Lebanon's Oak Hill Cemetery
Its History And Points Of Interest Story
by Ralph W. Stark Photos by Mike Ulmer
We are assembled here this afternoon in
formal observance of the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of
this cemetery. now the final resting place of nearly ten thousand once
living beings of our community. who made their entrances. and who. after
playing their respective roles in the never ending drama of life, made
their exits, one by one, into the darkened wings of eternal night.
Those who sleep here saw the days of their years numbered at all ages,
from the few brief gasps of the new-born babe to the hundred years of
the centenarian. No matter what the length of time upon the stage, each
played his part in the divine scheme of things. It is not for us. the
living. to evaluate the importance of one role with another that
prerogative belongs only to God.
We do know that many of those who slumber here brought civilization into
the tangled wilderness that was to become Lebanon and Boone county I
carving the backwoods into livable and progressive communities. We also
know that the many others who followed them brought order and security'
built schools and churches, established homes and farmsteads. and
created businesses and industries.
To us. their successors, these honored dead here in Oak Hill cemetery
have rendered a priceless service, and we. who now enjoy the fruits of
their labors and their sacrifices, should never tire in paying homage to
To focus our remarks on Oak Hill cemetery, it is necessary to give a
little historical background, in particular. that preceding this
cemetery's beginning. When the founders of Lebanon mapped the town site
into streets and lots. they designated a knoll on what is now North Park
street. as a public burial ground. Without a formal name until 1907 when
it was christened Cedar Hill, the old graveyard was so used for forty
years. or until 1872. There were a few interments made in it after 1872.
with possibly a burial or two after the turn of the century.
Cedar Hill was never kept up or maintained as it should have been. In
1907, a Lebanon women's club gave it a name and a thorough renovating,
but by the early 1950's. it was again overgrown with briers, weeds and
In a clean-up operation in 1954, the Lebanon Jaycees removed all the
markers from Cedar Hill. As of now, the old cemetery is mowed and
maintained by the Lebanon parks department. Hopefully. the city of
Lebanon will take steps sometime in the near future to landscape and
beautify Cedar Hill, making it a fitting and quiet memorial to our
community's pioneer citizens.
Ownership of Cedar Hill was never vested in an individual or an
organization. No maps or records have been found, but to say that there
were some twelve hundred burials made in it in' the four decades from
1832. would be a conservative estimate. Subtracting the hundred or so
dis-interments and removals made in 1872 and the several years
immediately fallowing, at least a thousand bodies, and perhaps more. yet
lie in Cedar Hill. There is substantial evidence that by 1872. there was
little space left in Cedar Hill for burials.
Realizing the community's growing need for another cemetery. a Lebanon
man, Samuel Rodefer, on March 28, 1872. bought 9.21 acres just east of
the east city limits, platting it into what was to be known for the next
twenty seven years as the Rodefer cemetery. The first burial in the new
cemetery followed two weeks later, April 13th, with the interment of
five-year-old Fannie Earhan. In 1893, A. N. Holloway buried a son in
Rodefer cemetery. and in the year following, C. F. S. Neal entombed his
wife, Mary. in a lot just southeast of this circle. Rodefer did little
in the way of keeping his cemetery presentable, so little. in fact, that
in the 1890's it was literally an eyesore. Holloway, Neal. and others.
were greatly distressed over the ground's unkempt appearance and
resolved to do something about it.
Steps taken by these concerned and interested citizens resulted in the
founding of Oak Hill Cemetery Association in May, 1899. Rodefer cemetery
was purchased on May 17th, of that year, and at an organizational
meeting on May 29th. 1899. Holloway was elected president of the
association A. E. Witt. Vice-president; Miss Cynthia Porter. secretary;
and B. F. Coombs, treasurer.
The four officers. plus E. B. Dooley, Charles M. Zion, and C. F. S.
Neal, formed Oak Hill's first board of directors. All seven were
reelected directors on May 7, 1900, for another year. with the board at
this time naming Thomas W. Huckstep as secretary to replace Miss Porter
in that capacity. Impressed with the beauty of a huge. wide spreading
white oak tree growing on one of the knolls on the premises. Neal pro"
posed that the cemetery be called Oak Hill, a suggestion that met with
To relate at this time in more or less detail the history of Oak Hill
would be time consuming and rather redundant because the story is given
at some length in the program brochure. It must be mentioned, however,
that since its founding and down through the nearly three-quarters of a
century, Oak Hill has been ably and efficiently managed by civic minded
and dedicated citizens serving without pay on the board of directors.
Carrying forward the long-established aim of making Oak Hill a place of
perpetual beauty is the present board consisting of James M. Boatman.
president; Fremont N. Voris, vicepresident; George Donaldson, J. Fred
Duff, Joseph T. Gennaro. Paul R. Honan, Sr., and Fred C. Siess. Miss
Mary Jane Gabriel is secretary-treasurer. and Robert C. Galvin is
superintendent of the grounds. These people have earned and rightly
deserve a big "'thank you" from the Lebanon community.
A noted British statesman once said: "The character of a nation
may well be judged by the reverence with which it buries its dead, and
the loving care it gives to its cemeteries." Certainly. Oak Hill is a
pleasing reflection.upon the good character of the community it serves.
In the long hundred years past. many of our customs have undergone great
changes, three of which have some relationship with Oak Hill cemetery.
One of these. in particular. has occurred in the conduct of funerals. In
the early years. the last rites were held in the homes or the churches.
They were, actually. social events and were largely attended. with most
of the mourners going to the cemetery for the interment service.
A newspaper account of the obsequies of Andrew J. Boone in 1875. states
that following the service in the First Presbyterian church. the funeral
procession, made up, of course, of buggies and carriages, was nearly a
mile in length. This long cortege, following the hearse to what was then
Rodefer cemetery, was led by the Lebanon Cornet Band, playing dirges and
other doleful music suitable to the occasion.
It was customary in those days for a brass band to lead the march to the
cemetery. A Lebanon newspaper editor once published a scolding editorial
concerning this custom. "It is fitting and quite proper. " he wrote,
"for the band to lead the procession to the grave, but it is exceedingly
disrespectful and wholly out of place for the musicians to parade back
to town playing 'Dixie' and other lively airs. "
In this modern age, only the relatives and a few close friends attend
the funeral, and still fewer go to the cemetery for the graveside rites.
Nowadays. the public seems to think that a brief call at the funeral
home where the body lies in state is a sufficient and acceptable display
of sympathy and respect.
Another custom that has almost entirely disappeared is the formal
observance of Memorial Day, or Decoration Day. as it was once called. In
the first decade or two of the present century. May 30th was a great
day. a time of patriotic ceremony and reverent remembrance of the dead
who had served their country so well in the Civil War. The passing of
the veterans of that war had much to do with the fading away of May 30th
services. but, in a large measure, it, like the funerals of the past.
has succumbed to today's hurly-burly. fast paced way of life.
In those old days. a big parade would move from downtown to Cedar Hill
cemetery. and then on out to Oak Hill. Marchers included a number of
Civil War veterans in their Union blue Grand Army of the Republic
uniforms and black slouch hats, and scores of school children, each
youngster carrying a small American flag. The program at the cemetery
was climaxed with a stirring and patriotic address by some more or less
In comparison. one Memorial Day observance here in Lebanon in recent
years is recalled. There had been ample advance publicity of the
well-planned program. and the day dawned warm and sunny. And how many
showed up for the memorial services here at Oak Hill? Only thirty-five
persons. most of whom were adults representing veterans groups and
patriotic organizations. gathered here that May morning to honor the
memory of the some 800 soldiers. sailors. marines, airmen, and army
nurses who are entombed here.
There was a third but rather minor custom that had some vogue in the
last two or three decades of the 19th century. This was one that
entailed placing an explosive device in the grave to discourage grave
robbers. those ghoulish characters who stole bodies to be sold to
medical schools. Grave robbing was quite prevalent in those years. and
in 1877. a man named Howell devised what he called a "grave torpedo."
that would explode when a grave was disturbed. blowing. it was
anticipated. the would-be body snatchers into kingdom come. Tradition
has it that one of these devices was buried atop a casket here in Oak
Hill. and. possibly. there were a few others. If this be true. it can be
assumed that when the angel Gabriel blows his horn on resurrection
morning. some of the graves in this cemetery will open with a bang.
Oak Hill is a veritable historical record of our community. and to some
extent. of the nation. as told by stones and markers. some of which are
in themselves. museum pieces. The William M. Smith lot. a short distance
south of this circle, ties in with the very beginning of Lebanon. and
with events of the Civil War. William and Mary Smith came here in the
spring of 1833 to settle as the third family in the newly founded county
seat, and two of their sons. George and Hiram. gave their lives to the
Union cause in the War Between the States.
George Smith was killed in the battle of Stones River, and Hiram Smith
died in Andersonville Prison. The bodies of both boys were recovered and
brought home to be buried in Cedar Hill. Following the deaths of their
parents. George and Hiram were re-interred here in Oak Hill.
Another link with early Lebanon is the burial plot of William and Amelia
Zion. As a young married couple. they came in 1834 to homestead a small
tract of land adjacent to the newly platted village. During their
lifetimes. they had much to do with the development of the community.
socially and commercially.
Back again to the Civil War, the weathered marble obelisk on the Harvey
G. Hazelrigg lot is dedicated to the memory of Hazelrigg's son, Captain
Henry Lane Hazelrigg. Capt. Hazelrigg. of K Company, 40th Indiana
Volunteer Infantry. was captured and confined in a Confederate
prisoner-of-war stockade. Upon his release, he and some 2, 000 other
Union soldiers who had just been freed, were being returned to their
Northern homes aboard the river steamer Sultana. As the vessel came up
the Mississippi past the city of Memphis, the boat's boilers blew up in
the early morning of April 27. 1865, and the craft sank with a great
loss of lives.
Capt. Hazelrigg was among those who perished. In so far as is known, the
young soldier's body was never recovered. Actually, the captain's marker
is not a gravestone but a cenotaph, a monument marking an empty tomb.
The cenotaph was first placed on the Hazelrigg family burial plot on the
Hazelrigg farm near the village of Hazelrigg. It was brought here in
1884 at which time the bodies of several Hazelriggs were re-interred
where they now rest. The sinking of the Sultana and the resultant loss
of 1,547 lives, an episode now hidden in our national history. is said
to have been the world's greatest maritime disaster of all time.
As to the museum pieces here in Oak Hill. one of the most outstanding is
the huge cast iron Tiffany urn on the Eugene Burford Rhodes lot.
southwest of here and below the railroad. It was commissioned sometime
in the 1890's by John T. Brush, owner of the old When clothing store in
Indianapolis. It was designed by the famous Tiffanys of New York, at the
time noted the world over for their artistry and craftsmanship.
Cast in a foundry in France, the urn was brought to Indianapolis. and
for a few years was displayed in front of the When store on North
Pennsylvania street. Later, it was placed on the Brush lot in Crown Hill
cemetery. When replaced with a stone marker, the urn was sold to the
late Eugene Burford Rhodes, who had it moved here in late 1955. Whether
or not it is the largest urn of its kind in the world cannot be
documented, but it is safe to say that it is among the largest. This
antique is a real conversation piece and should be kept in repair and
preserved as an art gem of the Victorian era.
The three-piece 30-feet high Virginia granite column on the C. F. S.
Neal let, and the one-section 10-feet column of the same material at the
grave of Stephen Neal, came from the combination city-county building of
Chicago and Cook county which was razed in 1908, and the columns were
erected here in October of that year. The bronze bust of Stephen Neal.
which surmounts his marker, was the work of Clara Barth Leonard, an
Indianapolis sculptress whose talent in the early years of this century
achieved state-wide recognition.
An eye. catching example of tombstone sculpture is the splendidly
executed statue of a Union soldier drawing a bead on a luckless Johnny
reb, which stands on the Samuel S. Doyle lot. It is an exact duplicate
of the memorial on the Chickamauga battlefield, near Chattanooga,
Tennessee, honoring the 13th Michigan Volunteer Regiment.
There are two other museum pieces worthy of mention. One is the
millstone displayed just inside the Washington street entrance. It was
fashioned from a massive red granite boulder left by the great glacier
of some 25, 000 years ago, and was used in the Crose water mill, on
Sugar Creek, near Thorntown, for many years. The other museum piece is a
large block of limestone which came from Boone county's old brick
courthouse when it was torn down in 1909. The stone has the word,
"Liberty," engraved on a ribbon carved across the face.
These connections with local and national history, and the museum
pieces, are just a few of the things that make Oak Hill such an
interesting place to visit. Too, you will find beautiful Oak Hill a
delightful place to come to in the late evening for an hour of quiet
meditation. Park your car outside the Main street gate, walk well up
into the grounds, seat yourself on a low-lying stone, and watch the sun
sink slowly in the west. You are warned not to drive in because the
gates are closed and locked at 7:30 o'clock, but the pedestrian
passageway remains open. You would likely find that staying here for the
night might be just a little too much in the way of meditation.
Try it some evening soon. You may sense the same feeling that inspired
Thomas Gray under similar circumstances to pen his famous "Elegy Written
in a Country Church-Yard." In the first verse of his poem, Gray
graphically described the utter solitude which you, too, may experience,
with these lines:
The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
Many years ago. a brilliant English poet
and novelist, Robert Louis Stevenson, wrote a poem of just twelve lines
contained in three verses, which some scholars have regarded as one of
the great gems of English literature. In closing my remarks, Stevenson's
lovely and very beautiful "The Requiem" is being recited and
dedicated to the memory of those who now repose in the good earth of Oak
Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will
Here may the winds about me blowj
Here the clouds may come and go,
Here shall be rest forever mo',
And rhe heart for aye shall be still.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home ftom the hill.
(Publisher's note: The "History of Oak Hill Cemetery," together with
its points of interest, was addressed by Ralph W. Stark to a large group
well-wishers gathered in the cemetery circle on Sunday afternoon, June
25, 1972, in formal observance of the cemetery's centennial of founding.
In publishing Mr. Stark's talk in this issue of Boone Magazine, the
reader is to be reminded that it was written and delivered seven years
ago, and no updating has been done other than to state that the total
number of burial in the cemetery as of April 30, of this year numbered
10,653. Also, the board of directors as of now are Paul R. Honan, Sr.,
president; George Donaldson. vice-president; and James M. Boatman, Glenn
C. Cooper, Ir., J. Fred Duff. Joseph T. Gennaro, and Fremont N. Voris.
Doris M. Knapp is the secretary-treasurer.)
August 1979 . Boone Magazine. Page 6 - 7 & 8
Return To The Cemetery