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Highand Cemetery celebrating 150th anniversary on July 18th with free public event; it has a rich history

(On Thursday, July 18th Highland Cemetery in Fort Mitchell will be celebrating is 150th anniversary, from 6-8:30 p.m. The public is invited. This is the first of two parts about the historic cemetery.)

As well as a placid resting place, Highland Cemetery stands as a history lesson spread over 250 verdant, rolling acres.

Highland has been a burial place since 1869, and the tombstones, tombs, and crypts are lasting monuments to many who contributed to the development and lore of Northern Kentucky.

Some, such as Congressional Medal of Honor winner Calvary M. Young, (Section 12, Lot 43), and industrialist Amos Shinkle, (Section 1, Lots 6-11), are recognized as heroes of the past, while others, like a man shot to death by a future governor, and a still unidentified murder victim in the Kenton County Burial Grounds, made sensational gossip and headlines during their respective eras.

For people with a zest and appreciation for history, Highland Cemetery indeed holds something of interest for everyone.

Military history abounds. The cemetery includes the graves of veterans of the battles of the Civil War, to those who participated in more recent conflicts. Among them are Calvary Young, who won fame as a Union Sergeant fighting in the Kansas-Missouri Theater, and Confederate General James Morrison Hawes (Section 4, Lot 21).

There is also Eli Bruce (Section 2, Lot 142) who was a member of the Confederate Congress, and Henry Thomas Harrison (Section 18, Gr. 207), a Confederate spy, whom some contend provided information leading to the Battle of Gettysburg.

Numerous among Northern Kentucky’s civic, business and political leaders of the late 19th and early 20 Centuries served in the Civil War, in both the Union and Confederate Armies. Civil War sentiment carried over into the decades following, and is at least in part responsible for one other event, the death of John L. Sandford (Section 5, Lot 6). Sandford, a Confederate sympathizer, died in 1895 after an exchange of gunfire with William Goebel on a Covington street. Five years later Goebel was elected Kentucky governor and assassinated.

Goebel is buried in Frankfort, but several members of his family, including his father, William Goebel (Section 8, Lot 14) are in Highland Cemetery.

In yet another Civil War era tie, Archibald Gaines (Section 3, Lot 21), was depicted as a slaveholder in a recent book and television movie of the same name, “Beloved.”

Exploring — Photo by Cole Kracher, a finalist in the Highland Cemetery photo contest.

Military heroes buried at Highland include Robert Dimmitt Johnson (Section 5, Lot 173), a highly decorated Marine, who was killed in action in France during World War I. Johnson Elementary School in Fort Thomas is named in his honor.

Section 11, once segregated by racial restrictions of the times, contains the graves of several “buffalo soldiers”, African-Americans who served in the U.S. Army in the West during the latter decades of the 19th Century. The term, apparently applied by the Indians, referred to the buffalo ropes worn by some soldiers, as well as their hair. Among those who later lived in this area and are buried in Section 11, are John Blackwell (Grave 255) and Samuel Josey (a 10th Calvary veteran, with a tombstone but no gravesite number recorded).

A number of Cold War soldiers are also buried in Highland, including Robert C. Von Luehrte (Section 19, Lot 74) who died in a plane crash while participating in the Berlin Airlift.

The graves of politicians and officeholders, some dating back to the 19th Century and others of more modern times, abound in the cemetery. Among them are Mortimer Murray Benton (Section 1, Lot 79-82), who was Covington’s first mayor; George Gilvin Perkins (Section 4, Lot 291), a Kenton Circuit Judge: Richard P. Ernst (Section 5, Lot 49), a United States Senator and namesake of the YMCA ‘s Camp Ernst; John F. Fisk (Section 1, Private Mausoleum), a speaker of the Kentucky Senate; Joseph Rhinos (Section 5, Lot 163), a Covington Mayor and Congressman; James Simpson (Section 25, Lot 138-A), Covington’s first African-American City Commissioner, and Oriel Ware (Section 20, Lot 28), a U.S. Congressman.

Others from more recent times are Virginia Chapman (Section 27, Lot 242), longtime Chairman of the Covington Board of Education, and Gil Kingsbury (Section 27, Lot 210), a radio newsman, state representative and state official.

A photo contest finalist by Alexa Jennings

Media notables include Cincinnati Enquirer Editor Brady Black (Section 10-A, Lot 594), and Margaret Paschke (Section 3, Lot 12), Women’s Editor of the Kentucky Post.

Among show business personalities buried at Highland are Una Merkel (Section 14, Lot 65), a star of the Broadway stage and motion pictures, and Betty Jack Davis (Section 3, Lot 2), the singing partner of country music’s Skeeter Davis. Fred Schoolfield (Section 10, Lot 32), was known as Northern Kentucky’s poet laureate.

Those from the art world include Dixie Selden (Section 14, Lot 131), whose paintings are displayed at the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Kenton County Library.

Horseracing is such an important part of Kentucky, and Highland Cemetery contains the grave of Jerome Respess (Section 1, Lot 21), the owner of the 1909 Kentucky Derby winner, Wintergreen.

Men of the cloth, or with ties to religious endeavors, include Dr. James Davis (Section 10, Lot 34), a World War I veteran, college professor and men’s Bible instructor at Covington’s First Presbyterian Church, and Willard Wade (Section B, Building 1, Crypt 32, Level 2), who directed the Covington YMCA for many years.

Graves of business and professional leaders bound, including brewer William Riedlin (Section 5, Lot 133), and engineer O.G. Loomis (Section 42, Lot 5). Loomis is credited as being a leader in locating what is now Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport south of the Ohio River.

Red Tailed Hawk by Judy Hollan

There are oddities in the cemetery, including a life-size likeness of the deceased, atop the tomb of J.D. Shutt (Section 5, Lot 10-11), who was a businessman, banker and state representative. Bradford Shinkle (Section 1, Lot 6-11), the son of Amos Shinkle, reportedly feared being buried alive and asked that at the time of his death a guard be posted at his casket for several days. The request was carried out for 11 days.

Highland Cemetery has its mysteries. In the Kenton County Burial Grounds section is the grave of a woman, whose body was found in Devou Park in 1924. She had been shot to death, and the remains were never identified. There are graves of others who died violently or mysteriously, including Harvey Myers (Section 4, Lot 291), a lawyer and politician, who was shot to death in his law office in 1874 by the husband of a woman he represented in a divorce case.

The cemetery includes the graves of at least 50 people who died during the influenza epidemic of 1918.

Highland Cemetery is even more than a final resting place and a history trove. For those with a love of nature, the cemetery grounds has a network of hiking trails, many opportunities for bird watching and some notable trees of various species.

The cemetery, according to Tom Honebrink, General Manager, is “a place for the living as well as a place for our loved ones who have died”.

Those contributing to this story included Jack Hicks, James Kiger, Sherry Jobart, Ted Harris, Harlan Jones, Becky Haake and Tom Honebrink.

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