By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
UPPER SANDUSKY — The Wyandot County Infirmary Cemetery, for years lost and forgotten, has apparently been detected with the help of cadaver dogs.
According to the team’s findings, the burial ground is located in a field on the property of the Wyandot County Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center along Ohio 199, about 4 miles north of Upper Sandusky.
A memorial is being erected to honor the Wyandot County pioneers who were buried there.
“We firmly believe this endeavor was supposed to happen!,” Mary Reinhart, a member of the committee organized to memorialize the cemetery, said in an email. “We have had so many wonderful people join in our quest and give so much time and talents to get this project to flow so well!”
The tribute will include a stone podium with a bronze marker listing all the known names of people who were buried and a mention of those unknown, she said. There will also be two cut stone benches, a flag pole and a boulder from Wyandot County.
The dedication service — set for 2 p.m. Oct. 20 — is open to the public, in particular any relatives of those people buried there. The day will also include a gospel sing and mulligan stew at the nursing facility.
“Like the tomb of the unknown, some are only known to God. But we want to restore a little bit of their dignity,” said Mike Wheeler, a former Wyandot County commissioner who is also helping with the project.
‘A lot of unknowns’
According to Reinhart, the Wyandot County Infirmary dates back to 1869 when land was purchased. The farm became home to men, women and children who had no support system for their financial, mental or physical health problems.
A cemetery on the grounds was used from the 1870s to the early 1900s.
“There are a lot of unknowns about the burials in the Infirmary Cemetery,” said Reinhart.
The first burial they have records for was in 1879, while the last they are aware of was in 1918. There were no markers to identify graves.
Wheeler said there were some changes to the cemetery in 1925 when the Hocking Valley Railroad expanded to a double track and leased land from the infirmary farm. This involved moving two rows of graves. These bodies were re-interred in wooden boxes and buried on the north end of the cemetery.
One record states they were buried in a swale, while another says they were buried on a knoll north of the barn, said Reinhart.
The Works Progress Administration surveyed the cemetery along with any others with known veterans buried in them sometime between 1939 and 1943. Later, all signs of the cemetery and many of the records were lost, she said.
“There’s no one at fault. It’s just a situation,” said Wheeler. “And I think anything like this, you don’t just do it for the souls interred out there, you do it for yourselves and for the whole community because there’s a legacy involved here. And we’re in an unusual situation where we’ve got the opportunity to enhance that a little bit.”
Researching the dead
Reinhart began to wonder about the cemetery two years ago when her mother was a resident of the nursing home.
“Every night we’d go around and walk, and I’d look and I’d think, ‘Well, where would that cemetery have been?’ We couldn’t find it anywhere,” she said.
When she saw a marker for Boyer Cemetery in Marion, Reinhart took a picture and sent it to Wyandot County Commissioner Bill Clinger, asking if something similar could be done for Infirmary Cemetery.
“I would stop people on the street and ask them, ‘Do you know anything about the Infirmary Cemetery?’ And they’re all fascinated, but nobody knows anything,” she said.
She later “met” Scott McKee and Tami Schmidt through the Wyandot County Memories Facebook page. McKee also contacted the county commissioners to discuss a possible marker for the cemetery.
A committee was formed that includes Greg Lonsway and Vicki Charlton, the nursing home’s administrator and marketing director, respectively; Ron Marvin, director of the Wyandot County Archaeological and Historical Society and curator of the Wyandot County Museum; Wyandot County Commissioners Ron Metzger, Clinger and Steve Seitz; Reinhart, Wheeler and Kelli Suter Smith.
Countless hours were spent in researching the infirmary’s records, old newspapers and at the Center for Archival Collections atBowling Green State University.
“The tough thing is there’s about 150 cemeteries in Wyandot County and about 80 of them are all you can get to, so there are other lost ones,” said Wheeler. “Some of them are lost or completely surrounded by private property. But the interest keeps up. It’s a hands-on effort by a lot of people, and Mary is on a mission as the head of the group to make sure their dignity is somewhat restored.”
They were able to obtain a list of 76 people buried in the cemetery.
“Those are the ones we know of,” said Reinhart. “All we did was get a straight list with names and when they died. I thought, that is just terrible. So I went and researched them and tried to find out where they were born and any occupation and the cause of death.”
That led to countless hours of research in the heritage room at the Upper Sandusky Community Library and pouring over census records, patient account records and probate court death records for information.
“I think I’ll keep modern times any day, because they died of simple gangrene,” she said. “They died of a fracture. They died of an abscess. They died of blood poison, La Grippe, from a leg getting amputated.”
Ages of those buried in the cemetery ranged from just a few months to 94. Some were from England, Switzerland and Germany.
“They weren’t even here long enough to be second generation,” Reinhart said.
They also know of two Civil War veterans buried there, including Reinhart’s grandfather, John Burk, and Robert Bovard.
Her other grandfather was also a veteran of the Civil War and is buried in the Wharton Cemetery.
“But their wives were never there. It just makes you wonder if the war didn’t mess them up,” Reinhart said. “I guess I just feel bad knowing they’re all out here and they’ve never gotten any recognition for serving in the war. They’ve never gotten any recognition for being our pioneers.”
Cue the cadaver dogs
In July 2017, geophysicist Ryan North, a former resident of Wyandot County who now lives in Vicksburg, Mississippi, offered his assistance in trying to find the cemetery through the use of ground-penetrating radar.
North combed the mowed area surrounding the buildings but found nothing to indicate any burials. Then he moved to the lower field to the north of the buildings, where the machine showed a series of hyperboles indicating disturbances in the ground which could be graves.
There was another breakthrough this summer when Jenelle Hideg of Midwest K-9 Search Unit of Columbus, Gloria Napier with Buckeye Search and Rescue Dogs of Loveland, and Deana Hudgins of Ohio Search and Recovery Canines in Wooster, came to Upper Sandusky with a team of cadaver dogs.
Reinhart and Suter Smith said the oldest, most experienced dog kept its head to the ground in the north field, but paid no attention to the rest of the ground on the farm. The handlers covered that portion of ground the next day with 96 two-foot garden stakes. The posts help wick up the odor for the dogs, they explained.
The following day, the dogs went over a few areas of lowland with no alerts, said Suter Smith. Then the teams headed for the staked area which is in a field northwest of the nursing home and north of the Little Tymochtee Creek. They ran four dogs through it and they successfully alerted in common areas, in or neat the stakes, “as they are taught to alert where they find the strongest scent,” she said.
The stakes were then pulled from certain areas, said Suter Smith. Three new dogs were then run through the field with the same positive results.
They said all of the had dogs had GPS on the entire time to trace their trails. The handlers also marked the spots they alerted and many overlapped, said Suter Smith.
She said the handlers were confident the cemetery has been found, “… and from our team watching and learning from them we are in agreement that there are graves in the location.”
North returned a few weeks later but could not detect any graves in the area searched by the dogs. Reinhart said by the time he arrived, the ground was hard and dry, “almost like concrete,” which may have interfered with his results.
Suter Smith said North was also using a smaller device more commonly used for less difficult jobs.
“He wanted to try and we appreciate his efforts,” she said.
The dog handlers are interested in coming back in September to go over the area again. Reinhard said they were very pleased since it was such a good practice for their “cold” cases.
Everyone is now looking forward to the dedication, they said.
“We currently feel and will continue to feel grateful and blessed for all of the hard work and dedication our committee has given since the beginning of our project,” said Suter Smith. “It has been an honor to memorialize these forgotten souls, pioneers of Wyandot County and veterans who served out country in addition to those who barely had a chance at life, as their are infants through seniors in their 90s buried in this almost forgotten cemetery.”
“People don’t realize, we’re all fortunate from the standpoint that sometimes it’s not what you accomplish in life at the end goal, it’s the obstacles you came over,” Wheeler added. “And some of those people probably had a few more obstacles than the rest of us.”
Any donations to the memorial should be made through the Wyandot County Skilled Nursing Rehab Center with the memo line marked: “Infirmary Cemetery Memorial.”
Send an E-mail to Jeannie Wolf