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Cemetery can teach lessons

Column by The Post's David Wecker

On a bright chilly goose- pimply Halloween day, 17 students from Silver Grove School's eighth-grade class learned there's more to cemeteries than cold stones and the dearly departed.

The scene was Cincinnati's Spring Grove Cemetery, a fittingly Gothic backdrop for the occasion, the kind of a setting where young imaginations don't need much prodding to take flight. At the head of the class was Linda Prather, who teaches seventh- and eighth-grade social studies and language arts at Silver Grove, a Northern Kentucky school with a combined enrollment of barely 300 kids from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Linda has been taking her students on field trips to one cemetery or another for the past seven autumns. She's of the opinion that kids can learn all kinds of lessons in all kinds of subjects in graveyards. To that end, she has created a Web site - - filled with cemetery-based learning activities that kids of all ages are welcome to dig into.

Linda's students jotted down notes as Brian Jorg, Spring Grove's assistant manager of horticulture, led them on a walking tour, past obelisks and sarcophagi where many of the men who shaped Cincinnati were laid to rest; stones marked with such names as Hauck, Carew, Probasco, Shillito, Groesbeck, McAlpin, Davidson, Erkenbrecher, Lytle.

Brian paused occasionally to point out some of the cemetery's more interesting features, among them:

An ornate Italian marble mausoleum containing the earthly remains of Jacob Burnet, who helped frame the constitution of the State of Ohio.

''The problem with Italian marble is that it reacts with acid rain, which causes it to degrade,'' Brian said.

''Some of the earliest monuments here, dating back to the 1840s, were fashioned from sandstone. While sandstone has the virtue of being easy to carve, as you'll see, it degrades very quickly. Nowadays, we require that new monuments coming in be carved from granite, which is basically impervious to the elements.

''We're dealing with perpetuity - or as close as we can get to it. The idea is that, when someone visits here in 500 years, we want them to see pretty much the same things you're seeing now.''

A larger-than-life bronze statue of a Union infantryman, his sword drawn, hoisted to the North, standing guard over the cemetery's Civil War-era section.

''We just finished planting 6,000 daffodil bulbs at the base of this monument,'' Brian said.

''We used to plant tulips, but the deer eat them. They've become a major problem, knocking over small trees, eating certain varieties of roses. It's not unusual to see 30 does here. We're looking at installing a containment fence, which hopefully would keep the deer to the rear of the property.

''It'll be quite a project. The cemetery has grown from 177 acres, which is what it was in the 1840s, to 733 acres today. So the fence will have to be about a mile long.''

The small group continued on, past a pond with cypress knees poking up from the water, past Edwin Dexter's lavish mausoleum with its flying buttresses patterned after the style of Notre Dame cathedral, past a grandiose sculpture of Cincinnati Art Museum founder Charles West seated in his favorite chair, past the relatively modest marker of Salmon P. Chase, who was a senator, a chief justice and a governor, but never president.

Brian pointed through the trees to a pinkish stone on top of a hill. He identified it as the resting place of one of the 36 Union generals buried in Spring Grove. This one had the name of Gen. Joseph Hooker carved on it.

''We have him to thank for the term, 'hooker,' '' Brian said.

''He believed his men should have all the comforts of home. So he hired women to accompany his troops, to do their cooking, their laundry and, uh, whatever else. The family disputes that part of the story, but it's been described in detail in so many books . . .''

Linda won't bother quizzing her students on this last point.

''That's one story I'm sure the kids will remember,'' she said.

You can contact David Wecker at (513) 352-2791 or via e-mail at

Publication date: 11-02-00

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