Akron University students probe neglected historical grave site
University of Akron anthropology students have spent weeks examining what lies beneath a park that once served as a burial ground for the poor, vulnerable and long forgotten.
Hundreds of bodies were buried in unmarked graves beneath what is now Akron’s Schneider Park between 1875 and 1919, the Akron Beacon Journal reported.
Some of the dead were “inmates” of the Summit County Infirmary, a poorhouse where the indigent, disabled and mentally ill lived in squalid conditions and were forced to provide farm labor for their room and board.
A researcher found evidence that the unclaimed bodies of infants along with murder victims also were buried there in unmarked graves.
For three weeks, the students mapped the burial grounds using tools that measure subterranean magnetism and electric pulses without digging beneath the surface.
“The general principle in archaeology is you work from the known to the unknown,” University of Akron professor Tim Matney said. “Then you find the edge.”
A retired library archivist, Michael Elliot, discovered records for 308 people buried at the site that helped inform an investigative report by the Beacon Journal in 2009.
UA graduate and Ohio History Service Corps member Eric Olson later digitized Elliot’s findings. Death certificates signed by doctors were often incomplete.
“You could tell there was a lot of fast-and-loose documentation by the doctors at the time,” Olson said. “After you look at 308 death certificates, man, it was a depressing day. You read about infants, stillborn babies, children who drowned in the canal and their parents didn’t claim them.”
The farm portion of the property was later bought by Philip Schneider, who built upscale homes on the farm portion of the property. He returned about 15 acres to the city after his death in 1935.
UA student Sarah Burgess said she was intrigued by the mystery of what lies beneath Schneider Park.
“If there are any restless spirits on Earth, they would be here,” Burgess said.