DIANE MAKAR MURPHY At Oak Hill Cemetery, history is carved in stone
I remember driving with my children through the rolling hills of Oak Hill Cemetery south of downtown Youngstown years ago, looking for George Derrick Wick's gravestone.
(As part of a home-school unit, we were studying local history via cemeteries. It had taken us to Forest Lawn Cemetery, where we saw the grave of Elizabeth Hartman -- an Oscar-nominated actress who appeared opposite Sidney Poitier in "A Patch of Blue" -- and led us to learn of her possible suicide. And it led us to Mr. Wick -- who had a story just as interesting.)
A co-founder of Youngstown Sheet & amp; Tube Co., Wick was a passenger on the Titanic in 1912. We researched his story before hunting his memorial.
Wick traveled first class with his second wife, Mollie, daughter Natalie, cousin Elizabeth Bonnell and her daughter Caroline. They left from Southampton, England, for the states after an extended holiday in Europe.
When the ship hit an iceberg, Natalie and Caroline rushed into the Wicks' cabin and said they'd been told to put on their life jackets.
"Why that's nonsense, girls," Wick replied.
Not long after, he stood on the tilting deck and waved goodbye to the women as they loaded into Lifeboat 8. The ladies were picked up by the ship Carpathia and taken safely to New York City. Mollie waited several days there for George, to no avail.
She eventually placed a stone (designed by Tiffany, no less) in Oak Hill Cemetery.
It took my son and daughter and I quite some time to find the Wick gravestones, up an embankment, surrounded by shrubbery and shaded by trees. Oak Hill provided a colorful study of Youngstown's history.
You may be interested in learning other intriguing things about the cemetery during a special event the Mahoning Valley Historical Society has planned.
MVHS will have walking tours of Oak Hill from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. But the names on the stones will be mere sidelights this time around.
The MVHS will take visitors to study the architecture of the mausoleums, markers and monuments of the cemetery.
"They'll look at the design details and what they represented," said Elizabeth Nohra, MVHS assistant director. "You'll find angels, cherubs, obelisks [like the Washington Monument], wreaths and arches. Celtic crosses, willow trees and tree trunks."
Many of the stones are from the Victorian era when they had "different ideas about death than we do." Said Nohra, "It's almost like the Victorians were obsessed with death." While death was a private thing requiring an at-home showing of the deceased, and certain behaviors and dress for grieving, it also was a public thing with symbols adorning many gravestones in Oak Hill.
"The lamb was commonly used for a child's stone and symbolized innocence and resurrection. The obelisks represent a connection between earth and heaven," Nohra said. "A tree trunk stood for brevity of life."
A parklike layout
Pam Pletcher, MVHS archivist, said the Oak Hill Cemetery Association was formed in 1852, which actually predates records for the cemetery. Pletcher said even the layout of a cemetery had significance.
"Some cemeteries are regimented and laid out in grids. Oak Hill was more parklike. I do know originally there were walkways and seats at certain spots for quiet time and reflection. You can still see elements of that," she added.
Admission to the event is $30 ($25 for MVHS members) and includes hors d'oeuvres and other refreshments, as well as a ceremony remembering victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, featuring Youngstown police and fire department color guards.
You have today and Friday to RSVP to (330) 743-2589. Valet parking and security will be provided.