Respecting the Ghostly Graveyards of Geist
The word, “Geist” is German for spirit or ghost. Appropriately so, the graveyards within the Geist area have been here for hundreds of years enduring many obstacles, ranging from weather, erosion, falling trees, construction work, vandalism, fire and time. A handful of them have been destroyed. Yet, all of them deserve some recognition.
At Halloween, we typically think of cemeteries as normal backdrops for that perfect scene in a scary flick with fog hovering over the tombstones covered in cobwebs and the possibility of seeing a ghost. We tend to associate evil spirits hanging out in the graveyards. But some people in Geist believe quite the opposite.
“I am not afraid of the cemetery in the least bit,” says Mandy Valentine, resident of the Chesapeake neighborhood whose backyard juts up to Todd Cemetery. “In fact, it gives character to my home … I have a lot respect for these deceased people who probably lived here and farmed this area. Hopefully, others would have the same respect for me as I have for these people.” Incidentally, most of the names of the cemeteries stem from the family surname that owned the land.
Valentine grew up surrounded by death. She was raised by her grandparents. Since many of their family members and friends had passed away in her presence, she attended very many funerals at various cemeteries. In fact, she recalls going with her grandfather to put flowers on the graves of her great grandparents at Mt. Zion Cemetery. Later, her grandfather passed away and ironically, was buried on Halloween Day.
Another Geist resident who feels completely comfortable living next to the graveyard is Myron Reynolds, who says, “I enjoy having people come down my driveway (which leads right into Bills Cemetery) and visit. This doesn’t bother me a cotton-pickin’ bit.”
Reynolds could tell you hours’ worth of interesting observations about Bills Cemetery such as how it is the highest cemetery off the ground in the area, since the ground needed to be dry and protected when burying bodies that were typically covered in shrouds and laid in wooden boxes. He would tell you that this burial ground is believed to be the oldest in the area, contemporaneous with Conner Prairie, since a man named Michael Mock, was born as early as 1775 as stated on his original epitaph. Reynolds describes how he has witnessed boy scouts rubbing the stones (taking imprints,) resetting the stones, and helping to maintain the property.” He would proudly delineate those who have partaken in geocaching, a worldwide outdoor sporting activity, where participants use a GPS mobile device to locate the hidden cache or waterproof containers and communicate online about their experience, which is usually educational, offering historical significance of a particular site.
As we approach Veteran’s Day, which will be celebrated this year on 11-11-11, we should recognize several cemeteries housing the souls of the honorable, noteworthy and brave men who died during the Civil War. For example, Mt. Zion, a churchyard cemetery located south of Geist and east of Brooks and McKay Cemeteries off Olio Road, contains eleven soldiers. The Lowery (Klepfer) cemetery off of 136th and Promise Road, east of New Britton has ten graves of soldiers. The Bethlehem, off Olio and 136th, near SR 238, also known as Johnson intersection, has seven Civil War soldiers. The Arnett Cemetery, north of the iron bridge that crosses Fall Creek at the east end of Geist Reservoir has five graves of soldiers. The Bills Cemetery has at least one soldier.
Here are some other cemeteries we discovered in the Geist area:
- Faucett – in Canal Place
- McKay – south of Canal Place
- Brooks – across from Canal Place
- Welchel – (destroyed) at corner of 116th and Olio Road (near Geist Pavilion Center by Cardinal Fitness)
- Helms and Kinnaman – Both off of Florida Road near Greenfield Avenue
- Burke – (destroyed) north side of 69, 2miles west of Madison County line
- Fort – near intersections of SR 238/Atlantic Ave. /Connecticut Ave
- Mushrush – Cyntheanne Road and 146th St
- Ervin (Whisman) – off 146th and SR 238 near Verizon Wireless
- Wyant – (destroyed) – Marilyn Road and 146th
- Highland (Beaver) – near Heron Pass/Redwing Ct./Bluebird/Hoosier Rd., near rear section of Hamilton Proper subdivision
- Flanagan – off of Cumberland Rd in between 96th and 106th
- Klepher – off of Fox Rd. in Feather Cove. Eighteen graves are unmarked.
- Salem – off Fall Creek Rd, in front of Hamptons at Geist
- Silvey – Off of Sargent Rd
- Stoops – off of Fall Creek Rd. Also known as Negley Cemetery
Some graveyards have had to be worked around because of their location playing a factor in how the roads and neighborhoods are laid out. For example, Olio Road is in the process of being widened from a two lane to a five lane, which has an impact on McKay and Brooks Cemeteries.
“We try to stay away from cemeteries,” says Joel Thurman, Project Manager of the Hamilton County Highway Dept. “The Brooks Cemetery sits closest to Olio Road … As a result, the alignment of the center will get shifted to the east.” Also, Rob Bussell of The Marina Limited Partnership has had a few encounters over the years with developing communities around cemeteries. He says, “We always try to respect the existing cemetery by blending it into the development of the community.”
Taking care of cemeteries has not always been a priority. Take for instance, Valentine (mentioned earlier) who once had trees draping over her property onto her home from the disheveled Todd Cemetery, and squirrels invading her attic. After attending the neighborhood association meeting one day, she met a woman who would make all the difference in a graveyard: Marianne Rhinesmith. Rhinesmith was the President of the Chesapeake Neighborhood Association and had tried for years to get the Lawrence Township Trustees to help support her in maintaining the Geist cemeteries, which for a long time have looked abandoned. Rhinesmith and Valentine attended many meetings together. Finally, after Russell Brown, Lawrence Township Trustee was appointed and then elected in 2010, they were able to persuade him to take action.
“I think they got so sick of seeing me and Mandy (Valentine) sitting in the front row of these meetings that they knew they had to do something,” says Rhinesmith with a laugh. “In 2004, the Lawrence Board and Lawrence Trustee started with $18,000 in the budget and by 2008, I was able to convince them to set aside $50,000 for cemetery upkeep, renovation, and maintenance.” So far, Lawrence Township has fixed up three cemeteries in 2010 and three more this past year. Some of these renovations have included recording surveys/boundaries, leveling out land, putting up white fences, and displaying signs.
Rhinesmith added, “Our elected officials have taxpayer money in their budgets to take care of these lands that are often left neglected. Elected officials must be forced to listen to taxpayers because these deceased and long-forgotten taxpayers cannot speak for themselves, so someone must step up and speak for them.”
“Since I’ve been Trustee, one of the areas of emphasis has been paying special attention to the public cemeteries,” says Lawrence Township Trustee, Russell Brown. “These cemeteries contain so much history and we owe it to these pioneers to be respectful of their contributions to the foundations of our culture. I’m happy that we have those in our community who are so vigilant about seeing these gems properly maintained and cared for.”
Rhinesmith and her friend, Sharon Strecker, volunteer their efforts by planting day lilies at various cemeteries and the common grounds in order to spruce up the appearance and give back to the community. Rhinesmith declares, “These cemeteries are a part of our heritage that must be protected and respected by everyone. Our present generation may well be defined by how well it has respected and valued our far-reaching and influential forefathers.”
Many perceive cemeteries as haunted plots of land where ghosts are lurking behind every stone. Others try and demoralize and vandalize these sacred pieces of land as almost a way of “bullying the ghosts.” Yet, some remain proud and eager to continue protecting, honoring, and respecting these hallowed compartments of historical significance.
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