Gravestone Stories

A Boy and His Dog

In the 1860s there was a boy, Johnny Morehouse, the youngest son of John and Mory, who lived with them in the back of his father's shoe repair shop. One day the five-year-old was playing near his home by the edge of the Miami & Erie Canal (which used to run along the present Patterson Blvd. in downtown Dayton near the library).

The boy accidentally fell into the canal water. His dog, playing by him, jumped into the water and tried to save him. He pulled the boy out, but not in time to save his life. The boy drowned and was buried in Woodland Cemetery. Legend has it that, several days after the burial, the dog appeared next to the boy&apo's;s grave staying by it morning, noon, and night. Visitors to the cemetery saw him and began to worry about his health. Some began leaving him bits of food. Passersby still bring small toys and other trinkets to decorate the grave marker to express their spontaneous outpourings of sympathy. Some visitors put money there. A lady who walks the cemetery every day collects the money and buys something for the grave often. As you can see on his grave marker, he already has toys to play with - his harmonica, his top, his cap, his ball.

Erma Bombeck Boulder

A 29,000-pound rock has become a monument for writer Erma Bombeck's grave. The massive rock was brought here by flat-bed truck from near her former home in Arizona. Her husband, Bill Bombeck, said he wanted a "piece of Phoenix" at Erma's grave to commemorate the 25 years they spent together in Arizona.

Born Erma Louise Fiste in 1927 in Dayton, Ohio, she worked for a daily newspaper while in high school and while attending the University of Dayton. After graduating she became a reporter for the Dayton Journal-Herald (which later became the Dayton Daily News), where she also wrote feature stories and a housekeeping column for the women's page, continuing until the birth of her first child in 1953. By 1964 she was the mother of three, and returned to her column appearing in more than 800 newspapers. Her witty-but-wise columns poked fun at family life from her place as a suburban housewife. One of her six best sellers won the American Cancer Society's Medal of Honor in 1990 for advice to help children survive cancer. This internationally read humor columnist died of complications following a kidney transplant operation in 1996.

Beckel Beehive

This unusual beehive, or skep, is a monument marking the final resting place of Daniel Beckel, who lived from 1814 to 1862. Daniel helped to start the first Dayton bank. He was also the builder of the Beckel Hotel and Opera House, a popular entertainment center in Dayton in the mid 1800s. In funerary, or monument art, a beehive represents having good character and promising "abundance in the Promised Land." There is no other connection to beehives known in Daniel Beckel's life.


Queen of the Gypsies

NY Times Original Article

In 1856, Owen Stanley, king of gypsy tribes in England, came to the U.S. with many of his group because England was so thickly populated. He wanted to make Dayton his permanent home. He bought land in the City of Dayton as well as Harrison, Wayne, Mad River, and Butler townships so they could raise horses and winter there, renting out their farms while they took to the road as soon as the weather became warm.

Gypsies were a group of nomadic people whose ancestors are said to have originated in Eastern Europe. Within their groups they have rulers, sometimes women, who decide what is best for their tribe. British gypsies had so many kings and queens - from King John Bucelle in 1657 down to the Gypsy Queen of the U.S., Matilda Stanley, royally buried at Woodland Cemetery in 1878. It is rare that such royalty would be buried here, or that an American clergy would preach at the funeral of a queen, but that happened.

Queen Matilda had died of cancer in February. Her husband, Levi Stanley, son of Owen Stanley, sent her body to Woodland to be kept in a vault for burial in September. Newspapers here and in many large American cities sent special reporters who printed long columns of accounts before and after the funeral. The Sunday of the event, thousands of people came in from surrounding places by special trains. An estimated crowd of 25,000 swarmed over the avenues and grounds of the cemetery. Police were needed to make way for the funeral procession. The newspaper said a procession of 1000 carriages began downtown and was so long it had to be refused admission at the cemetery gates. Around the gravesite there were so many people that the minister had to deliver his sermon while standing on a wooden plank laid across the open grave under an umbrella in the rain. The king and his tribe, being heartbroken, stayed around the Queen’s still open grave as the great crowd left. Her younger daughters were so upset that they jumped down into the grave onto the marble slab to be closer to their mother and sobbed tenderly.

A granite monument marks the grave of King Levi and Queen Matilda Stanley. Funerals of the Stanley gypsies were quite elaborate. They spared no expense to give their loved ones dignity and show their regard for the dead. The funeral coaches, the undertaker's hearse, a long procession, a rich casket, and a great profusion of flowers were all a part of the event. The women came dressed in their best silks, satins, or velvets. Their fingers were adorned with much gold. The gypsy woman who possesses money does not hesitate to buy expensive things when she has set her heart on them. When you visit the Stanley graves, look for the messages and verses carved on their slabs, called ledgers.