Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Faithful Friend

From Forgotten Ohio:

"This is the grave of Johnny Morehouse and--according to legend--his dog, a pair who are Woodland's most famous ghostly residents. The story might be rooted in nothing more than an unusual tombstone, but this is what they say: Johnny fell into the Miami & Erie canal and froze to death, despite his faithful dog's efforts to pull him out. After he was buried, the dog laid on his gravesite and wouldn't be moved. Eventually it died from starvation and sadness. A special stone was made in 1861 to commemorate Johnny's dog's devotion. People leave toys, candy, and other trinkets on the stone--a ritual the cemetery management tolerates, as you can tell from the photo above."

I've visited this stone twice now (once in the winter when the cemetery was covered in snow and again the following summer). Both times, the monument was decorated with small trinkets and flowers. Someone even tied a bandanna on the dog's neck.

Symbols like this monument are important to perpetuating local legends. I suspect there is some truth to the story, though the Victorian penchant for all things dramatic makes it very likely that there was strong elaboration involved somewhere along the line.

I find it interesting the way in which physical objects with sketchy histories spawn stories that are passed down through the generations. It seems like every small town has a cry baby bridge, haunted cemetery or Satanic church. A creepy old building, a dangerous intersection, or even an abandoned playground likely has a story attached. The fun part is finding the kernel of truth behind the symbol.

If you would like to visit Johnny and his faithful dog, head to Dayton's Woodland Cemetery.
Sadly, the dog's head was recently cut off and stolen. A photo of the damage can be found on the Forgotten Ohio site.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Red Plum Run

I find this creek to be an interesting symbol of war, or rather, the aftereffects of battle.

This is Plum Run, located near Devil's Den, Slaughter Pen and Triangular Field on the Gettysburg Battleground. As history buffs may know, this area was the site of a brutal collision between Union and Confederate forces, with the former being trapped in the craggy boulders and catching their feet in the large fissures. The famous Dead Sharpshooter photo was posed on the rocks. Bodies lay decomposing in the hot sun for nearly a week after the clash.

According to legend, this creek, which was swollen beyond its banks when we visited one rainy early March week, ran red with blood after the fighting. While I'm not entirely convinced that is true, I think it's an interesting piece of legend that symbolizes not only the horrors of war, but also the symbolic cleansing powers of water with allusions to baptism.

Read more about this area of the battlefield here:

Hooves and Heroes

This is one from the archives.

Way back when I was in eighth grade, we went on a class trip to Washington D.C. I remember a tour guide telling us that military statues of men mounted on horses were symbolic of the ways in which they died. All you had to do was look at the number of feet the horse had on the ground to tell how they met their fates. This bit of information was given to me several times over the years in various high school and college history classes.

I recently had the occasion to research the validity of this bit of folk wisdom when I was going through some pictures from a trip to Gettysburg. After doing a quick Google search, I landed on a site I use often, As you may know, this site is dedicated to addressing urban legends and rumors, giving each story a rating of true, false or unconfirmed. According to the site, this rule for statues is sometimes, though not always, true. However, an exception is the statues in Gettysburg, which seem to fit the rule with a known exception of a single statue—that of James Longstreet (last photo).. He did not die in battle, but passed away from pneumonia later in life.

The code is generally as follows:

  • One hoof raised: The rider was wounded in battle and may have died from his injuries with some exception

  • Two hooves raised: The rider perished in battle

  • All hooves on ground: The rider came out of battle unscathed

While Snopes calls the code false, it offers many examples of statues that follow the rule. My theory is that it started somewhere but became loose after time or we simply apply the code to memorials that were not thought out in this manner.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Talented Mr. Ripley

This is the bust of abolitionist John Rankin of Ripley, Ohio. This monument stands over his grave, just minutes from his house, which was part of the Underground Railroad and can still be visited today.

Unlike the monuments that usually attract my attention, this one is far from subtle and not at all symbolic, but it still something I always look for when visiting. In fact, my husband and I sometimes take rides out past Ripley and play a game of who can spot Mr. Rankin first.

If you are ever passing through this sleepy little river town, I encourage you to stop by the Rankin house. The hours are seasonal and the road up there is long and winding, so plan ahead if you can. Nothing worse than getting all the way to the top to find it closed!

Rankin Information

Lamb and Willow

This is a lovely example of two traditional Victorian symbols of mourning, the lamb and the willow tree. While the lamb on its own is often symbolic of a child, in combination with other symbols it is common on monuments of people of all ages. I spotted this beauty in Red Oak Cemetery in Georgetown, Ohio. This is one of the most peaceful and quiet cemeteries I have ever visited. There is a newer section at the front of the property, with the older stones behind a fence in the back.

Aunt Jemima (Rosie Riles) is buried in the newer section. When I was little, I remember her grave being laden with a makeshift memorial with stick-on mailbox letters and fake flowers. At my last visit, she had a nice stone with her likeness on it.