Conjure Bishop Watterson During A Tour Of Columbus Cemeteries

When I’m grounded on weekdays, I call in my two retired correspondents to cover newsworthy events.  

Yesterday, they boarded a COTA bus to go to a lecture on climate change, biodiversity and access to clean water that H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco gave as part of his visit to The Ohio State University to learn more about its sustainability research and its Venturi Buckeye Bullet electric race car.

Earlier this summer, they boarded a charter bus for a day-long tour of St. Joseph, Greenlawn and Mt. Calvary cemeteries. The free pilot program was sponsored by the Jubilee Museum and funded by grants from the Catholic Foundation.

Bob Ryan, co-owner of Egan-Ryan Funeral Home, enlightened the group on the history of undertaking. Ryan’s ancestor, Irish emigrant Patrick Egan, purchased a livery business on Naghten Street in the Flytown neighborhood of Columbus in 1859. The livery’s hearse coach introduced Egan to the undertaking trade, which became the business’s primary emphasis after funeral services started being offered in a professional setting, rather than in private homes. Egan’s funeral home was the first of its kind in Columbus. Today, Egan-Ryan is a fifth-generation family business.

St. Joseph CemeterySt. Joseph Cemetery was the first stop on the tour. In 1907, Bishop James Hartley purchased 194 acres of land south of Columbus, on the east side of Chillicothe Pike, for a new Catholic cemetery. The Bishop consecrated the first three sections of the cemetery on November 2, 1913; the first internment was made later that month. Our Mother of Sorrows Chapel at the cemetery was completed in 1929 and served as a parish
church from 1947 until 1970. That’s where the group met Monsignor John Cody, who celebrated Mass to pray for all the souls buried in the places they would be visiting that day, including my Heinmiller grandparents  and several more ancestors and family friends buried at St. Joseph Cemetery.

Today, St. Joseph Cemetery spans about 755 acres, and the group explored it thoroughly after Mass. They saw the graves of Bishops Hartley (1858-1944; bishop from 1904), Michael Joseph Ready (1893-1957; bishop from 1945) and Clarence Edward Elwell (1904-1973; bishop from 1968), and other priests of the diocese, on the chapel lawn. They also visited the section of the cemetery where religious Sisters and other religious women who served the Diocese of Columbus are buried, including members of the Carmelite Sisters of the Aged and Infirmed and oGreen Lawn Cemeteryur cousin, Sister Lillian Bossman.

Next came Green Lawn Cemetery, its chapel and its abbey. Since its founding in 1848, the cemetery has provided a final resting place for many well-known figures in Columbus history, such as my ancestor, Columbus Fire Chief Henry Heinmiller; Lucas Sullivant, founder of Franklinton, the first American settlement in central Ohio; Orange Johnson, a comb-maker who was an early settler of Worthington; author James Thurber; Ohio Governor James Rhodes; and World War I aviator Eddie Rickenbacker.

Built in 1927, with room for 800 bodies, the Palladian-style Green Lawn Abbey mausoleum is perched on a hill just east of Green Lawn Cemetery at Greenlawn and Harmon Avenues.Green Lawn Abbey

Walk-in family crypts on the upper level are adorned with elaborate statues and stained-glass windows.Green Lawn Abbey

Remains interred in the mausoleum include those of Lewis Sells of the Sells Brothers Circus; Herbert Rice Penney, brother of J.C. Penney; I.J. Collins, founder of Anchor Hocking; and Howard Thurston, a magician who was born in Columbus in 1869. Thurston worked as a bellboy at the city’s American House HHoward Thurston grave, Green Lawn Abbeyotel, and discovered magic shows during his stint as a newsboy on the trains between Columbus, Akron and Pittsburgh. Thurston became a renowned Vaudeville performer for almost 30 years, rivaling Harry Houdini as he performed card tricks and the illusions of levitation and sawing people in half. Before he died in 1936, he promised to appear to his friends on the anniversary of his death, but it hasn’t happened yet. His tomb is decorated with a bronze palm frond and a tablet inscribed, “A loving tribute to our friend and fellow member, Howard Thurston. The Society of Osiris Magicians, Baltimore, Md., MCMXXXVIII.”

After lunch, the group made its way to Mt. Calvary Cemetery, a 27-acre tract of land on the south side of West Mound Street that the Diocese Msgr. Specht's grave, Mt. Calvary Cemeteryacquired in 1865. Holy Cross Parish paid for the northern half of the property in which German-speaking Catholics would be interred, while the St. Joseph Cathedral Parish paid for the southern half of the property, where English-speaking Catholics would be buried. Bishop Sylvester Rosecrans consecrated the ground of the new cemetery on All Souls’ Day in 1874.

Notable Catholics buried at Mt. Calvary include Monsignor Francis Xavier Specht (1840-1913) and Bishop John Ambrose Watterson (1844-1899; bishop from 1880). My Butler grandparents and several of my Irish ancestors are also buried there. 

The group conjured an appearance by Bishop Watterson, who saw it as his duty to preserve the faith of the children of the diocese and train them to be moral men and women. Afterwards, they were joined by Father Kevin Lutz, the priest who established the Jubilee Museum.

The tour’s last stop was Old FrankOld Franklinton Cemeterylinton Cemetery, located on the West Side of Columbus, near the Jubilee Museum. The cemetery was established in 1799 by the founders of Franklinton, the first settlement in Columbus.

The Jubilee Museum will be hosting another tour of Columbus Catholic cemeteries on Saturday, October 1, 2016 from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. A $40 registration fee includes bus transportation, lunch and all costs associated with the various locations. To save your place, e-mail Sheila Lutz at

For more on the history of the Diocese of Columbus and its cemeteries, see Illustrated History of the Diocese of Columbus, by Donald M. Schlegel. The Last Greatest Magician in the World: Howard Thurston Versus Houdini & the Battles of the American Wizards, by Jim Steinmeyer, offers more information on Thurston.

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