“Paved Paradise and Put Up a Parking Lot”

This week my mind has been focused on Shannon Cemetery in Bluffton, Ohio.  I have no known connection to this town, but I feel strongly about preserving our nation’s cemeteries and so it has become a hot topic for me.  You see, one of the local influential men in the area decided that he didn’t like seeing that poor cemetery and thought, “Why not renovate and create a park?” And so he began working with local officials to round up money for this project.  As far as I  can tell they have not consulted anyone about the legalities of such a thing.  They have not attempted to contact descendants of those buried.  You can read for yourself some of the articles on this project at the Bluffton Icon website

Reading these articles makes me sick to my stomach.

Pile of Headstones from Shannon Cemetery of Bluffton, Ohio
Pile of Headstones bases from Shannon Cemetery of Bluffton, Ohio

Believe me when I say that I don’t have a problem with re-purposing land, but when they fail to consider the feelings of those whose ancestors are buried there and JUST MOVE THE HEADSTONES… I get a bit riled up.  All told there is expected to be 150 or so graves there and some have been documented on FindaGrave.  The vast majority have not- which is nothing new when you look at older cemeteries.  I put a call out to my friends in the Facebook group “Preserving Ohio’s Cemeteries” and asked if anyone was aware of this project.  So I got a few more people riled up and encouraged others to send emails, call, or whatever they felt comfortable doing.  Right now they have a pile of headstones, torn out old trees, and planted some new ones.  The plans include a gazebo, more trees and landscaping (which will require more upkeep for the city), a parking lot, and a cemented area with the headstones.  They also plan to include a list of those buried there.  Which is nice and all, but are they doing anything with those buried?  Nothing like a nice stroll when you don’t know where your great grandpa Joe was buried.  Ick!

A co-worker of mine was originally from Bluffton and when he showed me pictures from his recent visit back home to see his mom… I knew I had to step up my efforts.  You can see in the pictures that it’s a pretty open area now with no headstones.  Pretty different compared to the FindaGrave photos for the cemetery.  The bare patches are probably locations of graves or where they removed the stones.  Just awful!

Shannon Cemetery as it looks today.
Shannon Cemetery as it looks today.

I am sharing this story with all of you in the hopes that you’ll reach out to the officials in Bluffton and encourage them to do the right thing.  I’m sure it’s a matter of they were uninformed and didn’t know any better, but let’s get this fixed before they pave over somebody’s ancestors!  Below is what I emailed to the Mayor and City Council of Bluffton.  If you’d like to send your thoughts as well, please do!  The email addresses and phone numbers follow this letter.

Dear Mayor and Council Members,

It recently came to my attention that you are in the process of redeveloping the cemetery into a park.  While I understand the need to make the property be more aesthetically pleasing for the community, I believe the steps followed were misguided and are in need of correction.  I have taken a look at the plans for the park and have concerns that the placement of the gazebo, parking lot, and planting of trees could potentially disturb the graves of those buried there in the cemetery. The responsible action to take at this time is to hire someone who has the experience in locating burials and relocating them.  I’d hate to see someone find that there ancestor’s grave is no longer where they thought it was and is now under a parking lot.  Not to mention that many infants that died back then were not buried very deep compared to adults.  You may very well find that as you dig the lot you uncover some skeletal remains of children.  If you refer to the FindaGrave listing for the cemetery (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=cr&CRid=43378&CScn=shannon&CScntry=4&CSst=37&) you will see that there were 45 known burials in the cemetery. Photos of those that were taken could help identify the locations of those burials. In a 1937 Bluffton News article there were 125 grave markers at that time, nearly 65 years after it was closed. There are likely upwards of 150 early Bluffton citizens buried in this cemetery.  Has there been any effort to locate those bodies and move them?  Or contact the descendants of those buried there?  
I doubt that the residents of the town will like the thought that they may be walking on the graves of their city founders.  Please also consider that moving the headstones that remain to a concrete slab may do more damage to those headstones.  Please consult with professionals!  The removal of the few headstones that were still located above the graves of those buried is a violation of the Ohio Revised Code 2927.11 (http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/2927.11) It states:
2927.11 Desecration.
(A) No person, without privilege to do so, shall purposely deface, damage, pollute, or otherwise physically mistreat any of the following:(1) The flag of the United States or of this state;(2) Any public monument;(3) Any historical or commemorative marker, or any structure, Indian mound or earthwork, cemetery, thing, or site of great historical or archaeological interest;(4) A place of worship, its furnishings, or religious artifacts or sacred texts within the place of worship or within the grounds upon which theplaceofworshipis located;(5) A work of art or museum piece;(6) Any other object of reverence or sacred devotion.(B) Whoever violates this section is guilty of desecration.A violation of division (A)(1), (2), (3), (5), or (6) of this section is a misdemeanor of the second degree. Except as otherwise provided in this division,a violation of division (A)(4) of this section is a felony of the fifth degree that is punishable by a fine of up to two thousand five hundred dollars in addition to the penalties specified for a felony of the fifth degree in sections 2929.13 to 2929.18 of the Revised Code. If the value of the property or the amount of physical harm involved ina violation of division (A)(4) of this section is five thousand dollars or more but less than one hundred thousand dollars,a violation of that division is a felony of the fourth degree. If the value of the property or the amount of physical harm involved ina violation of division (A)(4) of this section is one hundred thousand dollars or more, a violation of that division is a felony of the third degree.(C) As used in this section, “cemetery” means any place of burial and includes burial sites that contain American Indian burial objects placed with or containing American Indian human remains.

Effective Date: 09-20-1999

Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help correct this potential disservice to the founding fathers of Bluffton.  Do you really want your legacy from your time as elected officials to be that you put a parking lot or sidewalk on top of the Village’s founder? 
Sincerely,
Jennifer
Contact Information:
Village of Bluffton
154 N. Main St.
Bluffton, OH 45817
Mayor Judy Augsburger
(419) 358-2066 x 116
mayor@bluffton-ohio.com
Village Council
David Steiner, Council President
steinerd@bluffton-ohio.com

17 thoughts on ““Paved Paradise and Put Up a Parking Lot”

  1. Thank you so much for bringing awareness to this sad situation that forever alters the stae of the Shannon Cemetery in Bluffton, Allen County, Ohio.

    I invite anyone who also holds concerns about the desecration of the Shannon Cemetery, to add their comments to the online news papers stories reflecting their opposition to the removal of headstones from their original gravesites:

    http://www.blufftonicon.com/news/2015/04/21/saturdays-arbor-day-celebration-includes-planting-three-trees-shannon-cemetery

    http://www.blufftonicon.com/news/2014/08/21/support-shannon-cemetery-project-moving-along

    http://www.blufftonicon.com/news/2014/06/25/shannon-cemetery-project-moves-next-phase-community-assistance-requested

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  2. I don’t think you have done enough research. The park is for the express purpose of remembering those whose final resting place is located here. They have worked to recover many headstones that were burried 12-20″ below the ground. State Road 103 was built on the cemetery and 60% of the head stones have disappeared over the years. Here are some articles over the last 4 years showing the background for the project. One thing to note is that Dick has contacted as many living relatives as possible and there has been over whelming support for the project.

    http://www.blufftonicon.com/news/2011/12/11/uncovering-blufftons-past-one-marker-time

    http://www.blufftonicon.com/news/2011/03/07/local-group-interested-making-community-park-out-cemetery-jefferson-street

    http://www.blufftonicon.com/news/2013/10/03/dick-boehrs-vision-shannon-cemetery-becomes-village-park

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    1. I fail to see how spending countless hours to dig up long buried headstones that more than likely sunk down in place to remove them and haul them off to another area of the cemetery to join the few headstones that were purposely removed from being over the gravesites and plunk them all down in concrete to create a ‘display’ — headstones are meant to be over gravesites and not be removed from them in order to create a display. I wonder if all of the fine point details of these plans were shared with any of these descendants. I have read over the town’s meeting minutes and the details of this project were not shared there.

      Shannon Cemetery – Bluffton Icon – August 21, 2014:

      “Boehr said that there are plans for a concrete slab to be used for relocating all the stones, a parking area, a gazebo to shelter persons visiting the park, a plaque that will list all known who rest there and some landscaping.”

      All I can say is that I hope my gravestone in a 100 years will not be remove and put on display somewhere else.

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    2. As a direct descendant of Jacob and Barbara Huber neither I nor anyone in my family was ever contacted. The Mayor was quoted as saying there were only three descendents left. So if two of those three said it was ok then I guess there was overwhelming support.

      Not too many people knew what was going on until the stones started to disappear.

      So that overwhelming support has swung exponentially the other way as relatives have discovered what is going on.

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  3. I grew up in Bluffton and find what they are doing to be so sad and disrespectful. I left a comment on the Bluffton Icon addressing my outrage about this disturbing project and my comment was deleted. I shared a link to your article as well and that was deleted. But having grown up there I can’t say I find what they are doing to be all that surprising. I can remember when they wanted to tear down the old town hall until people spoke up and fought to get it restored. I wish enough people would speak up for those souls at rest who soon will have a park on top of them. How is this cemetery any less worth the time and effort to keep it up than the Arlington National Cemetery than any cemetery for that matter?
    I fear it all comes down to they want something pretty….

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  4. Thank you everyone for your comments. I do think that while Dick Boehr and the others working on this project have good intentions they are being inconsiderate of the fact that the bodies are not being considered in this. I received a very nice phone call from Dick and I plan to return his call over the weekend. Perhaps by then there will be enough local residents of Bluffton that will have sounded the alarm that they will reconsider their approach to this project. While having a pretty park is nice– it doesn’t pay true homage to the 150 or so buried there. I have more thoughts on this based on many discussions with individuals, but for now I’ll have to let y’all think on it and hope for the best here.

    Thank you for your comments! Tell your friends!

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    1. I live in Bluffton and have walked by the cemetery many times, however I have never ventured to look at head stones or even had the interest. The planned park is a positive in my eyes and look forward to learning more about those that rest there.

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  5. I live in Bluffton, and grew up here. In third grade (i do believe it was) we were taught some Bluffton history such as about the man who built the first cabin in Bluffton. The teachers took the class to his gravestone at this cemetery , where we made” rubbings” of the gravestone with crayon & paper. It has been twelve years since I was in 3rd grade and I still remember this day lesson of Bluffton history. Personally I think Its a shame moving their headstones, & think that there are ways other than moving their headstones to teach community members about these Bluffton founders .

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    1. I strongly believe in getting people excited about Blufftons History, But do not think this is the most ethical way to do it.

      (I do agree the Mr. Boehr and crew have good intentions.)

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  6. You have some pretty obstinate opinions for an outsider looking in on a community issue. With a little more research, you would have found out that the new plans are for the area are designed to honor the deceased. Additionally, you are seriously lacking information on the community issues surrounding the cemetery.

    The cemetery is so old, there are no bodies to relocate (so no one is going to run into their grandfather).

    Additionally, the cemetery is not in its original state. It was disrupted during the construction of 103 (as another reader pointed out).

    While distant relatives looking for graves may be disappointed in their search for tombstones, they likely would be anyway since the tombstones were frequent victims of theft.

    Finally, there has been a great effort made to contact all known and unknown decedents, and they have all expressed positive opinions on the project.

    Sounds like you need a hobby…

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    1. Well thank you “Anonymous” for your comments. There are a number of things which I’d like to respond to.

      I do not doubt that the park would be a nice addition to Bluffton, but I don’t believe you when you say that there are no bodies left in the cemetery. You are misinformed. Bones take hundreds of years to completely decompose. So while the roadwork may have had some impact on the cemetery, those remains that were disturbed were relocated to a new location. That is the proper way to handle it.

      Would you want your great grandmother’s body to have a building on top of her? What I’m saying is that this project while it intends to pay respect to those buried there… it’s really disrespectful in the way it is handling the remains and the stones. Putting the original stones in cement will cause the stones to weaken and become more likely to crack.

      You say I need a hobby? Genealogy is my hobby. I research my family and those of my friends and others that I care about. As an Ohio resident and a Trustee of the Ohio Genealogical Society I feel that is my responsibility to assist those that are concerned about issues within the state related to genealogy. I was contacted by a coworker who grew up in Bluffton (as I mentioned in the blog post) to see what I might be able to find out. That’s why I became involved. Not to mention that if I find out in 20 years that my ancestors were from Bluffton and I go to Shannon Cemetery and there was no way to tell where my ancestor was buried… I’d be very upset.

      I don’t expect that you will understand this, but I care about ALL cemeteries. They are the places of America’s pioneers and explorers. We have to take care of these sacred places because otherwise the history of our people will be destroyed with time. Feel free to personally attack me if that makes you feel better. I know why I am doing this and you won’t deter me.

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    2. I will respond to one thing in particular in Anonymous’ comment. I am an archaeologist, I have a Masters degree and am qualified by the Ohio Historic Preservation Office and other many other regional state historic preservation offices. I have been involved in the excavation and repatriation of two cemeteries, both of which dated to prior to 1850. There are without a doubt recognizable skeletal remains for all juvenile and adult burials in the cemetery (infants do not preserve as well understandably and very likely compose 25%-33% of the cemetery population due to the rate of infant mortality at the time). I have also been involved in the excavation of prehistoric Native American burials that predate this cemetery by thousands of years. In the right conditions, human skeletal remains can be preserved for a very long time.

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      1. Joel Brown, thank you so much for sharing your valuable information. It is certainly good to know. Do you happen to know if the Ohio History Connection will be actively holding hands-on cemetery preservation workshops in Ohio this year? I am also working on completing another Ohio Historic Inventory for an inactive and almost abandoned cemetery in Ohio. It is good to know that the Preservation Office in Ohio is involved with cemetery preservation issues.

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  7. Why was this supposedly project only reported to Bluffton News and not in other Local Papers looking for relatives. It seems like to me that they wanted to do it secretly. Don’t let too many people know about it or we won’t get our way. If they really wanted to find relatives they could of done a better job!

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    1. I know what you mean Loretta. It does seem like they didn’t make a real effort. I’m sure with a limited budget that came into play. Hopefully the word gets out more and those that care about their ancestor’s resting place will be able to assist in planning for the future of the cemetery!

      Thanks,
      Jen

      Like

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