With the bright moon overhead, lamplight slowly takes the place of the overhead city streetlights; modern sounds of the bustling city seem to disappear into the night, replaced by the eerie tales, folklore, legends and facts of a 19th century Champion City. A time when pickpockets, gunslingers, missionaries, immigrants, and millionaires experienced bone-chilling horror and gut wrenching fear in conjunction with axe wielding mad men and a woman with a mission of tolerance.
The one-mile walk starts with cholera and caskets, a disease that claimed the lives of Irish and colored immigrants, taking thirty-three lives in New Carlisle in 1848 and moving onto Springfield by the year 1849. The grounds of the Lagonda Cemetery filled with the lives of those that were of the deprived Irish railway and industrial working immigrants. The rich, including Silas Brody Chief Engineer of the Mad River Lake Erie Railroad, proved that the belief that it claimed only the filthy and underprivileged, only a rumor. A cabinetmaker, by the name of William Coles became the casket maker that designed the style of readymade casket we know today, shortly before the Springfield Metallic Casket Company formed.
The Columbia Street Cemetery tucked in-between the tall buildings of Columbia Street, rarely acknowledge by passersby’s with a glance until the light changes red, holds a story of childhood friends that parted the area with hopes to return, until life’s path proved otherwise. The story of Isaac Strain and Andrew Boggs is a ghost story of rare occurrence, as neither body is in this cemetery, as they planned to be. The strong influence and connection to Springfield, is what is believed to keep the spirits of childhood friends and comrades in life alive in the Columbia Street hollow grounds, among the Revolutionary War Soldiers and early settlers.
Eliza Stewart Daniel also known as Mother Stewart, founder of the Ohio Temperance League at Springfield, Ohio in January 1874, known as the mother of the Temperance Movement in Clark County prayed to stop the horrors of alcoholism and mad men of the disease. The prohibition of alcohol and the cease of Sunday liquor sales. Stories of men swinging axes at their wives and children while in a drunken daze, Simeon Smith, a Springfield saloon owner and participant consumption of alcohol and nemesis of Stewart is quoted saying that he, “Waits for the day when he can have a drink in a tavern that bore the name of Mother Stewart.” Her house still stands at 215 South Yellow Springs Street in Springfield Ohio and today a Brewery that bears the name Mother Stewarts Tap Room, adds its name to the list of local Springfield Landmarks.
With the nineteen visits to Springfield between the years of 1875 and 1914, Buffalo Bill with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show including sharpshooter Johnny Becker and the famous Annie Oakley, the wealthy flocked to Blacks Opera House to witness the spectacle, and with wide pockets, brings pickpockets, grave robbers and other unpopular populations. The fear of grave robbers proved their profession in the shadows of the night, in 1917, Wild Bill Cody’s wife. Louisa Frederici, was in fear that grave robbers would rob her husband’s grave and Champion Chemical developed their Buffalo Bill Burglar Proof Vault; available in children’s, adult and extra large sizes.
Perhaps the most chilling tale along the historical tour was that of a fairytale love of Alan and Nellie (Baumgardner) Becker, both graduates of Wittenberg College class of 1896, married at the Lutheran Church on Wittenberg Campus and devoted Lutheran missionaries, who set off on a life of work and adventure to India. Although Nellie Becker knew that her husband’s work was that of great importance, India was not the place for Nellie. Tetanus claimed the life of one of her children and sickness claimed another, while her husband Alan suffered from lead poisoning from the ink used to print the Lutheran word. Packing her children, she set off through the British Isles treating the escape as a vacation to her children; when in reality she wanted to come home to the comforts of Springfield, Ohio, back to her family’s home in the King building (which used to sit next to the State Theatre downtown). Once in England Becker purchased tickets on a ship that was due to set across the Atlantic, when she met another family also from Springfield, the Westcott’s, who decided to delay their trip on the White Starline vessel due to an ill child. Nellie and her three children experienced what others only read about, the chilling waters of the North Atlantic as they were shuffled off into lifeboats only to watch as others perished silently into the frozen waters.
The last tale told takes place on All Saints Day ( November 1). A moralistic tale of a young Jesse Leffel a less fortunate boy and a market boy, whose job was to stand on the Esplanade of the Market Place and wait for wealthy with names such as Pettigrew, Weaver and Kissell to wave them over to carry their heavy market bags to their vehicles. All of the money that young Jesse earned went to his family, while he dreamed of going to the movie house on his dime; his sticky fingers earned him the funds for the movie house, while earning a guilty conscious for his mind and soul.
The Heritage Center of Clark County located downtown in Springfield, Ohio served as the Market and gathering place for the Champion City throughout is many years of success, today the same building stands in all its glory housing some of the greatest assets of the city’s history, tales and accomplishments to history. Together with the National Parks and Trails Recreation District (NPTRD), Courtyard by Marriott and the Heritage Center of Clark County and the Springfield Arts Council members Krissy Hartman and Josh Compston the Historic Ghost and Cemetery Walking Tour has proved to be another great way to enjoy the history and heritage of downtown Springfield.