The undead guide groups through Oakhill Cemetery
By Joe Gorman
The dead at Oak Hill Cemetery had plenty of company Saturday — from the undead.
As part of Zombie Crawl festivities downtown Saturday, the Mahoning Valley Historical Society offered a tour of the cemetery where several of the city’s famous families are buried, and the tour guides got into the zombie theme as well.
In fact, MVHS Executive Director William Lawson had the ripped clothes and disheveled face of someone who would be at home on the set of the television show “The Walking Dead.” For Saturday, the title on his
nametag read “Executive Zombie.”
Lawson and other zombie volunteers led several groups on a walk over the hilly grounds of the cemetery, which was donated to the Mahoning Cemetery Association in 1852 by Dr. Henry Manning. Lawson said Manning donated 16 acres that were unsuitable for farming because of their terrain.
Lawson said there already was a cemetery in existence in what was then known as Youngstown Township, at the intersection of what is now Wick Avenue and Wood Street. It was agreed when Oak Hill was created to disinter the bodies buried at that cemetery and move them to the new cemetery at Oak Hill.
However, the original cemetery also saw the burial of a lot of indigent people who had no stone or record of where they were buried, and there are stories dating as late as 1901 of crews installing utility pipes or erecting foundations in the Wick Avenue-Wood Street area who would run into skeletons from that cemetery from time to time.
Somewhere in Oak Hill’s section where the graves from the first cemetery were reinterred is perhaps the most infamous person to be buried in Oak Hill — Charles Theodore Sterling, a Canadian citizen and drifter who was a suspect in the murder of a 14-year-old girl on New Year’s Day in 1876. He was arrested largely on circumstantial evidence and tried twice. The first trial resulted in a hung jury. The second trial resulted in a guilty verdict, and Sterling was hanged behind the old county courthouse on Wood Street. However, his execution was botched so badly that no more took place in Mahoning County again.
“Where Charles Sterling is, we don’t know,” Lawson said. “But we know he’s supposed to be here.”
The highest point of the cemetery is where the family of former Gov. David Tod is buried. Tod was governor of Ohio during the Civil War, from 1862-64, held other key diplomatic positions, and was also involved in several local businesses. Tod’s headstone lists his accomplishments, and around it are the graves of other family members.
“Anything of great import, he was involved with,” Lawson said.
Also nearby, carved into a side of a hill overlooking Interstate 680 is the gravesite of William Rayen, who died in 1854 and is the namesake of The Rayen School. A short walk away from the Tod section are the burial vaults of Henry Wick and Mary Arms Wick, which feature a large, stone Celtic cross behind the vaults. The Wick family also has a large section, from the monument for George Dennick Wick, who perished on the Titanic in 1912, to the monument for Myron Converse Wick which was made by the L.C. Tiffany Studio in New York.
Those nonzombies who took the tour said they had always wanted to go to the cemetery to visit the unique monuments and see where some of the city’s most famous citizens are buried.
Marie Lacava of Austintown said she has been trying to come to the event for the last few years and was able to finally fit it into her schedule Saturday.
“I want to see who’s here,” Lacava said.
Jarrod Lowry of Boardman said he is interested in the history behind the people buried at Oak Hill.
“I’ve always wanted to come here,” Lowry said.
John Kasich, who volunteers for the MVHS and teaches history, said he has never taken the tour and enjoyed hearing the stories about some of the people in the cemetery.
“I always wanted to do this,” Kasich said.