As with all things, our little excursions into the unknown, the hidden, and the sometimes bizarre, the first step in “seeing” is to open your eyes and look. It took me a long time to learn that fact and with the help of a beautiful lady I finally did. When you open you eyes and “see” you just can’t simply “unsee”. I liken it to a court case when someone says something out of line or irrelevant and the judge then instructs the jury to disregard what they had just heard…how do you do that? In my opinion you can’t. whats seen is seen, whats heard is heard and as human beings our minds just do not function in a manner that will allow us to undo what our senses have perceived and recorded.
This is our third encounter with the unseen graveyards all around us and it has only reinforced my belief that most people choose to disregard the strange, the out of place and beguiling things they see and witness every day of their lives. The Runyan Pioneer Cemetery is one of those place. Situated off the Sharonville/Mason exit on I-275E it is in a location I have been by a thousand times and yet I never once really “saw” it until just the other day.
The Runyan Pioneer Cemetery was established at its current location in the 1800’s because of its peaceful setting on a grassy hillside. It’s the resting place of Henry L. Runyan and his family. Mr. Runyan was one of the original settlers of Sharonville, arriving from Virginia in 1792. He owned more than 700 acres – land now bordered by U.S. 42, Crescentville, Kemper and Mosteller roads. Interstate 275 splits what was once the Runyan farm. After our first two hidden cemeteries encounters we did some research (Hint: once again the internet and in particular Google Earth are invaluable tools to locate areas of interest) to see if there were any others located in the immediate vicinity. To our surprise the Runyan Pioneer Cemetery was one of them and the after mapping its location we also realized we had been just a few feet from its location thousands of times, even gassing up at the pumps right next door.
The first thing that catches your attention is a six-foot, marble obelisk commemorating the death of Phoebe McBride who died at age 63 in September 1883. It is in beautiful condition compared with the rest of the markers.
The rest of the headstones and the grounds are in horrific shape and lend an air of melancholy to the site. It reminds me of the privileged nobility in their grand manors ruling over the lesser serfs and vassals in their dark and foreboding hovels during the Middle Ages.
The city of Sharonville does attempt to keep the grass cut and the litter cleaned up but there is an ongoing dispute as to whether or not it’s the city’s responsibility or the Shell station’s (next door but fenced off from the cemetery) because the land is owned by station. This battle has yet to be resolved. This cemetery, I believe, is part of a project headed by a privately owned company to revitalize several hidden cemeteries in the Sharonville area and there is some evidence to support this.
As a whole however the cemetery is in disarray, as jumbles of headstones are stacked together and others are left to return to the earth whence they came. I personally find the ones left as they have fallen and partially taken back by the earth more appealing and natural than the ones propped up against one another or stacked into piles, like a poorly shuffled decks of cards.
As we explored further we found that most of the grave markers were too weathered for any identification. Some still had beautiful engravings on then that lent the site an almost appealing and aesthetic aura. As we walked around in the late afternoon sun the forgotten artwork and the elegant craftsmanship “popped” out at us and lessened the mood of abandonment that prevailed there.
Some of the artwork seems to have a less than Christian motif than you would expect for that period of history. One or two seemed to have some astrological or alchemic significance but the weathering of the stone makes it uncertain as to their theme or meaning.
The ages of the people buried in this cemetery range from the very old to the very young. One thing that does disturb me however is seeing headstones engraved with dates indicating that the person interred there was very young. This does shows however how loved, cared for and valued even the youngest members of a community and family were. Traditionally it is thought that the younger members of a community were less important than the adults and that people back in those days had little regard for the death of young children because the mortality rate was so high, making it unproductive to value or mourn them until they attained a certain age. People were expected to have or needed to have large families due to the high morality rate among the young so that when young people died their loss was not felt as acutely because families were going to have more children to compensate for their deaths. Its is therefore thought that children were not loved as much as they are today because their deaths early in life were so frequent and any strong emotional attachment was discouraged. In exploring cemeteries we have found this not to be the case, the children and infants were memorialized just as much as adult members of the community and given elaborate headstones that were just as artistically elaborate and expensive as those of the adults.
The feeling of this cemetery is one of sadness and loneliness and not one of fright and unease. So far this has been my favorite site due to its desolate nature, even though it sits on a major thoroughfare. It is in clear need of a benefactor who will come in, take charge and restore it to its former order and beauty. The spirits here seem only to want visitors to notice and acknowledge the contributions they made to the world of the living. Between the rush of traffic zooming past night and day and the hustle and bustle of the Shell station right next door this place is all but forgotten, lost to most people as they go about their daily lives.
So there are spirits here (Hint: stop by each gave and clean off the debris, beautify it anyway you can, reflect on these brave men and women and whether out loud or in your mind tell them that you remember them and appreciate the sacrifices they made for you) but they are not malicious, vindictive or mean (and believe me in our explorations we have encountered many of those kids), to me they seem lonely, with a sadness and a melancholy about them, that transcends the grave and calls out to us for a simple remembrance and thank you from our hearts. Just like the living they do not want their accomplishments to be in vain, they did what they did for us, their children, with no thoughts and no regrets in doing so.
As me and Marsha left heavy in heart, I looked back over this sad, forlorn and forgotten place and in my mind I told the spirits not to give up hope. Our generation may be one where only the memorials and graves of our heroes (.ie. The Eternal Flame of JFK or the grandeur of the Lincoln Memorial) are visited by millions each year but that I for one and many others like me have not forgotten that without the courage and perseverance of these common people America would not exist today.
This was the third pioneer cemetery we re-discovered in our small suburban community and by far the most forgotten and neglected. I felt sad for days after visiting this place. Take the time to visit these hidden cemeteries, stroll through their solitude and teach your children that the people buried there are the true American heroes. The ones who tamed a continent, suffered multitudes of misery and deprivation but who in spite of all that they embraced life, and felt the joy of achievements accomplished by their own hands. These were people who didn’t need to be told what was best for them, what to do and when to do it because they were free men with the God given right to choose their own destiny and make a better life for themselves and their children.
“My inspiration comes from the common man and nature”.