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Monument to our past

Covington cemetery off the beaten path but rich with history

Pieces of the Past column by Jim Reis

One of the more historic places in Northern Kentucky is also one of the least visited.

Over the years it has been the victim of vandalism and neglect, but within its borders are a who's who of early life in Northern Kentucky.

The site is Linden Grove Cemetery.

Today the grass is cut, the weeds are trimmed and efforts are being made to upright monuments that either have tumbled with time or been knocked over by vandals. The cemetery looks better now than it has in decades, but Linden Grove remains unfamiliar to most due to its location. Off the well-traveled path, the Covington cemetery is along Holman Street, between 13th and 15th streets.

The history of Linden Grove dates to the early 1840s when land was set aside in the southwestern corner of the Western Baptist Theological Institute property for a public burial ground. The Western Baptist Theological Institute had been formed in 1833 to train Baptist ministers and at one time its grounds covered several hundred acres.

The cemetery was not the first public burial ground in Covington. The original burial site was the Craig Street Burying Grounds, which apparently dated to 1815. But by the 1840s development was surrounding the Craig Street site and some felt the land could be put to better use. It would be about 30 years, however, before that would happen.

Some accounts say burials at Linden Grove began in 1842, but the Licking Valley Register reported on Sept. 9, 1843, that elaborate plans had been proposed for dedicating ''this beautiful spot of ground'' on Sept. 11. Plans called for music and talks by ministers and groups from Presbyterian, Episcopal and Methodist churches in Covington.

The writer described Linden Grove as about ''60 acres of high table land, overlooking the city of Cincinnati and situated in the midst of the most quiet and romantic scenery.''

A picket fence, about 7 feet high, surrounded most of the cemetery and ''lofty hills and a dark luxuriant forest'' surrounded three sides of the grounds. The main entrance was covered by an arched gateway with the cemetery name inscribed. A two-story gardener's building was erected near the entrance.

The newspaper reporter concluded, ''A place like this, in the vicinity of Cincinnati, would be thronged with the admirers of nature and art thus happily combined.''

A later account said a large crowd attended the dedication ceremonies.

As early as May 1851 the Covington Journal newspaper was cautioning lot owners to get more involved in the operation of the cemetery and warned that indifference was sure to lead to problems.

Another Covington Journal account on May 1, 1858, noted that since its opening Linden Grove had had more than 2,000 burials. Especially heavy years were 1850 and 1851, when cholera swept through the area. Those years there were more than 260 burials, compared to 160 in most other years.

Vandalism had become enough of a problem by 1859 that newspaper advertisements were run in the Covington Journal warning of fines of $5 to $50 for damaging grave sites.

To raise money for improvements, all the unsold lots in the cemetery were purchased by the cemetery board in April 1860. On the board at the time were William Ernst, Amos Shinkle, W. H. Gedge, P. S. Bush and John W. Finnell.

The board followed that up in August 1862 by passing an order requiring those visiting the cemetery to have tickets issued only to families of people buried there. The tickets were in response to what was called the ''boisterous, improper behavior of (young men) who visited the cemetery on Sabbath days.''

The problems did not end, however.

In 1867 a Cincinnati newspaper described a ''dastardly act of desecration'' when someone broke into the grave of Capt. William Martin. He had died in 1828 and was initially buried on the family farm, but in 1861 Martin's son, Hiram, had his father's body moved to Linden Grove. The newspaper speculated the crime was prompted by unfounded rumors that gold was buried with the body.

By 1868 Covington Journal accounts said another public burial site might soon be needed for Covington. The Dec. 26 story said the Craig Street site had been full for several years and Linden Grove was quickly filling up. Highland Cemetery in Fort Mitchell would later be dedicated on June 26, 1869, to handle those needs.

One of the first major decoration ceremonies mentioned in news accounts at Linden Grove came in June 1870 when about 200 people converged on Linden Grove to decorate ''Confederate Square,'' where the bodies of several former Confederate soldiers were buried in Linden Grove. A large Southern Cross was erected and wreaths laid on individual graves. An even larger crowd attended similar ceremonies the next year.

In 1872 the Craig Street Burying Grounds were abolished and efforts began to remove those graves. Some went to private cemeteries, but most of the 1,700 buried there went either to Linden Grove or Highland cemeteries. Among those moved was Thomas Kennedy, one of the pioneer founders of Covington, whose body was reburied at Linden Grove. The Covington Journal reported that a large crowd showed up to watch the graves being opened at Craig Street.

By 1880 the decoration of graves of Civil War veterans - Union and Confederate - had become an annual Memorial Day event at Linden Grove. The Daily Commonwealth reported the next day more than 1,000 people attended the ceremonies, which included speeches and music.

The Covington City Council voted in 1905 to prohibit any future burials at Linden Grove, under threat of a $25 to $100 fine, but that proposal was voided by the more senior Covington Board of Alderman at the request of members of the James A. Garfield Post of the G.A.R. The Grand Army of the Republic was made up of Union veterans of the Civil War.

A federal government report in 1912 allocated $200,000 for locating and marking graves of Confederate prisoners who died while being held as prisoners of war. The only Northern Kentucky cemetery mentioned in the report was Linden Grove, which was listed as the burial site of 10 Confederate POWs.

By 1928 Linden Grove was again showing signs of neglect. As a result, the Linden Grove Memorial Association was organized and by Memorial Day 1929 The Kentucky Post had published a series of pictures of Linden Grove showing a new paved center driveway, neatly trimmed grass and a well-maintained three-acre lake. New trees, bushes and flowers had been planted and grave markers had been reset.

Samuel Reed, cemetery superintendent, said burials were increasing - averaging 12 a month.

By 1937 the official duties of decorating the Civil War graves at Linden Grove were transferred from the dwindling G.A.R. members to the Capt. A.M. Wetherill Camp No. 5 of Spanish-American War veterans. That Memorial Day also saw the placement of a plaque at Linden Grove honoring Spanish-American War veterans.

Within a decade vandalism had again become the scourge of Linden Grove Cemetery. An incident in April 1945 made front-page news after 25 to 30 tombstones were knocked over.

Alben Barkley, the former vice president and U.S. senator, was the guest speaker at the 1953 Memorial Day ceremonies at Linden Grove. The Norman-Barnes Post of the American Legion served as Barkley's escort during the ceremonies. That Covington post later sponsored placement of a marker dedicated to Civil War veterans buried at Linden Grove.

Over the years a number of organizations have taken on the task of cleaning up the cemetery, including civic and church groups. Members of the Seventh Sons Motorcycle Club even rolled up their sleeves in 1968. Like other efforts, however, the cleanups would prove short-lived.

By July 1970 news accounts were again referring to the cemetery as ''Linden Grove Junkyard.'' Markers were defaced by paint; broken bottles and trash littered the grounds; and mausoleums showed signs of people trying to break in.

Covington and Kenton County later helped pay for cleanup of the cemetery.

The vandalism problem remained. In October 1981 some 80 markers were knocked over.

Over the years the lake has been drained and the feeling of nature and wide-open spaces has been replaced by rows of houses nearby and the sounds of barking dogs and traffic.

Today the cemetery is again trimmed and trash-free, a small oasis of greenery in an urban setting.

Hundreds attended service for Carlisle

One of the more celebrated burial services at Linden Grove Cemetery took place on Nov. 29, 1910. Schools were dismissed in Covington, city and court offices were closed and flags were at half staff.

Several hundred people, including friends and the curious, followed the procession and flocked into the cemetery grounds for the funeral of John G. Carlisle.

Best known today as the namesake of the Covington school, Carlisle was a former congressman and U.S. senator who served as treasury secretary under President Grover Cleveland. Carlisle died in New York City, but his body was brought back to Covington for burial in Linden Grove Cemetery. Compared to the mausoleums and monuments that dot Linden Grove, the graves of John G. Carlisle and his wife,

Mary Jane, are simple.

Others buried at Linden Grove include:

B. F. Howard, founder of the Black Elks.

Alexander L. Greer, vice president of the Covington and Lexington Railroad, forerunner of the Kentucky Central Railroad.

Congressman William Wright Southgate.

Congressman and Judge W. E. Arthur.

Charles A. Withers, city council member, bank president and namesake of the old Withers Park, on Park Place in Covington.

Isaac Martin, said to have been the first person of European ancestry born in Kenton County; he was born on May 4, 1798.

On the notorious side, Samuel Case is buried at the cemetery. He was convicted in 1867 of killing a Green Township, Ohio, man in a botched robbery attempt. Along with George Goetz and Alex Aulgus, Case was hanged on April 30, 1867. He was buried next to his mother, Amanda Case. Accounts placed Case's age at between 14-19.

Among the memorials at Linden Grove is one in memory of children who died at the Covington Protestant Children's Home. In the late 1800s the orphanage was located at 14th Street and Madison Avenue. Another large memorial at Linden Grove is dedicated to the ''Aged and Indigent Women of Covington.''

The study of Northern Kentucky history is an avocation of staff writer Jim Reis, who covers suburban Kenton County for The Kentucky Post.

Publication date: 05-31-99
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