Plot Summary

If you're lucky enough to be tenured at Kenyon, not only are you guaranteed lifetime employment but you've also earned the right to affordable on-campus housing conveniently located near the library, dining hall, and Rosse Hall. Forever.

Tucked behind Storer Hall, between the parking lots for the library and the science quad, you'll find a peaceful acre of land shaded by old-growth trees and bordered by a rusting iron fence. The Kenyon cemetery is available to all tenured members of the faculty, and it was interdisciplinary long before that term became a buzzword. History professors lie next to scientists, classicists rub elbows with English professors. Or at least they would if they still had elbows. With space becoming scarcer by the year, the graveyard is now limited to "cremains."

Other officers of the College are also welcome to spend eternity there. Five Kenyon presidents are buried in the cemetery, as well as trustees, students, and alumni. The current president can use his or her discretion to grant entrance to anyone who has "served the College" or "brought distinction" to it. Some gravestones belong to the familiar namesakes of campus buildings: Walton, Norton, Timberlake, Farr, Lewis, Caples, Fink, Ransom, Manning, and Weaver. Like their honorees, some of those buildings are also of blessed memory.

But Kenyonites are not the graveyard's only occupants. Given its Episcopalian heritage, it's not surprising that the place has more than its fair share of bishops. One bishop, Thurston Bedell, raised the money to build Ascension Hall, and extended Middle Path from the College gates through the village to Bexley Hall. But the graveyard also includes the bishops' trailing relatives, like Philander Chase's distant cousin Norman Putnam. Bishop Chase invited Putnam to Gambier to be his secretary, and one of Putnam's jobs was to deliver messages back and forth between the Bishop and all the people to whom he wasn't speaking.

There are also farmers, millers, carpenters, janitors, stonemasons, attorneys, coffin-makers, military officers, AIDS activists, and doctors (including a 25-year old female physician named Anna Benson who died in 1884). The graveyard's inhabitants started their lives in England, Ireland, Wales, and Africa. They died of polio, cholera, suicide, drowning, hunting accidents, Civil War wounds, typhoid fever, childbirth, and, in one case, Christian Science. Arthur Cleveland Hall, a professor of economics and sociology, died prematurely in 1910 when his wife, a Christian Scientist, refused to call a doctor.

The old-fashioned names on the gravestones evoke earlier centuries, or at least supporting roles in The Music Man: Mabel, Henrietta, Letitia, Euphonia, and Flora. The men's names are more timeless, but there is the occasional Elisha, Ananias, or Intrepid—not to mention one Judge Creed Jopling Lester, whose epitaph is, fittingly, "He treated no one unfairly."

With the exception of John Crowe Ransom, the graveyard lacks the star power of a Highgate Cemetery, where George Eliot and Karl Marx are buried, or a Père Lachaise, which boasts the graves of Balzac, Proust, and Colette. But some of those buried at Kenyon nurtured the soon-to-be-famous. James E. Michael, Paul Newman's acting teacher, is buried there, as is Jonathan Winters's beloved history teacher, Stuart Rice McGowan '28, to whom he waved from The Johnny Carson Show, crying: "Say hello to Stu Magoo!" (Stu Magoo was privy to infamy as well as fame, having witnessed the 1933 robbery of the People's Bank).

Even if most of its occupants weren't celebrated, the cemetery is full of stories. Walter Denston, who taught mathematics in the 1920s, was a British officer imprisoned by the Bolsheviks as a spy during the revolution. Sentenced to be shot, he escaped to Finland and then somehow found his way to Ohio.

Not surprisingly for a college cemetery, there are several young men struck down in their prime, including Alfred Blake, the very first Kenyon graduate, who used a crutch due to a childhood accident and was known as "one of the most outgoing and mischievous" students. In 1829, Kenyon held its first commencement, and because his surname came early in the alphabet, Blake's was the first name read. Another young graduate who came to an untimely end was John Thomson Brooke II, Class of 1907. He moved to California immediately after graduation to teach English and drowned on his first day there, trying to rescue a boy from the San Francisco Bay. He'd already rescued one of his new charges and was going back to rescue a second. His epitaph reads: "He gave his life."

Lying nearby is Stephen Shepard, a freshman who died in the Old Kenyon fire of 1949 (see the Bulletin, Winter 2009). He was supposed to be in Columbus the night of the fire but for some unfortunate reason came back early. His family never accepted that the remains were those of their son, so he was buried in Gambier rather than being taken back to New York City.

There are also a heartbreaking number of infants, toddlers, and children buried in the cemetery. A child prodigy, Matthew Griswold Cracraft, known as "Little Griswold," was the son of a local minister, and, according to a short biography written after his death, he could hear a sermon and give "a very fair analysis of the discourse and recount with great faithfulness the main points." He could converse about complex political and religious issues and was a faithful follower of news about the Civil War, a war that outlasted the boy, who died in 1863 at the age of four. An African prince, Kwaku Lebiete, came to Gambier from the Gold Coast at the invitation of a missionary in order to attend the Gambier Mission House School, and, sadly, died at age fourteen far from home.

Larry Wittenbrook '73, an Atlanta real-estate agent who died at age thirty-nine, is also buried there. He was one of the first Kenyon alumni to acknowledge that he was dying of AIDS, and became the subject of a cover story about the disease for the Spring 1991 issue of the Alumni Bulletin. An activist, his name appears on the AIDS quilt that traveled the country.

Many people remember that Lorin Andrews' grave had to be moved in April 1998 to make room for Storer Hall, the addition to Rosse Hall. Andrews was the first Kenyon president to die in office, but it wasn't the job that killed him. At the start of the Civil War, when Lincoln called for volunteers, he raised a band from Knox County that became the 4th Ohio Infantry, and many Kenyon students joined up. He took part in the campaign in western Virginia before taking ill from typhoid and returning to Gambier, where he died at age forty-two. Andrews specified that he wanted his grave to have a view of the campus, and, happily, his new resting place between Rosse Hall and Hayes Hall affords him an even better view than the original grave.

But for most of those buried there, all we have is the cursory, unsatisfying information that comes from public record—birthdates, the dates they died, and, if applicable, the year of their graduation from Kenyon, the span of their teaching career, the names of their spouses and children.

Walking through the cemetery on a fall afternoon, one can't help but note its "view potential" to the west towards the river. If a few trees were sacrificed, it would likely look more like it did when that acreage was chosen as a cemetery site. According to Graham Gund, architect of Kenyon's master plan, you'll often find old cemeteries on hillsides with beautiful views.

Although many people think that it's now impossible to reserve a spot at the Kenyon cemetery, in fact there are about a hundred more gravesites available. Given that only about two reservations are made a year, there will likely be space for Kenyon's dearly departed for years to come. There has been talk of adding a columbarium, a stone wall with space for urns, to allow the graveyard to expand its capacity while staying within its current boundaries.

And even if you're not a graduate or tenured faculty member, there might yet be an eternal spot for you at Kenyon. Looking ahead, the Brown Family Environmental Center is exploring the possibility of a "green cemetery" on another hillside with a view, near the College's Franklin Miller Observatory. As well as modeling sustainability, it might eventually provide an income stream for the College, if the new cemetery were to be opened to the wider community. The BFEC would allow only burials involving materials that would naturally decay, as opposed to using concrete vaults or preservative chemicals. Some of the land might be restored to woodland, some to prairie. But the dead could rest assured that they would never be moved to make room for a College building. Nor could they become like poor Herman Russ, whose unmarked grave has somehow ended up under the parking lot behind the library. A conservation easement guarantees it.

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