New Grave Markers Honor Civil War Veterans

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The Ridges at Ohio University is often a place people like to visit for Halloween weekend. Ghost stories about The Ridges’ past as The Athens Lunatic Asylum are common lore and people will make the trip to see the asylum cemeteries. These cemeteries will look a little different starting October 29.

About 40 new grave markers will be installed across the three cemeteries for Civil War veterans starting Saturday at 9:00 a.m. According to Doug McCabe, the Curator of Manuscripts for Alden Library’s Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections, there are more than 1,900 graves in the asylum cemeteries and nearly 1,700 are simply marked with a number. The new markers will include the name, years of birth and death, rank, and unit in which the veteran served. The old numbered gravestones will remain in place and the new detailed markers will go in front of the old gravestone.

“I looked at every male name and compared that to lists that were often available online as to whether or not they might be a veteran,” McCabe said. “And if I found they were a hit, then I would do deeper research to find out exactly what unit they were in and if they had an honorable discharge.”

One marker has already been placed in front of the gravestone with the number 281. Israel Johnson was an African-American veteran who fought in the Civil War.

McCabe installed his marker himself. “You can certainly become emotionally connected to specific people as you research,” McCabe said.

McCabe says the next step is trying to research civilians buried in the three asylum cemeteries and also contacting family members of the Civil War veterans who will receive markers this weekend.

Family members who learn about ancestors buried in the asylum cemetery can buy a $200 headstone with the person’s name and other personalized information.

“Every single time when we have found people who are alive today and have ancestors buried in our cemeteries and we’ve alerted them about that fact, every single one has said 'yes I want that done',” McCabe said.

McCabe says the fact that the installation of these new markers falls on the same day as the Halloween Block Party in Athens is a coincidence. He says they wanted to have the markers installed by Veterans Day on Nov. 11 and wanted to allow time for the possibility of weather delays.

A special Veterans Day ceremony will be held on Nov. 11 highlighting the new markers.