its last steam traction engine came off the assembly line in 1926.

SOME OTHER NOTEWORTHY ITEMS

Massillon Iron Bridge Co., founded in 1869, built the first railroad locomotive cowcatcher and cab in Massillon, and designed and built steel truss bridges through the mid-1900s, many of which still stand.

Forest City Motor Co. was founded in Cleveland in 1906, but relocated to Massillon later that year. It produced about 1,000 Jewel cars between 1906 and 1909. The name was changed to the Jewel Motor Car Co. and operations ended in 1909.

Three of Massillon's 15 largest current employers are engaged in the food business -- FreshMark, Heinz and Shearer's. A new plant for the later opened about four years ago, and the firm moved its headquarters to the city last year.

Massillon, which was a major port on the Ohio-Erie Canal, is fa

mous for football. One of the first pro teams played there in the early 1900s. Former Cleveland Browns coach and Cincinnati Bengals founder Paul Brown grew up there.

Paul Brown Tiger Stadium, built in 1939 as a WPA project, is one of Ohio's finest high school stadiums, seating about 17,000 fans. The Massillon-Canton McKinley football rivalry is the 14th oldest in the nation.

Folks old enough to have watched the "Bonanza" TV series in the 1960s-70s should remember the ranchhand character Candy. He was played by David Canary, who grew up in Massillon and played on the Tigers football team in the mid-1950s.

A short street which leads into a shopping plaza in downtown Massillon has been named David Canary Drive SW.

At least four buildings in downtown Massillon have beautiful murals painted on their exteriors. Some of the scenes are football-, canal- and patriotic-related.

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com.

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.